The Kinsman Avenger

If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the book of Ruth, you’ve probably heard about the “kinsman-redeemer.” As described in Leviticus 25, if a married man dies without children, his brother is told to marry the widow and bear children with her on behalf of the deceased brother, continuing his brother’s name and ensuring he essentially has life after death through his children.

The brother who performs this noble deed is called the “redeemer” (ga’al in Hebrew), and the most famous redeemer of this sort is Boaz. Boaz—described as a “man of great valor” (Ruth 2:1)—faithfully fulfills this role, revering, romancing, and redeeming the widow Ruth. Through their subsequent marriage, both Ruth and Boaz were faithful to God’s Word and Ruth’s first husband, and they ended up becoming the great-grandparents of King David and the ancestors of the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus.

But the ga’al has several other obligations that don’t get nearly as much attention. For instance, another responsibility of a redeemer is to buy family members out of slavery (Leviticus 25). But the one I’d like to focus on is described three times in the Law—the role of the avenger of blood.

If a man is killed by another, a relative of the deceased is tasked to become the avenger of blood—he is commanded to track the manslayer down and ensure that justice is served. The avenger brings the charges before the elders of a city of refuge, who in turn judge whether the manslayer is “deserving of death” (Deuteronomy 19:6). If the manslayer is found guilty, the avenger executes judgment on the criminal; if the manslayer is found responsible but nonetheless not guilty of murder, the avenger makes sure that justice is still served by forcing the manslayer into exile until the High Priest dies. (A more detailed description of this law is found in Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, and Joshua 20).

Now all of these jobs—the redeemer who guarantees his brother has some sort of life after death; the relative who liberates his kinsman out of slavery; the avenger who carries out justice—are one in the same. They are all the responsibilities of the ga’al. And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this title is almost exclusively used of God—especially in the prophets, where God promises that He will become the Redeemer of His people.

For those of us in need of liberation from sin and in need of resurrection from spiritual death, the idea of God as our ga’al—our Redeemer—is fantastic news. But the Redeemer doesn’t just bring freedom and life after death—He also executes judgment on those deserving of death. He is not only a Redeemer—He is an Avenger as well.

This isn’t great news for us, for—in the words of Paul—we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). We are guilty. We are deserving of death, and not even a life in exile or the death of the High Priest will change that.

So what happens when the person who needs redemption and liberation is also guilty of sin and deserving of death? How does the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Blood-Avenger, fulfill both sides of the law?

Surprisingly, this exact question is asked and answered in 2 Samuel 14, midway through the reign of King David. A wise widow from Tekoa comes to the king with a problem: she had two sons, but they got into a fight and one brother killed the other. If they execute the murderous brother, no one will remain to redeem the family name and guarantee the deceased brother (or his father) has a life and legacy after death. But if they allow the murderer to live, they have failed to carry out justice.

In this parable (and it is a parable, as you find out later in the chapter), the murderous brother is a stand-in for every one of us. It ushers us back to the second sin ever committed, when Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4); it reminds us of the sin Esau tried to carry out against his brother Jacob (Genesis 28); it calls to mind the attempted murder of Joseph by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37); and it represents you and me, who are guilty of sin and deserving of death, but nonetheless desperately need of salvation from our Redeemer.

So what was the king’s decree?

David declared that the guilty son would live—“not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground” (v. 10)—and if anyone disagreed, he would personally take care of it—“if anyone says anything to you, bring him to me” (v. 11). The wise widow prophetically responds, “God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him” (v. 14). She adds that in all this, “the king and his throne [will] be guiltless” (v. 9), and that the king is like the Messenger of Yahweh in that he brings comfort by “discerning good and evil” (v. 17) and “knows everything that is in the earth” (v. 20).

In short, the king promises that God will personally find a way for the murderous son (and his entire family) to be redeemed, without neglecting the just requirement of the Law. The guilty ones need not be expelled from Him.

And while this is an interesting story about David and a wise widow… what does this have to do with us? Well, there’s another interesting thing about this chapter. From the time David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16 until his death in 1 Kings 2, David is mentioned by name in every single chapter—41 chapters in all—except for a single outlier. 2 Samuel 14. For some reason, David is never mentioned by name in 2 Samuel 14. Instead, he is referred to as Adonai (meaning “Lord”) thirteen times and King an astounding forty times.

