Living with integrity at all times

What we today might consider persecution is more likely closer to inconvenience.

What we today might consider persecution is more likely closer to inconvenience.

The first century believers lived at a unique time in the outworking of God’s Kingdom. This is why that time period is studied so heavily among believers today; what was their base doctrine, how did they worship, what practices are still valid for us as believers in the modern world? How we answer these questions will align us with the various expressions of those root questions. Those who favor authority and continuity might feel compelled toward Roman Catholic teachings; those who feel that God works independently and organically with each generation may lean toward Protestant traditions. Yet all of these established variations of the faith of Messiah will hold that believers will encounter some measure of adversity due to their faith, whether in large scale persecutions, or even the daily exercising of their beliefs.

This perception comes from the many passages of the New Testament writings which speak of persecution and suffering. Yeshua wanted to encourage his hearers to recognize that suffering adversity due to their attachment to him was to be rewarded.

Matthew 5:10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This was a pattern of encouraging believers through trials that his disciples also passed on to their hearers.

Paul:
Philippians 1:27-30 – Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Messiah. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your salvation ​– ​and this is from God. For it has been granted to you on Messiah’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are engaged in the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.

Peter:
1 Peter 3:14 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated…
1 Peter 4:12 – Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you.

John:
John 15:20 – “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…

This suffering and adversity was to be based on their stance for righteousness and for the principles of Yeshua, not for their own rebellion or stubbornness against the ruling authorities. In fact, we see these warnings were not without merit, as those early believers indeed experienced the very things that Messiah had predicted.

  • Acts 5:40 – After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them.
  • Acts 8:1, 3 – …On that day a severe persecution broke out against the congregation in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. … Saul, however, was ravaging the congregation. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
  • Acts 12:1-3 – About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the congregation, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

These examples show how bitterly the message of the gospel of the Kingdom would be received among the corrupt Jewish authorities, and Yeshua had wanted to ensure that his followers were fully prepared for what they would experience. This is why the New Testament writings are filled with statements of encouragement against adversity, because they were actually experiencing it first-hand in their daily lives.

Hebrews 12:3, 12 – For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. … Therefore, strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees…

Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we in our Western culture are experiencing true persecution for the faith of Messiah. Just because someone disagrees with a social media post or breaks off a friendship because we choose to no longer pursue unrighteous activities is not persecution. To be persecuted in the biblical sense means to be chased or hunted down with the intent to physically harm or kill.

While these New Testament encouragements were designed to minister primarily to that first century generation, I recognize there are still places in the world today where believers in Messiah are persecuted, physically beaten, imprisoned, and tortured for their faith. In those situations, these words that were aimed at those early believers still ring true in all their fullness today.

However, regardless of the severity of adversity that anyone suffers for righteousness and the principles of Messiah, we can take the advice of the apostle Paul to heart that applies in any situation:

Philippians 1:27- Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Messiah.

This is the high calling of every believer of Messiah in every place, in every situation, at all times. When we continually live our lives with integrity, worthy of the gospel of Messiah, we honor our true citizenship and bear the greatest witness to the reality of that Kingdom.


If you enjoy these daily articles, 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 on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

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

Religious is not always better

The qualities in the heart are what matter.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 – “I give thanks to Messiah Yeshua our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry ​– ​ even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Messiah Yeshua.
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Messiah Yeshua came into the world to save sinners” ​– ​and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Messiah Yeshua might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.”

Most people assume that the apostle Paul here is recognizing that his former lifestyle as a persecutor of the early believers was a shameful episode of his life that he continued to be repentant of. This is not an incorrect conclusion. However, if we look a little more deeply at the characteristics he mentions that he had displayed, we may come to a slightly richer answer.

Paul did mention he persecuted the early believing congregations, and of course this would be a heinous act to one who has come to know the truth of Messiah. But he also mentions he was a blasphemer. How could that be, since he was the strictest of the Pharisees, according to his own admission?

Acts 26:4-5 – “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. “They have known me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived as a Pharisee.

Philippians 3:4-6 – …If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; … regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.

