God’s Will for Your Life (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]


Romans 1:9-10, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.”
Context: Paul greets the Roman Christians in the first chapter of his letter to them. His desire to visit them probably stems from a combination of wanting to strengthen their relationships with God and wanting to visit brothers in Christ whom he cares about.
Analysis: Here, the “will of God” represents the means by which Paul was to visit His Roman brethren in Christ. In prayer, Paul effectively asked God to include his request in His plan. Paul understood, as Moses did, that God can integrate our prayer requests with His plan for our lives and for the world.

Romans 2:17-18, 21, “But if bear the name ‘Jew,’ and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law…you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?”
Context: Paul opposes judgmentalism.
Analysis: The will of which Paul writes in this passage represents that which is revealed in the Old Testament Law. The Jews were nuts about the Scriptures and were proud to know them well. Unfortunately, despite such great knowledge, they had a tendency to miss the point of the Scriptures.
Nonetheless, we, too, are required to know God’s will as revealed in the Bible. God’s biblical will applies to all of us. It’s a general will. If you want to know God’s will, you must go to the Bible to find it. That’s not to say God doesn’t have specific tasks for you to carry out that don’t apply to others, but 99% of what you need to know is found in the Bible.

Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Context: Paul urges the Christians to live a life pleasing to God.
Analysis: This verse gives us another definition of “the will of God:” all that is good, acceptable, and perfect. Where do we go to learn what is good, acceptable, and perfect? The Bible. The Old Testament Law, the prophets, the writings (like Proverbs), the words of Jesus, and the letters of the Apostles, all contain revelation of what is good, acceptable, and perfect.
We can’t learn all of these things by simply praying and then obeying the gut feeling that follows. There are too many issues for us to take this approach. We’d have to pray for God’s direction on each and every issue, but we wouldn’t even know what questions to ask without the Bible’s guidance as to which issues are important. The only way to learn what is good, acceptable, and perfect, is by reading, studying, and knowing the Bible.

Ephesians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”
Context: Ephesians, chapter 1, is known for being the chapter that gives the most support for the theology of pre-destination: the idea that God chose us (those who are Christians) to be Christians before the human race ever began. Even though it feels to us that we are choosing God, it’s actually God who places the desire to worship Him in our hearts.
Analysis: Not only does Paul credit God for choosing him to be a Christian, but Paul credits God for choosing him to be an Apostle of Christ. How did Paul learn of God’s will for him? Well, Paul didn’t exactly seek out God’s will through his own efforts. Instead, God converted him by means of a miraculous vision on the road to Damascus (see Acts, chapter 9) and then led him to a man named Ananias for instruction.
Of course, most of us will never see a vision from heaven that knocks us to the ground, so our best bet for learning God’s will is studying the Bible.

Ephesians 1:11, “In Him [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will [‘accomplishes all things according to His counsel and will’ in the NRSV], to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”
Context: Ephesians 1 is well-known for Paul’s explanation of predestination in which all Christians were chosen to be Christians by God before the world was created.
Analysis: Notice that God “accomplishes all things according to His counsel and will.” That means He never fails to accomplish anything He wills; all things He wants to accomplish come to be; and everything He accomplishes matches His will. In summary: God’s plans happen no matter what. There’s no mistake we can make that will interfere with them. God has already taken all of our actions and prayers into account when determining His plan for history.
So what about the warning that if we don’t figure out God’s will for our lives that we will miss out on the wonderful journey that awaits us? It’s a lie! We will never miss out on God’s plans for us, because His plans can never be thwarted. It’s arrogant to think that we are powerful enough to ruin God’s plans. Are we more powerful than God? He is in total control, and He never loses that control for even the slightest instant.

1 Thessalonians 3:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality…”
Context: Paul reminds the Thessalonians to continue following the instructions he had given them in person.
Analysis: Again, we see here a general will of God that applies to all Christians. To be sanctified is to become more like Christ. We do this by obeying the rules of the Bible, which apply to all people.

1 Timothy 2:3, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Context: Paul gives Timothy instructions on how to govern a church, and urges Christians to pray for kings and others in authority.
Analysis: For those who oppose pre-destination theology, they find support for their beliefs in this verse. Because if God desires that everyone be saved, and yet most of them are not, then how can He be in control their choices to become Christians?

I was once told, however, that all doesn’t always mean all; but that it means all kinds about 75% of the time it’s used. Over the years, I have found this to be true. Paul speaks of praying for government leadership in the preceding verses. He is speaking of multiple nations and leaders. He says that God wants people from all of these nations to be saved, not just Jews, not just Romans. He desires salvation for all kinds of people, not for every man or person in the world.

James 4:15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’”
Context: In verses 13-17, James warns the Christians not to assume what will happen in the future, because God controls it.
Analysis: Now we’re back to God’s will representing His specific plans for our lives. Again, James warns that we cannot control even our short-term plans. Everything we plan is subject to God’s approval. That doesn’t mean God won’t let us sin if we plan to, although sometimes He doesn’t. God gives us free will, but sometimes gets in the way of us falling too deeply into sin, especially if we pray for His protection from our sinful ways.

1 Peter 2:15, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
Context: Peter tells Christians to obey the secular governing authorities.
Analysis: “Doing right” is following all of the Bible’s commands. Following them has numerous positive effects, one of which is that nobody has a legitimate reason to accuse us of being unlawful. This was important for early Christians, because they didn’t want to invite unnecessary persecution. Persecution would come at times, but Christians were never called to do anything that would provoke or increase it.

1 Peter 3:17, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”
1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”
Context: Peter encourages Christians to be willing to suffer for living the Christian life, much like Christ suffered by remaining steadfast in righteousness.
Analysis: The phrase, “if God should will it [our suffering] so,” tells us that suffering should be of God’s will, but never of our own will.
While you might think it preposterous that anyone would impose suffering upon themselves, many Christians do. They believe that God is happy when we suffer, and they say we must deny ourselves and take up our own cross as Jesus did. They are correct about taking up our own crosses as Jesus did, because Jesus instructed us to do so in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23.
Remember, however, that Jesus did not seek out a cross and ask people to nail Him to it so He could suffer for God; He was crucified simply for doing what was right—carrying out His ministry. 1 Peter 3:17 tells us that we, too, must do what’s right, but like Jesus, we should only suffer for it if we have to. We must be willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel, but we should not force suffering upon ourselves needlessly. That’s what the other religions of the world are all about. Christianity is so much better than that!

(For more on the anti-Christian nature of self-imposed suffering, read the Christian Freedom study.)

1 Peter 4:2, “…live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men [‘human desires’ in the NRSV], but for the will of God.”
Context: Peter inspires believers to be willing to suffer for Christ and no longer live sinfully like they had in the past.
Analysis: In the Bible, what’s the opposite of “human desires?” God’s desires! In other words, God’s will. We find biblical examples of human desires in Galatians 5:19-21. They are “…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing…” And what does Galatians 5:22-23 say are God’s desires? They are “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”
Here, again, we have God’s will for our lives revealed to us by the Bible.
Having examined all Bible verses addressing God’s will, we’ve found the source of confusion over it: the fact that God’s will has two primary definitions. The first definition is God’s plan. The second definition is God’s law. The first is a specific, personal will. The second is a general will, which is the same for all Christians.
The Bible verses that command us to know God’s will instruct us to know His general will for all of us. They do not tell us to figure out His plan for our personal future. And nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to figure out God’s plan for our entire lives.
While some might argue that life is short, there’s a sense in which life is long, too. A lot can happen in a lifetime. For some of us, it’s as though we live several different lives in one lifetime. Those of us who have been around for awhile can look back on our lives and see how God has led us in directions we never could have expected or even understood during our early adult years. God doesn’t require that we memorize the map to the long and winding road we are to travel. God knows the way, and He will see us through to the finish, because His plans never fail.
While the Bible never requires us as individuals to inquire of God about personal direction like the leaders of Israel had to, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Why not check with God first before making any important decision? (Decisions over insignificant things like what to eat for breakfast and what to wear should not be brought before God, because Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God.”) If God chooses to reveal direction to us, whether it comes by an angel, vision, burning bush, or a set of circumstances that make our decision easier, then we experience God’s involvement in our lives. If God remains silent, don’t worry; just make sure that your decision aligns with God’s general will that’s revealed throughout the Bible.
When seeking God’s will, we must place His general will for all Christians ahead of His specific plan for our lives. Imagine taking a class in school that’s crucial to your career. Throughout the semester, you fail to do your assignments, perform poorly on tests, and fail to participate in class. Toward the end of the semester, the professor informs the class that he has a special opportunity for a student to work on a project with a professional who is established and well-connected in your field of study. You enthusiastically volunteer in hopes of being catapulted into a successful career. Should the professor choose you—the one who failed to do what was required of everybody? The professor will most certainly not choose you. He will choose someone who has excelled at fulfilling the basic requirements.
This is not to say that God isn’t free to choose an underachiever for a special task. God may do whatever He wants. Nonetheless, our focus is to be on the primary assignment that all Christians must complete: knowing God’s will and adhering to it as commanded in the Bible. God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures is necessary “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work [2 Timothy 3:16-17].” Without these essentials, we are unequipped to carry out God’s will for our personal lives. So if you’re worried about missing out on a wonderful journey planned by God, then get to work on knowing and doing God’s will as revealed in the Bible.
Don’t just study the New Testament, either. Keep in mind that Paul spoke of the Old Testament Scriptures when he wrote verses 16 and 17 to first century Christians (the New Testament had not yet come together at this time). We may not overlook the Old Testament. Contrary to popular Christian belief, the New Testament is a supplement to the Old Testament, not a replacement for it. We can’t ignore it because Paul failed to re-write it in the Epistles and because Jesus failed to recite it in the Gospels. Both of them chose not to reiterate it, because early Christians understood the importance of the Old Testament law and knew it well.

Why doesn’t God expect us to figure out His plan for our entire lives? There are a couple of reasons. The first is that we would let our misconceptions about what God’s plans might look like interfere with seeing God’s plans clearly. For example, we live in a romantic age. I’m not talking about dating and marriage; I’m talking about literary romanticism. Most of us have big dreams of getting out there and living a spectacular fairy tale life, like we would see in a movie packed with inspiring heroism and narrow escapes.
While we are certain to have some powerful experiences in carrying out God’s plans, the plans He has for us are often not grand from our point of view. A Christian might imagine that God will want him to become a famous Christian rock star, when God’s true plan for him may be to befriend a person who’s unpopular and down on his luck. God may then want him to be a good representative of Christ in the workplace, so that a co-worker will be open to becoming a Christian when the timing is right, years down the road. Later in life, we may look back on these experiences and know God’s power through them, even though they were never experiences we would have foreseen as wonderful.
Not only do we over-romanticize God’s plans, we tend to limit them to what we deem to be important. For example, in America, we are very career focused, because we have a historically high number of career choices available to us. Throughout history, however, peoples’ options were limited. Most people had little choice but to do what their parents did. God still worked great plans for those peoples’ lives, even though their careers had little to do with their duties to God. Today, in trying to figure out God’s plans for our lives, we tend to focus too much on careers and not enough on the little opportunities around us that just might make all the difference in light of eternity.

