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

As disciples of Yeshua we are commanded to respond with blessing, that is, speaking well of all others at all times.

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.

Fasting and prayer: devotion in the service of others

Fasting is a practice of holiness, or setting apart, which can create an intimate time of seeking to commune with God. But as we will see, it is also a strong metaphor for the concept of whole-hearted devotion to serving others.

Core of the Bible podcast #19 – Fasting and prayer: devotion in the service of others

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Holiness, and the role of fasting and prayer. This is a practice of holiness, or setting apart, which can create an intimate time of seeking to commune with God. But as we will see, it is also a strong metaphor for the concept of whole-hearted devotion to serving others.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Moreover when you fast, do not be as the hypocrites, of a sad appearance; for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, that you do not appear unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18

Now the primary purpose of this teaching by Yeshua was to address the issue of public pride that the Jewish leaders would practice to make a show of their obedience openly. He instead focuses on the private and sincere relationship that believers should have with God. Yeshua does not dissuade the practice of fasting, just the manner in which the Jews were using it to make themselves look better in the eyes of others.

Fasting is a practice of believers mentioned throughout the Bible, typically coupled with intense, focused prayer.

Daniel 9:3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes…

Mark 9:29  And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, except by prayer and fasting.

Acts 14:23  And when they had ordained themselves elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

1 Corinthians 7:5  Do not deprive one another, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan not tempt you for your lack of self control.

Of course the admonition of Yeshua is that fasting and prayer should not in any way become a source of pride and vanity, as if you are doing something special that God should suddenly sit up and take notice of. He encourages fasting in the context of the daily routine, without any indication to others that you might be separating yourself apart. This “secret” aspect of fasting and prayer indicates the personal nature of this type of communion with God.

By reviewing how fasting and prayer have been used in the Bible, we can come to a better practical understanding of how God intends us to use this practice in ways that honor him. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but highlights some insights into this misunderstood practice.

Fasting and prayer as an act of repentance

Fasting is related to a humbling of oneself before God. In many English versions, this is typically translated as affliction or humbling; to “afflict one’s soul” was an act of humility before Yahweh. This was specifically listed as a commanded practice on the Day of Atonement each year, a day of seeking God and petitioning him for forgiveness.

And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger who sojourns among you: … It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and you shall afflict your souls by a statute forever. Leviticus 16:29, 31

This corporate fasting was to be for a national representative humbling before God, that the community would always remain obedient to God’s ways and that his acceptance would be evident throughout their land for the coming year. Fasting, therefore, is a manner of self-denial in the service of a larger objective.  

Fasting and prayer was for seeking God’s involvement and favor

These are some additional examples of corporate fasting and prayer that was used to seek God’s will and a hopeful outcome of events.

Ezra 8:21, 23 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Aha’va, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him an upright way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. … So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

It is interesting to note that these examples of corporate fasting were for the benefit of others, or for better understanding God’s purpose and will for their lives.

Fasting and prayer for the sake of enemies

We typically see fasting and prayer as a way of declaring our sincerity before God for our personal requests, yet the Psalmist carries a clear directive of how he was moved to fast and pray for even his enemies.

Psalm 35:11-14 False witnesses stepped forward and questioned me concerning things about which I knew nothing. They paid me back evil for good; my soul mourns. But when they were sick, I wore sackcloth, humbled myself with fasting, and prayed from my heart repeatedly. I paced about as for my friend or my brother, and fell down mourning as one weeps for one’s mother.

This, of course, echoes the later teaching of Yeshua.

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Fasting accompanied great times of testing, but also of revelation.

We see that  Yeshua fasted during this pivotal time of testing at the outset of his public ministry. 

Luke 4:1-2 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Likewise, Moses had fasted on Sinai during his time of communion with Yahweh which resulted in the provision of the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 34:28  And he [Moses] was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Both of these men had fasted in the service of others which resulted in bold empowerment in their public ministries.

Fasting and prayer with the wrong attitude

Isaiah is very bold in denouncing the corrupt religiosity of his day when he confronts Israel with a hypothetical conversation between the Israelites and God.

Isaiah 58:3-5  ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD?

Fasting is not a cure-all for the deficiencies of the heart; if our heart is not right, we will not be praying right, fasting or not.  

Through all of these passages, we are learning that fasting is significant, but only if it is done with a right and sincere attitude, and primarily in the service of others, not for our own selfish ambitions.

In teaching of the fulfillment of this kingdom, Yeshua continues this idea of being set apart through fasting. He encourages this practice among believers but cautions them not to make a show of it with others, otherwise their “humbling” would itself become a form of hypocrisy. Fasting and prayer was not to be something for personal benefit or gain, but for the service of others. Yeshua specifies that true fasting and prayer is “unto your Father,” as a means of private intimacy in communication with him.  

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites [do,] for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

When we fast, we should take measures to be certain it is not obvious to others. Our private works of humility and worship in the service of, and communion with, the one true God should remain private. If we are sincere in preparing our hearts and bodies to be receptive to the leading of God, we must maintain that intimacy.

