Is it the Truth?

I recorded a devotional for our congregation that centered on how we Christians share and perpetuate information on social media and in general conversation. Given the increase of fake news that’s shared, and many of such by Christians, I thought it appropriate to urge the body of Christ where I serve to “buy the truth and not sell it.” You can watch it below.

For Where Two or Three Are Gathered In My Name

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” so said our Lord. Usually, this passage is cited when a small number of people have gathered for some spiritual purpose. It’s a way of saying that the crowd’s size doesn’t matter because God’s with us, which is true, by the way, but is that what he meant when He said this?

 Leading into this passage was Christ’s instructions on handling when a fellow believer had sinned against a person. Jesus gave a three-step process where the first attempt was that the believer goes to the person and attempt to rectify the matter in private. If that step failed, they were to take two or three witnesses to help adjudicate the case. If that failed, the ordeal was to have been brought before the assembly (church). Were the person to ignore the church’s ruling, the offender was to have been excommunicated.

Following this, Jesus said that whatever they bound on earth was bound in heaven. Whatever they loosed on earth was so regarded in heaven. This is a continuation of judicial thought from the previous verses (15–17). Jews then believed that the Jewish high court had the authority on earth of God’s tribunal in heaven so that whatever they did on earth was done with God’s approval. Using His law as their guide, they were His representatives on earth and acted with His authority. The binding and loosing were understood as either imprisoning or releasing.

By the time we get to verse twenty, the two or three referred to the witnesses of 18:16. At a Jewish ex-communication case, a prayer of denunciation was offered for the person who was to be removed from fellowship. Prayer was also provided in the case of one who had repented. In Moses’ Law, the witnesses were first to execute the court’s judgment (Deut. 17:17). Here they are first to pray, so there was a great responsibility upon them. These weren’t always titled people within Israel or the church. However, faithful followers of God took part in this. When Christ says where two or three are gathered, He isn’t speaking about crowd sizes, but either the putting away or receiving back of an erring believer.

Abstain from Every Appearance of Evil

“Abstain from every appearance of evil,” so wrote Paul to the Thessalonians 5:22. I have read and heard brethren invoke this passage to denounce a host of bad habits that they may find evil, such as dancing, drinking, and so forth. Regardless of how we understand each of those issues and what Scripture has to say about them, is 1 Thessalonians 5:22 a passage to be applied to such matters when read in the context of the letter Paul wrote?

When placed in context, 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 belong to the same thought. They weren’t to quench the Spirit and despise prophecies. They were to test all things and hold fast to what is right. After mentioning these things, Paul then urges that they abstain from every form, or appearance, of evil. I believe it’s safe to say that whatever the Scriptures define as evil can be applied to this passage. However, we should undoubtedly take caution where the Scriptures are silent. Were we to take, for example, dancing as it has often been applied to this passage, we must ask what the Scriptures say, if anything, about the matter. We can find that dancing appears in several passages in a positive light (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:14; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Luke 15:25). Therefore, we cannot label dancing as a whole as evil when Scripture portrays it positively. Nevertheless, we can concede that there may be types of dancing that are indecent and lascivious. Scripture has something to say about that too if we can read between the lines (Mark 6:21–23; cf. Esther 1:10–12).

Paul had to say to the Thessalonians that the Holy Spirit was to be actively present in the church’s life, but that there was a constant need to discern and test the Spirit’s work and prophecies not to be misled (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:29). After trying such things, they held to what was right and abstained from every form of evil. We must, then, ask what they understood as evil in this context. First, a correct translation would be, “Abstain from every form of evil” (NKJV; NASB). Because the KJV renders it as “all appearance of evil,” some conclude that Paul was condemning what was evil and what appeared evil (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:19–21). However, that wasn’t Paul’s thought here. The Greek term eidos doesn’t signify “appearance” in this sense, but “form” or “type.” “Appearance” is very open-ended and subject to our tastes at times, so we could easily invoke this passage for what we believe to appear as evil. The “evil” Paul has in mind here is likely whatever doesn’t pass the test of God’s Word, such as false prophecy (Matthew 7:15), and then to every other wrong thing (Galatians 5:19–21).

Now, More Than Ever, Americans Should Read Thomas Paine

Alongside Locke and Jefferson stood Thomas Paine in the advocacy of the natural rights of humanity in political and religious liberty. Robert Ingersoll wrote that Paine’s The Rights of Man “was the greatest contribution that literature had given to liberty.”[1] The sole thesis of Paine’s argument for humanity’s rights was an argument from nature—his natural philosophy having been influenced by Isaac Newton. Epistemologically, Paine believed that “He who takes nature for his guide is not easily beaten out of his argument.”[2] Therefore, the greater breadth of his writings utilized the argument from nature to support his conclusions.

Paine wrote that he had obtained a general knowledge of natural philosophy as a child at which time he began to “confront” the evidence of Christianity.[3] He defined his natural philosophy as “the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works.”[4] Therefore, Paine would retort, “Why then not trace the rights of man to the creation of man?”[5] Though Paine would later deconstruct the Bible as a whole, he borrowed from the Mosaic creation account for its “historical authority.”[6] Ingersoll wrote that despite Paine thinking that the Bible was “absurd and cruel,” he found that there were some good and useful things therein.[7]

On the surface, Paine seemed to only use the Bible in order to support his own suppositions and thereby reject the rest, but the same claim could be made of the apostle Paul quoting Greek poets in the Scriptures as well as Jude quoting 1 Enoch. Nevertheless, those particular passages that Paine found suiting to his views were those of a natural philosophic “nature” (i.e. Psalm 19). Considering Paine’s apparent study of comparative religions, he may have noted the natural elements throughout the various religions and thought of them as “historical” evidences of creation in order to employ the Mosaic creation account, but this is conjecture.

He pointed to the distinction of sexes as the only recorded distinction, and the Mosaic creation account of “the equality of man” was, to Paine, “the oldest upon record.”[8] Man’s natural rights were the foundation for his civil rights. The two were distinguished by Paine as thus:

Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society.[9]

What must be understood of Paine is that when he refers to man’s natural rights he refers to “the natural dignity of man.” This dignity is “the honour and happiness of its character.”[10]

How these views, and the doctrine of natural rights, shaped the views of Paine is evident throughout his pamphlets. Governments “un-made” men by their activities which denied the natural rights of man. Hereditary succession was one of the most disputed notions by Paine in his writings, because hereditary succession was unnatural. While the monarchs claimed that their authority came from God, the truth was that kings and kingdoms were actually not God’s will according to the biblical account that Paine referenced in Common Sense. Therein, Paine argued that God reluctantly granted Israel a king. Prior to their history as a monarchical state, Israel was governed by judges and the elders of the tribes—a form of government that Paine identified as a “kind of republic.” Ergo, since the monarchs of Paine’s time argued for heavenly sanction, Paine went further into Heaven’s decrees in order to refute hereditary succession. He would also state that virtue is not hereditary, so to claim that one man’s rule would be in tandem with another’s who was virtuous was to ignore the “natural” truth about human nature.