The final reason that we’re not required to foreknow God’s plans for our entire lives is that we simply can’t see the all of the long and winding road that lies before us from where we stand. Take this website for example. Could I have known back in 1990, at Belmont University, when trying to determine God’s plan for my life, that God wanted me to someday minister to people through a website? Websites didn’t exist in 1990! Neither were my talents and passions in writing. They were in music. I loved music, wanted to commit my life to it, and had developed some talent (although not much) around it. Meanwhile, I dreaded writing, wasn’t very good at it, and considered English to be my least favorite subject. Also, I was a semester away from experiencing word processing for the first time. Would I have looked forward to writing so extensively using nothing but a typewriter, where if I wanted to change something, I would have had to type the page all over again? Christian writing was the furthest thing from my mind. Yet God ultimately led me down an unforeseeable, yet amazing, path to doing just that.
While we are called to use our talents to serve God, we must take care not to limit ourselves to our talents. I once met a woman who told me that God’s call for her was the Christian music business (I heard that one a lot in Nashville), and that she refused to do anything else but that. She complained to me how her former pastor had encouraged her to teach Sunday school, and she replied to him that doing so was not her calling, only the music business was. She may have been right in that Sunday school was not the appropriate ministry for her. Nonetheless, I sensed a reluctance to remain open to where God would lead her.
Not to be self-focused, but as I look at my journey (it’s the one I know best, since I have been present for the whole thing), I realize that I never would have expected my sales career to figure into ministry plans, because I initially lacked natural talent in sales; I was terrible at it. But that’s exactly why God placed me there. My people skills were pathetic. Only out of a need to survive did I improve them over many years of working in sales.
In the corporate sales world, I faced a lot of temptation to deceive potential customers. It was the norm for sales reps and their employers to do so. This experience proved invaluable when I wrote my study on Greed & Oppression of the Poor on the Essentials page. A pastor who majors in religion, goes straight to seminary, and then goes straight into the ministry, could never relay the same message, because he has never experienced the harsh realities of the corporate sales world like I did.
When trying to determine God’s plan for my life in 1990, it was inconceivable to me that God would use things I did poorly, like writing and sales, to train me for it. I could only imagine back then that He would use my passion for music in His plan, because the music business was where I envisioned my future at the time.

Seeing the long and winding road in God’s plan from the present all the way to the end of our lives is nearly impossible. That’s why God never requires us to see it. He only requires that we learn His will as revealed in the Bible, and that we seek His guidance on the decisions we must make in the immediate future. We need not worry about the more distant future, however, because God’s plans never fail.

Christian Freedom (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophecy of you saying,
This people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

These were the words of Jesus as He responded to the Pharisees, a sect of elite religious leaders in His day. They had just accused Him and His disciples of sinning by not washing their hands before eating. Knowing that the Scriptures (which we now call the Old Testament) promoted no such rule, Jesus used the last line of this quote to accuse the Pharisees of favoring man-made religious rules over the laws of God recorded in the Scriptures.
Jesus’ accusation would have been of little significance had the Pharisees taken the Scriptures lightly. Had that been the case, the Pharisees might have responded by saying that the Scriptures were of little importance, because God spoke directly through their leaders. In reality, however, the Pharisees were obsessed with the Scriptures. They believed them to be the authoritative word of God, and they claimed total adherence to them. When Jesus alerted the Pharisees to their hypocrisy of favoring man-made religious rules over the Scriptures they cherished, they were furious.

The Origin of Man-Made Religious Rules
As we look back upon this encounter, we wonder how the Pharisees could have opposed God’s will despite their love for the Scriptures. Most of us think that the Pharisees were just a bunch of silly Jews, hell-bent on evil, feeling nothing but hatred for God. And we think that if we had been in Judea during the time of Jesus’ ministry, we would have been nothing like the Pharisees and forsaken their man-made rules in favor of Jesus’ truth.
Before we write off the Pharisees as a group of people with which we have nothing in common, let’s take a closer look at their situation. First, let’s examine how the man-made sin of eating with unwashed hands originated.
Did one Pharisee say to the other, “Hey, let’s do something evil that will make God angry?”
And then the other Pharisee replied, “I got an idea. Let’s create a rule requiring the washing of hands before eating and tell people that they sin against God by not following it. That will really make God mad!”
It’s unlikely that this rule was created with these intentions. These man-made rules came about in an entirely different manner.
The belief that it was a sin to eat with unwashed hands (as well as other man-made beliefs) had developed between the time of the Babylonian exile (586 B.C.) and the time of Jesus (4-6 B.C. – A.D. 29).
Prior to the Babylonian exile, God had trouble keeping the horses in the barn, as the Israelites continually ran away from Him to pursue other gods—a direct violation of the First Commandment, which prohibited the worship of any god other than God himself. God then used the Babylonians to discipline the Jews by conquering their land (then called Judah) and sending them into exile for approximately 70 years. After the 70 years were completed, God had Cyrus, king of Persia, conquer Babylon and return the Jews to their homeland.
The Jews learned their lesson. Over time, groups like the Pharisees formed and determined that they would do everything within their power to keep God’s anger from crushing Judah (called Judea in Jesus’ day) again. The Pharisees hated sin and hoped to eliminate it. They not only opposed sinful behavior, but they ultimately developed new rules to keep people from coming anywhere close to it.
One of the sins they sought to avoid was that of eating unclean animals. God had declared through the law given by Moses (approx. 1400-1500 B.C.) that certain circumstances made people unclean for religious ceremonies and that certain animals were unclean and could not be eaten. Since the Pharisees wanted to play it safe and keep people as far away from committing this sin as possible, they created a rule requiring the washing of hands before eating.
The Pharisees were aware of the possibility that a person’s hands might touch an object, such as a piece of wood, that an unclean animal might have brushed against at an earlier time, leaving dead skin, hair, blood, etc. on it; and through the touching of the object, these elements might attach to the person’s hand. While eating, these elements then passed from hand to food to mouth, so that upon consumption of the food, elements from an unclean animal would be ingested, thus breaking God’s law prohibiting the eating of unclean animals. By washing hands before eating, the possibility of unintentionally ingesting unclean animal residue that resided on one’s fingertips was eliminated, and the breaking of God’s law avoided.
The Pharisees wanted to absolutely eliminate any possibility of even the most insignificant sin being committed. They were just like many modern-day devout Christians—totally committed to the avoidance of doing anything that might offend God.
I’m sure the Pharisees, who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, had expected to receive a congratulatory pat on the back from Him for extending the law to ensure that God’s people came nowhere near committing sin. After all, God is always in favor of more rules, right? The more we can’t do, the happier He is!
Jesus informed the Pharisees that they were acting in opposition to God’s will when they preached that eating with unwashed hands was a sin. In fact, Jesus and His disciples openly and publicly broke this man-made religious rule. This wasn’t the only man-made doctrine that Jesus publicly violated. Jesus healed on the Sabbath day—a day in which doing any significant amount of work was forbidden (Mark 3:1-6). He picked grain while walking through a field on the Sabbath day (Mark 2:23-28). He drank wine and was accused of being a drunkard for it (Luke 7:34). He and His disciples did not fast during His ministry (Matthew 9:14-15); so the Pharisees, who fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), accused Jesus of being a glutton for not fasting, and possibly for attending feasts (Luke 7:34). And Jesus ate with people who were known to be sinful, in a society where eating with someone was a sign of friendship and where the righteous were not to befriend the sinful (Luke 15:1-7). The Pharisees opposed Jesus in all these things, because He violated their man-made religious rules.
There’s no doubt about it—Jesus hated man-made religious rules. He went out of His way to challenge them. He wanted us to be free of unnecessary religious restrictions. He even said of the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them [Matthew 23:4].” These heavy loads of which Jesus spoke were not physically heavy. It was not as if the Pharisees ran construction crews and made people carry large loads of bricks. Jesus was speaking of the spiritual burden imposed by the Pharisees: so many unbearable rules that even the Pharisees themselves could not adhere to them. That’s one of the reasons Jesus called them hypocrites.

God’s opposition to the burden of man-made rules
Why would God, whom Jesus represented when He spoke, want to limit the number of rules we have to follow? Why is God so offended when we add more rules to His rules? Matthew 23:13-14 gives us the answer: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.” (NRSV)
How could it be that these Pharisees, who tried to keep everyone from doing anything that might have led to sin, were actually keeping people out of the kingdom of heaven?
Is it because they told people to follow the laws that God gave through Moses? No, these laws were required by God.
Is it because the Pharisees taught legalism (some Protestants define legalism as trying to earn one’s own salvation by doing the works of the law rather than by placing faith in Christ)? No, legalism was the only option at the time, because Jesus had not yet made His sacrifice on the cross when He made this statement.
Here’s how the Pharisees locked people out of heaven: the Pharisees’ numerous man-made rules created such a burden on the worshipers of God that they drove God’s people away from Him and distracted them from performing His will.
That’s a thought we Christians rarely have today. It’s worth repeating: man-made religious rules drive us away from God and distract us from doing His will.
How do they drive us away from God? By making the Christian life unrealistically difficult. Christianity is tough enough to follow as it is. Biblical rules are hard to obey, because we must control our selfish desires so as not to harm others. How many people fail to follow Christ because the man-made rules added to Christianity make the Christian life twice as difficult as it has to be? I’ve known numerous people who have refused to even consider becoming a Christian because of a non-biblical rule or belief that they thought they would have to adhere to if they converted.
How many others follow Christ, but leave the Church after collapsing under the weight of man-made rules imposed by Christian leaders? I’ve known Christians to leave due to their church’s restraints on who they could associate with, or what kind of music they could listen to, or where they could go on Friday night, etc.
How do man-made religious rules distract us from doing God’s will? They divert our mental and physical energy away from it. Every minute that a preacher spends proclaiming a non-biblical rule is a minute that could be used to proclaim the will of God. Every ounce of effort devoted to obeying man-made religious rules is an ounce of effort that could be devoted to serving the will of God. Christians who focus on these non-biblical rules think they are doing right before God when, in reality, they have no idea how far from God’s will their behavior really is.
Many Christians are distracted from doing God’s will, because they’ve been driven into deep spiritual depression. I know this from my own experiences.
Why was I so depressed?
Because, I felt enormous guilt for not being able to live up to the standards of the church.
What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that those rules that oppressed my soul were man-made! I would have loved and served God, rather than resenting and turning away from Him, if only I had known the freedom that God intended for me.
When we add man-made rules to God’s rules and promote those rules as God’s law, we imitate the Pharisees. We, too, become guilty of locking people out of the kingdom of heaven. We keep people from ever considering the faith, drive out those who attend our churches; and for those who stay in the church, we minimize their effectiveness by distracting them from the biblical will of God.