When our inner convictions become just an outward show, we have denied ourselves and create a mockery of God. Self-adulation and false humility demonstrate a shallow understanding of our spiritual condition for the simple purpose of bettering ourselves in the eyes of others.

Ultimately, fasting reminds us who our Provider is, both physically and spiritually

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And you shall remember all the ways which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.

In the wilderness, the Israelites were forced to fast as a way of recognizing their dependence on God. Their lack of food provided the example that God would also supply their needs through the manna. They were set apart in the wilderness, a people called to a unique way of life that was to exemplify the kingdom of God on the earth. In this wilderness experience, they were to be humbled, proven. God wanted to find out what was in their hearts. He taught them dependence on him for their physical and spiritual needs.

This whole narrative is an appropriate allegory for us today, as this world system we live in can appear to be a vast wilderness devoid of any life-giving support. God uses this world system to humble and prove us, searching for what is in our hearts. He wants us to recognize him and depend on him for our spiritual and physical needs. This way, the kingdom community can grow and thrive.

The right kind of fasting

Going back to Isaiah, he provides us the clearest insight into God’s view of fasting and prayer:

Isaiah 58:6-11 – “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

I have always loved this passage in Isaiah because it highlights the fallacy of fasting as a sort of magic charm that can be used to get God’s attention for personal desires. Instead, Isaiah says what really gets God’s attention is denying ourselves (i.e., fasting) through the service of others. The provision of justice and mercy is what true fasting is all about. What makes us holy or set apart from others should be our sincere and tireless efforts in outreach to those in need. Most people in the world are existing for their own wants and desires; God’s people should demonstrate a different mindset, one that seeks to focus on others, even to the point of denying oneself so that others can be benefited.

The apostle Paul writes:

Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In summary of all I’ve discussed here today, denying body and soul is a personal discipline that is meant to take our eyes off of ourselves and our own needs. Making a display of it contradicts everything it is intended to accomplish.

However, maintaining a vital and dynamic intimacy with God through our heart understanding working in concert with our actions towards others provides great personal reward. Fasting with prayer is a spiritual practice that, done for the right reasons and in the correct, sincere manner, will provide a deep level of personal connection with God in the service of others. This practice provides us an opportunity to continually set ourselves apart in seeking God’s purpose within his kingdom. This is an unseen way in which we are strengthened to visibly serve others effectively in his name.

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 fasting and prayer is not a personal discipline for our own selfish desires, but a means of humbling ourselves before God in the service of the needs of others.

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.

God knows and provides refuge for those who trust in him

Yahweh is a refuge for those trusting in him.

Yahweh is good, as a fortified refuge in a day of distress. And He knows those trusting in Him.

Nahum 1:7

In the context of pronouncing judgment against the city of Nineveh, the prophet Nahum provides a jewel amidst the various descriptions of God’s wrath being poured out on his enemies: “Yahweh knows those trusting in him.”

This was meant as a reassurance to the faithful in Israel who were living in a climate of Assyrian dominance. It is thought at the time of the writing of this prophecy that the northern ten tribes had already been taken captive a generation earlier, and now judgment was falling on the enemies of Israel as well. What guarantee was there that they also would not be swept up in the surrounding warfare? “Yahweh knows those trusting in him.”

This Hebrew conception of knowing conveys real knowledge, distinguishing, recognizing, being acquainted with someone. This is how Yahweh lives among his people. He knows them and understands them, he is familiar with their ways and their character.

Psalm 1:6  For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

2 Timothy 2:19  Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, Yahweh knows those who are his. And let every one that names the name of Messiah depart from iniquity.

How often we struggle to understand the conflicts going on around us. Sometimes it may feel as if we are lost in a sea of corruption and opposition. Yet, if we are trusting in him and seeking his kingdom and his righteous ways, we can rest assured that he knows and distinguishes us as his own, and that he is that refuge in which we can be safely sheltered.

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.

Proactive compassion is honest and doesn’t hide or refrain from helping

Believers are not exempted from helping with the needs of those around them.

“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help.

Exodus 23:4-5

“If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner. If its owner does not live nearby or you don’t know who the owner is, take it to your place and keep it until the owner comes looking for it. Then you must return it. Do the same if you find your neighbor’s donkey, clothing, or anything else your neighbor loses. Don’t ignore your responsibility. “If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet!

Deuteronomy 22:1-4

Most people will typically be available to help friends and loved ones in their time of need. However, one of the easiest things to do when a need from an anonymous individual becomes apparent to us is to pass by, turn the other way, or to simply ignore it. We can justify this by any number of ways saying we are not qualified to help, or not capable, or more commonly, on a schedule with no time for distractions.

But the torah or instruction of God makes no such distinctions. God removes anyone’s justifications with a couple of choice phrases. In the Exodus passage regarding one’s enemies, God says the Israelites should not refrain from or leave undone the thing that needs to be done. In the Deuteronomy passage regarding a brother, God says that one should not hide or conceal oneself from their need.

