We have an obligation to forgive others

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Colossians 3:13

Paul is here reminding the Colossian believers of an obligation they have to forgive anyone who offends them. The verse speaks in a literal sense of those who have complaints or blame to assign to another. In my experience, there will always be blame to assign to someone, and there will always be complaints about others. The justification Paul gives for overcoming this blame and complaining attitude of others is because God forgave them.

We have been in this same condition before God, and yet he was willing to overlook our faults and still call us to himself. Like our natural parents Adam and Eve, we looked for excuses as to why we did not obey God, and we have been quick to assign blame to another:

“Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Genesis 3:11-13

In our natural state prior to coming to faith in Messiah, if you’ll pardon the expression, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. And yet, even in our new relationship with God, as we seek to grow the “new man” within us, sometimes those old tendencies rear their head and cause us to stumble. We then can fall prey to a measure of hypocrisy, something hated by all and cautioned against by Messiah:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15

The English version of Colossians 3:13 above says because “the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” A literal rendering of this admonition would be “in the same manner or to the same degree that God has forgiven you, you should do in like fashion to others.”

How much has God forgiven you for? When we realize the depth of that forgiveness, it should reveal our ability, and our obligation, to forgive others in a new light.

Real peace is generated by trust in God

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

This verse has been very popular over the years due to its simple admonition to prayer and its promise of peace of a troubled mind.

But rather than focus on the peace it provides, I would like to draw out another unstated concept present in this verse: trust in God. You see, peace can only come when there is an understanding that something, or someone, larger than our current troubling circumstance is handling the situation, and we don’t need to be anxious about it.

I think about when I was a small child, riding in the back of our car on a trip home from visiting relatives. I had no concerns about which roads we had to take, how much traffic there was, what the weather conditions were. My dad was taking us home, and that’s all that mattered. I would inevitably drift off to sleep with the rhythmic motion of the car and the road noise. I had no cares to concern me, only knowing that I would be home at the end of the trip. I trusted my dad to get us home; I had no reason not to trust him to do so.

When I became a dad and our family was on road trips to visit relatives, it was up to me to take all of those factors into consideration, since I was responsible for getting my family home safely. My role as a dad had increased responsibilities, but even with those responsibilities, my skills had grown to meet them. Certainly I had to focus on things that I was not concerned about as a child, but even though I had to manage all of those concerns, I still had an over-arching trust that we were going to make it home. Regardless of the right route to take, the traffic, or the road conditions, we would be home soon.

You see, trust is not an abdication of all responsible action; it is a recognition of power or skill beyond your own that will ultimately accomplish the outcome. That trust can be present at every skill and responsibility level. When we pray about everything, our trust is in God.

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you in perfect peace, for it is trusting in you.

Isaiah 26:3

We need to be strategizing our route, but not to the exclusion of allowing for detours along the way. We need to be considering traffic and road conditions, but remain open to having to modify our plans accordingly as needed. We need to be faithful with what we’ve been called to do, but we need to always keep a higher sense of trust and dependency beyond our own abilities and actions.

When we pray for the outcome according to God’s will, we can rest assured that regardless of any modifications along the way, everything will come to pass within his purpose and timing.

This is where the peace that passes understanding comes from: it is generated in the recognition that God ultimately has us, and will bring us safely to our destination, regardless of what happens along the way. It is beyond our understanding, because only he knows which route we will ultimately have to take to get there. We should always maintain a healthy understanding of the limits of our abilities and be sure our ultimate trust is in the One who will be bringing us safely home at the end of the trip.

Becoming Set Apart through the Simplicity of Prayer

Core of the Bible Episode 12 – Becoming Set Apart through the Simplicity of Prayer

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of holiness, or being set apart, and the necessity of regular intimate conversation with God that directs our lives.  

Yeshua stated it this way:

“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the [nations] do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way…” Matthew 6:6-9

In the Core of the Bible paraphrase, I have expressed this as, “Make every effort to pray in a private place, simply and sincerely.”

Let me say at the outset of our time together today that this is not meant to be a comprehensive teaching on prayer. There are many different aspects to prayer that could take a much longer time to cover in greater detail; however, I would like to focus on this specific teaching of Yeshua, as I believe it boils a lot of the extraneous information about prayer down to its essentials.

Every culture has an understanding about prayer, and there are many different expressions of this practice. Some traditions are very ritualistic and have designated prayers for specific days. Some produce prayer books for different types of prayers for different things. Prayer can be individual or collective. Even with the various Christian traditions, we have prayers during a collective time of worship and teaching.

While these traditions are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves, they tend to obscure the simplicity with which Yeshua taught his disciples in how to pray.

We learn about many aspects of prayer by looking more closely at the parameters of Yeshua’s instruction. There are specific things to avoid, actions to do, and expected outcomes.

For example, in Matt. 6:5, he states:

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.

So here is an admonition of what NOT to do: don’t pray publicly for the sake of being seen as more righteous than others. Notice, he doesn’t say that we shouldn’t pray in public, but that we should check our motives.

