Below are informative articles written by our minister Aaron Erhardt
It's Not About Performance
It's Not About Performance
We have all been programmed to be performers. — Grades in school are based on performance. Badges in scouts are based on performance. Positions in sports are based on performance. Paychecks at work are based on performance. — It is all about how good we do; how well we perform in a certain area.
Sadly, this mentality often gets carried over into the religious realm. Since we are so used to things being “performance driven” in society, we just assume that the same is true spiritually. Therefore, we develop a checklist of “do’s” and “don’ts” and gradually start to put our confidence in that checklist. We trust that those little checkmarks we are accumulating will ultimately tip the scales in our favor and merit us a home in heaven. But this is not what the Bible teaches.
The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This means we have all messed up badly and deserve to be punished. The Bible also teaches that we can never work good enough, hard enough, or long enough to repair the damage our sin has done. We are utterly incapable of fixing the problem. Our only hope of being spared is to trust in Jesus Christ and His performance, not ours.
This is not to say that obedience is unnecessary. It is very necessary. Jesus said that one must “do” the will of the Father to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). However, our obedience is a yearning, not an earning. We are calling out, not cashing in. We should never trust in our own actions to merit salvation.
In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable about two men who went into the temple to pray — a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee put a lot of stock in his performance. He trusted that his own good works would justify him before God. In fact, his prayer is an example of the checklist mentioned above. First, he thanks God for what he “doesn’t do” (v. 11) and then he thanks God for what he “does do” (v. 12). It is clear the Pharisee thought he had enough checkmarks to impress heaven. Yet the Lord says it was the tax collector who went home justified that day!
I fear that a lot of Christians are like the Pharisee. They foolishly trust in their own performance to obtain justification before God. It is all about accumulating checkmarks! The truth is, however, we are all imperfect people who could never do enough to earn God’s approval. In fact, the very idea is insulting to Him because it undermines grace and causes man to put confidence in himself. What we need to do is be more like the lowly tax collector whose approach was mercy-based, not merit-based. And while we strive to be completely obedient in all things, that is not the source of our assurance. A Christian’s confidence is in what Christ did, not what we do!
Just Say "No"
Just Say "No"
“The Top Tens” website came out with a list of the best decades to live in since 1900. Can you guess which one topped the list? The 1980s. When I think about that decade, things like acid wash jeans, cassette mixtapes, and Nintendo come to mind. I also think about the great movies of that time, like Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, and Beverly Hills Cop. There was the tragic shuttle explosion in 1986 and the powerful “Tear Down This Wall” speech by President Reagan a year later. However, one of the things I remember most, probably because of my age at the time, was Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. She traveled the country, flooded the airwaves, and partnered with countless celebrities to repeat one simple word — NO!
“Just Say No” would have been an appropriate slogan for the Pharisees in the first century, but for an entirely different reason. These men were strict Jews who thought very highly of themselves and were constantly finding fault in others. They considered just about everything to be a sin. Therefore, they engaged in their own kind of “Just Say No” campaign.
The Pharisees were obsessed with keeping the “traditions of the elders” (a set of oral instructions that had been compiled over the generations). These traditions were very cumbersome, going beyond the Word of God and adding to the Word of God. Yet the Pharisees believed these traditions were a requirement that had to be observed by all the Jews. To them, violating a tradition was equivalent to violating the law itself. This was especially evident when it came to the Sabbath.
Though the old law prohibited working on the Sabbath, it did not go into much detail about the work itself. However, traditions were developed over time that attempted to list exactly what could and could not be done. This resulted in 39 different categories of “forbidden labor.” For instance, you could not take a bath because water might spill on the floor and wash it. You could not swat a fly because killing it would be slaughtering. You could not drag a chair across the dirt because it might make a rut, which would be plowing. Washing, slaughtering, and plowing were all categories of forbidden labor.
You could not climb a tree because a leaf might accidently fall off and make one guilty of reaping. You could not wear false teeth because if they were to fall out and be picked back up, the person would be guilty of carrying a burden. A woman could not even look at her reflection because she might see a gray hair and try to pluck it out, which would be working. Other forbidden labor included tying or untying a knot, washing or drying clothes, lighting or extinguishing a fire, and separating good fruit from spoiled fruit.
If a hen laid an egg on the Sabbath, you could not eat it because the hen had worked. If reaching for food when the Sabbath began, the food had to be dropped on the floor. Cold water could be poured into warm water, but not warm water into cold water. And something lifted up in a private place could only be put down in a public place (and vice versa).
