The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

In the Book of Exodus, there is a report of a fascinating occurrence that is lost to most modern readers of the English Bibles and those not familiar with the Hebrew language and ancient Egyptian religion. Over and over again, the author of Exodus talks about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. On the surface, it would appear that the only message is that Pharaoh was really stubborn and was determined not to let the children of Israel go. That indeed was true, but there was much more going on than is apparent to the readers of English Bibles.

I was made aware of this ‘inside information’ while sitting in Dr. John D. Currid’s seminary class at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson, MS in 1997. Dr. Currid is, at the time of this post, serving on the faculty of the Charlotte campus of RTS and is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies in Jerusalem, Israel. Dr. Currid has served as Project Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel since 1995. In his first book, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, Dr. Currid relates the relationship between the condition of Pharaoh’s heart and the prevailing Egyptian religious beliefs at the time. In the afterlife, the Egyptian was judged based on the condition or weight of his heart. Dr. Currid relates an incident taken from The Book of the Dead (the Papyrus of Ani) in which the deceased Ani is standing in the hall of judgment. Ani’s heart is placed on a scale and is weighed against the feather of truth and righteousness. If the heart is too heavy, Ani will be adjudged a sinner and devoured. But, if the heart achieves balance with the feather, Ani will receive the reward of eternal life.[1]

Now, here is the real interesting thing in regard to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as it is related in Exodus. In the English Bibles, every occurrence is translated as ‘hardened’ or ‘harden,’ but in the Hebrew text, the writer actually used three different Hebrew terms! The first term; ‘qashah,’ is found only once at Exodus 7:3, where the text records Yahweh as saying: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (New American Standard Bible: NASB) The term means, ‘to be hard, to be severe, to be difficult’ and refers to the stubbornness of Pharaoh’s heart not to let Israel go. The second term, chazaq, is found twelve times. Eleven times in direct reference to Pharaoh and once in reference to the Egyptians in general (Exodus 4:21; 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:12, 35; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). This term means, ‘to be strong’ and bears the idea of Pharaoh having a strong, determined will not to give in to Yahweh’s demand to let Israel go. The last term is the one that is most significant for our discussion. It is ‘kabad’ (also translated as ‘glory’ and ‘honor’ in other places in the English translations of the Old Testament), which means, ‘to be heavy.’ This term is found six times in Exodus. (Exodus 7:14; 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34; 10:1) Each time, it is a verbal form; five times with Pharaoh as the subject and once with Yahweh as the subject.

The theological point of this discussion is centralized in Exodus 9:34. The text says: “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” (KJV) Pharaoh ‘kabad’ his heart! Pharaoh made his heart heavy or weighty and in doing so, he tipped the scales to seal his own destruction and damnation according to his own religious system! When the text says that Pharaoh ‘sinned yet more,’ I don’t think the author was just talking about sinning against Yahweh, I think the author was also saying that Pharaoh sinned against his own religious system! Pharaoh sinned to the point that his own gods condemned him! Dr. Currid notes: “The assertion of the Exodus writer that Yahweh made Pharaoh’s heart heavy has added dimensions for us when we take the Egyptian background into account. Obviously, the God of the Hebrews was serving as the judge of Pharaoh. Yahweh was weighing the heart of the Egyptian king, and then proclaiming the results for all to see. Pharaoh was adjudged an imperfect being worthy of condemnation. This is especially striking in light of the ancient Egyptian belief in the purity of Pharaoh. . . Yahweh’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a polemic against the prevailing notion that Pharaoh’s character was pure and untainted. . .Yahweh assaulted the heart of Pharaoh to demonstrate that only the God of the Hebrews is the sovereign of the universe.”[2]

Thank you Dr. Currid (or ‘Dr. J.D.’ as we used to fondly call you in class) for your excellent scholarship in this area. There wasn’t a day we sat in your class that we were not amazed at the great treasures of biblical knowledge you shared with us!

[1] John. D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, Baker Books House Company, 1997, 96-103.

[2] Currid, 102-103.

Lying on the devil and the Lord

In John 8:44, Jesus characterized the devil as a liar and the father of lies! But did you know that many who preach the Gospel are guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord? Let me show you what I’m talking about!

