What I Think Paul Might Say About Facemasks

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes facemasks don’t matter, while the other person insists on wearing facemasks. Let not the one who doesn’t wear facemasks despise the one who does, and let not the one who wears facemasks pass judgment on the one who does not, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems the virus to be a big deal, while another thinks it is all overblown. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who thinks it is a big deal, wears the mask to protect others in honor to the Lord. The one who does not wear facemasks, does not wear it in honor of the Lord, since he trusts in God’s protection, while the one who wears the facemask, wears the facemask in honor of the Lord and also trusts in God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that facemasks are of little importance in themselves, but it is important for anyone who thinks it important. For if your brother is grieved by you refusing to wear a facemask, you are no longer walking in love. Because of a facemask, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of facemasks or no facemasks but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of a facemask, destroy the work of God. It is okay in itself to not wear a facemask, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what refuses to wear. It is good not to refuse to wear a facemask or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he doesn’t wear a facemask, because not wearing a facemask is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written,

The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Answering Questions on 1 Timothy 2:11-15

I recently wrote an article entitled “Do Paul’s Instructions for Women Apply Today?” in which I argue that although Paul certainly wrote 1 Timothy 2.11-15 to address a specific situation facing the church in Ephesus, we cannot simply dismiss his words as having no application for the church today. When Paul instructed women not to teach or exercise authority over men, he based these instructions upon principles which would be recognized as applicable in all the churches.

In response to my article, a fellow blogger wrote a very kind and thoughtful response. I encourage you to read it here.

It should be noted that this blogger strives to take the authority of scripture seriously. She does not find Paul’s instructions offensive but rather finds the interpretations often assigned to these verses as offensive. In other words, the debate is not about whether or not we should follow scripture. The question is a question of exegesis. What did Paul mean, and how did Paul intend these scriptures to be understood and applied?

The blogger makes some interesting observations and raises some really good questions. While each of her points deserve far more discussion than what space allows in a single blog post, I hope that by sharing some brief thoughts I can help explain why many Christians have found such arguments unconvincing. After wrestling with many questions and objections, they are convinced that Paul actually intended for women not to teach or exercise authority over men, and that is a doctrine that we should continue to uphold.

This blogger raised three objections to my understanding. Here are my responses in the order in which the objections were presented.

Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis

The first objection raised is that since Paul usually refers to “women” generally, and then shifts in this passage to speak about “the woman”, it suggested that Paul was referring to a particular woman who was troubling the church with her false doctrine. Since Ephesus was a pagan city which harbored the cult of Artemis, it is argued that this woman was likely a former pagan priestess, who was teaching that women were created superior to men.

If this historical reconstruction is correct, it strengthens the conclusion that Paul’s instructions were written to correct the specific problem caused by this particular woman, and thus should be understood as a temporary restraint on women.

I find this particular reconstruction and the conclusions drawn from it to be unconvincing. Even if this reconstruction of the problem is correct, it does not establish the conclusion that Paul’s commands for women have no application beyond those particular circumstances. Paul may have responded to this particular woman with a general principle that would be recognized as universally applicable.

I won’t argue that this reconstruction of the problem is necessarily wrong, as Acts 19 certainly confirms the presence of Artemis worship in Ephesus. But I find this approach far too confident in our ability to identify the nature of the false teaching in much detail, especially since Paul is fairly tight-lipped about the nature of the false teaching.

This particular reconstruction would be strengthened if it could be shown that the Artemis cult was plagued with devotion to myths and genealogies (1 Tim. 1.3-4), the Jewish law (1 Tim. 1.6-11), and asceticism (1 Tim. 4.3-4). Part of the problem is that beyond some very fragmentary evidence provided within the letter, we know very little about the nature of the false teaching in Ephesus.

As for the shift from plural “women” to singular “woman” in verses 11-15, this could be accounted for by the reference to Eve in verses 13-14, for Eve could be understood to be representative of all women. This too would account for the otherwise unexplained shift back to the plural pronoun “they” in 15b. Although applying “woman” to Eve may be inconclusive, it is at least contextual. Plus, it seems strange to me to think that Paul would refuse to name a particular false teacher when he doesn’t seem to hesitate with doing so in other passages (cf. 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17, 4:14).