Interestingly, many of their traditions had convenient “loopholes.” For instance, you could not take the saddle off a donkey. However, you could unloose the saddle and let it fall to the ground on its own. You could not carry clothes out of a burning house. However, you could put on several layers of clothes and wear them out of the house. You could not travel more than 3,000 feet from home. However, if you placed food at that precise point before the Sabbath, you could travel another 3,000 feet because the food was considered an extension of the home.
When it came to medical treatment, their tradition said that only lifesaving measures could be taken. You could prevent death, but not do anything to improve health. This is why Jesus caused such a stir for healing on the Sabbath.
Obviously, these traditions were way over the top. They bound where God had not bound, put an enormous burden on the Jewish people, and changed the focus of the Sabbath from a day of “rest” to a day of “restrictions.” Therefore, Jesus was very antagonistic toward what He called “the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).
Instances of Opposition
Below are three instances in the gospel accounts where Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders) tried to bind their traditions on Jesus and His associates.
- In Matthew 12, some Pharisees accused the disciples of violating the law for eating grain on the Sabbath. The charge would have included reaping (for picking the grain), threshing (for rubbing the grain), and winnowing (for blowing off the chaff).
- In John 5, some Pharisees accused a man Jesus healed of violating the law for taking up his bed on the Sabbath. The charge would have included carrying a burden (for holding the mat).
- In John 9, some Pharisees accused Jesus of violating the law for using saliva to make mud on the Sabbath. The charge would have included kneading (for making clay out of spit and dirt) and rendering nonvital treatment to someone. Their tradition only allowed treatments to prevent death, not to improve health.
Perhaps the most well-known clash Jesus had with the Jewish leaders over tradition involved handwashing as is recorded in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. In that text, the disciples were accused of eating with defiled hands because they did not wash first. (This was not a matter of hygiene but of ritual. It was a ceremonial rinsing for the purpose of removing any possible contamination, like having contact with a Gentile). The Jewish leaders took this very seriously. Some rabbis taught that a certain demon could enter the body through unwashed hands while others said the act of washing assured eternal life. One imprisoned rabbi would use the little water he was given to wash his hands rather than drinking it because he thought it was better to perish than to transgress the tradition. He nearly died of thirst.
The ceremonial rinsing had very rigid requirements. It was to be done before every meal and between each of the courses. The water had to be kept in special stone jars that could not be used for any other purpose. First, the hands had to be held with fingertips pointing upwards so the water could run down to the wrist. After each hand was cleansed with the fist of the other, the procedure was repeated but with the fingertips pointing downwards. Then and only then was the person considered clean.
Jesus used this confrontation to expose the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and accused them of teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. This shows just how strongly Jesus felt about binding where God has not bound.
Application for Today
The Pharisees thought they were just being “conservative,” but they were really being extreme. In their zeal to do right, they became obsessed with manmade traditions and found fault in anyone who did not adhere to them. They became the “Just Say No” crowd of the first century.
Sadly, some Christians fall into that same trap today. In their desire to do right, they fail to distinguish between truth and tradition, which inevitably leads them to oppose many things that are not wrong. For instance, some oppose displaying the cross on church buildings or pendants, using modern translations of the Bible, singing contemporary hymns in worship, wearing casual attire at services, celebrating religious holidays, and designating a minister’s area of work (youth, family, worship, etc). None of those things are a violation of truth, they just go against long-held traditions.
May God help us to keep manmade traditions in their proper place. They are not equivalent to God’s Word and should not be viewed as such. Nor should we impose them on others. We do not want to be the “Just Say No” crowd of the 21st century!
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of worship services in the early church was a meal they shared together called the Agape, or love feast. It was an integral part of their assemblies in which members ate as one body, regardless of their status in society. Whether rich or poor, master or slave, male or female, this meal was an expression of their mutual devotion as brothers and sisters in Christ. It was at the conclusion of this meal that they observed the Lord’s Supper.
“The early church developed special fellowship meals that came to be called love feasts (Jude 12) and that usually were closed with the observance of Communion. Those were congregational meals stressing fellowship, affection, and mutual caring among the believers. The emphasis on oneness led very readily into a celebration of the unifying accomplishment of the Savior on the cross” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 267).
