Category: Spiritual Weapons

Marveling at the Miraculous by Jan Jenkins

A Miracle!

Peter and John are going to the temple to pray when at the temple gate they hear a man calling to them.

It appears that this forty-year-old man is lame and depends on handouts to support his existence in his disabled condition. What the man does not realize is that his condition can actually be changed so that he need not continue to beg.

This story is a reminder that God often sees a greater ailment in our lives that may need changing that is far deeper than what we may be asking or praying for.

Peter stops and tells the man that he does not possess what the man is begging for; however, he does have something far greater. Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” He then grabs the man’s right hand and raises him up.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts writes that “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:7).

Not only is the man strengthened and upright, but he begins “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8). People who saw him were astounded because they knew something miraculous had happened, knowing that this man was the one who had been carried daily to the temple gate to plead for sustenance.

Peter’s Message

At this point, Peter answers the amazement of the people by preaching his second recorded sermon. He assures his listeners that faith in the name of Jesus has brought strength and healing to this man (Acts 3:16). He then reminds the people whom God’s prophets had foretold of “this Christ” and that by repenting of their sins they may experience His presence and “times of refreshing.” Consequently, this is a reminder to us that we need to repent and make sure we can approach our Savior with a clear conscience and a clean heart.

Next, the priests and Sadducees who have also been listening to Peter, see to it that John and Peter are arrested since this is the only immediate way they can keep them from speaking the truth.

In spite of this arrest, as many as 5,000 men who had heard the message believed! When given the opportunity to testify the next day, Peter again states that the man (who is standing there next to Peter) was made well “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).

Peter tells the high priest and the others of “high priestly descent” that there is salvation only through Jesus. Peter’s words are a reminder that it is through the power of the mighty name of Jesus that we are made whole. Not our good works, our power, our religious knowledge, or our social or political standing.

Peter’s message leaves these educated leaders speechless, and they are unable to reply. They begin to talk among themselves, trying to decide what should be done with Peter and the other men with him. They even admit that a “noteworthy miracle” has happened, and therefore they “cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16). In a feeble effort to control Peter and John, they command them not to do any further teaching about Jesus. They answer by saying that it is impossible for them to stop speaking about what they have “seen and heard.”

It is natural for us to want to share our experiences with others, whether they involve a fabulous vacation, a newborn baby, or career advancement. How much greater is the urge to share the good news of salvation and healing to those who are seeking answers or to those in perilous situations.

So, what did the officials do? They “threatened them further” (Acts 4:21), but their threats were empty. They couldn’t punish Peter and John because of the crowds of people glorifying God! When the apostles were finally released, they went back to their companions to report what had happened to them. Additionally, they prayed together asking to speak God’s word with confidence while He extends His hand to heal in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:29 – 30).

They are absolutely aware that it is the power of God through the name of Jesus that is the source of these signs and wonders.

Finally, when they had prayed, the building was shaken and they were once again filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness. Accordingly, the only way we can share God’s message is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Steps to Growth and Faith

Therefore, what are the steps in the process of growth and faith as evidenced by this story?

  • First, we recognize that God is in control and we are to trust Him to guide us when we speak to other people while knowing that what that person wants may not be all that God has for him or her.
  • Second, making sure we have a repentant heart and a clear conscience so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Lord when He is leading.
  • Third, we learn that it is the power of the name of Jesus that makes us whole. It is not about us and our good works.
  • Forth, it is desirable for us to maintain a close relationship with the Lord through His word and by hearing His voice, so we can share with others the “signs and wonders” that we are experiencing.
  • Fifth, it is God “who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  • Sixth, the only way we can truly share God’s love and His good news to others is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

The Mystery of Pain

After enduring pain in my shoulder (rotator cuff) for several weeks, my orthopedic specialist gave me a cortisone shot. The shot was more than just a “pinch,” as shots are usually called by medical caregivers, but I was grateful afterwards, for I could move my shoulder again without feeling like I had been stabbed with an ice-pick!

This experience with pain was in addition to my craniotomy last fall and the onset of migraine headaches.  Physical pain is bad enough, but emotional and mental pain can be just as bad, if not more perplexing and burdensome.

Anyone who has chronic pain of one kind or another is usually moved to ask, “Why?  Why do I have pain in my life?”

Years ago, I learned some answers to these questions by studying the disease of leprosy that appears so often in the Bible.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is an infection caused by bacteria that are contracted  by direct contact or through the air by sneezes or coughs.  Leprosy is highly contagious, therefore, which explains the prohibitions given to lepers in the Bible to prevent the spread of the disease.

(Click here to read Leviticus 13 for a description of the disease and its symptoms, along with some of the restrictions placed on lepers.)

Leprosy bacteria multiply slowly, so the disease may take years to fully manifest, but when it does, the symptoms are very visible, especially on the skin.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Skin lesions that may be faded/discolored
  • Growths on the skin
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness on affected areas of the skin
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness
  • Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee)
  • A stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ulcers on the soles of feet

(Click to see source.)

What About Pain?

When leprosy becomes active, which may take two-three years after initial exposure, it eventually attacks the nervous system, leading to numbness in the nerves on the skin and the loss of feeling or sensation on the hands and feet.

Read a fuller description here:

Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. (Source)

The worst danger from the bacteria arises, therefore, when a burn or another kind of injury occurs, for example, and the leper does not feel the injury due to the lack of sensation at the site: “The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent” (Source).

Pain’s Purpose

Imagine putting your hand on a very hot iron or woodstove and not feeling anything.  You may end up leaving your hand on the heat for quite a while, resulting in a terrible burn.  If you had felt the pain initially, you would have quickly acted to remove your hand.

Consequently, as a result of an inability to feel pain, the leper does not react quickly, so the injury becomes quite severe, leading to extreme damage to the body.

Leprosy: A Metaphor for Sin

Leprosy was so dreaded that lepers were shunned, and they were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden from touching anyone to prevent the spread of the disease:

As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Leprosy was so dreaded, and the commandments of God were so clear, that lepers were shunned. Lepers were declared to be “unclean.” To prevent the spread of the disease, lepers were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden even from touching anyone else.  Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another.

Incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people (Numbers 5:2). Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy. (Source)

Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another. The consequences of leprosy, therefore, are analogous to the consequences of sin.  When we are infected with sin in our lives, we become “unclean,” and our sin may even infect others with serious consequences.  Sin results in severe consequences in our lives, both physically and mentally.  Like leprosy, these consequences may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.

Like the symptoms of leprosy, the consequences of sin in our lives may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.  Yet, we should dread the symptoms of sin even more than those of leprosy, for the consequences of sin are death and eternal separation from God.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Jesus Christ, however, is the answer for both leprosy and sin, along with the resulting mental and physical deformities and anguish:

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus is willing to cleanse us wholly, in spirit, soul, and body.  He renews a right spirit within us and restores our souls.  Like King David, we may pray the following prayer in faith:

Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalms 51:9-11)

Jesus Himself, because of His love for us, is the One who restores our souls and cleanses us from all the consequences of sin.  See what the Apostle Peter wrote about the crucifixion of Christ:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (I Peter 2:23-25)

While on the cross and before His ascension into Heaven, therefore, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sins upon Himself and cleansing us from all unrighteousness if we will only accept Him.  By faith (which is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1), we may receive His ultimate cleansing in spirit, soul, and body, taking away our pain.

Today, we constantly seek ways to escape our pain, whether through cortisone shots, or pills, or certain “relaxation techniques” that are essentially occultic.  While we do not like the experience of pain in our lives, we should seek the causes of our pain and be thankful to a wise and loving God who gave us nerves that help us feel the pain of dangerous situations, thereby protecting us from further harm and disabilities.  And above all, we need to find our answer to pain in the forgiveness provided  by God and the salvation offered through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

Examining Ourselves Rightly

Introduction

The most difficult role for parents or Church leaders, in a similar context, is the role of one who must bring discipline and correction to the family or to the Church Body.  However, the Apostle Paul found himself in this role, as he describes it in his first letter to the Corinthian Church.  Since what follows is such a lengthy passage, we will examine it separately in parts.

Part I

In the first part Paul describes the problems that need to be corrected.  As Paul describes them, they consist of schisms and divisions in the Corinthian Church instead of solid unity:

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.  (I Corinthians 11:17-19)

Clearly, Paul understands the sinful human nature, for he writes that these factions and divisions have occurred for an all-too-apparent reason:  those who believe themselves to be qualified to lead (those “who are approved”) also desire to be recognized as being in charge (“so that they may become evident among you”).  

Part II

In the second part of the passage taken from his letter, Paul describes an even more troubling problem in the Corinthian Church, one which was probably more prevalent among the believers as a whole:

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (I Corinthians 11:20-22)

When the believers in the Corinthian Church come together, Paul writes, they come to eat and drink, not to “remember” the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their redemption from the consequences of their sins.  Instead, they are only concerned about filling their bellies and soothing themselves with alcohol.  Their desire to gorge themselves is so strong that they even compete with one another, leaving some with nothing, while others are bloated with bread and wine.  

Clearly, this description is nothing like the communion observances we have in most protestant churches in our culture today.  As a child, I was struck by the tiny pieces of unsalted crackers that were passed on a silver plate down the rows of pews by the deacons, along with the tiny cups filled with grape juice. There was no way, under the watchful eyes of my parents, I could have filled myself with such small portions of juice and crackers, simply because there wasn’t enough on the plate for anyone to take more than a minimal amount.  

We knew we weren’t sharing a meal. My mother taught me to gaze at the elements after they were passed, while I prayed and asked for forgiveness for my sins, not allowing myself to be distracted by anything around me or spilling what was in my tiny cup.

Part III

Therefore, in the next part of his letter, Paul describes how the Lord’s supper should be observed:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Their purpose in gathering to partake of the bread and wine, therefore, was definitely not to gluttonously fill themselves with bread and wine, but instead to remember what Christ accomplished as the “Lamb of God” by sacrificing His broken body and His blood, as well as to proclaim the victory of His death and resurrection until He comes again.  

For both elements of this Last Supper, the bread and the wine, Jesus asked that they remember Him, His broken body and His sacrificial blood that was spilled for them. And He asked also that they continue to remember Him as often as they celebrated the Last Supper in the future, thereby proclaiming His death and the results of His sacrifice until He comes again.