One of the strongest NATURAL proofs of the folly of hereditary rights in kings, is, that nature disproves it, otherwise, she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ASS FOR A LION.[11]

Another view for which Paine argued on nature’s basis was the freedom of a person’s mind. This argument was especially useful in dissolving the notion of an established church, because one should practice their religion “according to the dictates of conscience.”[12] The natural rights of man’s intellect belonged to one’s religious choice as long as it did not impede the natural rights of another.[13]

With respect to what are called denominations of religion, if every one is left to judge of its own religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other’s religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right; and therefore all the world is right, or all the world is wrong. But with respect to religion itself, without regard to names, and as directing itself from the universal family of mankind to the Divine object of all adoration, it is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though those fruits may differ from each other like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted.[14]

At the time that Paine argued for religious liberty, the country supported a state church. The result of dissenting groups such as Puritans, and from them Quakers, and later Baptists, was persecution. Paine believed that in man’s natural state to make up his own mind, he should choose that sort of devotion that he believed was his “conscientious” devotion to the Almighty as long as it did not obstruct or violate another’s choice.

Paine would argue that persecution was not an original feature of religion, but that it was always the feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. If the lawfulness of a religion was taken away, then every religion would assume its own “benignity.” As a testimony to the detriments of the union of the state and religion, Paine cited the effects that such union had on Spain.[15]

Eventually, as history records, liberty would be won both politically and religiously. The poet Joel Barlow reflected on Paine’s contribution to the Revolution. He wrote that “without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.”[16] While the actual fight took place on the battlefield with Washington, Paine’s battlefield was in the mind. Barlow aptly noted this sentiment by realizing that minds had to change more than battles could win.

Now, more than ever, Americans should read the works of Paine, especially The Rights of Man. With so many elected officials acting as kings dictating to people how to live in the era of COVID-19, were the American populace aware of the founders’ belief about human rights, none of this would be acceptable. In my own Commonwealth of Kentucky, the governor has unilaterally ruled the state since March and came out with new restrictions as recent as yesterday. Rumors abound that he will make “suggestions” to churches today. Nevertheless, from my recollection, he was silent while protests and demonstrations abounded around the state—a right acknowledged and protected by the very same amendment that addresses religious liberty.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment 1, United States Constitution

He has earlier advised churches to not meet, and the first amendment clearly states that the free exercise of religion shall not be prohibited. The mantra in response is usually, “Your rights end where my life begins,” and as a premise, this is factual. However, the way it’s employed is manipulative. No one forces those concerned for their lives to go out into the public. If they are so concerned, they should do the responsible thing and assume whatever risk exists if they decide to go into public. Otherwise, their fear is violating the rights of others who simply want to live their life in pursuit of happiness. That’s what’s liberty is all about: assuming your own risk.

[1] Robert G. Ingersoll, “Thomas Paine,” The North American Review 155, no. 429 (Aug., 1892): 181–95.

[2] Common Sense  (Appendix). 

[3] The Age of Reason 1.11.

[4] Ibid., 1.8. Cf. Thomas Paine, “A Discourse Delivered to the Society of Theophilanthropists, at Paris”; and “The Existence of God: A Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris.”

[5]Thomas Paine,  The Rights of Man, in Thomas Paine Collection (Forgotten Books, 2007), 88.

[6] Ibid., 89.

[7] Ingersoll, 189-90.

[8] Paine, Ibid. 

[9] Ibid., 90.

[10] Ibid., 92. Paine’s theories on happiness and being a member of society are reminiscent of Aristotle (cf. Ethics 1.13).

[11] Common Sense (Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession).

[12] Ibid. (Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs).

[13] The Rights of Man, 90.

[14] Ibid., 107. 

[15] Ibid., 108. 

[16] Harvey J. Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), 5.

Women Serving At the Door of the Tabernacle of Meeting?

I’m currently studying 1 & 2 Samuel (1 & 2 Kingdoms; LXX) for my own personal benefit, and I have two resources upon which I’m relying. The first is Robert Alter, The David Story and Robert Bergen’s commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel in The New American Commentary series. Now, 1 & 2 Samuel isn’t anything new to me, but the last time I gave them a good study was several years ago. Since I’ve grown and learned more in the years since, it’s always nice to revisit an old friend to see what more one can learn.

Thus far I’m through the second chapter, but something has caught my attention that I’d not noticed before.

Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

1 Samuel 2:22

Alter translates the term “assembled” as “flocked,” but Bergen translates it as “served.” While Alter’s translation more resembles the idea of what the NKJV has, Bergen’s piqued my interest. I set out to investigate this term that can be rendered as “assemble” or “serve,” because the two notions are significantly different ideas. How did these two come to different translations and renderings that are miles apart?

Our Hebrew term rendered as “assembled” here in 1 Samuel 2:22 appears in Exodus 38:8 as “serving” in the NKJV, so in one instance they give it as “assemble” while in another as “serve.” In Robert Alter’s work, The Five Books of Moses, his note on Exodus 38:8 reads,

Although most modern interpreters opt for the sense of service, there are two difficulties with that construction. The cult was administered by males, and there is scant evidence of a quasi-sacerdotal function performed outside the sanctuary by women.

Bergen also suggests that these women may have been Nazarite women involved in volunteer service at the Tent (cf. Num. 6:2). Upon further investigation, the term under question is often employed regarding military service and troops, though as an idiom it’s applied to the Levites. When we survey the Septuagint, the translators substituted the term “fasting” for this one whereas the Vulgate has them “keeping watch.” A comparative study undertaken has yielded the possibility that the women in question from Exod and 1 Sam were cultic prostitutes who may have aged out of prostitution and, therefore, offered their mirrors as votive offerings, though it isn’t necessary that we view them as retiring prostitutes.1

One thing is for sure, there have been numerous comments made on the matter and a variety of opinions as to who these women were and whether they “served” or “assembled” at the Tabernacle. Scholars disagree as a whole what to make of this. In Exod the women appear with mirrors while in 1 Sam they appear without mirrors, but the majority of articles that I’ve perused connects the women of 1 Sam 2:22 with those of Exod 38:8, given the similarities. What are we to make of it?


