Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Life Insurance—Good Stewardship?

Biblegems #43
As Christians are becoming increasingly aware, The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Ps. 24:1). That means that all our money and possessions ultimately belong to God. It is wise to ask, therefore, is life insurance a good use of God’s money?

The word “insurance” stems from an older word, “ensure,” which in the mid-1500’s meant “engagement to marry” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It conveyed the idea of “making sure;” a binding agreement or contract. The term “insure” came into its modern use in the 1600’s, where it took on the idea of providing a financial means for “making sure” that necessary expenses were taken care of at death.

Life insurance, properly understood, is a form of inheritance. It does nothing, of course, to en-sure the length or quality of one’s life. Rather, it serves to protect the survivors of someone’s death against funeral costs and loss of income that person brought into the family.

The Bible says, A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous (Prov. 13:22). As believers learn to appreciate their role in God’s plan as managers of His resources rather than owners of our resources, the need becomes apparent to examine every expense, every investment in this light. We don’t want to spend God’s money frivolously, or in ways that once seemed right from a worldly perspective but may not be good stewardship from God’s point of view.

So we need to ask the hard questions: If I were to die today, would those who survive me be adequately protected financially to take care of final expenses (which can be quite high), plus have sufficient funds to manage the costs of living I can no longer provide for? Life insurance can provide the means for “making sure,” as well as we are able, that those who survive us are not overwhelmed financially.

Some people have sufficient wealth at their disposal and designated for inheritance that life insurance may not be necessary. But for most of us, life insurance is a kind of savings account specifically set up for that purpose.

This inheritance also conveys another important and beautiful truth from Scripture. An inheritance is a gift passed on, not earned income. To leave an inheritance is an act of grace; to receive an inheritance is to benefit from an act of grace. The Promised Land given Israel was given as an inheritance from God Himself:

“You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an
inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the
LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations (Lev. 20:24).

Likewise, we who belong to Jesus Christ have our future needs provided for when we pass from this earthly life …into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you (1 Pet. 1:4).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bible And Cremation

Biblegems #42
Does the Bible teach whether it is proper or improper, right or wrong, to use cremation instead of burial?

The Bible contains very few references to cremation, and gives no specific teaching on it whatsoever as a matter of right or wrong, or even proper or improper. That being so, why is cremation an issue for many Bible believing Christians? The reasons are more of a cultural and traditional nature than biblical.

Traditionally, Christians and Jews have buried their dead, while several eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have practiced cremation. Culturally, most Evangelical Christians have associated burial as consistent with biblical teaching, from the practice of the Old Testament patriarchs to the burial of Jesus. Perhaps the most poignant biblical reference in support of burial comes from Genesis 3:19:

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food
until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

However, the fact that the people of the Bible were typically buried rather than cremated does not represent a Bible doctrine. Not only so, but cremation actually reduces the physical body to the “dust” of Genesis 3:19 much faster than burial does. The Bible realistically reflects the ultimate decay of a person’s deceased body to a state of dehydrated chemical “dust.”

Christians who take the Bible seriously also take the doctrine of the resurrection seriously. Resurrection presupposes that the same body of the person who perished will be raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42).

Resurrection does not require a recognizable body—only the fundamental elements that once formed that body. It does not matter how long the person has been deceased, or how scattered those remains may have become over time. If a person died at sea and was subsequently eaten by sharks, the chemical remains of that body would be no more difficult for God to reorganize and resurrect than the remains of someone who had been buried three thousand years ago on a hill long-since eroded by the winds and rain.

The Christian martyr Polycarp, discipled by the apostle John and the Bishop of the church of Smyrna, was burned at the stake in 155 AD. When he refused the offer of release if he would only declare Caesar as Lord, Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Polycarp did not lose his place in the resurrection because his body was burned at the stake.

The truth is, neither burial nor cremation makes any difference to God. It is not how we dispose of the body that is most important, but how we use the body while we inhabit its earthly form. As God’s Word says: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing (1Cor. 13:3).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Three Days And Three Nights

Biblegems #41
I have a question that I've heard several explanations for in the past. Speaking of his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus said in Matthew 12:40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Friday through Sunday morning doesn't work out to 3 days and 3 nights.

This question has vexed non-Jewish people in every generation, for the Scripture is clear that the literal time frame in which Jesus was in the tomb was two nights, two days, and part of a third day. The Jewish people of the day, however, did not question this well-known saying of Jesus (Matt. 27:63), even though they might easily have used it to charge Jesus as being a false prophet because he wasn’t in the tomb for 72 hours before His resurrection.

The reason this charge was never made is that the Jews understood this saying as accurate. Why? Because it was a long accepted practice of the Jewish people in calculating time to treat part of a day as a whole day. There are many examples of this in Scripture as well as in non-biblical sources.

For example, 2 Chronicles 5:7 & 12 tells us: Rehoboam answered, “Come back to me in three days.” So the people went away. Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” We do not know what time of day or night they arrived, nor does it matter. They could not afford to be as precise in setting appointments as we have grown accustomed to. If you showed up any time during the 24 hour period, you were on time. Any part of the day or night was considered a day.

“Three days and three nights” in Matthew 12:40 was a common figure of speech in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. Because we typically get side-tracked on the precise measurement of time, we also end up missing the point of the “sign of Jonah” Jesus’ intended. The meaning of the sign was to compare Jesus’ miraculous resurrection with Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from the huge fish’s belly. We don’t know what portion of those days and nights Jonah actually spent in suffocating stomach acids. What we do know is that what should have been certain death became a demonstration of the power of God.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God (Jonah 2:6).

As with Jonah, so also the Son of Man was not allowed to be defeated by death: …because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay (Acts 2:27). This was the sign of Jonah.