Accurate Reading And Interpretation of The Bible

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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2Timothy 2:15).

Paul writes to young Timothy his protegé instructing him on several doctrinal issues in his role as a pastor and particularly in this verse, Timothy is instructed on “rightly handling the word of truth”. Though a pastoral letter, the charge nonetheless holds true for every believer. We are all called upon to engage in a right handling of the word of truth. If the Bible is the word of God and it is, then you and I have a responsibility not to misinterpret God’s word. You don’t want your words to be misinterpreted to mean what you didn’t mean, do you? Why would you go as far as misinterpreting God’s word?

In different instances, I have engaged in disagreements over how a biblical text was handled and I have met with words as “That’s your opinion” “I  have my own opinion”. “That’s how you choose to interpret the text, I choose to interpret it differently”. You probably might have heard similar words spoken to you or you might have spoken those words yourself to someone who disagreed with you on a biblical text. In a world of subjectivity, this might sound appealing.

The problem however is that the bible is not left to our subjective interpretation and “opinionising”. The Bible has an objective meaning in its context. Though it is God’s word, it is written in human language and all the rules of reading, comprehension and interpretation of literature or any written document applies. The Bible is God’s word but it is a book and must be read as a book.

Do Your Best

Though it is a book, yet the Bible is the sacred word of God and we must handle it accurately and not misinterpret it. If you wouldn’t want your own words misinterpreted and given meaning you didn’t intend, it must follow then that if no human being will tolerate a misinterpretation of their words, I doubt God will tolerate same. The phrase “Do your best” gives a picture of effort, preparation and diligence.

Prior to vs 15 of 2Timothy, Paul had drawn certain analogies from the life of a soldier, athlete and farmer. These analogies help us understand well the phrase “Do your best”. The soldier seeks to please his superiors, the athlete competes according to the rules and a farmer works hard. The Christian must do same in their lives and especially the handling of God’s word. She must seek to please God in all she does and especially in the handling of God’s word. And must, as it were, live according to the “rules” that govern Christian living. And finally work hard–not be lax in Christian conduct. The phrase “Do Your Best”, in the Greek–Spoudaźo[1], speaks of zeal or being zealous. To “Do your best” therefore speaks of zeal in presenting ourselves as one approved–that is people who please God. And one of the many ways in pleasing God is handling His word accurately.

Rightly Handling The Word

Suppose you are to engage the services of any professional, what will be your standard for selection? For example, if you are to engage the services of a tailor/seamstress ( fashion designer), would you engage one who cuts clothes indiscriminately without precision and accuracy? Would you engage an architect whose drawings are inaccurate. And who would live in a house that tilts to its side? I doubt if anyone would. But if these are important, why do people leave their lives and eternal destiny into the hands of people who “wrongly handle the word of truth” and teach their followers same? “Rightly  handling the word of truth” speaks of accuracy, precision, exactness and straightness. “Precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation, beyond all other enterprises, because the interpreter is handling God’s Word. Anything less is shameful”[2].

The question I will try and answer now is, “how can we handle the word of truth with accuracy and precision?” I will offer some points here.

Read Your Bible

First and foremost you must read the Bible if you will come any close to rightly handling the word of truth. Many believers don’t know what the Bible teaches simply because they don’t read it. They believe the Bible is God’s word, but they can’t even tell of the last time they read the Bible. Writing about why people don’t study their Bible, R.C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture nailed it to one reason–laziness: “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy” [3]

Read It Orderly:

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”(Luke 1:3-4)

Luke tells us something about his gospel account which is true of every book of the Bible. The Bible is an “orderly account” of events. It is not a disorderly, haphazard, magical words appearing on a paper.

Study Your Bible

Reading and studying are two different things. “There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying. Reading is something we can do in a leisurely way, something that can be done strictly for entertainment in a casual manner. But study suggests labor, serious and diligent work“[4].

There is a level of seriousness that comes with studying that is not required of reading. Again we turn to Luke’s gospel. He said to Theophilus:

…having followed all things closely.

This statement indicates an attention to detail and facts concerning gospel truth. This same disposition of mind is required in studying the Bible. Luke poured over– examined, investigated, scrutinised, paid attention, analysed and engaged–the facts of what was handed over by the eye witnesses of Christ’s life, i.e. the apostles (Luke 1:2). As believers, our regenerated  minds have been empowered with the capacity to “spiritually discern” God’s word in contrast to the unregenerated  man who can’t discern  or receive spiritual things. So dear believer, do just that! Engage the text! Take note of phrases, meaning of words, figurative expressions, grammatical  constructions and pray the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind.

