Practical Effects of Biblical Truth. Brian Keating November 13, 2010. Introduction. It seems to me that there are two basic “types” of Biblical topics – “academic” topics, and “practical” topics.
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November 13, 2010
It seems to me that there are two basic “types” of Biblical topics – “academic” topics, and “practical” topics.
Academic topics generally deal with abstract, theological concepts. Some examples of academic subjects are: the exact “nature” of God, the question of “is the soul immortal”, and the definition of the word “heaven”.
Practical topics, in contrast, deal with real world, down-to-earth subjects. In other words, practical topics are topics that can have an effect on our behavior.
In this presentation, I would like to discuss some “practical” topics. In particular, I am going to talk about some of the ways that knowing the truth about the Bible can effect our daily lives.
One of the most famous commands of Jesus is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. But what does the word “love” really mean in this context? In other words, what, exactly, does Jesus really mean by that statement?
From what I have seen, many Christians assume that the word “love” always has a connotation of good feelings for others. In other words, many people assume that love only refers to positive emotions about other people.
However, is that how the word love is used in Scripture? Or could it be that Scripture has some other meaning in mind, when it uses the word love?
In order to try to answer this question, let’s take a look at some of the uses of the word “love” in Scripture.
First, let’s start with one of Jesus’ most famous parables – the parable of the “good Samaritan”:
30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
In this parable, we can see that the Samaritan initially had compassion on the victim. Of course, compassion is certainly a positive emotion. However, the Samaritan did not just “leave it at that” - he followed it up with good actions.
Also, notice Jesus’ exhortation at the end of the parable - he says, “You go and dolikewise” - not “You go and feellikewise”.
So, it appears that in this passage, love only begins with positive feelings - love is primarily about actions.
Now, let’s take a look at two additional passages from Scripture:
1 John 3:16-18 (NIV):
16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
James 2:8,14-17 (ESV):
8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
The verses on the last slide also indicate that in Scripture, love primarily refers to actions, rather than feelings. The passage in 1 John initially tells us that we can know what love is, by the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us. Of course, that fact refers to Jesus’ actions, right? Also, John exhorts us to love with “actions and truth” - rather than with “words or tongue”. In other words, it seems that John is telling us to “walk the walk” - rather than to “talk the talk”…
The passage in James first refers to the fact that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves - as Jesus told us to. Then, a few verses later, James connects that command to actions. In addition, James makes the point that our actions are a reflection of our faith. In other words, if we have true faith in God, then that faith will demonstrate itself in our actions. To put it another way - If a person’s actions are not loving, then that indicates that the person does not have true, saving faith!
Finally, consider the following verses:
Leviticus 19:18 (ESV):
18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Exodus 23:4-5 (NIV):
4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.
Luke 6:27-31 (ESV):
27“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
The first verse on the last slide shows us that the “love your neighbor as yourself” command was initially stated in the Old Testament. From my experience, most Christians are not aware of that fact - i.e., most Christians seem to think that Jesus just “made up” that command…
The passage in Exodus states that if a person’s enemy is in trouble, then he must assist his enemy. Of course, by definition, a person does not have good feelings for his enemy! As a result, this passage is definitely not talking about positive feelings at all! On the contrary - in this passage, God is telling us that we must perform good actions for other people - even if we do not have positive emotions about them!
In the passage in Luke, Jesus reaffirms the command that we must perform good actions for other people - even for our enemies! (Matthew 5:43-48 contains similar information.) Needless to say, this is a prime example of a command which is “easier said than done”. Nevertheless, if we truly acknowledge Jesus as our lord - i.e., as our “master”, or “boss” - then I think it is incumbent upon us to sincerely try to follow his commands.
From my experience, one of the items that tends to get “glossed over” in mainstream churches is the following concept:
Sincere Christians should expectto face difficult circumstances - and even to be persecuted.
There are numerous passages in Scripture that verify this concept. Here are a few of them:
4And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.
9“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
1“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
2 Timothy 3:12-13:
12Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
1 Peter 4:12-13:
12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
There are many other passages that contain similar information. Overall, the sense that I get from the above passages is:
Being a Christian is not all “sunshine and lollipops”.
In other words, it seems to me that we should not expect our lives to become extremely easy, when we decide to follow Christ. In fact, if anything, we might expect our lives to become more difficult once we become a sincere Christian!
Of course, in many parts of the world, that fact is readily apparent - many countries overtly persecute Christians. In some countries, it is even illegal to own a Bible.
In the United States, we are fortunate that there isn’t any organized persecution of Christians. (At least, not yet.) However, even in the US, sincere Christians are often the objects of mocking and derision.
So, in my opinion, passages like the ones above should be emphasized more often - so that Christians (especially new Christians) will not become discouraged, when difficulties arise in their lives.
Fortunately, there is a “silver lining” to the trials that Christians have to face. First off, Paul tells us that God will not allow us to be “overwhelmed” with temptation:
1 Corinthians 10:13:
13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Of course, just because God gives us the ability to endure temptations, that does not mean that temptations will be easy for us - i.e., we still need to consciously resist temptations, in order to endure them.
Another point to note is that James tells us that undergoing trials will improve our faith, and will allow us to become more mature Christians:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
So, the question is: “what, exactly, is a trial”? I would define a “trial” as: “any sort of difficult circumstance”. It occurs to me, though, that there are two different “types” of trials - “temptations” and “tests”. Here is my take on those two types of trials:
The main reason why I bring up that distinction is because Scripture tells us that God does not tempt anyone – James 1:13 explicitly says this. However, Scripture also tells us that God does test us – see Isaiah 48:10 and Jeremiah 17:10.
So, if God does not tempt us, what is the source of temptation? From what I can see, there are three sources of temptations – our own desires, influence from other people, and The Adversary. See James 1:14, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, and Mark 1:13.
Overall, it appears to me that if we sincerely try to follow God, then we should expect to undergo trials. In other words, we should expect that many temptations, and tests, will come our way.
This is for two reasons:
1. If we follow God, then the world - and the Adversary - will hate us;
2. If we follow God, then God will “test” our faith.
As we are all aware, the Bible is filled with miraculous events - e.g. the parting of the Red Sea, giant hailstones falling from the sky, the flood, people being raised from the dead, etc.
Up until a few years ago, I was under the impression that miracles are completely based on God’s decisions. In other words, I thought that the only reason why a miracle occurs is because God (or Jesus) decides to perform the miracle. As a result, I assumed that we have no effect whatsoever on whether a miracle occurs or not.
However, is that belief actually true? Is it really true that people have absolutely nothing to do, with any miracles occurring? Let’s see if we can find out, from some examples of miracles in Scripture.
Matthew chapter 14 contains the account of Peter walking on water. The background of that miracle is that when the disciples see Jesus walking on water, they are afraid, because they think that they’ve seen a ghost. Jesus tells them not to be afraid; because it is he himself. Let’s pick up the account there:
Matthew 14:28-32 (ESV):
28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
From that account, I understand the following:
In other words, Jesus initially empowered Peter to walk on water - but Peter, himself, needed to maintain his faith, in order for that miracle to occur.
In almost every case when Jesus healed someone, Jesus was right next to the person being healed. However, there are a few cases in which Jesus healed people who were far away from him. Here is one such example:
Matthew 8:5-10,13 (ESV):
5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.
13And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
My understanding of that account is as follows:
In most cases, Jesus needed to be in the physical presence of a suffering person, in order for him to heal the person.
However, in this case, Jesus was able to heal the person, even though the person was far away from him. The reason why Jesus could do this is because the centurion had great faith.
In other words, the faith of the centurion allowed Jesus to perform this “long distance healing” miracle.
Mark chapter 5 contains the account of the woman with the discharge of blood. Here is the entire account:
Mark 5:25-34 (ESV):
25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
As mentioned in the introduction, I used to believe that miracles only occur when God or Jesus decide to perform them. Well, did Jesus decide to heal the woman in this case? No! Jesus did not even know that she was there, until after she had been healed!
Also, notice what Jesus tells the woman: “Daughter, your faith has made you well”.
So, this account seems to be saying the following: In some cases, people can be healed by the power of God, through faith in Jesus - even if Jesus does not initiate the healing!
Matthew chapter 13 and Mark chapter 6 contain accounts of the lack of faith, of the people of Nazareth. Basically, most of the people of Nazareth did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, primarily because Jesus had grown up among them.
The people’s lack of faith had a dramatic effect on the miracles that Jesus performed in Nazareth:
Matthew 13:58 (NIV):
58And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Mark 6:5 (NIV):
5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
In most cases, Jesus performed lots of miracles, in any city that he came to. However, in Nazareth - his hometown - he did not perform many miracles, because of the people’s lack of faith.
The verse in Matthew states that Jesus “did not” do many miracles in Nazareth. With that wording, one might assume that Jesus simply decided not to do many miracles there.
However, the verse in Mark states that Jesus “could not” perform many miracles in Nazareth. That tells me that it was not possible for Jesus to do many miracles in Nazareth - because the people lacked faith!
So, the above passages seem to be stating the following: In some cases, miracles can not occur, unless people have faith!
From all of the above information, it appears to me that many miracles require “cooperation” between God and people, in order for the miracles to occur. In other words, it appears that in many cases, God uses a reciprocal relationship between Himself and people, in the operation of miracles. Basically, God (or Jesus) “initiates” the miracle; but then people need to “reciprocate”, in order for the miracle to be effective.
The account of Peter walking on water is one example of this “reciprocal” relationship. Jesus initiated the miracle, by empowering Peter to walk on water. However, Peter then needed to reciprocate, in order to make the miracle effective. Basically, Peter needed to actually start walking on the water - and to maintain his faith - in order for the miracle to occur.
An even more explicit example of this “reciprocal relationship” in miracles is the parting of the Red Sea. The background of that miracle is that Pharaoh and his army were pursuing the Israelites - so that they were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. Needless to say, the Israelites were extremely frightened when they saw this. The account continues as follows:
Exodus 14:13-16,21-22 (NIV):
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
That account is very explicit - God gave Moses the power to part the Red Sea; but then Moses, himself, needed to use that power, in order for the miracle to take effect. In other words, God initiated the miracle - but then Moses needed to reciprocate, in order for the miracle to take effect.
Of course, not all miracles use this reciprocal relationship - i.e., in some cases, God performs miracles without any cooperation from people. For example, God caused the flood to occur, without any human cooperation. Similarly, God will send Jesus back to the earth in the future, no matter what any human does.
Nevertheless, in a remarkable number of cases, it appears that miracles do use this reciprocal relationship. In particular, quite a few miracles evidently require people to have faith, in order for a miracle to take effect.
So, since we need to have faith, in order for some miracles to occur, that should inspire us to increase our faith!
In this presentation, I have gone over three specific topics, which I consider to be “practical” – i.e., topics that can affect our behavior. Here is a summary of those topics:
Topic 1: What does “love your neighbor as yourself” mean?
It seems to me that the word “love” refers more to actions, than to feelings. In other words, God calls us to do good things for other people – even if we do not have positive feelings about them.
Topic 2: Trials that Christians face
From what I can see, it appears that sincere Christians should expect to face trials – both because the world will hate us, and because God will test us.
Topic 3: Does our faith have any effect on miracles?
Many of the miracles that are listed in Scripture use a “reciprocal relationship” between God and people. In other words, God initiates a miracle; but then a person needs to reciprocate – by having faith in God – in order for the miracle to take effect.
I hope that this information has been a blessing to you!