Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Judgment For Christians?

Biblegems #223
Question: If our sins are forgotten once we are saved, what is the purpose for Christians to appear before the judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:10)?

2 Corinthians 5:10 reads: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

This verse teaches that 1) Christians will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” and (2) that the purpose of this judgment is to “receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In other words, how we as believers use the time, talents and resources God entrusts to us in this mortal life prepares us for the responsibilities God will entrust us with in heaven.

Jesus taught about this frequently, often in terms of being rewarded for our actions in this life, whether good or bad:
         Matt. 6:1 Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

On the other hand, doing good to others unselfishly carries an eternal reward:
         Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

The concept of “rewards,” however, should not be misunderstood as some form of payment or trophy. As Jesus taught in many of His parables, His followers on earth will be rewarded in the Kingdom of God with responsibilities in heaven—in proportion to how faithful we were with the responsibilities entrusted to us in this life:
         Matt. 25:20-21   The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
         “His master replied, ’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

But what about the time, talents and resources we wasted in our earthly life? This too will be revealed at the judgment seat of Christ, and, according to 1 Corinthians 3:13-15:
         …his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

God does not “remember” our sins against us in terms of condemnation once we accept Christ’s forgiveness purchased for us on the cross. But every action we take—or don’t take—still has consequences for eternity.

Since that is true, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:23).  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trumpets In The Streets

Biblegems #222
Question: Was blowing trumpets in the streets (as in Matt. 6:2) a real practice in Jesus’ day when people give to the poor, or was this simply a metaphor?

Here is Jesus’ teaching:
         Matt. 6:2  “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

One of the hallmarks of Judaism—then and now—is the practice of doing “sacred deeds” or “mitzvot”—what the New Testament usually translates as “good deeds.” Giving alms to the poor is one example of such a “sacred deed.”  When a person gives alms out of mercy and compassion, Judaism correctly views such an action as a reflection of God’s own mercy, “a deed in the form of a prayer.”[i] Because these sacred deeds are seen as reflecting God’s own holiness, Judaism also views doing good deeds as having a sanctifying effect upon the person who does them, making the person more godly.

A twisted heart can easily turn this into a self-centered effort at being viewed by others as “spiritual” and “godly” based on the number of good deeds performed. And to receive that kind of attention, the good deeds would need to be done in public. There were plenty of opportunities for doing these good deeds in public without appearing self-serving—especially during Israel’s national Feast Days and, even more so, during days set aside for fasting. This is where “blowing the trumpets” comes in.

Rabbinic sources from Jesus’ day indicate that it was common practice to announce the beginning of corporate Days of Fasting with the blowing of trumpets. It was also customary during such Fast Days to publicly pray for rain in association with the planting season. This is likely the practice Jesus was referring to in verse 5:
         Matt. 6:5  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”  

Since all of this was taking place publicly already, what better time to give alms to the poor? The trumpets blow, announcing that the days of fasting have begun, people pour out into the streets to pray for rain and a good harvest season, and those who give to the poor are seen by all their friends and neighbors and applauded for being so “spiritual.”

Those who truly desire to please the Lord in giving to those in need will not draw attention to themselves. It is enough to know that God sees the heart:
         Heb. 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

[i] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God In Search Of Man, Farrar, Straus And Giroux, New York, rep. 1977. Pg. 355

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

God, And The Death of Saul’s Sons

Biblegems #221
Question: In 2 Samuel 21, is God approving of David’s actions in the killing of Saul’s seven sons?

The first fourteen verses of 2 Samuel 21 records king David asking God to reveal the cause of a 3 years famine. God reveals that “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house…because he put the Gibeonites to death” (v.1). So David asks the Gibeonites what he can do to rectify the injustice done to them years before (2-3). The Gibeonites, who had been nearly wiped out as a people by Saul (5), understood the Law of Moses on this matter and requested that seven of Saul’s sons be executed, and David agrees to their terms (5-7).

There are several key points of background that help makes sense of this tragic event:
• The Gibeonites should not have been in the land of Israel at all at this time. All the Canaanite tribes were supposed to have been utterly destroyed when Joshua led the Hebrews into the Promised Land (Dt. 7:1-6). The reason for this was—
         Dt. 7:4  for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’S anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

• Joshua failed in this directive:
         Josh. 9:15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

Consequently, when king “Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah…tried to annihilate them” (v. 2), he was breaking a generations-old treaty with the unsuspecting Gibeonites, thereby shedding innocent blood.

• The Promised Land was granted to Israel, tribe by tribe, as an inheritance from God (Dt. 19:10). God considered both His people Israel, and the land itself, to be holy, His “treasured possession” (Dt. 7:6; Lev. 27:30). Consequently, innocent blood shed on His land had to be atoned for:
         Num. 35:33   Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.      
As God had forewarned, destruction (in the form of a famine) came upon Israel for ignoring His command to rid the land of the Canaanites in the first place, but also for breaking the covenant that had been made with the Gibeonites, slaughtering an innocent people.

According to Israel’s own legal system, the Gibeonites knew they were within their rights to ask for the guilty to be punished for the innocent. And even though king Saul was already dead, his family survived and thrived while the Gibeonite people had been nearly exterminated. The request for “seven” of Saul’s sons represented the ancient Semitic concept of “completeness”—7 sons for the whole decimated tribe of Gibeonites.

David realizes he is obligated to remove the “blood-guilt” from God’s holy land and restore justice, which kicks in Israel’s own God-given legal system of justice.

As is so often the case in spiritual things, the trouble that rains down on our heads is often of our own making.