Instead, he instructs that we should “go into your inner room, close your door” when we pray. This ensures we are not putting together fanciful orations for the sake of impressing others; there is no on there except you and God.

The outcome of this private practice is that “your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.” What’s interesting to consider is what type of reward is being mentioned here.  

In typical Hebraic fashion, Yeshua is contrasting this reward with the type of reward previously mentioned when he was speaking about hypocritical prayer. The reward of the hypocrite is to be publicly recognized as righteous, or lifted up in the eyes of others as they selfishly put on a show for the benefit of being recognized by others. That is their reward: the brief recognition by others. This idea also fits neatly within the context Yeshua mentioned just prior to this teaching on prayer, which is a teaching on private giving, as well.

For the truly righteous who pray in private, however, the blessing comes from God, not people, and it also implies the blessing will be personal and private, just like the prayer was. And in contrast to the temporary nature of the recognition of others, this reward will be lasting. Through this, it appears that Yeshua is conveying the personal and intimate nature of prayer, that it should be passion we pursue rather than a show that we put on for others.

While Yeshua he did pray openly among others, typically giving thanks for food and drink or most notably with his “high priestly prayer” with his disciples in John 17, by and large Yeshua demonstrated a separation from others in his own prayer life.  

Mark 14:32 – Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Luke 6:12 – During those days he went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God.

Luke 11:1 – He was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”

So we can see that Yeshua did demonstrate a practice of personal prayer apart from others, even during his time of public ministry with his disciples.

Another practice Yeshua admonishes us to avoid is to ramble excessively in prayer, calling up every random thought and desire to place it all before God. This was something that the contemporary pagan religions practiced, and he was urging his followers not to follow the practices of the surrounding nations, a common Old Testament them, as well.

Matthew 6:7  “When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

It’s simple: the reason we don’t need to review every little detail of our petty lives is because, ultimately, God already knows what we need.

So if prayer is not about asking God for what we need, then what is it for? In the following verses in Matthew 6, Yeshua lays out an appropriate method or outline of prayer to ensure those who seek him would be approaching him in a manner that honors him while not demeaning the petitioner.

In the frontier culture of colonial America, a maxim of the basics of education became reduced to the concept of the three R’s: Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic. Now, while the three R’s of the prairie schoolhouse education summed up its basic tenets, in like fashion, I submit for your consideration that prayer, as taught by Yeshua, can also be summarized with three R’s:

– Recognition: we need to recognize God for all he is, for all he has done, and all he is doing. Acknowledging his authority and purpose helps us keep our perspective.

– Repentance: confession and repentance are not only good for the soul, they are a requirement. This is the opportunity to make sure we are being open and honest with God about all conflict in our lives.

– Request: with the correct perspective of God, and a humble heart of repentance, we are now in a state in which we can request what’s appropriate and necessary in our lives, not just flippant and shallow desires of the moment. God has promised to meet our needs, not our wants.

Let’s compare these three simple principles with Yeshua’s model prayer, what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, to see how these characteristics are exemplified.

——-

Matthew 6:9 – “Pray, then, in this way”:  

It amazes me that even though Yeshua specifically showed his disciples how to pray when he was asked, that we still choose instead to follow all sorts of man made prayer ideals. We have prayer campaigns, 40-days of prayer, prayer vigils, prayer with fasting, prayer beads, prayer chains, prayer groups. Clearly we have a need and a desire to pray; why don’t we just simplify everything and listen to our Master provide us the instruction we need?

In his model prayer, Yeshua begins with the first R: recognition.

“Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.”  

That’s it! Not a long list of how amazing, how beautiful, how wonderful he is. We can leave that to the Psalmists, and for our own meditation on those qualities of his. These may be offered in sincerity of praise to him, but in some ways, they can come across as simply a way of buttering him up before we ask for what we want.

Instead, for prayer purposes, Yeshua keeps this recognition of God simple: he is in heaven, which means he is above and beyond the comparatively trite and finite existence we experience. He therefore has the ability to see beyond what we can see and to apprehend what would be best for us in any given situation.  

Additionally, his Name (his character) is holy, that is, set apart from everything and everyone else. Recognition of these factors demonstrates our understanding that we are in communication with the one true God of the universe.

Both God’s kingdom and his will are equated in this verse. I’ve talked about this before in previous teachings. The kingdom coming is God’s will being done on earth. If his kingdom is heaven, and his will is accomplished there, then his kingdom on earth is anywhere his will is being accomplished on earth.

If our prayer is based on these facts: that God is all knowing, that he is set apart from this corruptible world, and that accomplishing his will is the expansion of his kingdom on this earth, our prayers would have a much different tone and form of expression, would you agree?

Now on to the second R: request.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  

While this is a request, it only comes on the heels of recognizing who the provider of bread is: the one true God. By requesting our daily provision be met, we are assenting to his ability to provide it. This is a request that is contingent on our understanding of God’s power and authority.

It is also an understanding that this bread is only a provision within the context of accomplishing his will and purpose on this earth. We have no right to expect God’s provision if we are simply living for ourselves and our own selfish desires.

