The Christian Community in Society

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever” opined the famous French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. American society today seems to have taken him at his word. We are told to dream big, take chances, and make our mark on the world. To be remembered in posterity, “write something worth reading or do something worth writing about” wrote Benjamin Franklin. We are even told to misbehave, “Well behaved women seldom make history (Laurel Thatcher Urich).” It is as if 100,000 of us were standing in a stadium screaming to be heard, and spending our lives trying to be distinctive enough to feel important.

Sometimes the Christian community looks little different. In his book You Are Special, Max Lucado writes of a village of little wooden people called wemmicks who spend their days putting stars or dots on each other, stars for doing something that they like and dots for doing something that they don’t. The best had special awards (a sequel, Best of All) and perhaps even monuments to be widely known and remembered. These fictional children’s stories describe an all too common trap into which even followers of Jesus fall.

In the time of Paul, the Christian community was a small part of a large and powerful pagan Roman society. Some Christians were prominent, but to be a Christian sometimes meant to be persecuted – a big downside to seeking the limelight. Paul himself did not seek personal glory. The miraculous powers that he sometimes wielded were not his own, and he could not even use them to heal himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). He traveled from community to community preaching Christ resurrected in the synagogues and later in the churches. He taught in prominent places such as the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in Athens, but anyone with something to say could enter the discussion. Paul never wrote about how he wished to be remembered, and it is not clear that he expected to find his name in history.

Paul did, however, have an expectation for how Christians would live in society as individuals and as a group.

  1. Christians would live a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their own hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
  2. The believing community would require work from their members, and those who were able to work but refused to do so would not be supported by the community (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
  3. Males and females would treat each other well, as would people of different ages (1 Timothy 5:1-3).
  4. Families would consist of multiple generations caring for each other in every way they could (1 Timothy 5:8).
  5. Younger men and women would marry, have children, and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4).
  6. Everyone would contribute what efforts they could to the group. Even older and infirm widows would serve the community (1 Timothy 5:10). There was no period of life in which a person did not work.
  7. Families would take care of their aged and infirm members first, only receiving help from the community when needed (1 Timothy 5:16).
  8. The community of Christians would honor their Christian leaders. This includes paying them a fair wage (1 Corinthians 9:9-14).      
  9. Believers would pray for their leaders and government, and that they live quiet and peaceful lives in the greater society (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We are not to speak evil of others (Titus 3:1-2).
  10. Men and women would have different roles in the church (1 Timothy 2:8-15). Different age groups would also have differing, but equally important, roles and tasks (Titus 2:1-7).
  11. Christian leaders and their wives would be subject to high standards of conduct and appearance (1 Timothy 3:1-13).
  12. Every follower of Jesus would be godly, contented, and not greedy (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
  13. As individuals and as a community, Christians would constantly live in such a way as to avoid just accusation from those outside the community (Titus 2:8). The Apostle Peter agrees with Paul in that we glory God in our lives so that outsiders may be saved (1 Peter 2:12-15).

Paul says far more about the Christian community, and about the structure and government of the local church, in his letters. He says little about how people outside the church should behave or should live in their communities. The Apostle’s instructions to Christian men and women in different contexts (families and churches) do not necessarily apply to those outside the family of believers. Also, Paul says nothing about the structure of government outside the church. Paul was not a political activist.

Much of Paul’s vision for the early church is anathema to non-believers, and even some believers, today. Some of it, such people argue, was specific to that place and does not apply in the 21st century. These arguments are beyond the scope of this article. They are also beside the point.


Napoleon believed that glory was fleeting, but obscurity was forever. He lived his life, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying nations to gain earthly, mortal glory. The Emperor of France spent his years doing what logically followed his beliefs. If we believe as Napoleon as a society and as a church, we will live like Napoleon.

Paul knew that while mortal glory is fleeting, immortal glory lasts forever. He lived his life not to be in some history book, but to be raised from death with Christ (Philippians 3:8-10). Paul killed no one and destroyed nothing. After coming to know Christ, he gave each moment of his earthly sojourn so that everyone might know Him.  If we believe like Paul as a society, and especially as a church, we will live like Paul.

Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning was physical, not just spiritual. Likewise, Christians do not live eternally as disembodied spirits, we will have perfect physical bodies.

During our recent trip to Athens, Anna and I wanted to see some of the key Greek places mentioned in the Bible. Philippi and Thessalonica were too far to travel during our stay, at least a six hour drive each way, but Corinth was close, just over one hour by auto.  About 12 miles west of Athens on the road to Corinth, however, lies another important Greek religious site, Eleusius and the site of one of the most renowned mystery cults.

The Eleusinian Mystery Cult

According to legend, the Greek god of the dead, Hades, kidnapped Persephone (AKA Kore), the daughter of the Greek goddess of the harvest, Demeter. Hades took Persephone into the underworld, and her distraught mother searched throughout the earth but failed to find her lost child. Eventually, Zeus forced Hades to give up Persephone, but because the goddess had eaten three pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she had to return there for three months each year. The three months that Persephone was absent was winter, when the earth was barren and little grew. When Persephone returned to the surface, the seasons were spring, summer, and fall; times of rebirth, growth, and harvest. Demeter ended up in the realm of a local king, Keleos, who built a temple to her. That temple became the site for the Eleusinian mystery cult that was popular throughout the Greek and early Roman periods.

Cult initiates walked the 12-mile pilgrimage from Athens to the Eleusinian temple.  Once they arrived, they began a multi-part rite, including initiation, dedication, and revelation. The rites were strictly secret so most of the specific people, acts and items are lost to history. However, opium was widely used, the story of Demeter and Persephone was recounted, and sacred objects were displayed.[1] Since Demeter was the goddess of agriculture, the harvest, and fertility, it is likely that sex played an important part in the festivities.

Michael, our tour guide, played a video in the van about Eleusinian mystery cult. The video commentator explained that since Persephone “died” but then “returned to life”, initiates into the Eleusinian mystery cult expected that their bodies would die but that their spirits would “return to life”, or even live on forever. Michael, a Greek Christian from the charismatic tradition, noted how similar this was to Christianity. I paused:

“Michael, this is not similar to Christianity at all. Many faiths, including Islam and Hinduism, teach that our bodies die and our spirits live on. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, His spirit as well as His body. Only followers of Jesus expect a bodily resurrection from the dead.”