In a chapter that compares David to the Messenger of Yahweh (a title typically associated with the Messiah), where the King is said to be “guiltless” and to “know everything,” where the subject is the redemption of those “deserving of death,” and where we are told that God will devise a plan so that all of us sinful mortals are not expelled from His presence, we are told that every decree and judgment is coming from the throne of “Adonai the King.”

So… what is the LORD’s plan? How is justice executed if the guilty ones are redeemed and escape death?

Judgment is supposed to come upon those “deserving of death” (Deuteronomy 19:6). That phrase (mishpat mavet, “judged worthy of death”) is incredibly rare in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it surprisingly appears just a few chapters later, in Deuteronomy 21:

If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him from a tree… he who is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deut. 21:22-23)

Over a thousand years later, this verse was quoted by the Apostle Paul, in reference to Jesus Christ:

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)

For us to be redeemed, someone had to be cursed. For all of us deserving of death to be made free, someone had to pay the price for our sin. And so Jesus our Adonai, the Messenger of Yahweh who knows all things, the King who sits upon the guiltless throne, devised a plan. Our Lord and King personally saw to it that we would outlive death. The Son of David guaranteed that we’d never be banished from His kingdom. Even if it meant taking our curse upon Himself, being hung from a tree and executed in our place.

Jesus Christ. Our Redeemer. Our Liberator. Our Avenger.

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death (mavet). (Hosea 13:14)

O Adonai, You have pleaded the case for my soul;
You have redeemed my life. (Lamentations 3:58)

Checed & Emeth

In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his most trusted servant (possibly Eliezer) back to his homeland to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Eliezer is told to find a wife among Abraham’s people, but if he is unable to find a woman (or she refuses to marry Isaac), he will be released from his oath. Essentially, if this doesn’t work out, the line of Abraham might end. This is sort of a big deal.

As you would expect, Eliezer prays to the LORD for help, asking Him to show Abraham “checed” (faithfulness, goodness) and to lead him in “emeth” (truth) (Genesis 24:12, 14, 27, 48).

These two attributes of God appear throughout the Bible, very often together. Jacob prays to God for his checed and emeth (faithfulness and truth) when he returns home to face Esau (Genesis 32:10); David prays for God’s checed and emeth throughout the Psalms (Psalm 40:11); God even reveals Himself to Moses as “the LORD abounding in checed and emeth” (Exodus 34:6).

So Eliezer prays for God’s checed and emeth as he journeys to Nahor, hoping to successfully find Isaac a wife and secure the lineage of Abraham. Sure enough, God delivers. Just as Eliezer finishes praying, he is approached by Rebekah, who is the perfect answer to his prayer. He thanks the Lord, tells her his story, and meets her family.

But then something interesting happens. He asks once more for checed and emeth—but not from God. He asks for it from Rebekah and her family. He asks them to deal faithfully and truthfully with him, to give him a straight answer, to let him know if she would marry Isaac, fulfilling God’s plan for the family of Abraham.

In other words, the plan of God was accomplished by the joining together of God’s checed and emeth and Man’s checed and emeth. God is always faithful and true, and when we respond in faith and truth, God’s plans are realized.

“Let not checed and emeth forsake you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3-4)

The First Commandment (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

If a man brings accusation against another man, charging him with murder, but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.”

This is the first commandment… of the Code of Hammurabi. Other “first commandments” are similar: Sharia Law and the Laws of Eshnunna start by prohibiting theft; The Code of the Nesilim and the Code of Ur-Nammu begin with laws against murder; The Code of the Assura begins by outlawing women from “uttering vulgarity” and the Buddhist Edicts of Ashoka start by protecting animal life.

But the Bible’s Ten Commandments begin in a very different way. Before prohibitions on murder and theft and adultery, God tells us:

You shall have no other gods before Me.

Why does God place this commandment before all of the others? Why is this viewed as more foundational than the other laws? Surely murder is a more offensive crime than polytheism.