Next, Yeshua provides another key aspect of prayer with the other R: repentance.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  

Forgiveness can only come after repentance; repentance of our actions that have offended God or repentance of our actions that have hurt others, or repentance of others who have hurt us. While forgiveness is a topic we can explore in and of itself, in the context of this prayer, Yeshua clearly is making the point that God is not obligated to forgive us if we are not willing to forgive others. He makes that clear just a few verses later:

Matt. 6:14-15 – For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.

God does not want us to be hypocritical, and certainly not within our prayers. In fact, all of this teaching on prayer is within the overall context of avoiding hypocrisy: we should not make a big show of our giving (vss.1-3), we should not make a big show of our praying (vss. 5-7), and we should not make a big show of our fasting (vss. 16-18). (Fasting will be another topic for another day). These are all things the religious leaders loved to do, and Yeshua is condemning these practices because their hearts were not right. They wanted to look good in front of others when they had corrupt hearts that could not ascertain the true needs of others. They sought the hollow approval of men rather than the true approval that only comes from God.

By contrast, a heart that is right with God will be satisfied within its own domain; it won’t need the approval and affirmation of others in order to be justified. It knows it’s right with God and it won’t be swayed by external judgment.

Back to Yeshua’s model prayer, he continues with another request:  

‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  

Very few people actually enjoy tests. In grade school I certainly never enjoyed tests, especially ones I was not prepared for. I would scramble for answers and hope some of the multiple choice options made sense so I could muddle my way through. If it was math or another subject where I had to show my work, I would need that much more preparation to ensure I could pass the test. And that was the idea: knowledge of the upcoming test would (or should) have forced me to learn the material more thoroughly.

But I can also say that when I was actually prepared for a test because I did know the material, I was not concerned with the process of taking the test; in fact, I kind of enjoyed it because providing the right answers gave me a sense of satisfaction. It also confirmed for me that I truly was familiar with the material. When I was prepared, I didn’t mind the test and I knew after the test that I was going to get a good grade.

In like fashion, God tests his people; not to see them fail but to show them how much they know about themselves and their own abilities.

Deuteronomy 8:2 – Remember that for forty years the LORD your God led you on your journey in the desert. He did this in order to humble you and test you. He wanted to know whether or not you would wholeheartedly obey his commands.

Testing is also a refining process, where the impurities are drawn off of precious metals by heating them up to a liquid state. Once the “dross” is drawn off, what remains of the original metal is now a more purified condition.

Proverbs 17:3 Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the LORD tests the heart.

Psalm 66:10-12 – For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us like silver. You led us into the net; You laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but You brought us into abundance.

Job 23:10-12 Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have followed in His tracks; I have kept His way without turning aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread.

2 Pet 1:6-7 – now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more precious than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

In Yeshua’s prayer, he is encouraging us to petition God that, by his mercy, we would be spared, not from ALL testing, but from hard testing and to be delivered from evil that exists along the way. But there’s no guarantee that would be the case. This clause in this model prayer is just a reminder, an ongoing understanding that we always need to be prepared; God can test us at any time. How familiar are we with his ways? Through testing, large or small, we will be shown what we know and if how we have patterned our life matches his purposes.

That is his goal for us, that our lives match his purposes. Many times I have heard Christian leaders say we should be seeking to become more “Christ-like.” To that I say: be careful what you wish for. If that’s the case, then we can look at the life of the Messiah and see that it was filled with testing: in the wilderness with hunger and visions, battling doctrine with the religious leaders, having his sanity questioned with his friends and family, and ultimately going willingly to one of the most publicly humiliating and gruesome deaths imaginable. He did all this because it was within God’s purpose for him.

Are you ready for that level of testing? Because if you are desiring to be more Christ-like, you can likely expect more of that.

Finishing  up our brief review of Yeshua’s model prayer, in most of our English versions of this passage, a final aspect of this teaching ends once again with a recognition of God’s authority and power:

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’

Some scholars think this was a sentence that was added to the text by over zealous scribes. While that may or may not be the case, it brings the model prayer full circle by ending with the same level of recognition with which it begins: God is all powerful and holy, and all of our prayers should also be enclosed within that understanding. Notice, in this  outline that Yeshua provides us, there can be no request without that recognition, and there can also be no request without repentance. Therefore, our repentance and requests are contingent on the recognition of God’s person and purposes.

Prayer should be a core practice that comes from the very center of a believing heart. It is the one place and time where our focus should be solely on communicating with the all-powerful Creator of the universe, conveying requests aligned to his purposes with truly repentant and humble hearts. Because it is so significant, it should be a time set apart from everything, and everyone, else. In this intentionally isolated place and time, we have no masks to hide behind, no one to impress, and nothing to offer except our barest hopes for strength during testing and aspirations to be purified through all.  

“…[A]nd your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.”

We hold on to that promise of Yeshua, that the Father sees and rewards those secret and genuine longings of our spirits to be submitted to him in fulfillment of his will and purpose. Those rewards may be different what we expect; however, whenever they come to pass, we can be confident they will exceed our wildest ideas of what they could possibly be, and they will last for eternity.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Holiness is a requirement for every believer. Prayer is the simplest method of maintaining our set apart condition in this world, as we seek God’s heart in authentic communication with him. Our holiness, or set-apartness, in this world stems from the very testing and refinement that God conducts within us on a regular basis, as we rely on him and submit to his will.