1 Laura Elizabeth Quick, “Through a Glass, Darkly: Reflections on the Translations and Interpretation of Exodus 38:8,” CBQ 81, no. 4 (Oct. 2019): 595–612. Consider also Janet S. Everhart, “Serving Women and Their Mirrors: A Feminist Reading of Exodus 38:8b,” CBQ 66, no. 1 (Jan. 2004): 44–54.

Why Does God Demand Worship?

Watching a debate between a theologian and an atheist (Christopher Hitchens), once years ago, the latter claimed that God was an egotistical maniac because of how the former talked about God deserving to be worshipped and humanity having been made for His glory. The theologian stated something along the lines of a man having to worship God, praise Him, and adore Him, and the atheist said that God sounded like an attention-starved teenager—a divine narcissist; that He’s vain. 

I’d never thought of it in these terms. I believe humanity is naturally wired to worship and adore. However, what we cherish and value can be God Himself or an idol. No one bats an eye when sports fans, concert-goers, or political rally attendees hoot and holler praise and adore the one on the stage. They aren’t worthy of such, yet we give it to them anyway. We admire them in a way meant to be reserved to God alone. Even when the national anthem is played, we assume a specific posture, remove our hats, salute, or either put our hand on our heart in a manner of veneration. Humanity is made to worship. 

Our English term “worship” isn’t likely the best because it’s pretty much a catch-all word. Augustine depicts this reality in his work, The City of God.

For this is the worship which is due to the Divinity … and to express this worship in a single word as there does not occur to me any Latin term sufficiently exact, I shall avail myself, whenever necessary, of a Greek word. Latreia, whenever it occurs in Scripture, is rendered by the word service. But that service which is due to men, and in reference to which the apostle writes that servants must be subject to their own masters … is usually designated by another word in Greek, whereas service which is paid to God alone by worship, is always, or almost always, called latreia [cf. Matt. 4:10] in the usage of those who wrote from divine oracles. (10.1.2; c. 413–426 CE)   

Latreia is but one term used to denote worship of God and is often translated as “serve.” The word from John 4:23–24 is proskuneo—which usually indicates knee-bending or prostrating worship (Matt. 2:11; cf. Rev. 19:10). We might use the term “grovel” to best understand this word, and it would be out of adoration or even fear, but not with the negative connotation it often carries today. When we turn to Romans 12:1, the NKJV renders “reasonable service” for logiken latreian. Other translations might have “spiritual [rational] worship.” 

First, let’s establish one truth: God doesn’t need our worship (Acts 17:24–25). Unlike other deities in other ancient religions, God does not need our worship. If we worship Him, nothing is added to Him. If we fail to worship Him, nothing is taken away from Him. If either of those propositions were true, then He couldn’t be God. Second, the common objection is that the tyrants [e.g. Kim Jong Un] of the world demand adoration and praise, so God can be no different from them by His demand for such, right? Wrong! God is morally perfect, uniquely pure, and stands alone. Unlike tyrants and dictators, He did not come into being and will not cease to be as they do. Unlike them, he wishes nothing but the best for His creation rather than, like them, having their self-serving desires. Unlike them, he doesn’t do what He does to maintain power or conquer because the world is already His. He will not be demoted. He shall never be defeated. 

God created this world, and He made you and me. As a loving Father—which is how we often view Him—He considers the relationship between Him and us as akin to a marriage. He regarded Israel as His bride, and there’s no more explicit description of this reality than in the book of Hosea. He is the bridegroom of His bride, the church. Imagine if we are to be as a bride to Him love, adore, and stand in reverent awe of something created rather than Him. Put it another way, imagine if your spouse lavished praise and adoration, gave loving glances to another person than you. You and I are naturally moved to jealousy, and God is no different. He is a jealous God (Exod. 20:5). We’ve seen how we humans are natural beings that admire, praise, and worship, but God alone is worthy of it. God alone is deserving of it, and it’s to Him alone; we should give it.

Being Christian During Election Season

When I was twenty-five years old, I had become politically active. I’d formed my basic political philosophy and posted incessantly on Facebook a host of articles and links that I believed would help everyone convert to my side. Then, one day, I received a letter in the mail from an elder minister whom I respected much. His message’s greatest takeaway was that he noted that not everyone would share my views—my Christian faith supported ideas that I happened to believe. Because this was a reality, he encouraged that I weigh the possibility that by being so politically active aloud, I may risk alienating someone by my views, which I might otherwise be able to share the gospel with. While it seems an obvious point, it was one I hadn’t considered, and the most important thing to me was the work that I do for Jesus above and beyond any political view that I might hold. 

Since then, I’ve sought to maintain a separation of church and state, if you will. I still have opinions, and I keep up with things, but I don’t always express my feelings because my allegiance to Jesus is the most valuable commitment I’ve ever made. Therefore, I endeavor to preach the Kingdom of God’s politics exclusively. If I’m to be known for where I stand relative to anything, I want it to be concerning my Christianity and not necessarily my political views. There are indeed issues here or there that are guided by my Christianity—such as the sanctity of life—so I’m never fearful of speaking about individual matters. They may be fleshed out in Scripture, but not partisan platforms.

One sad reality is how some brethren think their party’s platform is equivalent to Christianity. The two major parties aren’t perfect because they aren’t the Kingdom of God. They are servants of the citizenry, and their main concern always seems to be the next election. Here’s what concerns me—politics is seeping into the church in a way that some brethren believe their opinions on matters here or there are akin to the will of God. This is creating a division among us. It may not be as apparent to some, but a division is beginning to surface. 

Were Paul to write 1 Corinthians 1:12–13 today, here’s how it would read: 

Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of the Republicans,” or “I am of the Democrats,” or “I am of the Libertarians,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Were the Democrats crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of the Republicans?

Brothers and sisters, I am not willing to become divided because you may see something different than I do, especially earthly politics. Neither will I frame my prayers in such a way that they seem partisan. Prayer isn’t a sounding board for politics. We’re indeed commanded to pray for our governing leaders, but how we pray for them needs to square with God’s will. Notice what Paul urged Timothy: 

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1–4)

Today, in congregational prayers, we typically reserve a more significant part of our praying to ask God for things. This is an aspect of prayer (cf. James 5:13–16; 1 Peter 5:7), but there’s also the focus, as Paul points out here, of praying for specific things for others and simply giving thanks. 