This may seem strange to Christians living today because we are not used to eating a meal together before the Lord’s Supper, yet that is exactly what they did in the early church. Rather than sitting in pews with just a tiny wafer and sip of juice, they gathered around tables for a love feast.
“Churches today generally observe the Lord’s Supper much differently from the way the first century church did. Now, Christians observe the ordinance with a pinch of bread and a modicum of drink, but the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper with great banquets… These meals came to be known as ‘love feasts’” (Max Anders, 1 & 2 Corinthians, p. 197).
The Passover celebration involved a meal that satisfied hunger as the Jews commemorated their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Since it was during this time — “as they were eating” (Matthew 26:26) — that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it is not surprising the early church had a similar meal setting.
“In the modern church the Lord’s Supper is not in the physical sense of the term a meal… But it began from the Passover, a feast of hungry men, who were to clear the table and to leave nothing; and the Lord’s Supper began in the Christian Church as a meal in which physical as well as spiritual hunger was satisfied” (William Barclay, The Lord’s Supper, p. 56).
Just as the Jews commemorated their deliverance from physical bondage in a meal setting, the first Christians commemorated their deliverance from spiritual bondage in a meal setting. That’s why it was called a “supper.”
The word for “supper” in Greek is deipnon and refers to the evening meal, which was a time when people filled up on food while enjoying one another’s company. This is the term used in the familiar expression “Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20). Hence, the word conveys the idea of eating together.
“…the deipnon was the main meal of the day, where people sat down with no sense of hurry and not only satisfied their hunger but lingered long together. The very word shows that the Christian meal ought to be a meal where people linger long in each other’s company” (William Barclay, 1 Corinthians, p. 102).
A meal that afforded outcasts, such as the very poor and slaves, an opportunity to mingle with the upper echelon of society as equals was rare in that culture and would be a remarkable testimony for the early church. In fact, slaves were considered property in the Roman Empire and were often terribly mistreated by their masters. They could be whipped, branded, or even killed for any reason. Therefore, a setting where such social barriers were removed must have been quite a draw for them. And it was probably the best meal they had all week!
“The Love Feast, the Agape, was one of the earliest features of the Church. It was a meal of fellowship held on the Lord’s Day… For many of the slaves it was perhaps the only decent meal they ever ate” (William Barclay, Jude, p. 192).
We know from the many passages addressed to slaves in the New Testament that they made up a large part of the early church, and love feasts probably had a lot to do with that. It is easy to imagine those Christians telling their fellow slaves about the affection experienced at these great-tasting feasts. This undoubtedly led to more of them visiting the assembly and ultimately being saved.
We read about two abuses that took place at love feasts in the early church. The first abuse involved a selfish spirit that advanced division rather than unity (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). It seems the wealthier members had become impatient waiting for the poorer members to arrive at their feasts and ate without them, leaving the latecomers with little or nothing to eat. This embarrassed them and totally defeated the purpose of the Agape, which was intended to bring everyone together as one body in love. The text says,
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk… do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (vv. 21, 22).
Notice that some members were “going ahead” and eating their food before the others showed up, causing those who came late to “go hungry.” This behavior showed a total lack of regard for their brethren (i.e., the church of God) and “humiliated” those who had no food. Hence, the problem was not the meal itself, but how they were eating that meal.
Paul warned the Corinthians that their treatment of one another while feasting had a direct impact on the Lord’s Supper, which they observed afterwards. To partake of communion while denying the love and unity it represented would bring judgment upon them.
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (v. 29).
“Body” is a metaphor for the church in this verse. The problem was not that the Corinthians had a lack of consideration for the literal body of Christ on the cross, but for their brethren. In other words, they were not showing proper discernment for one another as the Lord’s body. The ERV puts it like this,
“If you eat and drink without paying attention to those who are the Lord’s body, your eating and drinking will cause you to be judged guilty” (v. 29, ERV).
Paul then gave his solution on the matter. He did not call for the feast to be cancelled, but for their conduct to change while partaking of that feast. Remember, the problem was that some were “going ahead” with their own meals before the others could arrive. Therefore, he said to wait on them before eating.
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (v. 33).
The problem could easily be solved by showing some respect for those members who ran late to the feast, most notably the slaves who did not control their own schedules. Again, notice the problem in verse 21 and the solution in verse 33 — “each one eats without waiting for the others… when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (ERV).
“The fact that he says ‘when you come together to eat’ assumes that he supported the idea of their fellowship meal, but they should ‘wait for one another’ before they partake of it” (John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, p. 275).