The Meaning of “Authentein”

The second objection raised revolves around the meaning of the word “authentein”, translated by the ESV as “exercise authority.” The blogger writes “usually it’s thought of as a violent word, akin to castration and murder – which some of the cults were into, so it should not be overlooked as a factor in Paul’s statement here.”

It is then suggested that the problem was that the women weren’t simply exercising leadership, but rather they were exercising violent authority over men as they had once done in the cult of Artemis. Therefore Paul was not restricting women from leadership in general, but rather he was restricting them from a particular form of violent leadership.

I question the claim that “authentein” is “usually thought of as a violent word” since nearly all major English translations translate the word using non-violent phrases such as “exercise authority” or “have authority” as opposed to more violent sounding options such as “dominate.” Part of the reason they opt for this non-violent translation is because of how the word “authentein” was used in other places around the time Paul wrote 1st Timothy. “Authentein” never appears in any other Scripture and only appears in a handful of extra-biblical writings prior to 300 AD. Of these occurrences the verb nearly always carries the idea of “having authority”, “originating”, “ruling” or “acting on one’s own”, and with one debatable exception is nowhere used to refer to violent authority. This is why most Bible translators choose to translate authentein as “exercise authority” or “have authority.”

A violent connotation of “authentein” is sometimes argued based on its etymology, having derived from the noun “authentes” (“murderer” or “master”). But it is important to remember that context is key for determining a word’s meaning. For example consider the English word “manufacture”. Today it means made by machine. Etymology would suggest that it means hand-made (manus is Latin for hand). If someone were to look to etymology rather than context to define manufacture, they would end up with nearly the opposite meaning.

In the context of 1 Timothy 2:12, the verb authentein is held in close connection with the verb translated “teach”. If “exercise authority” has a negative, violent connotation, we would need to argue that “teach” has a similar negative connotation. Since “teaching” is not an inherently violent activity, neither should we conclude that “exercising authority” is an inherently violent activity.

If Paul did intend to use the verb to refer only to violent forms of leadership, why would Paul forbid only women from this particular kind of authority? It would make more sense if he forbade all Christians from exercising violent authority, whether men or women, especially since 2:8 informs us that it was the men who were actively involved in anger and quarreling. If exercising violent authority was the problem, this would only make since if all the women in Ephesus (including Priscilla, cf. 2 Tim. 4.19) were trying to exercise violent authority, since his prohibition is applied to all women.

An Ungodly Interpretation?

In my estimation, the third objection gets right to the heart of the disagreement about this passage.

But if Paul was not talking about the local cults’ influence, and was indeed saying that the reason women are not to teach or have any authority in the church because she was created second after man, I have to say that I heartily disagree, and in fact find it an ungodly approach, as a female Christian and alleged child of God.

She goes on to describe several of the challenges she finds with this particular conclusion. Does this imply that women are forever in debt to Eve’s sin in the garden, while Adam was able to get away with straight up lying to God? Does this imply that God only lifted his curse from man, and while women continue to be punished for Eve’s failure? If women are naturally more easily deceived, why are they only restricted from teaching men? How can they be allowed to teach anyone, let alone other women and children? Does this imply that it is sinful even for a woman to read Scripture publicly? If women can only be saved through childbirth, what does this imply for women who are barren or single? If a woman has no authority to confront a man, what is she supposed to do if she is wrongfully accused by a man? How can a woman exercise her gifts? How can we really say that women are part of the same holy priesthood if they cannot exercise the same authority as men? How does it make sense to have restrictions on talented and educated women, while some uneducated men are allowed to lead, simply because they have different body parts?

These are all really good questions, and many more questions similar to these could be raised. But it should be noted that these concerns are primarily practical concerns rather than exegetical concerns. There are some exegetical questions looming behind these practical questions (for example, what did Paul mean when he said she will be saved through childbearing?) But still, the distinction between exegetical questions and practical questions should be noted. If Paul actually intended that women should not teach or exercise authority over men, this most certainly runs contrary to the thinking of our modern culture and directly confronts many of our cultural sensibilities. It understandably raises hard questions.

These are good questions that need to be wrestled with. But when a possible meaning of scripture strikes us as ungodly, we need to step back and ask why. It could be that we are misunderstanding scripture. But it could also be that our understanding of godliness has been (unintentionally) shaped by culture more than by scripture.

