What Christians Miss When They Can’t Assemble

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers… And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common. – Acts 2.42, 44

From the very beginning, God designed the church to be together. Due to the recent spread of the coronavirus disease, a vast majority of congregations have decided to cancel their regularly scheduled weekly services.

It should be noted that those churches which have chosen not to assemble are not simply acting out of fear. Even faithful Christians who do not fear death feel a deep level of love and concern for those who are most vulnerable to the disease, as Wesley Hazel has articulated so well here.

It should also be noted when churches temporarily cancel services due to extremely unique health concerns, this is not “forsaking the assembly” as several others have effectively explained.

As Jack Wilke has rightly observed, now is not the time to disregard the authority of our elders, or to “downplay [another congregation’s] autonomy, diminish their eldership, and place ourselves as an arbiter of their of their church’s decision.”

If you are struggling with guilt over your congregation’s decision to temporarily cancel services, I encourage you to carefully consider the points these brothers have raised, and then search the scriptures to see if these things are so.

At the same time, if you are missing your regular routine of gathering with other Christians, that’s a good thing! When Christians can’t assemble, they should miss it! From the very beginning of the church, Christians have prioritized the practice of assembling together. Live-streamed worship services and social media interaction is a great blessing that can help us temporarily fill some gaps while we are separated, but they will never be a suitable replacement for Christian assembly.

Christians Miss Praying Together

Of course we can and should pray individually while social distancing (Mt. 6.5-6). But the early church had a practice of praying together.

And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them…” – Acts 4.24

So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. – Acts 12.5

It is important to pray with other believers. Praying together encourages us and unifies us as we share our common faith. Those who may be alone and struggling, can be greatly encouraged as they hear others praying with them. It also builds up love and concern for others as we intercede together.

The good news is that this is not completely impossible during this time of separation. It may require extra effort, such as calling someone, and (though it may feel awkward at first) inviting them to pray with you over the phone. Churches should also take care to livestream prayers along with their livestreamed lessons.

Christians Miss Singing Together

Once again, we can and should sing privately (Ja. 5.13). But part of the point of singing is “teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3.16) and “speaking to one another” (Eph. 5.19).

We often think that “teaching and admonishing” are tasks reserved for teachers and leaders in the congregation. But Paul’s command was for the entire church, not just the leadership. We all have a role to play in helping one another grow in wisdom, love, and knowledge. Paul also tells them that one unique way to do this is in our singing. Our songs are indeed directed vertically, as praise towards God, but they are also directed horizontally towards one another. The words we sing can teach, inspire, strengthen, and lift up our brothers and sisters. This is something that we can’t do when we are separated, and we should miss it.

Christians Miss Studying Scripture Together

Once again, private Bible study is important. But it was important for the early church to be “devoting themselves to the apostle’s doctrine” while gathering together (Acts 2.42, 44). Although nothing requires that Christians must do this in large assemblies of hundreds of people, Luke observes the practice of the early church in this way:

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. – Acts 5.42

When Christians study Scripture together, we have built in “checks and balances”. A group of Christians studying together are less likely to all make the same interpretation mistake as one individual. We all come to the passage with slightly different eyes and backgrounds, and are more likely to discern the author’s original meaning when we work together. Studying scripture together builds relationships and unifies us around a common understanding of the truth.

When the early church gathered on the first day of the week to break bread, they also took the time consider God’s message together (Acts 20.7).

Speaking of breaking bread…

Christians Miss Sharing the Lord’s Supper Together

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. – Acts 20.7

One of the most important reasons the church gathered on the first day of the week was to break bread together. The Lord’s Supper is something we are supposed to share with one another.

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless as sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. – 1 Corinthians 10.16-17

This is something can’t do when we can’t assemble. Of course we can, and should, partake of the Lord’s Supper in our homes, and as we eat that bread, we should be mindful of our brothers and sisters scattered all over the world who are sharing that bread with us. But the Lord’s Supper is designed as something we share together. That’s why Paul instructed the church at Corinth to “wait for one another” before partaking (1 Cor. 11.33).

Sharing that one bread reminds us that we are one body. Bodies are not designed to be separated, and when they are separated, it should be painful and it should be temporary. Separated body parts don’t survive long without being reattached to the body. We must reassemble as soon as we possibly can.

Christians Miss Sharing and Giving

The early church was noteworthy for the way they came together to share with one another.

And those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. – Acts 2.44-45

When necessity arose, the church systematized their giving, by giving on each first day of the week when they gathered together (1 Cor. 16.1-2). When Christians gather together, this makes it easy both to identify the needs of one another and it becomes convenient to give. When Christians give together, we are able to hold one another accountable for our generosity.

We are facing a time when many Christians are, and will be struggling. Layoffs and income reduction are happening everywhere throughout our economy. Financial needs are higher than they have been in a long time. Yet without the convenience of the weekly assembly, almost every congregation is experiencing a significant decrease in their contributions.