We need to keep in mind that holiness is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, vigilance, trust, forgiveness and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.  

Have questions about todays topic, or comments or insights you would like to share? Perhaps you have found this podcast helpful or encouraging. If so, I would love to hear from you and include listener comments in future episodes, so feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.  

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How to prepare ourselves to be set apart for God’s use in any situation

In a large house there are dishes and bowls of all kinds: some are made of silver and gold, others of wood and clay; some are for special occasions, others for ordinary use. Those who make themselves clean from these things will be used for special purposes, because they are dedicated and useful to their Master, ready to be used for every good deed.

2 Timothy 2:20-21

Holiness is about being sanctified or set apart for God’s specific purposes. In the example that Paul uses here with Timothy, there is also an ongoing refinement that is similar to recognizing the differences between ordinary plates for everyday use and fine china that would be used for special occasions. There is a cleansing process that he mentions: “those who make themselves clean.”

Sanctification, or being set apart, is partly a process that God conducts and partly a process that we are responsible for, as well.

Ephesians 2:10 – God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.

Psalm 119:9 – How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.

In the grand sense, God has set us apart by drawing us to faith in Messiah so that we may do the good things he has prepared for us to do. But by continuing to sharpen our obedience to God’s word, we also distinguish ourselves from those in God’s household who are content to remain simply with their sanctification from the world.

In Paul’s example, these are the plates used for ordinary purposes, for the basics of eating and drinking, for the rough and tumble of everyday existence. These are the plates and bowls that have chips and cracks, that have rough edges, blemishes and marks from use. They are serviceable in the uses they are designed for, but they all carry evidence of that use, and are not as likely to be used for special occasions.

By contrast, the gold and silver plates and cups are those which would be used for specific events that are noteworthy; the holiday gatherings with friends and family, or the formal dinners with respected individuals and guests. Paul is implying that, apart from God’s sanctification from the rest of the world, we can “cleanse ourselves” further from rough, ordinary use into something that is useful to God in special ways. But this has to be an intentional purpose on our part, something we choose to do by disciplining ourselves in his word to create and maintain the luster and polish required of the fine china.

The context of this passage helps us frame a reference for this concept, as Paul had just mentioned previously:

2 Timothy 2:15 – Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.

The making of the effort to present ourselves unashamedly to God demonstrates our willingness to manifest the great gifts that God has given us. Of course God can use any vessel for his purpose, fine china or regular plates, but the fine china is designed for the most special of occasions to bear the finest foods. Why not seek to improve the opportunities for God to use you by setting yourself apart in ways that allow him to use you in any situation?

Peter demonstrates vigilance in keeping the instruction of God without hesitation

[Peter] became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” “No, Lord! ” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean.”

Acts 10:10-14

This story of Peter’s vision is typically used as a way of teaching that God was declaring all foods “clean” or acceptable to eat. However, looking more closely at the context and outcome, we can learn some aspects of vigilance in our walk with God.

Firstly, it is impressive to see how Peter had maintained his ritual purity throughout his life. He claims to have strictly followed the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 without fail. In his day and age, there were many opportunities to eat the wrong foods, even if by accident. There were meats that may have been acceptable for Jews to eat sold in the marketplace, but they may have been “contaminated” by previously being offered to other gods before being sold. This was a serious issue that Paul deals with in his epistle (1 Cor. 8). Many Jews were challenged to make sure they always knew where their food came from. This has been the basis of many kosher designations even to this day. Peter demonstrates that he was always vigilant to ensure he never violated the commands of God.

Secondly, Peter understood that this vision presented to him was not about foods that are acceptable or not acceptable to God, but about how God was opening a door to all people for the message of the kingdom to be propagated.

Peter himself states this is the meaning of the vision as he shares with Cornelius and his companions:

While talking with him, he went in and found a large gathering of people. Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner, but God has shown me [through the vision] that I must not call any person impure or unclean. “That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. … 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.

Acts 10:27-29, 34-35

Peter took the real meaning of the vision to mean that God was breaking down the barriers between men of different nations, and that the door of faith in Messiah would be opened to all who were willing to come. This was even confirmed to be the correct interpretation as the foreign men were visibly affected by receiving the Spirit of God (10:44-45).

You see, vigilance in our walk comes in many forms, whether our own personal commitment to holiness, or our obedience to the things that God may reveal to us. Peter exemplifies for us a measure of personal vigilance that we can learn from and follow in our own lives. When we receive instruction from God, whether through his word or through personal insight, we must be faithful in keeping it at all cost and without hesitation.

Noah’s life of integrity and righteousness is an example for us to follow

This is the account of Noah and his descendants. Noah was righteous and was a man of integrity among the people of his time. He walked [habitually] with God.

Genesis 6:9

Noah is remembered most famously for building an ark and surviving a great flood. But most people don’t realize he is the first person in the Bible to be named as righteous.