The Greatest Commandment
What is the biblical will of God? To provide a thorough answer to this question, I’d have to quote every law and instruction in the Bible, and that would take up quite a bit of space. Fortunately, Jesus summed it up in Matthew 22:34-40: “But when the Pharisees heard that He [Jesus] had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole law and the Prophets.’”
The first commandment, to love God with all your heart, is fairly simple to apply to daily life. It requires few actions, but does require us to be fully committed to Him and only Him―to love Him, adore Him, admire Him, etc. The actions resulting from our love for God are worship, prayer, and taking time to appreciate all that He has done for us and has done in the universe.
The second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, is where most of the rules come into play. (Notice that Jesus volunteered this commandment, even though the lawyer had not asked Him for the two greatest commandments. Jesus did this because it’s every bit as important as the first one).God created a human race that He loves. He hates it when we cause each other to suffer. That’s why Jesus says, in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me,” and in verse 45, He says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” When we love others, we love God; when we hurt others, we offend God.
God originally desired for us a society of love and happiness. If all people obeyed every biblical law perfectly, we would never suffer from the actions of others, and life would be great. Even God’s sex and marriage laws exist for the purpose of protecting others from the harmful effects of our selfishness. If all people obeyed them perfectly, none of us would contract sexually transmitted diseases, single mothers wouldn’t struggle to raise their children by themselves, men wouldn’t be forced to pay child support for kids they rarely get to see, and children wouldn’t grow up lacking family support. Many life-ruining events result from our disobedience to God’s sex and marriage laws, and God wishes to spare us from these painful experiences. Contrary to what some Christians have said, God didn’t create AIDS to punish homosexuals; He prohibited homosexual sex so that nobody would get AIDS!
The most remarkable verse of Jesus’ quote is the last one, “On these two commandments depend the whole law and the Prophets.” Jesus meant that all the rules in the Bible, from the Old Testament law, to the sayings of the prophets, to the quotes from Jesus, to the letters of the Apostles, exist solely for the purpose of protecting our fellow humans from any harm that we might bring their way, or exist for the purpose of loving God. Jesus omits the third option here: that God makes pointless rules because He’s a picky, demanding, selfish god who doesn’t care how much we have to suffer to make Him happy.
Every rule from God serves a practical purpose. We are not required to follow pointless, oppressive rules as a means of proving to God that we are worthy of His forgiveness. The people of the Old Testament had to do that, as they were required to follow numerous ritualistic rules in order to atone for sins. These rules were often tedious, but they were necessary in earning forgiveness from God. Fortunately for us, atonement rituals are unnecessary, since Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atones for our sins if we believe in Him. Therefore, every rule from God exists so that we may love Him and love others as we love ourselves.
The Greatest Commandment is not an isolated verse like those that often lead us astray when taken out of biblical context. It appears eight times in the Bible. Here are the remaining seven:

Mark 12:28-31, “And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
Context: The scribe responds by agreeing with Jesus and stating that loving God and others is far greater than observing such routines as offering sacrifices. We cannot be certain whether this discussion is the same one recorded in Matthew 22.

Luke 10:25-29, “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly, do this and you will live.’ But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
Context: This quote is sandwiched between the story of Jesus sending out 70 people to spread the Gospel and the parable of the Good Samaritan. It appears to describe a third instance in which Jesus emphasizes the Greatest Commandment.
Analysis: Jesus ties the Greatest Commandment to salvation, because it represents the core of the Christian life. If we fail to love God and others, we are probably not saved.

Leviticus 19:17-18, “You shall not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart; you shall surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people. But you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.”
Context: These verses are included in a listing of miscellaneous laws.
Analysis: This is the Bible’s original “love your neighbor” verse. Notice that the first line addresses hatred in one’s heart and that these verses do not promote tedious rules as a way of loving others.

Matthew 7:12, “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the law and the Prophets.”
Context: This quote is from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It follows His statement that God will give good things to those who ask Him.
Analysis: Here Jesus encourages us to imagine ourselves in the place of others. When we do so, we place the interests of others on the same level as our own, and thus love our neighbors as ourselves.

Romans 13:8, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”
Context: The verses leading up to these address obedience to the government, and the verses that follow create a sense of urgency for the Roman believers.
Analysis: Jesus’ claim that the law and the prophets were summed up in loving God and others was no misprint or misinterpretation. In these verses, the Apostle Paul supports the same concept. The Apostles never indicate that the law exists for any other purpose or for no purpose at all.

Galatians 5:13-15, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.”
Context: In this chapter, Paul addresses the issue of circumcision as well as the quarreling among the church members over it.
Analysis: Paul probably omitted the purpose of loving God here, because so few laws specifically address it.
Almost all laws address our relationships with each other. Paul made it clear to the Galatians that the laws exist for the primary purpose of loving others. In other words, the “whole law”—every law—exists for one another’s benefit.
Knowing that the entire law is to make us love our neighbors as ourselves, we can conclude that this law is created for our well-being, not for God’s. So the principle that Jesus applies to the Sabbath when He says, “…The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath [Mark 2:27-28],” applies to the entire law. When Jesus said this, He was correcting the Pharisees’ erroneous belief that the purpose of the Sabbath was to make us sacrifice our freedom to please God.
Jesus lends further support to this theology in Matthew 12:7-8, when He says to the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, not sacrifice.…’” Again, God wasn’t looking for us to “sacrifice” our enjoyment, freedom, etc. by observing strict Sabbath rules. Rather, He created the Sabbath out of His “compassion” for us.
This can be said of all of God’s law. God takes no pleasure in limiting our activities. He takes offense, however, when we hurt each other. Obedience to the law benefits God in that He is pleased when we forsake selfish desires in order to ease or prevent the suffering of others.
There’s a reason that Jesus refers to God as our “Father.” Just like any caring parent, He wants His children to treat each other well and to have a loving relationship with Him. The purpose of the law is really that simple.

James 2:8, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
Context: James warns Christians against favoring the rich over the poor.
Analysis: James lends addition biblical support to the Greatest Commandment. But like Paul, he does not mention loving “God with all of your heart” since nearly all laws address our relationships with others.

Having to worry about nothing more than loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we are now free from the burdens and distractions of man-made religious laws, thanks to Jesus. As we encounter man-made rules throughout this website, ask yourself how they result in better loving our neighbors. I assure you that you will not find one man-made Christian rule, practice, or belief that is designed to love or protect other people. Man-made rules serve no other purpose than to distract us from God’s will and drive us away from Him completely.

Christian Freedom (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Freedom in Christ
We often hear Christians use the phrase freedom in Christ, but not to speak of the freedoms we have examined thus far: the freedom from having to obey man-made laws and the freedom from the ill effects of each other’s sins. Instead, they refer to either freedom from sin or freedom from the law. That’s because the word freedom is most often used in the New Testament to describe these aspects of the Christian life. Using the Every-Verse Method, let’s examine the concept of freedom (sometimes translated as “liberty”) in Christ as it occurs throughout the New Testament.

Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.”
Context: This quote appears to be unrelated to the preceding passage directed toward unrepentant cities or to the Sabbath day issues which follow.
Analysis: Just as the burdens imposed by the Pharisees were not physical but spiritual, the rest which Jesus promises is spiritual as well. He is not offering freedom from manual labor, nor is He promising rest in heaven. His easy yoke is one which is free of man-made religious rules.

Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden.”
Context: Jesus opens a speech in a synagogue with a quote from Isaiah, the prophet, and uses this verse to speak of Himself as He says, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Analysis: “To set free those who are downtrodden” cannot refer to monetary oppression or slavery, since Jesus’ ministry was not an economic one. When an economically impoverished person becomes a Christian, their poverty does not disappear. The freedom here has to be spiritual.

John 8:31-36, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.’”
Context: Jesus addresses Jews who had not believed Him and who questioned how He could make them free when they had never been slaves.
Analysis: This is the first Bible verse in which Jesus speaks of freedom from sin. God’s rules are not only for the sake of those we may hurt, but some are for our own good, as well. We all know the destructive power of addictions, but other sins, like pride, vengeance, and overall selfishness also diminish our freedom. In Christ, we are free from being controlled by sin, because we are now controlled by the Holy Spirit, who we receive as believers in Jesus.

Acts 15:28-29, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourself free from these things, you will do well.”
Context: As the Apostles meet at the Council of Jerusalem, they decide to avoid laying unnecessary burdens upon the Gentile (non-Jewish) converts. The greatest of these is circumcision, which had been required for the Jews since the days of Abraham.
Analysis: Here the Holy Spirit frees the Gentile converts from pointless man-made rules, and He even frees them from having to be circumcised, as the Old Testament required. The only acts forbidden in this quote were the worship service rituals of the Greco-Roman religion from which the Gentile believers had converted. The Gentile Christians were given this freedom for the sake of growing the church. Had circumcision been required, Christianity may not have spread as successfully as it did throughout the Roman Empire.

Romans 6:7, “…for he who has died is free from sin.”
Romans 6:18, “And having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Romans 6:22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”
Context: The Apostle Paul describes how Christians are to die to sin and live for Christ.
Analysis: A few verses later, in verse 14, Paul summarizes by stating, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” Sin is not to control us. God is.

Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
Context: The Apostle Paul explains the difference between being under the law and under control of the flesh, versus living life through the Holy Spirit and through the grace of Christ.
Analysis: This is the first Bible verse that speaks of freedom from the law. We are free from having to live up to the impossible standards of the Old Testament law, which no person can perfectly obey. Therefore, we are justified by believing in Jesus rather than by earning points before God through obedience to the law.

1 Corinthians 8:9, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Context: Paul addresses a church controversy regarding the eating of meat that had been offered in sacrificial ceremonies to Roman or Greek gods.
Analysis: This verse implies that Paul (and perhaps other Apostles) had been preaching a message of freedom from man-made rules. This freedom was apparently extended to defy the command in Acts 15:28-29 (see above) to abstain from meat that had been sacrificed to idols. A problem resulted, which I will explore in the Alcohol study.

1 Corinthians 10:28-30, “But if anyone should say to you, ‘This meat is sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s, for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?”
Context: Once again, Paul discusses meat offered to idols.
Analysis: Apparently, some Christians were slandering others who ate meat that had been offered to idols. Paul argues that nobody has the right to pass judgment on another person’s freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:15-17, “But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Context: Paul again compares the letter of the law given through Moses in the Old Testament to the grace of the new covenant given through Jesus Christ.
Analysis: The liberty to which Paul refers is our freedom from having to live or die by the letter of the Mosaic Law, now that we are covered by Christ’s sacrifice and the grace that goes with it.

Galatians 2:4, “But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”
Context: Paul describes his involvement in the council at Jerusalem in which the Apostles decided that Gentile (non-Jewish) converts could remain uncircumcised upon becoming Christians.
Analysis: The liberty to which Paul refers is the freedom from the ritual of circumcision that had subjected the Jews to the letter of the Old Testament law. Under Christ, this ritual no longer needed to be followed, because Jesus brought about a new covenant, the sign of which was baptism rather than circumcision.

Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Context: Paul continues to address the circumcision issue.
Analysis: Paul promotes freedom as a central theme in Christianity. It’s one of the main reasons Christ came to earth. According to this verse, Christ not only set us free, but He came to earth with the intent to do so. He set us free for no other reason than that God desires to us to be free. Thanks to this freedom, we no longer need to obsess over every little possibility that we might sin. The Old Testament law still applies to us (“How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2), but we no longer have to be perfect in it to be saved from God’s wrath on Judgment Day. The Jews, who were under the burden of the Old Testament law, had to worry over such things. That’s why the Pharisees added so many man-made rules to God’s law. But we are free from the bondage of the man-made rules, thanks to Jesus.

James 1:25, “But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become an effectual hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.”
Context: James calls Christians to perform God’s will and not merely listen to good preaching.
Analysis: The “perfect law, the law of liberty” is consistent with Paul’s theology of being free from the law through Christ.

Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver [‘free’ in the NRSV] those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all of their lives.”
Context: The writer explains how Jesus was rendered lower than angels by coming to earth and then became our high priest, “to make propitiation for the sins of the people [verse 17].”
Analysis: What does it mean to be “subject to slavery” due to “fear of death?” Since everybody on earth dies sooner or later, this verse cannot address death on earth. It can only address eternal death. How are we then “subject to slavery” by fearing eternal death? We are enslaved by barely being able to move without chancing sin. James 2:10 says, “Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” And we know from Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” So if committing one sin leads to eternal death, then anyone aspiring to eternal life must be paralyzed with fear, knowing that they can’t screw up even once. But thanks to Jesus bearing that punishment for us through His death on the cross, our sins no longer bring about eternal death if we believe in Him. Since that is the case, we no longer have to fear sin and no longer have to follow man-made rules designed to keep us from sin.

