Get into the Word (PoW#23)

Pearl of Wisdom #23

If you get into the Word of God, then the Word of God will get into you!

You will never be a strong or successful Christian unless you get into the Word of God in the Bible. Consider the Bible as your spiritual food!

As you begin to study the Word of God and absorb it’s truths, those truths will begin to shape your life. As you get into the Word, it will begin to get into you as well.

This means that when you need it, the Holy Spirit can bring the Word to your memory. He can bring that Word to life in any situation. The Bible describes the Word of God as a “sword of the Spirit,” and the Spirit can put that “sword” in your hand when you need it.

As you read and study the Bible, the truths you learn will change your mind – how you think. It will shine light on areas you need God’s help with, and it will encourage and strengthen you.

Get into the Word this week, and let that Word shape your life!

The Sovereign God

In my last post (Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God), I discussed the idea of God’s Sovereignty, and how it was at odds with my previous belief. Little else has occupied my Bible study time lately, and I’ve continued to grapple with this matter. Here follows some further thoughts on this, and hope you find the discussion helpful.

I should warn you – it’s not for the faint of heart!

I spoke briefly last time about Romans 9, and how Paul was debating the same matter that we are. Does God’s Sovereignty mean He controls everything, and indeed who does and does not get saved?

Let’s read Romans 9:9-25 (and sorry it’s a long extract, but it’s hard not to include the whole chapter!)

For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:9-25 (ESV)

The thrust of this passage is that God does indeed “elect” some and not others. This is not based on their performance or on their character, but rather a sovereign act of God’s will.

There are two main objections here I think (both of which Paul answers). Firstly, that if God chooses some and not others then that is unfair. Secondly, that if God controls everything, then no one can resist His will and so should not be held accountable for their actions.

Let’s take these in turn.

It is unfair of God to choose some and not others

For some people, the very idea that God has an elected group He chooses to save is completely objectionable. I believed it myself I think, on reflection. The problem is that it does appear to be the case – if you study the Bible thoroughly.

Is it unfair of God to choose some and not others for salvation? On the face of it, it does appear so. Through no action of their own, they are specially selected to belong to God’s family, while others are rejected. Surely this is the very definition of “unfair advantage”.

What do we mean by “fair” however? Do we mean that all should be treated the same? If so, then I don’t think we want that at all. Why? Because not one of us “deserves” to be saved. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and so in reality, the “fair” thing would be to reject everyone.

Given this, I’d say the last thing we want from God is fairness. Rather, we want grace.

When we look at it this way, we realise that actually for God to save anyone is a miracle.

I’ve been over this argument many times in my mind, and have come to accept that it is the case. I have only one remaining objection really, and one I’ve not yet worked through.

We are sinners, no argument there, and we need saving. So if God saves anyone, it is a great act of His mercy towards us. The issue for me though is that if God controls every action, and we have no free will whatsoever, then is it fair to say we all deserve punishment? Could I sin without God allowing it?

Here we encounter the second issue mentioned above.

If God controls everything, even our actions, then how can we be held responsible?

I touched on this last time, and there is no simple answer. Look at what Paul says in verse 20.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

Romans 9:20 (ESV)

Indeed, who are we to talk back to God?

I don’t mind telling you that in the midst of this journey or battle with the sovereignty issue, there were times when I felt a whole host of negative emotions. I’ve never really been taught these things, and in fact, was taught that God does not control everything but leaves it up to humanity’s will as stewards of the Earth.

I don’t think that can be supported biblically.

What really caused difficulty for me was the conclusion of this line of thought. If God controls everything, then you cannot separate our experience from His will. If His will is paramount, then everything we all experience is exactly what He foreordained. All the suffering and pain of this world must be exactly as He willed it.

It doesn’t end there. If God does indeed control everything, and it was all planned in advance, then not only the cross was foreordained, but so was the fall of humanity.

At the time I came to that thought, it was too much for me. I had to go back over all of my study to find the flaw in my logic and understanding. Can it really be that God planned for mankind to fall in the Garden of Eden? If so, why?

I am not sure it is even possible for us limited humans to answer such a question.

Does it in any way suffice to say that it is because it brings Him glory?

