In Galatians 2 we learn of something surprising for its uniqueness. In that passage the story is told of a time when one apostle rebuked another in front of the church. When the gospel first began to Gentile communities the Apostle Peter visited the church in Antioch. He spent time with the Gentile believers and treated them as if they were equals. However, when other Jewish believers from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles. Peter feared the condemnation of the Jews. In response, the Apostle Paul publicly rebuked the Apostle Peter for his actions.
One popular interpretation of this passage says Paul rebuked Peter because of his cultural prejudices. According to this perspective Paul chastised Peter for what is today called racism. Did Paul rebuke Peter because of his racial prejudices? The answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.
The Apostle Peter was the first to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. When he did, he told the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation.” (Acts 10:28) Generations of Jews had been taught that it was against the law of Moses to share a house or a meal with Gentiles. When Peter ate with a Gentile he became ceremonially unclean. Would have to be cleansed before he could offer sacrifices or join the temple worship. After the conversion of Cornelius it became evident to Christians that Gentiles could be saved without keeping the law of Moses. The division between Jew and Gentile was taken away by Christ.
Paul rebuked Peter because Peter’s actions compromised the gospel. Paul told Peter exactly what the problem was,“Thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” By separating from the Gentiles Peter was acting as if the Gentiles were still unclean before God. He was saying by his actions that despite their faith in Jesus the Gentiles were still not right with God. Peter was acting as if faith in Jesus was not enough. He was acting as if the Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses to be truly Christian.
Peter’s actions were the result of long standing prejudices against all Gentiles. However, Paul does not address Peter’s racial prejudice. Paul addressed Peter’s distortion of the gospel. To say this passage is about racism is to miss the main point. Racism is wrong, but far worse is a gospel which teaches works are necessary for salvation
The gospels of Matthew and Mark (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-24) recount a surprising event in the life of Jesus. The day after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem Jesus returned to the city. As He walked along the road on His way back into town Jesus became hungry. He saw a fig tree alongside the road, but it had no figs. Finding the tree empty, Jesus cursed it, saying, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” By the next morning the fig tree was withered. The gospel of Mark adds a troubling detail, “for the time of figs was not yet.”
Apparently, Jesus was angered by a fig tree that had no figs on it despite figs not being in season. He got so mad he cursed the tree. What is going on? Why did Jesus act like this? Some consider this account to be proof Jesus was not perfect. He was hungry, maybe his blood sugar was a little low, and he lashed out in unreasonable anger against an innocent tree. Those committed to the Biblical doctrine that Jesus was without sin cannot accept this explanation.
Jesus’ actions toward the fig tree are not directly explained in the Bible. To understand what Jesus is doing, the reader must consider the circumstances surrounding this event. Jesus cursed the fig tree the day after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was on His way to cleanse the temple of religious extortioners. Jesus walked past the fig tree, into Jerusalem and into the temple. In the temple He began to throw out the money changers. The chief priests and scribes began to dispute with Jesus. This led to some of Jesus’ strongest rebukes of scribes and Pharisees. He warned them, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus then told numerous parables of the dangers of refusing the Son of God. He says in Matthew 21:43, “Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
The cursing of the fig tree is believed by many, including myself, to be a warning to the Jews. Though these events took place before figs can normally expect to be ripe, the nature of fig trees is such that they begin to bear fruit before leaves are formed. A mature fig tree covered in leaves can rightly be expected to bear fruit. Jesus was not acting unreasonably in expecting figs on a tree covered in leaves. The absence of fruit was indication the tree was not healthy. Likewise, Israel had all the appearance of being spiritually healthy. The Jews of Jesus’ day read Scriptures, kept the outward forms of the law, observed Sabbath days and celebrated the feasts. Despite appearances the nation of Israel was not spiritually healthy. Israel was spiritually barren. The nation was on the verge of rejecting their Messiah and crucifying their Savior. Jesus’ actions towards the fig tree can be understood as a picture of what would happen to Israel for their refusal to believe Jesus. The cursing of the fig tree was one of many warnings to Israel of Divine judgment for their rejection of Jesus.
The next day the disciples marvelled at the death of the fig tree. Jesus used the situation as an opportunity to teach His disciples a lesson on faith. He promised them if they would have faith and believe Him without doubting, they would have the power to do much more than cause a fig tree to wither and die. They would have power to do mighty things for God. They would have whatever they prayed for. The lesson Jesus teaches His followers from the fig tree is the mighty power of God that works through and for His believing people.
This little question was asked by a girl at church yesterday. Her simple question raises deeper questions for which good answers are hard to find. What was God doing before the universe began? How long did God exist before He created the universe?
The Bible teaches that God is eternal. “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2) God existed eternally before He created the universe. He did not spring into existence a day before creating everything. He has always been. He has no beginning. He existed in eternity before the universe began. This is simple to state, but hard to understand. Any serious attempt to understand the eternity before space, time, matter or energy were created is more than the mind can handle.
How long did God wait before creating? He waited all eternity and He waited no time at all. He did not wait any days, because days did not exist until He created Day on the First Day. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:5) He did not wait any time because time did not exist until God created it. Though He waited no time before creating, His eternal existence means He existed eternally before anything else existed.
This deceptively challenging question wrestles with the true nature of creation and eternity. Everything exists because God created it. Time exists only because God created it. God’s eternal existence cannot be understood by the finite mind of man. Eternity cannot be measured by the age of the universe. God always has been and always will be. He alone has no predecessor, no creator and no beginning. The Eternal Creator created Day, Night, Seasons and Years. He did so when He chose, and at His choosing time came into being.
If you were to read the entire Bible you would not find a direct command from God saying “Thou shalt read the Bible everday.” Some Christians seem to believe they have no obligation to read or study Scripture. Some churches and denominations actively discourage their members from reading the Bible on their own. However, the Bible clearly teaches Christian to desire to read and study the Word. The book of First Peter says the Christian should hunger for Scripture the way a baby hungers for milk. (1 Peter 2:2)
Christians, should desire to know and study the Bible because God draws a definite link between the believer’s knowledge of the Bible and the ability to live in the way that pleases God. In the book 1 John the apostle writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-5). How is the Christian to know how Christ lived and be able to imitate His life without diligently studying the record of Jesus’ life? Obedience is only possible through careful attention to the rule He has given to His children.
Scripture also teaches that the Christian’s desire to know the Bible is a sign of spiritual health. 1 John 4:6 says, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Those who are truly saved will long to be taught the Bible by skilled teachers and the spiritual authorities God has placed in their lives. The healthy Christian will long to know the Word of God. Just as a loss of appetite is a symptom of physical illness, so a lack of hunger for the Word is a certain symptom of spiritual malaise.
A desire to know and to study the Bible does not necessarily mean the Christian will always be overflowing with enthusiasm to do so. A desire to study the Bible may be shown by the Christian springing out of bed in the morning eager to rush to a comfortable chair and spend time drinking in the Word. Though many Christians long to have this excitement for the Word, the fact is in real life very few do. However, a lack of an overflowing enthusiasm does not mean the desire for the Bible is less sincere. The average person is probably not excited about the next meal. They do not run to the table with glee, anxious for the food that will be set before them. Does this mean they lack sincerity in their eating? Does this mean the meal is of less importance to their life? The Christian knows the Word of Godfeeds his soul and desires to feast at the banquet of Scripture.
Possibly the most widely known Bible verse in America is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” The verse is often quoted when one person declares the actions of another to be wrong. Was Jesus saying that no person should ever tell another person they are doing something wrong?
A recent conversation is a good example of how this verse is commonly used. A man claimed to be “a Christ” and then claimed that everyone who believes also become Christs. He was informed that he was not Christ, Jesus is the only Christ and Christhood is not conferred upon any believers. The immediate response was “Judge not.” Many use the verse in the same way in situations where they feel like their decisions or actions are being attacked. The two words are wielded as if they are a magic shield able to deflect every attack, criticism, question, confrontation or uncomfortable conversation.
To bowdlerize the famous words of a Hollywood sage, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The Bible says, “Judge not.” The Bible also says. “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “Prove all things.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Each one of those verses requires a judgment that discerns between right and wrong.
If the popular view of Matthew 7:1 were correct, then Jesus Himself would be guilty of violating it’s command. Jesus judged people. He told an adulterous woman to stop sinning. He called religious leaders white washed mausoleums, poisonous serpents and hypocrites. The Apostle Paul judged the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11). Paul also judged Alexander, Hymaneus, Philetus, Demas and various other unnamed teachers. Jesus and the Apostles often committed the cardinal sin of the 21st century. They judged people. They did not violate the command of Matthew 7
“Judge not” is a warning to not judge superficial, self-righteous judgment. Jesus condemned the condemnation of others based upon personal preferences and shallow relationships. The self-righteous, malicious condemnation of another person because they do not meet your own opinions of what they should and should not do is forbidden. The irony of the misuse of Matthew 7:1 is the majority of the people who attack others with “Judge not” or its derivatives are disobeying the command of Jesus. They are guilty of condemning the actions of another based upon nothing more than their own personal preferences. The Bible condemns self-righteousness which replaces the Biblical standard for a cultural or personal one. The Bible commands Christians to evaluate the actions, beliefs and motives of ourselves and others according to the standard of the Word of God. Christians are not forbidden to warn others about sin, call a person to repentance or confront a false gospel. They are commanded to do those things.
Pastor’s Roundtable: June 28, 2020
Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor Dave Ryerson
Pastor Tom Schierkolk
Do we come into this world as basically good, clean slates who learn to do bad as we go along? Are most people really good at heart? Do they mean well most of the time? Or is everyone a sinner by nature? In other words, do people sin because they are sinners or are they sinners because they sin? This issue stirs up strong feelings but needs to be considered because it is central to a proper understanding of salvation.
The Bible is plain about the nature of man. We are all the children of wrath and the children of disobedience. Every person is naturally a sinner. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity.” (Psalm 51:5) “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) The Bible describes all people as rejectors of God. (Romans 3:11) Every person’s natural moral disposition is against righteousness, against God and against His commands.
The Bible describes every person as enemies of God and separated from Him. (Colossians 1:19) As long as the person is separated from God, nothing done by that person is truly good in the eyes of God. God says to those who are in rebellion against Him, “All (your) righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
This does not mean that no one does good things of their own free will or that people will always do the most wicked thing they could possibly do. This does not mean all beneficence and philanthropy is actually self-serving. Many people genuinely do good things for others. Most people refuse to do all the bad things they could do. Goodness and self-restraint are real. Goodness in humanity is evidence of God’s grace in the world.
God has given every person a conscience which teaches him to know right from wrong. Romans 2 says people naturally do the things written in the law of God. Their natural obedience to God’s law is evidence that God has written His law in the heart of every person. However, the human conscience is not proof of basic human goodness, but of basic human guilt. The conscience convicts every person of his guilt so that none can legitimately claim to be without sin. (Romans 2:14-15)
The claim that no one is born good is not a denial of individual ability to understand right from wrong, a denial that people will do right instead of wrong or a declaration that people will always do their worst. Instead, this truth teaches that each person does evil because evil resides within the heart of every person. The Bible teaches that every one is a sinner because they are naturally disposed to sin from birth. None are as bad as they could be, few are as bad as they want to be, but no one is perfect before God.
The universality of sin does not lessen the individual’s guilt. Instead, the universal scope of sin is an indication of the severity of the problem. Sin is so terrible it has infected the entire human race. Because all are infected with sin, “there is none that doeth good.” (Psalm 14:3) However, the Bible offers hope and healing from sin. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)