If he was blameless according to the law, how could he have been a blasphemer? Well, today we think of blasphemy as speaking against God, something we could imagine a Pharisee would never do. However, the original Greek word carried a slightly broader meaning of slander toward sacred things or individuals who were of high authority, not just God alone. Timothy was accused of “blaspheming” against Moses and God (Acts 6:11). Peter likewise derides those false prophets among them who were callously slandering authority of “those having glory” whom even angels dared not bring accusations against (2 Peter 2:10-11).

Paul also mentioned he was an “arrogant man.” The Greek word can mean an insulter, or a violent maltreater. It is the root of where we get the English word “hubris,” meaning pride, but in a violent and potentially physically harmful way. Paul knew that Yeshua taught against both blasphemy and evil-acting pride as being negative qualities coming from the heart.

Mark 7:21-23 – “For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. “All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Paul knew that even though he was about as religious as he could be, his heart and his actions were still not right. When he came to know Messiah, he recognized that he was defiled because of these hateful and dangerous characteristics that were based in a divisive, arrogant theology mixed with traditions of men and superstitions. Everything he had worked for in his whole life: his status, his understanding of Israel in the world, his role as a teacher in the synagogues; everything had to be reevaluated and whatever was unnecessary needed to be ripped away in repentance and obedience to his Lord and Messiah.

Philippians 3:8-9 – I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Messiah and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Messiah ​– ​the righteousness from God based on faith.

Did Paul receive mercy and forgiveness because he was such a good person? Of course not, none of us has! Paul says he was shown mercy “so that in me, the worst of [sinners], Messiah Yeshua might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.”

Isn’t that true for all of us who believe in Messiah? If we are being honest with ourselves, it is certainly not by anything we have done or gotten God’s attention for. We have been brought to faith in Messiah so that God can be shown to be the great and Merciful One who forgives even such as we were: faithless, ignorant and self-serving. And we are being changed, transformed into what he desires all people to be.

2 Corinthians 3:18 – We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Transforming the religious and ignorant and unbelieving into his image who accomplishes his will on the earth: this is what the life of a believer is all about. We just need to keep in mind, as Paul reminds us, to recognize how utterly destitute and harmful we were before knowing God and the power of new life in Messiah, and that all of this is solely for God’s glory and God’s kingdom.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

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

The power of eternity

We act on what we know to be true.

Hebrews 10:32-34 – “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews is considered by many to have been the apostle Paul; however, textual critics have legitimate reasons for remaining skeptical. Regardless of the author, some of the greatest truths about the earliest faith of the Messiah believers is captured within its pages.

In this passage, the author is reminding the believers of the physical struggles and hardship they endured with the result being increased compassion for those who were ultimately imprisoned for their faith.

These believers may have been some of those who had come under the early persecution after the martyrdom of Stephen, ironically, overseen by the pre-believing Saul of Tarsus who would later become the apostle Paul.

Acts 8:1, 3 – “Saul agreed with putting [Stephen] to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. … Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.”

Additionally, the text in the epistle to the Hebrews says the believers “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property.” That is such a foreign concept for us today, as personal property rights are practically held as sacred.

This small glimpse into the world of the early believers shows us why they could remain joyful even though their belongings were being confiscated or destroyed: it was because they knew they had a better and lasting possession within the hope of their faith. The promise of eternity far outweighed their earthly struggles, and this comforted them greatly, even to the point of being joyful during some of the most demeaning and demoralizing events that could occur. They were living out the admonition of the apostle Paul when he wrote:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Through their trials and suffering, they were enabled to demonstrate legitimate compassion and assistance to those who were hit the hardest through the persecution they had endured, and they were also strengthened within themselves with the knowledge of eternity.

Having an eternal perspective changes everything: whether being stressed at work or in relationships at home, having financial or resource challenges; all of these things pale in light of eternity. Through that veil of spiritual understanding, we are empowered to become more compassionate and encouraging, recognizing and acting on what is truly important and needful in this life, all to the honor and glory of God.


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 on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

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

The rebellious way of righteousness

Living faithfully according to God’s instruction at all times.

Psalm 26:1-3 – Vindicate me, Yahweh, because I have lived with integrity and have trusted in Yahweh without wavering. Test me, Yahweh, and try me; examine my heart and mind. For your faithful love guides me, and I live by your truth.