Michael looked a little startled, but under the guidance of the Spirit realized the truth he had just heard. Later, while I was lingering over the Eleusinian ruins, he told Anna, “Your dad is right, and I had never really thought of that before.”

A Bodily Resurrection

The ancient Hebrew scriptures contain little about an afterlife. The departed simply “go down to Sheol” – the grave (Genesis 37:35). Longevity on earth is a great gift (Exodus 20:12), and a man’s name and influence will live on through his children (Genesis 12:1-3). The post-exilic prophet Daniel (c. 605-535 BC) provides the first clear mention of individual, bodily life after death (Daniel 12:2-3, 13). As a pastoral people who greatly valued the body, a disembodied afterlife would have been anathema. By the time of Christ, physical resurrection from the dead was a key part of Jewish, especially Pharisaical teaching (Acts 23:8). Jesus Himself confirmed the reality of bodily resurrection (Mark 12:18-27).

Before Homer (751-651 BC), Greek mythology saw the afterlife as a miserable, gray, disembodied existence. In the Iliad, the Greek hero Achilles saw a vision of Patroclus, his friend recently killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Afterwards he said, “Ah then, it is true that something of us does survive…but with no intellect at all, only the ghost and semblance of a man.” In Homer’s second great work, the Odyssey, when Achilles himself was dead, the hero said to Odysseus, “Put me on earth again, and I would rather be a serf in the house of some landless man, with little enough for himself to live on, than king of all these dead men that have done with life.”  Achilles obviously wanted a body after death, as did the Jews before and after the Iliad.

Socrates and Plato distinguished between matter and immaterial, physical and spiritual, and diminished the role of the material, physical world. By the time of Paul, Athenians were happy to talk about god, gods, and the afterlife, but scoffed at the idea of bodily resurrection (Acts 17:22-34). It seemed so foolish – after a person died their body remained in the ground (or urn, or sea, or wherever it was disposed). The living could exhume bodies from hundreds of years before, seeming to prove that the dead do not rise again…ever.

Yet the Bible goes to great lengths to show that the Resurrected Christ had a human body. He talked (John 20:13-17), walked (Luke 24:13-31), could be touched (John 20:23-29), and even ate (Luke 24:41-43). The Apostles recognized His voice, His appearance, and even His touch. Jesus’ glorified body could do things no current human body could do. He moved through locked doors (John 20:19), defied gravity (Acts 1:9), and could vanish instantly (Luke 24:31).[1] Nonetheless, it was a physical body.After rising from the dead, Jesus was no ghost. He was a complete man – glorified body and perfect spirit.

Paul explicitly taught that Jesus Christ was physically resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15), and that His followers will also be physically resurrected. They will have new bodies, arising from the seed of the old one – the perishable raised imperishable. The best Biblical evidence suggests that at death, our spirits proceed immediately to the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), followed shortly by our glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Jesus Christ is the first fruit of bodily resurrection, even as the early grain was the first fruit of the Hebrew harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christians are the harvest of resurrection to come.

Few of us imagine how life might be without a body. If we had no material component, how could we interact with the world around us, which is also material. How could we eat or drink – or play or work. Without physical eyes, how could we see? Without physical ears, how could we hear? How can one spirit touch another in any meaningful way? If human bodies and the material world were not important, why did God make them? When He said that the material world was “good”, did that somehow change after the Fall? Questions like this should make us question our Greek-style assumption that our bodies decay and we live on forever as spirits alone.


Too many Christian books, and too many Christian preachers, do not teach clearly that our resurrection in Christ will be a bodily, physical one, as well as a spiritual one. No other major world religion makes that claim, and then backs it up with historical data. If Christ is not risen, we are of all men most to be pitied. But Christ is risen, in body and in spirit. He is risen indeed!


[1] Some say that these miraculous acts could not have been done in the physical body and these passages therefore prove that Jesus was only resurrected as a spirit. Others argue for naturalistic explanations for these phenomenon (i.e. the disciples opened the locked door and Jesus walked in). I would suggest that the best option is to take the Bible at face value. Considering what we know of physics, it is theoretically possible through rare for one solid object to pass through another, to defy gravity, and to vanish. Let’s not assume that we know more than we actually do, Biblically or scientifically.

[1] Martin Booth, Opium: a History, u.s. ed. (New York: St. Martin, 1998), 17



The Anointing

Tim was retiring from the US Air Force and moving out of the national capital area. He had had a stellar career and had been seeking civilian work. He showed great confidence in the future, but as the weeks passed, worry crept into his face. Tim, his wife and daughters moved out of their rental house and moved in with extended family, but several job opportunities had faded away.

They visited with us after Vacation Bible School one afternoon, as we were going through the same transition. As Tim and his family were leaving, my family gathered around to lay hands on them and pray. We prayed for their journey to Texas, their search for a new house, their transition to new schools, a new church, and a new community, and most of all, for a job. Once we finished, I turned to Tim and said “Congratulations, you have received the anointing of the Spirit for this task in your life. You will be successful.”

Tim gave me a quizzical look. As we said goodbye, it occurred to me that he may not have heard about the anointing of the Lord. Many people who have heard do not understand it. This article will discuss the anointing of the Lord.


In 1 Samuel 16, Saul had been the king of Israel for about 20 years. He had been rejected by God as king, but remained on the throne until the timing of the Lord was complete. Samuel had anointed Saul (1 Samuel 9:16, 10:1) and mourned the condemnation of his reign (1 Samuel 16:1). God was ready to move on, and told Samuel to anoint a new king. Samuel rightly considered that act treason, and God directed a subterfuge to prevent his execution (the morality of that act is outside the scope of this article).