Part IV

In this next portion of Paul’s exhortation, the Apostle explains not only the proper attitudes the believers in Corinth needed to have while partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but also the proper behaviors they should have as they drink and eat:

27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But a person must [prayerfully] examine himself [and his relationship to Christ], and only when he has done so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks [without solemn reverence and heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ], eats and drinks a judgment on himself if he does not [a]recognize the body [of Christ]. 30 That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason why many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [in death]. 31 But if we evaluated and judged ourselves honestly [recognizing our shortcomings and correcting our behavior], we would not be judged. 32 But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined [by undergoing His correction] so that we will not be condemned [to eternal punishment] along with the world. (AMP Version: I Corinthians 11:27-32)

To sum up these admonitions, Paul cautions believers not to eat of the bread or drink from the cup in an “unworthy” manner.  If they do, he writes, they will bring judgment upon themselves for “sinning against” (See above AMP v. 27) the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, resulting in weakness, sickness, or even death (v. 30).

By following and acting upon these admonitions, we will neither incur the consequences of sinning against the Lord’s Body and Blood, nor be “condemned to eternal punishment along with all non-believers” (See v. 32 above):

Instead, Paul’s remedy is that believers need to “judge themselves rightly” so they will not be judged or condemned along with the world (v. 32).  

Part V

Paul’s final teaching on this subject, therefore, entails that believers should “wait for one another,” eating at home rather than using the elements of the Last Supper to satisfy their hunger.  Avoid the temptation, he writes, so that the whole body does not come together “for judgment” (v. 34):  Here is the definitive passage:

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (I Corinthians 11:33-34)

Eating and Drinking the Lord’s Supper Unworthily

What does the Apostle Paul mean when he counsels believers not to eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily,” or in an “unworthy manner”?  (See I Corinthians 11:27 in Part IV above.)  

The secret to solving this mystery lies, I believe, in the consequences and ramifications of the incurred judgments, which are “weakness, sickness, or even death.”  Paul writes that we must “judge” and “examine” ourselves  to ensure that we are not
“sinning” against the Body and Blood of Jesus, a sin that may incur weakness, sickness, or even death.  (I Corinthians 11:30)

Most clearly, since Paul is writing to believers in the Corinthian Church, a person cannot participate fully in the Lord’s Supper unless he or she has become a true believer in Jesus Christ and has accepted by faith what He accomplished as the “Lamb of God,” the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sin that separates us from God, our Holy Father.  

This is why even churches that practice “open communion,” or, in other words, churches that allow even non-members of the church to participate in the Lord’s Supper, will most often still warn everyone who partakes to ensure they have committed their hearts and lives to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to avoid the results of taking the communion unworthily.  

Paul’s teachings and corrections are definitely directed in his letter to those who have indeed submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, having committed their hearts and lives to Him and become members of the Church of Corinth.  Therefore, we must assume that his injunctions and warnings apply to everyone in the True Church, including all believers in the Church today as well.  

It seems wise to ask, what are we missing from Paul’s message to the whole Church?  Why does it appear that many people today are weak, sick, or even dead?  Are we partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily?  Have we diminished the significance of the communion sacrament and disregarded the implications of not examining ourselves according to Christ’s own guidelines?

I believe the key to discovering the meaning of this mystery is found in the following passage from John’s Gospel:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

This is what Dr. Michael Brown writes about John’s description of Christ’s final moments on the cross:

What did Jesus mean when He uttered the words “It is finished!” in John 19:30?

The phrase actually translates one word in Greek, tetelestai, from the root teleō, which means “to finish, fulfill.”

Significantly, this specific form of the verb, tetelestai, is only found twice in the entire New Testament, both times in John 19.

In fact, the two occurrences of tetelestai are found within three verses of each other: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ … When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

Do you see that? Although the verb teleō occurs 28 times in the New Testament, the form tetelestai is found only twice, and those two occurrences are in the same context, right next to each other, making the meaning perfectly clear.

Jesus was saying, “Mission accomplished! Everything that had to be done has been done! It is finished!” (Source: Click Here to View Brown’s article)

First of all, therefore, Jesus asks for something to quench His thirst in order to “fulfill the Scripture.”  See the prophecy in the Psalms:

They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 69:21)

Then, when He has received the sour wine from the sponge held up to Him, He says, “It is finished!” and “gives up His spirit” in death.  

We learn from this passage that, even on the cross, Jesus was intent on ensuring that all of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning His atoning death were fulfilled and “accomplished” before He gave up His life.  Jesus then declared that His mission was finished: He had completed all that had been prophesied and that His Father had planned in sending His only Son to be sacrificed.

What is probably missing in our participations in the times for ‘rembrance” during communion, therefore, concerns our inability to acknowledge and receive the fulness of what Christ came to accomplish on the Cross.  These relate to the three conditions that result from our not holding fast in faith to what He “finished”: His triumph over weakness, sickness, and death on our behalf.  

In Remembrance of Him

One passage in the Book of Hebrews states this idea in specific terms:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Clearly, many believers in the Early Church, just as in churches today, needed to be reminded about “remembering,” or the acknowledgement in faith and the appropriation of the magnificent provisions of Christ’s sacrifice on the Church’s behalf.  What does this mean?

Particularly as we “remember” Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, we need to focus on receiving “mercy and finding grace in times of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Since Jesus Himself was tempted just as we are, yet He did not fall into sin, we need to identify with the One who overcame all of the consequences of all sin.  

Jesus could vicariously sympathize with us, when the sins of the world were placed on Him, while identifying Himself as the One who took the punishment for all of our sins, receiving in His own Body on the Cross the consequences of sin as He suffered and died, even to the point of being “forsaken” by His Father because of those sins (see Mark 14:34 and Matthew 27:46).  

While in the Garden praying, Jesus knew not only what He would suffer physically on the cross, but also what He would endure while having the sins of the world placed on Him.  Imagine what He must have experienced, for He was without sin and knew no sin, yet suddenly while on the Cross He felt the sins of a world filled with wickedness placed on Himself, the spotless Lamb of God.

As a result of His willingness to receive this judgment, the consequences of sin were done away with, including weakness, sickness, and even death.  Therefore, Jesus Himself, as our propitiation for our sin, endured weakness, sickness, and death for the first time in His life, suffering not only death and entombment, but also three days and nights in Hell itself.  Is it any wonder why He asked His Father. . . 

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was in such agony over what He would experience and endure that He suffered from hematidrosa (or “sweating blood”) (See definition of “hematidrosa” caused by extreme stress“). Yet even knowing what He would experience, He was willing to take our place and drink the cup offered to Him.  

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And beforehand, during the Last Supper with His disciples, He broke the bread and offered the cup to demonstrate to them how they could remember His sacrifice on their behalf.  Consequently, we today have also been instructed how to identify with Jesus’s offer of redemption through His own death, finding eternal life also through His resurrection.

Conclusion

Whenever I send a package via United Parcel Service, I receive a “tracking number” so that I can determine the progress of the package as it is being delivered.

In the same way, the Lord has given us a means of tracking our own progress as Christians in the ways of the Lord.  We daily need to examine and judge ourselves completely, while identifying with Jesus Christ and holding fast our confession of faith.

However, we also need especially to remember His accomplished work on the cross as we take communion, in order not to be judged and suffer the weaknesses, sickness, and even death that have fallen on some believers. We need to judge ourselves continually and appropriate by faith all that the Lord Jesus purchased for us when He drank the cup that was given to Him according to the will of His Father in Heaven.

Marveling at the Miraculous by Jan Jenkins

The Miracle

As Peter and John are going to the temple to pray, at the temple gate they hear a man calling to them.  They see a forty-year-old lame man who depends on handouts to support his existence in his disabled condition.  What the man doesn’t realize is that his condition might actually be changed so that he need not continue to beg.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and beganto walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

This beautiful story is a reminder that God often sees a greater ailment that may need healing, one that is far more significant than what we may have been asking or praying for.

Peter stops and tells the man that he does not possess what the man is begging for, although he does have something far greater.  Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!”  He then grabs the man’s right hand and raises him up.  Luke, the author of the book of Acts, writes that “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:7). 

Not only is the man strengthened, but also he begins “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8).  People who saw him praising God were astounded because they knew something miraculous had happened, knowing that this was the man who had been carried daily to the temple gate to plead for sustenance.

At this point, Peter answers the amazement of the people by preaching his second recorded sermon.  He assures his listeners that faith in the name of Jesus is what has brought strength and healing to this man (Acts 3:16).  He then reminds the people that God’s prophets had foretold of “His Christ,” and that by repenting of their sins, they may experience Christ’s presence and  the “times of refreshing.”  Consequently, this is a reminder to us that we need to repent and make sure we can approach our Savior with a clear conscience and a clean heart.

Persecution

Next, the priests and Sadducees who have been also listening, see to it that John and Peter are arrested since this is the only immediate way they can keep them from speaking the truth.  In spite of Peter and John’s arrest, as many as 5,000 men who had heard the message believed!  When given the opportunity to testify the next day, Peter again states that the man (who is standing there next to Peter) was made well “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).  He tells the high priest and the others of “high priestly descent” that there is salvation only through Jesus.  Peter’s words are a reminder that it is through the power of the mighty name of Jesus that we are made whole–not our good works, our power, our religious knowledge, or our social or political standing.

Peter’s message leaves these educated leaders speechless, and they are unable to reply.  They begin talking among themselves, trying to decide what should be done with Peter and the other men with him.

But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that anoteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” (Acts 4:15-17)

In a feeble effort to control Peter and John, they command them not to teach any more about Jesus.  The apostles answer by saying that it is impossible for them to stop speaking about what they have “seen and heard.”

Sharing With Others

It is natural for us to want to share our experiences with others, whether they involve a fabulous vacation, a newborn baby, or career advancement.  How much greater is the urge to share the good news of salvation and healing to those who are seeking answers or to those in perilous situations.

So, what did the officials do?  They “threatened them further” (Acts 4:21), but their threats were empty. They couldn’t punish Peter and John because of the crowds of people glorifying God!

When the apostles were finally released, they went back to their companions to report what had happened to them.  Additionally, they prayed together asking to speak God’s word with confidence while He extends His hand to heal in the name of Jesus.  (Acts 4:29 – 30).  They are absolutely aware that it is the power of God through the name of Jesus that is the source of these signs and wonders.

Finally, when they had prayed, the building was shaken and they were once again filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s word with boldness.  In the same way, the only way we can fully share God’s message is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Therefore, what are the steps we must take to ensure our own growth and faith, as evidenced by this story?

  • First, recognize that God is in control, and we need to trust Him to guide us when we speak to others, knowing that what that person wants may not be all that God has for him or her.
  • Second, make sure we have a repentant heart and a clear conscience so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Lord when He is leading.
  • Third, the power of the name of Jesus is what makes us whole.  It is not about us and our good works.
  • Fourth, maintain a close relationship with the Lord through His word and by hearing His voice, so we can share with others the “signs and wonders” that we are experiencing.
  • Fifth, it is God “who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  • Sixth, the only way we can truly share God’s love and His good news to others is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

 

Discernment in Spiritual Warfare

 

What is Discernment?