These categories of prayer focus on “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). Therefore, the subject of such prayers was to have been everyone, even those in authority. Perhaps Paul has in mind those who incorrectly taught the Law and Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he’d already mentioned in this letter. Praying for those who we find troublesome is an excellent way to order our hearts toward them rightly. Paul isn’t saying anything new, but admonishing Timothy as Jesus would have: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45; cf. Rom. 12:7–21). Timothy was to have prayed for all people because God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

In addition to remembering everyone in prayer, there’s also the mention of kings and authority. Our American society’s climate is so politically charged that I doubt very much that we Christians are prayerful of our governing leaders as we should be. Instead, we embroil ourselves in “gotcha” politics wherein we are the most ungracious and partisan. If I were to judge by what so many brethren post on Facebook and Twitter, we follow not the Prince of Peace, but the Devil of Division. Were we to pray for our governing leaders as God would have us, we would likely not be so vitriolic against them despite agreeing or disagreeing with policy decisions. Let’s face it—we’re a prosperous nation, the likes of which the world had not seen until our country became its own. Any discomfort we experience is a high-class problem that a decent portion of the world will never share, but we moan and groan as if it’s the world’s end. 

As we think about corrupt, unjust rulers, and who most would say deserve what they got coming to them, let’s remember that as Paul has already said, “Jesus came to save sinners.” He desires all men to be saved, and we should have that same desire too. Think about when David was fleeing the murderous intentions of King Saul. On a couple of occasions, David could have murdered Saul quickly. After all, Saul was a sinful man whom the Lord had rejected as king. God gave him an evil spirit to torment him, but when David had those chances to take Saul’s life, he refused to do so, saying, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Sam. 24:6). All that David had done was to cut the corner off Saul’s robe because he’d gotten that close, but his heart troubled him since he did that. David said pretty much the same thing on another occasion, affirming that he would not harm Saul despite how evil and rejected he was because he was anointed by God (1 Sam. 26:11). No one would have blamed David had he done such, but he didn’t because Saul was God’s anointed no matter how sinful he’d been. 

I think it striking that David maintained respect and reverence towards the man who occupied the same position that God had rejected him from being and sought to end his life. Nevertheless, David took God’s anointing seriously so that even after being rejected by God, Saul was still one worthy of respect in David’s mind. We see Paul later acting similarly when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. After beginning to address those present, the high priest ordered him stricken, and Paul replied by reviling the high priest. After it was disclosed to Paul that he’d cursed the high priest, Paul repented with the invocation of a passage from Exodus, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:1–5). Despite the high priest acting contrary to the law, Paul still knew that he was worthy of respect because of his position. Perhaps instead of saying that we respect the office but not the person, we could look at the office occupying. As Paul instructs Timothy, pray for those occupying it and not separate the occupier from the station itself. 

God is not so detached from creation that He doesn’t play any part in it. It is He who establishes and tears down kingdoms (Jer. 18:7–10). Interestingly enough, kings’ hearts are like streams in the Lord’s hands, and He turns them wherever He wants (Prov. 21:1). God can divert the channels wherever He chooses, so regardless of whoever is in power, He can do with them what He wishes for His ultimate purpose. If we spent our time prayerfully praying God’s blessings and best for our governing leaders (cf. 1 Peter 2:13–17; Rom. 13:1–7), we might not speak so unkindly of them. It would be somewhat hypocritical to pray for God to use those in authority for His good while at the same time criticizing everything they do.

Understanding Romans 13 in the First Century

In June 2015, my uncle Jim ascended the lectern at my grandfather’s funeral services and read from Romans 13:1–7. Granddaddy had been an Air Force veteran and retired as a Captain with the Metro Police Department in Nashville, TN. He was one of the Department’s K-9 division founding members, and his late K-9, Bam-Bam, was Nashville’s first-ever. Having grown up on over sixty acres north of Nashville, our family was accustomed to a life different from most families. When my daddy (step) and uncles grew up in the seventies, granddaddy was a K-9 officer and later a special tactics officer, even working in the vice squad—riding undercover with Hell’s Angels for some time. Because of this, everyone knew how to wield a firearm, more so from hunting, and gram would carry the wash to hang on the clothesline with a shotgun atop the basket that she’d lay aside while she hung laundry. There was always a fear that granddaddy’s cover would be blown and that any enemies he’d made would target his family. If that were to happen, his family would be prepared.

The passage here under consideration is read through the lenses of the esteem and honor of those who serve governing authorities as servants of God. You’ll notice that this authority is from God and appointed by God (13:1). To resist governing authorities is to resist God Himself because of their work, which brings judgment (13:2). Twice is the same term used of them: officers in the church—diakonos—“minister” (13:4). Because these officials exist by the will of God and through the apparatus of civil government, they are tasked with keeping the peace and executing judgment on evildoers. Despite societal narratives today, these servants of God “do not bear the sword in vain” (13:4)—the same one, the short-sword, used in the execution of James (Acts 12:1–2). It is used both for good and in unjust ways, unfortunately, but is meant for good. This sense of service to God and our fellow man is how we were brought up, and it’s why we still have officers and military members in the family. As one author put it, “This is not a capitulation to pagan power but a fervent affirmation of divine authority over civil powers.”[1]

The First Century Understanding of this Passage

We need to understand the zeitgeist of first-century Rome to better understand the climate into which Paul wrote. The second-century BCE historian, Polybius noted that Rome had in fifty-three years subdued the inhabited world (Hist. 1.1). This feat obviously spoke about something impressive regarding the Empire, but what was it? The divine purpose of Rome, so it was believed, was to create a united language and bring civilization to all of humanity[2] while bringing the whole world under the rule of law (Aen. 4.231). Cicero held that Rome was the home of virtue and imperial power and that the Empire’s borders weren’t fixed by the earth but by the sky.[3] All indications pointed to the belief that Rome’s manifest destiny to subdue the entire world and make it, for the lack of a better term, Roman. This was accomplished more so by conquest than conversion. When you put up these beliefs about the Empire against the gospel’s universal call, you can see that the two might find themselves at the opposite ends of one another.

Shades of this tension appear as early as the New Testament. The disciples of Jesus were accused of having turned the world upside down. How? By allegedly defying Caesar’s decrees and calling Jesus King (Acts 17:6–7). In the first century, the Romans feared that a conquest upon themselves by Jews. A couple of texts point to this end.

The majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the East should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world. (Tacitus, Hist. 5.13)

There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. (Seut. Vesp. 4.5)

The belief that Christians a threat to the Empire appears in the first century and also the second. Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Pontus and Bithynia from 111–113 CE, exchanged letters with the emperor Trajan over the matter. Pliny was himself unclear as to the offense that Christians had committed, but he knew his orders were to round them up and either get them to recant and curse the name of Jesus, or they would be executed.