The Hebrew word for righteous is tsaddik. A tsaddik is a person who is considered just and righteous in conduct and character, Other contexts of the word include describing someone who is upright, honest, virtuous, pious. It is a word commonly used of good kings or judges who faithfully dispense justice and fairness.

In most Christian circles today, righteousness is typically viewed as something that is only conferred on an individual from God, as a bestowal of a righteous state that they did not possess previously. This perspective comes largely from the apostle Paul writing about the legal aspect of imputed righteousness, as in the case of Abraham who was accounted or considered righteous for his faith in God.

But this heavy theological concept of imputed righteousness masks the meaning of the word, as it implies someone can be considered righteous while not really being righteous; it is simply a way God chooses to view those who place their faith in him.

In reality, I think what Paul was attempting to convey, as it is used of Abraham in the book of Romans, is the idea that faith is equally considered a righteous act, along with all other lawful, virtuous, honest, and upright actions. Faith in God and his Messiah is considered a righteous action. That would have been a revolutionary concept to his audience. To be a tsaddik, they knew, was to faithfully and obediently follow the torah (or instruction) of God that has been revealed. To do this effectively, Paul says, requires faith, a righteous action like any other.

For Noah, this would mean that out of all others in his generation or age, he was the individual who most closely matched the ideal that God had provided up to that point because of his faith. While those in his day may not have had any written Scripture, there were undoubtedly oral teachings that had been passed from generation to generation since the days of Adam previously. And in God’s eyes, Noah was a tsaddik, a righteous individual, one who faithfully and continually walked with God.

To walk with God in this sense is to live in a way that pleases him, to abide by his counsels and admonitions, to be familiar with God and his ways and to direct one’s own personal affairs in agreement with God’s. This is biblical righteousness.

This is a life of integrity, as Yeshua described this concept in his Sermon on the Mount. To demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands. To be a person of your word, simply saying yes or no, and doing what you say. To crave equity; thirst for doing the right thing, To avoid hypocrisy, and to magnify God by letting your good deeds “shine.” To conduct yourself with mildness and gentleness, and, if necessary, to endure harmful attacks of those who may not agree with your right actions. All of these things could essentially be said of Noah, which is why he was considered a tsaddik.

We would do well to follow in his footsteps among our generation, doing what’s right in the face of adversity and corruption around us. God may not task each of us with building a literal ark, but we should be just as mindful of our responsibility to positively influence those around us through our integrity and faithful obedience to God’s revealed word.

The Sabbath is a feature of the kingdom built into Creation itself

Then he told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27

The kingdom of God has been designed by God to be not just an ideal to strive for, but to be a practical outworking of his desire for human behavior.

In the Kingdom Charter, the Ten Commandments, lies an aspect of the kingdom that is largely neglected among Christians today. God’s people have been instructed to remember the Sabbath and keep it set apart. It is a gift from him, a sacred memorial honoring the Creator (Yahweh), his provision, and his eternal purpose.

Most people assume the Sabbath was instituted for Israel at Sinai. However, we find that the seventh day was actually set apart at Creation, as God demonstrated a practice of rest from his work of creating on that day.

On the seventh day God had completed his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he rested from all his work of creation.

Genesis 2:2-3

From the very beginning of all things, God declared that this day was to be set apart as special. The word Sabbath actually conveys more than just rest, but an intermission; the cycle of days is intentionally interrupted by something different, a unique day unlike the others.

Yeshua, seeing that the Jewish authorities had corrupted the purpose of the day into a long list of requirements and restrictions, stated simply that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath. The day was intended to be a benefit, not a burden.

The New Living Translation brings this out in its rendering of this verse:

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27 – NLT

As humans come to recognize and honor their Creator and the Kingdom of God expands, the Sabbath cycle instituted at the creation of all things intentionally interrupts our daily routine and becomes the mode of reconnecting with the Source of our true life.

Intentional compassion stemming from our common bond with others

“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all you do. … Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command.

Deuteronomy 24:19, 22

Because ancient Israel was an agricultural society, there are many laws that apply specifically to that type of culture. Gleaning of the vineyards is one of those unique instructions that we can still learn from today.

When a field was harvested, sometimes the fruit or grain that was not quite ripe was left on the vine or the tree, with the idea that the harvesters would come back through the field at a later time to ensure all of the harvest was brought in.

However, God instructs the Israelites to leave what remained for those less fortunate in the land. After the main harvest, the poor class without income, typically widows, orphans, and resident outsiders, would be allowed to enter the fields of the wealthy and essentially scrounge whatever was left for themselves. In this way, the wealthy in the land would be assisting in providing for the literal welfare of those who could not provide for themselves.

What is interesting about this command is that God also provides the reasoning behind it. They were to be obedient in this way as a reminder to themselves of their previous slavery in Egypt. This act of compassion was to prevent them from abusing the lowest class, because they had previously collectively been in that situation in Egypt. Therefore, as they practiced this compassion within their society, they would be honoring the memory of their ancestral bondage, and making a statement that they would not be repeating the class abuse they had suffered in a foreign country.