What does it mean to have discernment?  The Apostle Paul gives us an exhortation that demonstrates the need for discernment in the following verses: 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:9-11)

By exercising discernment, Paul writes, our love for others will grow and abound through the true knowledge of God, for it will be based on the will and wisdom of God.  Consequently, we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, our right-standing with God, and we will be without blame, having walked in the paths of righteousness.  We will know which turns to take that will lead us to Him.

Discernment is described in slightly different terms in the following exhortation by Paul: 

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”  (I Thessalonians 5:21-22)

Thus, the word discernment is typically defined as the ability to distinguish, or judge, between good and evil, true and false.   It is impossible to do so, however, unless we have help from God, particularly since there are no true standards for what is good or evil in the world today.  We live in an age when truth is relative, and it is the particular situation that decides what is right and wrong, at least to those who advocate “situation ethics.”  This is why we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reveal what truly  comes from Him.   

The apostle John issues a warning about the false prophets who have been teaching the heresies of gnosticism, for example, a philosophy that was based on the idea that all matter is evil; therefore, Jesus could not have appeared and died physically, much less resurrected, in the flesh.  

John writes, 

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.  (I John 4:1-3)

True discernment is Holy Spirit inspired, yet the writer to the Hebrews declares that we can become so aware of the differences between good and evil that even our senses may become adept at knowing the difference:

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Thus, the Word of God is the basis of our training, first with the “milk” of the word, the fundamentals of the faith, followed by the “solid food” that is linked to the “word of righteousness,” the deeper truths of the Word that reveal to us the mysteries and secrets God desires for us to know about His plans and purposes.

 

The Spiritual Gift of Discernment

Both the “milk” and “solid food” of the Word of God, therefore, are significantly important in the exercise of discernment, for we must know the difference between what is good and what is evil.  In the realm of spiritual warfare, therefore, the Holy Spirit has given the Church the gift of discernment: the “distinguishing” or “discerning” of spirits (I Corinthians 12:10).  

This spiritual gift is important when it comes to “testing” the spirits to see whether they come from God, particularly when various teachings and prophecies come forth into the Body of Christ (I John 4:1). This is why we need all of the spiritual gifts described in I Corinthians 12.   If anything, we need the gift of discernment as much today as in the early Church age to help us uncover the darkness that is in our world, as well as the false teachings and false prophecies that are constantly coming forth, even in the churches.

Yes, the Word of God is the foundation of our faith, and it alone is the final arbiter of what is true and false doctrine. However, the Word alone is not enough for those who are infants in terms of their spiritual growth and development, those whose senses have not become trained to discern good and evil.  And especially in the realm of spiritual warfare, we desperately need the gifts of discernment, knowledge, and wisdom to uncover false teachings and the hidden evils of Satan, who disguises himself even as an angel of light.  

Paul writes about this problem in his letter to the Corinthians:

For such men are false apostles,deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,whose end will be according to their deeds.  (II Corinthians 11:13-15)

My Sheep Hear My Voice

One story in the Gospel of John speaks to this issue of discernment, specifically with those who refused to believe in Jesus.  They ask Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).  Jesus replies that He has already told them, but they did not believe, for the works and miracles He has performed in the Father’s name testify of Him.  

These skeptics have not exercised true discernment, however, for Jesus did not always speak literally in words, but He also spoke through signs and wonders.  They do not believe because they, like the false prophets the Apostle John describes, do not believe that Jesus has come in the flesh, even when He is standing in front of them.  Jesus tells them, 

But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:26-28)

 

The Plot to Capture Elisha

Having discernment means that we can see beyond the natural world and into the realms of the spirit.   And the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, or of the flesh, but they are mighty to the pulling down of demonic strongholds, even though we cannot see them with our physical eyes.  

This kind of discernment is emphatically demonstrated in the story of Elisha, who was being hunted by the King of Aram.

The enraged king sent for his servants, demanding to know which of them had betrayed him to the Israelites.  It seemed that every time he and his armies waited in secret places to attack, the Israelites always avoided the surprise attack. The king is sure that there is someone in his house who is a spy, and he is determined to find out who it is.

Fearful that they will be put to death, one of the servants finally tells the king what he knows, “No, my lord, we are not guilty of treason.  O king; Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

The king decides that an attack against Elisha will solve his problem.  Therefore, when Elisha’s servant arose early one morning, he was stricken by what he saw, an army, along with many  horses and chariots, circling the city.  He ran to Elisha, saying, “What shall we do?”

Seeing the army of the king of Aram surrounding the city, Elisha replied to his servant, “

“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”

In response to Elisha’s prayer, the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Then Elisha prayed again to the Lord saying, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.”

The Lord heard Elisha’s prayer and struck the armed soldiers and charioteers with blindness.  

Then Elisha said to the army, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” 

And Elisha brought them to Samaria, where their eyes were opened to find themselves captured by the King of Israel. 

In the marvelous ending to the story (see the full account in  II Kings 6), we learn that the King of Israel takes Elisha’s advice and instead of killing his captives, he gives them a great feast and lets them return home.  Consequently, we learn, the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.

 

What You See Is Not What You Get

One focus of this story about Elisha concerns seeing and not seeing, on using true discernment to know how to walk in the light, to know right from wrong, to test the spirits. And what we learn is that our battles in this life should be fought with spiritual weapons, not fought with the weapons of the flesh.  

 

Paul’s Thorn, Part II

 

Why Wasn’t Paul Healed?

Many Bible teachers have taught that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a physical disease, in spite of the inconsistencies and false logic of this conclusion.  I believe these teachers have perpetuated this false teaching only to buttress another false teaching:  The gifts of healing passed away when the disciples and early apostles passed away.  

If Paul was sick and God refused to heal him even after three requests, why should we believe that God wants to heal us?  Why encourage people to believe for healing when it isn’t God’s will to heal today?  Isn’t that why we have doctors and physicians?

Clearly not everyone is healed every time there is sickness or disease, even though prayers are offered, though here is the promise the Apostle James gives the Church in his letter:

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15)

In spite of this promise, many churches no longer even anoint the sick or pray for healing, having decided that this verse is no longer relevant today in a post-apostolic “dispensation.” It is significant, however, that no denial of the forgiveness of sins promise is mentioned.  Why, when both are stated in the same passage, is forgiveness still a valid promise when healing is not?

Experience tells us, however, that not everyone is healed or appears to be healed, at least not in the ways we desire.  Is it because God wants us to be sick, indeed even causes us to be sick in order to keep us humble?  Isn’t that why Paul’s eye disease wasn’t healed?  

However, you will recall that the thorn Paul refers to was a “messenger of Satan,” not a messenger of God Himself.

I’m amazed at how many Bible teachers preach that the Bible is the “inerrant” Word of God, without error or fault in all its teaching, yet they delete or omit some of the verses in the Bible because they believe they no longer apply to today. 

If this passage in James is part of the infallable and inerrant Word of God, therefore, why are some believers not healed according to the affirmative promise in James and other passages in the Bible?   

One reason is that we don’t believe in the first place, or we just give up, especially when our prayers aren’t answered right away.  We forget that though miracles may be instantaneous, healing takes time and we need patience.  Even Jesus the Son of God could do few mighty works in His own home town because of the unbelief of the people who lived there.

All too often, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is used to confirm this kind of unbelief.  How many times have we heard people say,”My back pain is just a thorn in the flesh God has given me to teach me something,” or something similar?  

In the World You Shall Have Tribulation

Sufficient evidence exists to oppose the meaning of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” as referring to an eye disease, or “opthalmia.” 

First, Paul describes the thorn as a “messenger of Satan,” a description that seems to reveal cogniznce and intent.  Paul says he implored the Lord three times to be delivered of this messenger, but the Lord responded with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).  What is weakness but a condition that demands help and assistance in its worst forms?  

Paul then describes the weaknesses that, taken together, comprise the essence of what the thorn is:

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  (II Corinthians 12:9)

We might summarize all of these conditions under the terms “tribulations,” and even more specifically, “persecutions.” These are condition we have not been redeemed from.  In fact, Jesus declared that we would all suffer similar kinds of persecutions:

Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:31-33)

The word “tribulations” in Paul’s message to the churches in Galatia, quoted in Acts 14, however, is significant, for it further affirms what is the true meaning of this metaphor:

The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations [emphasis mine] we must enter the kingdom of God.” When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:18-23)

 

The Thorn in Context

Consider the following passages, all of which contain references to thorns.  See if you can find similarities in meanings:

  • But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. (Numbers 33:55)
  • Know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:13)
  • Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?  Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’” When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the Lord.  (Judges 2:1-5)
  • And the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face toward Sidon, prophesy against her and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God,

    “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon,
    And I will be glorified in your midst.
    Then they will know that I am the Lord when I execute judgments in her,
    And I will manifest My holiness in her.
    “For I will send pestilence to her
    And blood to her streets,
    And the wounded will fall in her midst
    By the sword upon her on every side;
    Then they will know that I am the Lord.

    And there will be no more for the house of Israel a prickling brier or a painful thorn from any round about them who scorned them; then they will know that I am the Lord God.”   Ezekiel 28:20-24)

A careful and thoughtful analysis of these passages shows that they all relate the “thorn” to adversaries and instruments of persecution.  The connection is clear, therefore:  The thorn in the flesh Paul is writing about represents the constant and unrelenting persecution Paul endured in his ministry.

Readers of the stories on the life of the Apostle Paul are usually astounded at the many instances of persecution in his life. He experiences constant opposition to his ministry and teachings, both physical and mental.  Instead of being an instrument of persecution against the Church himself, as he was in the early chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul became the one who was persecuted, receiving the most severe and painful forms of physical torture imaginable, including being stoned and left for dead, beatings, and public ridicule.  

 

Why Did God Allow the Persecution of Paul?

Paul relates in his defense to the Jews in Jerusalem that he was the one who persecuted those who followed Christ (the “Way”):

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.    (Acts 22:4-5)

After his conversion, however, he became the object of persecution.  He relates to the Corinthian Church, for example, the following list:

To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.  (I Corinthians 4:11-13)

He continues to list the persecutions he has endured in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.  (II Corinthians 4:7-12)

While the source of these persecutions appears to be nonbelievers, those people who opposed the teachings and worship of the Lord, the primary source is demonic, a messenger of Satan sent to inflict persecution on the chosen people of God.

It is little wonder, then, that Paul asks the Lord to have this thorn of persecution removed from him.  The Lord’s response to him in contained in the following message:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.