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. (Epistles 10.96–97)

By the third century, the crime was “treason, chiefly against the Roman religion.”[4] Rome believed that the gods had so blessed them not because of faith because the notion was foreign to the ancient Romans. You didn’t have to believe. You just had to participate in cultic acts, such as prayer, incense, and libation, among other such things. That’s all you had to do, and there was always enough room reserved for another god to add. Because Christians attributed “Lord” to Jesus and refused to do so to “Caesar,” they were traitors. Because they refused to perform the specific cultic acts to the gods that shone favor on Rome, they were traitors.

The Roman letter bears out that these believers had struggled because they professed Jesus as Lord. They encountered tribulations (Rom. 5:3–5); they suffered (Rom. 8:18, 31–35); they were persecuted (Rom. 12:14). How might they respond? The natural inclination is to raise an army, take up arms, and fight, but this wasn’t the way Christ taught. Why depose one despot for another that is subject to being replaced himself? No, King Jesus will always reign, and the kingdom is in His hands, so earthly rulers will come and go, but Christ is still on His throne. The way Christians behave is to act with the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, even toward the civil government. Paul begins this in Romans 12:9–21. This is how Christians live when the government is hostile towards them, and their duty towards government is entailed in Romans 13:1–7. After Paul acknowledged the responsibility of civil government, he once more reminds Christians of the value of loving their neighbor in Romans 13:8–10, and by 13:11–14, he explains that regardless of what government does, we are respectful and submissive because they exist by God’s will.

[1] As quoted in Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, eds., Jesus is Lord Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (Kindle ed., Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), loc. 2995.

[2] Ibid., loc. 337.

[3] De Oratore 1.196; In Catilinam 3.26.

[4] Tert. Apol. 24.1.

Early Christianity on Abortion & Exposure of Children

What we must admit is that there are no clearly stated prohibitions against abortion in the New Testament. However, early Christianity—having itself consisted of Jewish adherents to the Way in the first decade after Christ’s ascension— continued to adopt their moral understanding of various issues from Judaism. We, first, look the Jewish historian, Josephus (c. 37–100 CE) and what he wrote about the Jewish prohibition against abortion. It was a prohibition according to Jewish law.

The law, moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind: if anyone, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean.

(Against Apion 2.202)

The Ten Commandments were used by early Christians just as they were by Jews—as teachings that pertained to moral living. Notably, the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” was given a greater exposition in Christian thinking and applied specifically to the termination of a pregnancy. When in the late first, early second century, a document known as Didache was written, attention turned to the sixth commandment and stated, “You shall not murder … you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide” (2.2). This document understood the sixth commandment as extending to the unborn. The reason I included “sorcery” as a part of this understanding is that the Greek term translated “sorcery” is the word from which we get “pharmacy.” Therefore, “sorcery” here likely included taking abortifacients—drugs that induced miscarriage. Our modern understanding of the sixth commandment was clearly understood as extending to the life of the unborn.

Also in keeping with the Mosaic Law, the paths of life and death (Deuteronomy 27–28) are recast as darkness and light in another early Christian writing.

But the path of darkness is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the path of eternal death and punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul …  Here are they who are persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies; they who know not the reward of righteousness, who cleave not to what is good nor unto just judgment … murderers of children.

(Epistle of Barnabas 20.1–2)

Christian writers believed that life in the womb was no different than life outside it. Clement of Alexandria (c. 160–215 CE) inferred from Luke 1:41 when John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb that very belief (Instructor 2.10.96). Athenagoras, in the late-second-century, pointed to Christianity’s rejection of abortion as proof that Christians were moral when he wrote that the Christians “say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion” (Leg. 35).

Later church councils forbade abortion and actually levied punishments against any who murdered their unborn. The Council of Elvira (c. 4th century) reflects such beliefs.

If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice. (Canon 63)

A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches. (Canon 68)

Even some of the most notable early church theologians supported this stance. Both Augustine (c. 354–430) and John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) viewed abortion as murder, and exposure—abortion’s ugly cousin—was no less an evil.

Moses’ Law encouraged caring for orphans (Exodus 22:22–24; Deuteronomy 14:29).[1] God administered justice for orphans, so Israel was not to pervert justice towards them (Deuteronomy 10:18; cf. 24:17; 27:19). The Essenes—a Jewish sect that lived around the Dead Sea in the first century CE—were known for taking them in and caring for them. Their community resembled a modern idea of a monastery in that everything was common property. Josephus records that they would take in children not their own because they did not wed, and they would care for those children and teach them their ways (Wars 2.8.2).

I don’t wish to enter into a discussion about the legitimacy of orphanages or children’s homes, but the order of widows cared for orphans as a part of their ecclesial duties.[2] Theologically, caring for orphans is missional in its practice. Even Jesus was adopted by Joseph, and Christ identified Himself with the “least of these my brothers” (Matthew 25:40). To care for orphans is to see Christ in the orphan as one of the least of those in society. As Christians, we have been adopted into God’s family. We are orphans made children by adoption through Christ (Romans 8:15, 23).[3]

A testimony of early church history also demonstrates that such were cared for by Christians. The late first-century bishop, Clement of Rome wrote, “Let the [elders] be compassionate and merciful to everyone—bringing back those who wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor.” The second-century Greek apologist, Aristides, wrote that Christians “do not turn away their care from widows, and they deliver the orphan from anyone who treats him harshly.” The second-century Christian work, Shepherd of Hermas, noted, “Therefore, instead of lands, buy afflicted souls, according as each one is able. And visit widows and orphans.”[4]

Christianity’s stances on exposure led to a shift in Roman law in later years.[5] By 374 CE, one could incur a penalty for exposing a child. Obviously, by this time, Constantine had reigned and obliterated the persecution of Christians with Christianity later becoming the state religion in the Roman Empire. This elevation of the faith was good in some respects but bad in others. The good that came from the legalization of Christianity and its adoption as the state religion was that Christian theology began to have a say in legal matters.

The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century, as well as Latin theologians, helped shape the thinking of the Empire with some of them even having strong connections in government, For example, the Cappadocian Father, Basil the Great was familiar with Julian the Apostate since the two had been educated together. These two figures began competing, Basil through Christianity and Julian through the pagan rites, to win the hearts of people to their respective faiths. By this time, however, paganism had little influence but Christianity flourished.