Regardless if one is an enemy or just an anonymous person in need, the honest response that God expects of his people is that those individuals would not be ignored.

Yeshua confirms this instruction by illustrating an ideal response with the story of the Good Samaritan. The righteous Israelites passed by the man who had been assaulted by robbers, but the Samaritan, considered an “enemy” by the Jews of the day, was the hero of the story and did what God expects of all of us. Yeshua made it personal for his audience in his day, certainly highlighting how any person, even an enemy, is valued significantly more highly than a donkey.

Admittedly, this type of proactive assistance was much more necessary in the day and age when emergency services were not available, as it was up to the individuals in a community to watch out for one another’s needs and not to rely on local agencies to address those types of situations. Even so, the local agencies can only help so much because the needs vary so greatly among regional populations.

Since it is God who makes this type of involvement personal and required, we should be honest and not neglect our response to the individual needs that become apparent to us. Many times, in an effort at charitability, we instead choose to focus on the anonymous movements to “save the world” in one fashion or another. Those endeavors may also be helpful in different ways, but they do not relieve us of our obligations to help proactively in personal ways with the immediate needs of those around us, friend and foe alike.

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Luke 10:36-37

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week I 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.

Persistence in prayer according to the will of God

Yeshua teaches about being persistent in prayer by instructing his followers to ask, seek, and knock continually. As we learn more about these aspects of prayer, we also learn more about the nature of God.

Core of the Bible Podcast #18 – Persistence in prayer according to the will of God

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Vigilance, specifically persistence in prayer according to the will of God.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

In his saying here is an aspect of continual, persistent activity: always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened to you, and to find what you’re searching for.

Vigilance can be defined as concentrated focus over long periods of time during which one is continually striving toward a target objective. It is in this sense that Yeshua is explaining how continued and prolonged effort is required in pursuing the things of God, and in the practice of pursuing God himself in prayer.

Persistence in any endeavor will always provide the benefit sought for, but even more so when we continue in prayer for the things that God would have us pray for.

Now, admittedly, consistent and intentional prayer is something that many of us, including myself, struggle with on a regular basis. When I have listened to sermons on prayer or read about prayer life practices in general, most of the time the individual relays the personal struggles they face in the practice of prayer.

Why does it seem so difficult? For me at least it has been mostly because I haven’t understood the mechanics of prayer and how it works. Perhaps this is a similar challenge for some of you, as well. Our logical minds are fixated on pigeon-holing God into some sort of descriptive prison so that we can then know how to poke and prod at him to understand how he operates.

For example, if God is sovereign, and he already knows what we would pray for before we pray it, then why bother? Does he really need us to pray before he acts in any situation? Can we somehow change God’s mind by praying? All of these types of questions can flood the mind and make any attempt at prayer unfruitful.

Among believers there are several different views of God that can affect how we choose to approach him in prayer.

There is the “total control view” which sees God as knowing everything about everything everywhere, at all times. Every atom of every living or inert thing is positioned exactly as he desires at every instant. The path of each life is mapped out before it even starts, and it will not waver at any given time. If this is an individual’s perspective, then why pray if God already has everything planned out for all time?

At the opposite extreme there’s the “prayer controls everything” mindset which states essentially that God is unable to do anything unless and until his people pray for it. This, essentially, becomes and idolatrous view of prayer, where God is essentially inert in a situation until someone prays for his involvement in a specific way, then he can act. In this view, God is subservient to the person praying.

Another perspective perhaps midway between these extremes is the “dynamic involvement view” which holds that while God is in control of all things, he is still involved in all aspects of his continually unfolding creation, moving things here and there to modify his plan as it moves through time, ensuring that everything ends up where it needs to be in the end. In this view, prayer would seem to have more effect than in the total control scenario, because as situations are “live” and haven’t been cemented into place yet, there is still an opportunity to perhaps persuade God of a specific outcome.

These descriptions of God’s activities are all wide generalizations with differing emphases, when in reality I believe these views are more like definitions on a spectrum, with individual beliefs falling anywhere in between various aspects of these descriptions as far as what they believe about God. The reason this is possible is because Scripture can be called up to support each of these differing views to varying extents. So, in a sense, they are all kind of true while not being exclusively so.

So what are we to make of all of this messy theology?

What I’ve learned is that while God is definitely in control of all things, he allows us to be involved in the outworking of his creative actions. He has allowed man the privilege of co-ruling and co-reigning with him in his Creation; that’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. Somehow, and I don’t know how, and nobody can explain this fully, but somehow God is totally sovereign and in control of everything, yet he still allows us genuine free will, not imagined or illusory. He is is not in any way constrained or obligated by anything we say or do, yet he still chooses to be responsive to us and our needs on a personal level.

This has been a huge personal revelation for me, because it demonstrates that the  sovereignty/free will issue is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and reality. God desires to have a real sense of intimacy with the individuals of his Creation, but he is in no way beholden to them. If he chooses to enter or create a covenant relationship, he is free to do so and he will be faithful to that. In a similar way, if we choose to believe him or not, we are free to so. Quite honestly, a relationship with God is the freest relationship we can ever experience.