In John 10:10, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) Now, I am sure most of you reading this have heard this text preached and taught and nine times out of ten, you heard the preacher or teacher say that the thief in that verse is the devil. Often, I have heard preachers refer to the text by saying: “The devil comes to rob, kill, and to destroy, but Jesus came that we might have a more abundant life! Yes! The devil wants to rob and steal your property! But, go and shake three people’s hand and tell the devil: ‘I’m taking it back! You can’t have my stuff!’ Can somebody shout: Glory!” But is that really the message of the text? I am suggesting to you that it is not and when that text is preached or referred to in that manner, the preacher or teacher is guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

First of all, look at the context of the verse. The first mention of the thief is in verse one, where Jesus describes the thief as anyone who does not enter the door of the sheepfold, but climbs up and tries to get into the sheepfold any other way. In the next verse, Jesus says, the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. So, the contrast is between the thief who tries to get access to the sheep by some way other than the door and the shepherd who comes through the door. Note that the thief is not after what the sheep have; the thief wants to steal the sheep! In verse eight, Jesus says all who came before him are, or were, thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. So, we can surmise from verses 1-8 that the thief, the thieves and robbers were trying to get access to steal the sheep. Contrasted with the shepherd, who comes through the door and coupled with Jesus, who calls himself the good shepherd (verse 11), we can deduct the thief, the thieves and robbers that Jesus was talking about were illegitimate or false shepherds! By the way, another term for “shepherd” is the term “pastor.” So, in proper context, in this passage, the thief, the thieves and robbers, (bad) shepherds, and (bad) pastors, all refer to the same person or group! Note that Jesus made no reference whatsoever to the devil or demonic forces! He was making a contrast between the thieves and robbers (bad shepherds, bad pastors) and himself: the good shepherd! In keeping with the context and unity of the passage, the thief in verse ten must refer to the same person or group of persons mentioned in verses one and eight!

In looking at the Greek text, performing a word study helps to further clarify who the “thief” is in verse ten. A word study on the word, “kill” reveals the following: In the English, the word “kill” in any form, is found only 10 times in the entire Gospel of John. Of those 10 times, 9 times, the Greek word, “apokteino,” which means, “to kill in any way whatever,” is used. However, in verse ten, the word for kill is “thuo,” which means, “to sacrifice.” This definition holds true for the usage of the word in other places in the New Testament (NT). It only occurs 13 other times, besides in our text in the NT and our text is the only occurrence in the Gospel of John. In every case, the word is used to denote the killing of an animal for the purpose of offering up a sacrifice or of eating a meal in connection with a sacrifice. The use this particular word for “kill” in verse ten, seems to suggest that the thief does not just kill, but rather the thief’s killing is for or in connection with making a sacrifice as an act of worship. With that being the case, we can deduct from our word study and by observing the proper context of the text that the “thief” in John 10:10 is NOT the devil, but rather is a religious person. This ties in perfectly with Jesus’ depiction of the thief as being the religious leader(s), who was (were) sacrificing the people for his (their) own personal benefit and profit. Oh! Do you see that? We’ve been lying on the liar and the Lord! The thief in John 10:10 is not the devil, but rather the pastor or religious leader who illegitimately gains access and kills (sacrifices) the sheep for his own personal profit and gain!

In verse 11, the contrast changes from the good shepherd and thieves and robbers to the good shepherd and the hireling or the hired hand. Jesus said in verses 11-15: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (ESV) Again, Jesus makes a contrast between himself and the religious leaders of that day who came before him. He describes himself as the good shepherd in comparison to the religious leaders, who he called robbers, thieves, and hired hands who didn’t care anything for the sheep, but were just in it for the money! If the devil is implied anywhere in this discourse, he could possibly be the wolf in verse 12, but he is definitely not the thief in verse ten!

In addition to the evidence presented, stealing is not the devil’s M. O! The devil’s bread and butter are lies and deception! There was an interesting conversation that took place between Jesus and the devil during the wilderness temptation. In Matthew 4:8-10, we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (ESV) Did you notice Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim of ownership of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory? If Satan was lying and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory were not his to give, Jesus would have known it and the temptation wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! I brought us to this text to point out the fact that the devil doesn’t need to “steal our stuff” because he has already stolen and has all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to give to us if we would just fall down and worship him! The devil already has all of that and we think he wants to rob us of our two cents! Seriously?