The reason this law comes first is that, without establishing this fundamental truth, none of the other laws are binding. Sure, YHWH says that you shall not murder. But Moloch is pleased with human sacrifice, so slaughtering your neighbor won’t be a huge deal if you choose to go with him instead. Jesus condemned sexual immorality. But Ba’al will be glorified when you participate in orgies in the temple, so go ahead and live it up.

If we accept a pantheon of gods and goddesses, there is always another authority who will permit whatever sinful behavior you want to partake in. Even today, when modern Americans aren’t tempted to make sacrifices to pagan statues, we still have a variety of “truths” that we can pick. How often is improper behavior tolerated and celebrated because “he/she/xe/they are just living its truth”? So long as we deny the existence of objective truth—and the existence of one objective Truth-Giver—the remaining nine commandments (and any other biblical, national, or moral law) are optional, subject to our whims.

But if we clear out the pantheon and make room only for one God—for the True God—we now have no other choice but to live for Him and obey His just laws. I can’t choose to go with Ashtoreth or Allah or Oprah or popular opinion instead. Those false gods have been banished, and only YHWH remains.

And if YHWH remains as the only God, then you have a responsibility to follow Him in all areas of your life. So often we adopt this attitude of “putting God first.” But if God is first, that implies that something other than God is second, third, fourth, or fifth. God might come first and be worshipped on Sundays, but career comes second and is worshipped come Monday.

What ends up happening is we create a “God” box and put it out in front, but then have a separate “Family” box and a separate “Work” box and a separate “Me” box, all partitioned away from that first box. God gets first priority on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights, but we keep Him in His box during staff meetings or when we’re out with friends.

But the truth of the First Commandment is that God doesn’t want to be first in our lives; He wants to be only. Every other box—work, friends, family, whatever else—needs to fit into that God box. We pursue our career through the lens of God’s Word. We raise our children to know God. We treat our spouse the way God has commanded us. Every part of our lives is governed by what God has spoken. No other god—Ba’al or Buddha or self—has control over any area of life.

During Jesus’ ministry, He was asked what the first commandment was (Mark 12:28). His answer?

“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)

He was quoting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6), but implicitly commenting on the nature of the First Commandment, the commandment against all forms of polygamy. The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You don’t get a pantheon of preferential deities. There’s only one LORD allowed in your life. And you shall love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Every part of you, every fiber of your being, belongs to the One God. Don’t hold anything back from Him.

This is the first commandment.

Coats and Goats, Deception and Discernment

Jacob (the youngest son of Isaac), wore his brother’s coat, slaughtered a goat, and deceived his father concerning his identity to steal his brother’s blessing. When Isaac could not discern his identity, he asked Jacob directly who he was. Jacob lied to his father’s face.

A generation later, Jacob’s sons took Joseph (the youngest son of Jacob), stole his coat, slaughtered a goat, and deceived their father concerning the fate of their brother. The sons asked their father to discern what had happened, and then lied to their father’s face.

Some time later, Judah refuses to give Shelah, his youngest son, to marry Tamar. Tamar deceives Judah into an affair, and when he has no goat to pay her with, she takes his coat as a pledge. When she was found to be pregnant, Judah (not realizing she was his mistress) demanded that she be executed. Tamar then presented the coat, and asked Judah to discern who the father was.

All of the elements that had led to their family’s greatest sins were present: the goat, the coat, the deception of the youngest son, the request to discern. Tamar’s life was now in Judah’s hands. Would he deceive the court and have her killed, continuing the family’s legacy of betrayal? Or would he finally come clean and tell the truth?

“She has been more righteous than I,” Judah discerned in front of the crowd, judging himself guilty but justifying Tamar as innocent. Judah had finally broken the pattern. He had committed to the truth and admitted his sin.

This story is likely the reason Judah was chosen to carry the royal line of Israel. More than that, thousands of years later Jesus would be born from the descendants of Judah and Tamar’s affair.

It wasn’t Judah’s self-righteousness that brought the Savior into the world. It was Judah’s acknowledgement of his sin, his declaration of his own unrighteousness, that eventually led to the birth of the Messiah.