Yeshua understood this type of relationship with God because he encouraged believers, in fact expected them, to be involved with God on an intimate level, just as he was. Yeshua was absolutely clear that God desires us to confide in him, to rely on him, to trust him, and to do so continually.

John 17:11, 21-22  I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. … that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one –

That’s a level of intimacy that should be a common occurrence with all believers, especially since Yeshua prayed that that would be the case with his followers.

So with this understanding that God desires his people to pray, and with Yeshua’s clear directive for perseverance in prayer, let’s take a look at some other aspects of prayer that we can glean from Yeshua’s teaching in other contexts.

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To further understand aspects of prayer, we might consider what Yeshua taught about it within the various contexts of his teaching.

Prayer is EXPECTED of God’s people

Matthew 6:5-7  “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites…

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Luke 18:1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…

Notice Yeshua mentions repeatedly, WHEN you pray. This is not an option for those who claim to believe in the one true God. He teaches that people should always pray and never give up. Yeshua assumes that prayer is a standard operating procedure for his followers, and he is simply guiding them in specifics. We should pray to the Father, we should pray privately, we should pray simply, and we should pray with perseverance.

If Yeshua taught that people should pray, then his view of God is one in which prayer is significant and has real value, and we should take that to heart as well.

Yeshua also taught that prayer CHANGES OUR VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES

Luke 6:28 “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

I’ll be honest, those are the hardest people to pray for. Nobody enjoys having to deal with people who curse them or who use them and abuse them. Yet, Yeshua directs that those who are antagonistic or overtly hostile towards us are especially those whom we should be praying for. We should speak well of them (which is what blessing them is) and be kind to them, praying for their well-being. What? Why would this even be a thing that he asks of us? 

For one thing, this type of perspective removes emotional animosity and allows us to endure strife, but it also has the ability to change their perspectives and their lives depending on how God chooses to. When you react to animosity and oppression in ways that are not expected, it can have a profound impact on those individuals. His kingdom is one in which all should be made to feel welcomed; in so doing, many hearts are changed.

Yeshua relates that prayer also helps us OVERCOME TEMPTATION

Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.”

Luke 22:46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

This is real-time help when we need it, not some idealistic goal to hope to attain at some point in the future. Yeshua is relating that prayer provides real help in the very time and moments when we are tempted. If God is not involved in real-time, then Yeshua is relating a falsehood about the effectiveness of prayer. By viewing these characteristics of prayer, we can come to a better understanding of God, and how he chooses to work within his creation.

Prayer STRENGTHENS OUR FAITH IN GOD

Mark 11:22-24 NLT – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, in all that you pray and ask for, believe that it is laid hold of; you will see it happen.

These verses are the favorites of the “name it and claim it” crowd, those who believe that as long as they have enough faith and believe strongly enough in their desire, it will come to pass. This is the error of the Secret, or the Law of Attraction crowd.

Generally speaking, they take this verse to essentially mean that whatever you truly believe in your heart, or whatever you “speak into the universe” will come to pass and be manifested in your life.

The problem with that is that meaning can only be true if you pull this passage completely out of its biblical context. I mean, you need to physically  tear this passage completely out of the Bible and have it stand on its own to try and force that meaning into it. Nowhere else in the Bible is that type of mentality taught or instructed.

We know that can’t be the meaning of this passage, because it starts off with the words “have faith in God,” not “have faith in whatever you’re choosing to manifest.” Right there is an indication that something is off when this wrong interpretation is drawn from this passage.

To understand this passage correctly, this teaching has to be taken within the context of the Bible as a whole.

To have faith in God is to understand the nature of God from his word. And in his word, God is sovereign and his will is always accomplished.

1 John 5:14-15: “This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.”

John’s teaching helps clarify this concept for us in a huge way. Essentially having faith in God, we understand his will from his word, and when we ask anything according to his will, of course it will come to pass. So these are the things that we should be believing for to come to pass in our lives and the lives of those around us: those things that are within the will of God.

Romans 8:26-28: “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

The idea that prayer has real consequences again intimates that God is active within his Creation and desires us to exhibit faith in him when we pray. When those consequences come to pass, it strengthens our faith.

Most importantly, Yeshua teaches us about PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER. When we persevere in asking God, we are more apt to be positioning ourselves within his will, because our continual focus is our dependence on, and fellowship with, him.

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Yeshua highlights this through the famous “ask, seek, and knock” passage that we started off with here in Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

So, what should we be asking for, what should we be seeking, and where should we be knocking?

Interestingly, Yeshua has provided those answers for us within the context of his teachings.

Ask:

Matthew 6:8-13 …your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. So then, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is the primary thing we should be asking for, God‘s kingdom to come on earth. And of course he authorizes other things in your life that are according to God‘s will such as our daily provision, forgiveness, and avoidance of temptation.

We are to ask for his holy Spirit

Luke 11:13 KJV – If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall [your] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Praying for God‘s holy Spirit is really a prayer for his presence in our lives.

