Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Is Sickness Punishment For Sin?

Biblegems #230

Question: Jesus’ comment in John 5:14 seems to support the teaching of some that the bad things we encounter in life are a direct result of sin in our lives. Can you clarify?

 Here’s Jesus’ statement (NIV, 2011):
         John 5:14   Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

One of the principles for correctly interpreting Scripture is that a narrative—the recording of an event—cannot (by itself) be treated as establishing a doctrinal truth. For example, when Matthew 27:5 records that Judas “went away and hanged himself,” that account cannot be treated as a doctrine supporting suicide! That same  principle of interpretation applies here in John 5:14 as well.

The situation in John 5 provides one example from the life of an invalid whose illness had kept him from walking for 38 years (Jn. 5:5). Jesus questioned whether the man really wanted to be get better (Jn. 5:6), and identified the cause of this particular disability as sin of some kind (Jn. 5:14). That one example, however, cannot be used to teach that all sickness results from the sick person’s sin.

In fact, in contrast to this man’s experience, the Gospel of John recounts another time when Jesus healed a man who had been born blind—where sin was not the cause:
         John 9:1-3  As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
         “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Not all suffering, hardship, tragedy, financial setbacks, etc. can traced back to some specific sin. We live in a sin-broken world contaminated by disease, wickedness, pain and death. Sickness, trouble and pain afflict us all. Sometimes it is of our own making; sometimes not.
         Ps. 34:19   A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all…

That being said, when sickness and hardship come, it is time to take a spiritual health exam. If there is un-confessed sin in our life we need to identify it and deal with it immediately. Sin creates spiritual stress. As such, sin can cause both illness and trouble, and it can prevent healing from taking place.
         Ps. 38:3  Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin.

Therefore, when sickness strikes the Bible instructs us to get spiritually healthy first, removing any barrier to the restoration of our physical health.
         James 5:14-16  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Christians Sin…

Biblegems #229

Question: My understanding is that Christians do sin, and receive forgiveness when they repent; yet 1 John 3:6-10 seems to contradict this. I would like your input.

1 John 3:6-10 seems to say that Christians don’t sin, which contradicts obvious Christian experience as well as an earlier statement in the same letter that admits Christians do sin:
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

John was addressing some heresies plaguing the early church. There were false teachers who claimed that Christians are incapable of sin because they are “born of God.” Other false teachers claimed that God doesn’t care if Christians sin because their sins were already paid for on the cross. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, 1 John 3:1-10 corrects both of these heresies. The wording is extremely important.

1John 3:6 (KJV) says: Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. “Abideth,” means to “remain,” or “continue.” The idea is that it is impossible for a Christian to commit sin while “remaining” or “abiding” in Jesus. That concept sounds very foreign to most of us who learned early in our Christian life that a person is either “in Christ” or not. We don’t see ourselves being in and out of Jesus—it’s an all-or-nothing deal.

The Bible, however, paints a different picture. In Galatians, Christians are strongly admonished to walk in the Spirit to avoid yielding to the sinful nature:
         Gal. 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

         Rom. 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

         Gal. 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

When John writes, “…whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him” (1Jn. 3:6b, KJV), the word translated “sinneth” is a Present Active Participle in the Greek. “Whosoever sinneth” literally translates “whoever continues to sin…” —meaning, whoever continues in a lifestyle of sin does not really know Jesus, and never has.

Verses 8-9, then, builds on that truth by explaining that genuinely saved, born-again followers of Jesus Christ can be recognized by their lifestyle. They will not continue in a sinful lifestyle (8, 9). After all, Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (8).

1John 3:10 follows the same use of the Present Active Participle as verses 8-9. “Anyone who does not do what is right “ should be translated “Anyone who does not continue in doing right…”   Verse 10 provides the following practical application of verses 6-9. When any believer encounters a community of professing believers in Jesus Christ (a local church), a two-part test can quickly determine if that church is truly Christian:
         1) Does the church turn a blind eye to members (and leaders) who continue in a sinful lifestyle?