On arriving at the house of Jesse, Samuel examined Jesse’s sons and thought to anoint Eliab, the eldest. Eliab was handsome, strong, and old enough that he could assume the throne quickly; as Samuel naturally expected that since God wanted a new king anointed, He would put a quick end to Saul. Instead, the Lord waited 15-20 years to install David as king, and the whole time Samuel’s life was in danger if the king discovered what he had done. At the command of God, Samuel rejected all of Jesse’s sons except the youngest, David. Samuel anointed him, and the Holy Spirit came upon him. At the same time, the Holy Spirit left Saul.

The Purpose of the Anointing

While we may focus on anointing with oil and laying on hands, the real anointing is with the Holy Spirit. A man who receives an anointing but fails to gain the Holy Spirit gains nothing, while a man who receives the Holy Spirit, regardless of how the anointing is performed, gains everything. Most religions have anointing rituals, purifying rituals, healing rituals, and other rituals. But such rituals are powerless without the work of the Holy Spirit.

Having established that real anointing can only be done with the Spirit of God, we must understand that the first anointing is for salvation; God wants to put people in right relationship to Him. This anointing is available for everyone, although some will refuse. David was already a fervent follower of Jehovah before Samuel broke the flask of oil and laid hands on him.

In the second anointing, the Lord anoints people to perform a certain task; to accomplish His mission for that individual in that time and place. Samuel anointed Saul to be king, and later anointed David for the same role. Jesus was the ultimate “anointed one” (Luke 4:18-21), and He only did what His Father told Him to do (John 5:19, 8:28).

God offers the second anointing to all His followers, but He chooses the task assigned to each person. Saul and David were chosen as king, while the disciples and Paul in the New Testament were chosen as evangelist. No one gets to pick his own role, and we get into terrible trouble when we try to do a role assigned to someone else, or get resentful in the role that the Lord has given us.

Some do not want the second anointing at all, because their lives are focused on pleasure, ease, and affluence, or because they reject their unique task. David could have had a quiet life in the family business had he not received the anointing. Paul could have remained a respected and wealthy Pharisee.

The Pathway of the Anointing

God always anoints His chosen workers through other people. Samuel was the vehicle for Saul and David, while the Apostles were the vehicle for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17). Oil is not required, but laying on hands often is (James 5:14-18). Elijah anointed his successor, Elisha, and Ananias anointed his erstwhile enemy, Saul of Tarsus. I received the anointing of the Lord for salvation through my parents, and the anointing for ministry through the hands of men like Richard Harding, Reid Jepson, and Mike Woods.

The obvious corollary is that no man receives the anointing alone. Those who stay home from church or avoid gatherings of believers cannot receive the anointing. It is not enough to watch preachers on television or listen to sermons while driving to work. The Christian life is the life of community, and no one living out of the community can fully participate in the work of the Lord.

The Prerequisites of the Anointing

People seek outward signs to determine what to do since we cannot see into the hearts of men. The Lord knows each man better than he knows himself, however, and chooses those who hearts are totally His (2 Chronicles 16:9). Moses and David were used mightily because they were dedicated mightily to their Creator.

At times, however, God uses His people to anoint evil men. Elijah anointed Jehu (1 Kings 19:16, 2 Kings 9:1-6) as leader of Israel, even though he was wicked (2 Kings 10:31). Elisha anointed Hazael to be King of Syria even though the prophet foresaw that he would cause great grieving in Israel (1 Kings 19:15, 2 Kings 8:7-15).

The Power of the Anointing

People commonly assume that power derives from position, whereas in reality power comes from the individual. By anointing David, Samuel promised him that someday God would make him king. David would eventually get the power inherent in the position of king, but not until the Holy Spirit had made him into a man who could wield that power in accordance with the will of the Almighty. David played for Saul, defeated Goliath, befriended Jonathan, killed Philistines, and moved men all with the power of the Spirit. He became king in his character long before becoming king on the throne.

Moises Naim’s 2014 book The End of Power described how traditional centers of power in the world, such as businesses, armies, governments, and religious institutions, are losing their power to influence people. He writes “in the 21st century, power is easier to get, harder to use – and easier to lose.” A new egalitarianism is sweeping the world and self-determination to the point of anarchy, and gridlock, is at hand.

The End of Power makes many good points, but misses the greatest point of all. God has all power, and His power has not changed. He gives power to those who follow Him through the Holy Spirit, and He gives them exactly enough to accomplish His mission for them. What was true in 2016 B.C. remains true in 2016 A.D. Power does not come, and has never come, from other people or circumstances…it comes only from Him.

But how does the anointing actually work? Movies like Harry Potter (and Star Wars) suggest that magicians (and Jedi) have access to an impersonal universal power. In reality, the only universal power is personal, and He is God. Christians have access to God, but instead of using Him to accomplish our purposes as a magician might try to do, He uses us to accomplish His purposes. The anointing also affects other people. Let us consider how the anointing with the Holy Spirit changes things

  1. Effect on us – When the Spirit of God indwells us, it makes us more like Him. We gain His heart and His understanding and our works align with His will. We learn what He wants for us, and become more focused in our lives. David would never have dreamed that he could actually be king of Israel, but once God chose him, he focused his efforts to this end.
  2. Effect on others – When Samuel anointed David, everyone who knew of it was forced to make a decision: support David against Saul, or support Saul against David. The anointing will galvanize people for you, to help you in God’s mission with prayer, money, emotional support, and any other way they can. It will also galvanize people against you.
  3. Effect on God – When the Holy Spirit, who Himself is God, is active in a man’s heart through the anointing, the man becomes more like the Lord, and the Lord is more likely to heed the prayer of and bless the efforts of the man.

All of these factors make the anointed one more successful in what he or she does. Thus the anointing has power, real power, for those who believe.


My friend is a Christian and has had the Holy Spirit in him since he accepted Christ. My family and I anointed him and his family, not giving him the baptism of the Spirit but strengthening the work of the Spirit within him. Tim’s purpose is good, his pathway is sound, his prerequisites are faithful to the Lord. As a result, he has power to accomplish God’s purpose in this phase of his life. The Lord’s timing is not ours and sometimes we must wait much longer than we wish to get what we want. But Tim has more of the power of the Holy Spirit now than before; the only power that actually matters.