What about seeking?

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Again, the kingdom of God should be front and center in all of our praying. And we should be seeking his righteousness, which is doing the right thing according to his word. I’m hoping through all of these examples you can see the pattern emerging how closely prayer is tied to understanding God‘s word.

So that’s the asking and seeking aspect that Yeshua teaches us about. What about knocking?

Now the knocking is a little more subtle and obscure, but where this word for knock is used in other passages, I think a beautiful picture about prayer emerges.

Luke 12:35-36 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks.

Revelation 3:20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.

Both of these images involve a knocking and a welcoming in when the door is opened. Both of them involve the guest coming in to a prepared meal or feast.

If the context of the ask seek and knock is all about prayer, then it’s as if Yeshua is saying that when we knock on God’s door in prayer, the door WILL be opened and we will be welcomed in to share a meal with him. And of course sharing a meal is the Hebraic equivalent of fellowship, and honestly intimate fellowship.

Putting this all together, when we ASK for God’s kingdom to come, when we SEEK God’s kingdom first, then when we KNOCK on God’s metaphorical door in prayer, we will be received with open arms and welcomed in to a bountiful table.

And when our prayer life is saturated with the kingdom mentality, it prevents us from asking amiss for our own selfish desires, as James relates:

James 4:2-3 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.

The outline of persistent prayer that Yeshua gives us here in Matthew 7 ensures that our prayer life stays focused on the kingdom. All of the imperatives in this passage convey continuity and persistence: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. This vigilance in prayer will provide a continual stream of opportunity for aligning with and expanding God’s kingdom.

It is this process of constant pursuit of the kingdom that branches into new possibilities. These can then open up into unforeseen (by us) directions of God’s will, thereby achieving his purpose. Remaining static and hoping that God’s will drops into our lap is not the biblical way. It is only as we remain consistently searching and moving that we can then be drawn and directed into the areas of growth that God has for us according to his will.

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 many will pray and then do nothing more; true believers are expected to keep asking for the kingdom to be manifested, to keep searching for kingdom opportunities, and to keep close fellowship with God in prayer in hopeful anticipation of accomplishing God’s direction and purpose in this life.

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 care and protection of God for his people requires their complete trust

When we flee to the refuge of God’s care and protection under his wings, we are demonstrating our total dependence on him.

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.

Psalm 36:7

There is interesting imagery here of trust in God that is similar to being protected by him as a bird might shelter their young under their wings. This type of imagery evokes elements of danger in which the parent hides and camouflages its young from any predators that might by in the vicinity. The parent bird, vigilant and alert, watches for any signs of danger, and is willing to fend off any careless intruders.

Psalm 57:1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by.
Psalm 61:4 I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah
Psalm 91:4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

The Hebrew word for trust in these passages encompasses ideas of refuge, safety from danger, protection. In studying this metaphor, I stumbled across a reader comment who had experience with farmyard birds and their behaviors:

I used to raise chickens. The hens would spread their wings, scoop up the babies and gather them underneath their wings. The faces of the hens would shine with contentment, knowing the babies were being kept warm and safe. One of my hens was protecting her eggs when the rooster let her know that he wanted her to get off the eggs and mate with him. She refused to put her babies in jeopardy. So, the rooster pecked her in the head in a violent attach until she lost consciousness. He also killed her babies. She was willing to die for the safety of her babies. My young son gave the rooster away, nursed her back to health by feeding her water with a dropper, and placed new eggs under her from a neighbor’s chicken. She recovered to enjoy her new family. Indeed, hens will go to their death for the sake of their children.

Why is the Hen Gathering Her Chicks? (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34) | HolyLandPhotos’ Blog (wordpress.com)

This reality comes into stark relief against the backdrop of first-century Israel, when Yeshua himself speaks for the Father’s care and concern over Israel.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling!

Matthew 23:37

Jerusalem and Israel would be destroyed because of their stubbornness and refusal to trust in Yeshua and rest securely in God’s protective care, a prophetic prediction that would come to pass 40 years later.

For us today, the word trust is defined as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” When we flee to the refuge of God’s care and protection under his wings, we are demonstrating our total dependence on him that he is able, and willing, to keep our spiritual lives safely protected within his watchful care.

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.

God’s desire for his people to live obediently with renewed hearts

Obedience to the ways of God always provides the best outcome for the lives of believers and their descendants.

O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

Deuteronomy 5:29

God’s desire toward his people is revealed in this verse. He desires a constancy in purpose and vigilance in seeking his ways in all things.

This is one of the few times that God is actually pleased with the response of Israel, at this most pivotal of events in their history. This is the scene at Sinai, when God has rallied his people to himself after delivering them from the oppression of Egypt and bringing them through the dangers of the desert wilderness. He has revealed himself to them in the awe-inspiring display of the thunderous, smoking mountain, speaking the Ten Commandments to the entire assembly. The people recoil in fear having heard the penetrating heavenly voice speak the words of the covenant directly to them. In response, the people urge Moses to be the one to go near to God and to intercede for them.

Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You go near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and you speak unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto you; and we will hear, and do it.

Deuteronomy 5:25-27, 29

In the recognition of the majesty and power of the one true God, Israel can only respond with the famous agreement: “you speak unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto you; and we will hear, and do it.” This is the response that God desired; not for them to merely be fearful of him, but for them to respect who he is enough for them to be willing to hear and to do. As a parent who knows what’s best for their children, God desired his people to respond to him from the heart with obedient understanding for their own good. He even says that if they obeyed, it would go well with them and their children. Obedience to the ways of God would provide the best outcome for their lives and their descendants.

It is then that God reveals his deepest desire for them: if only they had hearts that would seek him always, it would go well with them. If they would remain vigilant to his ways in all things, they would be blessed. In this rare moment in time, he sees his people truly desiring to be obedient to himself. But he knows they will rebel, not because they don’t believe him, but because their hearts are hard. He longs for a time when they might have renewed hearts of faith that will cause them to walk in his ways in all things and at all times.

This is truly God’s desire for everyone: renewed hearts of obedience for those who have demonstrated sincere faith in his revelation of himself, just as he revealed himself at Sinai. When we come to recognize the majesty of the Father working through Yeshua, then like Israel of old we should come to Yeshua as they did to Moses, saying, “you speak unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto you; and we will hear, and do it.” When we place our faith in Yeshua as teaching us the truths of the Father, just as Israel did toward Moses in that ancient wilderness, we receive the ability to fulfill this longing of our Creator: to have hearts that fear him and vigilantly keep his commands always.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

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.

The most effective act of righteousness is simply believing God

Paul equates faith in Messiah as a righteous act, equally as righteous as any of the acts of the law-keeping Jews, and in fact more so, because faith in God was the whole point of the law.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

Romans 3:21-22

One of the radical teachings brought out by the apostle Paul is the fact that faith in God and his Messiah is considered a righteous act. To his Jewish audience, righteousness had been defined solely by following the law of Moses. In fairness, this would not have been an incorrect conclusion, but the Jews had complicated it further by adding man-made rules and traditions that began to overshadow the original intent of God in the first place.

Paul’s argument throughout the early chapters of his letter to the Roman assembly is challenging, to be sure, but masterfully lays out how all along faith had been the root of righteousness that God was seeking for his people, and he uses the example of Abraham to make his point.

For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Romans 4:13

Paul’s whole point in doing so is to demonstrate how the torah or instruction of God described how Abraham was considered righteous simply by believing what God had promised him. This is the righteousness that was “apart from the law” (because it was 400 years before Sinai) yet “witnessed by the law and Prophets.” It’s as if Paul is saying just because faith was not one of the Ten Commandments at Sinai or expressly listed as a requirement of the covenant, faith in God is all through the “law and the Prophets,” that is, the rest of the Bible. According to Paul, this principle was there all along but was only then being revealed to his people as they were coming to faith in Messiah.

Paul equates faith in the Messiah of God as a righteous act, equally as righteous as any of the acts of the law-keeping Jews, and in fact more so, because faith in God was the whole point of the law. By demonstrating how Abraham’s faith preceded the giving of the law at Sinai, Paul is highlighting how the righteousness that the Jews thought they were possessing through their over-strict adherence to the letter of the law was being diminished because they were not expressing the faith in God that the torah was designed to supplement all along. It was a classic case of the Jews having missed the forest for the trees.

When we seek to live lives of integrity that Yeshua asks of us, we should consider that whatever the situation, demonstration of faith in God is always the most righteous thing we could ever do. God’s torah points us in the right direction, but it must always be accompanied by faith in him to be truly effective in the intent that God had for it in the first place. And it will never return to him without accomplishing what he intends.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper [in the thing] for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

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.

The thief who must become an example of generosity

God’s solution for discouraging theft is its exact opposite: a type of forced generosity. They must give abundantly or they must give themselves.

You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:15

Within the founding charter of the kingdom of God, the Ten Commandments, theft is forbidden. Within the entire Biblical narrative, theft is never looked upon as a positive characteristic. To be a thief is to knowingly take something from someone else, usually associated with violent acts or even murder.

Anyone who steals from his father and mother and says, “What’s wrong with that?” is no better than a murderer.

Proverbs 28:24

The thief upsets the system of civilized conduct because they feel that the same rules that govern others do not apply to them. Whatever their justification is for taking something that belongs to someone else is to consider their reason more important than obeying the command to not steal and the rights of others to enjoy their own possessions. Theft is dangerous because it mocks the integrity of civil order in any society, and must be punished in order to maintain the economic integrity and security of the community.

However, interestingly, the torah or instruction of God reveals that theft is not punishable by death. Instead, a thief must face a fate that could be worse than death for them: they must pay restitution. At a minimum, they must pay double what they stole (if the goods are recovered). But if what has been stolen has been sold or, in the case of a stolen animal, killed, then he must pay up to four or five times the amount. If they are unable to pay, then they must go into forced servitude to pay off the debt.