I cannot, and will not, try to convince you on this point now. It is really the only natural conclusion of understanding that God’s sovereignty does mean He is in total and complete control.

We elevate ourselves in pride if we try to fathom this and question the One who made us. As uncomfortable as it may be, we cannot select the parts of the Bible that we like and ignore the rest. We must take the whole counsel of God and understand Him as best we can from it.

So how can God claim He wants all to come to repentance and be saved?

In 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, we read the following.

who [God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

A question I posed last time was how can these verses be true if God only elects some for salvation? Surely that is contradictory.

I began to read materials about the “Two Wills of God,” which I, at first, rejected. The idea is that God has a “revealed” will and a “secret” will. I struggled to find chapter and verse on such a concept.

The idea is this. I, the parent, am going out Christmas shopping for my children. When they ask, “Where are you going?” I answer, “I’m going out.” We see that my “revealed will” is “I’m going out.” But that my “secret will” is “I’m going out Christmas shopping.”

As an illustration, this works well. It is clear to see that I as a parent may not want to tell my children every little detail of my plans. This may be my choice, or it may be that they simply wouldn’t understand.

I can, to an extent, apply this to God and accept that there may well be things He chooses not to reveal to me, and so I should focus on what He does reveal. Where my illustration breaks down is that in terms of election AND God wanting all to be saved, they appear in direct contradiction.  My example of revealed and secret will going Christmas shopping fit together and are both true. We can’t obviously see that here in our Scriptures.

Again, it may be beyond our minds to be able to see the wide-angle view here.

For some, the “all” in these verses from Timothy and Peter refers only to the “elect” and so there is no contradiction at all. That is neat, but I’m not sure you can obtain that from the text alone and have to apply this interpretation.

Another way to look at it is a well-known ethics test. A train is hurtling towards a junction. On one side is your spouse, and the other a group of eight individuals. You have control the lever and can divert the train away from your spouse and into the group. What do you do?

Perhaps God is faced with such a dilemma. His will (revealed) is that He does not want anyone to perish, but He chooses to only elect some – this choice may be considered His “secret will”. It is impossible to put ourselves in God’s shoes here. If He owns the train, the tracks, the junction and the points, then how can it apply? I can safely say it’s beyond me.

Prayer, evangelism, healing and the rest

As I hit the bottom of the valley in this journey through sovereignty, I realised that much of what I had been taught was perhaps based on false foundations.

If you cannot separate God’s will from our experience, then you cannot say it is God’s will to heal someone if they remain sick. If it were, the sick would be healthy. This flies in the face of what I have previously believed God’s word to say.

It doesn’t end there though, and some of the classic questions about sovereignty are as follows:

  • If God is sovereign, then why pray?
  • If God is sovereign, and has an elected group, then why evangelise?
  • As I mention above, I would add – If God is sovereign, and healing (appears in my view) is His will for His people, then why do some remain sick?

This is already a long post, and I am keen to share my conclusions with you. I can’t answer the above questions fully in what little space I have left, but here goes.

Prayer

Prayer is problematic because the logic goes like this: If I pray for God’s will, then I am praying for something which will happen anyway. And if I pray against His will, then there is no possibility of it occurring. In both cases, prayer is pointless, right?

Paul, who wrote Romans 9 and stated emphatically that God is sovereign, had no issue telling people to pray. Indeed, just one chapter over in Romans 10:1 we read:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

Romans 10:1 (ESV)

If Paul saw no contradiction between Romans 9 and 10, then neither should we. Perhaps he knew something we have not yet uncovered.

I was musing about time. If I pray, when does God hear it? The simple answer is straightaway. But there is no “straightaway” for God. Not wanting to drown in physics I don’t really understand, time is a physical property and (I think) linked to gravity.

I think Einstein proposed an experiment which said that if you take twins born at the same time, and send one to our nearest star at 99.9% the speed of light, then on their return, the traveler will still be a baby and yet the one left on Earth would have grown up. Time on Earth passes at a different rate.

Hope that didn’t melt your brain!