Paul was blessed with the manifold wisdom and revelations of God in order to communicate the full plan of salvation and sanctification of the Lord, much of which was in great contrast to the legalism and obligations of the Old Covenant.  Paul consequently became the focus of extreme persecution to keep this Good News of the Gospel from being shared, not only with his fellow Jews, but also the gentiles.  And through his letters to the churches, Paul’s imparted wisdom is still being used to share the love of Jesus Christ to the whole world. 

 

What About Me?  Will I Ever Have a Thorn in the Flesh?

Paul explains why the thorn in the flesh is present in his life:  “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!”  (II Corinthians 12:7).  

No one today who refrains from self-exaltation would make such a claim as having such a thorn in the flesh as the one Paul endured.  

However, Paul did explain to his disciple Timothy that persecution will follow all who desire to follow Christ and seek to proclaim His gospel:

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  (2 Timothy 3:10-12)

Unless someone today can compare the manifest spiritual revelations or evangelical accomplishments with those of the Apostle Paul, there is no true basis for claiming to have a “thorn in the flesh” as so many people tend to do   People do so because although they have prayed, God has not apparently answered their prayers, particularly for healing from some sickness or disease.

As we have discovered, however, Paul’s thorn was not a physical infirmity in spite of the word “infirmities” in II Corinthians 11:30:  “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

We must take the words Paul uses in context to avoid misinterpretations.  The word “infirmities,” however, is better translated “weaknesses” or “persecutions,” all of which are listed in the previous verses in this same chapter:

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments,beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.  have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?  (II Corinthians 11:23-29)

Indeed, an amplified context for this word is in the next chapter (none of which exist in the original text), for Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified because of “weakness”:

 For indeed He [Jesus] was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.  (II Corinthians 13:4)

 

Conclusion

Paul tells Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  While we may not all have the kinds of persecution and weaknesses that Paul experienced, we all will be persecuted if we will only live a life of visible testimony.

cjenkins.newsong@gmail.com

Paul’s Thorn, Part I

images

More Than Just a Splinter!

For the first five years of my life, I lived in a town surrounded by a desert.   And even in my young adult years, I lived with desert environments nearby.  I will never forget viewing the cactus varieties at the Botanical Gardens just a mile or two from my house, and I especially recall the many cactus plants growing in the yards of neighbors, mainly because I was painfully stuck a few times by thorns on the way to see a friend.

The thorn is an especially vivid image in people’s minds, mainly because of the danger and pain it may bring.  It’s not surprising that the Apostle Paul would choose such an image to describe his condition in his letter to the Corinthians:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

Our understanding of Paul’s meaning in this passage, especially as it concerns the metaphor of the thorn, has been much debated in the Church, one indicator that the meaning is a “mystery.”  A perfect topic for this Blog!

God wants to reveal His secrets to us if we are spiritually discerning.  However, we must use exegesis (i.e. out of), not isogesis (i.e. into).  We must take the meaning from the passage of Scripture, as well as its context in the whole of Scripture (out of), not impose our own meaning on the text (into).  In this Blog, we are seeking God’s wisdom, not imposing our own thoughts and beliefs on God’s message.  

Here are some of the more obvious examples of interpretations that are the opposite, merely attempts to promote a particular agenda (which we will explore in Part II):

  • Paul suffered from some acute form of bodily disease. Those who argue this position suggest such diseases as  malaria, Malta fever, epilepsy, convulsive attacks, and chronic ophthalmia. 
  • The most common disease mentioned is acute ophthalmia, said to originate when the light which flashed round him at Damascus.    (See http://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/2_corinthians/12.htm)
  • Some other theories of the thorn’s meaning include temptation, migraines, epilepsy, and a speech disability.
  • Some even say that the thorn refers to a person inspired by Satan who sought to discredit Paul and his ministry.  One such man was Alexander the coppersmith, who did Paul “a great deal of harm” (2 Timothy 4:14).   
  • Others theorize that the exact nature of Paul’s thorn is deliberately vague because Paul wanted it to apply to any difficulty Christians may face.    (http://www.gotquestions.org/Paul-thorn-flesh.html)
  • Finally, those arguing that Paul refers to his conflict with sensual passion, citing Romans 7:8, Romans 7:23,  and I Corinthians 9:27. 

Eye Disease

One of the most troubling of these interpretations of the thorn is the idea that the thorn is the “acute opthalmia” Paul supposedly had as a result of his blindness on the Road to Damascus.  

Reading the account in Acts Chapter 9, read that as Paul  was struck blind by the light of Christ as he was traveling to Damascus to persecute the Jewish Christians,

Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him;  and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.  (Act 9:3-9)

This passage is used not only to attempt to explain what Paul’s thorn was, but also how it came to plague him later in life. Additional evidence for this view is provided from Galatians 4:15, where Paul says, “Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”  Advocates of this view believe that Paul’s condition was so serious and apparent that the Galatians would gladly have given him their own eyes in gratitude for giving them the Gospel.

As further evidence for this eye disease theory, it is submitted that Paul appeared to use his helpers to take Paul’s dictation of at least some of his epistles (an amanuensis). One person mentioned is Tertius, who copied the book of Romans, most likely from Paul’s dictations.  Tertius even added his own greeting to the church in Rome (see 16:22).  In addition, Paul added salutations with his own hands (see I Corinthians 16:21 and II Thessalonians 3:17), and he wrote his own words with large print, as he writes in Galatians 6:11: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.”

In opposition to these theories are two arguments.  

First, the bolt of light was not a “messenger of Satan” but a message from Jesus Christ:

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Act 9:3-6)

Second, we see clear proof in the Book of Acts that Paul is healed of his blindness after his stunning experience on the Damascus road. Jesus commands a very fearful, reluctant Ananias to go to Saul, the enemy of the believers in Damascus. Ananias is instructed to administer the Holy Spirit to Saul, to heal Saul’s blindness, and give him instructions for the future, saying, “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake:  

So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.  (Acts 9:17-19)

In further opposition to this theory, therefore, surely those whom the Lord heals are healed indeed!   Therefore, diagnosing Paul with chronic eye disease seems incorrect.  Even supposing an aging apostle who may be experiencing far-sightedness seems a more likely explanation for his large letters, just as some people need large-print Bibles!  

Another possibility for Paul’s use of an amanuensis is the fact that Paul was not writing in his native language, especially in his letter to the Galatian people who were Celtic in origin.  Perhaps Paul was not as familiar with their script as he was with other cities forms of writing, and he wanted his letter to be legible to them.

Finally, the results of Paul’s thorn were intended to diminish Paul’s pride, to help him realize that the many revelations given to him were a result of God’s grace in his life, not a consequence of his own abilities or insights.

When Paul writes to the Galatian Churches, reminding them of their gratitude to him for sharing the Gospel with them, he says, “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me”  (Galatians 4:15). He indeed may be referring to a physical infirmity he had, but it would not be the one he obtained on the Road to Damascus. Instead, he only recently had been stoned and left for dead:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. (Acts 14:19)

This story continues to describe Paul’s journey with Barnabus to the other cities in Galatia, leaving them with a message that is quite significant:

The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:18-23)

Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra, a city of Galatia. The next day Paul walked to Derbe, another city of Galatia, and began preaching the good news of Christ to them.   Most likely, Paul may have had runny, puffy eyes, along with multiple cuts and bruises, but they were not the result of some disease. They were the result of having just been stoned.

 

Part II

In the next article in this series, some reasons why these dubious interpretations are taught will be explained, and a more convincing understanding of Paul’s thorn will be provided.

Cactus

Spiritual Weapons, Part VIII: The Weapon of Forgiveness

A Ministry of Reconciliation

Speaking to His disciples after His resurrection, Jesus said, 

“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:21-23)

There are a number of mysteries in this statement, but for our purposes now,  a significant statement about forgiveness is here in this passage that is often overlooked.  

I never applied this statement as applying to me personally, for it seems to concern only the disciples of Jesus who were with Him at the time.  Surely, Jesus wasn’t saying that I today can forgive people’s sins!  Why would He give that kind of authority to me?  I used to believe that only God could forgive the sins of others.

Reading more carefully, I discovered that Jesus was indeed speaking to all in the Body of Christ, the Church, for He is not telling us to forgive people’s sins but to extend the good news of God’s forgiveness to others, speaking to them in His name.   God has already done everything necessary for  people’s sins to be forgiven, for He sent His Son into the world to reconcile the world to Himself, as the Apostle Paul wrote:  

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (II Corinthians 5:18-19)

In other words, we have been commissioned to take the good news of God’s forgiveness to the world.  He is no longer holding people’s sins against them.  If they will only turn to Him, they will see the hand of forgiveness extended to them through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who took their penalty for sin upon Himself while on the cross.   We have been given the “ministry of reconciliation,” the task of showing others how to turn to Jesus.  

This is indeed good news!  God does not look upon people as sinners but as lost sheep in need of a shepherd.

Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Our task as “ambassadors for Christ” is to extend this forgiveness to all through the Word of God, telling them the good news of reconciliation. And as we approach others with this attitude of forgiveness, the power of God’s Holy Spirit is given full authority to speak to their hearts in conviction and love.  As we speak, they shall not hear a voice filled with condemnation, but a voice filled with the Love of God.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn.  He came so the world might be saved.  Nor should we, therefore, go into the world to condemn. Our message should not be “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but instead “Sinners in the hands of a forgiving God.

God has shown me many times that forgiveness is a weapon we can use to defeat the enemy.  Primarily, forgiveness releases us from the bondage of resentment and bitterness that can cause all kinds of destruction in our lives and in the lives of others.  If I hold unforgiveness and bitterness, my prayers are hindered, and the enemy keeps me from even praying in the first place.  

Most of all, we use spiritual weapons in intercessory prayer, a time when we willingly volunteer to be a barrier between the enemy and those we are praying for.  We can quench all the fiery darts of the enemy, not only those directed at ourselves but also at others.  

Tempered in Love

For any weapon to be strong, it must first be tempered.  Likewise, unless our Spiritual Weapons have been hardened, they will break with the first engagement with the enemy.  The tempering agent for our weapons is the fire of love.  The weapons of our warfare are weapons of love since they come from the true God of love.

When people in the world would argue and debate, the Lord would have us use the Sword of the Spirit.  When people might use a bulldozer to move a mountain, God would have us believe and have faith in Him and His promises.  When others may use force or exact revenge or retribution, the Lord would have us be righteously humble before others.  When people may self-righteously condemn, Christ Jesus would have us extend His forgiveness in love.