So it turns out that God’s solution for discouraging theft is its exact opposite: a type of forced generosity. They must give abundantly or they must give themselves.

Yeshua also taught that not only should believers not steal, they should be generous.

Matthew 10:8 Freely you received, freely give.

Luke 6:38 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.”

In answering the questions of a wealthy young man, Yeshua also mentions a similar “restitution of generosity” for covetousness, which makes sense since extreme coveting can also lead to theft.

Jesus said, “Never murder. Never commit adultery. Never steal. Never give false testimony. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The young man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments. What else do I need to do?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, sell what you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!” When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he owned a lot of property.

Matthew 19: 18-22

In keeping with the torah or instruction of God within his kingdom, and as a follower of Yeshua, we should never secretly take anything that does not belong to us. Instead, we should always be willing to give generously of all resources that have been entrusted to us. And because the life he has given us is a debt we can never repay, the remainder of our existence should become an offering of servitude to the one who has provided us this immeasurable gift of life.

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 relative morality by hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is basically another way of saying that we should have a constant longing to do what’s right in God’s eyes in any situation. This requires us to be thoroughly familiar with God’s word and to be thoughtfully prepared within our cultural context.

Core of the Bible podcast#17 – Overcoming relative morality by hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of integrity, and how the desire for righteousness should drive our every action, just like hunger or thirst.

Yeshua stated it this way:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

In the Core of the Bible paraphrase, I’ve stated it as “Crave that which God approves; thirst for doing the right thing, and you will be blessed as you are satisfied.”

A craving is something that cannot be ignored, it must be pursued until it is satiated. Hunger and thirst are the body’s urgent indicators that nutrition and fluids necessary and vital for life need to be ingested as soon as possible.

While genuine poverty and hunger are present in our current American culture, the majority of the population doesn’t know what it means to really be hungry or thirsty. Most of us have access to clean water and basic food services and can afford to at least remain fed and hydrated.

However, in Yeshua’s day, this was not always the case. When we look at modern paintings of people following Yeshua as he traveled around from town to town, or taught by the Lake of Galilee; they are well-dressed and clean and the kids are playing nearby, like they are simply on a church family picnic. This image obscures the reality that living in Israel in the first century was a hard-scrape existence. It was an agrarian society that was dependent on local crops and the beneficence of an oppressive foreign military presence. Many people never knew where their next meal was coming from. This is evidenced by the large crowds that followed Messiah when he graciously and miraculously provided them bread and fish. And yet he recognized that the majority of them were only there for the food, not for his teaching.

John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

Real hunger will drive you to do things you might not normally do, perhaps even unlawful things like stealing:

Proverbs 6:30 People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.

Additionally, bread/food can be used to entice people to sin:

Proverbs 28:21 – To show partiality [is] not good, Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress.

Food is a compelling motivator for those who have none.

It’s that motivating factor that Yeshua seizes upon to drive home the urgency with which he encourages his listeners to seek righteousness. They should hunger and thirst for it.

So what is the righteous action in any given situation? In order to do what’s right, one must have some sort of “ideal of rightness” to reference.

THE MORALITY OPTIONS OF THE WORLD

In the case of the world at large, people tend to choose whatever seems good to them, or to ideals they have been brought up to believe, or what is culturally relevant or currently popular. While these are certainly significant considerations, one can readily see that these standards will not be the same in every instance and can obviously lead to differing ideas of what is right and wrong.

While ethical morality is a complex subject, it can be broken down into three major groupings or perspectives:

Relative morality: The idea that morality is relative to the culture in which it is expressed, and is not universal to all cultures everywhere.

Absolute morality: The idea that there are universal principles of morality that apply across all cultures.

Moral pluralism: The idea that there can be conflicting moral values that are both worthy of tolerance and respect.

Understanding these basic categories does not give us rigid boundaries, it is most likely that within these three major views, an individual may fall somewhere within the spectrum of all of them, and their spectrum location may vary depending on the topic at hand.

For example, someone may be an absolute moralist on the topic of murder, saying that outright killing someone else is wrong no matter what culture you’re in. But how does one’s absolute opinion translate on topics of accidental killing, or assisted suicide, or war? Then an individual needs to confront the issues of morality within the context of those situations. So whatever standard they are using for the basis of their absolute morality has to be evaluated in the light of these additional considerations. Hence, people’s opinions are all over the map when it comes to issues of ethical morality; there are innumerable ways of concluding what’s right in any given situation.

However, for the believer, the field of ethical options is narrowed down considerably because we are constrained to abide by how God defines righteousness, and what God’s word may say on any given topic. If we are truly hungering and thirsting to be righteous in his eyes, then we should know how he defines righteousness. After all, it is originally his concept anyway, and he can choose to define it any way that he desires.