Purging Prejudice

On 31 October 2017 the world will remember one of the unlikeliest and yet most important events in human history, Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Following the custom of the day, the young priest had written them in Latin to avoid bringing unnecessary controversy to the Church and he posted them in a public place to invite clerical discussion.  Luther never expected that his theses would be translated into German within days, printed on recently invented printing presses, and spread throughout Western Europe within weeks. The Protestant Reformation had begun.

Luther has been lionized by Protestants and vilified by Catholics for centuries, but recently another part of his legacy has faced scrutiny. His 1543 On the Jews and their Lies is scathing, bigoted, and manifestly untrue. Last night my family and I attended a play produced by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts entitled Martin Luther on Trial which examined the legacy of Luther. It was well worth watching.

Peter’s Example in Acts 10

Acts 10 describes how God addressed prejudice in the heart of Simon Peter. Peter had been a faithful Jew, dutifully observing the Law of Moses as he, a fisherman and not a religious leader, had been taught it. He had been a disciple of Jesus Christ and had recognized Jesus’ role as the promised Messiah, the One who would save Israel, and all mankind, from their sins. Peter boldly proclaimed the story of Jesus, the Gospel, and opposed the religious leaders who tried to destroy the movement. God worked mighty miracles through him, and Peter was the most respected man in the early Church.

While at Simon’s house in Joppa on the Mediterranean coast of the Levant, Peter saw a vision in which God told him to eat foods that were unclean according to the Jewish law. God seemed, therefore to be telling this observant Jewish man to violate the will of God as he had been taught from childhood. Peter refused, and the Lord repeated the vision twice more. While puzzling about the meaning of this strange event, messengers from the Roman (Gentile) centurion Cornelius appeared at the door, asking Peter to come to his house and preach the gospel. To accompany them would be to risk breaking the law, as Cornelius’ food, surroundings, and family may have been unclean according to the Book of Leviticus. Nonetheless, Peter obeyed. In so doing, he saw the unmistakable work of God among non-Jewish people and his own bigotry melted away.

Prejudice has been an issue for all men throughout all of history, and it remains a problem in our day. This article will examine the Acts 10 story in order to help readers learn how to address prejudice in their own lives.

Recognize and understand the intellectual basis for your prejudice

We must begin by defining our terms. This article will refer to prejudice as “pre-judging” people, especially on the basis of characteristics that they cannot control such as race, age, or sex. Prejudice is usually negative, such as “black people are criminals”, but can be positive, such as “Asian people are smart.” Either way, prejudice violates the perfect will of God.

Peter’s intellectual basis for avoiding Gentiles was his understanding of the Law of Moses. The Torah gives strict “purity” instructions on food, personal hygiene, disease control, and a host of other matters intended to set the Hebrews culturally apart from the surrounding nations and to keep them healthy. It also forbids intermarriage, not on a racial basis but on a religious one. Marriage of a Hebrew to a non-Hebrew would invariably violate the purity laws, reduce the cultural difference between God’s people and those around, and compromise their faith.

The Hebrews had been badly scarred by the Babylonian captivity and wanted to avoid such a catastrophe again. By the first century, Jewish religious leaders did all they could to promote the official interpretation of the Law. Peter’s prejudice seemed to have a sound intellectual and even theological basis.

In reality, however, it did not. God’s intention was for Israel to demonstrate His glory to the nations. Following the ancient Mosaic Law was actually a healthier, happier, and more disciplined way to live. Hygiene laws minimized injury and disease, criminal laws provided a stabler society, and the subsequent prosperity of the Hebrews would be noticed by the world. Other nations would see the Hebrew example, emulate it, and give glory to God.

The Lord showed his compassion repeatedly to Gentiles in the Old Testament, including Ruth (Ruth), Namaan (2 Kings 5), and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17). God does not exclude but includes; He created a diverse world. Our Creator intended the beauty and truth of the Bible to glorify Himself and bless man, but many ancient Hebrews used it to “prove their superiority” and justify their prejudices.

The only dividing line that they Lord makes is a moral one. The Bible assumes that man is a moral agent. Though he has a sinful bent, he is capable of choosing good or evil and is responsible for the consequences of his choice. God discriminates between people who do good and people who do evil, prospering the former and opposing the latter. The Creator expects His creatures to live for Him, rejoicing in the gifts that He has provided, doing the things that He created them to do and living the life He created them to live.  The Bible is a reliable guide to truth, and He will honor those who obey it.

The prejudices of modern people also have an intellectual basis, although never a very good one. Antebellum bigots misrepresented the Bible to prove the inferiority of blacks, while Hitler used “science” to demonstrate the unworthiness of Jews.  The first step in purging prejudice from our own hearts is to identify and dispel our “intellectual” reasons for that prejudice.

Recognize and understand the personal basis for your prejudice

This gets more to the heart of the matter, since man is more an emotional creature than a rational one. We use mental fig leaves to hide our irrational reasons both for believing and acting as we do. Jewish leaders crucified Christ and persecuted believers, and Christian anti-Semites have justified their thoughts, words and actions on this basis for centuries. Luther did as well, but there were other, deeper reasons for his anger.

Early in Martin Luther’s career he advocated for German Jews against anti-Semites in the culture. He knew Paul’s prediction that the Jews would eventually accept Christ (Romans 11) and thought that his was the right time. Luther met with Rabbi Josel, the great advocate for German and Polish Jews, and tried to convince him that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah. His arguments failed with the Rabbi, and failed with other Jews as well. Luther’s passion for salvation by grace through faith gradually became frustration, and he grew estranged from the Jews. This frustration, physical pain from kidney stones and other ailments, regret over his own sin, the physical declines of age, and a host of other factors contributed to his later hatred for the Jews.  None of these justify the venom that spewed from Luther’s pen and the tragedies that directly and indirectly followed it, but they make his actions more understandable. Like all men, Luther was motivated by feelings, but rationalized his actions.