If any of the Corinthians were just too “hungry” to wait for the others, they should eat at home (v. 34). This is brought out in certain translations/paraphrases:
- ERV: “If some are too hungry to wait, they should eat at home.”
- NCV: “Anyone who is too hungry should eat at home.”
- Voice: “If someone is hungry and can’t wait, he should go home and eat.”
- Amplified: “If anyone is too hungry [to wait], let him eat at home.”
- The Message: “If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich.”
The second abuse that took place at love feasts in the early church involved false teaching. Some men used the meal as a cloak to sow their seeds of error on unsuspecting members. Jude puts it like this:
“These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted” (Jude 12).
Jude warned that some were exploiting the love feast for their own sinister purposes. Even then, however, he did not call for it to be cancelled. There is no indication whatsoever that they should stop eating together, they just needed to protect the meal from becoming a platform for evil.
In addition to the Scriptures, there is overwhelming extra-biblical evidence to suggest that churches continued to have love feasts for several centuries. Here are some examples:
- The Didache, which was a treatise of church teachings written around A.D. 100, gives instruction for a Eucharistic prayer “after you are satisfied with food” (10:1), which implies that a meal was eaten before the Lord’s Supper was observed. It also says to come together on the Lord’s day to “break bread and hold Eucharist” (14:1), apparently making a distinction between the two acts.
- Ignatius wrote to the church at Smyrna around A.D. 110 and said, “It is not lawful either to baptize, or to hold a love-feast without the consent of the bishop” (8:2).
- Pliny, in his famous description of Christians to Emperor Trajan around A.D. 112, reported that they would “come together on a fixed day before daylight and to sing responsively a song to Christ as God” and then later “assemble again to partake of a meal, common yet harmless” (10:96).
- Tertullian defended the love feast against heathen slander of excess in his Apology around A.D. 197. He wrote, “Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agapè, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy… As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste” (ch. 39).
- Minucius Felix, in his dialogue called Octavius around A.D. 210, wrote, “Our feasts are conducted not only with modesty, but in sobriety; for we do not indulge in delicacies, or prolong conviviality with wine; but temper our gaiety with gravity, with chaste conversation” (31:5).
- Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition around A.D. 215, links the Lord’s Supper to a broader meal. It says, “When they dine, the faithful shall take from the hand of the bishop a small piece of bread before taking their own bread, because it is blessed. Yet it is not the eucharist, like the body of the Lord” (26:1). It also encourages Christians to “eat and drink in moderation” (28:1) and to keep some food as “leftovers of the saints, so that the one to whom it is sent may rejoice” (28:3).
- Origen rose to the defense of “love feasts” in his work Against Celsus around A.D. 248. He says, “The first point which Celsus brings forward, in his desire to throw discredit upon Christianity, is, that the Christians entered into secret associations with each other contrary to law, saying, that ‘of associations some are public, and that these are in accordance with the laws; others, again, secret, and maintained in violation of the laws.’ And his wish is to bring into disrepute what are termed the ‘love-feasts’ of the Christians, as if they had their origin in the common danger and were more binding than any oaths. Since, then, he babbles about the public law, alleging that the associations of the Christians are in violation of it…” (1:1).
Love feasts were eventually outlawed by various church councils starting in the fourth century. For instance, the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364) declared, “It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord's Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God” (Canon 28). This was just one of several reasons why they gradually passed from the scene.
Just because love feasts were sometimes abused and then forbidden by man-made legislative bodies are not good reasons for the practice to be abandoned by those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity in its purest form. There is no question the early church shared a meal in their assemblies and, as William Barclay said, “It was a lovely custom; and it is to our loss that the custom has vanished” (1 Corinthians, p. 100). Amen!
Rich In Grace
Rich In Grace
There have been some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. For instance, Jordan Rice was thirteen and unable to swim when his family became trapped in a car by flood waters. When crews arrived and tried to rescue Jordan, he told them to help his younger brother first. Jordan’s brother was saved just before a wall of water swept Jordan and his mother away.
Arland Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, which crashed into freezing waters in the middle of a snowstorm. When a rescue helicopter arrived and threw him a lifeline, he immediately gave it to another passenger. When the helicopter came back, Arland did the same thing again and again. When the helicopter returned a final time, Arland was dead. He had used his last ounce of energy to save a stranger.