The sum of this is love for all people and hate for the enemy, Satan and his emissaries of evil.  Our ministries must be devoted toward building up of the Body of Christ in love, increasing God’s Kingdom, and casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Spiritual Weapons, Part VII: The Weapon of Praise

The Story of Rahab

Having heard about the amazing victories of the Israelites, their miraculous conquests over the Egyptians and the Amorites, the citizens of  Jericho lived in dread and fear of the approaching Israeli nation, but they still felt safe behind the great walls of Jericho, which were legendary for their impregnable size and strength, capable of keeping out any invading force.  

In spite of the security and wealth Rahab enjoys as a seller of flax and linen, as well as serving as a Temple prostitute, when Joshua’s two spies sent out to learn about the city’s defenses come to seek lodging in her home, Rahab resolves to protect them from the King of Jericho, hiding them on her roof among the drying stalks of flax.  When the king’s men come seeking the spies, having heard that they had come to Rahab’s house, Rahab tells them that she didn’t know where the two men had come from, but they had left before the city gates were shut.  “I do not know where the men went,” she says. “Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 

After the king’s men leave, Rahab hurries to talk to the two spies, telling them that she understands their mission:

I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:8-11)

She tells the spies that in exchange for protection for herself and her family, she has decided to shelter them for she knows that the Israelites will emerge victorious over the walls and citizens of Jericho.

Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.  (Joshua 2:12-13)

Rahab makes an agreement with the spies to help them escape from the city, helping them to climb down with a rope through her window.  The spies agree that when the Israelite armies come to the city, they will allow Rahab’s family to escape destruction, but only if she hangs a cord of scarlet thread through the same window.  

When the spies climb down from the window, Rahab immediately ties the cord made with scarlet thread to the window, letting it hang down so it can be seen by the approaching people of Israel.  What happens next is a story almost impossible to believe unless we know the God of miracles who can cast down even the strongest of strongholds.

Casting Down Imaginations and Every High Thing 

Read the following psalm carefully to see if you can find the Spiritual Weapon described:

Psalm 149 

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
And His praise in the congregation of the godly ones.
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise His name with dancing;
Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.

Let the godly ones exult in glory;
Let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
To execute vengeance on the nations
And punishment on the peoples,
To bind their kings with chains
And their nobles with fetters of iron,
To execute on them the judgment written;
This is an honor for all His godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

Verse six is the significant verse for our purposes now, for it reveals the powerful Weapon of Praise.  How can praise be a spiritual weapon used against the forces of darkness and evil?  Its focus is directed to the only God worthy of true praise?

In another Psalm we are shown not only how to praise God, but also what to praise Him for:

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

Praise Him with trumpet sound;
Praise Him with harp and lyre.
Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

Here we are told that since God is everywhere, we need to praise Him both in the sanctuary and in “His mighty expanse.”  We are also told that we should praise Him for His “mighty deeds” and to praise Him because of His greatness.  And clearly, music and dancing and shouting may be a part of how we praise the Lord.

Praise in Action

In the story of Joshua and the Children of Israel, after their wanderings in the desert and their crossing of the Jordan River to the Promised Land, we find that the Weapon of Praise is supernaturally powerful.  

Marching around the great walls of the City of Jericho, all of the men of war along with seven priests carrying seven trumpets and the Ark of the Covenant circle the city.  On the seventh day, they march a final seven times when the Israelite priests were told to blow their trumpets.  The people, hearing the trumpets, were told to shout: 

Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.”…So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:16, 20) 

Rahab and her family, however, were spared destruction, for the scarlet cord was seen hanging out of her window and those sheltered in side were  saved:

“Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” (Joshua 6:25)  

The scarlet cord may be a type, or representation, of the blood of Christ, which offers us salvation, a way of escape in spite of our sins.

This is not the end of Rahab’s story, however, for she ultimately married Salmon, the son of the leader of the Tribe of Judah.  Boaz was their son, a man who would marry Ruth, a story told in the book with her name.  

The son of Boaz and Ruth was Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of David, the man who would be King of Israel and from whose line would come Jesus, the Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:3-5).  

Thus, a former harlot of Jericho of Canaan would become one of the few woman listed in the line of the Messiah, a woman who decided to align herself and her family with the true God of Israel rather than with the many gods of the Canaanites.  She decided to prostitute herself no longer to those gods, an astounding change which immediately put her in conflict with those in her city, yet opened her to the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of Yahweh.

Why Praise Works in Spiritual Warfare

Satan prefers to be invisible, to tell his lies without being seen.  Yet when he is exposed, he wants to be the center of everyone’s attention.  Either way, at all times we Christians need to be focused on the Lord and His promised blessings rather than the deceits and lies of the enemy.  Praise puts our attention on the redemption and salvation of God provided through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, who took all of the sin and the assaults of the enemy upon Himself.  He even went to Hell to take our place for three days and nights until He ultimately “led captivity captive” and brought about Lucifer’s ultimate defeat.  

Thus, the Weapon of Praise is used not to win a battle, but to acknowledge a victory that has already been won.  It is faith in action, for it is a demonstration of our belief in spite of what we may see or experience in the natural realm, preferring to be guided by the Word of God according to His true reality.

7trumpetsofjericho-jacquesjamestissot-750

 

Spiritual Weapons, Part VI: The Name of Jesus

philippian-slave-girl

The Name Above All Names

The marketplace was hot, compounding the heat of the arguments that continually arose over prices and alleged cheating  The dust hung over the heads and bodies in the crowded area like a dark shadow, gradually settling on the baskets, the bread, and the tables laden with wares.  It lay like a thick mat over everything in sight until the swish of a donkey’s tail or the robes of a group of buyers sent the dust skyward once more.

Occasionally, the tension in the air broke as the crowd laughed at another foreigner who had been shamed by the young, female fortune teller,whose owners continued to goad the people to test her powers of soothsaying and divination.

Suddenly, the crowd broke forth as one in a torrent of mocking laughter as the girl, under the influence of the evil spirit within her, pointed and said loudly, “Behold the servants of the most high God!  Let them show the way to salvation!”

As she had before, she followed to mock Paul, Silas, and Luke as they passed through the marketplace to their place of rest and prayer.  And as before, her sarcastic remarks, blasphemously spoken, raised the levity of the people who continued to pour forth other ironic remarks and laugh uproariously.

Suddenly, however, Paul turned and faced the crowd being led by the young soothsayer.  Taken aback, the crowd retreated a step, then finally regathered to continue their mockery.  Paul, however, with a loud voice said to the spirit within the girl, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!”

The girl looked as though she had been shot by an arrow.  Gradually, however, the angry contortions in her face faded, and it became apparent to all that she had been freed from the evil spirit that had tormented and kept her in bondage for so long.

The Name of Jesus

In recent articles we have discovered the secrets of engaging in spiritual warfare through the weapons God has given us to fight the battles, learning what they are and how they are used.  These weapons are not carnal, or fleshly.  Instead, they are mighty through God!

Is there a conflict in your home or church body because of strife or unforgiveness?  Is there a rebellious child?  Is there a husband or wife who has deserted the family?  If so, use the Spiritual Weapons God has given to you.  Using carnal weapons will only make the situations worse.

In the example of the Apostle Paul and the girl with the evil spirit of divination, the Name of Jesus is a mighty weapon!  In the name of Jesus is the fulness of Christ, including the all-encompassing power of His cleansing and atoning blood.  As Jesus said,

These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.  (Mark 16:17-18)

We have been given all authority in the name of Jesus to meet and defeat the enemy in every spiritual battle.  We have been given the “power of attorney,” so to speak, to use His name, and when we speak in His name, it’s just as if Jesus Himself is speaking!  

Speaking of the times following His resurrection, Jesus said,

In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf;  for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.  I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father. (John 16:23-28)

Although Jesus often spoke in secrets, or “mysteries,” here Jesus makes clear that His words are not to be taken allegorically or interpreted figuratively.  He is saying that since we are His Body, we can speak in His name, and when we do, it is just as though the words are coming out of His mouth.

Unauthorized Use of the Name of Jesus

This is the power and authority Paul used when speaking in the name of Jesus to the spirit of divination inside the servant girl in the city of Philippi.  This is the same power delivered to the Church on the Day of Pentecost when the Apostle Peter spoke of the Holy Spirit’s being poured out on the gathered believers:

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.

And these promises are made to all believers who have been commanded to go into all the world to preach the good news, as Jesus Himself said:

These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18)

However, this Spiritual Weapons may be used only by those who have truly been given this weapon, the name of Jesus, to use.  

Jesus authorized His disciples to cast out spirits, and He gave the same authority to all true believers in Him, members of His Body,  who have been born again into His Kingdom. The Seven Sons of Sceva, however, learned that simply using Jesus’ name without true authority to do so was disastrous.  

With no true authority, they attempted exercise control  over the evil spirit using the name of Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” However, they were met with a strong reaction from the spirit:

And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. (Acts 19:13-17)

The many lessons in this story should be clear.  The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, including Faith and Discerning of Spirits need to accompany the use of this Spiritual Weapon, and it should only be used as guided by the Holy Spirit.  Too many have unadvisedly gone about looking for demons behind every bush, and they have reaped thorns and thistles, rather than true fruitfulness and deliverance, as a result.

broken chain

Spiritual Weapons, Part V: A Good Conscience

Sun

Spiritual Warfare

The five Amorite kings with their armies fled in terror down the descent of Beth-horon.  Their defeat at Gibeon at the hand of Joshua had been humiliating enough, but their cowardice turned to terror as suddenly they were besieged with hailstones which bruised and beat the falling men as they vainly tried to cover themselves with their shields.

“We’ll escape under cover of darkness,” they thought.  “Joshua and the Children of Israel cannot pursue us at night!”

But gradually an awesome realization came upon them, a perception that caused many hearts to fail for fear.

Darkness was not coming.  The sun had ceased its journey across the skies of Gibeon, and the moon rested over the vale of Aijalon.

“It is a great God who fights for Israel!”

Faith and a Good Conscience

Writing to Timothy , the Apostle Paul says,

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping [holding on to] faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (I Timothy 1:18-19)

The two spiritual weapons in this passage are Faith and a Good Conscience, and Paul says that with these weapons we may war a good warfare in spiritual battles.

In the latest article in the Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog,we considered the first of these two weapons, the weapon of Faith.  What faith it must have taken Joshua to speak to the sun and moon, commanding them to cease from their endless journeys.   In this article, we will consider the weapon of a Good Conscience, asking that the Holy Spirit reveal His purpose for this weapon  to us personally.

A Good Conscience

What is a good conscience?  Those who have a good conscience have laid bare their hearts before the Lord in confession and repentance.  It means there is no person they cannot speak to openly and in love.  Also those who have a good conscience are not spiteful towards any person because they have both forgiven and also sought forgiveness, seeking no vengeance or recompense.  A good conscience also means that no known areas of habitual sin exist in their lives, as they continue to hear God’s voice of conviction and seek to walk in His forgiveness.

But it is important to recognize that such people who have a good conscience are not constantly focused on sin, nor are they “sin-centered.”  Having no consciousness of sin, on the contrary, they are focused on the redemption, freedom, and liberty they enjoy, having been set free from the power of sin.

Such people live their lives based on the grace of God, Who has given them the righteousness of Christ Jesus, having clothed them in His robes.

Do those with a good conscience ever sin?  Yes, but when they do, they immediately receive the cleansing of Christ’s blood, a cleansing that comes by faith, as a result of confessing and being purged of all unrighteousness.  They then ask to be re-filled with the Holy Spirit and continue to walk in the power of God.

Reading and meditating on the Tenth Chapter of the Book of Hebrews, we find that those who are truly cleansed should have no more consciousness, or awareness, of sin in their lives.  In this passage we learn that the Law of the Old Covenant was unable to make the Israelites perfect, for every year they had to repeat the same sacrifices for sin:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?  (Hebrews 10:2)

Through the sacrifice of Jesus, however, we learn in this passage that we have full access to the power of God over sin.  His sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice, which means that we should have no more awareness, or “consciousness,” of sin.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.   (Hebrews 10:19-22)

The Power of a Good Conscience

Why is a good conscience a powerful spiritual weapon?  The Apostle John says that by truly loving others, we can resist the lies of the enemy, the “accuser of the brethren,” who tells us that we are unworthy or ungodly.

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  (I John 3:18-20)

Consequently, with a good conscience we may boldly come before the Lord to seek His help and power, seeking His response to all our petitions and prayers:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.  (I John 3:21-22)

If we keep the Lord’s commandments, which in the context of these verses mean to “believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another,” then we will have a good conscience.  This is the standing we have in Christ before God, all the more powerful if  we are able simply to reject the accusations and condemnations of the enemy.  As Paul says,

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.  (Romans 8:1-2 KJV)

If there is no condemnation, there is neither anything the accuser of the brethren, who is Satan, may bring against us.  We may just as confidently say as Jesus did, “The ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (John 14:30).

Joshua

Drawing Near To God

Let us draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, therefore, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.

Do you remember when you were a child how you used to try to please your parents right when you were about to have a birthday?  How, on the other hand, you would not have dared asked for anything just after you had been sent to your room?

Let us recognize that we have a heavenly Father, however, Whose great desire it is to give us the Kingdom!  Whose promises are always answered with a yes and an amen!

There is tremendous assurance in this promise, especially when it comes to engaging in spiritual warfare with the enemy of our souls or asking God to meet the needs of others.

Holding faith and a good conscience, Joshua not only successfully defeated his enemies, but also assisted his allies under the full power and blessings of God.

I will continue to reveal more spiritual weapons in upcoming articles.

Spiritual Weapons, Part IV: Faith

goliath

An Ancient Battle

The  smirks and muffled laughter from King Saul’s soldiers quickened the footsteps of the shepherd David as he continued toward the stream in search of stones for his sling.  How they had roared when King Saul, who stood head and shoulders above all the men of Israel, had dressed David in the king’s own armor.  David too had to smile as he thought of the heavy coat of hardened leather that hung down nearly to his ankles.

But David knew that the Lord God’s armor and the weapons he now carried were immensely more powerful and strong than any made of brass or iron. As he knelt by the stream and selected five smooth stones, the roar of Goliath of Gath echoed across the Valley of Elah.  Goliath’s mocking challenge sent a shudder throughout the mocking soldiers and turned their laughter to faces filled with dread.

“Who is this Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God,” David thought.  “The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion and the bear will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine!”

When Goliath looked across the valley and saw a mere youth coming to meet his challenge, he grew mad with rage, and his vision clouded with anger.  “Am I a dog that you come at me with a shepherd’s sling?” he said, then cursed the boy by his Philistine gods.

But David answered confidently, knowing that the battle was not his but the Lord’s.  “You come against me with a spear,  a sword, and a shield.  But I am come in the name of the Lord of Hosts, and this day He will deliver you into my hand!”

As David ran to meet the giant, he put his hand into his shepherd’s bag and drew out a stone.  Throwing the stone with his sling, David slew the great giant Goliath, for the stone flew straight and struck the Philistine’s forehead.

Who are the Goliath’s in Your Life?

As Christian soldiers, our King has fitted us with His own weapons and armor, and unlike Saul’s implements of battle, those of the Lord will work for anyone who will learn to use them.  We may overcome even the demonic forces we cannot see, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but are mighty through God.

To his disciple Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes,

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  (I Timothy 1:18-19).  

In this passage we see  two spiritual weapons, and Paul says that by holding these weapons we may fight a good warfare.  In this article we will discuss the first of these weapons, the Spiritual Weapon of Faith.

What Is Faith?

In I Corinthians 12:9, faith is listed along with the other eleven gifts, or manifestations, of the Holy Spirit.  However, Paul describes a different kind of faith to Timothy in Hebrews 11:1:  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV).

Other modern translations are similar: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB); “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV).

Some may say, “Isn’t this description about the spiritual gift of faith, a gift that only comes from God on certain occasions?  Surely this isn’t the kind of faith we may have and use at all times!”

However, only five verses later we find the following: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  

Paul is describing, therefore, the kind of faith that pleases God.  Isn’t it our desire and our calling to please  God continually at all times?  If so, let’s examine the kind of faith in Hebrews 11:1 that we may use in all circumstances to be pleasing to God.

“Now faith is…”

This first phrase is very important, for it shows that faith is now.  I was sharing this thought with a man many years ago, and he objected saying, “But that word is just an adverb!  It doesn’t really say that faith is in the present.”

I understand that the word “now” is like the word “well” that we use to begin a sentence:  “Well, I don’t know about you…”  We don’t really mean “not sick,” for sure.  However, as an English teacher I knew that adverbs do convey time, so I believe the word “now” is meaningful in this verse.  Faith is now. We believe now that we are saved, even though we aren’t in Heaven yet!

Thus, faith is distinguished from hope, which indeed points to the future, as Paul says in Romans:  “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25).  

Later, we will see that faith is the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), while hope looks to the future.

There is nothing wrong with hope, of course, for it is the basis or foundation of faith, as we shall soon see.  And both hope and faith come by hearing the Word of God (see Romans 10:17, 15:4).  Nevertheless, hope looks to the future, while faith is now!

“…the substance”

Faith is described as a substance, though not a physical substance but a spiritual substance.  This is why Paul relates in Romans 4:17 that God

“…calls those things which be not as though they were” (KJV)

“…calls into being that which does not exist” (NASB)

“…calls into being things that were not” (NIV)

Ultimately, the things we see around us were created out of the “substance” of faith through the commands or the Word of God.  In other words, even before something is seen or heard in the physical realm, it is first a factual reality in the spiritual realm, as the writer to the Hebrews relates, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

The word “substance” also means “reality, assurance, confirmation,” or “title deed” (Thayers’ Lexicon).

What is a title deed?  It is the proof  of ownership.  This is why faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  When God tells us in His Word that we are saved, then we are saved.  Likewise, when His Word gives us other promises, we can be assured that they are ours, for we have the title deed.

Faith is the assurance that all of God’s Word is true, proof that we have what His Word says is ours, in spite of what we see in the natural or physical realm.

…of things hoped for,…

Hope exists to reveal what is in the future.  It is a belief in the future.  Therefore, hope is the foundation and basis of faith, for faith says, “I have now what I only previously hoped to obtain in the future.”

How does this work?  You might say, “I hope to be saved some day in the future.”  Yet one day this hope led you to hear what God has to say.  You hear that Jesus died for you, that you may receive salvation if you will only receive Jesus now as your Savior.  And by hearing this Word from God, faith is produced in your heart, leading you to have the assurance of your salvation now, even though you do not yet see it physically.

This same principle of faith works for the other promises of God as well.

…the evidence…

This word “evidence” means “that by which a thing is proved or tested, that by which invisible things are proved and we are convinced of their reality” (Thayer’s Lexicon).  Thus, we don’t need to see or hold a thing to know it exists because we have the evidence of our faith to know it is ours.

…of things…

This word seems simple enough, but it is extremely important in the definition of “faith.”  It means “an accomplished fact.”

Do you know that when God commands, “things” happen?  When we pray and petition God, we are not talking Him out of anything, nor asking Him to change His mind.  Prayers change us, not God.  In a real sense, praying is faith in action.  If we pray properly, we demonstrate to ourselves and to God our knowledge of His Word.  And when we do, we please God.

This verse in Hebrews contains a mystery that God wants to reveal to us:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit,combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual wordsBut a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (I Corinthians 2:12-14).

Based on this passage in Corinthians, therefore, we must not be like a natural man, and we must be careful not to say in our hearts, “This cannot be true!”

…not seen.”

The slogan of the modern man is, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  But is this faith?

True faith believes before it sees.  Faith knows that God’s promises are already accomplished.  Faith is simply agreeing with God’s completed work in Christ Jesus, who said, “It is finished.”

But why, then, must we often wait to see these promises fulfilled so that we can see them?

First, the limitations of the physical world call for patience.  Notice how important hope is in the following passage:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Hope is what gives us stability, the ability to believe in spite of what kinds of tribulations the world, or the enemy, hurls at us.  We need patience in this life, but patience cannot be produced in those who cannot wait.  People can’t grab impatiently for patience!

Also, we live in a physical universe and we are subject to time, and limited by time.  But is God so limited?

Just because we are limited, our limitations do not limit God.  Instead, God is pleased when we agree with Him, think like Him, act like Him, be like Him. Therefore, we need to agree with His Word no matter what seems to contradict it, even time.

Faith Works By Love

Since all believers have been given a “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3), how do we put this faith to work?  Jesus said that only a very small measure of faith will move a mountain!

As we have seen, faith works by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, while acting on His Word and  believing it to be true in spite of what we see in the natural realm.

 But the Apostle Paul also says that “faith works by love” (Galatians 5:6).  Do we really love God the Father?  How much time do we spend with Him?  How often do we talk with Him?

When you love someone, you desire to know all about that person.  You learn how she thinks, and talks, and acts, and feels.  You learn what he wants, and you spend all your time striving to please him.

By knowing these things about God, we know what to do, where to go, what to say that will please Him and bring glory to His name.

This is why David ran to meet Goliath confidently, knowing that the battle was already won, serenely assured that the Lord was fighting the battle through him.  David’s faith was a mighty spiritual weapon!

David and Goliath

Spiritual Weapons, Part III: The Weapons of Righteousness

christ-righteousness

The Weapon of Righteousness

We began this exploration of Spiritual Weapons by looking at the Sword of the Spirit, or the Word of God, emphasizing how powerful this weapon is in our lives.  Of course, all words carry a tremendous capacity for good or evil, love or strife, edification or destruction.  But as we speak the Words of God, an awesome power is released, for God’s Word is alive and powerful.  From Hebrews 11:3 we understand through faith that the worlds were framed  by the Word of God, and if the Holy Spirit chooses to speak through us, the power and authority is no less great.  He has designated us and sent us forth to speak His Word in the world, using the speaking gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It is also important that we guard our thoughts and tongues to make sure that no unclean thing comes out of our mouths, for it’s not what goes in our mouths but what comes out that makes us unclean (Matthew 15:11-18).

Let us continue, therefore, to examine other spiritual weapons whereby we may successfully engage the enemy in warfare, in the fullness of God’s power and under His authority.

In his second letter to the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul strongly exhorts the believers not to be bound together with unbelievers.  He explains his present conditions to them to reinforce his message, for he is not speaking to them as one who does not have experience in dealing with the evils of this world:

But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left…  (II Corinthians 6:4-7)

The weapons in this passage, therefore, are the “weapons of righteousness” given by God in order to fight both offensively and defensively, one for each hand.  To be righteous means “to be worthy, guiltless, acceptable, and acquitted” in the sight of God through faith in Christ.  Jesus Himself is our righteousness, for as Paul writes, “You are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30 NIV).

What Does It Mean to Be Righteous?

The word “righteous” sounds especially “religious” doesn’t it?  It’s right there with “sanctification” and “justification.” We have often heard, and perhaps grown up hearing, these words, but we may never have bothered to learn what they mean. 

What do the words “righteous” or “righteousness” mean?   The Hebrew root צדקים , or  tzedek, in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word δίκαιος , or dikaios, in the Greek New Testament are both translated “righteous.”  It essentially means “right-standing,” or as the song lyrics say, “Clean before my Lord, I stand.”  It is a state of being that indicates a completely new creation has come into being, for we are new creatures in Christ.  

This word  is not just a religious-sounding adjective but a word that means we may come boldly to God into the “Holy of Holies” in the Heavens. Even in the earthly temple, the High Priest under the Old Covenant could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, and even he had a cord tied to his leg to pull him out if need be.  Righteousness is not a condition we may obtain through our own works, all of which are as “filthy rags” in the sight of God.

This puts us in a difficult position.  It’s like a “mystery,” for it has confounded many Christians since the early Church.  Perhaps a short explanation will suit our purposes.  

We cannot obtain right-standing with God through our own works, for “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  We can only obtain our right-standing before God through the atonement of Christ, who was our sacrifice to God for sin (atonement means we are “at-one” with God.)  We receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself, for He was both the sacrifice and the High Priest, having sacrificed Himself with His own blood on the cross.  

Therefore, we may enter into the presence of God with Christ’s righteousness.  He took our penalty for sin Himself, for the wages of sin is death, and because He overcame death through His resurrection, we may enter into the very presence of God through Jesus.

As a result of our new “right-standing” with God, we are born again, and we have come to new life in Jesus.  Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.  We are new creatures in Christ Jesus, for we have died to our sinful lives and come into a new life in Jesus.  

The worst approach we can taketo living this new life in Christ, therefore, is to keep seeing ourselves as unbelieving sinners.  Yes, we are unworthy, but that’s why we needed the righteousness of Jesus, and His righteousness is a gift of God that we receive by faith.   By faith, we need to accept our righteousness as a gift, one that is not earned or worked for.   And what God has cleansed we should not call unclean.  In other words, we should not continue to label ourselves as “worms,” as appears in the lyrics of the hymn”Amazing Grace.”     Instead, we need to see ourselves as former worms that have been transformed, or “metamorphosized,” into a whole new creation, the same way a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.

Can you imagine a butterfly continually referring to itself as an ugly worm? Yes, we once were ugly, no-good sinners.  But we are no longer sinners in Christ Jesus.   Do we sin?  Yes, but what must we do when we sin?  The Apostle John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous  to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

Boy_in_Bow_Tie

The Way Righteousness Works

Particularly when I was much younger, I tended to act and behave according to how I was dressed.  I didn’t even think about running the hills and getting muddy or infected with poison oak if I had on my white shirt and bow-tie to go to church on Sunday morning.  (This was a long time ago!)

Likewise, when dressed in a tuxedo before singing in the Madrigal Singers group in my high school, my fellow singers and I were above reproach in our demeanor and behavior before and after taking the stage.

Therefore, by faith we need to see ourselves as sinless in the eyes of God, whether we feel like we are or not, as the praise chorus relates:

I am covered over with a robe of righteousness
That Jesus gives to me, give to me
I am covered over with the precious blood of Jesus
And He lives in me, lives in me
What a joy it is to know my heavenly Father loves me
And He gives to me, my Jesus
When He looks at me He sees not what I used to be
But he sees Jesus

http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/elder/elder_0068.html

 

Breastplate-of-righteousness

The Power of Righteousness in Spiritual Warfare

But what is the importance of righteousness in spiritual warfare?  It is seen as not only a “breastplate” that covers our hearts (Ephesians 6:14) but also as defensive and offensive weapons that we hold in our hands.

  The Apostle John writes, 

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. (I John 3:20-22)

If our hearts do not condemn us, if we know we are righteous in God’s sight, then we have confidence in His presence to approach His throne of grace and mercy, and we have faith that He hears our prayers and will answer.  By following His commandments in humble obedience, we continue to be righteous as the blood of His Son continually cleanses us from all sin and unrighteousness.  As a result, we have faith that we shall receive from our Father what He has promised and what we have asked Him for. We are righteous through the “right standing” we have in Him who saved us, and therefore we may go forth in the power of His might to do the mighty exploits of God, all in spite of the accusations or objections of the enemy.  We have been made to be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:21)  

In other words, since we are in Christ, and He is in us, when the enemy sees us, he sees Jesus.  After all, we are wearing Christ’s armor and carrying His weapons. In addition, if our hearts condemn us, then we are vulnerable to the accusations of the enemy, who is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10).  Feeling guilty, we may be hesitant to confront him because of our own sin. 

The Resources of Righteousness

Have you ever been led to believe that you had failed so miserably that there was no way God would hear your prayer?  Or that in order to get any kind of answer from God you just might have to cry for two hours, or fast, or live in a tent of the top of a mountain, or at the least grovel at God’s feet while telling Him all about how unworthy you are?

Doesn’t all that sound ridiculous when you think about it that way?  Especially when we acknowledge the fact that God has provided a way into His presence, not based on what we have done, but on what Jesus has done! Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  

If Jesus is the Way, where does this way lead?  

We know from the Book of Acts that the life of the believers at the time of the Apostles was referred to as the “Way.”  The Apostle Paul, speaking to the Roman governor Felix, says, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14, see also 18:26, 22:4, and other references).  Also, the “Way” is not merely the “way of salvation,” although this meaning is certainly implied.  

Notice what it says in Hebrews 10;19-22:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

You may remember that the “veil” of the temple was “rent” and torn apart as Jesus hung on the cross and gave up His life for us.  Through this curtain the high priests under the Old Covenant entered into the very presence of God in the Holy of Holies,  

When the veil was torn, significantly from top to bottom, God was indicating that such a veil was no longer necessary to separate sinful humans from a righteous and holy God.  But primarily it was to signify that the new “Way” into His presence is through the veil of the blood and the person of Jesus Christ, Who said,

In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. (John 16:23-24)

This is the supreme confidence that we have in Him!  If we ask anything according to His Word and His will, in the name of Jesus Christ, then we are assured that He will hear us.  And if He hears us, then we may be assured that we will receive what we ask for (I John 5:14).

When Jesus hung upon the cross, and when He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us, He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).  The fellowship was broken, and the intimate communion between the Father and the Son was cut off.  Jesus, as sin, was cast out of God’s presence, taking our sin upon Himself, taking the curse of death and spiritual absence from God upon Himself.  In this sense, Jesus was our substitute.  He took our penalty of separation from God, being shut out of God’s presence.

But just as certainly as Jesus took our place in taking death as the penalty for sin, He was raised from death and seated at the right hand of the Father.  The fellowship between Father and Son was restored, the communion re-established, and  Jesus became  our substitute, our identification.  Just as His relationship was restored with the Father, our broken relationship with the Father is restored as we identify with Jesus by faith.  We too have been raised up to sit together with Him in heavenly places.

The Mystery of God’s Will 

Read Paul’s description of our right-standing with God through Jesus Christ, which he calls “the mystery of His will.” First, notice that we have been given every spiritual blessing!  Think about what this means.  

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  (Ephesians 1:4)

We have received not only a familial relationship with our Father through Christ.  We also have the inheritance due to the children of God, as well as redemption, which means we who have been enslaved by sin have been redeemed, bought and paid for by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, even though we did not deserve it.

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace  which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight  (Ephesians 1:5-8)

We have been given insight into the “mystery” of God’s will, a secret that has been revealed to us about the culmination of all things in Christ.

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

Again, Paul reiterates that we have received an inheritance as children of God:

 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.   (Ephesians 1:11-12)

Finally, we can look forward to the future with hope to the future, for what we experience of God’s love and grace in this life is only a down payment of what He has for us eternally.  We have been given the Holy Spirit not only as our Teacher, the one who reveals God’s will to us, but also the “pledge,” or “good faith promise” that we will be eternally redeemed into God’s presence for all eternity.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.  (Ephesians 1:13-14)

 

Walking in Faith

How do we take act on these promises and see them fulfilled?  We act like they are true.   The writer of the Book of Hebrews relates (in Chapter 11:1) that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” or the assurance  that what we will see fulfilled in the future is already ours because of God’s promises to us.  In the same verse, we learn that faith is also the “evidence,” or “conviction,” of what we do not yet see.   

This is indeed a mystery, for what we do not yet see or experience now is nevertheless factually ours because of God’s promises to us.  God’s Word is true whether we see its fulfillment in our lives or not.  Thus, we need to believe and act like it is true regardless of our own experiences and what we know according to our five physical senses, which only tell us what is true physically, not spiritually.

Spiritual Weapons, Part II: The Sword

Prayer

What Is the Nature of Spiritual Warfare?

The Apostle Paul tells us that the battles we wage in this life are not physical, but spiritual: “For 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 (Ephesians 6:12).  

We see this battle defined specifically in the life of Jesus on many occasions.  Speaking to His accusers who claim he casts out demons using the power of demons, for example, Jesus says,

Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  (John 8:44)

The Sword of the Spirit, therefore, is the true Word of God with which we may defeat the lies of Satan.  It is the same weapon Jesus used to defeat the deceptions of the enemy, who is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may destroy (I Peter 5:8) .

 

Sword

The Word of God:  The Sword of the Spirit

Since we cannot fight such a spiritual battle using a tank or an AK-47, we need to use God’s armor and weapons in this battle, and He offers them to us.  

The first Spiritual Weapon I researched in the Scriptures, therefore, after hearing from the Lord in my dream to use spiritual weapons He has given us (see Part I) was the only one I knew about–the “Sword of the Spirit.”

I turned to Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul describes the “full armor of God” with which, Paul says, we may “stand firm against the “schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).  

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. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  (Ephesians 6:13-17)

This passage defines the nature of our warfare, the realm of truth and falsehood.  The only power Satan holds is the power of the lies he tells.  If he can succeed in persuading people that his lies are true, then he gains the victory and succeeds in bringing his lies to fulfillment because of our own complicity.

However, I soon realized that there had to be more than one spiritual weapon, for Paul also wrote about “weapons” in the following message to the Church in Corinth:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.  We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.  (II Corinthians 10:3-5)

Clearly, I needed to do more research!

What is revealing about this passage is that the spiritual weapons may be used not only in combating satanic, or demonic, forces but also in battles with human spirits.  In this case, Paul declares he is coming against the “lofty things” and “thoughts” of some people in the Corinthian church that are leading others astray.

This idea, using spiritual weapons in a human  arena, may seem unusual to many Christians, but how often have people  initiated division or strife in the Church because they have used such weapons such as gossip or defamation?  

Yet  this is where we encounter what is commonly labeled “witchcraft,” a word translated from the Hebrew word kashaph, which means “to practice witchcraft or sorcery.”

The Sword in Combat Against Sorcery

The word for sorcery in the Greek is “pharmakeia,” essentially the word from which words “pharmaceutical” or “pharmacy” derive.  This suggests that mind-bending drugs may also be associated with demonic influences, mainly because they diminish one’s ability to determine what is a lie or to  be decisive about combating the evil around us.  

The essence of witchcraft in the Scriptures relates to two conditions: the sin of rebellion and the desire for control over others, to possess control over  others’ lives.  The desire for power, whether in small relationships or large, is the sin of domination, which is comparable to sorcery, which is described in Galatians as one of the “deeds of the flesh” (Galatians 5:20).

Today, people are actually encouraged and taught to be assertive, as opposed to aggressive, but many tend to equate or confuse the two. They choose to devote themselves to obtaining power and control over others through will power, body language, verbal sparring, or mental control, thereby exercising the same kinds of power that they themselves find defeating or demeaning.  It’s the opposite of the kind of leadership the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to exercise, being a humble servant.

Divination, likewise, seeks control by learning the future.  Casting spells is a practice that attempts to put others under control by using spoken language in patterns designed to gain control over others.  This practice is a counterfeit of the Sword of the Spirit, for it entails the use of words in spoken formulas to gain one’s own desires, rather than speaking the Word of the Lord to come against evil, declaring God’s will in this world.

Jezebel even resorted to murder to obtain a vineyard for her husband Ahab, but she also persecuted the prophets of Yahweh, commanding that they be killed, all while entertaining the prophets of Baal and  Asherah at her royal table.  

In John’s Book of Revelation, the Church in Thyatira is chastized for allowing in its congregation a “Jezebel,” portrayed as a symbol of false prophecy:  

But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  (Revelation 2:20)

Thus, false prophecy is directly opposed to the truth that is inherent in the Word, the Sword of the Spirit.

Manesseh is another biblical figure who is described in graphic terms in the Scriptures:  

For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the sight of the Lord provoking Him to anger.  (II Kings 21:5-6)

To conclude, we are instructed in the Word of God to keep the Word in our mouths and in our hearts.  We use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, to help set the captives free and receive the salvation God has promised (Romans 10:9-10).  The power of death and life are in the tongue (Prov. 18:21), and we must use the power for God’s kingdom, not Satan’s.

deliverance

Using the Sword

One thing I realized before too long after engaging in spiritual warfare was that demons and even Satan himself cannot know what we are thinking.  He is not omniscient!  He only knows what we tell him, and all too often he hears from our own mouths how to attack us or those around us.  

This is why we are encouraged to guard our tongues and let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouths (Ephesians 4:29-30).  The Apostle James is particularly strong on this message, for he tells us that we must bridle our tongues or our religion is worthless (James 1:26).  He also says that we must “tame” our tongues, for both fresh and salt water cannot flow from the same spring (James 3:1-12).

We cannot silently speak our resistance to the evil forces in this life that surround us, therefore.  We must speak aloud the words of rebuke to the evil ones, just as Jesus and the apostles did.

Sometimes, however, speaking the words the Holy Spirit gives us may also open doors of love and forgiveness to those who are seeking salvation.  One night in a home meeting, for example, the Lord began speaking through me and others to various individuals gathered together.  Many there were new, having never come to the meeting before.

One by one, the Lord spoke to individuals in “words of knowledge,” declaring the needs, problems, and promises to each one.  It was a literal fulfillment of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:  “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (I Corinthians 14:24-25).

At one point during the meeting, the Lord spoke to me concerning a young woman in the group, revealing that she had experienced difficulties sleeping.  Even sleeping pills could not help her to overcome her restlessness.  As the Lord continued to reveal her deepest needs, He also shared how He wanted to meet those needs.

When I opened my eyes, before me stood a young woman I had never seen before, trembling and weeping.  She said she could scarcely believe her ears, for all that the Lord had said exactly fitted her situation.  She prayed and asked God to forgive her sins, receiving that evening the salvation and fullness of the Holy Spirit contained in the promises of the Word of God.

The Word of God, or the Sword of the Spirit, therefore, is a powerful weapon indeed, and may be used both to engage the enemy victoriously and to lead people to God.  Of course all words carry a tremendous capacity for good or evil, love or strife, edification or destruction, but as we speak the Words of God an awesome power is released.  His Word is alive and powerful.  The worlds were framed through faith by the Word of God, and if the Holy Spirit chooses to speak through us the power and authority is no less great.  We must present ourselves to Him as clean channels from which His Word may flow.

Spiritual Weapons, Part I

A Dream

A number of years ago, the Lord gave me a dream.  Not all dreams are from the Lord, of course, but this dream was like no other dream I had ever had before.  And because of its special impact on my life, I now believe without reservation that this dream was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I was in a house which was locked, not from the inside but from the outside.  I knew that I could not get out.  Suddenly, I came under strong physical attack by three evil men.  I never tried to escape from them, even though they were menacing and I was terribly afraid.  Beside me stood a close friend I now know was the Lord Jesus!

As these evil men came boldly toward me, I was strongly impressed to speak directly to them.  I said, “May you be struck blind, and deaf, and dumb in the name of Jesus!”

Immediately, these words had their effect, and the attackers were rendered helpless.  They became blind, and deaf, and dumb!

At once I awoke from this dream and found myself wide awake.  Immediately, the Lord spoke to me in my spirit, as clearly as I have ever heard Him speak.  He said, “Use the Spiritual Weapons that you have!”

Thereafter, I began to search the Word of God, the Scriptures, asking God to show me the Spiritual Weapons and how to use them.  I was familiar with the idea of putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 5), but aside from the Sword of the Spirit, I wasn’t familiar with any other weapons.

After studying the Word to find weapons, I was amazed.  Never before had I realized the extent of God’s full provision for every Spirit-filled believer for meeting and defeating the enemy.

The Weapons Jesus Used

Since we are all part of the Body of Christ, we have the same Spiritual Weapons that Jesus used while on earth in the battle against the forces of darkness.  Paul writes,

The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:12-14)

 The word translated “armor” in this passage is the Greek word hoopla, which is also translated elsewhere as “weapons.”  Therefore, let us indeed put on, and use, the armor and weapons by clothing ourselves in Jesus Christ, for He is our armor and weapons!

The Spiritual Battle

The Apostle Paul writes this teaching in his letter to the Corinthians,

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.  We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (II Corinthians 10:3-5)  

This is the same passage in the Authorized Version (KJV) translation:  

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

A “stronghold” is essentially a castle or a fortress, but in an interpretive sense, it is an argument or rationalization used to fortify an opinion.  And an “imagination” is a judgment or decision passed by the conscious mind that casts doubt on the truth of the Word of God.

We learn from this teaching that our battles in this life are  not against flesh and blood, not against neighbors, wives, deacons, or bosses.  Instead, our warfare is in the spiritual realm against strongholds and high imaginations, against Satan and the demonic powers of the enemy.  Since we are instructed to walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit, we will only find defeat if we use carnal, or earthly, weapons.  

Using Spiritual Weapons, therefore, we may pull down and negate all the lies of the enemy, even those that exist in the hearts of people that separate them from God.  This victory is not gained in the natural realm, however.  It is accomplished in the spiritual realm through spiritual revelation and intercessory prayer. 

 Uncrossed_gladius              

The Sword of the Spirit

While in a trance on the Isle of Patmos, the Apostle John saw the Lord Jesus Christ in all the glory of His power:  “In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16).

What is this two-edged sword?  It is mentioned again in  the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where Paul writes about putting on the whole armor of God: “And take . . .  the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). 

Also, in the Book of Hebrews the Sword of the Spirit appears again, complete with a specific definition:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The Sword of the Spirit, then, is the Word of God, in all of its various manifestations in this world.  John saw the Sword in the mouth of Jesus because Christ is the Logos, the eternal Word of God.  Every word that proceeds out of His mouth is the Word of God. 

As believers in Jesus, we also have the Word of God abiding and dwelling in us (see John 15:7).  As ambassadors for Christ, we may speak the Word of God in this world, whether it be in prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven, or by resisting the Devil that he might flee from us. 

The Sword in Action

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is referred to as the “Word of God,” the word Logos in the Greek:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).    

We’ve seen how the Lord Jesus is described in the Book of Revelation as having a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth.  It should not be startling, then, to realize that Jesus Himself used this weapon during His earthly ministry.  This spiritual weapon of the Word of God is particularly powerful when Jesus is engaging directly with Satan.

During the “Temptation of Jesus,” described in the Fourth Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is tempted three times by Satan, once to assuage His hunger by turning stones into bread, once to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple to see if He would be rescued by God, and once to receive all of the kingdoms of the earth as a result of bowing down to Satan.  

After every temptation, Jesus did not use carnal or earthly weapons.  Instead He used the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  Three times in response to the words of Satan, Jesus quoted the Scriptures, each time saying “It is written…”  Satan departed from Jesus at that time to renew his assault on Christ many times during the next three years, but Jesus Christ was always the victor, even when it seemed like He was defeated.  

 

 

 

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