BIBLE DEFINITION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

In the Bible, the word righteousness comes from several layers of the the original Greek wording which means to show rightness (as something that is self-evident); it is action that is innocent or holy that is, set apart. In the Hebrew the word is associated with justice (of kings or judges), fairness, and ethical purity.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne…

God’s throne, from where he rules his kingdom, is based on righteousness (ethical “rightness”) and justice (correct judgment). As believers, we believe God’s judgment is trustworthy and reliable, and we should be hungering and thirsting to understand righteousness from his perspective. Let’s look at some practical ways that we can learn to apply principles of righteousness from God’s word in our lives.

SPECIFIC, GENERAL, AND IMPLIED DIRECTIVES

If the Bible is to be our ideal of righteousness, then we should understand how to view and interpret this information so we can apply it correctly. Unfortunately, methods of interpretation vary greatly; hence the disagreements of even Bible believers over a standard approach to a rigid definition of morality.

However, there are some general principles we can learn that can help even out some of these variations. The instruction, insights, or commands that God provides within his word can be grouped into three major categories: they may be specific, general, or implied depending on the topic or situation.

For example, a specific command relates to stealing: You shall not steal.

It’s pretty obvious that God specifically intends for us not to take for ourselves anything that does not belong to us. While there may be some die-hards who quibble over definitions, it is reasonable to infer that God does not want us to steal from others.

A general insight might be represented by a command on how Israel was to treat immigrants and foreigners in the land:

Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong a foreigner, neither shall you oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

There are no specific examples what types of wrongs should be avoided here, but just the general idea that foreigners should be treated fairly, and not be oppressed. Based on their unfair treatment while they were in Egypt, they should remember how that felt and not repeat it with those who would be foreigners in their newly established land.

Another general command might also be highlighted by the admonition to love our neighbor. While there are many specific examples throughout the Bible (like the parable of the good Samaritan), one general gauge of what loving our neighbor looks like would be the Golden Rule. Our love for others should be dependent on how we would want to be treated if we were in their place. The specifics would vary from situation to situation, but the general principle would still be valid.

An implied insight might be gained from reading a specific command to ancient Israel regarding real estate conflict.

Deuteronomy 19:14 Never move your neighbor’s original boundary marker on any property in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Apparently there was a huge potential for falsifying property boundaries before official surveying and plat recordings of real estate. While that is a specific command for a specific time, we can draw an implied principle from this command which would mean that we should deal fairly with our neighbors and not try to cheat anyone out of what is rightfully theirs.

Another implied insight might be gained from reading the book of Jonah. In the story, Jonah tries to run away from what God had instructed him to do, and yet God brings him back in a dramatic way to finish what he originally intended. From this, we can receive an implied lesson that we should not avoid what God would have us do in a given situation, or he may bring it back around in an unexpected way and we will still be expected to see it through to completion.

So these are just a few examples of how specific, general, and implied commands can be encountered and applied in our lives today.

Taking this information forward, we can then begin to formulate righteous actions to modern situations by applying these various directives in their intended ways.

To formulate a worldview that is consistent takes time and thought about many difficult topics and current events and dynamic relationships. This is where the hungering and thirsting comes in. If we are to be genuine, we must know what we believe and why, and this longing must consume us.

1 Peter 3:14-17 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them [those who would cause you evil], nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Peter mentions that we should be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us about the hope that we have, and the reasons we take the actions and stances we do. To be prepared is to take the time to look at the specific, general, and implied directives within God’s word and make consistent choices based on this understanding.

Peter here also emphasizes “good behavior,” or manner of life and conduct, as being a defining factor of righteousness. What we believe about these things will be evident in our actions, and these actions will then speak to our righteousness.

This is important because others who may not agree with your reasoning should not be able to fault you for being inconsistent. Hypocrisy is a universal deterrent to trust and open dialogue. Consistency, on the other hand, garners trust because it is recognized as being thoughtful and intentional, and your righteous actions will many times simply speak for themselves. Even the most hardened cynic would agree that having a consistent worldview is the most honest thing that any person can do.

To that end, the best I can do is determine my views on my interpretation of Biblical values, and live as consistently as possible within that framework. And you should, too. Believers who hunger and thirst for righteousness are the types of followers Yeshua is seeking out for his Father, because these are the types of worshipers the Father seeks.

John 4:23-24 But the time is coming–indeed it’s here now–when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Those who worship in spirit and truth do so because they are truly hungry and thirsty to do what’s right in God’s eyes, not just seeking to find a religious experience or to fit in with a specific crowd. Yeshua promises that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who seek it at every turn in their lives, will be satisfied. They will have those longings fulfilled. Just as a long, cool drink on a hot day quenches our thirst, or a hearty meal after a hard day of work satisfies a deep hunger, the blessing of those who are seeking these ideals of righteousness is that they will receive what they long for. And because they are seeking righteousness, righteousness will be dealt to them.

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 hungering and thirsting after righteousness is basically another way of saying that we should have a constant longing to do what’s right in God’s eyes in any situation. This requires us to be thoroughly familiar with God’s word and to be thoughtfully prepared within our cultural context. This preparation will then allow us to take actions that honor God and demonstrate a consistent worldview in our understanding of the Bible.

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.