With abortion as with exposure, while a rather defined orthodoxy was to not abort or expose children, not all Christians were blameless in these areas. Christians both participated in aborting unborn and exposing newly born infants.[6] One may wonder why these unique features taught in Christianity were violated by adherents to the faith. After all, wouldn’t that make these unique features unworthy of the world? Would it not nullify the faith of Christ itself and might we be justified in labeling those who did such “hypocrites?” The frustration is inevitable. However, there is no excuse for why Christians did such things.

I might remind the reader that many of the writings that comprise the New Testament were written as reactionary letters to communities of faith who were skating perilously close to an edge of heresy or infidelity to God. Christians are no different from any other person or group of people. We have our trials and temptations. We try rather hard to weather the storms, but despite our profession of faith, we still sin. It may be with a purpose that Christians sin, and sometimes it may be accidental. We still sin. However, the lives we are supposed to live are to be mirrored after that of Christ Himself. Yet, we often fall short. The early Christians did, and we still do today. If we can but recapture the uniqueness of our faith once again, perhaps we’ll be able to make the kind of changes that those believers did in their own time

[1] The Hebrew term often translated as “fatherless child” in the NKJV is elsewhere translated as “orphan” (cf. Lamentations 5:3; Malachi 3:5), so when I mention orphan and you reference the passage to find the translation as “fatherless child,” I’ve referenced from the Hebrew and not the English. Interestingly enough, many passages where “orphan” appears also has “widow” in the same verse or immediate context. At other places, “stranger” appears alongside them both. The point being that God cares for those most vulnerable to abuse in society. It must be mentioned that the Thebans outlawed exposure, but allowed the sale of children. This is the only recorded government, alongside the practice of Jews and Christians, to have taken a rather different approach for the newborn when compared to the rest of the ancient world.

[2] See Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982).

[3] Russell D. Moore, “Abba Changes Everything: Why Every Christian Is Called to Rescue Orphans,” Christianity Today 54, no. 7 (July 2010): 18–22.

[4] David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, s.v. “Orphans and Widows,” 1998.

[5] See Joshua C. Tate, “Christianity and the Legal Status of Abandoned Children in the Later Roman Empire,” Journal of Law and Religion 24, no. 1 (2008/09): 123–41.

[6] Everett Ferguson, Thinking-Living-Dying: Early Apologists Speak to the 21st Century (Vienna: Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 2011), 27, 29.

Abortion in Greco-Roman Society

The intention of this post is to record history, and not opine so much on why and how things were done. In the next post, historical sources from early Christianity will be provided on the same matter to show how Christianity, in this regard, distinguished itself from Greco-Roman society at-large.

Hippocrates (c. 460–375 BCE) was a pioneer of medical theory as well as the oath that all physicians swore by upon beginning their practice of medicine, and still do today from my understanding. A part of the Hippocratic Oath states, “I will not give to a woman [an abortifacient].” Abortion was rather common in antiquity, but Greco-Roman society wasn’t entirely careless regarding the unborn. In some cases, abortion appears as wrong as some believe it to be today. For example, in Athens, if a man died while his wife was pregnant and she aborted the pregnancy upon his death, she was charged to have committed a crime against her husband. The legal theory was that her abortion was criminal since the unborn child could have claimed the late father’s estate, so it was more a matter of property rights than a moral statute. Fast-forwarding closer to the advent of Christ, we see that not much had changed in this regard.

Ovid’s work Amores was first published in 16 BCE. In this work of poetry, Ovid mentions abortion in the early Roman Empire and the unborn child as a “burden” (Am. 2.13). However, in the next elegy, he refers to the fetus as “tender” and the destruction of it as by a “warlike method.” This particular elegy is against abortion because it robs society of her Caesars and other heroes. Furthermore, were this a common practice, Ovid suggests, there would be no humanity. He asked why women would “thrust and pierce with the instrument and give dire poisons” to unborn children, which explains how abortions were performed then (Am. 2.14). The methods of abortion were sometimes as risky for the mother as they were for the unborn baby and many women died from having attempted to terminate their pregnancy.

The Roman statesman, Cicero mentions a disdain for abortion similar to the Athenian law mentioned above. A mother had been bribed by alternative heirs to terminate her pregnancy, which she did. The mother, in turn, was condemned to death because she cheated the father of his posterity and the Republic of a potential citizen (In Defense of Cluentius 32). The philosophical school of Stoicism held that life began once a child was born. The breathing of a person outside the womb was the moment life began. This thinking allowed abortion to be acceptable, and Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BCE–65 CE), a Roman statesman and philosopher, was able to use this belief in the legal system. Seneca wrote that “unnatural progeny” were destroyed, which was likely a reference to an incestuous conception. He also wrote about drowning children that were born abnormal and weak (On Anger 1.15.2–3). The Stoic idea that unborn babies were not humans came to influence Roman law and only further justified the practice of abortion.[1]

Not all Stoics, however, consented to abortion being a good thing. Musonius Rufus (c. 30?–102 CE) saw abortion as inhuman. He saw its purpose as solely of enhancing the firstborn’s inheritance more than anything, which amounted to greedy motives. The lawgivers, he contended, functioned to discern what was lawful and good for the state, as well as what was bad and detrimental to it. The lawgivers, he recalled, urged the increase of the homes as something fortunate. So fortunate was the increase of the homes “that they forbade women to suffer abortions and imposed a penalty upon those who disobeyed” (Discourse 15). His discourse on this matter is likely a referendum against the common practice of abortions in the first century.[2]

Juvenal wrote that wealthy women would not endure labor, but would dull the pain with drugs or obtain an abortion (Satire 6.593–96). He also wrote how Emperor Domitian (c. 81–96 CE) impregnated his niece and then gave her abortive drugs. The niece in question, Julia, died in 91 CE as a result of the abortion (Satire 2.20–24). Here we see another example of why abortions were performed (incest). Wealthy people may not have just wanted to deal with it, so they terminated the pregnancy. However, there was another reason for terminating a pregnancy. Slave women might terminate a pregnancy to avoid bringing up a child in slavery.[3] The slave women would have had to have done this in secrecy because a slave’s child was the property of her master and not her own.   