Besides that, the abundant life that Jesus came to give in John 10:10 is denoted by the Greek term; “zoe.” Zoe refers to the quality of life, not the quantity of life. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have more stuff in life; Jesus came that we might have more meaning and purpose in life! Jesus said: “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NET)

In conclusion, I think the reason why we have lied on the devil and the Lord in John 10:10 is because many of us do not study the text for ourselves; we merely preach and teach what we have heard others preach and teach. Instead of a voice, many pulpits are occupied by a parrot! Preacher, teacher: If you hope to be approved by God in your handling of the word, you must wrestle with the text for yourself! Don’t even take my word for the conclusions I have drawn in this post. Do the research for yourself! We all should be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and study for ourselves to see whether the things we hear is the truth! If we don’t, if we uncritically accept and repeat everything we hear others preaching and teaching, then we, like them, will be guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

Real Christianity

I feel compelled to write this because there is so much misunderstanding and confusion today about Christians and Christianity. There are those who think Christianity was an invention of White people as a means to use religion to control Black people! There are those who think Christianity is the religious or moral authority of the Republican Party or the conservative right.  

In thinking about that, I am reminded of something Jesus said in response to his disciples’ inquiry about the end of the age. We read in Matthew 24:3-8: “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers (various) places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” When Jesus said that many would come in his name, saying “I am Christ” he wasn’t necessarily saying that people would come saying that they were literally him, returning in the flesh (although he does not eliminate that possibility and some have even done it), rather many would come in his name, supposedly representing him, saying that they are anointed; they are his, they are Christian! Jesus said that they would deceive many.

Is that not what is happening today? People are deceived and confused so much that many don’t know what ‘real Christianity’ is! Well, let me try to add my two cents to the discussion. First of all, in response to the Black nationalists and other Afro-centric groups who are flooding Facebook with propaganda that Christianity is the tool of White people to control Black people. Such thinking is absurd because it belies historical facts. Even before Christianity, Africa was well familiar with the worship of Yahweh from the days of King Solomon. And according to the Book of Acts, Christianity was introduced to the African continent in Chapter 8, years before it was introduced to the European continent in Chapter 16! So, what probably happenrd was that when the White missionaries went to Africa, they didn’t really introduce Christianity to the Africans, but actually reminded them of the faith they once had and had lost! In addition to that, the same religion that some claim was invented by the White man to control Black people was used by Black people to inspire and empower them to fight for freedom and liberation! And, even further, their point would have some semblance of validity were it not for the fact that there are White people who are Christians and there are Christians all over the world! Christianity was not ‘made in America!’

In response to those who think Christianity is mainly the moral authority of the Republican Party or political conservatism; God is NOT a Republican, neither is God a Democrat! In thinking about that, I am reminded of an incident I read about in the biblical book of Joshua. In Joshua 5:13-15, we read: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, ‘Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, ‘What saith my lord unto his servant?’ And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, ‘Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (KJV) Here’s the setting: Joshua was about to fight the battle of Jericho and as he is contemplating about the battle the night before, this mysterious stranger appears. The stranger has such an awesome appearance that Joshua reasoned that whoever’s side this guy is on, they are bound to win! So Joshua asked him: “Whose side are you on; which side are you going to fight for; us or our enemies?” The stranger said, in essence: “I didn’t come to take sides, I came to take over!”  And that’s what God is all about! God is not for the Republicans as opposed to the Democrats! God does not stoop so low as to get involved with petty political in-fighting! The only government God promotes is the Kingdom of God! No! God is NOT endorsing the Republican agenda or the Democratic agenda! God doesn’t want to take sides; God wants to take over!

In that same vein of thinking, God is not even an American! There are many American Christians who like to think God is pro-America as opposed to all other nations. But the Bible says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD. . .” It doesn’t matter how much we sing: “God bless America,” America will only be blessed as she adheres to the principles and teachings of God’s word. America will only be blessed as she promotes justice and equality for all of her citizens. America will only be blessed as she seeks to live out the true meaning of her creed.

So, in essence, real Christianity is NOT tied to nationalistic devotion, nor is it wedded to the American flag or national anthem. Real Christianity supersedes race, ethnicity, or political affiliation. Real Christianity dictates behavior and allegiance instead of being dictated by behavior and allegiance. Real Christianity is more about respecting people, justice, and equality than about respecting a flag or an anthem!