1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”
Context: Peter urges Christians to submit to the authority of the government and to others who hold earthly authority over them.
Analysis: Even though Christians are free from man-made religious rules, they are still to obey the government and other earthly authority in order to set a good example.

Christian Freedom (Bible Study) – Part 3

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]

The Four Fundamental Freedoms
Now that we have reviewed the Bible’s freedom verses, as well as Jesus’ sayings and actions, we can look back and find the Four Fundamental Freedoms of the Christian Faith:
1. Freedom from sin’s control
2. Freedom from the ill effects of each other’s sins
3. Freedom from fear of breaking the law
4. Freedom from man-made religious rules
Most theologically conservative Christians (those who hold to traditional beliefs) understand the concept of freedom from sin’s control. It means that the Holy Spirit enables us to obey God rather than obey our sinful desires. Where Christians often falter is in the application of being free from the law, and understandably so. At first glance, being free from the law appears to mean that we no longer have to obey the law and are free to do what we want. Of course, this interpretation is contrary to the rest of the Bible, and it is especially contrary to the concept of being free from sin, since the definition of sin is “breaking God’s law.” Thanks to this apparent contradiction, many Christians ignore the concept of being free from the law and focus only on the concept of being free from sin. They then use “freedom from sin” as a reason to enforce man-made Christian rules.
The proper approach for Christians is to fully enjoy both freedom from sin and freedom from fear of the law. How does this look in everyday life? Since we are guided by the Holy Spirit and not governed by sin (Freedom #1), we do our best to avoid breaking the laws of the Bible. When we obey biblical law, we free others from the harmful impact of our sins (Freedom #2), as Jesus implied when discussing The Greatest Commandment. But since we no longer have to fear breaking the law (Freedom #3), thanks to the grace we have received through Christ, we are free from having to follow man-made rules designed to keep us from breaking it (Freedom #4).

The Freedom Defeaters
If most of us Bible-believing Christians are familiar with stories of Jesus’ opposition to man-made religious rules, why do we continue to embrace these rules rather than enjoy our freedom in Christ? There’s no single answer to that question, but I’m about to share with you four reasons why Bible-believers deny themselves and others the freedom that God intended for us. I call them the Freedom Defeaters.

Sin-preventionisms are man-made religious rules designed to keep people from sinning. A sin-preventionism results from turning something that is not a sin into a sin in order to prevent a sin. Their enforcers claim that these man-made religious rules are from God, and they claim that anyone disobeying these rules sins against God.
The Pharisees’ law requiring the washing of hands before eating was a sin-preventionism. It was designed to keep people from breaking the law that disallowed the eating of unclean foods. Their Sabbath day laws limiting how far a person could walk or how much a person could carry (“It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet,” said the Jews in John 5:10) were also sin-preventionisms. They were designed to keep people from breaking the Sabbath day commandment.
As I stated earlier, Jesus had no regard for the sin-preventionisms of the Pharisees. He broke them in plain view of everyone and criticized the Pharisees for “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men [Matthew 15:9].” Jesus’ opposition to sin-preventionisms conflicts with the attitudes of most Bible-believing Christians today. We believe that any act that might somehow lead to sin is forbidden. If drinking a drop of alcohol might somehow lead a person to become a drunk, it is forbidden for everyone. If listening to a certain song might somehow lead as person to think an evil thought, it is forbidden for everyone.
To most of us, sin-preventionisms make sense. Sinning is bad; therefore, we conclude that anything that might lead to sin is bad. I would have to agree with this way of thinking, if it weren’t for Jesus’ opposition to it. His teachings and examples show us that God thinks differently than we do, because, unlike many Christians, God hates sin-preventionisms.
Why does God oppose sin-preventionisms?
One reason is that they don’t prevent sin. We assume that we know exactly which acts and thoughts will lead us to sin when, in reality, only God understands such things perfectly. We Christians commit sins every day, even when we obey sin-preventionisms. Not only do we commit sins like arrogance and judgmentalism, for which there are no sin-preventionisms, but some of us commit sins of sex, violence, and greed, despite having followed the sin-preventionisms as instructed. The Pharisees are biblical proof that perfect obedience to sin-preventionisms fails to prevent sinful behavior and sinful hearts.
The other reason God hates sin-preventionisms is that He wants us to be free from the fear of sinning and from pointless suffering(as we discussed previously), so we need not imprison ourselves by adding rules to God’s rules to prevent sin.
Why does God want us to be free?
Because He loves us! That’s why.
How amazing is it that God loves us so much that He hates to see us weighed down with an overabundance of oppressive rules? Why do we still think, even if it is in the back of our minds, that God is happy when we are unhappy, that God likes to see us suffer out of our fear of sinning, or that He wants us to suffer to prove our worth? It is the other religions of the world which oppress their people with pointless man-made rules. Christianity is so much better than that!
God is indeed a loving Father who wants His children to be happy. No good father cares about himself more than he cares about his children. Likewise, God created the law not out of His selfishness, but out of His selflessness. When He made the rules, He made them to protect His children from harming one another or from ruining themselves. He did not make the rules so that His children would suffer to please Him. Isn’t this purpose of the law what we should expect from a God who made a personal sacrificed on the cross so that His children may have eternal life? God’s nature is consistent! In everything He does, He places our well-being ahead of His!

Measurable Sins/Sin-Boundaries
A measurable sin is the breaking of any law that can be measured or the crossing of any boundary that is not to be crossed. Unlike sin-preventionisms, which are unbiblical, the Bible contains some measurable sins. For example, the sin of stealing is measurable. We can measure the quantity that has been stolen, and we can count how many times the sin occurred. We can, in most cases, draw a boundary that, if crossed, transforms a person from being a law-abiding citizen into a law-breaking thief. In other words, you either steal or you don’t steal. There is no grey area (in reality, there are some grey areas, like borrowing and forgetting to return).
Almost every world religion has measurable sins, and every country has laws in which the crossing of certain boundaries is forbidden. What makes Christianity so special, however, is that its laws tend to be immeasurable. They address the intentions of our hearts. The first occurrence of an immeasurable law in the Bible is the 10th Commandment, “You shall not covet…” The Bible later shows that God also hates such immeasurable sins as arrogance, jealousy, hatred, and gluttony. With these sins, it is impossible to set a sin boundary. For example, we can’t count how many arrogances and jealousies we commit in a day.
Immeasurable biblical sins tend to frustrate us, because many of us desire to be perfect before God in our deeds and want to have the ability to identify our sins and then eliminate them, a goal that’s more easily accomplished when our sins have well-defined boundaries. However, God didn’t make it that easy. He is most concerned with the intentions of our hearts, from which all sorts of evil originate. But rather than focus on the difficult task of overcoming these sins of the heart, we focus on the much easier task of eliminating man-made sins that have clear-cut boundaries.
Just as Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees, were guilty of creating sin-preventionisms, they were also guilty of dwelling on measurable sins while ignoring the sins of the heart. Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, “…you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness….”
These weightier matters of which Jesus spoke are hard to measure. The Pharisees excelled at performing measurable duties like tithing and fasting, but they failed miserably at obeying these weightier immeasurable matters of the law. How similar are we to the Pharisees in this regard? Isn’t it a lot easier for us to follow a bunch of rules than it is to change our behavior and attitudes? We can just put our minds and souls on cruise-control and follow the same old routine, while having cold hearts toward others, as the Pharisees did.

Penitent Deeds
God has a given us great freedom in this life that many people find hard to accept. Other religions of the world heap loads of strict, pointless rules upon the shoulders of their members. These rules often make little sense, but most people feel that the more they restrict their activities, the more pleasing they are to their gods. They have to avoid enjoyment as a way of punishing themselves for their sins, so their gods will lessen the severity of their impending judgment. They don’t have a savior to bear that punishment for them as we have in Jesus Christ.
Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, in which He bore God’s wrath for our sins, we don’t have to make pointless sacrifices to please or appease God. To be justified in His sight, we only have to repent (through Christ) of our sins. Any sacrifices we make to please God don’t count, because they are overshadowed and nullified by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. If we make the sacrifice of abstaining from something good, we are no more pleasing to God than if we enjoy it.
Unfortunately, the chains that bind the believers of other religions have found their way into conservative Protestant Christianity. Even though we Protestants claim not to believe in penance as Roman Catholics do, we often find ourselves practicing our own form of penance: not one where we have to inflict punishment upon ourselves to appease God, but a penance in which we deny ourselves a non-sinful pleasure or make up a new rule in order to please Him. It’s as though the Roman Catholics give themselves spankings, while we Protestants make ourselves go to bed without dinner. We don’t have to go without anything to please God. That’s not to say that we can’t replace a pleasure in our lives with an activity that serves Him. For example, we can spend less time watching sports and more time helping those in need. But for us to give up watching sports, just for the sake of giving it up, is of no value to God.
It’s sad to see people who have a great love for God try to please Him by creating more restrictions for themselves, and thus, place heavier shackles on their souls. They simply have the unbiblical idea that the more rules they follow, the happier God is. They fail to realize that they can do nothing to further please Him, because Christ did it all for them on the cross. What’s even worse is when those in ministry promote man-made religious rules, so that their followers are robbed of the freedoms that God intended for them out of His love. In addition to that, non-Christians see us pointlessly denying ourselves good things, so they refuse to give Christianity a chance, because they want to avoid such self-imposed suffering.

Wearing the Christian Uniform
Imagine an army that neither defends nor helps anyone, an army in which each soldier does nothing but recruit other members; and once they succeed in bringing in a recruit, they dress him in an army uniform and make him a full-time recruiter, too. I can’t help but liken some forms of Evangelical Christianity (which focuses primarily on recruiting new Christians) to an army consisting only of recruiters. I fully support bringing people into the flock. I am not opposed to evangelism. It’s the uniform that new recruits are told to wear that concerns me.
Many Evangelicals believe that once a person becomes a Christian, they have to look like a Christian—they have to wear the Christian uniform; and since the new recruit is born again, that is, starting a new life in Christ, his or her new life must result in a new lifestyle. While repenting of sins and having a changed heart are biblical requirements for a new believer, many new believers are forced to go beyond that and follow new rules and routines not required by the Bible. It’s as though their entire daily existence must change as evidence of their new life in Christ—they must look different than the rest of the world.
As I have opposed man-made Christian rules over the years by demonstrating that they are unbiblical, numerous conservative Protestants have opposed my view by arguing, “Christians are supposed to be set apart. If we don’t follow these rules, we will look just like the rest of the world.” Their argument, however, couldn’t be more incorrect. Plenty of biblical rules will set us apart from everyone else if we obey them. These rules are not pointless restrictions, like the man-made rules. Rather, they are intended by God to ensure that we love Him and love our fellow human beings. When we follow pointless man-made religious rules, that’s when we look like the rest of the world’s religions who do the same.
The belief that we need to wear the Christian uniform is not only a common modern-day misconception among God’s people, it was a common misconception during Jesus’ time, too. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus exposed the Pharisees by saying, “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly, you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” While this verse does not detail exactly what it was the Pharisees were doing, it’s clear that they were following man-made rules and practices that made them appear righteous to others. Meanwhile, they failed live the life God required. Like some of today’s Christians, they might have argued, “If we don’t follow these (man-made) rules, we will look just like the rest of the world.” But God wasn’t concerned about whether or not they looked righteous to outsiders. He was concerned about whether or not they actually were righteous on the inside.