In like fashion, we should take this ideal to heart and practice its equivalent in our day and age.

Firstly, this command should encourage us to maintain a mentality that is supportive all classes of people in our society. Unless we are among the ultra-wealthy, as a working class we need to consider how slender the line is between being solvent and becoming bankrupt ourselves. For some there may only be a few months or weeks of hardship that can transition them to a similar status. This understanding should prompt us to act compassionately, as we ourselves could easily be in a similar situation. Yeshua’s command to “do unto others as you would have them do to you” should provide an appropriate response on our part.

Secondly, we should be intentional about contributing to those among the lowest classes of our culture. Whether it is through volunteering in local events or organizations designed to provide assistance, or whether it is contributing to those types of causes through our abundance, this command should prompt us to have an intentional plan of assisting others in need. We may not have agricultural fields that others can glean from, but we all have some source or sources of income which can be be apportioned thoughtfully and compassionately.

While our current status might not be based on a lineage that has been rescued out of actual slavery, as believers we have all come from a background of spiritual slavery of disobedience to God in one form or another. He showed compassion to us when we were spiritually bankrupt and had nothing to offer him. If nothing else, this compassionate love of our God with us should provide a recognition of our common bond with all others in the world. This bond should then spur us on to obedience. to be faithful to God’s command of demonstrating compassion with those who cannot provide for themselves.

Authentic forgiveness has the ability to influence others to do the same

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Luke 23:34

One of the main reasons that Yeshua’s teachings have been so influential in the centuries and millennia is not just because of the wisdom, logic, and truth of what he taught, but because he actually demonstrated how to apply what he implored others to do.

As was the case in the instance of his crucifixion at the hands of his oppressors, he didn’t just preach forgiveness of enemies, he actually lived it out, praying for God to forgive those who had no intent toward him except extreme harm.

A message can have impact because it makes sense, or because it is an accepted tradition, or it may be a requirement of an institution or governing authority. However, the most impactful messages are those that are conveyed with consistency and authenticity by those who are presenting them.

By contrast, in our culture today, the opposite happens so frequently that there is the ironic statement expressed by the saying, ” Do what I say, not what I do.” This is the epitome of sad weakness in which one may have an understanding of what the right thing may be in a given situation, but they not have the strength or fortitude to carry out even their own advice. Hypocrisy is powerless.

But wisdom with consistent action makes a difference, especially with hard teachings like those about forgiveness. Anyone can say people should be forgiving of those who are intent on harm, but to do so in the most extreme of circumstances demonstrates authenticity that has power to change lives.

This is corroborated in the lives of his disciples, most visibly in the noble act of Stephen, when he faced the same type of hostility of those who would see him dead for his speaking of the truth.

Being called before the court to defend his beliefs, Stephen provides a protracted description of God’s favor with Israel, and then accuses the religious leaders of his day of forsaking everything they should have been practicing. In boldly speaking this truth, the situation then proceeded toward its inevitable conclusion.

[Stephen said,] “You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.” … When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. … They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. … He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! ” And after saying this, he died.

Acts 7:53-54, 57-58, 60

Stephen was so captivated with the powerful example of his Lord in forgiving his enemies that, thrust into a similar circumstance, he responded in the same way. His actions were consistent with his recognition of the truth related by his Master, and he was able to respond with the same level of demonstrable conviction. His righteous actions were so powerful they still influence and challenge us to this day.

Based on these demonstrations of genuine forgiveness of enemies by both Yeshua and Stephen, can we somehow find it within ourselves to forgive others with this same level of authenticity, even though we may not be faced with the extreme condition of impending death?

If this is the ultimate level of authenticity demanded of every disciple of Yeshua, then forgiving those who have wronged us in some minor detail seems much less daunting. In so doing, we have an opportunity to provide an authentic response that can influence others to do the same.

Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 11 – Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of vigilance necessary in a believer’s life to follow the narrow path that leads to a small entranceway of life.

Yeshua stated it this way:
“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.” Matthew 7:13-14

This narrow path analogy runs deep in religious circles. There is a general recognition of the unique nature of this path in the believers’ quest for life; it is narrow and rarely traveled compared to the broad way that leads to destruction, as Yeshua says.

The images usually used to convey this concept have to do with a narrow footpath, perhaps through a wilderness or along a mountain ridge. The idea typically put forth is that it is a path in out of the way places, away from the wider conveyances of the general population, just as a hiking path differs from an interstate highway. They are completely different ways of getting from point A to point B, and they take travelers to two different destinations.

All of this is not untrue in the context of the passage at hand, but if we dig a little deeper into some of the words Yeshua used to express this concept, we may come away with a slightly different and more profound understanding.

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
Narrow is the way.–Literally, pressed, or hemmed in between walls or rocks, like the pathway in a mountain gorge.

This narrowness is defined by obstacles that are standing nearby, preventing movement in either direction but forward. It is also expressed as a way that is “compressed,” there is affliction and tribulation associated with this way.

