Not Bound

February 15, 2019

Timothy was a traveling companion and fellow worker with the Apostle Paul. He receives two personal letters from Paul that are a part of the New Testament. The two letters address him as he does the work of evangelist in the city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:5). Paul breaks out into good news and writes:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8–9, ESV)

In one sense it may seem odd to say to a preacher of the gospel: remember Jesus Christ. Isn’t he going to anyway? Yet, the two thoughts that follow it make the statement much more understandable. Remember Jesus even when there is suffering attached. Remember Jesus because the word of God is not bound.
I need that last reminder. The sharing of the good news can at times be discouraging. Paul is reminding all of us that the power is in the message not the messenger. Paul may be bound and in prison, but the word of God isn’t.
Other passages remind us of the same great truth.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8, ESV)

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ” (Isaiah 55:10–11, ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6–7, ESV)

I need reminding that the power is not in the messenger but in the message. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. The word of God when presented will have its effect. It will not return to God void. The word of God is not bound.


Love in Marriage

February 8, 2019

I’ve frequently heard 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 read at a wedding ceremony. Paul’s ode to love is beautiful and appropriate for the occasion. But there is something to notice about Paul’s definitions of love. They are actions and not feelings. This passage contains things we do and don’t do to fulfill love. This kind of love can be commanded. This kind of love is a matter of the choice of will. When we think of romantic love, we often are thinking about an emotional high which we feel towards our loved one. This emotion seems quite involuntary. Paul’s teaching about love is different from this.

Now I am all for romantic love. I suspect that Jacob had romantic love for Rachel, or he wouldn’t have worked another seven years for her. And the Song of Solomon definitely seems to be love poetry. But we need wisdom as we deal with it.

Scientists have even studied romantic love. Researchers from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.

Marriage has its ups and downs: children, illnesses, and stress. The reality of life means our feelings of love for our spouse may also ebb and flow. We need the commanded love of 1 Corinthians to sustain romantic love. Marriage is a covenant—the vows say how you promise to treat one another, not necessarily how you will always feel. These feelings of love may also ebb and flow. The vows call on you to place your actions before feelings—to allow your actions to deepen and at times even rekindle your feelings. That’s why Paul’s teaching on love is so important. He places the emphasis on right actions. This kind of love seeks the best for the beloved.

Love sums up and encompasses every other virtue. To treat with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness is to love. Love boldly acts with the other’s best interest at heart. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love encompasses all the virtues. This kind of love seeks the best for the other. This is the love that can fulfill vows which say for better or for worse until death do us part.


Hearers versus Doers

February 1, 2019

James gives us a powerful illustration to ponder as we listen to and read God’s word. I suspect that James speaks of “hearers” because in his time and culture owning a personal copy of the scriptures was cost prohibitive for most Christians. Without a printing press, books had to be copied by hand. To give you an idea of what that means, a scribe can write about 2 characters per second. The four Gospels contain about 320,000 characters. 320,000 characters divided by 2 characters per second leaves a writing time of 160,000 seconds. 160,000 seconds divided by the 3600 seconds in an hour gives you a total 44 hours. And that is just for four books. We live in a time of privilege where physical books and electronic books are available at very reasonable prices. Whether we are hearing the word read in the assembly or we are reading it ourselves in the Bibles we are so privileged to own, the warning and the illustration speaks to us.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25, ESV)

We all understand mirrors. We probably looked in one this morning. We look so that we can make adjustments to our appearance. Some may wake up with a bad hair day and attempt to bring order to their hair. Men may shave; women may apply makeup. And none of us want food stuck in our teeth. We would think it odd for a person to look in the mirror, see these defects, and then walk away without correcting them.
In the same way, James wants us to look into the law of liberty. It is like a mirror in that it shows us what we should be as we ponder what we currently are. James says this takes perseverance on our part. But it should lead to us be a doer who acts. As scripture holds up a mirror on our lives, it should lead to correction, just as a mirror in the bathroom leads to corrections in our appearance. Failure to do this is self-deception. Perseverance in doing this will lead to blessing.


Why Do We Read and Study the Bible?