When we let the Freedom Defeaters control our lives and the lives of others, we create a barrier between God and His children. Like many Christians, I used to think to myself, “The only reason I’m a Christian is so I don’t go to hell. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t adhere to all of these unbearable rules.” In those days, I loved God because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. And that’s not true love.
Today, now that I know how God puts our needs ahead of His, I love God because I love what He’s all about. I’m a Christian because I think Christianity is the most beautiful religion in the world. I don’t live a biblical lifestyle out of a selfish fear of where I’ll spend eternity; I live it out of a desire for a loving relationship with God and others, and to make life better for everyone involved.

Divorce & Remarriage (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
When I moved from my home town of Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Belmont University in the fall of 1990, I experienced unanticipated culture shock as my life in the land of nominal Christianity gave way to life in the Bible Belt. Thrilled to be among other Christians my age, I immersed myself in conservative Protestant doctrine and lifestyle, and I learned the verses upon which they were based. One of those verses was, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery [Luke 16:18].”
As a young man looking for a wife, these verses convinced me that marrying a divorced woman was the worst thing I could do, because every time I made love to her, adultery would result. I feared that marrying a divorced woman would force me to live in sin for the rest of my life and risk eternal hellfire.
Nonetheless, most conservative Protestant churches allowed remarriage of the divorced. Their only defense of this practice was to say that mercy allowed those who committed the sin of divorce to remarry. Like many Bible-believing Christians, I disagreed with them, because Luke 16:18 didn’t label the divorce as sin, but the remarriage. So I believed that churches intentionally sinned by performing second marriages in the name of grace, because Romans 6:1 says, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”
This thinking dominated my pursuit of women for many years and forced me to leave divorced women to their loneliness. But thanks to my study of this issue by applying the Every-Verse Method to it, the Bible has since changed my beliefs.

Leviticus 21:7, “They [priests] shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God…”
Leviticus 21:13-14, “He [the priest] shall marry only a woman who is a virgin. A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, a prostitute, these he shall not marry. He shall marry a virgin of his own kin.”
Context: Chapter 21 contains various laws that apply only to priests.
Analysis: These commands only apply to priests. They do not apply to Protestant Christians, because Jesus is our eternal high priest. Priests had the job of seeking atonement for the sins of their people, and Jesus now does that for us. None of us are seen as priests in God’s eyes—saints maybe, but not priests.
We could look at these verses and argue that the holiest marriage is to a virgin, and we Christians need to strive for that, because the New Testament tells Christians to be holy. But to be holy is to obey the law (in Leviticus 19:2, God presents the law to the Israelites with the reasoning, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”) And no statement in the law declares that it’s a sin for any non-priest (that would be all of us) to marry someone who is divorced, widowed, or defiled by prostitution.
The difference between God’s laws for the priests and His laws for the common people demonstrates that God sees a difference between sin and imperfection. A sin occurs any time we break God’s laws. Sins invoke God’s wrath, and the wages of sin is death. Imperfections, on the other hand, fall short of God’s original design. They are not sins, and there exists no punishment for them. By these verses, we can determine that it’s God’s design for everyone to be virgins until married, but that it’s okay to marry anyone who is divorced, widowed, or defiled by prostitution.
Some Christians might oppose this point by quoting Matthew 5:48, which says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” However, if we apply the Every-Verse Method to this argument, we find that no other verse in the Bible tells us to be perfect as God is, but that many tell us to avoid sin. Since being as perfect as God is impossible, we must conclude that Jesus made this statement to convince His listeners that they could not hope to please God through their own efforts; their only hope for justification was the grace that would ultimately come through Jesus.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her [‘indecency’ in the NASB], and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who marries her dies); her first husband who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord…”
Context: Chapter 24 is another collection of miscellaneous laws.
Analysis: This passage is the one that Jesus’ opponents reference in Matthew 19:7. Jesus’ response of, “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery,” is consistent with this verse referring to a man divorcing his wife “because he finds something objectionable about her [‘indecency’ in the NASB].” This verse allows a man to divorce his wife only if she has done something indecent, not for any reason whatsoever.
This verse does, however, allow for remarriage of women who have been divorced. If remarriage were a sin, a severe punishment would be required for it (for example, adultery was punishable by death), but that is not the case here. What is a sin, according to this verse, is when a twice-divorced woman returns to her original husband for re-marriage. It’s uncertain why this is a sin. Perhaps it’s because going from one man to another and back again is similar to a woman committing adultery and returning to her husband.

Ezra 10:10-11, “Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.’”
Context: The princes of Israel approached Ezra, informing him of how so many of the Israelites had been sinning by marrying non-Israelites.
Analysis: The princes’ concern was “that the holy race had intermingled with the people of the lands.” While we cannot find any verses in which God opposes inter-marrying due to racial objectives, we do know that He opposed inter-marrying with other faiths.
Surprisingly, people were told to separate from their wives—the equivalent of divorce. We cannot be sure, however, whether or not God was speaking through Ezra at this point in time. We know that Ezra was His prophet, but we cannot assume that every word proceeding from Ezra’s mouth was God’s word. Ezra didn’t say that God gave this command.

Jeremiah 3:1, “‘If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ says the Lord.”
Context: Through the prophet Jeremiah, God compares the unfaithful Israelites to a woman who leaves her husband, marries another man, and then returns to her first husband. This verse is not intended to be about an individual’s sexual conduct, but is one of many prophetic verses comparing the unfaithfulness of the Israelites to the sexual unfaithfulness of an individual.
Analysis: This quote lends support to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Malachi 2:14-16, “Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves; and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, say the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”
Context: God’s explains why He looks upon the sacrifices of the Jews with disfavor.
Analysis: Even though this is the first verse of the Bible in which God says that He hates divorce, that doesn’t mean He didn’t hate it all along. He only allowed it in Deuteronomy when the wife did something indecent. God never allowed no-fault divorce.

Divorce & Remarriage (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Matthew 5:31-32, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Context: Sermon on the Mount. In chapter five, Jesus applies well-known sayings, some of which were based on Old Testament laws, to daily life.
Analysis: Jesus’ statement here is consistent with the law given in Deuteronomy 24. Divorce was not to be done casually, but was to occur only under severe circumstances. Notice, however, how Jesus says that a man who divorces his wife “causes her to commit adultery.” While I hesitate to build a theology from one little word or phrase, this statement implies that the woman has no choice but to remarry. Jesus says nothing of the woman having the choice to stay single after the divorce.

Matthew 19:3-9, “Some Pharisees came to him, to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’”
Context: This is one of many unrelated stories appearing in this part of Matthew. With this story, there may be a backdrop that we tend to miss but can piece together by looking elsewhere in the Gospels. We see in verse 3 that the Pharisees, Jesus’ opponents, are testing Him as they ask about divorce. They ask not because of their curiosity, but because they are up to no good. By asking Jesus about divorce, they may have hoped to get Him in trouble.
If we read Luke, chapter 14, it tells us how King Herod the Tetrarch (the son of Herod the Great, who reigned at the time of Jesus’ birth) had John the Baptist thrown into prison and later beheaded, because he had told King Herod that it was wrong for him to have divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife. The Pharisees would have loved to see Jesus suffer the same fate as John the Baptist. Whichever answer Jesus could have given them presented danger for Him. If He had supported divorce for any cause, He would have been in conflict with the Old Testament law He claimed to support. If He had opposed divorce, the King might have imprisoned or killed Him.
Analysis: Never one to shy away from the truth just to avoid danger, Jesus explained that He opposed no-fault divorce. Jesus’ first answer raises few eyebrows. However, His second answer (regarding Moses) stirs debate. Was Moses wrong to allow divorce? If so, was Moses giving his own law rather than God’s law? If he was, is the book of Deuteronomy wrong for claiming that the law came from God and not from Moses’ own thoughts?
As we see in Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus fully supported the Old Testament, so He could not have been disagreeing with Moses when responding to the Pharisees. Divorce under severe circumstances is still permissible, and so is remarriage. God did not intend for marriages to be broken, but the “hard-hearted” nature of humans sometimes leaves us no choice but to divorce. We incorrectly assume that this “hard-hearted” nature refers to our willingness to divorce, when, in reality, it refers to our sin nature which inspires us to sin in ways that destroy marriages. That’s why Moses permitted divorce.

Mark 10:2-12, “Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”
Context: This encounter with the Pharisees is likely to be the same one recorded in Matthew 19. The order of the events in Mark parallel those in Matthew. And this story is again followed by the story of the rich, young ruler.
Analysis: The wording of this version of the story differs slightly from the Matthew 19 account. The main difference is that Mark includes an account of a later discussion between Jesus and His disciples. Here, Jesus places the sin of the divorce on the divorcer and not the divorcee, regardless of whether the divorce is initiated by the man or the woman.
The other major difference between this account and the accounts in Matthew is the lack of the phrase, “except for unchastity.” This divorce quote in Mark indicates that the divorcer is always the one acting in sin, whereas the Matthew quotes let the divorcer off the hook if the divorcee has committed adultery. This difference is yet another example of why the Every-Verse Method is so important. By examining the quote in Mark alone, we would draw the wrong conclusion about divorce resulting from adultery. But by examining all the quotes in the Bible which address divorce, we get a clearer picture of God’s will.

Luke 16:18, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
Context: The last few verses in Luke 16 seem to be unrelated and thrown together in no particular order. It’s unlikely that Jesus spoke these lines in the order in which they appear in the text.
Analysis: Luke may have chosen not to record Jesus’ divorce quotes as thoroughly as Matthew and Mark did, if he was already aware of the existence of one of those books.
While verses like this one may have been directed toward situations like King Herod’s, there’s another possible interpretation—that sex equals marriage. We see this particularly in Genesis, where the marriages of Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, Jacob and Rachel, and Jacob and Bilhah consisted not of a ceremony led by a pastor, but of the groom having sex with the wife to start the marriage. We also see in Exodus 22:16-17 that “if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife.” Why? Because in God’s eyes, they were already married when they first had sex.
So if this theology is accurate, then divorce and remarriage, as well as promiscuity, would be equivalent to adultery, because a person’s first sexual partner is effectively their spouse; while pre-marital sex would count as marriage and not as sin as long as the couple stayed together for life.
So does this make remarriage a sin? Did Jesus “raise the bar” and make the law way tougher than it had been in the Old Testament?
Not necessarily. Since God’s law allowed for divorce, as we saw in Deuteronomy, divorce and remarriage were never sins. Jesus’ main point here may be that God never intended for marriages to be split. Jesus may have made difficult statements like this one to drive people to humility and grace by showing them that, even when they obeyed the law, they still fell short of impressing God.
Your view on this issue ultimately comes down to whether or not you believe that Jesus came to greatly change, and even contradict, the Old Testament law, or whether you think He came to support it and help others to better understand it. I think He came to do the latter.

Romans 7:2-3, “Thus a married woman is bound to the law by her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning her husband.”
Context: Paul uses these facts to set up an analogy of how Christians are free from the law (our dead husband) and are now joined to Christ (our new husband).
Analysis: These verses lend support the idea that widows are free to remarry.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.”
Context: Paul addresses sex and marriage issues throughout this chapter.
Analysis: Despite the existence of Old Testament laws that allow for remarriage, churches have used this verse to imprison people in terrible marriages for centuries. If churches have been correct in believing this quote to be a universal command from God, then the Old Testament laws allowing re-marriage are in error. But since Paul was well-trained in the Old Testament and wrote in II Timothy, chapter 3, that he fully supported it, this quote cannot be an override of the Old Testament law. For the Bible to be consistent, Paul must have been addressing a specific incident within the Corinthian church in which a woman left her husband without proper cause. In such cases, God forbids divorce, and marrying another counts as adultery.