Present Yourself To God As one Approved

As believers we need to grow in sanctification and mature in holiness. Our effort in cooperation with the Spirit of God towards sanctification as believers is not what secures our salvation, yet it is necessary for our spiritual growth and usefulness. See the result or the objective Luke hoped to achieve with his orderly presentation of his gospel to Theophilus: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”.

This is important for us Bible readers. An orderly presentation of truth brings clarity. It gives roots to faith. It solidifies ones beliefs. Paul tells Timothy something similar to the impact Luke hopes his gospel would have on Theophilus (2Timothy 3:14-15).

When we rightly handle the word, it makes us wise in our faith walk and saves us from error of false teachers: But avoid irreverent babble , for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”(2Timothy 2:16- 18).

Basic Tools Of Hermeneutics

To rightly handle the word of truth we need tools to help us. At this point I will share three basic tools of hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics “…is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible…The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible”[5].

Analogy Of Faith

This rule holds that Scripture is its own interpreter: “Sacra Scriptura sui interpres“. What this teaches basically is that no interpretation of a Scripture or Scriptures must contradict any other Scripture. Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, we must expect His word to also be in harmony as a whole. Biblical interpretation therefore must be approached with the whole body of biblical revelation in mind. When we interpret a Scripture, we must be sure that our interpretation agrees with other Scriptures rather than contradict. Where a Scripture is contradicting another, we must solve the contradiction or throw away our interpretation.

Literal Translation

It has been said already that the Bible is a book and as such must be read as a book. When we are told to read the Bible literally, what is being spoken of here is that we must  “…interpret the Bible literally… as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context”[6]. So the next time you approach the Bible, take notice of the words you are reading

Genre Analysis

Bible is a Greek word biblio which means book. So the Bible is a book. It is not only a book but a book made up of different collection of books of different genres. The genres of the Bible includes historical narratives, wisdom literature, Psalms, Letters (epistles), Gospel, Prophetic writings,  Apocalyptic writings and each of these  genre must be identified and read with the rules governing a particular genre. Now genre analysis involves the study of figures of speech and style, literary devices and any other literature forms. This tool goes hand in hand with literal translation. So in genre analysis, we consider the literary style of every particular genre and how to interpret it.

There are many other tools of hermeneutics. But these three are basic and a good foundation for further reading.

Notes

1: Study notes on 2Timothy 2:15, ESV Study Bible, ©2008, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois

2: Study notes on 2Timothy 2:15, THE MACARTHUR STUDY BIBLE Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (kindle edition)

3: Sproul, R.C Knowing Scripture, © 2009, InterVarsity Press[kindle edition]

4: ibid

5: http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-hermeneutics.html

6: Sproul, R.C Knowing Scripture, © 2009, InterVarsity Press[kindle edition]

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The Believers’ Hope

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John 14

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (v.1).

What could have caused Jesus to say this to his disciples? From the previous chapters, Jesus had hinted about his death and as you enter Chapter 14, the questions which followed from the disciples reveals a kind of anxiety and fear building up in their hearts.

Simon Peter said…, “Lord, where are you going?”(Jn.13:36)

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? (Jn 14:5).

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (Jn. 14:8).

These disciples have walked with Jesus for about three years and suddenly he has started talking about his death and departure. They had hopes of a Messiah who will deliver them from Roman oppression (Luke 24:21). They were not expectant of a dying Messiah. They were fraught with fear. Their hopes dashed. Jesus, knowing all things, certainly picked up the fear and anxiety in their hearts and addressed it:

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (v.27c)

In this discourse with the disciples, there are some lessons we can draw. John 14 contains gospel promises we can draw on to calm our anxious hearts.

Faith In God (v.1)

What Jesus proposed to deal with their anxieties is faith. As believers, the answer to our troubled and anxious heart is faith in God and in Christ. These disciples were troubled and had no clue what was going on. But Christ calls them to put their trust in God and in him. Everything is under control he assures them. Faith is trust and Christ calls them to trust God and trust him.

When we trust God, we can be certain that he has everything under control and knows what’s best for us. What we must note also is that, faith in God must necessarily be faith in Christ or it is no faith. Christ, is, exclusively, the only way to the Father and he explicitly stated that: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). We can’t bypass Christ to God. We can’t have faith in God when it is not rooted in Christ.