January 25, 2019

I encourage regular Bible reading and study. But our motivation will be enhanced as we think about what we should gain. I said “should” because I realize that a skeptic may read the Bible and profit little from it, although skeptics have been known to be converted by their Bible reading. I think much depends on an attitude of honest searching and enquiry. I’m reminded of Jesus’s teaching, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Several passages speak to the why of Bible reading.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 provide instructions for a future king of Israel.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20, ESV)

The king is to have an approved copy of the law which he reads all of his life. This reading should lead to a fear of the LORD. We probably should feel terror if we are going away from God, because God is a consuming fire. But normally we think of this word “fear” in the sense of reverence and awe. Reverence leads to respect and a willingness to hear God’s word. This leads to obedience: “keeping the words” and “not turning aside … either to the right hand or the left.” The king should also learn humility before God and in dealing with others: “that his heart may not be lifted up above brothers.” One of the dangers of holding political power is that a ruler may think of himself as above the law. This is not just an ancient problem. It is a human problem that manifests itself even now, and it doesn’t have to restricted to rulers. People sometimes expect others to play by the rules from which they are very willing to exempt themselves. Finally, the king will be blessed in his reign by his meditation on God’s instructions.

I think this command to Israel’s king has instruction and application for us. Reading and meditation on God’s word may lead to reverence, obedience, humility, and blessings for us too. The blessings may differ, but God still blesses those who listen to him.

I have often pondered this command to the king, and Israel’s actual history. I suspect many of the kings failed to follow this instruction, and Israel’s history was a disaster because of it. Failure to read has consequences too. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 is a command fit for a king, but it also instructive to us who are brothers and sisters of King Jesus.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Maps and Atlas

January 18, 2019

The narratives of the Bible deal with real people, places, and events in history. Maps and atlases help us better understand the places of Bible events. With a map, I find the stories come alive in a way that wouldn’t happen without the map. When we read accounts of journeys, seeing a map of the journey and distances involved aids our understanding. This happens when you look at a map of the Exodus and Wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament or the Missionary Journeys of Paul in the New Testament. When reading the description of the tribal allotments in Joshua, it helps to see those tribal allotments on a map. It makes the descriptions become more meaningful, which otherwise might be a bit dry and meaningless to read. We read of military campaigns and political pressures on Israel. Maps help us visualize the situation. Some atlases may even give detailed maps of important battles. Seeing the various empires surrounding Israel and how those changed over time, helps us understand this history better. It is hard to understand the Babylonian Captivity, if you don’t know where Babylon is?

Many Bibles will contain a few maps at the back. Looking at those may help you understand the kinds of things you will find in an atlas but with greater detail and description. You typically find a topographical map which shows elevations and climate. Often your read of people going up to Jerusalem. If you use a map, you will find sometimes they are coming from north of Jerusalem. I typical say when I’m going south that I’m going down. But when you see the topography of the land, you realize they are talking from the standpoint of elevation. They are going up in the sense that they are at a lower elevation, and they are climbing to a higher elevation in Jerusalem. Climate information helps us recognize deserts and wilderness areas as opposed to places with more water or fertile plains and valleys.

Maps are also given for various historical periods. Typically, you will find a map for the Patriarch period, The Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings, a map of the tribes, the United Kingdom, the Divided Kingdom, the Assyrian Period, the Babylonian and Persian Periods, the Roman Empire, Israel during the Ministry of Jesus, and Paul’s Missionary Journeys. An atlas may also give you maps of the Hellenistic and Maccabean periods between the testaments as well. You may also find a map of Jerusalem, and in atlases maps of other cities of interest.

Using a map correctly means going to the right historical period in which you are studying. It’s helpful to notice the distance scale on a map. Remember there may be multiple cities with the same name. Be aware that some sites are questionable as to location because the memory of them has been lost in history, and a map may give you several alternatives.

My favorite Bible map at the moment is a mobile app called Bible Map from http://www.ploughboy.org. It gives the ESV text on the left with locations underscored as hyperlinks. Clicking on the location puts a pin on a Google map on the right. You can change the view of the Google map between standard, hybrid, and satellite. Clicking on the information button at the site pin will take you to a detailed description with photos. The app is free, but unfortunately, it is only available in Apple’s iOS operating system. I would still recommend using other maps and atlases, but this app provides quick answers when reading.