1 Corinthians 7:12-14, “To the rest I say this—I, and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy [‘sanctified’ in the NASB] through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
Analysis: Paul begins by making it clear that these are his personal instructions and not the word of God. Yet, his advice is consistent with the word of God. God opposes divorce, so Christians should remain united with their non-Christian spouses. For the non-believer to be “sanctified” is not to say that they are saved. To be sanctified is to become more like Christ. It is not the same as being justified in God’s sight as a result of Christ’s sacrifice.

1 Corinthians 7:15-16, “But if an unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.”
Analysis: As we learned in the Gospels, the sin of divorce falls on the divorcer (if the reasons for divorce are illegitimate), not the divorcee. Paul tells Christians to stay with their spouses in verses 12-14. But in verses 15-16, he removes all responsibility from Christians in the event that their non-Christian spouses initiate divorce. By being “not bound,” the divorcees are free to remarry once their spouses divorce them.

This Every-Verse analysis of divorce has given us an excellent example of how we need to examine the whole Bible when establishing our beliefs and not just the New Testament. As Christians, we have a tendency to dwell on the New Testament and ignore the Old, because we believe that we are to model ourselves after the early church. We fail to realize that the New Testament writings apply the Old Testament law to daily life in the times and places in which the New Testament was written. They do not override the Old Testament.

Fasting (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Fasting isn’t exclusive to Christianity. Buddhists, Muslims, Native Americans and people of many other faiths engage in fasting and have done so throughout history. Due to its prevalence worldwide, it’s easy for Christian fasting to resemble the fasting of other religions, both in the way we do it and in our attitudes toward it.
The following study, which examines every fasting passage in the Bible, will surprise most readers. Church teachings about fasting (which, of course, differ from church to church) rarely align with God’s attitudes toward fasting as revealed throughout the Bible. Most churches build their fasting theology around just a few passages while ignoring what the entire Bible has to say about it.
What makes this study so important is that our understanding of God’s attitude toward fasting is key to our understanding of His attitude toward us. If we misunderstand what fasting is all about, we understand what Christianity is all about.

Exodus 34:28, “He [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”
Context: God had Moses write the law on tablets.
Deuteronomy 9:18, “Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the Lord by doing what was evil in his sight.” (The NRSV does not capitalize personal pronouns referring to God or Jesus; therefore, I avoid capitalizing them when quoting the NRSV.)
Context: Moses speaks at length to the Israelites throughout early Deuteronomy. Here, he describes how he pleaded for God to not destroy the Israelites.
Analysis: This is unlike any fasting we do today. The only way to survive a fast of both food and water for 40 days is by being sustained by God. Therefore, it’s difficult to let these passages to influence our behavior.

Judges 20:26, “Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the Lord.”
Context: The Israelites lose 18,000 men in a battle to the Benjaminites.
Analysis: At an unknown point in history, fasting worked its way into Israelite culture. Since God had never commanded it up to this point in time, the Israelites must have adopted it from neighboring civilizations. Some will say that God commanded fasting on the Day of Atonement, but the instructions for that occasion in Leviticus 16 mention no such thing. The Israelites may have chosen to incorporate it into the Day of Atonement, but God never required them to.
In this example, the Israelites fasted out of mourning after suffering heavy loss of life in a battle. Mourning for the dead often included fasting in the ancient Near East. We no longer practice this bereavement ritual today. So we must be careful not to equate this fasting with religious fasting.

1 Samuel 7:6, “So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.”
Context: Samuel had told the Israelites to destroy their idols from foreign religions and they obeyed. They followed the act with this fast.
Analysis: Here we see the first Old Testament example of fasting as a form of penance. It appears to have been done as a demonstration of remorse or as a means of staving off God’s judgment.
We must ask ourselves, however, whether we need to fast to repent since Jesus’ sacrifice stave’s of God’s judgment for us. We know that we no longer need to make sacrifices to receive God’s forgiveness, so makes no sense to fast to receive His forgiveness. Some might argue that we should fast as a sign that we’re sorry, but one would have to think that the New Testament would mention such a requirement since it contains lots of passages explaining repentance and forgiveness.

1 Samuel 31:13, “Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
Context: These bones were those of King Saul, who had just been killed by the Philistines.
Analysis: The Israelites fasted not only when mourning the death of loved ones, but also when mourning the death of kings. Again, this is not a religious fast.

2 Samuel 12:22-23, “He [King David] said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.” But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’”
Context: Through the prophet Nathan, God informed King David that the child born of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba would die. This was God’s discipline, not only for David’s adultery, but also for his murder of Bathsheba’s husband. As the child was sick and dying, David fasted in an attempt to change God’s mind.
Analysis: David gives us the first biblical explanation for fasting: to persuade God. Did it work? No. God administered His discipline of David according to plan, despite David’s attempts to change His mind.
David’s fasting resulted from his own thinking, not from the command of God. Some Christians say that we must follow David’s example and fast, because he was a hero of the Old Testament. But no Bible verses tell us to do that. They only tell us to obey God’s commands.
Nonetheless, from this passage we learn yet another inappropriate reason for fasting—attempting to persuade God to change His mind.

Ezra 8:21, 23, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions… So we fasted and petitioned our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.”
Context: The prophet Ezra prepares to lead people from Babylon back to Judah, once the Babylonian exile had come to an end.
Analysis: Ezra combines fasting with prayer to ask God for guidance and protection on a journey. Apparently, the Israelites had developed a belief that fasting made prayer more effective. In this case, the prayer was effective, but we have no way of determining whether or not the fasting was a factor in God’s decision to protect them.

Ezra 10:6, “Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God, and went to the chamber of Jehohanan son of Eliashib, where he spent the night. He did not eat bread or drink water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.”
Context: God had repeatedly instructed the Jews not to marry people from other nations and religions, but many of them had disobeyed. Ezra was greatly upset by this.
Analysis: This verse informs us that mourning was the reason for this fast. It was not done as a religious ritual. Notice also that this fast, along with some other biblical fasts, includes abstinence from water, something that few Christians incorporate into their fasts today.

Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
Context: Nehemiah heard of Jerusalem’s destruction in the preceding verses.
Analysis: Once again, fasting is added to prayer as a means of increasing its effectiveness. Mourning may be a reason for the fast as well, since Nehemiah is greatly distressed by the news of his homeland’s destruction.

Nehemiah 9:1, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth and with earth on their heads.”
Context: The Israelites spent a day listening to the reading of the Book of the Law, worshipping and confessing their sins before God.
Analysis: Some Christians insist that we fast because the ancient Israelites practiced it. But unlike the fasting practiced by today’s Christians, Old Testament fasting included the wearing of sackcloth and ashes (or in this case, dirt). If we fast because we believe that we are to behave as the ancient Israelites did, then we also should wear sackcloth and ashes like they did.
The purpose of the Israelites wearing of sackcloth and dirt was to inflict humiliation upon themselves. It, along with fasting, was an act of self-imposed suffering intended to appease God. Such self-imposed suffering through fasting and other acts has been common in many other religions as well.

Isaiah 58:3, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Judah. The questions asked here represent the complaints of the people. The final sentence is God’s response.
Analysis: In Isaiah 58, God speaks on the issue of fasting for the first time. He does not command it, as many Christians might expect. Rather, He questions it and downplays its importance. He implies in verse 3 that the Jews’ priorities are out of line. Their fasting fails to gain His favor, because they continue in selfishness and oppression of the poor as they fast.

Isaiah 58:5, “Is this a fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”
Analysis: A paraphrase of this verse: “Did I tell you to fast and look pathetic? Why should I be pleased by your self-imposed suffering?” Just as God grew weary of His people’s animal sacrifices (even though He had commanded them in the Mosaic Law) as they continued in sin, He was unimpressed with their man-made sacrifice of humiliation and self-imposed suffering through fasting.

Isaiah 58:6-7, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
Analysis: God is far more impressed when we love others than when we deny ourselves food. In the study on Greed and Oppression of the Poor, I reveal how far we fall short of satisfying God’s commands to feed the hungry and stop oppressing the poor. Since we fail in this way, should we even bother to fast? If God desires us to fast at all, He desires it far less than He desires that we obey His commandments and help those in need. The fasting that we Christians do today is likely nullified by our selfishness and disregard for the poor.

Joel 1:14, “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
Context: Joel prophecies impending judgment upon God’s people.
Analysis: Like Ezra and Nehemiah, Joel orders a fast. Some might say that these fasts were from God since prophets ordered them. But we must remember that prophets spoke of their own accord, too. Not every word they said was from God. Had the order to fast been preceded by the common Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” then we’d have to conclude that they were God’s orders.

Joel 2:12, 15, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning… Blow a trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.”
Analysis: Here we have God’s only instruction to fast in the Bible. This particular fast (as well as the one in Joel 1:14) was part of a “solemn assembly” in which the Jews gathered to mourn and fast over the suffering that was prophesied to come upon them. Therefore, this fast was an act of mourning rather than an element of worship. The purpose of most fasting in Protestant churches today is not as an act of mourning, and is, therefore, inconsistent with the purposes of Old Testament fasting.
Notice also that this fast appears to be an isolated event rather than a regular practice. God never instructs anyone to fast as a part of their religious routine.

Fasting (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Jonah 3:7-10, “Then he had proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no heard or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; He may turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’ When God saw what they did, and how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”
Context: After surviving in the digestive system of a great fish, Jonah obeyed God and preached repentance to the enemy city of Nineveh, and its inhabitants repented of their sins.
Analysis: These verses give us the reason for this fast in the words, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; He may turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” In this story, God changes His mind, but He probably does so because the people of Nineveh turned away from their evil ways (as the verse says), not because they and their animals fasted.
Some Christians today argue that we should fast as a sign that we are sorry for our sin, much like the Ninevites do here. If it weren’t for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross, they might have a point. The Old Testament covenant, which was given by God, required that animals be sacrificed in order for sins to be forgiven. Fasting was a sacrifice of a different sort that originated from human minds instead of from God’s commands. Once Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, however, God’s people no longer had to make animal sacrifices (which never fully atoned for human sin anyway, because animals were not created in God’s image and, therefore, were not of the same value in God’s eyes). Whether God’s people sacrificed animals or their freedom to eat (fasting), these sacrifices have become worthless before God, because Jesus’ sacrifice covers all of our sins, since He, as the Son of God, is of greater value than any human.

Zechariah 7:5-6, “Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves?”
Context: The Jews, after returning from exile in Babylon, inquired of God whether or not they were to fast as they had in Babylon. Through Zechariah, God replied that they were to no longer fast as they had, but were to conduct themselves properly instead.
Analysis: God indicates that our fasting is for our own benefit and does Him no good, just as our eating and drinking does Him no good.
I’ve known Christians to say that fasting makes them feel closer to God—that every time they experience hunger, they think of Him. If you are one of these Christians, I say this: Fast all you like! It’s not a sin to do so. If it works for you, that’s great! Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that God gets something out of it. He’s far more impressed with you when you follow His commandments and reach out to others in Christ’s love than He is when you fast.
I’ve heard others say that fasting removes toxins from the body and is good for one’s health. If that’s the case, then go ahead and fast! Nothing in the Bible says fasting is a sin. We’re all free to do it if we please. If you love to fast, do so. If you hate to fast, then why burden yourself? You benefit neither yourself nor God with self-imposed suffering.

Zechariah 8:18-19, “The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.”
Context: God promises blessing on the Jews upon their return from exile in Babylon.
Analysis: Here we have the loving nature of God revealed! God replaces the fasts with festivals that likely included feasting. He wants us to enjoy life, not to suffer unnecessarily by denying ourselves food. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard a pastor or Bible study teacher quote either this passage or Isaiah 58 when addressing fasting. We only ever hear one side of the argument when it comes to whether or not to fast.

Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”
Luke 4:1-3, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. The devil said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’”
Context: Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist at the end of chapter 3. Before Jesus could begin His ministry, He had to withstand this great temptation.
Analysis: Many Christians make the mistake of believing that Jesus fasts in this story as a means of gaining strength from God so that He may endure the temptation to come. This belief is in error, because Jesus is the Son of God and has total access to God’s strength without having to fast to obtain it.
The purpose of this fast was to increase the temptation. Had Jesus just eaten before the temptation, He might have responded to Satan by saying, “No thanks. I’m full. I can’t even look at a loaf of bread right now.” But, as the Scriptures say, Jesus “was famished.” His hunger made the temptation much more meaningful than if He had been satisfied.
In most situations, we should try to follow Jesus’ example, but this fast is a rare exception to that rule. Jesus, knowing that He would pass the test of temptation, increased the amount of temptation He faced in order to prove that He was the Son of God. We should never try to increase our own temptation for the obvious reason that we may fail and sin as a result, so we should never emulate Jesus’ 40-day fast.

Matthew 6:16-18, “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you that they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Context: This quote is of Jesus as He gives the Sermon on the Mount. It is the third of three examples that Jesus uses to show that we should not flaunt our piety in order to impress others.
Analysis: This is it—the one Bible verse upon which all fasting promotion is based. Those who insist that we fast say, “Jesus says, ‘When you fast,’ not, ‘If you fast.’”
As I stated in the Every-Verse Method Introduction, we must be careful not to build theologies out of isolated verses, because we may have an improper translation, an unoriginal quote, an inexact quote, or a misunderstanding of context. Here, we can’t prove whether or not we have an improper translation or unoriginal quote, but the possibility for either always exists.
We do know that the Gospels use inexact quotes which vary in wording from Gospel to Gospel, but keep the point of the message intact. This quote from Matthew 6 is absent in the other Gospels, so we cannot compare wording. However, the point of the message, which Jesus conveys with two other examples in this chapter, is that we are not to flaunt our devotion to God so that others may be impressed by it. The focus of this message is pride, not fasting.
As for the context, it’s likely that the recipients of this message, Jesus’ disciples, grew up under the influence of the Pharisees. Since they fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), and they loved to display their devotion to God in front of others, it’s likely that Jesus speaks of them in this quote. He uses the words, “Whenever you fast,” because He’s addressing people who had fasted regularly.
If those who use this verse to insist that we fast are to be consistent in hanging on every word of every quote, then they must refrain from public prayer, because Jesus says in verse 6 of this very same chapter, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Unlike the words, “Whenever you fast,” this verse is a command, because Jesus instructs the people to pray in secret. Yet I know of few Christians who refuse to pray in church services or Bible studies out of obedience to this verse. If they were to do so, they would not defy the Bible, because it neither commands us to pray in groups nor does it give examples of Jesus and His disciples joining together in group prayer.
Most Christians will argue that Jesus uses this private prayer command to discourage showing off our faith, and that He doesn’t intend to forbid group prayer by it. Since nothing else in the Bible forbids group prayer, I’m fine with that argument. In fact, it’s the same argument that I apply to the issue of fasting: Jesus uses the example of fasting to discourage showing off; He is not requiring us to fast.

Matthew 9:14-15, “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”
Mark 2:18-20, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples fast and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”
Luke 5:33-35, “Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’”
Context: In all three Gospels, this story appears to be unrelated to those surrounding it.
Analysis: Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny the claim that His disciples don’t fast. Therefore, we may conclude that they did not fast during His ministry. For many years, I assumed that they fasted regularly after His crucifixion, because Jesus says in these quotes that they will fast when He is gone. But, according to Matthew 9:15 (see above), the fasting of which He speaks is one of mourning like when a bridegroom is taken away. The disciples likely fasted as they mourned His crucifixion, but that fasting came to an abrupt end when they met Him in His resurrected state.
The Bible never records any of Jesus’ twelve disciples fasting. Neither do they recommend, nor even discuss, fasting in Acts or in any of their Epistles.

Acts 13:2-3, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid hands on them and sent them off.”
Context: Paul, who is called Saul for the last time in this verse, is sent by the Holy Spirit on his first missionary journey, and he takes Barnabas with him.
Acts 14:23, “And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”
Context: After successful preaching in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, Paul and Barnabas return to these cities to establish church leadership in each.
Analysis: Having been a former Pharisee, fasting was a way of life for Paul, so he continued to fast after becoming a Christian. Unlike most early Christians who were converted by Jesus’ disciples and their followers, Paul was converted to Christianity through a miraculous vision (Acts 9) and was taught the gospel by revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:12). We cannot assume that He was taught all spiritual knowledge, but that He was taught the gospel. So he may not have realized that fasting was unnecessary, or he may have realized it but continued to do it because he enjoyed it.
Once Paul meets Jesus’ disciples at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the Bible never again records Paul or any other Christians fasting. He may have learned from the disciples that Jesus never required it. At that point he either stopped fasting or, at least, stopped instructing others to fast. In fact, the last 22 books of the Bible, many of which were written by him, make no mention of fasting.

Why Fast?
So what have all of the Bible’s fasting verses taught us?
First, we learned that much of the fasting was not for religious purposes, but was for bereavement or mourning purposes.
Second, we learn that Old Testament fasting was not a regular religious ritual. Fasts only occurred under special circumstances. It wasn’t until the centuries approaching Jesus’ day that the Pharisees made it part of the weekly grind.
Third, we learned that fasting fails to influence God. It can’t change His mind, stave off His judgment, earn His forgiveness, impress Him, or benefit Him.
Fourth, we learned that fasting can be abused, defying God’s will. We should never use it to impose suffering on ourselves, increase temptation, manipulate God, or show off how righteous we are.
So if all of these reasons for fasting are inappropriate, what’s a good reason to fast?
Some will argue that fasting is necessary for development of spiritual discipline. In other words, if we can avoid eating when hungry, we will then be able to avoid sinning when tempted. Paul opposes this idea in Colossians 2:20-23, when he says, “Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with the use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence [‘no value against fleshly indulgence’ in the NASB].”
We cannot prove that Paul speaks of fasting here, but it’s hard to believe that he would use a phrase like “severe treatment of the body” to describe abstinence from pork or some other food that could easily be replaced with a different food. Paul makes it clear that rules and practices involving denial of food are ineffective in preventing sinful behavior, are man-made, and result only in unnecessary suffering. Fasting didn’t keep the Pharisees from sinning (see the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer in Luke 18:9-14); neither will it keep us from it.
The reason fasting is ineffective in preventing sin is that the psychologies behind fasting and sinning differ. When we fast, we give up something good temporarily. With regard to sin, we are to give up something evil permanently. If you’re fasting, and good food tempts you to break the fast, you can resist the temptation by telling yourself that you may have that food many times over when the fast ends. But when presented with an opportunity to sin, you cannot tell yourself that you may indulge in that sin later, because we’re called to put it off forever.
In fact, some sinful temptations are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. For example, if a man is tempted by an amazingly attractive woman, he may reason to himself that he may never have another opportunity like this one if he refuses her advances. Or a man might be tempted to steal money from his corporation or church in a manner that’s unlikely to be detected by anyone else. Heightening this man’s temptation is the knowledge that he’s unlikely to ever have such an opportunity to easily obtain riches again. This temptation is far greater than that of eating while fasting, since we know that we will eat regularly when the fast is over.
Others argue that we should fast, because when we do, we deny ourselves and carry our own crosses as Jesus required of us. I agree that we are to deny ourselves and take up our own crosses. But we must do it like Jesus did. Did Jesus say, “Hey everybody, can you come nail me to this cross? I need to inflict suffering upon myself, because that makes God happy.” No, Jesus simply focused on fulfilling God’s purpose for Him. His ministry sometimes forced Him to have no place to lay His head, and ultimately, He was killed for doing what was right. Likewise, we Christians often have to make sacrifices, giving up money, popularity, etc., in order to carry out God’s will. But we need not give up anything or inflict suffering upon ourselves pointlessly, because Jesus never took up His cross in this manner during His ministry.
Yet another argument in favor of fasting is that we hear God’s voice better when doing so. Most religions throughout history have shared this belief. But the Bible never states that we hear God’s voice better when fasting. The idea that fasting helps you hear God’s voice comes from people who fasted so long (sometimes without water) that they starved their brain and hallucinated and then “saw God” in their hallucination. It’s not much different than taking LSD in order to see God.
Again, why fast? Based on what the Bible teaches us, it’s hard to come up with a good religious reason to do so. The best one I’ve heard is, “Fasting makes me feel closer to God.” If that’s how you feel, by all means, go ahead and fast all you want. You may even encourage others to give it a try. But don’t guilt people into fasting by making them think it’s required by God, because such an argument is a lie, and it may do more harm than good by placing too heavy of a burden on those who find no value in fasting.

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
I know what most people are thinking as they approach this study: “I already give to the needy, so I don’t need to examine all of the greed and oppression verses in the Bible. I get it, already!” Or, “Yes, yes, I know I need to give more, but must I endure a whole study that’s going to guilt me into it?”
The reason you need to read this study is that it’s about so much more than personal giving. Most of the Bible’s greed and oppression verses are intended to influence other parts of our lives, such as our business dealings and even our politics. We Christians tend to let greed and oppression issues take a back seat to issues that we think are more important. And that’s a mistake. I’m about to present to you an overwhelming number of verses that prove it.
The Bible contains so many verses that address greed and oppression of the poor that I will not analyze them all, but I will relate as many of them as possible to modern-day scenarios. I have divided these verses by subject and will begin with a brief analysis of immigration. I will then follow with an examination of every verse that addresses greed, greed of the poor, interest, oppression, God’s judgment of the oppressors, and taxes.


Exodus 22:21, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Context: Included in a listing of various laws.
Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus 25:35, “If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens.”
Context: Chapter 25 addresses the year of Jubilee as well as mercy on the poor.
Ezekiel 22:7, “Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the alien residing within you suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are wronged in you.”
Ezekiel 22:29, “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and the needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress.”
Context: Ezekiel prophesies against Jerusalem.
Zechariah 7:10, “…do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
Context: God appeals to his people to act righteously rather than fast.
Analysis: The Bible’s first oppression verse (Exodus 22:21) strikes at the heart of an American controversy. God expected His people to show kindness to immigrants and to let them live among them as long as they followed the law. God’s reasoning: the Israelites were aliens in Egypt, and they were oppressed by the Egyptians; therefore, they were to have empathy for aliens and treat them as they would want to be treated. God hates oppression, not only of His own people, but of all people.
The most common argument that Christians make regarding these immigration verses is, “I’m okay with immigration; it’s illegal immigration that I hate.” So what does the Bible say about illegal immigration? It says nothing, because there was no such thing as illegal immigration in ancient Israel. Throughout history, earthlings have been able to settle anywhere on earth they wanted. So what we really need to ask ourselves is, “Is it right to make immigration illegal? Does God give us the right to keep the needy away from our prosperity?”
I’m not going to present a definite answer on that. These are complex issues that involve national security, overpopulation, the need to keep track of people in case they commit crimes, and the nation’s responsibility to protect its citizens from incoming criminals, such as kidnappers and drug dealers. However, we must obey God and show His compassion and mercy toward immigrants and avoid the “It’s mine, and you can’t have any,” attitude that so many of us exude.

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]

Deuteronomy 17:17, “And he [the king of Israel] must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.”
Context: God provides guidelines for future kings of Israel.
Analysis: Even the king of Israel was to avoid materialism.