This psalm is attributed to David, and when reading it, it seems as if David is almost lifting himself up in God’s eyes, saying, “look how good I am, Yahweh.”
In a sense, he is. He is conveying how his conscience is clear before God, and because this is the case, he is requesting that God vindicate him or judge righteously in his favor against those who would come against him.

Psalm 26:9-10 – Do not destroy me along with sinners, or my life along with men of bloodshed in whose hands are evil schemes and whose right hands are filled with bribes.

This is brought out more vividly in another psalm of David where he declares his innocence, and then pleas for God’s protection due to his own faithfulness and virtue.

Psalm 17:3, 8-14 – You have tested my heart; you have examined me at night. You have tried me and found nothing evil; I have determined that my mouth will not sin. … Protect me as the pupil of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who treat me violently, my deadly enemies who surround me. They are uncaring; their mouths speak
arrogantly. They advance against me; now they surround me. They are determined to throw me to the ground. They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush. Rise up, Yahweh! Confront him; bring him down. With your sword, save me from the wicked. With your hand, Yahweh, save me from men, from men of the world whose portion is in this life…

While believers in Messiah are commanded by Yeshua to have pure hearts (Matthew 5:8) and walk in the light and not in the darkness of this world (John 8:12) these cherished qualities are by no means insulation from all wickedness in the world.

Consider the plight of Job, a man who was considered righteous before God.

Job 1:1 – There was a man in the country of Uz named Job. He was a man of complete integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil.

And yet disaster upon disaster came upon him. One of his companions, Eliphaz, even related this confidence as Job’s hope within himself:

Job 4:6 – Isn’t your piety your confidence, and the integrity of your life your hope?

The issue is not how righteous a person is, whether imagined or in reality, but in how faithful they are in the face of all adversity. David had a clear conscience before God, and yet was persecuted by Saul and the nations surrounding Israel. Job was a man of complete integrity and yet suffered so much trouble that his very name has become synonymous with the concept of adversity.

Yeshua himself suffered the highest injustice of all, and maintained, to the death, his focus on the higher purpose of God. All of these men persevered in their integrity and faithfulness, never losing hope in the God who would ultimately vindicate them, and he did.

We are expected to walk in pureness of heart and in the light of God’s instruction, yet we should never assume that because we do that we are then somehow immune from adversity in this life. Granted, the way of the righteous is ultimate design for those who bear God’s image in this world. And yet due to the wayward passions of those around us, we can expect that this way of righteousness will be resisted and pushed back on.

2 Timothy 3:12 – In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted.

This reality should not dissuade the believer from doing what’s right at all times but should only establish and encourage this conduct in the face of it. We must rebel against the wickedness of this world by living faithfully according to God’s instruction at all times and in all situations. This behavior then becomes the rebellious way of righteousness.


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 on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

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

Maintaining integrity through biblical persecution

Integrity involves standing up for what’s right, even while enduring hostile environments.

Core of the Bible podcast #45 – Maintaining integrity through biblical persecution

Today we will be exploring the topic of integrity, and how maintaining one’s integrity and righteousness through severe persecution is a characteristic that God honors. One who faithfully endures is considered blessed by God.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Matthew 5:10 -Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Integrity involves standing up for what’s right, even while enduring hostile environments. In our day, the concept of persecution has been unfortunately trivialized into essentially any notion of being ridiculed or spoken out against. However, in biblical terms, the concept of persecution conveys the act of having to flee from those who are intent on injuring or even killing those who have opposing viewpoints. That’s a much different emphasis than we see today.

To illustrate this, the apostle Paul recounts to Timothy some of the persecution he endured during his missionary journeys:

2 Timothy 3:10-11 – But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra.

Here he mentions three towns in which he specifically suffered persecution and suffering: Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. Interestingly, we have these accounts preserved for us in the book of Acts, so let’s review them to get a better idea of how Paul views the topic of persecution.

Acts 13:43-46, 50 – After the synagogue [in Antioch] had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and urging them to continue in the grace of God. The following Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what Paul was saying, insulting him. Paul and Barnabas boldly replied, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. … But the Jews incited the prominent God-fearing women and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district.

Here it doesn’t say what the specific persecution was except to say that Paul’s detractors rallied enough support to have him physically expelled from their district. He was essentially run out of town.

Iconium

Acts 14:1-2, 5-6 – In Iconium they entered the Jewish synagogue, as usual, and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. … When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat and stone them, they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding countryside.

In this instance, Paul and those with him found out ahead of time of a plan that the Jews had rallied in a violent rush with anyone who would side with them to mistreat them (which literally means to exercise violence) and to stone them. Once again, they found out just in time and were forced out of town at the incitement of mob violence against them.

Lystra

Acts 14:8-12 – In Lystra a man was sitting who was without strength in his feet, had never walked, and had been lame from birth. He listened as Paul spoke. After looking directly at him and seeing that he had faith to be healed, Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet! ” And he jumped up and began to walk around. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form! ” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

They then began to preach to the crowds, denying that they were gods and that they were only men.

Acts 14:18-20 – Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them. Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium [the two towns which had expelled them], and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

Here in Lystra, we see his persecutors finally caught up with him and stoned him until they thought he was dead. Some commentators think Paul actually did die here and the disciples prayed and he was brought back to life, but the text doesn’t explicitly say so. Either way, he was left for dead which shows the violence of the stoning, and yet he miraculously recovered enough to get back up and make it to the next town.

Recounting these experiences with Timothy, he writes:

2 Timothy 3:12 – What persecutions I endured ​– ​and yet the Lord rescued me from them all. In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted.

FB Meyer in his commentary on this passage writes:

“Christian piety cannot continue without persecution, because the world is hostile to the kingdom of God… “

And then he cites some of these passages as examples:

John 15:18-21 – “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. “But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they don’t know the one who sent me.

Matthew 10:21-23 – “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. “You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another.

So we see persecution was predicted by Messiah, and was to be expected by believers who were holding to the integrity of their righteousness and the gospel of the kingdom.

Albert Barnes

Paul takes occasion from the reference to his own persecutions, to say that his case was not unique. It was the common lot of all who endeavored to serve their Redeemer faithfully; and Timothy himself, therefore, must not hope to escape from it. The apostle had a particular reference, doubtless, to his own times; but he has put his remark into the most general form, as applicable to all periods. It is undoubtedly true at all times, and will ever be, that they who are devoted Christians – who live as the Saviour did – and who carry out his principles always, will experience some form of persecution. The “essence” of persecution consists in “subjecting a person to injury or disadvantage on account of his opinions.” It is something more than meeting his opinions by argument, which is always right and proper; it is inflicting some injury on him; depriving him of some privilege, or right; subjecting him to some disadvantage, or placing him in less favorable circumstances, on account of his sentiments.

This may be either an injury done to his feelings, his family, his reputation, his property, his liberty, his influence; it may be by depriving him of an office which he held, or preventing him from obtaining one to which he is eligible; it may be by subjecting him to fine or imprisonment, to banishment, torture, or death. If, in any manner, or in any way, he is subjected to disadvantage on account of his religious opinions, and deprived of any immunities and rights to which he would be otherwise entitled, this is persecution. Now, it is doubtless as true as it ever was, that a man who will live as the Saviour did, will, like him, be subjected to some such injury or disadvantage. On account of his opinions, he may be held up to ridicule, or treated with neglect, or excluded from society to which his attainments and manners would otherwise introduce him, or shunned by those who might otherwise value his friendship. These things may be expected in the best times, and under the most favorable circumstances; and it is known that a large part of the history of the world, in its relation to the church, is nothing more than a history of persecution. It follows from this:

(1) that they who make a profession of religion, should come prepared to be persecuted. It should be considered as one of the proper qualifications for membership in the church, to be willing to bear persecution, and to resolve not to shrink from any duty in order to avoid it.

(2) they who are persecuted for their opinions, should consider that this may be one evidence that they have the spirit of Christ, and are his true friends. They should remember that, in this respect, they are treated as the Master was, and are in the goodly company of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs; for they were all persecuted. Yet,

(3) if we are persecuted, we should carefully inquire, before we avail ourselves of this consolation, whether we are persecuted because we “live godly in Christ Jesus,” or for some other reason. A man may embrace some absurd opinion, and call it religion; he may adopt some mode of dress irresistibly ludicrous, from the mere love of singularity, and may call it “conscience;” or he may be boorish in his manners, and uncivil in his deportment, outraging all the laws of social life, and may call this “deadness to the world;” and for these, and similar things, he may be contemned, ridiculed, and despised. But let him not infer, “therefore,” that he is to be enrolled among the martyrs, and that he is certainly a real Christian. That persecution which will properly furnish any evidence that we are the friends of Christ, must be only that which is “for righteousness sake” Matthew 5:10, and must be brought upon us in an honest effort to obey the commands of God.

(4) let those who have never been persecuted in any way, inquire whether it is not an evidence that they have no religion. If they had been more faithful, and more like their Master, would they have always escaped? And may not their freedom from it prove that they have surrendered the principles of their religion, where they should have stood firm, though the world were arrayed against them? It is easy for a professed Christian to avoid persecution, if he yields every point in which religion is opposed to the world. But let not a man who will do this, suppose that he has any claim to be numbered among the martyrs, or even entitled to the Christian name.

Matthew 10:38-39 – “And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. “Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it.


In denouncing the corruption of the Jewish leaders, Yeshua foretold the horrendous actions they would perform on the “prophets, wise men, and scribes” that would be sent to continue to warn them of their wickedness:

Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute [i.e., chase with intent to kill] from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:34-36

He also warned his followers that they would experience these things in standing for the truth of his words:

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute [i.e., chase with intent to kill] you, delivering you up to synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name’s sake. – Luke 21:12

History bears out that this is exactly what happened, and believers were hunted and rooted out of synagogues for believing in Messiah. They were scourged, stoned, imprisoned, and killed for maintaining the integrity of their faith. These actions, according to the teaching of Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount, means they were blessed by God for maintaining their integrity and righteousness in the face of the most intense persecution, and they were then inheritors of the kingdom of God.

Some of you may be familiar with Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a work that was produced in the middle ages detailing the gruesome torture that many professing Protestants suffered at the hands of the Catholic Inquisitors in England and Scotland at that time. As shocking as some of the descriptions of the methods of torture are, it is even more sobering to consider how these practitioners could possibly be so exceedingly cruel to other humans.

This is a far cry from those today who claim persecution because of receiving negative comments on social media, or having others simply disagree with their views and call them names. While maintaining our integrity is still just as valuable in those situations, to claim those mere inconveniences as persecution is dishonoring our spiritual forebears who quite literally put their lives and the lives of their family members, their very daily existence, at risk because of their views of Messiah.

In that first century, we see that early believers suffered many risks to life and dangers, some of which are detailed for us within the pages of Scripture itself. Here are a few examples.

Peter and John put in prison

Acts 4:1-3 – While they [Peter and John] were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Yeshua the resurrection of the dead. So they seized them and took them into custody until the next day since it was already evening.

Acts 5:17-21, 25-26, 28-29, 40-41 – Then the high priest rose up. He and all who were with him, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. So they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple, and tell the people all about this life.” Hearing this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

… Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the commander went with the servants and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. … “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than people. … After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Yeshua and released them. Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name.

Stephen

After denouncing the Jewish council of their hard-heartedness toward the truth of God, the account states that the disciple Stephen was literally stoned to death.

Acts 7:55-60 – Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Yeshua standing at the right hand of God. He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! ” 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. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit! ” He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! ” And after saying this, he died.

Then in the following chapter, we read:

Acts 8:1-3 – Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the congregation in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. Saul, however, was ravaging the congregation. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.

Acts 12:1-3 – About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the congregation, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

So far we have prison, flogging, and stoning to death, disciples being chased out of their homes, and execution. The record goes on to list other mob actions, imprisonments and trials. In fact, there is almost no chapter in the book of Acts where some type of persecution is NOT taking place. This is a sobering thought and to my way of thinking, one that is not emphasized enough in contemporary Bible teaching.

Paul and his companions lived out this very mantra he related to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:12 – …all who want to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted.

It may seem overwhelming and slightly depressing to recognize that persecution should be considered routine for the believer. However, it needs to be noted that many positive events resulted due to the persecutions they endured. The disciples were noted as joining in prayer, being filled with the Spirit, creating unity and having a positive witness. There was spreading of the gospel, people coming to Messiah, and larger witnesses to the ruling authorities of the power of God. When they were persecuted, the disciples continued to preach and to witness to others.

But in the eyes of God, the persecution was to be expected, and it’s still ok today when it happens. It had happened to the faithful who had preceded the disciples, as outlined in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:35-39 – Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised…

If it was only together with the believers in Messiah that these saints received their inheritance, then how much more can we be motivated to withstand the resistance we face today? Light and darkness cannot coexist in the same space, so it’s not unreasonable to conclude that those who don’t want to be exposed will tend to resist. Remember the words of Yeshua that I shared earlier:

John 15:18-21 – “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. “But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they don’t know the one who sent me.

While there are areas of the world where legitimate persecution for the kingdom still exists, we can be truly thankful to God that in free societies our voices can be heard, and our lives are not daily in jeopardy for believing in, and sharing the light of, his Messiah.

This should motivate us all the more to demonstrate integrity by maintaining the truth of our faith in all of our words and actions, and in our relationships and interactions with those around us. Doing so can result in many of the positive aspects of those persecutions, the unity, witness to others and expansion of the kingdom coming to pass in each and every generation.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

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

How to endure all in the most bitter of circumstances

No matter how dire, unforgiving or treacherous the situation, God’s love never fails.

Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

As I was reading through Psalms, I came across Psalm 44 and it seemed as if I was reading it for the first time. I understood that the psalmist was feeling dismay over the situation of Israel being scattered among the nations. This would normally be a context of asking for forgiveness for their unfaithfulness, and a plea for restoration.

Psalm 44:9-16 – But you have rejected and humiliated us; you do not march out with our armies. You make us retreat from the foe, and those who hate us have taken plunder for themselves. You hand us over to be eaten like sheep and scatter us among the nations. You sell your people for nothing; you make no profit from selling them. You make us an object of reproach to our neighbors, a source of mockery and ridicule to those around us. You make us a joke among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. My disgrace is before me all day long, and shame has covered my face, because of the taunts of the scorner and reviler, because of the enemy and avenger.

This would be understandable in the context of Israel’s national sin and constant turning to idols. God had forewarned them that if they did not keep to his commands and his covenant, that they would be sent throughout the nations and there suffer at the hands of foreign gods and other cultures. The psalmist may lament their condition, but it would be as a result of their own sin.

However, I was struck by the larger context of the psalm. In verses to follow, the psalmist recounts how they had not forsaken God, and yet were still suffering at the hands of their enemies.

Psalm 44:17-22 – All this has happened to us, but we have not forgotten you or betrayed your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back; our steps have not strayed from your path. But you have crushed us in a haunt of jackals and have covered us with deepest darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God and spread out our hands to a foreign god, wouldn’t God have found this out, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.

Then I recognized that last line as having been applied by the apostle Paul to their situation in the first century:

Romans 8:35-36 – Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.

Paul was taking the entire context of this psalm and applying it to the condition of the believers in the mid-first century. They had not forsaken God; they had not betrayed God by worshiping other gods; they had not strayed from the path of righteousness, and yet they were still being hunted down as sheep to be slaughtered. They went without food, without clothes, and were in constant danger for their lives, and yet they were living lives of integrity and faithfulness!

Psalm 44:23-26 – Wake up, LORD! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever! Why do you hide and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of your faithful love.

This was the cry of that faithful generation. They longed for God to deliver them from their brutal affliction and the oppression they faced in the company of their own people who had turned against them because of their belief in Messiah. They were savagely treated and violently persecuted; yet, they maintained their hope in the faithful love of God!

Why would they do that? How could they do that? Paul provides an answer in the following verse:

Romans 8:37 – No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Paul knew that no matter what happened to them physically, they could endure because of love; God’s faithful, covenantal love for them which was expressed through the Messiah.

Romans 8:38-39 – For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.

That was all Paul needed: the love of God. That was the motivator that allowed them to continue to maintain their integrity in the face of the most intense hatred and persecution that God’s people have ever seen.

Even today, God’s redemptive love in calling his people to himself is so strong that nothing in creation can overcome it. It is a rock-solid destiny for all time.

1 Corinthians 13:6-8 – Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

This is where it plays out in real time. No matter how dire, unforgiving or treacherous the situation, God’s love never fails. When Paul says that “love never fails,” the word he used literally means that love never falls down because the strain is too great. This is the type of love that always endures. Always.

And Yeshua’s admonition is that the blessing of God and kingdom of God belong to those who are enabled to endure all because of, and for the sake of, this type of never-failing love.


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

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

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

Are you holy?

God’s kingdom grows only through those who speak and do what is right no matter the cost.

Holiness is life that is set apart; it is unique and separate from those around it. But not just unique and set apart. Many people today feel that they are special and unique due to some unusual trend they participate in, or some obscure passion they pursue that is far removed from the normal life experience of others. It may be that they are special and unique in that respect, but that does not make what they do “holy.”

Holiness is a life that is set apart for the purpose of God; it is a life that is yielded to his will in such a way that it is uncharacteristic in its divergence from normal societal trends and habits. According to Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12), the life that is unique in the right way, the holy way, has certain characteristics.

It is a life that is humble, not vaunting itself over others. It is a life spent in deep introspection, grieving over personal and societal unrighteousness while remaining desperate for righteousness and doing what’s right according to God’s will. A holy person is merciful towards others, always acting out of a pure heart, one that does not have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. As much as can be possible with them, they seek peace with all others.

What is the reward for all of this noble aspiration? Is it to be praised and loved by others for being so thoughtful and caring, always watching for and acting in the best of spiritual intentions for all others? Sadly, no. According to Yeshua, most of the time, in this life God’s holy ones will be insulted, ridiculed, and in fear for their lives for being diligent in these things. However, he does provide reassurance of a great reward in heaven.

This is the life of those who are holy. This is the type of individual God is calling us to be: someone who speaks and does what is right no matter the cost, because this is how God’s kingdom expands and grows. If we do not do these things, and instead choose to remain safe and secure in our bubbles of contentment and like-mindedness with our brothers and sisters, we will not be impacting the world for God and for his Messiah.

A holy person is not just holy for the sake of being different from the rest of the world. No, a holy person is different for the sake of being an example to the rest of the world, to show the world what it means to be truly obedient to the God of the universe in ways that make a difference in the lives around them; in their homes, in their work, and in their communities.

Becoming salt (a preservative of all that is right and good) and light (declaring the truth in dark places) is the life of a true believer of the Messiah and the God of the Bible.

Are you holy?


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

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

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

The sermon of the kingdom

The kingdom of God on earth is evidenced through the humble obedience of heart-believers

In the gospel of Matthew, one of the most significant passages of the Bible is related in chapters 5-7: the Sermon on the Mount. It is also echoed in Luke 6:20-49. Within these verses, Yeshua is teaching his disciples and followers about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven; what it encompasses, who is included in it, and how one conducts oneself within it.

This passage is what I’ve come to call the core of the Bible message. It is the root of all balanced biblical understanding. Once one understands that Yeshua’s purpose was to define and firmly establish the kingdom of God upon the earth, the rest of the Bible falls into place.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

According to Yeshua, the kingdom of God belongs to those who are humble and who are constantly doing what is right regardless of personal cost. To be humble and obedient to God’s standards at all times should be the goal of every believer.

Matthew 5:19-20 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

Those whose righteousness surpasses that of the religious leaders are to be the believers whose humble obedience to God’s commands stems from the heart, not from mere outward conformity to rules and regulations.

Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come. Your will be done…

It is to be these heart-believers who bring the kingdom of God to the earth. When God’s will is accomplished by the humble and obedient faithful, his kingdom is present.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Humble obedience from the heart comes with the privilege of God’s provision for the basic necessities of life. When God’s kingdom is first in the believer’s life, then stresses over the pressures of life that affect those around us fall into the background and fade away. Accomplishing the will of God brings peace.

Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is not made up of those who merely profess to believe, but of those whose profession is evidenced in the truth and power of their outward actions. Against all odds and opposition, even to death, true believers will stand for what’s right according to God’s will and purpose. They are rooted and deeply established within the word of God to recognize and act upon the principles that God expects of all people.

This is the message of the Bible reduced to its simplest form: the kingdom of God on earth is evidenced through the humble obedience of heart-believers. This is how God’s will is accomplished on the earth until his kingdom grows to encompass all nations and people.


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

The day belongs to faith, hope, and love

We should always remain aware of who we are among this generation; we are the children of the day.

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:6-8

The early believers faced challenges that most typical believers in our American culture today will never see. They were sorely persecuted, chased down from town to town for simply believing in the fulfillment of their prophetic scriptures that the Messiah and the Kingdom of God had come. They were beaten, imprisoned, and killed for their faith. Their hope was that they would be rescued from this persecution, that they would be saved.

Yet through it all, the apostle Paul encourages them to be vigilant and remain watchful. They were to protect themselves metaphorically with a breastplate of faith and love, and to guard their minds with the hope of this salvation that was to come. This was their armor. They had no defensive weapons at their disposal except faith, hope, and love.

While we may not be suffering the persecution they did, we still can take to heart Paul’s admonition to remain awake, watchful and sober. It is easy for us to be lulled into a sense of security because we are at peace, because religion (at least in this country) is currently a protected practice.

Because of this, we are easily sidetracked with the cultural distractions that confront us every day. In our increasingly digital society, we can easily get lost in the sea of information overload, the never-ending stream of digital consciousness that assaults us through our technology. The tools that have helped us to communicate have now become the overlords that demand our constant attention, and lull us to sleep within the confines of our devices.

Just as Paul encouraged the Thessalonian believers to remain alert and watchful, we, too, should always remain aware of who we are among this generation; we are the children of the day. The day is where the light is brightest, and where the greatest opportunities exist for growth. The day is where we work to plant our crops and maintain our fields until the harvest.

Faith, hope, and love are the qualities of the day that can keep us afloat amidst the societal tides that seek to drag us out to the sea of informational darkness. We must exercise vigilance in continually going against the flow of our culture. How?

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

The more we build one another up in our faith, the stronger we become at resisting the night. Shake yourself out of your digital stupor, and come together in faith, hope, and love so that we can demonstrate the good news of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God to a generation of darkness.

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.

Living out the wisdom of God

The best demonstration of faith is in living out the wisdom of God.

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through perseverance and through encouragement and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

While Paul is here speaking about the writings that we would today call the Old Testament, in truth for believers today, the collective apostolic writings of the New Testament would also be included within the torah, or instruction of God. Paul’s admonition is that our learning should be based on this instruction of God. These writings have been designed for instructing us in wisdom. From this wisdom stems steadfastness, constancy, and cheerful endurance. This wisdom provides hope, expectation, or confidence.

For the first century believers, their hope was that they would be protected and spared through the rampant persecution of the Jews against their sect. Their hope was in the soon and coming judgment upon the wickedness of that generation that was to be poured out in the impending war with Rome. The writings of their forefathers were being fulfilled before their eyes, and they could draw encouragement and comfort to help them endure the troubling times they were living through. In like fashion today, we can also draw hope and encouragement through the writings of our spiritual forefathers in the Bible that have been handed down to us through the centuries.

Additionally, Paul’s admonition is that, based on the wisdom of the writings, we should be building one another up, not segregating ourselves further from one another.

We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. … May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:2, 5-6

Believers today have been entrusted with the most valuable commodity there is in a world of falsified news and social unrest: the truth of God’s instruction. If we lived like we really believed that, like we really trusted in the God of the Bible, the world would, for better or worse, take notice. The results would be dependent on how steadfast we would remain; to be tested if we could endure their onslaught with the cheerful endurance of our spiritual forefathers.

If we would, as Paul envisions, “join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the impact on this generation could have similar effects that the faithful of that generation had, effects which are still resonating with believers down to our day thousands of years later.

Our faithful handling of God’s word is magnified when we actually live out what we say we believe. The best demonstration of faith is in living out the wisdom of God.

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.