Jesus Garcia was a railroad brakeman in Mexico. On November 7, 1907, he noticed that some hay on the roof of a boxcar containing dynamite had caught fire. He drove the train at full-steam out of town before the dynamite exploded, killing him but sparing many people. He is now revered as a national hero.
Four chaplains who were aboard a troop transport ship that was hit by a submarine’s torpedo quickly rallied together and began handing out life jackets and directing people to safety. When the life jackets ran out, they selflessly gave away their own. Then the four men linked arms and sang as the ship sank.
Even dogs have left some impressive examples of self-sacrifice. When a drunken man fell asleep on a train track in Kazakhstan, his four-legged-friend pushed, pulled, and nudged him off the tracks just as a train struck and killed the dog.
These examples and many others, like a soldier jumping on a grenade to save fellow troops or a boyfriend taking a bullet for his girlfriend, are all admirable and praiseworthy. However, no story of self-sacrifice in the history of the world is more impressive than that of Jesus Christ. It was planned longer, rings louder, and looms larger than all of the others. In fact, His sacrifice was so great that few people, even Christians, really appreciate its many facets.
The Supreme Sacrifice
The sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the cross, or in the garden, or in the manger. It began in heaven when He laid aside His glory and consented to come to earth. He left the abode of God for the abode of man and exchanged exaltation for humiliation, magnitude for servitude, a radiant crown for a rugged cross, and a hallowed throne for a hollowed tomb. And it was all for us!
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Christ was rich and then became poor so we could become rich. But what exactly does that mean? Perhaps we have a divine commentary in Philippians 2:6-8:
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Notice that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God.” It is in this sense that He was rich. He shared in all the glory and majesty of Godhood (John 17:5) before coming to earth. Then we see that Christ “made himself nothing,” “took the form of a servant,” “was born in the likeness of men,” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross.” It is in this sense that He became poor. And why did He do it? So that we might become rich spiritually (Ephesians 1:3).
Paul refers to this great sacrifice as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” in the Corinthians text. That is because it was undeserved kindness on His part. He acted freely and favorably toward unworthy inferiors. He didn’t have to become poor for us, He chose to do it. He chose to walk the dusty streets of earth so we could walk the golden streets of heaven. He chose to wear a crown of thorns on His head so we could wear a crown of righteousness on our head. He chose to die physically so we could live spiritually. His grace is our gain!
The culmination of the Lord’s great sacrifice was, of course, the cross. He suffered the most brutal and torturous form of execution in the Roman Empire. In fact, it was so severe that Roman citizens were exempt from it. Only the most degraded offenders, like insurrectionists and slaves, were subjects of crucifixion. Before looking at the cross, however, let’s first consider the horrific punishment that preceded it — scourging. Below is an excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“It consisted of a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed, which were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make the blow more painful and effective… The victim was tied to a post (Acts 22 25) and the blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, in the wanton cruelty of the executioner, to the face and the bowels. In the tense position of the body, the effect can easily be imagined. So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it" (Vol. 4, p. 2704).
Eusebius adds to this graphic image in his writings:
“For they say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view” (4:15, p. 122).
Then Christ faced the nails. He was taken outside the city and crucified for all to see. His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16). Below is another excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, esp. in hot climates. Severe local inflammation, coupled with an insignificant bleeding of the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by the exposure to the heat of the sun, the strained position of the body and insufferable thirst. The wounds swelled about the rough nails and the torn and lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. Tetanus not rarely supervened and the rigors of the attending convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted and the victim sank into unconsciousness and death” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
The high cost of a free gift!
Jesus did not have to do it. He chose to do it. His great sacrifice, which started in heaven and culminated on the cross, brought hope to the hopeless and life to the lifeless. It did for us what we could not have done for ourselves. It made us rich in grace!
Back in 2012, a lifeguard named Tomas Lopez was on duty at a beach in Florida when someone rushed over to his post and said that a man had gone out too far and was drowning. Without hesitation, Lopez swam out and pulled the man to shore with the help of some other beachgoers. There, they gave the man CPR until paramedics arrived and he ended up surviving.
Rather than being heralded as a hero, however, Lopez was fired from his position. His company informed him that the drowning man was “out of the protected area” and said that anyone who swam there did so at their own risk. In other words, the dying man was not in Lopez’s jurisdiction. Two other lifeguards were also fired for saying that they would have done the exact same thing.