If the suggested problem of the cult of Artemis is correct, then this text becomes an example of how we as Christians should allow Scripture to challenge our culture’s notions of right and wrong. If a former priestess of Artemis were to start with her own cultural sensibilities of right and wrong, and then work her way back into Scripture, she would have missed the opportunity to have her sensibilities corrected by Scripture. When Paul founds his teachings by turning to Genesis 2-3, he was demonstrating the importance of starting with exegesis. We must start with exegesis, and allow proper exegesis to determine our sensibilities of what is and isn’t godly.

Much more probably needs to be said and I’m certain more questions could be asked. I don’t pretend to proclaim the final word on the subject. I’m content with leaving judgment for the only Judge that matters. But I hope that by sharing these thoughts we can all gain a better understanding of the nature of our disagreements.

Do Paul’s Instructions for Women Apply Today?

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

It shouldn’t surprise us that the meaning and application of this passage is at the heart of many passionate debates. If these instructions seem to be embarrassing and offensive, preserved from a bygone age of sexism and patriarchy, we need to ask why.

Many Christians believe that Paul actually intended for women not to teach or exercise authority over men, and the reason these verses feel offensive is because our modern western culture has it wrong. After all, every culture has its own unique values, and in our culture, one of the highest values is that you simply cannot disqualify someone from doing something on the basis of gender alone.

Despite what many think, I can assure you that most who hold this view aren’t motivated in the least by sexism or male chauvinism (at least not knowingly). Rather they believe the Scriptures are God’s inspired words. They believe the Creator has the authority to critique all cultures, even our own.

Other Christians believe the reason these verses seem offensive is because they have been misunderstood and abused. They do not believe that these verses are themselves offensive, but rather the traditional understanding of these verses is wrong and should be recognized as sexist and offensive. It is frequently suggested that Christians have often overlooked that 1 Timothy is an “occasional document.” In other words, Paul’s words were “occasioned” by a specific set of circumstances facing the church in Ephesus in the first century. It is thus suggested that Paul was not restricting all women from all teaching and authority in all times, but rather was restricting a few specific women in a specific situation.

Despite what many think, many who hold this view do not reject the authority of God’s word, nor are they simply pandering to modern culture (at least not knowingly). Rather they are committed to reading Scripture in context and recovering the true intent of those teachings.

In other words, a large part of the debate revolves around one very important question: Were Paul’s instructions for women in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 intended to be occasional or universal in application?

1st Timothy: An Occasional Document

The observation that 1st Timothy was an occasional document is absolutely correct. The specific historical context of the letter should be taken into serious consideration as we seek to interpret Scripture.

None of us, for example, have ever felt compelled to travel to Troas in order to deliver Paul’s cloak from Carpus’s house to Paul in prison, even though 2 Timothy 4:13 gives a clear command to do exactly that. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point well. The reason we don’t travel to Troas is because we recognize that the command was occasioned by a specific circumstance. Paul obviously had no intention for that particular command to be obeyed by every Christian in every circumstance.

Another example, less extreme and closer to our context, can be found in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.

Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.

Very few Christians would use this verse to suggest that women who braid their hair or wear jewelry are sinning. While most Christians agree that the principle of dressing modestly is a universal principle that still applies, they recognize that the specifics (braided hair and jewelry) were occasioned by the specific culture, where braided hair and jewelry would be connected with trying to flaunt one’s beauty. The original historical circumstances into which the Scriptures were first written must be taken into consideration.

In the case of 1st Timothy, Paul clearly wrote the letter, at least in part, to confront the problem of false teaching in Ephesus.

Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… which promote speculations… Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1.3-7; cf. 1.18-20; 4.1-10; 5.11-15; 6.3-10, 20-21).

What’s more, chapter 2 begins with the phrase “First of all, then” (2.1), showing that Paul’s following instructions are connected to the charge to resist false teaching in chapter 1.

We must learn to think contextually. We must be very careful about quoting random verses out of context, and asserting what it “plainly says” without giving consideration as to whether the verses are being understood correctly, or are even intended to apply to our current situation.

A Word of Caution

Even though 1st Timothy was written in response to a specific situation in the church at Ephesus, it does not logically follow that the problem of false teaching explains every feature of Paul’s teaching in the letter. After all, Paul was well traveled, and had a general understanding of what teachings and organizational structures were common among all the churches (cf. 1 Tim. 2.8; 3.1-13).