We do the same. No matter whom we choose to pre-judge or why, our primary reasons are not intellectual but emotional. A friend was beaten up by an Hispanic gang as a grade schooler, and he has struggled with trusting Hispanics since. The media incites friction between groups, and appears happier the more heated the friction becomes. Conflict, after all, attracts eyeballs. Children blame their parents for their prejudices and spouses blame each other. Members of ethnic groups attribute their troubles to oppression by another ethnic group, even when the individual member has suffered no personal harm. In the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims justified themselves by dredging up 500 year old injustices.

The second step in purging prejudice is to identify and understand the personal reasons for our prejudice.

Bring your prejudices to God through prayer, Bible study, and interactions with others

At any given time, man can change his attitude about his circumstances. However, he cannot do so in a lasting way without the help of God. Ultimately, the Lord changes the heart. God uses prayer, the Bible, experiences in the physical world, and other people to transform us into the likeness of Christ.

Consider the example in Acts 10. Peter began teaching Jews about Christ, along with whatever Gentiles happened to be in attendance (Acts 2). Throughout the early days, Peter and the other apostles dedicated themselves to the study of Scripture and to prayer (Acts 1:14, 6:4). The Holy Spirit used the Word and the daily intimate time with God to imperceptibly change their hearts. Jesus’ example, showing compassion to the Samaritans (John 4) and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-29), resonated with His followers.

Within several months, Peter shared the power of Jesus with the half-breed Samaritans and witnessed the mighty power of God in them (Acts 8). Since the Samaritans were detestable in the eyes of observant Jews at the time, this was a major step for Peter. The Lord let Peter experience Him through a major miracle, the raising of Tabitha, which was sure to build his faith.

God used Peter’s hunger and an unmistakable climactic vision to finally purge prejudice in Peter’s heart. The vision challenged the apostle’s understanding of God and man, and was followed immediately by a challenge – would Peter go with the Gentiles waiting downstairs at the door or not?

The Lord does the same thing with us. If you look at any major change in attitude in anyone’s live, good or bad, you will find that God uses events, people, and information (such as in the Bible) to make it happen.  The third step in purging prejudice is to bring your prejudices to God through prayer, Bible study, and interactions with others.

Do what God tells you to do

God does nothing in our lives without obedience. Had Peter refused to go to Cornelius’ house, he would not have seen him accept Jesus. Peter would have missed the coming of the Spirit to the Gentiles and denied himself a profounder understanding of the grace of God. Paul would still have brought the gospel to the Gentiles, but without Peter’s authority supporting Paul’s work and the Gentile believers, relations would have been much more acrimonious.

Just as Jesus could not heal those who rejected Him (Mark 6:4-6), the Lord cannot change us if we do not obey. Revelation is always accompanied by a call to action. It will not remain without obedience. God will take away our prejudices, just as He removes other sins, if we trust and obey.

Jesus said “if you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Therefore, the fourth step in purging prejudice is to do what God tells you to do.

Keep doing these things

Later in life, Peter lapsed back into his prejudiced ways (Galatians 2:11-14). He is no different than the rest of us, for we all lapse into previous sins from time to time. Our wicked nature can be suppressed more and more throughout our lives, but can easily fall back into sin (1 Corinthians 9:27). Perhaps Joshua said it best:

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (Joshua 1:8).”


Prejudice is a terrible presence in human life. It divides people and harms them, and it keeps us from grasping the abundant life that the Lord so longs to provide. To overcome prejudice in our own lives, or rather to have the Lord free us from it, we must recognize and understand the intellectual and personal bases for our prejudices. We must then bring our prejudices to God through prayer, Bible study, and interactions with others. Finally, we must do and keep doing what God commands.

When a Christian Ends His Own Life

My wife called me at work several weeks ago; the morning was good but the news was not. Our daughter had been perusing her friends’ posts on Facebook and saw some from one family that were unclear but disturbing. We called them, close personal friends for over 15 years, and learned that their oldest son had killed himself.

It was a painful shock. These friends were dedicated Christians and had raised their children in the faith. We had known this young man since he was a little boy, playing at our house and sharing birthdays and holidays. He had prospered in the US Army. In the past year, he had inexplicably severed ties with his family and joined a cult.

Our mental and emotional roller coaster began in earnest. How could such a promising young Christian man sink so deeply into despair and confusion that he could do this? Why couldn’t any of us reach him to prevent this? Why hadn’t we prayed more for him when he was growing up, and especially when he went astray? The thought crept in about what this cult may have done to him, and how we could punish them for it.

Two questions are the most important, however. The first is “Is this young man in heaven with the Lord, or has his final, desperate act somehow undone the saving work of God in his life?” The second is “how do we protect God’s children from the despair that so often ends in suicide?” We will address the first question here.

The Lord put on my heart to pray for the family again this morning. Afterwards I read an email from the father. He wrote “We don’t understand it other than he was temporarily led astray by a deceiver, but we have a hope that God did not allow his precious sheep’s soul to be snatched away for good.”

The Problem

We must begin by admitting that suicide, ending one’s own life, is a sin in the eyes of God. The command “Thou shalt not kill” speaks specifically to murder, the Hebrew word (רצח ratsach – to kill) referring accidental or intentional homicide rather than killing an enemy, usually in war (הרג harag), or killing in legal justice (מות muwth – to be executed). As suicide is self-homicide, it falls under the prohibition in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13). However, nowhere in the Commandments does the Bible imply that killing is somehow worse than the other things listed there and nowhere does it imply that homicide/suicide somehow disqualifies a person for salvation. If it did, Moses (Exodus 2:11-14), David (2 Samuel 11:14-21) and Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-16) would be disqualified from salvation.

Medicine has much to say about suicide, but the final common pathway is that those who commit suicide do so because they see their problems as overwhelming and believe that there is no way out; no future for them. People who are depressed and who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs are more likely to end their own lives. Chronic painful illness and epilepsy are other risk factors. It is not clear that treatment is preventive; over half of people who ultimately commit suicide have received mental health care in the previous week. Medicine, however, cannot answer the question at hand, “Will a Christian who commits suicide still go to heaven?” We must look to the Bible to find the answer.

Biblical Witness

There are several examples of suicide in the Bible.