Yes, we can and must give even when we can’t assemble. We should be reaching out to our elders and asking them how. But we certainly miss the convenience and accountability that comes with Christian assemblies.

Christians Miss Love and Encouragement

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10.24-25

The word translated “forsaking” is a word for complete abandonment. Temporarily canceling services is not “forsaking the assembly.” But we must emphasize the word “temporary” and we must assemble together again as soon as possible, even if only in groups of ten meeting in back yards in the open air with ten feet between each chair.

According to this scripture, one of the purposes of assembling is to stimulate love and good deeds. In other words, by assembling together, Christians have an opportunity to deepen their relationships with one another and to encourage one another into deeper involvement in the works of the church. When Christians can’t assemble, relationships and involvement both suffer.

“Let Us Go to the House of the Lord”

It is to be hoped that as churches go through this time of separation, that Christians will grow to appreciate the privilege of assembling more than ever before. It may be that this will help us all to develop an attitude like that expressed by David in Psalm 122.2

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD”

The New Testament nowhere teaches that we must assemble in large crowds. In fact, the early church didn’t meet in church buildings. They met “from house to house” in crowds that were small enough to fit inside a single home.

It may be a very long time before we can gather back together in large church building auditoriums. But we must not forget that Christian assemblies are critically important. When Christians can’t assemble, we miss out on numerous blessing and opportunities to encourage one another. To some extent, when we are apart, relationships will weaken, involvement will wane. It is likely that many weaker Christians will not survive this time of separation.

Any separation from the assembly must be as temporary as possible. Online worship services, social media, and text messaging are all great tools that can help alleviate the pain of separation. But there is no replacement for Christians assembling together.

If this coronavirus crisis drags on for longer than we expect, the time may come when we need to take some measured risks so that we can assemble – even if only in small groups in back yards. Christian assemblies are absolutely indispensable.

May we never take lightly the privilege of Christian assemblies. Let us pray together that the LORD will hasten the day when we will hear those word again: “Let us go to the house of the LORD”. I will be glad. Won’t you?

“The Cholera and the Christian Religion” by David Lipscomb

David Lipscomb, “The Cholera and the Christian Religion,” Gospel Advocate 15.28 (17 July 1873) 649-653

The object of giving to man the Christian religion is to educate him up to the full observance of the will of God, as Christ observed it.  Christ came to do his will even unto death that we might live according to the will of God. The great object of all God’s dealings with man is to induce him to give himself up unreservedly to do the will of God, to submit to his laws. Christ’s life was a perfect submission to the will of his Father in Heaven. The religion of Jesus Christ, then, proposes to reproduce in our lives the life of Christ, both in spirit and active labor. The reproduction in our lives of the life of Christ is the end before us, for our attainment. To this work, we pledge ourselves when we profess to become his followers. We say, we will, with the help of God, strive to live according to his precepts. His life was the practical exemplification of his precepts. He practiced the precepts he gave for the government of the world. He gave in percept for the government of his followers the rules of his own life.

To the extent that we follow his example, and thus practice his precepts, we form within us the living Christ. Paul to the Galatians, 4, 15, says,

My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.

Again Colos. 1, 27,

To whom God would make know what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory, whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

We are not only brought into Christ, but Christ is also formed in us by a learning and compliance with his will. The unification between Christ and the disciples progresses from two different directions. The attainment of that unity with Christ is the Christian’s work in life.

Man is baptized out of himself, out of the world and its institutions, and is baptized into Christ that he may walk in him, obey him, enter into his spirit and that Christ may be formed in him. He thus becomes one with Christ, he is in him, he acts through him. The pledge that we solemnly make in our profession of faith in Christ and of our baptism into him is, that we will strive to reproduce his life before the world in our own lives. Hence we are epistles of Christ to the world, to be read of all men.

To reproduce the life of Christ in our own lives is to act as Christ would act, were he in our places. We thus become Christ’s representatives to the world. The solemn pledge of our lives is to act to the best of our ability in the various relationships that we occupy in the world, and in the exigencies and circumstances in which we are placed as Christ would act, were he here situated as we are.

A man with talent and social position confesses Christ, puts him on in baptism. He pledges to God most sacredly, before the world, he will use that talent or ability as Christ would use it. A man with one, two, ten or a hundred thousand dollars, as baptized out of himself into Christ, he pledges as a servant of Christ to try to act as Christ would, were he here on earth situated as this individual is, with his one, ten, or one hundred thousand dollars. That is the obligation, nothing less. (I have no utopian idea that Christ in such circumstances would divide his ten or one hundred thousand dollars among a set of lazy thriftless vagrants or spendthrifts, that would be no better off with it, than without it. But he would so use it as to relieve the pressing necessities of the suffering and to help the helpless, and teach all the way of industry, righteousness, goodness and thrift).

We came into the church with this pledge. We speak and act for Christ, to the world, in the place or stead of Christ. How do we act for him? We stand as Christ to the world. We are the body of Christ. In us he dwells. How do we represent him?