When Paul uses phrases such as “the saying is trustworthy” (1.15, 3.1, 4.9), this indicates that he was referring to teachings that would be understood as credible. Paul understood that there was a universal body of teachings, which he refers to as “words of the faith and of the good doctrine” (4.6) which he expected the church at Ephesus to uphold.

This indicates that there were authoritative teachings that were recognized as universally applicable to all Christians, and Paul often appealed to these teachings to establish his specific instructions for the special circumstances he was addressing. We cannot simply claim that instructions written to specific situations have no application beyond those specific circumstances.

We must determine whether Paul’s instructions in 2.10-11 were temporary instructions in response to the impact of false teachers, or whether Paul was responding to those specific problems with general principles that would be understood as universally applicable. Merely observing that Paul’s instructions are somehow connected to the specific occasion of false teaching does not in itself indicate that they have no application today.

We must ask the following question. Can we show that Paul prohibited women from teaching or exercising authority solely on the ground of the false teaching afflicting the church in Ephesus, or does he ground his teaching in a universal principle which would be recognized in all the churches?

If we could show that Paul gave these instructions solely on the ground of the false teaching and its specific features, it would strengthen the conclusion that these verses are not directly relevant to the church today. This is precisely what some have suggested.

The “Women as False Teachers” Argument

It is sometimes suggested that Paul’s command was due to the fact that women were the ones spreading the false teaching. The text, however, is unclear on this point. In each of Paul’s letters to Timothy, whenever he specifically names false teachers, they are always men (1 Tim. 1.20; 2 Tim. 2.17, 4.14). Women are portrayed as being influenced by the false teaching (1 Tim. 5.11-15; 2 Tim. 3.5-9), but are never specifically described as the ones doing the false teaching.

Now it is certainly possible that women were in fact engaged in false teaching. The fact that Paul instructs women not to teach or exercise authority indicates that some women were trying to do just that. But the suggestion that women were prohibited from teaching and authority because they were primarily the ones doing the false teaching cannot be established from the text.

Even if women were among the false teachers, why would Paul forbid only women from teaching? Since Paul names men as false teachers, would it not make more sense for Paul to simply forbid all false teaching, whether by men or women? If false teaching was the reason for Paul’s command, this would only make sense if all the women in Ephesus were spreading false teaching, since his restriction was written against all women.

The “Women Were Uneducated” Argument

Another common suggestion is that Paul’s command was due to women being uneducated, and thus more easily deceived by false teaching. If this is the case, it would suggest that Paul’s prohibitions no longer apply once women are educated. While it is true that many ancient near eastern women were not given the same kind of educational opportunities as men, the suggestion that all women in Ephesus were uneducated does not fit with the evidence.

The description of women’s attire in 1 Timothy 2.9 suggests the presence of some upper-class women, who likely would have had greater access to education. Also, it is likely that Priscilla was in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4.19) and we know that she was educated (Acts 18.26).

The Reason for Paul’s Command

So why did Paul command women not to teach or exercise authority over men? If we look closely at the text, we won’t be left guessing.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2.13-15)

The reason a woman is not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man is because man was “formed first”, yet it was the woman who was first deceived, and because Eve’s hope was to be found in her offspring.

While these verses are certainly not easy, and raise many more questions, it should be noted that the reasoning for Paul’s command goes back to the very beginning, prior to the fall, and is established upon the principle of God’s design for man and woman, and lessons learned from Satan’s strategy for attacking that design. In other words, Paul establishes his command upon universal principles.

Conclusion

More questions can and will be raised about 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and they all deserve consideration. But we must not make the logical fallacy of dismissing the application of Paul’s instructions simply because 1st Timothy was an occasional document. If we were to claim that occasional documents have no relevance to the church today, then no Scripture would be relevant to the church today since every book of the Bible was written to address specific situations.

While recognizing the occasional nature of Scripture is certainly important to prevent misapplication, we must recognize that those same scriptures may also establish universal principles. One principle in particular is God’s design for man and woman as it was established in the beginning.

How Christians Win: A Study of the Word “Nikao” in Revelation

Two Ways to Conquer

The book of Revelation completely redefines our concept of “victory”. For the Romans, “Nike” was the goddess of victory (also known as “Victoria” in Latin). She had two wings, and was thought to fly around on the battle field granting speed and strength to the victors. The Romans carried symbols of “Nike” on their flags. They would burn incense to “victory” as they entered the Roman senate building. All throughout the Roman Empire, cities had statues of “Nike” with her foot on the globe, reminding everyone that Rome had conquered the world.