“I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Luke 5)

The Almost Acrostic Psalm

Psalm 25 is an acrostic psalm, meaning each of the 22 verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which has 22 letters). Well… it’s almost an acrostic psalm. Four verses break the pattern:

  • Verse 2 repeats aleph rather than use beth
  • Verses 5-6 skips over the vav
  • Verse 18 should begin with a shin, but it instead begins with a resh
  • Verse 22 begins with an extra pei

Given that this psalm is *almost* an acrostic, the author seems to be drawing our attention to the verses that break the pattern. So, what do those verses say?

  • Let not my enemies triumph over me
  • You are the God of my salvation
  • Forgive all my sins
  • Redeem Israel out of all their troubles

All of these verses are about salvation! And David (by the Holy Spirit) wants us to focus on God’s deliverance from our troubles and our enemies throughout this psalm.

But that’s not all. If you put the three missing letters together, they spell the word “hell.” And if you put the three extra letters together, they spell “healer.” In other words, while bringing our attention to God’s ever-present salvation, God has removed hell and replaced it with healing.

He truly is the God of our salvation.

“To You, O LORD, I lift my soul. O my God, I trust in You.” (Psalm 25)

What is Love? (Church Basement)

Love. It’s what God is. It’s what we’re supposed to walk in. And depending who you ask, it’s also a battlefield, an open door, and all you need. But… what is it? What is love?

Nowadays most people would say that love is being nice, or maybe tolerance or acceptance. Some dictionaries say it’s a feeling of attachment, or passionate affection.

And a mistake many Christians make is using today’s cultural understanding of love and applying that to scriptures about love, rather than getting our definition of love from the Bible and living that out in the world.

So, what does the Bible say about love?

A few things, actually. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, people would ask Him, “What is the great(est) commandment in the law?” and His answer was always the same:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all of your strength.” “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now these weren’t laws that He just made up on the spot. No, these laws were given thousands of years earlier, when God gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are established laws from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Now notice the connection between love and God’s law. Jesus says that when you’re walking in love, you’re obeying laws that God has commanded. And this connection between walking in love and living according to the law continues throughout the Bible.

Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” You shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not lie, you shall not covet. Paul says these are all summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul is making the same connection between love and law. When you walk in love, you’re obeying God’s law. And conversely, when you disobey God’s law, you’re not walking in love.

James says the same thing, writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” To love is to fulfill—to obey—God’s law.

Even John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, says the exact same thing. In one of his letters, he writes, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” In other letter, he says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Then he adds, “And His commandments are not burdensome,” as if to silence the objectors and say, “Guys, you can do this. You can walk in love.”

And finally, Jesus adds His agreement to James, John, and Paul. He tells His followers—He tells you and me—“If you love Me, keep My commandments,” and “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.”

Love isn’t some alternative to obeying God. Love is obeying God. Love is doing what God has said to do. To love someone is to treat them how God has commanded you to treat them. Love is obedience to God and to His Word.

And when you apply God’s standard of love to the world, you find that there are plenty of things that society says are loving that aren’t really all that loving.

Stealing something from one person and giving it to someone in need isn’t real love, because stealing is against God’s law.

Having sex with your girlfriend because you are in love isn’t real love, because sex outside of marriage is against God’s law.

Telling someone that their sin is okay because you don’t want to hurt their feelings isn’t real love, because lying is against God’s law.

If your supposed love is causing you to disobey God, then it’s not real love, because the most loving thing you can do in any given situation is to do exactly what God has said to do.

And real quick, I just want to point out that this isn’t a license to call people out like a tool. Ephesians 4 says our words should be used for godly edification and imparting grace, so if you’re not speaking words of grace, you’re not speaking in love.

So what is love, truly? It’s not what you see coming out of Hollywood. It’s not what you hear on the radio or what you read in Time Magazine or what you see trending on the internet. It’s what you find in the Holy Scriptures, revealed and commanded by the perfect and loving God.

Love is obedience to God’s Word. Love is keeping His commandments. Love is doing what God has said to do. And love is what God has called each and every one of us to do. So let’s get started.

Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.