To summarize this type of understanding, in the Core of the Bible paraphrase I have restated it this way: “There is a constricted entryway into life which has many obstacles standing about it. Labor fervently to stay on the difficult path that leads through the cramped passage to life along with the few others who also perceive its value and find it.” In my view, this description sharpens some of the terms in our English versions like “small gate”and “narrow path.”

A typical understanding of this verse might leave one with the picture of a small, one-person garden gate that must be entered after walking along a beautiful, winding, narrow path through meadows and forests. The sun has been shining, the birds have been singing, and beautiful flowers line the sides of the path. The way has been relatively flat and we have rarely had to exert ourselves in our protected way.

However, I would like to propose a slightly different picture, a fictional parable designed to illustrate the narrow path that Yeshua speaks of.

The way of life is to traverse the desolate high plateau of Arizona or Colorado through a narrow slot canyon which twists and turns in confusing patterns. You are never able to see more than 100 feet in front of you, and confusing side-canyons are passed from time to time. It’s where rockfalls tumble in front of you and must be climbed over; where poisonous reptiles lurk in sun-warmed hand-holds while you are consistently scraping through passages only wide enough to pass through sideways, sucking in your stomach and putting your arms out flat to ensure you have clearance to get through.

Finally, after braving the obstructions and challenges of the slot canyon, the destination is not a single-person garden gate at the end of the meadow path, but a weathered and heavy door that opens to an indiscriminate rough cave opening at the end of the canyon. To enter the darkness of the cave, you have to get down on your already-scraped and bruised knees as you move into a cramped passageway with loose rubble strewn in the way.

Ahead, the darkness gives way to some dim light peering around the bend ahead. Sweating due to the exertion of the journey, and repeatedly hitting your head on unseen obstacles hanging from the cramped cave passage, you reach forward with a dirt-stained arm to push through the rubble of the partially blocked passageway ahead to see where the light is coming from.

Okay, so this slot canyon analogy expands quite a bit on the narrow path contained in the imagery used by Yeshua. I think you might notice a slight difference between this depiction here and how that concept is typically presented.

But that’s the point. We have to look at things differently because it really isn’t all sunshine and roses and mountain meadows on the path to life.

ou see, believers have chosen a difficult option when it comes to a life path. One cannot just fall into the Kingdom of God by accidentally stumbling into it; it requires grit, intentionality, and determination to pursue the things of God.

It’s not just a sunny walk on a garden path (although it can be at times), but it’s more typically a perilous journey around obstacles and through constricted passageways, all the while wondering if you’ve heard God correctly. Then a confirmation appears on the way ahead, but only far enough to get you to the next corner or the next obstacle, and then you must continue pushing on.

Testing happens at every corner, but testing is for the purpose of strengthening. Strengthening provides stability of footing and the opportunity to grasp the hands of others whom you may encounter inside this narrow canyon and help them on the way.

Vigilance on this path means being intentional, listening for God’s direction. It includes being strengthened through testing, and looking beyond yourself to the needs of others along the way. This is the path of the disciple of Yeshua, the narrow path of vigilance that leads to the constricted entrance of life.

However, in learning about the path, it is necessary to discuss why one would even seek such a path in the first place. If someone is to go through all of the struggle and hardship mentioned previously, then it makes sense that they should have a clear understanding of the goal. Yeshua says “the way is narrow that leads to life.” What is this life he mentions?

First of all, the type of life mentioned here must be some other sort of life than just raw existence somewhere. We know he can’t just be speaking here of life as existence, because someone who is striving for a goal is already physically alive.

Looking at some perspectives from over the centuries since Yeshua spoke those words, we find different ways of viewing this concept of life.

Matthew Poole, a British theologian in the 1600’s, states what is likely a very common understanding of this passage when he writes:

The sum of what our Saviour here saith is this: There are but two ultimate ends of all men, eternal destruction and eternal life. The course that leadeth to destruction is like a broad way that is obvious to all, and many walk in that. That course of life and actions which will bring a man to heaven is strait [not straight, but as in a narrow, restricted passageway], unpleasing to flesh and blood, not at all gratifying men’s sensitive appetites, and narrow, (the Greek is, afflicted), a way wherein men will meet with many crosses and temptations; and there are but a few will find it.

John Gill, also a British theologian living a generation after Poole, in his Exposition of the Bible states a similar view:

which leadeth unto life: unto eternal life: it certainly leads thither; it never fails of bringing persons to it; believers in Christ, all that walk in Christ the way, though they are said to be “scarcely” saved, by reason of their afflictions and trials they meet with in their way to the kingdom; yet they are, and shall be certainly saved: they shall be safely brought to glory; which will be an abundant recompense for all the troubles and sorrows that have attended them in their journey.

I find it interesting that those who equate the kingdom of God with some ethereal after-life existence will typically align the term “life” with “eternal life,” as in, unending after-life as a reward for faithfulness during this temporary existence.

However, various commentators over the centuries have described this idea of “life” that Yeshua expresses here in different ways than just eternity. Some have thought of this life as more of a description of an ideal than just a state of existence.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament states it this way:

The right way… is described as narrow and contracted, and as leading to life.—, a pregnant word, true life, worth living, in which men realise the end of their being—the antithesis of [destruction].