In the second century, the Greek gynecologist, obstetrician, and pediatrician, Soranus of Ephesus, wrote his work Gynecology which explains how medical knowledge at the time treated various related matters. In this work, he distinguished between an involuntary abortion—what we’d call “miscarriage”—and the willful termination of pregnancy. He also distinguished between a contraceptive and abortive. The former was to prevent conception from taking place while the latter was intended to expel the unborn from the woman’s body (Gyn. 1.59–60). In discussing when an abortive was given, he noted that some would not give an abortive if a woman wanted to terminate the pregnancy due to adultery or because she wanted to preserve her youthful beauty—again, two reasons why abortions took place then. An abortive would be given if it were discovered that the woman’s body, according to the science then, were determined to be unable of birthing a child and thus risk the mother’s wellbeing. However, Soranus preferred contraceptives to an abortive as a preventative risk, because “it is safer to prevent conception from taking place than to destroy the fetus” (Gyn. 1.60). He then went on to list various concoctions that could be used as a contraceptive or abortifacient, but if used to terminate a pregnancy, serious side effects followed that posed significant risks (Gyn. 1.61–63). Yet, this didn’t prevent him from explicitly naming how one might terminate a pregnancy (Gyn. 1.64–65).

While more citations could be supplied to the ends of showing how common abortion was, we also noted a couple of pagans who were against it, but not for the same moral reasons early Christians stood opposed to the practice. Additionally, there were others who opposed abortion in antiquity, but Christians gave a clearer understanding of why it was wrong that distinguished them from others. In the next post, I’ll list early Christian sources on the matter itself.

[1] Cf. Justinian, Digest

[2] Caesar Augustus issued edicts in 18 BCE and 9 CE promoting childbearing, but he did not explicitly outlaw abortion (Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church, 27).

[3] Dio Chrysostom (c. 40/50–110/120 CE), Discourses 15.8.

A Christian’s Dual Citizenship

“For our citizenship is in heaven,” so Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:20). The ancient city of Philippi was a Roman colony, and her citizens were automatically citizens of Rome with all the perks and privileges that carried—among which were certain tax exemptions. Some of them may have never been to Rome itself but could appreciate and understand the pride of having citizenship despite having never been there. For Christians, this is our reality: we have not yet been to heaven, but that’s where our citizenship is and with it, all the blessings that accompany being members of the Kingdom of God. Why is it, then, that we place such a high value on earthly politics when our heavenly citizenship should be the premier marker of our identity? No one truly knows, but several passages may help us determine how we, as Christians, should relate to the earthly government. 

We read that the world lies under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19); we read that Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Because of this truth, injustices, hatred, bigotry, and evil will always be present, and this shouldn’t shock us. Nevertheless, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must and can undoubtedly lend to justice, truth, and equity on earth as demonstrative of our heavenly citizenship. Some Christians believe the principal means by which this is achieved is through earthly government, but I would, respectfully, disagree. Satan offered the kingdoms of the world to Christ if He would only fall down and worship him, but Jesus refused (Matt. 4:8–10). Had Jesus wanted to affect change through earthly government, He had His chance in this scene. Perhaps one might retort that the price wasn’t worth paying. Fair enough. In John’s account of the gospel, after Jesus fed several thousand people, they wanted to make Him king by force, but Christ didn’t want that. He retreated to be by Himself, avoiding the crowd’s aim of making Him King by force (John 6:15). 

It wasn’t God’s will that change and good would come directly through the government, and our Savior Himself didn’t rely upon government to achieve His ends. How was it achieved, instead? The will of God was completed by the employment of government: the arrest in the garden, the sham of a trial during the dark of the night, and ultimately, by the Roman procurator, Pilate, who then ordered an innocent Man to be executed. The very apparatus that Christians place their hopes in every election season is the one shown to itself be imperfect and full of corruptions, such that even our God was subject to and under which He suffered. Tell me again why such a premier is placed on fallible, earthly authorities when our citizenship is in heaven?

What’s most astounding is when a Christian finds no home in either of the major parties because of their belief. They are often accused of pulling for the other side in whom they also disdain. The Republicans and Democrats are akin to the Pharisees and Herodians, trying to catch the follower of Jesus. In that particular episode, the Pharisees were Jewish nationalists who disdained the Roman occupation of Judea while the Herodians were Jews friendly to the Romans. They had a common enemy: Jesus. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes, so they bound together to try to entrap Christ to either accuse Him of lacking Jewish patriotism or opposing the Emperor. The stage is set. They ask Him about paying taxes. His reply, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and the God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). God isn’t anti-government. However, as our citizenship is in heaven, we should relate to the government by giving it what’s due so long as it doesn’t contradict the will of the Father (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29). 

When we sincerely follow Jesus, we’ll often find ourselves at odds with the government and the parties that vie for control. Nevertheless, we can participate in government in good conscience and that to the glory of the Lord. Joseph was second in command to Pharaoh; Daniel was a high-ranking official in the Babylonian King’s court; Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the Persian King. These each served God and the master who was over them, and they did so with integrity and dignity. Cornelius was a Roman centurion who became a follower of Jesus, and he was never commanded to resign his post to follow Christ, so it’s entirely possible to be in an environment and realm, to serve God, and faithfully discharge one’s duty. 

When Christianity began to go awry, in my opinion, was when it started mixing with the government. The Magna Carta of our faith is the Sermon on the Mount, and there are tensions with acts of government and Christian living, but they each exist for their own purposes. Even Constantine himself delayed baptism until on his death bed because he may have well understood the difficulty of being a Christian and an Emperor. The mistake is made when we try to intermingle them in a way they aren’t meant to be mixed. Ravi Zacharias once said, “Anytime religion is politicized, it’s in danger of extinction.” Why is that? Because it can only ever been enacted with the fear of punishment if one doesn’t adhere to it. In colonial America, citizens had to pay taxes to support that state church, and one could even face fines or imprisonment if they didn’t attend church. How is that Christianity? That’s a compulsion, and God doesn’t force anyone to love Him, but He gives them the option. I love how the nineteenth-century novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, put it:

If anything protects society even in our time, and even reforms the criminal himself and transforms him into a different person, again it is Christ’s law alone, which manifests itself in the acknowledgment of one’s own conscience. Only if he acknowledges his guilt before society itself—that is, of the Church—will he acknowledge his guilt before society itself—that is, before the Church ….  And what would become of the criminal, oh, Lord, if Christian society, too, punished him with excommunication each time immediately after the law of the state has punished him? Surely there could be no greater despair….  But the Church, like a mother, tender and loving, withholds from active punishment, for even without her punishment, the wrongdoer is already too painfully punished by the state court, and at least someone should pity him.

The state exists for the purposes of justice (Rom. 13:2–4), but the church for mercy and reconciliation to God (2 Cor. 5:18–19). When Christians place all of their hopes in government, they forget that it is in the Lord that we’re to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4), not in the state. It’s the peace of God that will guard our hearts and minds (Phil. 4:7), not the legislation of Congress. 