Ten Reasons the Ten Commandments are Important (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

ten-commandments-meta-opt

Every few years, the Ten Commandments find themselves embroiled in controversy when some progressive pastor suggests that God doesn’t really like them all that much (a silly supposition, since God never changes and Jesus told us these laws would never fade away). And while I’d’ve hoped that Christians could agree on such basic universal truths as “We should only serve one God” and “Murder is bad,” it’s apparently not so obvious.

So here are ten facts about the Ten Commandments that you may or may not know:

ONE: They were literally written by God.

I know, I know. The whole bible was written by God. But technically, it was ghostwritten by God (or Holy Ghost-written by God, amirite?): God communicated His words through prophets and apostles, but God didn’t actually put pen to paper. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his psalms; Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his gospel; Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his epistles. That’s why the scriptures are called God-breathed, not God-written.

However, the Ten Commandments are different. We are told several times that God literally carved them into stone with His finger.

“…[God] gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18)

“Then the Lord delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God…” (Deuteronomy 9:10)

In this way, the Ten Commandments stand apart from the rest of the scriptures, not being transcribed but literally carved by God.

TWO: God spoke them out loud to over two million people.

Many times throughout the Bible, you’ll read phrases like “Thus saith the Lord” or “Command these people, saying…” What that means is God spoke these words to some spiritual leader, who then repeated these words to God’s people.

But again, the Ten Commandments stand apart in that they were spoken directly by God to His people.

“These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice…” (Deuteronomy 5:22)

It is estimated that there were somewhere between two and seven million Israelites at the time. And Moses gathered those millions of desert wanderers around Mount Sinai, and God spoke these commandments out loud to them all. There was no denying that these divine laws came from God.

THREE: They are listed not once but twice in the Law.

The first five books of the Bible contain 613 laws (if you think that’s a lot, keep in mind that the United States has over 20,000 laws about guns alone). And in that limited space, God doesn’t repeat many of His commands. For instance, the “greatest commandment”—to love your neighbor as yourself—is only listed once. And yet God presents all Ten Commandments not once but twice (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5).

FOUR: When God created a nation, they were His Bill of Rights.

After over four hundred years in slavery, God fantastically delivered His people from the greatest superpower on earth and led them to form a nation of their own. And the central tenets of this new nation was these Ten Commandments. Of all 613 laws He had given them (or the millions of laws that have been written by countless nations since), God felt these ten were foundational to a successful and free society.

FIVE: They explain Jesus’ commandments to love God and love others.

In one famous exchange, a lawyer asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded that the right answer was:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and [to love] your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

However, it might not always be clear how to love God or love your neighbor. That’s where the Ten Commandments come in handy. The first four provide instruction related to loving God, while the latter six command us how to love others.

SIX: Jesus said the Ten Commandments were the key to eternal life.

In another famous exchange, a rich young ruler asked Jesus for the key to eternal life. Jesus responded,

“If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)

The ruler pressed further, asking which ones He should keep. Jesus answered by listing half of the commandments and the command to love your neighbor (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18).

According to Jesus, anyone who wants to enter into life should keep the Ten Commandments.

SEVEN: The Ten Commandments apparently gave the rich young ruler riches and influence.

As mentioned previously, a certain ruler (Luke 18:18) who was rich (Mark 10:22) asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17), specifically citing five of the Ten Commandments. The rich young ruler responded, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Matthew 19:20).

Taking the whole Bible into consideration, it is likely that this young man found financial success and influence because of his obedience to God’s commandments. After all, God told Joshua that if he kept the Book of the Law,

“You will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

Promises of economic success and influence are found throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Proverbs 3:1-4, to name a few). It’s no wonder that this young man, who made keeping God’s laws a priority, found both success and influence.

It’s worth noting that, while this man kept many of the Ten Commandments, he doesn’t claim to have kept all of them. Loving God and not coveting are famously absent from the list, and Jesus asks the young man to give to the poor, trust God fully, and follow Him (Matthew 19:21). Jesus later tells His disciples that if the man had obeyed Him—and kept all Ten Commandments—he would have increased his possessions and influence and found eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

EIGHT: Paul quotes them too.