Pulpit Commentary

That leadeth unto life. Observe, Christ does not say, “life eternal.” He only cares to emphasize the thought of life in the fullest nature of life – life as “the fulfilment of the highest idea of being: perfect truth in perfect action”

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

Which leadeth unto life.–Noteworthy as the first passage in our Lord’s recorded teaching in which the word “life” appears as summing up all the blessedness of the kingdom. The idea is developed as we advance; the life becomes “eternal,” and finally we are taught that the eternal life consists in the true and perfect knowledge of God and Christ (John 17:2-3).

We will explore John 17 further in a little bit.

Matthew Henry straddles both the concepts of this present life and eternity when he writes:

And yet this way should invite us all; it leads to life: to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which at the end of our way, should make all the difficulties of the road easy to us.

Throughout Yeshua’s teaching, he always spoke of the kingdom as being near or “at hand.” In my view, the life of the kingdom should not be relegated solely to some after-life existence or some future worldwide paradise. Life and kingdom are a reality now, as we live obediently and faithfully in our present existence.

By contrast, the way of destruction that is broad and contains many travelers is then a life without knowing God, without knowing Yeshua. That life leads to destruction or loss because the things done in that life have no lasting value.

Some other Jewish writings from the time of the New Testament state the plight of the wicked from their perspective as they realize the error of being on the wrong road:

Wisdom 5:6 So it was we who strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of righteousness did not shine on us,
and the sun did not rise upon us.
7 We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction,
and we journeyed through trackless deserts,
but the way of the Lord we have not known.
8 What has our arrogance profited us?
And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?

That’s a sad commentary on a life that is recognized as having been wasted. If we were to view those on the wide road of destruction as lost from the narrow path, and not just on some inevitable  conveyer belt to damnation, we might be more inclined to reach out to them to at least show them the option of the way of life, the way of the kingdom, and to exemplify its standards. They may not be attracted to it because of the challenges it presents, but some will. 

GK Chesterton is quoted as saying, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

But even though this may be the case, we should never give up hope for others to also be drawn to this Way. Some will instinctively know it is the right way to go, regardless of the challenges. After all, we are here, and learning from each other how to move further down the canyon, and identifying which side-canyons and areas to avoid. It is possible for others to come off of the way of destruction as many of us had when we saw the alternative potential of the, albeit more challenging, way of life.

Earlier, I had mentioned in a portion of the Ellicott commentary how I liked his bringing of John 17:3 into the discussion at hand, as that verse captures this view of life that I also hold as my own:

John 17:3- And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Eternal life is knowing God and recognizing Yeshua as sent from God. This life that is stated as eternal here is expressed through the Greek word aionios. While it certainly conveys the idea of enduring, perpetual and everlasting (what we would consider eternal), it also implies that which has always been and will always be. It is typically translated as age, as in distinguishing one era of time from another.

If this eternal life is “life of the age,” what is the age that Yeshua is speaking about here? I believe he is speaking of what, to Yeshua’s listeners, would have been considered a “new” age to them; an age of life available through faith in Messiah, an age that would never end. I believe we are continuing to live in that age today.

The path of that life is narrow, constricted, and full of hardship and travail. Yet it is one that results in true life: knowledge of the only true God and his Messiah Yeshua. That is a life worth striving for.

If we are to conclude our fictional parable of journeying through the constricted passageway to life, the description might proceed as a milestone is reached, making our way toward the faint light ahead:

The final obstructions of rock tumble down a slope ahead of you as you push through the cramped passageway into a lighted cavern beyond, which opens up into a hidden paradise. A waterfall empties into a vast lake of clear, cool water. Sunlight from above, hurtful to eyes which had strained through the darkness, streams abundantly over all , nourishing the fruit trees and berry bushes lining the shores of the lake.

Tumbling headlong down the slope, you stumble wearily to the refreshing waters and drench yourself at the shore, cupping the running water coming from the waterfall and drinking liberally. You and your companions take pleasure in having reached this place of rest and refreshment along the way. The knowledge of this place reassures you that you are on the right path. On the opposite end of the lake, another canyon beckons toward the continuing journey.

The way of life is a way of vigilance, of watching for obstructions and challenges, and it is a way of grit, determination, and effort. But the reward is a knowledge of our Creator and his Messiah that enhances our every step in the here and now. He provides the refreshment and strength we need to complete the journey.

As we seek to follow Yeshua, we are drawn not only to him, but to each other. And if we have this perspective of reassurance and reward,  we can hold one another up and help each other on the way.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Vigilance is a challenging way of living, of keeping an eye out for the dangers around you while intently listening for God’s direction and constantly scanning and looking for the continuation of the narrow way to life.

We need to keep in mind that vigilance is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, holiness, trust, forgiveness and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.

Have questions about todays topic, or comments or insights you would like to share about your own path? Perhaps you have found this podcast helpful or encouraging. If so, I would love to hear from you and include listener comments in future episodes, so feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

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