Put it like this, God is not subject to our time constraints. We think that we pray, and God hears and then acts, influencing our future. God knows the end from the beginning, and so knows our prayers before we were even formed. I’m not sure if it breaks the sovereignty of God to suggest that maybe He heard our prayers before the foundation of the world. Perhaps in making His sovereign choices, He takes our requests on board. Just my considerations here, and nothing I can support scripturally.

Evangelism

Likewise, if prayer remains valid, then so must evangelism. You simply cannot argue that the Bible does emphatically tell us to share our faith, and by that, the full number of the elect can be reached.

Healing

If God always gets His way, and if we remain sick, we must conclude that it is not His will to heal us. And yet, physical healing is certainly Scriptural. Could it be that God wanting us well is His “revealed will” and when we don’t, it is His secret will coming into play? I leave that thought with you.

Conclusions

How can I hope to conclude such a post! My head spins writing it, let alone you reading it. This is the culmination of much thought and study, and so I cannot expect you to just swallow it whole and accept it. I urge you to look into it yourself and see what you think the Bible says.

But what does it matter?

I don’t mean to be flippant there, of course it matters. Understanding the nature of God and how we can relate to Him must matter a great deal.

My point is this. What difference does it make to the way we live?

If God is Sovereign, or indeed if you believe He is not, the Bible is very clear about how we Christians should live. Whether it is God ordaining it, or you choosing it, we must determine to live our lives in a manner worthy of God.

We cannot do it in our own strength, and must rely totally and completely o Christ, but our lives should reflect His glory. The way we live should be a witness to the rest of the world so that by their acceptance or rejection of Christ, God is glorified and praised.

Praise the Sovereign and Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!

Willing to Pay the Price? (PoW#22)

Pearl of Wisdom #22

Don’t expect what other people have, unless you’re willing to pay the price they paid to get it.

Some say we live in the age of entitlement. People have a tendency to want or even expect what other people have – without being willing to pay the price they paid to get it.

Some newly weds or homeowners expect the same standard of living as their retired parents, not realising it took their parents their entire lives working and saving to be in a position to live that way.

We want to lose weight and be fit and healthy, but don’t want to spend the hours in the gym we need to. We want the “body” but aren’t willing to let go of the chocolate!

The same can be true of churches and ministries. We see a “big church” (which is not necessarily a measure of success) and want our church to be the same. A Bible teacher draws in a crowd of hundreds, and we feel we ought to have at least the same.

What we often fail to understand is that these things all come at a cost and a sacrifice. Whether in ministry or in business or life in general, success takes time and patience. We may be watching the end result of years of hard work, expecting to have it all in a few weeks.

I encourage you to have goals and dreams, but set realistic expectations. Don’t look at others and covet what they have. Do what they did to get it. Learn from them, and strive towards your goals.

And remember, we usually only ever see the “edited highlights” of a person’s life. Instagram and Facebook are very selective windows into a person’s world.

Be blessed this week.

Humble Pie (PoW#21)

Pearl of Wisdom #21

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, rather it is thinking of yourself less.

Humility isn’t exactly something we celebrate much in our culture. When we look to celebrities, we offer see arrogance, selfishness and pride.

Many of us misunderstand what true humility is. We believe that a humble person is someone who beats themselves up constantly, who treads themselves down and thinks very little of themselves.

That is not biblical humility.

Humility is not about mistreating ourselves, instead it’s about moving ourselves out of the way and keeping God in His proper place in our lives.

A humble person is someone who is totally reliant on Jesus. They don’t think of themselves more or less than they ought, and instead keep their minds on Christ.

Pride can be seen in arrogance of course, but it can also be seen in self-loathing. Pride is simply putting the emphasis on “us” rather than God.

Try to be humble this week. Don’t loathe yourself, love Jesus!

Make me “usable” (PoW#20)

Pearl of Wisdom #20

Don’t seek to be used by God, instead seek to be usable.

Many of us want to be used by God in some special way to do a great work for Him. There is nothing wrong with such a goal, and it comes from our love for Him.

We ask God to use us, but often times God won’t answer this prayer. It’s not that He doesn’t want to, but rather He doesn’t want us to be harmed. God cares more about us, than about how He can use us. He loves us, not what we can do for Him.

Think of it this way; He will not put us into a situation we cannot handle, bringing harm to us and to others, just to get something done. He would rather help us grow to a point where we can serve Him in this world.

Don’t ask God to “use you”, instead ask Him to help develop your character so that He can use you. When we become “usable” we no longer need to worry about God putting us into positions of service. Once we are mature or have the experience we need, God will put us to work to bless others.

God loves you more than you know.

Life is not a dress rehearsal (PoW#19)

Pearl of Wisdom #19

Life is not a dress rehearsal

We only get one shot at life, and it is often far shorter than we would like. There is no dress rehearsal, and we do not get a second chance.

We must make the most of every single day!

All of us look back over our lives and wish we had done certain things differently. We recall wasted opportunities or mistakes, and wonder what might have been. This is not without value, but we cannot live in the past.

Even if you have wasted every day up to now, you can still make the best of whatever time you have left. Don’t waste it! Time is the one thing you cannot get more of.

You can’t change what has been, but you can do whatever you can to make the most of the rest of your life. Be blessed.

Success and Pre-success (PoW#18)

Pearl of Wisdom #18

You are not a failure; you just haven’t succeeded yet

You are not a failure until you truly give up. Everyone else is just “pre-successful”.

Thomas Edison, although perhaps not the true inventor of the light bulb, never gave up. He “invented” numerous ways of how not to make a light bulb, until he finally got one that worked. And he only needed one.

Whatever it is you are trying to achieve, don’t ever consider yourself a failure. Until you are successful at your goal, you are just learning all the ways not to do it, and if you keep trying, you will make it one day.

Never give up! Push on and keep trying! You can do the things that God has put on your heart to do! Don’t ever let the word “failure” come out of your mouth – instead, just consider it a practice run!

Faith and Unbelief

I want to draw this mini series on healing to a close by thinking about a passage from Matthew 17. There is, of course, much more to say about the subject of healing and this was not meant to be an exhaustive study.

One of the major questions people have is, “Why was I not healed when I asked?” Great question! Some will say that it is not always God’s will to heal, in which case, that is one possible answer. I personally don’t hold that view, but understand I am perhaps in the minority.

There are some things we can learn from Matthew 17, which says:

As they approached the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, knelt down in front of him, 15 and said, “Sir, have mercy on my son, because he is an epileptic and suffers terribly. Often he falls into fire and often into water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed that very hour.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:14-21 (ISV)

These events happen shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus. He and the chosen disciples returned from the mountaintop to the unfolding scene described above.

A man approaches Jesus, seeking healing for his son who is described as an epileptic. He had first gone to the disciples, and the text clearly states that they (the disciples) were not able to heal the boy.

Before we dig into this, look at Jesus’ reaction… was He pleased by this turn of events? Clearly not! In fact, He had some rather strong words to say about it.

Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverted generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me!”

Matthew 17:17 (ISV)

Jesus was clearly not impressed with this situation. He did not react with comforting words, or reassure the disciples that it was not their fault. Instead, He rebukes them! Obviously Jesus was here expecting them to be able to minister to this young boy. If not, He would have said so – “Don’t worry lads, this was too difficult for you to achieve. I’ll have to do it myself.” No, instead He criticises them for their unbelief.

Jesus healed the boy immediately. Don’t miss that fact. He clearly wanted this person well, and delivered him from this sickness.

Verse 19 is important. The disciples ask a similar question to what we often ask, “Why couldn’t we heal him?” Or rather, “Why didn’t it work when I prayed?”

The very fact that they asked this question shows that they expected him to recover from this sickness. If they didn’t expect that, then they would have just moved on. It also shows that they had prayed for and healed others, but for some reason this time it had not worked.

What is Jesus’ answer?

He told them, “Because of your lack of faith. I tell all of you with certainty, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ISV)

Let’s read these same verses in other translations so we get a proper picture.

The NIV says:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (NIV)

The ESV says:

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21 (ESV)

And the KJV says:

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:20-21 (KJV)

So, put simply, Jesus says you couldn’t heal this boy because of “something”. This “something” is translated slightly differently in the verses above. I think the differences are critical to understanding what Jesus was saying.

The “something” is:

  • Little faith
  • Lack of faith
  • Unbelief

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Little Faith

If this is correctly translated, then I struggle to understand this verse. Jesus says, you couldn’t do it because of your “little faith” and then says, “You only need little faith to move a mountain.” This is an apparent contradiction. On one hand, little faith is not enough and the other it can move mountains.

Lack of faith

This, if correct, makes more sense to me. Jesus says they lacked faith to heal, but points out they only need faith the size of a mustard seed to perform a miracle.

The issue I have with this is reflected in some of the comments I received in earlier blog posts on this subject.

An individual seeks prayer for healing, does not immediately receive it and is then told they “lack faith” for healing. They come away feeling condemned, unworthy and offended. It leaves them in a worse state than they were before.

Let me say this categorically. If you seek prayer for healing, and the individual or church tells you that you lack faith for it, they are letting you down and you should walk away. Such a person is not ministering to you, but judging you. They lack compassion and beyond that, I think they lack understanding of what the Bible teaches.

Am I saying you don’t need faith to be healed? Of course not, clearly having no faith in healing would prevent healing, but that is not the situation above. When a faithful believer seeks healing, they do so “in faith”. If they lacked faith, they would not come forward to ask for prayer in the first place! Something else is happening here.

Unbelief

The KJV translates this as “unbelief” rather than “little” or “lack” of “faith”.

In the Greek, we see that “unbelief” is the word – apistia – and “faith” used here as in “mustard seed sized faith” is – pistis. They are two different words – although clearly connected. This leads me to conclude that actually the KJV is probably the more accurate translation here, and even that “unbelief” is something different to little or no faith.

Many suggest that faith and unbelief are somehow mutually exclusive. If you have faith, then you have no unbelief, and vice versa. I don’t believe this to be true however, and don’t take “unbelief” to mean the same thing as “disbelief”.

In Mark 9, a man approaches Jesus seeking help. Jesus tells him not to doubt, and to only believe.

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Mark 9:24 (KJV)

 

Jesus did not correct this man, saying, “You’ve got it all wrong! You can’t have belief and unbelief at the same time!” So it seems possible to me that we can both believe and “unbelieve” at the same time. That, in my mind, is distinct from “believing” and “disbelieving”, which clearly cannot be done at the same time.

I think that this man believed, but that he also had unbelief. We might use the word “doubt” instead.

It is entirely possible that we should have faith in God, and yet have doubts at the same time. We don’t question God’s existence, or our salvation, but perhaps we do have doubts about God’s will to heal, or our ability to receive. Many feel unworthy and so have faith that God heals, but doubt God heals them.

I believe that a sufficient amount of doubt can hinder our faith. So how do we deal with it?

We lack space here to truly deal with the matter at hand, but here are a few ideas of mine.

Focus on the right things

Our minds generally guide the direction of our lives. IF our minds are focused on the wrong things, then that can certainly increase our doubts. If we focus on the problem, rather than the solution, which is Christ, then we cannot help but have doubts.

If you are seeking healing, are you spending time with Jesus and understanding what His Word says about the subject? Or are you googling the symptoms you have and telling everyone how terrible you feel? Don’t misunderstand, i’m not saying you cannot talk about your problems or gain understanding of things through research, but we must try to do these things in a positive way.

Paul says in Colossi ans 3 that we must keep our minds set on the “higher things” that is, the things that are above and not on the things that are below. I’m not talking about “positive mental attitude” here, as that alone saves no one. Rather, I’m saying we should train our minds to focus on the things of God – His promises – instead of the garbage this world offers.

And finally…

What I have said over the last few posts is by no means definitive evidence of guaranteed healing. Nor was that my intention. The subject of healing is more complex than we have had time to really get to grips with .

Some of you will disagree with much of what I have said, and that’s ok. I, like all of us, am still growing and learning. If nothing else, then I hope that what you have read has given you pause for thought. If you disagree, then that’s fine, but I have tried to evidence my points from the Bible and offer alternatives to the traditional views.

I state simply that I believe God wants His people to be well. The healthier we are, the better we can serve Him. The longer our lives are, the more opportunity we have to share our faith with others. That’s not to say anyone who is sick cannot do these things, but what more could we do if we were not hampered by ill-health.

If nothing else, then please pray about these things and seek the Lord for yourself. Pray for me also, not only that I would have a deeper understand of God and His Word, but that I too may be in good health. Thank you.

Live for Eternity (PoW#17)

Pearl of Wisdom #’17

We ought to spend our time here, preparing for there

In our society, which is largely anti-God, anti-Christian and promotes evolution, humanism and secularism, it is hardly surprising that people think very little about eternity – life after death.

If you take a Christian worldview, then you believe and understand that this world is not all that there is. There is an eternity, and what we do here on the Earth determines what that eternity will be like.

We live in a physical world, and must of course live our lives. Rather than living just for the here and now though, spend more of your life preparing for the world to come.

After a thousand years in eternity, you really won’t care quite so much about the problems of this life.

If you do not know Jesus Christ, and aren’t sure of your eternal destination, I encourage you to put your trust in Him. Jesus is the only way to heaven, and none of us know how much time we have left to make that choice.

Read these relevant posts to find out more – “Resurrection Sunday” and “One Way

Love is a Verb (PoW#16)

Pearl of Wisdom #16

Love is a verb

You have no doubt heard this phrase before, but I think it is worth repeating.

A verb is an action word – it describes something we do. Love should be visible.

It is easy to say the words – “I love you,” but do our actions tell the same story? I can wish you well, hope that things work out OK for you, but if I do nothing to help, then I’ve not really loved you at all.

Being part of a church, I often hear of people praying for one another. If you believe in the power of prayer, then that’s a wonderful thing to do. Sometimes though I fear we are praying to God about things we could take care of ourselves.

If someone is without transport, we don’t need to pray for them, we need to give them a lift. If someone has a sick child or relative, we can provide a meal to give them one less thing to worry about. While doing our own shopping, we can pick up a few things for an elderly neighbour.

Love demands action – what is it demanding of you this week?

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

I remember speaking to a man in church once who was telling me about an illness he had suffered with for many years. He believed in healing, and had even experienced a miracle in the past. For this particular illness however, he told me that it was his “thorn in the flesh.” Meaning God would not remove it from him.

I want to explore this today, and think about the interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Many have cited it as evidence for God not always healing the sick, or rather not always wanting to.

Let’s explore the text together and see what we can find out.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Why did Paul have a “thorn”?

Before we investigate what this thorn might have been, let us consider why Paul was given such a thorn in the first place. What did Paul say?

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the exceptional nature of these revelations…

2 Corinthians 12:7a (ISV)

So we see that Paul’s thorn came to him to keep him grounded. He had received such deep revelations of God, that he needed some kind of anchor to humility. Imagine having the kind of revelation needed to write the vast majority of the New Testament – to be the person who noted down the very Word of God for the church! Imagine if that was you… would you stay humble?

Earlier on in chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, Paul discussed an individual who was caught up to heaven. A man who actually visited heaven – whether in the body or out of it, not even the man knew. It turned out that this “man” was in fact Paul himself. So not only was he receiving such incredible revelation of God’s will and purpose, he also visited heaven! Astonishing!

We really need to understand this before we claim a “thorn” of our own. Few, if any, of us can claim to have received the depth of revelation that Paul did. We ought to be very careful about claiming the same limitations that Paul faced, without the responsibility that went along with it.

Who’s messenger was it?

It is also important to understand the source of this thorn. The text clearly states that this was a “messenger of Satan.” This thorn, whatever it was, came from the enemy. The text itself does not say that God sent the thorn, although of course you can read such an implication from it. At least, many will say God allowed this “messenger of Satan” if He did not send it Himself.

I make this point because we must not read what we think the Bible say, but rather what it actually says. Many teach and accept that God gave Paul a physical thorn, and thus in some circumstances, God will not heal. But it is difficult to obtain such an understanding from these verses – in my view at least.

The text does not clearly say if God did or did not “send” or “allow” this thorn, but it does say definitively that it was a “messenger of Satan.” Nothing good comes from the enemy, and we must understand he is a very real adversary who can wreak havoc in our lives if we allow him.

That is not to say that God cannot use hardships or difficulties to bring about His will or purpose in our lives, of course, He can. I would argue that He would not choose to do so if He had an alternative. I can learn that punching the wall really hurts and that I should not do it, but I can also learn that by instruction.

So then, what exactly was this “thorn”?

In the flesh

Many say that as Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” that it was clearly a physical ailment. There can be no question surely, that this was anything other than sickness of the body therefore. In fact, some go as far as to say that this “thorn” was Paul’s eye condition. I discussed Paul’s sight last week, and so don’t necessarily believe that Paul even had an eye condition, let alone one God refused to heal. It seems more likely to me that the damage to Paul’s eyes was as a result of his stoning at Antioch, rather than an illness.

But are there any alternative views?

Think of this example. If I said to you that “work is a real pain in the neck at the moment.” How would you interpret that? Would you think I was saying that I had injured my neck in an accident at work? No, of course not! You would understand that “pain in the neck” is just a turn of phrase meaning “annoyance” or “frustration”.

Let’s say I’d written this to you in a letter, and someone was reading it 2,000 years into the future. If the phrase “pain in the neck” was no longer in common use, then the reader might struggle to understand my meaning.

This, in my opinion at least, is what is happening with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”.

How can I evidence that? Can the phrase be found elsewhere in the Bible, and how is it interpreted?

Here is a verse from Numbers 33:

But if you fail to drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, their survivors will become irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, to prick your sides and afflict you in the very land in which you’ll be living.

Numbers 33:55 (ISV)

This verse is clear, and the meaning apparent. If you don’t drive out the nations before you, then they will become an irritant and “thorns in your sides.” We all understand this is not literal – the enemy nations would not turn into physical thorns and stick in the sides of the Israeli people! Instead, we understand this is a turn of phrase, and one Paul would have been familiar with.

Similarly, in Joshua 23, we read:

know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua 23:13 (ISV)

Again we see here an example of the same sort of phrase. A “Thorn in the flesh”, be it eyes or sides, is clearly meant to indicate an irritation or vexation.

So the thorn was…?

As I say above, it was clearly an irritation or frustration of some kind. The text doesn’t give much more detail than that, although it is my personal opinion that this thorn was in fact persecution.

Persecution would fit the bill because it is clear Paul was persecuted pretty much everywhere he went. He was arrested, whipped and imprisoned multiple times and nou doubt, as faithful as he was, was something hard to endure over and over again.

Paul did ask God to remove the thorn from him – three times in fact, and yet God did not. Why? Firstly, every believer (Paul included) was promised that while they were in the world, that they would have trouble (John 16:33). We should take heart knowing that Jesus overcame the world and its troubles.

Secondly, which is an extension to the first, is that God did not promise to remove persecution from us. As much as we would like it, I see no case in the Bible to suggest that we can simply pray persecution away – even with Paul’s faith and experience.

What does this have to do with the subject of healing?

In short, very little in my view. If it is your belief that Paul’s thorn was a physical illness, then I hope what I have said here at least gives you an alternative to consider.

If what I have said is correct, then actually Paul’s thorn has nothing to do with the ministry of healing and nor should it be used as a reason for “God not healing someone.”

Whatever irritations or “thorns” you are facing this week, I pray that they would be removed. And if not, like Paul, then I believe God’s grace is sufficient. Spend time drawing on that grace and being with God in whatever circumstances you find yourselves.

What are you aiming for? (PoW#15)

It’s better to strive for everything and get some of it, than to aim for nothing and get all of it.

I used to know someone who always said “It’s better to hope for nothing and then you can’t be disappointed.” While I can see where they were coming from, I always thought it was a sad way to live.

You are far better to aim for everything and get some of it, than to aim for nothing at all, and get every bit of it. Target the moon and you may miss, but there’s a good chance you’ll at least reach the skies.

What are you expecting? Do you go through life just waiting for the next thing to go wrong, or do you push on to reach the best in all things? I imagine the former way is much harder than the latter.

Aim as high as you can, and give it all you’ve got. I hope you achieve every bit of your God-given goals.