         2) Do the people in this church demonstrate a consistent love for one another?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Buying Swords For Jesus?

Biblegems #228

Question: Why, in Luke 22:36-38, does Jesus tells His disciples to buy swords if they don’t have one, then later in the Garden of Gethsemane rebuke one of them for using it against the arresting party (Lk. 22:50-51)?  

Here is the reference in question:
         Luke 22:36    He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
         The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
         “That is enough,” he replied.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear Jesus’ tone of voice or see the expression on His face. Imagine Jesus’ statement about the swords if we added different emoticons to it:
         “…if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (serious face)

“…if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (terrified face)

“…if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (winking face)

So, was Jesus serious about buying a sword…or scared…or just kidding…or what?

Jesus reminded His disciples at the last Supper of how, earlier in their ministry, He had sent them out into cities and villages to proclaim the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. At that time they were to take no money or traveling clothes, but to expect people to show them hospitality:
         Luke 10:4-6 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“But now,” Jesus said (Lk. 22:36), things have changed. With His impending death as a criminal, the disciples also would be looked upon as criminals. They could no longer expect the warm, friendly reception they had experienced at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Instead, the disciples would be viewed as “transgressors” (i.e., law breakers), even as Isaiah had prophesied (Is. 53:12), with Jesus as their ringleader.

The disciples produced two swords, and Jesus said in response, “It is sufficient” (v. 38). Sufficient for what? Certainly not sufficient as a defense against trained, armed guards. Two swords would, however, convince the arresting officers that Jesus’ followers were “transgressors,” —violent, law-breaking rebels.

Did Jesus want the disciples to use the swords to protect Him? Absolutely not! The disciples did not understand that the swords were basically for show, to fulfill prophecy, and in their misunderstanding they acted in violence (v. 51). Then, not only did Jesus heal the injured man and rebuke His disciples, but He made it clear that the use of violence had never been His tactic:
         Luke 22:52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?

This passage reveals that the presence of swords among Jesus’ disciples was only intended as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Judge Not" & Jury Duty

Biblegems #227

Question: I have heard "judge not lest ye be judged" (KJV) being used in opposition to jury duty and some other forms of justice in our governmental system.

The phrase, "judge not lest ye be judged" comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1.  While the word used for “judge” can be applied to a wide variety of situations, including the legal system, the immediate context makes it clear that Jesus has something else entirely in mind.

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus explains precisely what He means. First, He explains the consequences of passing judgment on others. "Judge not lest ye be judged" means that by judging others a person exposes himself to being judged by the very same standard he uses against someone (v.1-2). The situation Jesus has in view is interpersonal, not judicial. “Judging,” here, means to speak badly of someone with a critical attitude. James makes the same point:
         James 4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (NIV ’84)

Second, Jesus provides an example in verses 3-5 of what He means by “judging.” He humorously portrays a person who has a huge wooden plank sticking out of his eye attempting to pick a speck of sawdust out of another person’s eye. The point is clear: we have no business criticizing others for things we are guilty of ourselves.

It is interesting, however, that Jesus does not command us to never judge others; rather, He instructs us in verse 5 to take care of our own problem before we attempt to talk to someone else about their problem! That by itself shows that "judge not lest ye be judged" is given as a proverb, a guideline for behavior in interpersonal relationships.

Jesus Himself taught elsewhere that it is necessary to “judge” others, so long as we do it properly:
         John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

For example, it is imperative that believers become adept at judging whether a person is genuinely representing God or not. We have to be skilled at testing the spirit of a person:
         1John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

As believers, we are free to participate in the jury system in good conscience. In fact, as Jesus’ followers we should be above reproach in that setting. Jesus is speaking to the attitude of our hearts in dealing with other people, nothing more. This is precisely what God’s Word addresses repeatedly, as in Romans 14:
         Rom. 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.