Recently the Cholera made a fearful visitation upon our people. It fell with especial severity upon the poor. It often first attacked the strong arm, the stay and reliance of the family. If not his, it struck down other members of his family so that he must needs cease to labor, in order to nurse them. Again all business ceased, and he could not get work, to support his family. In one family of industrious people, consisting of a father, mother and six industrious boys and girls, every one died save the mother, and she was prostrated. Another, a family—a nice, well-refined, well-raised family—consisted of a father, a carpenter by trade, a mother feeble with consumption, two daughters about grown, who sewed in a millinery establishment, a daughter and niece, about 12 each.

The father was taken ill and died within a few hours. The eldest daughter followed soon. The youngest daughter and niece lingered days between life and death. Only one daughter, a delicate girl was up, and she continually threatened with an attack; they too at times without a morsel of food, for sick or well.  Another case, among the colored people. The family in one house consisted of a father, mother, a married son with wife and infant, and two small children. The father, mother, son and son’s wife were all taken ill. The two males were buried. The son’s wife died on Friday night. The mother in bed sick, with the infant grandchild and one of her own small children sick. The body remained uncoffined in that house until Monday morning about ten o’clock. No one was present, able to go and report the death to the proper authorities. What think you of a cholera corpse, lying in a small room with three other sick persons in the sultry, hot weather from Friday June 20th to Monday, June 23rd?

This occurred a little out of the corporation, but in a thickly populated negro village. We mention these as specimen cases. They are extreme cases, but there were many approximations to them.

Now in view of these things and the wild panic that seized the population, what would Christ have done in the emergency? Had he been a resident of Nashville with ten, twenty or a hundred thousand dollars, what would he have done? What did he do in the person of his representatives here?

Would he have become panic stricken with fear—fear of death, and have used his means to get himself and family, with their fashionable and luxurious appendages out of danger, to some place of fashionable resort and pleasure, and left his poor brethren and neighbors to suffer and perish from neglect and want?

That is just what he did do in the person of many of his professed representatives. In the person of others he retired to the cool shades of his own luxurious and spacious city mansion elevated above the noxious miasms that destroyed the poor and unfortunate and left them to die, in want and neglect, without attention from him. Did you who so acted bear true testimony to the world for him for whom you profess to act? Was not your course a libel upon him and his character? How can those who so acted again profess to be his children?

The religion of our Savior was intended to make us like Christ, not only in our labor of love—of our self sacrifice for the good of others, but also in raising us above a timid, quaking fear of death. If it does not make us willing to brave death and spend out time and money for the good of our suffering fellow-creatures, offcast and sinners though they be, it does not raise us above a mere empty profession that leaves us scarcely less than hypocrites. The religion that does not induce us to do this essential work of a true Christian cannot save us. The rich often think that they cannot condescend to do the work of nursing and caring for the poor. It is degrading. It is hard I know, just precisely as hard as it is to enter the kingdom of heaven, not a whit more difficult to do the one than the other.

These fatal scourges, under God, become opportunities to show the superior excellence of the Christian religion, in giving true courage, love and self-sacrifice to its votaries. Alas what is it judged by the course of a majority of its professors? What do we better than others, in these days of sorrowful visitation?

Christian men and women should be prudent, and cautious in such surroundings. It is proper, we think, to send women and children, who are incapable of service to the sick, and are liable to the disease beyond its reach, when possible. Bur for able bodied Christian men and women to be flying from the city when their brethren and neighbors and fellow-creatures are suffering and dying for lack of attention and help, is such a contradiction in ideas, we know of no means of reconciling them. We think true Christians would come from the surrounding country and towns to the smitten community to aid the needy. I believe they would bear charmed lives in such a course. God would protect them. We heard Dr. Bowling remark during the greatest fatality, that men doing such a work never took disease and died. But if they did, the feeling and spirit out to be that of the three Hebrew children, when threatened with the fiery furnace, if they did not disobey God. The response was, If God will he can deliver. But whether he will or not, we will not disobey God.

Those who did quietly and calmly do their duty although in the midst of pestilence, want, suffering and death, found these the happiest days of their life. Days to which they can always look back with a feeling of true satisfaction. We trust we may all learn that Christian men and women must be possessed of true and calm courage—that they must be able to face death and find true happiness here, as well as a crown of joy hereafter, in doing their duty in all circumstances.

I Am Not Alone: The Ever-Present God, Israel, and the Church (part 1)

Article written by guest author, Stephen Scaggs

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” In the beginning God said about humans that, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While this, in context, refers to the creation of the woman as helper, Paul looks back on this chapter retrospectively and writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).

It is still a staggering number of Christians who claim they can be spiritual without the church. Even though many want “Jesus, but not church,” the inherent tragedy is the misunderstood Jesus. For people who make such statements, if you were to ask them, “What was Jesus’ mission?” or “What did Jesus teach about more than any other subject?”, the likely response would be his mission was about individual salvation and his subject was about love, grace, and forgiveness.