A Hope of eternal life (vv.2-3).

Christ assures the disciples he goes to prepare a place for them and will return for them. Here we see a certainty of Christ’s second coming. He will come for his own. Our world is overwhelmed with disease, sickness, natural disasters and many injustices. But for our hope in Christ and a life beyond this transient life; our hearts will faint. But Christ’s promises can soothe our hearts. Christ’s word is a guarantee. He will come for his own.

The world may mock our belief in the here after. In fact they did in the first century church. They mocked that where is his coming? He has gone for long. Will he come after all? The apostle Peter answers that question in 2Peter 3:1-10. Though Christ tarries in the eyes of humankind, he will come with the reward of eternal life (1Thes. 4:13–5:1, Rev. 21:4). Paul tells us if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people, most to be pitied (1Cor.15:19). We are pilgrims on this earth and look forward to a city whose builder is God (Heb. 11:13-16).

The Promised Holy Spirit (vv.16;26).

Knowing the void and vaccum his departure will create in the disciples life, he promised not to leave them as orphans (v.18) and that a Helper; Comforter in the authorised version will be sent. This promise of the Holy Spirit will come to teach the disciples all things. This is instructive. Though this promise is specific to the disciples in the sense of writing of Scripture; it extends to us in the sense that the Holy Spirit will illuminate for us the truth of God’s word. Such blessedness to have the Spirit of God to teach us.

The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation. He seals our salvation never to lose it. Related to the promise of the Holy Spirit is  also the promise of Christ’s peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”(v.27). The peace Christ gives is not what the world gives. It is peace that calms our hearts in the midst of storms. It is a peace that assures us that whatever we encounter in this life, Christ will never leave us or forsake us. It is peace of reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1)

Assurance of Answered Prayer (vv. 13-14).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 

When we pray, God hears us. Nothing can be so assuring than this. In prayer, we have an audience with the Creator of the whole universe. In fact, he is “our Father”. Christ assures his disciples, and by extension, us, of answered prayer. However, this assurance is not simply what we desire. But it is what we desire which glorifies God: “that the Father may be glorified”. James tells us “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

Here is the difference: Prayer God answers is prayer that glorifies him. He doesn’t grant our every wish in prayer but only that which glorifies him. And the only way to know what glorifies God is the knowing and keeping of his word: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Be encouraged. When we call on God, he hears us.

Obedience To God’s Word (v.15)

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

God’s word, as David says, is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Ps.119:105). This is equally true of us. Obedience to God’s word is a prove of our love for God. And no one who obeys God’s word will lack joy. God’s word will keep us from sin. God’s word will direct our conscience. God’s word will give us hope when in trouble. Our obedience to God is paramount.  There is no hope for the one who doesn’t keep God’s word.

Finally,

We Are Labourers In God’s Kingdom (v.12)

Christ promises the disciples they will do greater works in his name. This greater works is more of their spreading of the gospel. Indeed, their work is what has spread Christianity to the nations. We also have a privilege and joy to be part of this great work of seeing people come to the Kingdom.

Amen.

 

 

Belief Doesn’t Defy Logic: A Response To Pst. Otabil

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At the just ended Greater works conference, an annual conference of the ICGC, a Charismatic church in Ghana; one of the speakers–Matthew Ashimolowow  is reported to have called for a special offering for people to sow seeds of different amounts based on what they expect to experience in their life.

Millionaire status
$5,000.00
Seed of a thousand times more $1000.00
Seed of completion
$520
24hour miracle
$240
100% life improvement
$100
Seed of perfection
$70

*$1=Ghs4.3

This triggered an outcry on social media. The General overseer of ICGC, Pastor Mensah Otabil is reported to have responded in a sermon to his congregation saying:

Beliefs goes beyond logic. Logic will tell you what is probable or things being equal. Logic will tell you that if you have a thousand cedis in your account, then you can spend thousand cedis because that is logical. Beliefs will tell you that if you have five loafs of bread you don’t feed five people.

Concluding, he said “Belief defies logic; stretch your faith”

Now statements like this–“Beliefs defies logic”— gives Christianity and Christians a bad name. It suggests our faith is illogical and irrational. In the name of faith we are being told continuously to fossilise our minds. But as rational beings created in the image of a rationaI God; it will be irrational not to relate with this God in a rational manner. God makes sense and belief in him makes sense. God is a God of order and those who believe in him must do so in a manner consistent with how he has revealed himself in Scripture.

In this short article, I’ll attempt to give a reasoned response to Otabils defense of the infamous seed sowing at the just ended Greater works conference. Before I present my thoughts; let’s first define a few terms. Among many definitions, I will use what’s relevant to the discussion:

Belief: “conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence”

Logic: Logic is the science of deriving truth through the analysis of facts either directly (deductively) or indirectly (inductively).

From these definitions, I will argue  that Christian belief is logical. I will explain. You see, Christianity is not a collection of irrational thoughts stringed together for people to believe.  Christianity presents propositions rooted in historical evidence to be  examined so one can arrive at a logical conclusion of their veracity. We see this clearly evidenced in the opening words of Luke’s gospel.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).

Luke’s words point us to the fact that Christian beliefs are coherent, logical and can be examined. Why did Luke write? so his recepient will come to a certainty–a conviction—of Christian beliefs. These beliefs are rooted in history and eye witness reports. They are not fables that can’t be examined. The apostle Peter tells us “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Pet. 1:16ff).

The point is that, Christianity is not a blind leap into the abyss. It is faith based on historical evidence and in a God who is. Christian faith makes logical and rational sense. Paul consistently “reasoned from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:3). The problem with the so called special offering is that; they are not biblically consistent. It is a clear case of merchandising the gospel. Again, what’s the basis for the said categorisation? The only justification will be texts taken out of context to defend this lie. We see this clearly where Jesus’ multiplication of bread is cited in defence. Of course, Jesus is God and it is logical that God can work a miracle and multipy five loaves and two fishes to feed 5000.

Unfortunately it is such anti-logical approach to Christianity that makes people suspend their reasoning to believe in every nonsense shrouded in Christian jargon. And as I write this, many are defending this error, saying, “it is what you believe that works for you”. Well, Christian belief is not subjective belief for everyone to believe what they want to believe. Christian truth is rooted in biblical truth. There’s no biblical justification for the so called seed sowing that took place. It is false Christianity; a lie and fraud. A friend aptly describes the situation:

We are teaching people that they don’t have to follow the natural principles of work and earning. Even the Bible teaches that if you don’t work don’t eat. Paying $ 5000 to become a millionaire is called lottery, it has no place in Christianity — Kwesi Sena

Faith And Conduct

Amos 5:21-24

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Among six key themes (from ESV Global Study Bible) of the book of Amos, two stands out for me.

1. Justice and righteousness in the treatment of other people are the key evidences of a right relationship to the Lord.
2. Religious observances in the absence of social justice are disgusting to God.¹

I find these two key themes present in the verses that follow. God says;

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen (Amos 5:21-23).

Today, many profess faith but their profession contradicts their conduct. Should that be the case? Where profession of faith and conduct contradicts, there is a justification to question what one professes. Could it be possible that God has rejected many gatherings supposedly assembled in the name of God and yet we are unaware? Could it be that God has turned his ears away from our worship and considers many a congregations singing noise yet they haven’t discerned it?

How would we know if our worship is acceptable to God? I believe the answer is in the next verse: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24). Where our life is not marked by justice and righteousness—a right treatment of one another and right conduct; our salvation may be questionable. Our Lord commands us to love one another and to not love the world (1Jn. 2:9-17). Paul says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers , and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1cor. 13:1-2).

You see, our faith and conduct are insperable. If we have faith, it must show in our conduct: “But be n doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves”!(Jam. 1:22).

Notes:
1. Introductory notes on Amos from The ESV Global Study Bible (Wheaton, Illinois:Crossway, 2012 ) Kindle edition

 

Did God Actually Say?

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Recently, there has been a rise of people in our country–Ghana– openly calling the claims of Christianity into question. Core doctrines such as the virgin birth, Heaven, Hell and the historicity of the person of Christ have all been called to question. The troubling part of this, is that, those involved are people we may consider influential in society and their influence has the ability to lead people astray.  Of all the religions of this world, why do these people pick on Christianity and the Bible? Numerous answers may be given. But I will briefly explore two.

Christianity Is The Truth

Christianity is the Truth: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). One may ask, “how can Christianity lay exclusive claims to the truth; isn’t that arrogance? Andy Bannister, in an online article, “Isn’t Christianity Arrogant?” addressed the Truth of Christianity by appealing to the exclusivity of the nature of truth itself.  Matt Slick, on the apologetics website carm.org also appealed to the words of Jesus to establish the true nature of Christianity:

If Jesus is wrong, then Christianity is  wrong. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we should abandon our faith because he would be no different than anyone else. If Jesus is not God in flesh, then we should denounce him as a madman because you can’t claim to be God and be sane — unless the claim is true. Therefore, if what Jesus said about himself is true, then Christianity is true.

Now, granted Christianity is true (and it is), the devil, an opponent of Truth described by Jesus as the father of all lies; will do everything to attack the Truth of God’s word. Any false religion promoting his agenda will have uninterrupted success. Why will the devil bother to attack false religion? He will waste no ammunition in attacking false religion. It will be harmful to his cause: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 12:17-18).

The way out then is to rise against true religion. And what he attacks in Christianity is the very word God has spoken. This is the devil’s oldest weapon—calling the word of God into question. In the Garden of Eden, he asked: “…Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1).

Do you see the similarities today? “Did God actually say…sinners will be punished in hell? “Did God actually say Christ is the only way to the Father? Did God actually say Christ will return again? Did God actually say we should live holy lives? Did God actually say Jesus rose from the dead? Did God actually say…?

If you will call anything about Christianity into question, be sure it is a questioning which will lead to a better understanding of the faith. If yours is to question the veracity of the claims of Christianity, be careful you are not taking sides with the devil and questioning what God has said.

They Are Spiritually Dead

One thing we are sure of of those who challenge and refute God’s true word  is that they are spiritually dead: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Corinthians 3:14). It takes hearts regenerated by the Spirit of God to comprehend spiritual truth. And until a person’s heart is regenerated, the word of God is foolishness to them.

In fact the Bible declares “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1). Fool here doesn’t mean the one who questions or call God’s word to question is a dimwit. Far from it. Actually, some of these people are very intelligent. The fool, as used in the text simply means an “impious person who has no perception of ethical or religious truth

We may all not be professionals trained to defend the faith. Yet, in our own small way, the Bible calls us to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). And to contend for the faith demands we at least know the basics of what we believe. Peter tells us “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1Peter 3:15). We can’t stop people from questioning what we believe. But we must be ready always to defend our faith.

When they ask “Did God Actually Say…? we must be ready to respond gracefully.

The Deity Of Christ

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John 5:15-29

In a world of religious plurality, every religion and religious leader makes some claims. Of all the claims, Jesus’ were the most astounding. He made many exclusive claims no religious leader ever made. And that got Him killed.

He claimed to be God.

This claim sets Him apart from all other religious leader who ever lived. And if the claim to be God is false, then, it is blasphemous and Jesus cannot be trusted. Looking therefore at the gravity of His claims, either Jesus is God or He is not. There is no middle ground as C.S. Lewis says in his popular work, Mere Christianity:

Either this man[Jesus] was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God

Lord Over The Sabbath

In the opening text, a controversy over the identity of Christ occurred when He healed a man on the Sabbath (vv. 1-9). In verse 16, John tells us this miracle “…was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath“. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day added their own human traditions to the law and with these they sought to keep God’s people in bondage. Their interpretation of the Sabbath forbided doing good to our neighbour. They overlooked  God’s command of love towards ones neighbour. Jesus elsewhere asked them: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12).

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5) and His words “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17) brings that out in clear terms. God doesn’t cease working because of the Sabbath. He is actively involved in running His world and taking care of people. The world is not on auto pilot. There is a God at work in sustaining and directing the course of the world. Christ says He is this God.

Christ’s Deity

When Jesus said “My Father is working until now, and I am working”, the Jews who heard Him clearly understood what He meant when He called God His Father and this exacerbated their resolve to kill Him:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (v.18).

Now, apart from the charge of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus was also charged with “making himself equal with God” and they understood His claim to be a claim of Deity. Church history is littered with many controversies over the person of Jesus Christ. The Nicea council, for example, in opposition to the arianian heresy which claims Jesus was a created being; stated that “Jesus is begotten, not made, and that His divine nature is of the same essence (homo ousios) with the Father”. ¹ R.C. Sproul explains that

This affirmation declared that the Second Person of the Trinity is one in essence with God the Father. That is, the “being” of Christ is the being of God. He is not merely similar to Deity, but He is Deity”²

One place we see the divinity of Jesus in the text is His assertion of His worthiness of honour just as the Father is worthy of honour: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him”. (vv. 22-24). Jesus is worthy of our worship–honour, just as we honour the Father. You can’t claim to honour or worship God and yet claim to not honour Jesus Christ or accept the claims He made about Himself. To honour God, you must also acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was sent by God to die for the salvation of sinners (John 3:16). Again, to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God is to acknowledge Jesus as God. He is God who was manifested in the flesh (John 1:14)

The Unity of the Godhead.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a fundamental Christian doctrine which speaks of God in three persons who are co-equal and co-eternal in existence. While defending Himself, Christ reveals to us the unity which exists in the Trinity: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise (v.19).

Divine work is Trinitarian in nature and the Godhead is in agreement in all they do. The Father works and Christ works. We see this from creation and in the work of Salvation. In Salvation, we see the active participation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Salvation is Trinitarian: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). As we read further on in Ephesians, we see the Father predestined those who will be saved in the Son. The Son dies for those the Father predestined and then the work of the Son is applied to the heart of the elect into Salvation. Christ tells us He doesn’t work alone. What the Father, who is God does; the Son, who is equally God also does. Christ doesn’t work independently of the Father neither does the Father or the Holy Spirit. Because they are One, they always work in unison.

No claim offends religious people than the claim of Christ’s Deity. But for the Christian, any departure from the Deity of Christ is a departure from truth and from Biblical Christianity.

Notes:

1: R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith ( Kindle Edition)

2: ibid

The Sovereignty Of God In Salvation

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In John 5:1-9 , we are introduced to a miracle Jesus performed on a man, who the Scripture tells us has “been an invalid for thirty-eight years”. He has been waiting for a miracle that long. There was, then, a popular belief among the Jews, of an event where an angel stirs up a pool and anyone who steps in first receives a miracle. This however is discounted not to be a part of Scripture but a myth people believed:

The material about an angel of the Lord stirring the water and bringing healing appears in some early manuscripts, but not the earliest. Thus v. 4 should not be considered part of Scripture. Still, v. 7 (which is in all manuscripts) shows that people believed something like what v. 4 reports.¹

This invalid, we are told, has been waiting to enter the pool when it is stirred. But there is a challenge. Because of his paralysis, others always step ahead of him. Remember according to the myth, it is the first sick person who steps into the pool that gets healed when the pool is stirred. This miracle, as we will see shortly points us to some truths about how God works in the salvation of sinners.

Firstly, we see the helplessness of sinners to save themselves. The Bible teaches that all human beings are sinners. Naturally, we are dead in sin and separated from God. Because of our spiritual death, we are bereft of the ability to draw close to God by ourselves. We are dead in sin and dead people cannot give themselves life. They can only remain dead (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1, Romans 3:10-19, John 6:44). The picture we see clearly points us to the truth of humankind’s inability to save themselves.

Note that the man’s sickness was a result of sin: “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”(v.14).  This is true in a general sense: All sicknesses have their root from sin. Sin brought the punishment of death on the human race ( Genesis 3:16-19, Romans 8:18-23 ). It is also true in a particular sense in that some sicknesses are directly related to particular sins and are God’s way of discipline and chastisement of his children (1Corinthians 11:27-32). Not all sicknesses are a result of particular sins (John 9:1-3).

As the story unfolds, the man’s inability emerges clearly. While Jesus extends a hand of healing, the invalid man utters a statement pointing to His inability: “Sir , I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (v.7). That invalid is like us. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Without Christ, we are dead in sin deprived of eternal life.

Secondly, we come face to face with the reality of God’s  sovereignty in salvation. We are told when Jesus saw the invalid man, He knew the man has been at the pool for a protracted length of time (v.6). This speaks of a divine attribute. Christ is Omniscient. He knows all things. He knew the invalid has been there for long. Of great interest also is the “…multitude of invalids— blind, lame, and paralyzed [ lying by the pool] (v.3). In spite of this, Jesus attended particularly to this one man. He didn’t heal everyone though He could have. God saves sinners according to His divine prerogative ( John 1:12-13, Romans 9:11-16).

Finally, the narrative teaches us that God brings sinners to faith through His word. In John 6:63, Jesus said “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. There is life in Christ’s words. The narrative records that, Jesus commanded the invalid “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (v.8). There is power in Christ’s word. It has life. The effect of Jesus’ command—His word— is  worth noting:

…at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (v.9).

The invalid by Christ’s word was healed. But more than a need for physical healing; what we need most is spiritual healing—forgiveness of our sin and reconciliation to God. Like the man in this story, Christ asks you: “Do you want to be healed?”(v. 6).

Note

1: The ESV Global Study Bible (Crossways, 2012) study note on John 5:3 [kindle edition]