Person Passage Situation
Abimelech Judges 9:50-54 Abimelech, ruler of part of Israel and the   treacherous son of Jerubbaal (Gideon), was mortally wounded by a woman   casting a millstone down from a tower.    He told his armor bearer to kill him lest he die at the hand of a   woman.
Samson Judges 16:23-31 Samson, one of the judges of Israel, was captured   and blinded by the Philistines.  Rather   than remain a sightless slave to his enemies, Samson asked God to give him   the strength to destroy the Philistine temple, even though it would result in   his own death.
King Saul 1 Samuel 31:2-5 Saul was badly wounded by Philistine archers in   battle and he asked his armor bearer to kill him so his enemies would not   torment him before he died.
Ahithophel 2 Samuel 17:23 Absalom, the rebellious son of King David, asked Ahithophel   how to attack to end his father’s reign.    Ahithophel provided wise counsel, but Absalom rejected it.  Anticipating Absalom’s subsequent defeat   and his own execution, Ahithophel hung himself.
Zimri 1 Kings 16:15-20 Zimri, commander of Israel, assassinated Elah, the   king of Israel.  Israelite forces under   another commander, Omri, rebelled against Zimri.  When Omri prevailed against Zimri’s forces   and captured his stronghold city, Zimri burned the palace down over him.
Judas Matthew 27:3-5 After betraying Jesus, Judas felt remorse at   betraying innocent blood and killed himself.

What can Christians learn from these examples? The first is that the men saw no future for themselves. Abimelech had no way of knowing whether he was actually going to die, and he was cogent enough to talk. Medically speaking, he probably had a skull fracture but his Glasgow Coma Scale was probably at least 12, possibly survivable at the time. However, he saw no future and therefore died. Samson could have lived but wanted vengeance on his enemies. It is impossible to know how badly Saul was wounded but even seemingly mortal wounds occasionally heal. Ahithophel, Zimri and Judas could have lived on but felt they had no future and so killed themselves.

The second thing to notice is that not all of these men had evidence of mental health illness. Saul may have been depressed or bipolar but we don’t know enough about the others to suggest a diagnosis. Substance abuse was common in ancient Israel (Proverbs 23:29-35) but in the examples above acute intoxication does not seem to have played a role.

A third observation is that in every case the person who died at their own hand had lost control of their lives and wanted to maintain at least the control over their death.

A fourth thing to note is that nowhere does the Bible specifically condemn these men. Jesus said that Judas would have been better off if he had never been born (Matthew 26:24-25) but that was because of Judas had a heart of darkness which would eventually betray the Master and destroy the owner; it was not because he was about to kill himself.

Will a Christian who has ended his own life go to heaven and enjoy eternal life with God?

Suicide is a sin, an example of disobedience to our Creator, but it is not unpardonable. It is the result of a tragic series of ideas and events that result in a person feeling that he has insurmountable problems and no future. On one hand, suicide separates us from eternal salvation no more effectively than any other sin does, even those that seem innocuous. On the other hand, suicide is the one sin from which man can never repent.

But Jesus took to the cross all of the sins of those whom the Father gave Him (John 17), including sins past, sins present, and even sins future. Salvation ultimately is of the Lord (John 1:12-13, Romans 9:16), though it is available to whosoever will (John 3:16). Since salvation is an act of God, it cannot be reversed by man by any means. Consider Paul’s magnificent promise:

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Life is long and hard and there are many ways that humans, weak and sinful as we are, can go off track. The love of God, manifest in Jesus Christ, can save and will save His children even when they fall into such despair that they take their own life.


There is no greater horror to a parent than to lose his child, and no worse way to lose a child than through suicide. Guilt, blame, fear, anger, and sadness will continue to trouble parents, siblings, family and friends until the end of life. On this side of the grave, the pain will never entirely go away. One burden that Christians who have experienced such tragedies should not have to bear is doubt about the eternal salvation of their departed loved one. If the loved one ever truly trusted Jesus, they trust Him now.

Key Concepts of Paul in Salvation – Romans

The Apostle Paul emphasized righteousness, faith, redemption, and justification in his letter to the Romans.

The book of Romans has been described as the magnum opus of the Apostle Paul.  In it, Paul laid out his theology of Christ and salvation in his clearest, most concentrated style.  Scholars have labored to plumb the depths of Paul’s words and concepts for centuries, and much is still to be written.   Luther and the other Reformers found in the first five chapters of Romans their fundamental idea for the Reformation, justification by faith alone.

Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη dikaiosynē) to Paul was not a result of good works, earned by the person, as though he could gain a favorable account with God by his deeds.  Rather, righteousness is a standing imparted by God as a result of faith (Romans 4:3), which is itself a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).  For centuries, Christian scholars have contrasted righteousness by faith, a Pauline Christian teaching, with righteousness by works, a Judaistic teaching.  E.P. Sanders work minimized “righteousness by works” in Judaistic teaching in the first century and emphasized “righteousness by covenant”.  This has significantly shaped the modern discussion, and borne some good fruit by improving Jewish-Christian understanding.  However, Sanders’ “covenantal nomism” has a serious flaw.  If the Jews are saved because they are God’s covenantal people, but must still perform good works to stay in that relationship, salvation still depends on works.

Faith (πίστις pistis) is belief in God. It is not the mere intellectual assent common in many circles today, nor the screaming, terrified belief of demons (James 2:19).  It is not the confident boasting of those who have made a god in their own image, nor the confused hope of those beset with sin but unwilling to accept God on His terms.  Faith, rather, is the knowledge of God, imparted by the Spirit of God Himself, which quickens the dead sinner, results in a trusting and obedient relationship with Him, and culminates in eternal glory with the Lord.

For Paul, the OT scholar, redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις apolytrōsis) in Romans 3:24 is tightly related to redemption (פדות pĕduwth) in the OT, such as Psalms 111:9.    The idea of a redeemer is someone, such as a kinsman, who bought someone else out of a bad situation, such as debtor’s slavery, for a price (Leviticus 25:47-48).   God was a redeemer (גאל ga’al) for Israel, taking them out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 6:6), in Babylon, from other enemies (Micah 4:10), and from death (Hosea 13:14).     Christ has paid the inestimable price of His blood to redeem those who follow Him from their sin, and consequently from spiritual death.