I mentioned that last statement because I recently viewed a video clip of a supposedly Christian preacher who was berating athletes for kneeling during the national anthem. I found it sad that he refused to acknowledge the truth that the athletes are not protesting the flag or the anthem, but rather are using the flag and anthem to call attention to the systemic racism that pervades the justice system in this nation! He spent his whole preaching moment condemning the protest without even acknowledging the real reasons for the protest! But real Christianity is more concerned about people than flags and anthems! Sadly, in the name of Christianity, many have hi-jacked the conversation about racial equality and justice and turned it into a trivial debate about a flag and a song! That is NOT real Christianity!

Do You Love Me More Than These?

This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

(John 21:14-17 ESV)

If most (not necessarily all) Americans who claim to be Christian, were more devoted to actually practicing Christian principles than defending and practicing their cultural heritage, political ideology, or personal interests, most of the current issues plaguing American society such as racial divisions, politics, police brutality, and even gun violence would not exist.

So, the question for every American, who claims to follow Christ, is the same question Jesus posed to Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15) Do you love God more than your guns? Do you love the Lord more than your cultural heritage or racial identity? Do you love God more than your political party affiliations or platforms?

If the so-called Christians, really loved God the way they say they do, then that love would supersede racial and ethnic differences and Black and White Christians would stand together to protest and eliminate the systemic police brutality and racial injustice that is so prevalent in America today!

The bottom line is this: Unless the confessing Christian’s faith controls his or her politics instead of that Christian allowing politics to taint and distort their faith; any claim to Christian authenticity is suspect at best, if not just simply a farce in reality! Until practice is consistent with statements of faith, those who don’t believe have no credible tangible evidence that the Christian’s faith is actually real!

Our nation is severely divided along racial lines today because many people have confused real Christianity with politics! A real Christian is not the one who is on the political or social Left or Right! The identity of the real Christian is not determined by political affiliations. The real Christian is the one who follows Christ!

My prayer is that all who claim to love the Lord would actually love Him more than their own personal agendas! Then, and only then, will there be healing in the land!

The Free Will Fallacy

A few days ago, one of the parishioners of the church I serve, called me with an interesting question. At the time he called, I was unable to answer my phone, so he left a message on my voice mail. He said: “Hey Pastor! I was just calling you with a question: Where is it in the Bible where it talks about man having free will?” Well, as I listened to his message, I asked myself: Is there any scripture in the Bible that speaks to the issue of man having free will?

The Bible indicates that there once was a time in the beginning, when man ‘had’ limited free will! Before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they had the ability to freely choose to obey or disobey God. However, Adam and Eve were the only humans created with that limited free will! When Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God, sin entered into the world and consequently, the limited free will that Adam and Eve had was lost! The Bible teaches that all who were born after sin entered into the world, were and are, born with a sinful nature and a natural propensity to sin.

Now, I don’t know where it came from, but I grew up believing we had the absolute freedom to choose good or evil. I onced believed we came into this world innocent and neutral and the ultimate decision was to choose righteousness and goodness or sin and evil before we died! But, that is not the case at all! According to the Bible, we were all; born with a sinful disposition! We were not born neutral; we were born sinners! Apparently, the ancient King David recognized this fact because he wrote in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” There are some who are suggesting today, that their sinful disposition should be excused and affirmed because they were “born that way!” But, is the fact that all of us were born in sin a legitimate excuse to remain in sin? None of us had a choice in the matter, we were all born sinners, with a natural propensity or tendency to sin! Have you ever noticed the fact that you really don’t have to teach a child to do wrong? They are born with a natural tendency to try to lie, steal, and cheat!

And are we to blame God and say it’s all right for them to lie, steal and cheat, simply because they didn’t have a choice in the matter because they were born that way? Of course not! Our original parents were not forced to disobey God, they made a choice to disobey God and as a consequence, all of their offspring are born with a sinful disposition. Therefore, we teach, encourage, and train our children not to lie, steal, and cheat, although doing so, is in a sense, unnatural to their natural disposition! We do this because of the existence of a moral code, the ignoring or violation of which, causes society to sink into moral degradation and chaos! We teach them to do right, although it is against their nature to do right!