In Romans 13, Paul writes to the Christians of Rome about how to live as members of society. He lays out the role of government and instructs these believers to pay their taxes. Then he tells the Christians to “love one another” (Romans 13:8). To make sure they understand what this looks like practically, He elaborates further, listing the latter six commandments (the love your neighbor commandments).

Paul’s letter reaffirms that the Ten Commandments are central to a biblical understanding of love and that they are integral to loving successfully in society.

NINE: They establish moral absolutes.

In today’s world, most people either have one God or no gods. But that’s not always how it was. For most of human history, people worshiped many gods. There was a god of agriculture, a god of money, a god of weather. These gods didn’t always get along, and usually had competing views of morality.

As a result, it was hard to know what was right and what was wrong. After all, the god of the river might command one thing, but the god of war would command another. And humans were free to pick whatever god or system of morality suited them at any particular moment.

But the Ten Commandments changed all that. God started off these commandments by declaring that He was the absolute and only God, and that these commandments were His perfect standard of living. There could be no debate whether murder was right or wrong, or whether it was sometimes okay to steal. God, the one and only God, the true God, had declared that these were wrong, whether you or the king or the entire nation agreed. Right and wrong existed because they were established by God, and no matter who you were or where you lived, these commandments applied to you.

TEN: There are only ten of them.

Let’s be real. The “Ten Commandments” has a nice ring to it, and they easily fit on two tablets of stone. It’d be much harder to memorize the “Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments,” let alone to fit them on a poster.

Conclusion:

The Ten Commandments are important. They are clearly important to God, they were important to Israel, and they should be important to us as well.

We’ll look more into lessons we can learn from God’s Ten Commandments in the coming months.

What is Love?

love

Dictionary.com defines love as “a passionate affection for another person.” But then again, Dictionary.com also believes that boys can turn into girls, so they’re probably not the best source for getting an accurate (let alone biblical) definition of love.

And it’s incredibly important for us to understand what love is. After all, we are repeatedly commanded by Jesus to love:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 25:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27)

Jesus reiterates this commandment in His final discourse:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Heck, God goes as far as to say that He is love:

“We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

So, what is love? Is it a feeling? Is it being nice? Is it an open door, or a battlefield, or a drug?

According to the bible, love is obedience to God’s commandments:

“If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)

This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in them.” (2 John 6)

In any given situation, the most loving thing you can do is the thing God has told you to do. No wonder God gave us these wonderful commandments. It wasn’t just to keep us in line; it was to keep us in love, and as long as we obey His laws, we can be certain that we will be walking in love*.


Notes:

* Some readers might deny this biblical definition of love, citing the Pharisees as a counter-example. After all, the Pharisees supposedly kept the law, and yet would not be considered very loving by Jesus’ standards. In actuality, the Pharisees didn’t keep the law—at least they didn’t keep the whole law. Sure, they kept some of it, but they also rejected a whole lot of it (Matthew 23:23, Mark 7:8-13). Obeying a few commandments while intentionally ignoring the rest isn’t true obedience, and thus isn’t love.

BIBLICAL ECONOMICS: God Cares about the Poor

There is much conversation today about poverty. From politics to the pulpit, from backyard talks around the barbeque to internet debates on Twitter, everyone has something to say about the poor. But what does God say about the poor?

The bible makes it clear that God cares for the poor. We are told throughout scripture that God:

  • defends the needy (1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 12:5)
  • is a refuge for the poor (Psalm 14:6, Isaiah 25:4)
  • saves and rescues the poor from destruction (Psalm 35:10, Psalm 72:4, 12-13, Psalm 109:31, Jeremiah 20:13)
  • listens to the prayers of the impoverished (Psalm 34:6, Psalm 69:33)
  • promises to help the needy (Psalm 69:32, Isaiah 14:30, Isaiah 41:17)
  • and lifts the poor up close to Himself (Psalm 113:7, Psalm 140:12, Psalm 146:7)

Not only does God care about the poor, but He commands us to care for the poor as well. We are commanded:

  • not to exploit or take advantage of the poor (Deuteronomy 24:14, Proverbs 22:22)
  • not to deny or pervert justice towards the poor (Exodus 23:6, Leviticus 19:15)
  • to be kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:21, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 19:17)
  • not to oppress the poor (Proverbs 22:16, Proverbs 28:3, Zechariah 7:10)
  • to share with the poor (Leviticus 19:10, Proverbs 22:9)
  • not to mock the poor (Proverbs 17:5)
  • to speak up for the poor (Proverbs 31:9)
  • to consider the poor (Proverbs 29:7)
  • And to listen to the poor (Proverbs 21:13)

Furthermore, Jesus cared for the poor, and commanded His followers to do the same:

  • Jesus first announced His ministry with the claim that He was anointed to “preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18)
  • He regularly told His followers to give to the poor (Mark 10:21, Luke 6:38, Luke 12:33)
  • He was so charitable to the poor that when one of His followers left a room, it was assumed they were going to give to the poor (John 13:29)
  • He told His followers to make sure to spend time with the poor and invite them to fellowship together (Luke 14:13)
  • Part of His ministry was preaching the gospel specifically to the poor (Matthew 11:5)
  • Jesus famously told His disciples to feed the hungry and thirsty, clothe the naked, and take in the stranger, claiming that caring for the “least of these” was caring for Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:34-40)

Jesus’ followers took these commands to heart:

  • Paul wrote that Christians should be hospitable and charitable to those in need (Romans 12:13, 2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • John wrote that caring for others in need was evidence that a believer was filled with the love of God (1 John 3:17)
  • In their respective ministries, both Peter and Paul were eager to remember the poor, and encouraged each other to do so (Galatians 2:10)

From the Old Testament to the New, it is evident that God cares for and helps the poor, and that He expects His followers to do the same. But a few questions arise:

How are we to help the poor?

What are the causes of poverty?

We will examine these questions related to the biblical view of poverty in a series of future articles, BIBLICAL ECONOMICS.

charity-poor

Does God Work in Mysterious Ways?

Mystery Machine

 

When something bad happens in a believer’s life, people will often attribute it to God, saying, “God works in mysterious ways.” Though this phrase does not appear in scripture, the idea is prevalent in the church.

But is it true?

The Greek word μυστήριον (mysterion), translated “mystery,” appears 27 times in the New Testament.

Nine times, God is saying “Christians know the mysteries of God”:

  • He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matthew 13:11)
  • And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables. (Mark 4:11)
  • And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’ (Luke 8:10)
  • But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory… but God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:7-10)
  • Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself. (Ephesians 1:9)
  • How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already). (Ephesians 3:3)
  • The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. (Colossians 1:26)
  • To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
  • That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ. (Colossians 2:2)

Six times, the bible is explaining what the apparent mystery is:

  • Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51)
  • This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
  • And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20)
  • And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation 17:5)
  • But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. (Revelation 17:7)

Five times, Paul is saying his ministry and letters explain the mysteries of God:

  • For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
  • Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1)
  • And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
  • And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:19)
  • Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains. (Colossians 4:3)

Twice, God is saying you can learn the mysteries of God by reading the bible:

  • Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith. (Romans 16:25-26)
  • By which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ. (Ephesians 3:4)

And twice, God says it’s the job of the Church to reveal mysteries:

  • And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ, to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:9-10)
  • Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. (1 Timothy 3:9)

Of the remaining three, one is saying that the devil (not God) works in mysterious ways (ways that have been trumped by God, circa John 10:10 and 1 John 3:8):

  • For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

One comments on the “mystery of God” being completed, a direct tie in to 1 Timothy 3:16:

  • But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. (Revelation 10:7)

And the final one is explaining what those who speak in tongues speak mysteries to God, which can be interpreted if need be according to 1 Corinthians 12:10:

  • For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

The idea that God works in mysterious ways, which seemingly bring harm to us, is entirely unfounded in scripture. In fact, Amos 3:7 says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” The New Testament confirms this, stating that God delights to reveal his secrets and mysterious ways to us through His Spirit, through Scripture, and through the Church.

The mysterious ways of God can be summed up in a passage found in Colossians 1:

“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The mystery of God is why He is so good to us, why He cares so deeply for us, why He wants to know us and has united Himself with us and lives in us. It’s a mystery of exceedingly good news, of joy, and hope and comfort. And it is revealed in the pages of scripture.