Maps and atlases are a basic Bible study tool which will enhance your study and knowledge of the Bible.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Nave’s Topical Bible

January 11, 2019

The best-known topical Bible is Nave’s Topical Bible. It is the work of Orville J. Nave, who was a chaplain in the U.S. Army. The original copyright dates for the work are 1896 and 1897. He states his purpose in the preface, “The object of this book is to bring together in encyclopedic form and under familiar headings all that the Bible contains on particular subjects.”1 A concordance is an index of Bible words. A topical Bible is an index of Bible topics. The topic word doesn’t necessarily have to occur in the verse listed as long as the idea is there. The original Nave’s has 5,324 topics with more than 20,000 subtopics and 100,000 scripture references. There are 31,202 verses in the ESV which illustrates the fact that a verse may be listed multiple times in a topical Bible. He also has cross references to similar and antithetical topics. Nave originally keyed his topical Bible to the KJV and later added examples from the Revised Version, which was the British predecessor to the ASV.

Like all the other Bible study tools we’ve examined, a topical Bible is a human effort. The user must make certain that the verse cited for a topic actually supports the topic, which means understanding the verse in context. In fact, a topic and verse may not even agree with Nave’s personal views. He warns, “Passages variously interpreted by different religious schools or accepted authorities are cited under the subjects they are claimed to support, without reference to the personal views of the author.”2

What can Nave’s Topical Bible do for you? Under Jesus the Christ, the reader will find many helpful subtopics. He lists the events in the life of Jesus much in the order that you would find in a gospel harmony with references. He provides a list of attributes of Jesus. He gives a list of all the miracles of Jesus, all the parables of Jesus, and all the prayers of Jesus. Titles and names of Jesus are listed among other things. Under circumcision, you find a basic history of that topic, but also helpful is a list of the figurative uses of circumcision in scripture. Under God, you will find a list of the attributes of God. Under Jericho, you find a history of the city with verse references. Nave’s can help you find something quickly or jump start your study of a Bible topic. For some things, it may be quicker than a concordance.

Students will also find The New Nave’s Topical Bible by various publishers. Zondervan’s has been edited by John R. Kohlenberger keying the work to the NIV and adding additional topics. Logos Bible Software has one edited by James Swanson which also has additional topics. Both based on Nave’s original work but with revision. Electronic versions of Nave’s tend not to give verses in full but only verse references, because the references are actually links which makes viewing the verse in full easy to do. (OliveTree’s original Nave’s is only $4.99.) Nave’s is also available online at: https://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/naves-topical-bible/. Nave’s Topical Bible is a good basic, Bible study tool.

1Orville J. Nave, Nave’s Topical Bible, 1896, 1897, p. 3

2Ibid., p. 4


Of Specks and Logs

January 4, 2019

My last blog post was “Finding Time for Bible Reading.” This article also appeared in a church bulletin in print and emailed as a PDF. I corrected my mistake for the blog, but I made an embarrassing mistake in the printed editions.

I used a chart from Crossway which gave the times it took to read the Bible at various intervals from one week to two years. I noticed a math error in the one month column. But the problem was complicated because for the bulletin because I created a chart so that it could be easily read. In transcribing the chart into my own table, I made a transcription error in the 1 month column. Instead of reading 1 hr. 53 min. a day, my mistake read 2 hr. 53 mins. Now I had a math error of 1 hr. 1 min. instead of just 1 min in the original. I probably would not have drawn attention to a 1 minute error, but a one hour mistake was something I noted. Unfortunately, I thought Crossway had made the big mistake, where actually I was the culprit. My apologies to Crossway. Their excellent article is here.

I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, ESV) I spotted what was a small math error by someone else, but it took me longer to spot the much larger transcription error created by me. Jesus’ caution is for all of us even ministers and writers.

I did email a correction to the email list. But the problem with something printed and in a PDF is that it may appear in someone else’s church bulletin with the mistake. That bothers me, but it is a lesson about words. Once we’ve said them or written them, they are outside our control.

I make mistakes, but one of the lessons I’ve learned in life is to be honest and admit them. May we be on the lookout for the beams in our eyes. May we never be too proud to admit a mistake and to eat a slice of humble pie.