Now, the inability to exercise free will presents a moral dilemma! How can man be expected to do the right thing when he does not have the freedom to choose right? The Apostle Paul gives voice to this dilemma in Romans 7:15-25, he writes: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, bin my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (ESV) The Good News of the Gospel is that through acceptance of and faith in the sacrificial, atoning work of Jesus on Calvary’s cross and God subsequently raising him from the dead, we can be set free from the power of sin! Paul Achtemeier writes of those who are believers: “Because of Christ, we have, for the first time, a real choice: For the first time, we can choose not to sin! For the first time, it is possible that exhortations to good can be followed. . . The enslaving power of sin no longer rules us.”[1]

Achtemeier further asserts:

“The power of sin has been broken. The Christian is no longer enslaved to it. After dying with Christ in baptism, the Christians are free from the lordship of sin. For the first time, they can do something other than sin. . .Free to do what is good, not what sin forces them to do. They are now free to do what God wants them to do. And right there is the problem. As human creatures, Christians are free only within the framework of some lordship, either of God or of sin. There is for human being whether baptized into Christ or not, no neutral ground. Human beings are creatures, not gods. It is precisely the search for that ‘neutral ground’ that search to be gods for themselves, that got human beings into enslavement to sin in the first place. So the choice is not slavery or freedom in some absolute sense. The choice is, rather, slavery to which lord, to which ruling power?”[2]

Achtemeier’s last point brings us full circle back to our original premise; the question of free will. Absolute free will is a fallacy because we are human beings and not gods. Free will within the constraints of humanity outside of a relationship with God through Christ is a fallacy because the person who has no relationship with God through Christ is under the bondage of sin. Sinners sin because they can’t help themselves! It’s their nature! Sin is their master and they have no choice! The Christian has, to some extent, free will, because the Christian can choose not to sin and to obey God. However, even the Christian does not have absolute free will because, he is human and not a god. It is because Christian is redeemed that the Christian has the freedom to choose which master he will serve!

[1] Paul J. Achtemeier, Romans (Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching), Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1985, 105.

[2] Achtemeier, 109.

But My God Shall Suppy All Your Need?

Most Bible readers would readily recognize the subject of this post as being the beginning of Philippians 4:19. The Apostle Paul wrote the church at Philippi a ‘thank-you’ letter in which he told them: “But my God shall supply all of your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (KJV) Often in our day and time, this verse is incorrectly used as a ‘blanket guarantee’ that God will supply all of our needs! But, was that really Paul’s intended meaning when he made the statement?

There are three rules we should carefully follow when we read the Bible. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And, the third rule is context! So, let’s look at the context of this familiar passage. The first thing we should notice is that the verse begins with a conjunction! From the Greek text, this conjunction can be translated as “but” or “and.” The KJV says “but,” however, many of the modern translations render the conjunction as “and.” But either one is acceptable because one makes no difference in the intended meaning as opposed to the other. But, I wanted to call attention to the conjunction, not so much to highlight the different translations, but rather to remind us of the purpose and function of a conjunction. A conjunction, by definition, is a word that joins together sentences, clauses, phrases, or words. Since the conjunction is at the beginning of verse 19, in order to correctly interpret the verse, we must look at what proceeds it. In order to ascertain Paul’s complete meaning, we need to go back to at least verse 15.

The gist of the conversation is that Paul is commending them for being the only church to supply him with financial assistance since the beginning of the gospel when he left Macedonia. Even when he was in Thessalonica, they rendered assistance to him more than once! Paul told them that, although their giving was much appreciated, he had learned to get along with whatever he had! That was the rationale behind the other statement we often misapply from this chapter, where Paul said in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me!” The ‘all things’ Paul was referring to was; living with little and living with plenty! He could do all things because he had learned the secret of being content in whatever state he was in! He was telling them: “I’ve learned how to live in poverty and I’ve learned how to live in abundance! So, even if I had received nothing from you, I would have been alright, but nevertheless, I appreciate your gifts!” And because they gave to him, Paul told them; “But (and) my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by (in) Christ Jesus!” Paul was telling them; “Because you took care of my needs, my God will take care of your needs!” In its original context, this wasn’t a unilateral promise; it was a statement of reciprocal blessing! “God will do for you, because you did for me! 

There is a similar principle stated in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Jesus didn’t say that all these things (food, drink, clothing, things needful for life) would be added automatically! No! He said all these things would come as a matter of course as one seeks first to find and submit to the authority of God in their lives!

In both cases, the blessings were and are conditional! The principle is this: God will take care of us and our business when and as we first take care of His business and meet His requirements!  Context is everything! But, when we take scripture out of context, we erroneously make God responsible for commitments God never actually made! And when God doesn’t come through on the promises we misappropriate because we took scripture out of context, it damages our faith and/or the faith of others! So, before we apply and rely on anything anybody said in the Bible, we should make sure of the context! We should make sure the promise is applicable to us and that we met the conditions of the promise!

Have We (the Church) Truly Repented?

Some years ago, I did a word-study of the Greek word that is translated as “repent” in our English Bibles. As I result of this study, I came to a shocking conclusion: Most of us who call ourselves Christians, have NOT truly repented at all! This is mostly in part because of a mis-interpretation which has led to a misunderstanding, and therefore a misapplication the biblical concept of repentance.

Let me show you what I am talking about. When I was first introduced to the concept of repentance as a young Christian, I was taught that to repent means to be ‘godly sorrow for your sins.’ However, I would discover later on, that this definition is based on a faulty interpretation and misunderstanding of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. The apostle wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (KJV) Here are the same verses in one of the more recent versions; the ESV: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Now, here’s the thing that most people have missed about what Paul said. Paul DID NOT SAY godly sorrow or godly grief ‘was’ repentance. He said godly sorrow or godly grief ‘works’ or ‘produces’ repentance! Godly sorrow/grief and repentance are two different concepts; they are not synonymous! They are not the same!

So, to feel sorry for your sins is not the same as repenting, it’s just feeling sorry for your sins! But, feeling sorry for your sins ought to produce repentance! Feeling sorry for your sins ought to lead you to the act of repenting. So, that brings us to the question: If being godly sorrow for your sins is not the same as repentance, then, what does it actually mean to repent? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ has as its primary meaning; to change one’s mind or the way one thinks. Therefore, to repent is to change your mind or to change your thought process; repentance is a change of mind! True repentance is a change in ‘what’ and ‘how’ one thinks! This change of mind will invariably lead to a change in action, behavior and life.

Jesus’ first recorded public declaration is found in Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) The Jewish people at that time were anxiously waiting for and anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of God (the rule, reign, and authority of God among his people on earth). What Jesus was essentially saying was this: “Quit thinking about the Kingdom of God in the future-tense and understand and live in view of the fact that the Kingdom of God has now arrived!” The message of Jesus for us today is for us to quit thinking of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven in the future and start thinking of the Kingdom of God as a present reality!

Therefore, in view of what Jesus said, even most people who call themselves Christians still need to repent! Why? Because most Christians think of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven, in the sweet by and by! But the message of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is also a present reality on earth in the sour here and now! The message is: Repent! Quit thinking religion and start thinking Kingdom! We’ve got our hearts set on ‘going to Heaven,’ but Jesus told us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come!” We’re want to leave here and go there, but Jesus wants us to stay here, working and praying that the ‘there’ will come here! He prayed to his Father in the garden on the eve of his passion, concerning his disciples and us: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15 NIV) We need to repent, because we’ve been praying to the Father to get us out, while Jesus prayed to the Father to keep us in! We need to repent! We need to change our minds; we need to change our thought process! We’ve been thinking religion; but Jesus wasn’t about religion, Jesus was about the Kingdom! Jesus never told us to seek first religion; he told us to seek first the Kingdom! Religion is always about the past and the future ‘over there,’ but the Kingdom is primarily about in the present here! Religion allows evil to win in the present because of a faith in a future victory, but the Kingdom defeats the power of the enemy in the present and will ultimately destroy the enemy in the future! That’s why the enemy doesn’t mind us ‘having religion,’ because religion blinds us to the present reality of the Kingdom! The message to the church today is the same as the message Jesus proclaimed centuries ago: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Kingdom of God is not just pie-in-the-shy-when-you-die-by-and-by; the Kingdom is the present power and reality of God in the world right now! The Kingdom of God is not just later; the Kingdom of God is NOW AND LATER!