What is clear from people who say such things is that they do not actually read the gospels, to see what the Jesus of history actually was about. Nor do they seem to know anything about the Hebrew Bible, divorcing the gospel from its story. If we picked up Return of the King or Return of the Jedi without having read/watched the saga so far, we would not have a clue what was going on, who the characters were, what was the tension needing to be resolved, etc.

The purpose of this series of articles is to magnify the church as the bride of Christ, and to help persuade my fallen brothers and sisters that, in the words of one person, “[Church is] more than an obligation, it’s our foundation: the family of God. I know it’s hard, but we need each other. We’re brothers and sisters!”

The Ever-Present God

Ever since man was expelled from Eden, God has never gave up his pursuit to reclaim what was lost. From the calling of Abraham to the formation of Israel at Sinai, God has been committed to restoring “blessing to all families of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3) and frequently expresses his desire to “live among his people” (Exodus 25:8).

Back in the beginning of Exodus when Moses encounters God in the Burning Bush, it is the first time where God seems to reveal the divine name. But before that he states community: he says, “I am the God of your father: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (3:6). We’re not ethnically Jewish (at least most of us aren’t!) so those names may not mean the same to all of us: however, not only does this communicate God’s promises to bless, but as Jesus points out (Matthew 22:32), this implies that they were present with God even though they have been dead for 400+ years.

And God confesses that “he has not forgotten about his promises.” He says,

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land…. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

This may be somewhat humorous: “I am going to deliver them… I will send you to bring my people out of Egypt!” I think Moses was on board for the first part, but not for that last part! Moses? A deliverer? Moses asks, “What makes you think anyone will listen to me?” To which God replies, “I will be with you.” That would be enough, wouldn’t it? But then Moses asks, “What name should I give them?” And then God replies, “I AM WHO I AM” (EHYEH) and then in the next verse he says, “YAHWEH (this is the 3rd person of EHYEH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob sent me to you.” This is usually translated in our English translations as LORD in all capital letters, or Jehovah.

The very name of our God communicates that God is both immutable and ever present, from generation to generation. Time, space, and matter cannot deter our God. Even if the church has been in exile in Egypt for centuries, God has not forgotten his people. He will dwell once again with his people: this is his promise, this is his blessing. This is the mystery of Christ and the church, and what this starving world needs.

Barton W. Stone’s Lecture on Matthew 5:38-48

The Christian Messenger; July 1844

Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
– Matthew 5.38

The law of Moses admitted of, yea, enjoined strict retaliation on its subjects; the reverse of which our great Lawgiver Christ Jesus enjoins on his subjects with equal strictness. “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil.” The word evil is an adjective, and doubtless agrees with person understood, resist not an evil or injurious person – if he smite thee on thy right cheek, retaliate not by smiting him also, rather meekly offer the other cheek. By doing thus you may overcome the injurious person, and bring him to submission to the truth. Christ himself, set the example. When he was reviled he reviled not again, when he suffered (more than a stroke on the cheek) he neither retaliated, nor threatened the injurious, but counted himself to him that judgeth righteously. If this precept of Jesus be binding on one of his followers, it is binding on all, and his example sanctions the obligation. “Surely these people will learn war no more,” neither the art nor the practice of it. If genuine Christianity were to overspread the earth, wars would cease, and the world would be bound together in the bonds of peace. This is Christ’s kingdom – the kingdom of peace. A nation professing Christianity, yet teaching, learning and practicing the arts of war cannot be of the kingdom of Christ, nor do they live in obedience to the laws of Christ – the government is anti-Christian, and must reap the fruits of her infidelity at some future day.

But what shall be said of the nation which seeks to injure another, and in face make a trade of it? Yet professing Christianity? The answer is easy. They are leagued with the powers of darkness, and shall share of all their pains.

So far has the Christian world fallen from Christianity, and so long lost sight of it, that its professed advocates have in many instances amalgamated with paganism, and push Christianity into the back grounds. War, so contrary to the kingdom of peace, is taught as a science at military academies, and that too at the expense of the nation. Legislators condemn dueling, and impose severe penalties, and yet these same legislators will justify the same principle on a larger scale – a war between two nations. Their principle is to resist the injurious – but our legislator says, resist not the injurious. Whom shall we obey? God or man?

And if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
– Matthew 5.40

This man who sues you is an injurious person. If he takes away your coat resist not the injurious, rather let him take thy cloak also. Show what a low estimate you place on worldly possession, that your treasure is above. This course may save your enemy. The same principle is continued. Rather than resist the other person,

And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away.
– Matthew 5.41-42

These precepts are in as plain language as can be expressed. I pretend not to make them plainer. This will, or should satisfy those who say the scriptures mean what they say, and say what they mean. They are certainly against avarice, selfishness and unkindness, and plainly express the contrary. We must make God our example. If we admit one exception to the rules laid down, we may admit others for a similar reason, and know not where to stop; one may explain them away, and act as is generally done, as if such a law was not in existence, and yet profess the Bible to be the sole rule of our practice.

Ye hath heard that it hath been said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you.
– Matthew 5.43-44

The rule of conduct, by which the ancients were regulated, was to love their neighbor and hate their enemy. – It is necessary to inquire with one of old, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus gave the inquirer a practical definition in the Samaritan, doing good to an unknown man in great distress, who had been abandoned by the priest and the Levite of his own nation. The Jews were martial enemies to the Samaritans, yet this Samaritan shewed mercy to a Jew in great distress, when he well knew he was his enemy. He was the neighbor, not the enemy. They are set in contrast. An enemy is described in the next verse, as one that curses you – hates you – and despitefully uses and persecutes you. A neighbor is described as one that loves, blesses and does good to them that curse and hate him, and prays for them who despitefully use and persecute him. This definition of a neighbor, is the same as that given above in the case of the Samaritan. How lovely – how divine is the portrait! If all who confess Jesus were of this character, what a body of light and glory would shine upon our world! They, the world, would have to shut their eyes against the light or yield to its power and become neighbors too! This character, drawn in miniature, is the very character of the Father of the universe, and manifested in his son, and in providence to the fallen world. Christians are thus enjoined to act towards their enemies – to all mankind, for the purpose stated in the next.

That ye may be the children of your father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
– Matthew 5.45

Now, who are the children of our heavenly Father? Those who labor to be, and to do, like him – those who are neighbors in heart and practice. None else will acknowledge by the Savior of sinners – none else will be admitted into heaven. Such a society on earth would resemble heaven itself. “In such a society as this my weary soul would rest.” Such a society as this can only profit the world, and without it the world would be lost. The wrangling of the carnal bands of nominal Christians in hostile array against each other, spending their strength in vain disputing about opinions, do they profit the world? Are they not a stumbling block to them? Keep your heavenly father always before your eyes as your pattern. This you will do by keeping in constant view Jesus, the image – the express image of his person, for in seeing him you see the Father, – the mercy, grace, and love of the Father flowing from the lips, the hands, the eyes, and wounds of Jesus for a rebel world. Such a compassionate, tender spirit should we possess, and such a love in deed and in truth, should we exhibit to the world, not only to our neighbors, or those that love us, but also to our enemies that hate us.

For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the Publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Publicans so?
– Matthew 5:46

By cultivating and cherishing such a spirit as recommended above, and by such conduct towards our enemies, is the pain line drawn by the divine hand between the Christian an the world – it is in fact the discrimination between them. If the present generation of professed Christians were judged according to these rules, who could stand?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
– Matthew 5:48

O let us labor after this perfection! Let the preachers set the example to their flocks, that they may present them spotless and blameless to their Lord. Their reward shall be great, not in this world’s goods, but in heaven. They that go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless return again, bearing their sheaves with them. O Christians, be diligent to make your calling and election sure. Look up, help is at hand, your redemption is nigh.

B. W. S.

And Man Became a Living Soul

Article written by guest author, Stephen Scaggs

Soul, spirit, and body. These words make their rounds in our Christian vocabulary and they have a rich depth of meaning. I hope that in exploring this we learn to appreciate the importance of the body, and better understand the hope for resurrection and the eternal destiny of the soul.

Throats and Souls

What in the world does your throat have to do with your soul? Well, quite a lot actually. The word used predominately in the Bible for soul in its most literal definition means “throat” or “neck.”

This is how it is translated into English in many passages. In Psalm 69, the psalmist David is in the thick of turmoil. In verse 1 he writes, “Save me, God, for the water has risen to my neck.” Notice the wordplay here. The Hebrew people see your neck as a connection or bridge to life. And your life becomes endangered when you are on the verge of drowning. So David depicts his dire straits as water coming up and nearly drowning.

Perhaps the most famous example of this usage is from Psalm 42. Notice how the psalmist begins. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” While this may seem like an endearing image of a stag longing for God, the reason the deer is panting is because it is dying of thirst. As the rest of Psalm 42 bears out, this is a psalm for help and deliverance. But notice the subtle wordplay where you drink water with your throat, and the psalmist uses this metaphor to describe his deep longing for God’s presence.

You Are a Soul … and a Body

The first time the word soul appears is on the second page of the Bible.

…Then Yahweh God formed the man [Hebrew adam הָֽאָדָ֗ם] of dust from the ground [Hebrew adamah הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man [Hebrew adam הָֽאָדָ֖ם] became a living soul [Hebrew nephesh לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ].
– Genesis 2:7

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.” This is sometimes falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis. But what I find interesting about this statement is that nowhere do the biblical authors seem to have this ideology. Rather the first time the word soul appears in the holy scriptures, humans are not given souls, but rather the dust becomes a soul.

Is there a distinction between your body and soul? Yes… and no. Even Jesus recognizes that there is a distinction between body and soul (Matt. 10:28 ESV). But Jesus’ statement here is in no way validating a low view of the body. The point here is that for the biblical authors your body is an integral component of your identity. It has been pointed out that the word soul functions more of as a life spark for man. It is who you are. But your body is an integral component of your soul, and should not be thought of as expendable or temporary.

Motivation for Godly Living

In many circles it seems that there is some significance given to the body, but that the body is ultimately expendable. But this is not the case for the apostle Paul. This emissary for King Jesus spends much time talking about the connection between your body and how you should then live your life. Notice some often quoted but glossed over texts:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:1-2

Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
– 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

…According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
– Philippians 1:20

Hope for Bodily Resurrection

Despite many popular misconceptions, the Bible nowhere describes our heavenly hope as a bodiless or soulish existence. Biblical hope for the Christian is anchored in redemption: the holy prophets and apostles appeal to the bodily resurrection as the hope in which we are saved. For the New Testament authors, the bodily resurrection is not another check off the itinerary list as part of the Judgment Day: rather it is a core event. And in this bodily resurrected state, it is then we will be with the Lord forever and ever (1 Thess. 4:17).

To this point, arguably one of the clearest texts is Romans 8:18-25. Notice what the apostle Paul considers the hope of our salvation:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … But we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies: for it is in this hope we were saved! Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Some object to this bodily hope with appellations to 1 Corinthians 15, which is ironic. It is ironic because 1 Corinthians 15 is precisely saying the opposite. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…” (15:44). Those who attempt to use this verse to argue against bodily resurrection must completely separate this verse from rest of the context in order to argue their point. Also, we need to be using the words “natural” and “spiritual” here as Paul uses them in chapter 2. The difference between natural and spiritual is not that one is immaterial or ethereal, and the other is dirt. The difference here is between what has become corrupted and what is incorruptible, what has become weakened by sin and what is strengthened by the Spirit of God (i.e. spiritual). Also, it is still a body, not a ghostly apparition.

Some also object with phrases like “flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” or other miscellaneous texts about not being able to see God. But I think it is important for us to stop when we read “flesh and blood” and realize that Jesus describes his spiritual, glorified resurrected body as “flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39). The phrase “flesh and blood” is actually a Hebrew idiom, and if you trace how it is used in the Bible (five other times), it is used to describe fallen, unregenerate, corrupted man (Matt. 16:13-17; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 6:12; Heb. 2:14).

Some also appeal to 2 Corinthians 5. But I encourage you to not to read 5:1 in isolation from the entire context. The argument Paul is making from 5:1-10 is not that “our earthly tent” is torn down. While in this present existence “we groan,” and we “long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,” which is what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15. The dwelling from heaven and the building from God is our resurrected body. Notice for the apostle Paul what it means to be dead and out of the body: “we will not be found naked … we do not want to be unclothed … what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.” (vv. 3-4). For the apostle Paul he desires earnestly to be in the presence of the Lord, but his ultimate hope is to be in his glorified body and in the presence of the Lord. It is not an either/or, but a both/and.

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Though some may think of their bodies as expendable, simply housing what is truly important, the hope of the resurrection of the body is utterly crucial to our faith. Not only does Jesus debate strongly for bodily resurrection (Matt. 22:29-33), but it is for the resurrection from the dead that the apostle Paul most frequently preaches on (Acts 23:6). When Jesus was resurrected, at no point does Jesus discard his appearance. When he was risen, Jesus actually eats breakfast on two separate occasions with his disciples (John 21:12). He describes himself. In fact, even at God’s right hand, Jesus is still a human (1 Tim. 2:5).

What do we mean by resurrection? Well, we have a lot of examples of what resurrection meant for the people of God. Every time the dead are risen in the bible, it is in their own body: Lazarus (Jn. 11), Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:40ff), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). And ultimately, of course, Jesus (Lk. 24:39; Acts 2:31; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). The difference between the resurrection of Jesus, the firstfruits of the dead, and the others raised is that Jesus would be raised never to die again: he was immortal, incorruptible.

The resurrection from the dead that we long for is precisely this. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4 ESV). As John the Beloved writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
-1 John 3:2

Where Does This Leave Us?

Many Christians are comfortable talking about the resurrection of the body. But I suspect for many Christians this talk is uncomfortable. I think that it is uncomfortable because we all, as the apostle Paul mentions earlier, “groan in this present existence.” The material body itself is not evil: it is part of what God called “very good.” A statue is not evil even if black paint is vandalized on the image: all it needs is to be cleaned. So our experiences in this body, whether it is cancer, sickness, disease, chronic pain, or death, does not mean our body is bad or subpar: it means it needs redemption.

So as Christians, let us learn to love our bodies, which will one day be redeemed from the grave, redeemed from bondage, and will finally exist in all its created glory in the presence of our Savior.

“My Kindom Is Not of This World” – Can You Prove It?

Jesus cited the fact that His disciples were not fighting for His self-defense as the proof that His kingdom was not of this world. When Jesus was facing trial before Pilate as a suspected Jewish revolutionary, Pilate gave Jesus a chance to explain His actions. In response, Jesus didn’t simply proclaim “My Kingdom is not of this world”; He pointed to the non-violence of His servants as proof to substantiate His claim.

Two thousand years later Jesus’s kingdom is still not of this world. But can we prove it like Jesus did? Can we still point to His disciple’s refusal to fight to bear witness to this fact?

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me? Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My Kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a King?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” – John 18.33-37

What Did Jesus Mean By “Not of This World”?

A commitment to nonviolence is at the heart of Jesus’s definition of His Kingdom. Of course the differences between the Kingdom of God and earthly kingdoms go far beyond whether or not the servants of those kingdoms fight or not. There are many ways in which the Kingdom Jesus preached is “not of this world.”

  • Their source of authority is different. Earthly kingdoms are led by men, while Jesus’s kingdom has its authority in heaven.
  • Their ability to influence the behavior of their citizens are different. Earthly kingdoms seek to reform behavior by use of outward force, while Jesus’s kingdom seeks to inwardly transform hearts.
  • Their boundaries are different. Earthly kingdoms are divided by geographic or racial boundaries, while Jesus’s kingdom is universal in nature.
  • Their source of power is different. Earthly kingdoms look to the power of the cross (or other weapons used to impose the threat of death), while Jesus’s kingdom looks to the power of the cross (i.e. the willingness to submit to death).

But of upmost importance, we must not miss the one key difference that Jesus actually points to in His answer.

  • Their response to evil is different. “If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would have been fighting”

When Jesus used the phrase “of this world” He was not speaking of the geographic location of His kingdom, but rather He was referring to the world’s way of doing things. For example, Jesus said He came to testify against “the world” because its deeds are evil (Jn. 7.7). Elsewhere John would say, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2.15).

The contrast between “of this world” and “not of this world” is referring to a worldly way of doing things and a Godly way of doing things. The commitment of Jesus’s followers to nonviolence is at the heart of this difference.

Jesus Proved It. Can We?

Jesus didn’t just claim that His Kingdom was not of this world. He pointed to the observable fact that His servants were not fighting as proof.

If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.

Just a short time earlier He has rebuked Peter when Peter attempted to come to his defense (Jn. 18.10-11).Had Peter, or any of the other disciples been fighting at the time, Jesus’ claim would have been completely meaningless. Can you image Pilate’s response if such had been the case? “What do you mean your Kingdom is not of this world!? Then how do you explain the actions of your disciples!?” But as it was, Jesus’ disciples were not fighting, and Jesus’s teaching stood with the weight of observable truth.

Love Your Enemies

If we are to call ourselves Christ-ians, we must love our enemies like Christ does. For the early church, loving enemies was not just a minor feature of their faith – it was one of the most distinguishing features of the early church.

Jesus’s command to love enemies must never be reduced to simply “be nice to your grumpy neighbors.” It must be a love that is as radical as Jesus’s love on the cross, and it must be at the very heart of who we are as Christians. If we are serious about our commitment to restoring New Testament Christianity in our own day, we must wrestle with the teachings and examples of Jesus and His apostles, even when it challenges us to step outside our comfort zones.

This is not to suggest that we can’t raise tough questions about the implications Jesus’s teachings. We are allowed to ask questions like “did Jesus really mean what I think he means?” and “did Jesus really intend for his teachings to be applied in this particular way in this particular situation?” And Christians may not always draw the same conclusions from their studies. We are allowed to wrestle with Jesus’ teachings.

But we must never simply ignore or dismiss Jesus’ teachings simply because we think of them as impractical or nonsensical. If we have given Jesus our faithful allegiance, we cannot and must not decide to disagree with his teachings.

But I Say To You…

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5.38-48

Jesus quotes from Exodus 21:24, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” Jesus read this law not as God’s endorsement for just violence, but as a text designed to limit violence. Jesus teaches the fulfillment of this law by saying “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person.

“Do not resist an evil person”? On the surface, such a command sounds very strange. Wasn’t the entire life and mission of Jesus one of resisting evil? Aren’t Christians supposed to resist evil and worldly ways?

What did Jesus mean when he said “do not resist an evil person”? The best explanation is the one Jesus gives with four examples.

  • “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”
  • “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat also”
  • “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two”
  • “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”

This is a form of resisting evil. Instead of responding with the “slap for slap, punch for punch, bullet for bullet” same kind of evil, Jesus commanded his disciples to resist the urge to respond in kind, thus putting an end to the cycle of violence. Jesus didn’t simply forbid unjust retaliation. The law did that. Jesus took it a step further by commanding his disciples not even to resist in kind.

How do Jesus’s disciples resist evil? By letting evil people win. That almost feels strange to put it that way. It’s backwards. It’s counterintuitive. But go back and read the four examples. In all four examples, Jesus instructs us to let the bad guy gain the upper hand.

What’s more, this is what Jesus showed us to do when he practiced what he preached. Jesus allowed his enemies to “win” by nailing him to the cross.

It should be noted that following this command is not weakness. Jesus was not “weak” when he hung on the cross. He could have easily commanded an army to ten thousand angels to judge the world and set him free. He was commanding us to let the bad guys win, even when we have the strength and power to defeat them.

Radical Enemy Love

Jesus commands us to love our enemies. He didn’t just command us to love some of our enemies. He didn’t just command us to love our enemies when it makes sense to so. He commanded us to love our enemies the way God, “who sends rain on the just and unjust”, loves them. We are to love the way God does by refusing to make a distinction between which enemies we are to love. He commanded us to love our enemies even in those times when it wouldn’t make sense to your average Gentile or tax collector.

Consider also this parallel passage from Luke:

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love you enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is Merciful.” – Luke 6:27-36

Could Jesus have been any clearer? The type of love Christians are to have is supposed to be more than the “common sense” love shown by the world around us. Also note that Jesus commands us to do good to our enemies, lest we think that we can somehow “love” our enemies while doing harm to them.

Not Just a Minor Feature of Christianity

Lest we think that this is just a somewhat strange, one-off command of Jesus, when we read our New Testament, it doesn’t take long to see this teaching repeated time and time again.

When Jesus was arrested in the garden, he commanded Peter to “Put your sword back into its place” (Mt. 26:52). Here Peter was drawing his sword against an enemy in defense of an innocent person, yet Jesus rebuked Peter.

Jesus cites the fact that his disciples were not fighting in his self-defense as proof that his kingdom was not of this world.

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world. – John 18.36

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23.34). Without a doubt, Jesus loved his enemies.

“Yeah, but Jesus had to do that…”

“Sure, but Jesus’s death was different. He was the Messiah. That was the sacrifice for sins. Jesus had to let himself be killed. It had to happen as part of God’s plan.”

Without a doubt, Jesus was unique and His death was unique.

But even so, when Peter looked to the cross, he viewed Jesus’s response to evil as an example given for all of us to follow.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth, and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. – 1 Peter 2.21-23

In Romans 12, Paul instructs the disciples to “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord” (v. 19) Rather than judging them, Christians are to love and serve their enemies, attending to their needs (vs. 20-21).

In Hebrews 10:34 we read about how the early disciples joyfully accepted the plundering of their possessions, knowing that they possessed a better and more lasting possession.

In Acts we read about the disciple Stephen, who with his dying breath, prayed for his enemies as they were stoning him (Acts 7.60).

And then there’s the book of Revelation. Not only does Revelation ascribe our victory to the “slain lamb” (Rev. 5.6-14), but apparently Jesus was not the only one to gain victory through death.

Revelation 12 is filled with encouraging words, describing the victory of the saints:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation , and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. – Revelation 12:10

Salvation! Power! Kingdom! Authority! The enemy is destroyed! This is all great news!

But then in the very next verse, we are told how Jesus’ disciples gained this great victory.

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. – Revelation 12:11

Yes, we must overcome evil. But the way we overcome evil is by resisting the strong urge to gain the upper hand when our enemies mistreat us. Or as Paul puts it,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21

Are We Really Expected To Believe Such Nonsense?

The idea of “letting others win” will always be mocked at by some. It will always be dismissed by others in exchange for resisting evil with a little more “common sense.”

But the earliest Christians believed Jesus actually meant what he said. They believed that they were supposed to love their enemies, even to the point of death. They actually believed that their death was a more powerful proof of the gospel than their life. The 2nd century Christian, Tertullian, is famously quoted as saying:

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. As often as we are mown down by you, the more we grow in numbers; the blood of Christians is the seed.

For the first couple of centuries immediately following the close of the New Testament, “Love your enemies” (Mt. 5.44) was quoted by 10 different authors in 26 places, making it the most cited verse from the New Testament. “Love your enemies” was to the early church what verses like “Acts 2:38” or “John 3:16” are for the church today. It was the very heartbeat of early Christianity. It is the teaching for which they were most known. It is what separated them from everyone else.

Those Hard Questions

“But what if someone attacks my family in the middle of the night?”

“But what if a Christian is a policeman or in the military?”

“But what about Hitler? Surely Christians shouldn’t have just let him win?”

Questions like these aren’t easy. They need to be wrestled with (with lots of love for one another in the process). If after wrestling with all the teachings of Jesus, you are convinced that you would be justified in killing an enemy as a very last resort, fine. Buy a gun if you want. Join the military if your conscience compels you. Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is an argument that can be made to justify violence in some extreme situations.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, when it’s all said and done, and those questions have been asked, and those discussions have been had, “loving your enemies” must still be at the very heart of who we are as Christians. When other people hear “Oh, you’re a Christian”, do they think “You’re one of those crazy people who loves their enemies no matter what”? If we’re not known for loving enemies in a way that seems strange to the world around us, we’re not following the teachings and example of Jesus.

Beloved, Jesus expects us to love our enemies. We must love our enemies.