Proverbs 23:4, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist.”
Context: Proverbs don’t really have a context. Most of them were written by King Solomon, and each one is usually unrelated to the verses preceding and following it.
Analysis: Many Evangelical Christians subscribe to the politically conservative belief that there’s no such thing as working too much, that the person who works 15-hour days, six or seven days a week, is the kind of righteous person who makes America great.
God disagrees. It’s a sin for us Christians to be slaves to business success. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work hard when we work. But we must realize that God didn’t put us here to get rich and to meet the world’s requirements for success. Rather, we need to put relationships and serving God, neither of which pay money, ahead of worldly business.

Proverbs 23:6, “Do not eat the bread of the stingy; do not desire their delicacies;”
Analysis: The eating of bread mentioned here is reminiscent of Jesus’ warning to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus, of course, cleared up His disciples’ confusion by explaining that He was warning of their teachings. Therefore, this proverb is similarly a warning against the teachings of the stingy.
Christians today often love the teachings of the stingy, many of which blame the poor for their poverty and credit the wealthy for their successes.

Proverbs 28:22, “The miser is in a hurry to get rich and does not know that loss is sure to come.”
Analysis: Misers are not generous, so they resist helping the needy. This proverb tells us that those of us who are devoted to pursuing riches will lose them in the next life or, very possibly, in this life, so it’s vain to devote ourselves to the pursuit of riches.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11, “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money, nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. When goods increase, those who eat [‘consume’ in the NASB] them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes?”
Analysis: This is why trickle-down economics—in which the wealthy voluntarily pass their economic gain down to the workers and consumers—doesn’t work. When the wealth of the wealthy increases, the wealthy desire even more wealth. In fact, people at all income levels fail to be satisfied with increased prosperity.
This verse also addresses the pointlessness of buying expensive mansions, cars, clothes, etc., which provide no more tangible benefits than ordinary houses, cars and clothes. All we can do with these over-priced items is look at them or hope that others will look at them and be impressed.

Ecclesiastes 5:13-17, “There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to their hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have for toiling for the wind?”
Analysis: We are often fascinated with the fall of the wealthy, from people who strike it rich and lose everything, to seemingly brilliant businessmen whose ventures nose-dive amidst the shifting winds of the economy. This Bible quote reminds us how fleeting wealth can be, and what a waste it is to work our lives away in order to acquire it, since we can’t take it with us when we die.

Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Context: This is one of Jesus’ various teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke 12:33-34, “Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
Context: This quote caps off Jesus’ instructions to His disciples not to worry.
Analysis: Yet again, the Bible reveals how is easy it is to lose earthly riches and how it’s far better to focus on things of eternal value.
Today, we may not worry so much about thieves, moths and rust, because we have insurance to restore our losses. But those worries have been replaced with concerns about losing one’s home due to job loss or losing all that one has ever worked for thanks to medical bills from an illness or injury.

Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Context: This is one of Jesus’ various teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This same quote also appears in Luke 16:13.
Analysis: Having worked in corporate sales for fifteen years, I’ve often had to choose between serving God and serving wealth. Nearly all corporations deceive potential customers through their marketing and sales tactics, because they will do whatever it takes, and hurt whoever they have to hurt, to reach their financial goals. The rallying cry of most sales executives is, “We must hit our numbers at any cost! No excuses!”
A recent example of this is the mortgage industry from approximately 2005-2007. When the housing boom cooled off around 2005, the mortgage bankers were unwilling to lower their sales objectives. Like almost all corporations, they raised their sales quotas year after year, never satisfied with their wealth, threatening to fire managers who failed to achieve them. Therefore, managers created a new way of obtaining lots of business—offering adjustable rate mortgages to those who couldn’t afford to buy a home and convincing them through aggressive sales pitches that they’d be able to refinance when the interest rates went up after two years. Some sales reps failed to inform their borrowers altogether that their rates would increase.
These companies and their employees placed their love for their true master, wealth, ahead of God’s law, and multitudes of unsuspecting people lost millions of dollars.

Matthew 13:22, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth chokes the word, and it yields nothing.”
Context: Jesus explains to His disciples the parable of the sower. In this parable, a person spreads seeds upon the ground, yet most of the seeds fail to produce plants because of various conditions. Jesus then likens these natural obstacles to obstacles in life that keep us from being productive in serving God.
Analysis: For many years I thought this parable’s message is that having wealth keeps us from doing God’s will, because we spend our time enjoying the pleasures money buys rather than serving God. However, I’ve since realized that even the working poor have no time to serve God, because they must work their lives away in order to barely pay the bills. So not having time to serve God isn’t the sin here.
Rather, it’s the “lure” of wealth that chokes the word, not wealth itself, according to Jesus. In other words, it’s the greed, deception, and taking advantage of others that angers God.

Matthew 13:44-45, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Context: These verses are included in a chapter full of parables and metaphors.
Analysis: This is the first of Jesus’ quotes in which he mentions selling all of our possessions. That makes most of us uncomfortable, myself included.

Matthew 19:21-24, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me… Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Context: A wealthy man had approached Jesus with the question of what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus told him to obey the commandments, but the man was not satisfied with that answer. So Jesus told him to sell everything he had and follow Him. The man then walked away disappointed, because he was wealthy. Also see Mark 10:17-27 for a repeat of the same story.
Analysis: In the Divorce study, I distinguished between a sin and an imperfection. That theology applies here as well. We do not sin if we fail to give away all of our possessions. But, according to this story, we have a shot at obtaining perfection if we do.
Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter heaven? It’s probably a combination of two things, one of which I’ve already mentioned: people usually obtain wealth by sinful means. The second reason is that wealth is a source of pride, and pride is one of the biggest sins in the Bible (see the study on Pride, Arrogance and Judgmentalism). The wealthy usually credit themselves, not God, for their success and believe themselves to be more deserving of its benefits than the poor. Also, those who grow up wealthy, or easily acquire wealth, rarely have merciful attitudes toward those who don’t, because they blame the poor for their poverty. If our friends and family live a life of ease, we lose touch with those who struggle to support their families. Those who have not experienced or witnessed the struggles of the poor lack empathy and, therefore, neglect the needs of the poor.

Luke 3:11-14, “In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with him who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do? He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.’”
Context: These quotes are from John the Baptist. He would go on to baptize Jesus.
Analysis: These verses can be difficult to apply to modern American life. Thanks to our society’s wealth and organizations like the Salvation Army, few people lack clothing. Likewise, thanks to food stamps and school lunch programs, as well as food charities like Philabundance, few people go hungry. (May God bless those who created these programs.) Similarly, American soldiers don’t threaten people for profit, and the CPA’s and the IRS don’t take more than the law allows.
While I usually take the opportunity to chastise Christians for how we fall short of God’s will with regard to money, this time I just want to give thanks for the fact that we live in a country that grew up on Christian values. We’ve achieved a lot of what God wants in a society. Yes, greed still reeks havoc and the poor still suffer, but our society is not as cut-throat as the Roman Empire, and our poor are much better off than the poor in biblical times.

Luke 12:15, “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”
Context: Jesus responds to a man who asks Him to force his brother to share the inheritance with him. Jesus then follows this quote with a parable about a rich man who was unable to enjoy his wealth, because he died before he could do so.
Analysis: The man in this story expects Jesus to scold his brother for keeping more than his share of the inheritance. That sounds fair, doesn’t it? Much to his surprise, Jesus chooses not to scold the man’s brother for being unfair, but warns this man who made the request not to obsess over money. To Jesus, the relationship between brothers is of greater importance than fair distribution of money.

Luke 19:8-9, “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.’”
Context: Jesus was headed to Jericho, and Zacchaeus was so eager to see Him that he climbed a tree for a better view. After Jesus requested to stay with him, the man repented, as we see here.
Analysis: Thanks to this verse, we may now wipe the sweat off of our collective brow. Zacchaeus only gives up half of what he owns, and Jesus appears to be content with that. Jesus rejoices not over the giving of money, but over Zacchaeus’ repentant heart.

1 Timothy 6:5-10, “…and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of course there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Context: Paul instructs Timothy on running a church.
Analysis: Verse 10’s revelation that some have left the church in their “eagerness to be rich” suggests that wealth is often obtained by means contrary to biblical teaching. Yet today, many American Christians see wealth as God’s reward for good behavior, and they tie faith and prosperity together into an anti-biblical theology.
God’s call to us is to be content. That doesn’t mean we may never try to improve our financial situation; the desire to do so is not true greed. It means we must be satisfied with what we have when financial gain is only possible through sinful acts that “plunge people [others] into ruin and destruction,” like selling investments designed to fail or sneak-charging customers with fees they don’t expect.

2 Timothy 3:1-2, “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money…”
Context: Paul warns Timothy about a future increase in sinfulness.
Analysis: Loving ourselves and loving money go hand in hand. When we love ourselves more than others, we make our desires our priorities, and then we seek money at the expense of others, and spend it on our pleasures rather than on the needs of others.

Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
Context: The writer of Hebrews gives various instructions to the Jewish Christians in the last chapter of this letter.
Analysis: This call to contentment emphasizes the fact that our relationship with God is of greater importance than our financial status.

James 1:9-11, “Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat, and withers the field; its flower falls and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.”
Context: This quote appears to be unrelated to the messages preceding and following it.
Analysis: The Bible is pretty hard on the rich, and it makes every attempt to destroy their arrogance and prove them to be no better than others if not worse than others. Unfortunately, many conservative American Christians today see the rich as heroes who create our jobs, yet the Bible never speaks of them in this light, even though the rich were employers in biblical times just as they are today.

[Economic Note: Contrary to what some say, the wealthy don’t create jobs; consumer spending is the only thing that can create jobs. The wealthy (and even small business owners) merely seek to maximize profits. If demand for their products and services increases, they add jobs to take advantage of that demand – in an effort to maximize profits. If demand for their products and services falls, they cut jobs rather than pay idle employees – in an effort to maximize profits. The wealthy are not heroes who choose, out of the kindness of their hearts, to convert their money into jobs. The wealthy, rather, invest their money in whatever gives them the best return on investment (ROI), and in an economy like ours where consumers have seen their spending power cut in half, the best ROI is definitely not from job creation, but rather from investing in gold, oil futures, short-selling stocks, high-end real estate, etc.]

1 Peter 2:16, “…for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the father, but from the world.”
Context: Peter warns against living by our fleshly desires rather than by living as God desires. The next verse states that the world is passing away, but those who live by God’s desires live forever.
Analysis: Wealth is temporary. Not only may we lose it in this life, but we are certain to lose it when we move on to the next life.

Greed of the Poor

Exodus 23:2-3, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.”
Context: This is one of many laws that follow the 10 Commandments.
Analysis: This verse opposes lawsuits in which groups of poor people attempt to steal from the wealthy by making false claims.
Today, winning a big lawsuit is the new American dream. Thanks to the growing popularity of victim mentality, we blame others for our problems, especially when they have money that we desire. We sue corporations for accidents resulting from our own negligence. And we sue the government and school districts for their employees’ mistakes and, in turn, sue our neighbors, since the government and schools are funded by taxes which we all pay. Not all lawsuits are evil, but we may only sue with just cause and honest testimony.

Proverbs 30:15, “The leech has two daughters; ‘Give, give,’ they cry. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough.’”
Analysis: While the Bible opposes oppression of the poor, it also denies the poor permission to demand unnecessary handouts. The poor must do the best they can and not develop the attitude that society owes them a living.

Proverbs 21:25-26, “The craving of a lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor. All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back.”
Analysis: Those who work hard and are generous please God, while those who are lazy and desire riches disappoint Him.