The conflict between patriotic Romans and the church grew especially strong in Asia minor, the center of the imperial cult. Shortly after the close of the New Testament, Christians in this area would be executed or imprisoned simply for remaining steadfast in their confession to be Christians.

It was in this world that John wrote is not-so-subtle challenge to the Roman concept of victory. The Greek word “nikao” (translated “victory” or “conquer” or “overcome”) appears 17 times in the book of Revelation. By tracing John’s usage of this word throughout his book it becomes clear that Jesus’ idea of “victory” stands in stark contrast to that which was worshiped by the Romans.

Jesus Promises Blessings to the Victors

The first eight appearances of “nikeo” are found in the first three chapters, as Jesus promises blessings to those who “overcome”.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. (Rev. 2.7)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. (Rev. 2.11)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Rev. 2.17)

He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, “To him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2.26)

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Rev. 3.5)

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. (Rev. 3.12)

He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (Rev. 3.21)

Throughout the Roman Empire there was a familiar saying: “Victory belongs to the Romans, for they have slain more than their enemies.” For the early Christians, this must have felt all too true. It would have been difficult to travel through any major city, or to conduct any type of regular business, without seeing images of Nike everywhere, continually reminding them who was in charge.

And yet, despite all appearances, Jesus promises that His followers will be the ones who will be blessed in victory. It must have felt almost unbelievable. But to understand how Christians could expect to be victorious, we must continue reading this theme as it develops in John’s Revelation.

A Surprising Image of the Conqueror

Revelation 5 takes us with John to the heavenly throne room, where we are given one of the most crucial and surprising images in the book of Revelation. Here John sees a mighty angel (v. 2) holding a scroll with seven seals. The problem is that it seems no one is worthy to open the scroll (v. 3), causing John to weep (v. 4).

It is at this point that we are introduced to the Lion of the Tribe a Judah (a familiar image for the Messiah – cf. Gen. 49.9).

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals. (Rev. 5.5)

As we would expect of a victorious Messiah, we are told that the lion is not only worthy to open the scroll, but that he has “overcome”. He has won the victory! He has done it! He has conquered! He is here!

But here, John gives us a most unexpected image. What John “heard” was the announcement of a victorious Lion. But what he “saw” was a slain lamb.

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain. (Rev. 5.6)

What he sees seems to stand in stark contrast with what he heard. A victorious lion and a slain lamb seem about as opposite as they could be. One is a symbol of ultimate power. The other is a symbol of gentle vulnerability, and through its sacrifice, the weakness of death.

Here, in this one vision, the two images are fused together into one. From this moment on, John and his careful readers, are to understand that the victory won by the Lion was accomplished through the death of the Lamb.

Images of Roman Victory

In contrast to this image of the slain lamb, John’s Revelation also utilizes multiple images to depict the Roman idea of victory. In the vision of the seven scrolls (Rev. 6), the Roman idea of victory is represented by four powerful horses of Roman power: conquest, war, famine, and death.

The first horse brings victory, or “conquering”, which is repeated twice in verse 2 for emphasis:

I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown were given to him, and he went our conquering and to conquer.

The beasts in chapters 11 and 13, which likely also represent Rome, inflict a similar violent conquest.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Rev. 11.7-8)

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. (Rev. 13.7)

Lamb Victory vs Beast Victory

By presenting these two contrasting images of “conquering”, the plot tension is set. Sandwiched right between the two beast scenes is a scene in which Satan is described as making war on those who follow God. In other words, the two radically different styles of “conquering” face off against one another. On one side is the great dragon, who is called the devil and Satan (12.9). On the other side are those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12.17). It’s the ultimate showdown between Lamb-style victory and Beast-style victory.

The ultimate victory belongs to those who are faithful to the Lamb

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. 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. (Rev. 12.10-11)

Notice carefully how God’s people win the ultimate victory over Satan. Following Jesus’ path to victory means that we conquer, not by shedding the blood of others, bur rather by identifying with Jesus’ own blood which was shed when he was crucified by the Romans. Or, as John put it, “They did not love their life even when faced with death.”

Revelation’s first century readers knew all too well the conquering power of Rome. They were it’s victims. But the message of the book of Revelation is clear. The dragon and the beasts with their “conquering” do not have the final word.

The Victory of the Lamb

In Revelation 15.2 it is those who have conquered the beast who are seen standing beside the sea of glass with harps in their hands praising God.

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.

In Revelation 17:14 it is the Lamb who goes out conquering the other “lords” and “kings”, and those who are faithful to Him are victorious.

These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are called chosen and faithful.

In Revelation 21:7, it is the one who conquers who receives the heritage of the new heavens and new earth.

He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

The book of Revelation points us to the cross to completely reframe our entire concept of victory. The cross was the ultimate tool for imposing Roman conquest. But because of Jesus, the Roman cross has been defeated. Victory belongs to the slain Lamb.

The real victors are those who conquer by the blood of the lamb. They love not their lives, even when faced with death. In contrast to the Roman conquest of victory through military conquest, Revelation proclaims that the victors are those who “follow the Lamb, wherever He goes” (14.4), even when that means following the Lamb to his death (Rev. 12.11).

Is It A Sin To Worry?

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Matthew 6:25-32)

These words are both comforting and incredibly challenging. Is worry really a sin? (If so, I’m worried that I worry too much!)

If I feel like my job is in danger, and I don’t know how would provide for my family, is it wrong for me to feel a little bit anxious? If there’s something weird going on in my body, and Google says my symptoms are likely signs of something serious, am I supposed to just carry on without giving it a second thought? If a child or a parent is seriously ill, is it even humanly possible not to worry just a little bit now and then? Does Jesus simply expect for us to just pray a little harder, and then walk around with indescribabl peace, as if nothing is wrong? Is that even possible?

Although the idea of walking around with zero anxiety sounds wonderful, I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. It is my understanding that this verse has almost nothing to do with emotions, except to the extent that those emotions result in, or lead us to, a failure to give our full allegiance to God. The continual pursuit of endless bliss and tranquility is probably a lot closer to Buddhism or Stoicism than Christianity. Jesus does not give us an impossible command. Following Jesus can actually lead to decreased anxiety, but it is my understanding that feeling worried is not itself a sin.

This is not to suggest that Jesus didn’t really mean it when He commanded us not to worry. I believe Jesus really meant it. But when Jesus said “do not be worried”, He said this within a larger context, and His command can only be rightly understood when we consider that context.

Jesus Himself Had Anxiety

If by “do not be worried” Jesus was demanding that we continually have calm, serene emotions in the midst of turmoil, then Jesus has some serious explaining to do. If it is wrong to feel physical and emotional stress that comes when faced with problems that our outside of our control, then Jesus failed to keep his own command.

And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:33-34)

Even Jesus was distressed and troubled. Luke 22:44 records that Jesus was in “agony” and that “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling to the ground”. Hebrews 5:7 says Jesus offered up “prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears.

The last thing Jesus felt at this moment was inner peace. He was suffocating under the weight of anxiety about the suffering He was about to endure – so much so that blood seeped from his face. That just doesn’t happen unless a person is under tremendous anxiety and stress. And yet, this is the same Jesus who commanded us not to worry.

Of course Jesus wasn’t the only character in scripture who suffered from anxiety. Just spend a few minutes flipping through the book of Psalms. In fact, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, his mind was filled with these anxious words of David:

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And my night, but I have no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

That doesn’t sound like inner peace. Even though he continually cried to God, he found no rest. It was as if his prayers were disappearing into thin air without being heard. He felt as if God had totally forsaken him. He felt as if he was all alone in the crushing chaos of the world.

These are not the words of a man simply carrying on as if life was all sunshine and butterflies. There’s no easy peaceful feeling in these verses. Jesus wrestled with turmoil. He was feeling anxious.

Was Jesus failing to keep his own command? Why didn’t Jesus just meditate on the birds and the flowers a little bit harder? Was Jesus being hypocritical? I don’t think so.

I find it far more likely that we misunderstand Jesus’s teachings about worry if we conclude that Jesus was forbidding us from feeling anxiety.

In What Sense is Worrying a Sin?

Notice carefully how Jesus introduces his teachings on worry.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life. (Mt. 6.25a)

When Jesus says “for this reason”, this tells us that Jesus’s commands about not worrying are in some way connected to what he has just said.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal…. No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:19-24)

Jesus had just drawn the observation that when we serve the wrong master by laying up treasures on earth, the future is uncertain. When we serve wealth, our future security will always be out of our control. If you feel you have control, your anxiety level goes down. If you don’t have control, your anxiety level goes up. In other words, our level of certainty in the future and our level of anxiety is directly tied to our choice of which master to serve.

In this context, worry is the result of storing up treasures on earth, which will always have a certain level of anxiety. On earth, things happen that are outside of our control, which leads to anxiety. When we lay up treasures in heaven, they are untouchable and incorruptible. Heavenly treasures never cause anxiety.

That’s why Jesus concludes his teaching on worry by commanding us to seek first the Kingdom of God.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Mt 6.33-34)

Not only is worrying wrong when it results from serving the wrong master, but worrying is also wrong when it distracts us from serving our master. Pay attention to the word “but”. Notice the contrast that is drawn.

Jesus does not say “do not worry, but maintain happy emotions.” Jesus does not say “do not worry, but carry on as if nothing matters.” Jesus says “do not worry, but seek first God’s kingdom.”

The opposite of sinful worry is not maintaining peaceful emotions. Nor is it pushing all thoughts about unmet needs out of your mind. The opposite of sinful worry is recognizing that “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” and seeking first His kingdom. The opposite of sinful worry is generously giving up your earthly treasures, even when anxiety tells you that you can’t afford it.

Jesus is not suggesting that all anxious emotions are sinful, but rather they can be a consequence of investing in temporary earthly treasures rather than in incorruptible heavenly treasures. Anxious emotions can be sinful if they keep us from faithfully serving God. But the point of the text is not to seek first emotional tranquility. The point of the text is to maintain faithful allegiance to God as our only master.

Jesus does not teach us to live as if troubles don’t exist. Jesus actually presupposes that life will be filled with troubles day by day. But we must not let anxiety keep us from serving God and others.

More Than a Feeling

When Jesus was in the garden, sweating drops of blood, he turned to God in prayer. In Jesus we see something far greater than emotional serenity. We see a faithfulness to God that survived death itself. His faith didn’t rise or fall based on his ability to master his emotions. Rather than having a faith founded upon feelings, Jesus had a faith that was founded upon the unshakable character of God.

“Do not be worried” is about more than mere emotions. It is about having a solid faith and confidence that allows you to say, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26.39).

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.

“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.

Exodus 22:2 and the Attacker at the Door

A few months ago, I posted an article in which I wrestled with the question “what would you do if someone attacked your family?” (you can read it here). As could be expected, the article prompted lots of interesting discussions, and not everybody agreed on the best way a Christian should handle such a challenging situation.

On one hand, Christians are commanded to love their enemies and do good to them (Mt. 5.38-48; Lk. 6.27-37; Rom. 12.14-21; 1 Thess. 5.15; 1 Pet. 2.21-23; 3.9). On the other hand, God “hates hands that shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6.17), and almost all of us would instinctively feel justified in using violence to protect our loved ones if we absolutely had to. Yes, we must take Jesus’ commands to love our enemies seriously, but surely we also have the responsibility to protect innocent people when it is in our power to do so. It’s not a simple problem.

It doesn’t bother me when I see Christians disagree with one another. And it doesn’t bother me to hear Christians raising hard questions and thoughtful objections to what they think are flawed positions. But what does bother me is when Christians simply “pick a side” and do their best to read their opinions into scripture rather than seriously trying to study the text. What does bother me is when Christians elevate “common sense” or “effectiveness” over faithful allegiance to Jesus and his teachings.

The Exodus 22:2 Question

In response to my article, one reader responded by pointing to Exodus 22:2. He suggested that Exodus 22:2 should quite simply resolve the supposed “attacker at the door” dilemma. And here’s the thing: he might be right. The scripture reads,

If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. – Exodus 22.2

The verse seems pretty straightforward, and it addresses the home invader scenario almost perfectly. Notice carefully:

  1. The bad guy attacks
  2. The good guy catches bad guy and kills him
  3. The good guy is not guilty of the home invader’s blood. Case closed.

Maybe it really is that simple. Maybe bringing up all this “love your enemy” stuff really is reading more into the commands of Jesus than Jesus ever intended. It certainly seems that way.

At least until you read the next verse…

Don’t Forget About Exodus 22:3

But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. – Exodus 22:3

In verse three we have almost the exact same scenario as verse two. Observe:

  1. The bad guy attacks
  2. The good guy catches bad guy and kills him

But this time, the good guy is guilty. The only difference between the two scenarios is that “the sun has risen on him.” In other words, in home invasion happened during broad daylight.

Why are the two scenarios treated differently? What difference does it make whether the home invasion happened during the day or the night? Why is the homeowner free from guilt at night, but guilty during the day?

The answer is this: we don’t know for certain.

Perhaps the difference is that during the daytime the homeowner could see and know exactly what was happening, and thus verse three refers to an intentional killing, while at night the killing would be unintentional since the homeowner couldn’t clearly see the attacker. Maybe the “daytime” implies that the neighbors would be wide awake and the homeowner could call for help, while a night time invasion implies a true “worst case scenario” where “kill or be killed” are literally the only two literal options available for the homeowner. Or maybe the issue is self-defense. Maybe during the daytime the thief is more likely only interested in taking things, while a night time invasion implies a more direct danger to someone’s family.

The problem is that the text never exactly tells us why the two cases should be treated differently. It simply tells us that the two cases are to be treated differently. I suppose we could do a google search, or consult several commentaries, and pick out whichever proposed explanation we like the best. But we need to be careful. Since the text doesn’t give us an explanation, even scholarly commentators are, to some extent, guessing. Maybe they have educated guesses, but since the text is silent, we just can’t be certain.

How Do We Apply Old Testament Laws?

Not only do we need to wrestle through the complications presented by verse three, but we also must wrestle with the hermeneutical question of how God expects Christians to understand and apply these Old Testament laws now that the old law has been fulfilled.

Does God expect us to apply these laws as if they were written for us? If we can use Exodus 22:2 as justification to kill an attacker at the door, should we also sell daytime attackers into slavery as Exodus 22:3 instructs? Should we also follow Exodus 22:16-17 which says that if someone has sex with a virgin then they must marry her or pay her dad a bride-price for her? Should we also put children to death when they curse their father or mother as is commanded in the previous chapter (21:17)?

We should remember that while the law of Moses is certainly God’s inspired word, and while it certainly demonstrates God’s wisdom (especially when compared with the ethical practices of Israel’s ancient near eastern neighbors), it was never written to establish God’s ideal law for all nations at all times.  For example, God’s law never eliminated slavery, but it did establish a more humane attitude and more just treatment of slaves. This does not imply that slavery was God’s ideal, but rather it pointed Israel towards God’s ideal by improving upon the slavery practices of their culture.

For another example, consider the way the Law of Moses protected divorced women by requiring that their husbands write them a certificate of divorce. Divorce was never God’s ideal, but “because of hardness of heart” (Mt. 19.8) God permitted it.

When we read Exodus 22:2-3 in this same light, it would suggest that the law was not necessarily written to place God’s stamp of approval on killing home invaders at night. Instead, it seems as if this law, like all the others in the surrounding context, were written to point Israel towards a more loving and gracious treatment of their enemies by placing restrictions on when an attacker could be killed.

Interestingly, this command is mentioned only fourteen verses after the “eye for an eye” and a “tooth for a tooth” command (Ex. 21.24), the very command that Jesus fulfilled when he taught:, “Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Mt. 5.39).

If Jesus understood “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” as pointing towards a day when God’s children would love their enemies and resist the urge to retaliate, how do we think Jesus would want His disciples to apply Exodus 22.2-3? By blowing an attacker’s brains out without giving it a second thought?

The Importance of Honest and Humble Study

Perhaps there is a biblical defense for killing an attacker in a worst case scenario. Perhaps a Christian can feel justified in killing an attacker, even while sincerely seeking to uphold Jesus’s teachings and examples about how we are to treat our enemies. Perhaps a sound biblical argument can be made for lethal force, and perhaps Exodus 22:2, when handled humbly and responsibly, can somehow be woven into that defense.

But to simply throw out Exodus 22:2 as a proof text without even attempting to wrestle with the many questions surrounding this verse is irresponsible. To use Exodus 22:2 irresponsibly can actually weaken someone’s case as it gives the impression that they are simply trying to read their opinion back into scripture rather than really trying to study and draw out what the text really teaches.

Let’s never back away from challenging questions about difficult verses. But let’s be careful to approach those questions humbly and honestly, and most importantly, with faithful allegiance to Jesus.