Justification (δικαίωσις dikaiōsis) means, in Pauline usage, the declaration by God that an individual is cleansed of sin, free from guilt and acceptable to Him.

Paul in the first 5 chapters of Romans explains the greatest news in the universe, how Christ’s work saved man.  Adam sinned, and so each person on the planet, past, present and future, being united with Adam in the human race, shares guilt for that sin.  Indeed, we have a sinful nature, so that sin, rebellion against God, is our natural state.  Man is utterly unable to live in accordance with God’s law, meeting the standard that God’s holy character demands*.   Man has no righteousness, and God is completely righteous.  As a result, mankind stands condemned to physical death, the separation of spirit from body (immaterial from material), and eternal death, total separation from Him.

The OT provided Israel and others who followed the Lord an opportunity to be saved from sin through faith.  The sacrificial system and the Law, while unable to save anyone by itself, revealed to man his true state, revealed His holy character, and prefigured His ultimate solution.  God Himself, untainted by sin, in His second person, became a man, came to earth, and died, taking the penalty for our sin.    By His sinless life and physical death, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin…He redeemed us.  By rising again, Jesus conquered death and ensured that those united with Him will ultimately do so also.  We are therefore sinless, and therefore justified before God.

* Some have asked whether God couldn’t lower the standard, and the answer is no.  God’s must act in accordance with His character, and blinding holiness, perfect righteousness, has no place for sin.  A perfect creation has no place for imperfection, and a perfect God cannot tolerate the tiniest wickedness.

Paul’s Life – Background and Chronology

Paul, possibly the most famous of the apostles of Jesus Christ, was a scion of Jews of the Diaspora.  Until the Babylonian exile beginning in 605-586 BC, Israelites of the tribe of Judah were concentrated in Southern Palestine.  Afterwards, they were scattered all over the ancient Near East, with large communities thriving in Alexandria and Rome.  A sizeable community arose in Tarsus of Cilicia, a province in what is now southeastern Turkey close to the border of Syria.  Tarsus was a major Roman city of trade and learning, and Cilicia was famous for its cloth products.  Both influences can be clearly seen in Paul’s later life as an educated traveler and scholar who made tents to support himself.

Jews of the Diaspora formed communities wherever they lived and so were able to maintain much of their religion and culture, including attending synagogues and observing dietary laws.  Paul, the son of observant Jewish parents, was raised as a “Hebrews of Hebrews” in this environment.  Paul’s parents were also Roman citizens, a rare honor, and so Paul inherited citizenship, which greatly helped his ministry.   At some point in his childhood he traveled to Jerusalem and learned Judaism at the feet of Gamaliel, the famous 1st century Jewish teacher.  Passionate for his Hebrew faith, Paul became a Pharisee, and excelled among his peers in every way.

Source material for a chronology of Paul’s life is found in his own writings, the Epistles, and the book of Acts.  There is remarkable agreement between the sources.  One area of seeming disagreement is that Luke mentions only three of Paul’s trips to Jerusalem, whereas Paul’s own writings mention five.  Another is the timing of the Jerusalem council.  Luke places it before the second missionary journey, and some interpret Paul’s epistles as placing it after the second missionary journey.  The difficulties are rather easily resolved.

Several important events help scholars identify the chronology of Paul’s life.  First, Paul testified before Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, in Acts 18.  An inscription in stone recovered by archaeologists mentions that Gallio was proconsul in that area in AD 51.  This important finding provides a fixed date for the second missionary journey.  Counting back from this date, scholars are able to place the Jerusalem council, Paul’s first missionary journey, and even his conversion and earlier ministry, with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  Similarly, counting forward allows us to place his third missionary journey, journey to Rome and later ministry.  Other Roman and Jewish leaders and rulers, such as Felix, Festus, Caiaphas, and even Nero, that are mentioned both in the Bible and in ancient extrabiblical sources, also help date Paul’s life.

Acts is extraordinarily important.  While Paul in Galatians mentions key events in his early ministry, the only information we have on his third missionary journey, journey to Rome and later ministry comes from Acts.  Further, one of Luke’s primary goals in writing Acts is to provide a reliable history (Luke 1:1-4).  Paul’s epistles, while accurate historically, have more of a theological intent.

A reasonable chronology has the conversion of Paul between 32 and 35 AD.  After this, he spent time in Damascus, Arabia, and Tarsus before returning to Jerusalem for famine relief.  Going to Syrian Antioch, he and Barnabas embarked on their first missionary trip (in Asia Minor) in 47-48 BC.  The overwhelming success of the Gospel among Gentiles produced the need for the Jerusalem Council (49 AD), which Paul attended.  His second missionary journey, with the fateful Macedonian call, occurred from 50-52 AD, and the third journey lasted from 53-57 AD.  After two years imprisonment in Caesarea (57-59), Paul was taken by ship to Rome, but not before being shipwrecked in Malta, bitten by vipers, and nearly drowned.

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

A brief summary of the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul.

As Christians read the New Testament, it is easy to forget how much time elapsed between Matthew and Revelation, almost 100 years.  Jesus died and rose again around 30 AD, and for two years the church grew, rapidly and in relative peace.  The persecution began about 32 AD, and Paul became a Christian in that year.  He spent years preaching in Damascus, and then spent quite a bit more time in Arabia before returning to his hometown in Tarsus, Asia Minor.  His first missionary journey did not begin until AD 47, covering many cities in Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, and others.  After a short return to Jerusalem in AD 49 to help with the Jerusalem Council, Paul left on his second missionary journey.  During this mission he wrote Galatians and probably Thessalonians.  He began in Asia Minor, but received the call to Macedonia and crossed over into Europe.  Paul and his companions ministered in Philippi, where he was imprisoned and beaten, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, where he spoke at the Aeropagus, and Corinth.  In 52 AD Paul returned to Syrian Antioch to complete his second journey.

After a very short delay, Paul’s third missionary journey began in Syrian Antioch (AD 53).  He and his colleagues crossed Asia Minor to Ephesus, ministered for three years, wrote Corinthians, and passed in Greece.  After a sojourn in Macedonia, he passed back to Asia Minor and into Palestine.  Despite repeated warnings that he should avoid Jerusalem, Paul returned there and was imprisoned (AD 57).  He was imprisoned at least two years, argued his defense before the Sanhedrin, and argued it again before Felix, Festus and Agrippa.  Sometime during this imprisonment he probably penned Romans.  Having appealed to Caesar, Paul was taken across the Mediterranean, was shipwrecked on Malta, and was in house arrest in Rome for 2 years.  His house arrest gave him the time to write Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians and Philippians.   Released from prison in 63, Paul continued to minister and was finally martyred by Nero in around 67 AD.

According to the conversion account in Acts 26, Paul knew from the beginning that he was sent to the Gentiles.  From the beginning of His ministry, he preached the gospel to Jewish audiences in synagogues.  Before long, he realized that Jews were actively rejecting Christ, and he turned his focus towards the Gentiles (Romans 11).

There has been some debate about the historicity of Acts, but there are many clues in the book proving that, but any reasonable standard, it is a valid historical document.  The timing of various monarchs (such as Herod Agrippa) and government officials (such as Festus, Felix, and Caiaphas) in Acts is internally consistent with the rest of Scripture and externally consistent with Josephus and most contemporary history, with few exceptions.  Other events, such as Theudas’ revolt, the reigns of the Caesars, and finally the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD help us discover when Paul lived and worked.  Tiny clues matter, such as mentions of persecutions.

Paul was adept at using local culture to build a bridge to reach the unbelieving.  He spoke Greek and Hebrew, and probably Aramaic and several other languages.  He had Timothy circumcised not because Timothy needed it to be saved, but rather to avoid giving offense to the Jews.  Paul tailored his message carefully to different audiences, with sermons heavy Old Testament when speaking to religious Jews and sermons referring to Greek thought and even “natural law” on the Aeropagus.  Sometimes he abandoned perfectly acceptable activities because he didn’t want to make others stumble.  He even supported himself financially with manual labor, a powerful example in Greco-Roman culture which devalued such labor.

The Apostle Paul provides a powerful example today.   From his knowledge to his zeal to his consistency, Paul is a model for every believer to emulate.  Spreading the gospel was his life, despite beatings, imprisonment, and great adversity.  He was not a perfect man, only One was, but Paul demonstrates what a follower of God can do in service to Him.

Paul’s Conversion – Why Three Accounts, and How Do They Differ?

The story of Paul’s conversion from a devout Jew, violently persecuting believers in Jesus, to a devout Christian, fearlessly spreading the Gospel against all opposition, is found three times in Acts.  The stories differ slightly.

The first account, in Acts 9, narrated Paul’s conversion when it actually happened.  After being a ringleader in persecuting Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul obtained permission from the high priest, and then set out for Damascus, hoping to find and arrest Christians who had fled his persecution.    While enroute, Paul and his companions suddenly saw a great light. Paul fell to the ground and heard Jesus’ voice, asking why he was persecuting Him.  The voice then told him what to do (v6).  Paul had been blinded by the light, and his companions led him to Damascus where he had nothing by mouth for three days (v9).  Meanwhile, the Lord commanded a believer named Ananias to meet Saul and minister to him.  Despite his fear at revealing himself to the feared Pharisee and persecutor of Christians Saul of Tarsus, Ananias obeyed. Saul, soon to be known as Paul, regained his sight and began his ministry. Something like scales fell from his eyes, he regained his sight, he was baptized (v18), and he took food and water (v19).

The second account, in Acts 22, described his testimony during his trial before the Jews.  After years of preaching Christ throughout Asia Minor and Greece, Paul had returned to Jerusalem.  He was falsely accused of bringing a Gentile into the temple and he was arrested.  Addressing his accusers in their native Hebrew tongue, Paul reflected back on his conversion, telling them that he was a Jew, raised in the Diaspora but brought up and educated under the famous Jewish teacher Gamaliel.  He recounted his zeal in persecuting Christians and his mission to Damascus.  Like the sister account, Paul described the bright light and the voice of Christ, but quoted Jesus as saying “I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting (v8).”  The descriptor “Nazarene” is not found in the earlier account.  The chapter 9 account said “go into the city” but that in chapter 22 said “go to Damascus”.    The account of the Lord’s message to Ananias is not found in the 22nd chapter.

The third account, in Acts 26, is significantly different from the other two.  In this case, Paul had been in prison for over one year and he had been testifying in his own defense before the Judean king Agrippa.  Paul described his persecuting Christians in much greater detail.  He added details about the encounter on the road, including that “it is hard for you to kick against the goads”.  In this account, Jesus told Paul that he was chosen by God and that he would bring the gospel to the Gentiles, all in great detail.  Paul provided no details on his activities in Damascus and then went on to convey his message to the Gentiles.

Far from being proof of a fabrication, the differences in the accounts demonstrate the reliability of the account.  Depending upon the purpose for telling a story and the audience that will hear it, people choose to emphasize different aspects of the story.  The account in chapter 9, in which Luke’s purpose was to tell the story of the early church, emphasized Paul and the believers in Damascus.   The chapter 22 account was not intended to be a story but a testimony.  It emphasized Paul’s essential Jewishness and faithfulness to the Law, and referred to “the God of our Fathers”.   One can sense that he yearned for his Jewish accusers to see that Jesus is their Messiah.  Paul’s defense to Agrippa in chapter 26, a small, more private and less hostile audience, was different.  Both in medicine and in law, a story that is totally unchanged between events is more likely to be considered a fabrication.

This conversion story is useful to all Christians in a variety of ways.  Those who fear that they are too sinful for God to save have a useful role model.  Those who believe that they can be “solo” Christians see the utter need that even the greatest among the apostles had for his brothers in Christ.   Those who doubt the authority of Paul as an apostle can be reassured in his God-given authority.  Paul’s story preaches well, demonstrating God’s sovereign choice in his servants, and the certainty of His will.  It is a model for believers today.