Is this to say that we should have NO dealings with the government at all? No, but it is to say that we must guard our mind and heart and make sure our faith is foremost in the God of creation and salvation, and not the government ran by fallible, imperfect humans who are as prone to mistakes as we all are. The Lord told Israel to seek the peace of the city in which they were to live as captives and to pray for it because, in its peace, they would have peace (Jer. 29:7). Prayer is the primary act a Christian can undertake for their home. In the worship of the church, we’re actually commanded to pray for the welfare of authority figures (1 Tim. 2:1–4; cf. 3:15), but because we often ignore this command, prayers for governing leaders are seen as partisan endorsements rather than holy supplication. Withholding vitriolic rhetoric is a second way we may participate in a godly manner (Acts 23:5). If we pray for our leaders as we should, we should naturally withhold the spewing of hateful jargon. A third way we may participate is to render to Caesar’s what’s his by being the absolute best citizens because our citizenship is in heaven. Among the ways we can do this is by obeying laws, paying our taxes, and casting votes to participate in the experiment that is America. We may also serve in capacities and even work for the government in capacities as if we were working for God Himself. Government is His ordinance and servant (Rom. 13:2, 4), so serving in such roles is to effectually serve God Himself in a manner of speaking. We must also recall that the author of Romans 13 was himself executed for not submitting to their authority out of his faithfulness to Jesus, so while he calls for submission to governmental authorities, there is a line in the sand that a Christian can’t and mustn’t cross. Even Christ Himself was subject to the governing authorities, resulting in His death. Self-sacrificial love is how God achieves His purpose in Christ, not through the political system of the day. 

The overconsumption of news can be replaced with an immersion of Scripture, devotions, or sermons that help build the Christian up. The mindless social media debates should be replaced with pleasant conversations about the glory of the Lord. The animosity one feels towards an opposing view should be replaced by the kindness and love of one’s neighbor. Glorying in the bloodshed of rioters or police officers because one views them as inherently evil should be replaced with awe at the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He, for the salvation of the world, willingly sacrificed Himself to protect us from the wrath of God to which we’ve set ourselves. Be different. Be authentically Christian. 

Reasons to Look Forward to Heaven

I have never been to Disney World or Disney Land myself. I know many people who frequent these places with their families, and some are even married couples without children who contend that December is the best time to go because there’s fewer in attendance. I’ve just never been one for theme parks. I’d go farther to confess that I’ve never even been on a rollercoaster, I’m not ashamed to admit. It’s not my thing though I know many have a taste for such excitement, and that’s fine. Walt Disney conceived an excellent notion with his films and animations and would bring it to life in his theme park despite not living to see it come to fruition. On its opening day in 1955, Disney said,

To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…. and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

 As marvelous and wonderful as I hear Disney is, the sad thing is that it doesn’t last long enough for those who desire to be there. You can always go back, but you’ll find yourself leaving again. It’s a vacation spot. It’s not where you live. It may seem to some as heaven on earth, but it’s not heaven at all, because of the time restrictions and a few missing elements. It may be the happiest or most magical place on earth, but it only pales in comparison to the ideals to which it aspires. Heaven is that place, and it’s where we get to spend, not a week only to leave, but an eternity.

Reasons Examined 

There’s certainly a lot of material that could be studied in Revelation 21–22, such as renewed creation. Still, I’d instead look at reasons we Christians look forward to heaven regardless of how one may understand it. It’s fantastic when you consider the value of missing. For example, any team that played against the Chicago Bulls loved with Michael Jordan missed a basket. It wasn’t right for Jordan, but it was for the other team. A deer can always be pleased when a hunter misses that shot, and it has the chance to run away. Obviously, for one, missing is disappointing, while for another missing is sweet. Note what’s missing from heaven: sea (i.e., chaos; cf. Gen. 1:1–3), death, sorrow, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:1, 4; cf. v. 8).

Furthermore, the curse no longer exists—neither the night (Rev. 22:3, 5). These are absent for one particular reason, and that’s because of God’s presence. Joy displaces sorrow and suffering—something comforting to persecuted believers in the first century, and even all those who live now with sadness. Those who persecute use such things to oppress and injure others, but the faithful of God will relish the absence of them in heaven. These are often the first things we might think about when we envision heaven. This is what is obviously most appealing to us, especially in times of hardship and heartache, but it’s not all that there is.

What next appears is the reality and eschatological expectation that God dwells with men and men with Him (Rev. 21:3). Heaven is the “tabernacle” of God—skene in Greek; mishkan in Hebrew; skin in English. The same three-letter root appears for each; skn. Initially, the term noted a large tent often made of skins, which is what the tabernacle was in the wilderness. As a metaphor, this indicates the divine presence of God (cf. Rev. 7:15; John 1:14). This tabernacle, New Jerusalem, is actually the Holy of Holies itself (Rev. 21:16), and the entirety of the city is the tabernacle (Rev. 21:22). I’ve mentioned in preaching before that when God created the heavens and the earth that He did so as a temple. Our sins alienated us from Him and corrupted the world which resulted in His wonderful creation being unclean. Through the tabernacle, temple, and church, He has set holy precincts back in the earth so that He could live among humanity. However, since the planet still contains sin, the new heavens and new earth will be the totality of His original design. This demonstrates a beautiful cohesiveness to the entirety of Scripture and the heart of God.

Finally, there’s the quenching of one’s thirst (Rev. 21:7). Throughout Scripture, a person who thirsts is one who has a need. Those that hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied (Matt. 5:6). As an invitation to an abundant life, Israelites were encouraged to come to God if they thirsted (Is. 55:1), and the psalmist depicted their longing for God as a thirst (Ps. 63:1–2). Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century philosopher, among other things. He wrote a work entitled Pensées (pron. pawn-say; “Thoughts”) in which he wrote

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.[1]

Centuries before Pascal would pen his words, Augustine would write, “Restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee” (Conf. 1.1.1), so God’s angel would show John the pure river of water of life (Rev. 22:1). Our thirst is quenched. Our desires are satisfied.

There’s a lovely poem entitled, “A Letter from Heaven,” that reads:

When tomorrow starts without me;

And I’m not here to see,

If the sun should rise and find your

Eyes, filled with tears for me.

 I wish so much that you wouldn’t cry,

The way you did today,

While thinking of the man things,

We didn’t get to say.

 I know how much you love me,

As much as I love you,

And each time you think of me,

I know you’ll miss me too.

 When tomorrow starts without me,

Don’t think we’re far apart,

For every time you think of me,

I’m right there in your heart.

 “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears says, ‘Come!’ and let him who thirsts comes. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).

[1] Blaise Pascal, Pensées (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 75.

%d bloggers like this: