The (Prosperity?) Gospel

There are many manmade adaptations of the true Biblical gospel, and some of them are quite popular today. Among these false gospels is one, often referred to as the “prosperity gospel,” which basically teaches that if you follow Jesus, He will bless you with financial, social, and physical wellbeing. The idea is that if you will follow God the way He wants, He will give you all of the earthly blessings you desire.

This prosperity gospel is completely incompatible with scripture itself. Many have spoken out against it in no uncertain terms, insisting that in fact life often becomes harder, rather than easier, when we follow Jesus.

In some sense there is truth to the idea that following Jesus makes life harder. Look at the life of Paul as a prime example. He was a promising Jewish Pharisee with a bright future as a leader of the people, yet when he gave his life to Jesus, he traded all of that for a life full of beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and all manner of hardship.

But let us make sure that we do not overreact to the prosperity gospel so extremely that we insist that following Christ is worse than it actually is! Paul, even after all he went through, stated plainly that he was happy about his decision to follow Jesus. In the ways that mattered most, following Jesus still made his life better, not worse.

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3)

I would argue that the quality of Paul’s life did not go down, but rather it went up as a result of his dedication to Christ. He may have given up a lot, but he would do it all again in a heartbeat, for what he has gained is something of “surpassing value.”

Did not Jesus Himself say “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”?

Maybe there is some truth in the prosperity gospel after all… Not because God will make our way prosperous from a worldly standpoint in terms of material health or wealth, but because God will indeed teach us to prosper in our souls.

In his third epistle, John stated: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

In 2 Corinthians Paul said: “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

Will following God make you physically healthy and materially wealthy? It might. Or it might not. But what we do know, is that following God is the pathway to a prospering soul, full of the fruits of the Spirit.

“Better a little with the fear of the Lord
Than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
Than a fattened calf with hatred.”
(Proverbs 15:16-17)

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Evil Spirits

These days, people are skeptical of talk about demon possessions and evil spirits, and perhaps rightly so. From a scientific perspective, we can now identify many genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that can lead to the ailments that were once attributed to evil spirits. We know more about viruses and harmful bacteria, for instance, than those who lived in medieval times.

It may also be, as some have suggested, that the high rate of possessions and ailments caused by unclean spirits in Jesus’ time was a special allowance by God while Jesus walked the earth in order that He might demonstrate His power.

But we should be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore. Consider this passage which speak of the reality of the spiritual forces that are at work to harm us:

(Ephesians 6:12-13) “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

So how are we to understand the identity and role of those “world forces of this darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” that would harm us? I do not have all of the answers, but we can start by considering some of the references to harmful spirits in the New Testament.

  • (Romans 8:15) “For you have not received a spiritof slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • (Ephesians 2:1-2) “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (1 Timothy 5:21) “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of Hischosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”
  • (2 Timothy 1:7) “For God has not given us a spiritof timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
  • (1 John 4:6) “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

These are some of the spirits that we must avoid: a spirit of slavery, a spirit of disobedience, a spirit of deceit and false doctrine, a spirit of partiality, a spirit of timidity, and a spirit of error.

Perhaps you can think of other spirits that are also a real danger to you personally. It may be a spirit of jealousy or of anger, of apathy, or arrogance, selfishness, or lust.

Something to notice about these wicked spirits is that they do not simply live in any one person. Rather, they live and breathe in our society and our world at large. It may be that a particular person introduces you to a spirit of error, or tempts you to fall back into a spirit of slavery, but the spirit itself is bigger than any one person.   Much like “school spirit” or “team spirit” or “a patriotic spirit,” so too these damaging spirits can take on a life of their own when they spread throughout a growing group of people who adopt them and are shaped by them.

The books of 2 Peter and Jude both warn strongly against those who revile angelic forces without really knowing who or what they are dealing with. The Biblical message is not that we cast spells and practice mystical rituals in order to protect ourselves from evil. But what we must do is be on the alert for those harmful spirits in our world that could lead us astray, and pray to God for help in the fight.

Strive for Spiritual Growth

Our creator is the absolute embodiment of wisdom, and those who follow Him have access to that wisdom through His written word. Not in human books, human social media updates, human blog posts, or human opinions expressed by preachers can the same degree of truth and wisdom be found.

Humans do our best to grasp at the truth. We try to say things that are meaningful and insightful. But ultimately, there is simply no substitute whatsoever for the scriptures.

With that in mind, I want to share with you a piece of scripture, and rather than making commentary about it, I just want you to really pay attention to it, and maybe even commit to considering it constantly throughout your week.

2 Peter 1:5-7

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.”

Please consider what these instructions would mean for your life if you took them seriously. What would it look like to apply all diligence to your pursuit of spiritual growth every day this week?

Here are some synonyms of the words used in the translation quoted above. These may help us better consider what it would be like to make a conscious effort to grow in these ways each day.

Faith – belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, faithfulness
Moral excellence – virtue, perfection, goodness, uprightness
Knowledge – doctrine, wisdom, understanding
Self-control – self-mastery, self-restraint, continence
Perseverance – steadfastness, patient waiting
Godliness – piety, devotion, reverence
Brotherly kindness – brotherly love, affection
Love – benevolence, good will, esteem

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:8-11)

Will you make growth in these qualities a goal for your life, one towards which you actively strive?

Scriptures and Thoughts on the Word: Fathers

Why is God called our Father as opposed to our Mother or simply our Creator?

As honor, blessing, admonition, and spiritual responsibility, including that of discipline, is typically passed through the generations from father to firstborn son in ancient times, God as the original Father is therefore the origin of all spiritual guidance, honor, blessing, discipline, strength, etc.

(Luke 3:38) “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

(Colossians 1:18) “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

(Matthew 7:9-11) “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

(Deuteronomy 8:5) “Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.

(Proverbs 3:11-12) My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

God is our Father, but He is also described as having some of the qualities of a mother.

(Isaiah 49:15) “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”

(Isaiah 66:13) “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.”

What is the Biblical responsibility of a father?

(Joshua 24:14-15) “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

(Acts 16:33) “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.”

 (1 Samuel 3:12-13) “In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.”

(1 Timothy 3:4-5) He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),

(Psalm 78:2-8) I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

(Deuteronomy 6:6-7) “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

(Proverbs 22:6) Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

(Proverbs 1:8) Hear, my son, your father’s instruction And do not forsake your mother’s teaching;

What picture does the Bible paint of ideal fatherhood?

(Psalm 103:12) “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”

(Deuteronomy 1:31) “and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.’

(Job 1:4-5) His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

(Psalm 127:3-5) Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

(Psalm 128:3-4) Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the LORD.

See also the following verses about discipline.

How should a father carry our discipline of his children?

(Ephesians 6:4) “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

(Colossians 3:12) “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.”

 (Proverbs 13:24) “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

(Proverbs 22:15) Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

(Proverbs 23:13) Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.

(Proverbs 29:15) The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

(Proverbs 13:1) A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

(Proverbs 15:5) A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is sensible.

(Hebrews 12:4-11) You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

(Deuteronomy 21:18-21) “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear.

 What help does the Bible give to those who do or did not have a godly father figure?

 (Psalm 68:5) A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.

(Psalm 146:9) The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

God also disciplines us, Hebrews 12, etc.

Solomon addresses his readers as his sons in Proverbs.

 To what extent does the authority of a father extend into the adulthood of his children?

(Proverbs 13:1) A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

(Proverbs 15:5) A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is sensible.

(1 Samuel 3:12-13) “In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.”

(Genesis 2:24) For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

Do Not Mistake Mental Ability for Spiritual Maturity

Ever since I was little, I have had a very easy time memorizing things. During Sunday school, this meant that I always knew the right answer, and was often the one to raise my hand and share it. And in Sunday school, knowing the right answer can seem an awful lot like being a spiritual elite.

I was also always able to read on a grade level that was above my actual age. As a result, I enjoyed reading from the Bible during Bible classes. I often volunteered to do so, while other children, who struggled with reading and often needed to take long pauses to sound out words did not volunteer very often to read for the class. And as we all know, volunteering to read in class is a mark of spiritual maturity, right? At least, it felt that way.

I also had a general knack for public speaking. I was hardly nervous even the first time that I appeared before a large group to deliver a devotional. I am strong at thinking on my feet, and could speak articulately with minimal notes. And as we all know, a young man who excels as speaking is spiritually mature, right? And public prayer is public speaking, too, so of course I was always ready to volunteer for that, as well.

I got a perfect score at Bible bowl. After that, I was the standard that others were encouraged to emulate. “He has such a love for God’s Word!”

I made good grades at a Christian university, too. Excelling at a “Christian college” is spiritual, right?

But these accomplishments, as much as they have to do with memorization, reading ability, articulating thoughts verbally, etc., have virtually nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Reciting facts from a book, or dictating a book aloud, are mental skills, not spiritual ones. Repeating sound doctrine is important. But LIVING sound doctrine is what really counts, and I have never been an expert at that.

I share all of this for a couple of reasons.

One reason is that I wonder how many young people who are average or below average in their ability to read aloud, or memorize facts, or speak publically, have been wrongly made to feel spiritually inferior. What a shame, to turn someone off to the church for reasons like those.

But another reason is because all of that praise about how much I loved God’s word, and how well I spoke and how I was such a leader in the youth group, etc.; it kind of sunk in. And because of that, I kind of did feel like I was spiritually mature. And that blinded me from my own spiritual brokenness. But we must all realize our own brokenness before we can appreciate Chris’s sacrifice for us, and before we can understand the narrow way that He now calls us to follow.

Whether you feel like you are “smart” or “dumb” by worldly intellectual standards, do you know God? Do you talk to Him? Do you listen to Him? Do you obey Him? Do you trust Him when things get tough? Will you follow Him anywhere? Will you step out of your comfort zone? Will you confess your sins to your brothers and sisters? Are you spreading the gospel? Do you even believe the gospel? Are you a doer of the word, rather than a reciter of it? Are you doing what is in the best interest of your family, of your church, and of the lost, or are you serving yourself first and foremost?

These are the questions I am convinced we need to be asking. Not how well we perform on academic exercises.

I will leave you with a final teaching from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 21:

“‘But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And he answered, “I will not”; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.'”

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Heaven”

What does the word heaven really mean?

Hebrew:
Shamayim – 1) the sky where birds fly, 2) the heavens where stars are, 3) the dwelling place of God, the highest heaven.
Marom – a roughly equivalent word to Shamayim

Greek:
Ouranos – the space above the earth, or the place where God dwells.

Other terms include: “eternal life,” “new heaven and a new earth,” “the heavenly kingdom,” “the new Jerusalem.”

Since in both Hebrew and Greek the same word was used to refer to both the sky and to God’s dwelling place, and based on art and literature throughout history, we can see that God’s people perceived of heaven as a place that is above us. (Genesis 28 – Jacob’s ladder, etc.)

Whether this is true in a literal sense or not, it is certainly true in a symbolic sense, because God is at the height of perfection, is in a place of absolute authority, and calls us to better ourselves as we move toward Him.

Heaven is where God is (Deuteronomy 10:14, Revelation 4:2) and when we go where He is to be with Him, we will be in heaven, too (Revelation 21)

Jesus must be referring to heaven when he speaks of “a place prepared for us” in (John 14)

 What will heaven by like?

There is much that we do not know… (1 Corinthians 2:9) But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

(Revelation 21) says God will be among men, and there is no pain or crying, and includes an extended description of many fine gemstones, pearly gates, etc. as well as streets of gold (Revelation 22) continues be describing the river of the water of life and the tree of life with twelve kinds of fruit and leaves with the power to heal, and there is no night.

(Isaiah 25:8) appears to be echoed in Rev. 21: “he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.”

Rev. 21 mentions a marriage feast. (Luke 13:29) “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

(Revelation 7:14-17) “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”

(Matthew 6:19-21) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

(Colossians 3:3-4) For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

How can heaven be perfect if not everyone will be there?

(Revelation 21:27) But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

 (Matthew 7:23) “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

This is a hard question to answer. But if we trust that God will do what is right, then we trust that we will agree with Him in His doing what is right.

Do we really get a mansion in heaven?

(John 14:2) My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

“Mansion” is an obsolete translation, the meaning is not specifically that of a giant, fancy house.

Will this earth be transformed into heaven one day?

Rev. 21 mentions a new heaven and a new earth…

(Romans 8:19-21)For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

(John 14:3) “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  This does not sound like a renovated earth.

(Hebrews 11:6) But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

(Revelation 21:1) “I saw a New Heaven; and a New Earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”

(2 Peter 3:10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

Will heaven be a physical place?

Some point out that Eden was both physical and perfect, but do we know enough about Eden to draw conclusions from it?

(1 Corinthians 15:42-49)  42So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

I do not know the answer to this question. Are you aware of a clear answer in scripture?

Why is there no marriage in heaven?

(Matthew 22:29-30) Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Will there be dogs in heaven?

(Isaiah 11:6-9) “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea”

(Romans 8:20-21) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

What do you think? If God’s plan of redemption is for God, wouldn’t that leave animals out of the picture?

Is there a hierarchy or various levels of reward in heaven?

(Matthew 5:19) Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven

(luke 13:29-30) 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

(1 Corinthians 3:11 – 15) For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,13each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

(Matthew 6:20) “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

 

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Self-Control”

What is a Biblical definition of self-control? What is the nature of this virtue?
The English term “self-control” did not appear until the 18th century. Prior to that, words like “temperance” and “sober” were used.

Hebrew:
Matsar – restraint or control

Greek:
Egkrateia – in the sphere of dominion or mastery; self-mastery, self-restraint
Sophosunei – soundness of mind, sanity, sobriety
Nepho – calm, vigilant, sober, free from illustion

(1 Timothy 4:8) compares physical training and spiritual self-control.
(1 Corinthians 9:25) attributes self-control to athletes.
In these cases, we see self-control as submission to a certain code of conduct in order to cultivate a desired outcome.

Jesus, in going to the cross, was the ultimate example of self control:
(1 Peter 2:23) “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
(Acts 8:32) “Like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”
(Matthew 26:53) He could have called 12 legions of angels.
(John 10:18) He lay His own life down willingly.

Would it not be better to be controlled by God, rather than by my “self?”
(Galatians 5:22-26) shows us that self-control is actually a fruit of God’s Spirit, and that we have it when we “keep in step with the Spirit.” So having self-control does not negate God’s leadership in our lives.

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15) “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” God does control us, but there is no denying that on some level we have a choice in the matter and must choose “to live no longer for ourselves.”

(1 Corinthians 15:10) “…but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

(Romans 1:20) we are “without excuse” because we are accountable as free moral agents.(Proverbs 16:32) refers positively to “he who rules his [own] spirit.” In this sense, we need self-control to submit ourselves to God’s standard.

What role does willpower play in self-control? Is increasing my willpower an appropriate or effective way to grow in self-control?
(Galatians 5:16) “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
(Ephesians 5:18) “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

In both cases, the text does not say “try harder,” but focuses on the Spirit. Why is that and what does it mean?

(1 Corinthians 1:25) “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
(Proverbs 3:5-7) “lean not on your own understanding.”
(1 Peter 2:23) Jesus was “entrusting Himself” to the Father. What role does trust in God play in self-control as compared or opposed to willpower?

What should I do in a situation in which I obviously do not have self-control?
Do something, you are in danger!
(Proverbs 25:28) “Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.”

 If possible, avoid the situation! “I am not stronger than Sampson, mightier than David, or wiser than Solomon, so I am not immune to sexual temptation.” Recognize and seek to avoid dangerous situations.

(James 5:16) Confess your sins one to another and pray for each other.
(Matthew 5:29) Make necessary sacrifices to protect yourself.
(Galatians 5, Ephesians 5) Give serious thought to what it means to walk in the Spirit.

(Hebrews 12:5-11) We discipline our children to help them learn ultimately how to control themselves. When the Lord disciplines us, we should be wise and learn from it.

 How can I grow in self-control?
(Galatians 5:17) The Spirit and the flesh are at war in each other, “so that you may not do the things that you please.” In a battle, the stronger one side becomes, the more control it has. This implies that persistence in the fight of the Spirit to control the flesh can help us grow over time.

Think of the illustration of an elephant and a rider. The elephant, like our passions, is very powerful, but unless it is governed by a strong rider who can control it, it will be a force to evil rather than for good.

(Titus 2:11-12) “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” God’s grace can help us to continue to get back up and keep learning.

(1 Peter 1:5-9) lists self control as a virtue, and suggests that if we do not have it, it is a result of us forgetting our purification from our former sins.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3) suggests a lack of sexual self-control comes from a lack of the knowledge of God.

Is there a key to self-control? If so, what is it?
It is clear from the connection to the Spirit (Galatians 5, Ephesians 5) and reliance on God (Proverbs 3, 1 Corinthians 1) that self-control must be a result of our relationship with God.

Beyond this perhaps obvious but important fundamental truth, what would you say is the key to self-control? Trust in God? Submission to His will?

 What areas of life are notable for requiring self-control?
Anger
(Proverbs 29:11) “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”
Revenge
(Romans 12:19)
Sexual immorality
(1 Thessalonians 4:3) Paul wishes “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God”
Alcohol
(Ephesians 5:16)

Food!

What other areas of life can be difficult in regards to self-control?

Stripping Off Every Weight

The first couple of verses of Hebrews chapter 12 give this instruction:

Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.

The New Living Translation actually says: “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.”

Having been a casual cyclist for several years, I have definitely become familiar with the idea of diminishing weight in order to gain efficiency. For a serious cyclist, unnecessary parts such as kickstands or baskets are immediately out of the question because of the weight that they add to the bicycle. Most will also immediately remove reflectors from a new bike if it comes with them. Some cyclists have even been known to peel the stickers off of their bikes in order to trim every last unnecessary gram.

The quest for efficiency does not end there. Road bikers where skintight clothing, and often shave their legs. They use extremely skinny tires with extremely high air pressure in them.

The women’s track pursuit bike for the Olympics this year has the drivetrain on the left side of the bike, instead of the traditional location on the right. This is to reduce wind resistance since the bike will only be making left turns. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If humans are capable of such intense attention to detail in athletics, are we not also capable of seeking that kind of perfection in spiritual things? Have you removed as many unnecessary encumbrances as you can from your spiritual life?

Susanna Wesley once wrote these words to her son: “Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

Her definition of sin is thought provoking because it reminds us that spiritual encumbrances may not always appear to be obviously wicked, but they may effect us negatively nonetheless.

What television shows could we give up, or what habits of thinking could we alter, or what quiet whisper of the conscience could we listen to more earnestly, in order that we might run with endurance the race set before us?

As any professional athlete can tell you, even the smallest changes could make a big difference.

The Spiritual Realities of Day to Day Life

The prophecy of Malachi is presented as a conversation between God and His people. In this conversation, God makes several statements and several accusations that the people are skeptical of, leading them to ask the following questions in their unbelief:

  • How have you loved us?
  • How have we despised your name?
  • How have we polluted you?
  • Why does He not regard our offering?
  • How have we wearied Him?
  • How shall we return?
  • How have we robbed you?
  • What have we spoken against you?

These questions are spoken in an incredulous tone, as though the people have no idea what God is talking about. God’s responses to their resentful questions revealed that all kinds of circumstances in their daily lives had a spiritual significance that they have not considered.

  • Though they were unaware of it, their prosperity and their invitation to be God’s special people was a manifestation of His love for them.
  • Though they do not think of it in such a way, their casual practice of giving God their leftovers rather than their best was really an insult on their part towards God.
  • Their sinful lifestyles and selfish decisions were separating them from God with consequences that they would not have imagined.
  • Their attitude of envying the wicked and considering righteous living as burdensome was a wearying accusation that they were bringing to God.

And yet the people saw none of this in their daily lives: God’s love, their disrespect, the spiritual damage that resulted from their foolishness, etc. The spiritual realities of life were lost on them.

Do we recognize the spiritual significance of the happenings in out lives? Do we consider every good thing to be a gift from Him, or is it merely “good luck” when we prosper? Are our sins perceived as private matters with no long term consequences, or do we recognize the damaging ripple effects they can have on our lives and the lives of those around us?

2 Kings 6:17 says “Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Could it be that our lives are full of “horses and chariots of fire” and many other wonders that are only recognized by those who are spiritual?

God conveys both His love and His discipline to us day by day, whether we take the time to listen or not, and we convey either insults or gratitude to Him in return, whether we do so intentionally or without a second thought. God would have us to open our eyes to those realities.