Penalized for doing good. Punished for helping another person. That was certainly something the apostle Paul could relate with. He too had been treated badly for doing good and would have known exactly how Lopez felt in that moment. Paul once helped someone get their life back by freeing them from a demon, yet he was severely persecuted for doing so. The incident is found in Acts 16.
“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour” (Acts 16:16-18).
Paul and his friends (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) were in the city of Philippi working with a new congregation when a demon-possessed slave girl started following them around day after day. She kept shouting that they were servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim the way of salvation. Though what the girl said was true, it is probably not a good idea to have a demon endorsing your work. That would kind of be like having a staggering drunk with a bottle in his hand shouting, “These guys can make you sober.” Therefore, Paul finally let out a shout of his own. He turned around and said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her,” and the spirit left her that very hour.
Think about the good that Paul just did for this girl. She was being held captive inside her own body by a demon. Her innocence and independence had been seized by an evil spirit. And now she got her life back. The nightmare she had been enduring for a long time was finally over. You would think this should be reason to rejoice, right? However, that wasn’t the case at all. Her masters were not celebrating, they were furious. That is because they were exploiting the girl’s problem for profit. They were making a lot money off her demon possession. All her greedy masters could think about was dollar signs disappearing. And as they say, “No good deed goes unpunished!”
“But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (Acts 16:19).
The love of money has a way of making people crazy. It can cause otherwise normal people to do things that are totally irrational (and almost insane), like chug an entire bottle of hot sauce or go streaking through the mall. I saw where people have sold advertising space on their bodies. For the right price, they’ll let you tattoo your website on a prominent part of their body, like their forehead or bald spot or bicep, for all to see. That’s how crazy the love of money can make people. A man named Mike Merrill went even further than that and sold “his life” to shareholders, who now get to make all his decisions for him (what he eats, who he dates, what kind of music he listens to in the car). They have literally bought the rights to his life!
The love of money had blinded this girl’s masters so badly that they could not see the good being done. It kept them from seeing that a person had been set free; liberated from the unspeakable horrors of demon-possession. All they could see was dollar signs going down the drain. One writer said, “It was almost as if the evil spirit, having been cast out of the slave girl, had entered into her owners and turned them into furious, raving beasts.” They seized Paul and Silas, dragging them into the marketplace to stand trial.
There is a sense of irony here. Before his conversion, Paul had been “dragging” off others to stand trial (Acts 8:3), but now he was the one being dragged off to stand trial. Why Timothy and Luke were not arrested with Paul and Silas is not stated.
They were taken to the marketplace. That was basically the city square. It was the social center of town where business of all sorts was conducted. — It was where the sick was treated, the unemployed waited for work, and the magistrates heard court cases. — This was the charge leveled against them:
“These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21).
Rather than stating their real reason for the complaint, the girl’s masters came up with a charge that would arouse strong emotions among all the magistrates and any onlookers. It was sure to get everybody there fired up! First, they appealed to the people’s prejudice — “these men are Jews.” Anti-Jewish sentiment was high in Philippi and really throughout the whole Roman Empire. They were tolerated, but not very well-liked. Second, they appealed to the prime objective of Roman law — “they are disturbing our city.” More than anything else, the Romans wanted to keep the peace. They wanted to maintain order and have civil obedience at all costs; and they had very little patience for anyone making waves. And then finally, they appealed to civic pride — “they advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” This evoked the response they were hoping for. The fickle crowd rose up in a frenzy and demanded justice!
The magistrates immediately stripped Paul and Silas and had them beaten with rods. These rods were thick as a man’s thumb and would have left their backs bloody and bruised. Whereas the Jews were limited in the number of whippings they could administer, the Romans had no such restrictions. A prisoner could be beaten for as long and hard as the officials wanted. All the text says is they received “many” blows. — Was it 40? 60? 100?
This form of punishment was so brutal that Roman citizens were supposed to be exempt from it, and there are recorded cases of people dying from the beating. One writer said, “It was an experience not soon forgotten.”
Then the two missionaries were placed in “maximum security” in the local jail. This would have been a damp, dirty dungeon with little or no lighting infested with rodents. There was probably a musty smell in the air and blood stains on the floor. It would have been a terrible place to be.
If that were not bad enough, the text says their feet were fastened in stocks. This was a cruel move on the part of the jailer, for those stocks were not just to hold you in place; they were a form of torture. A prisoner’s legs were spread far apart and then locked tight. This left him in an awkward, uncomfortable position with no way to move or stretch out. You can imagine the cramping that must have set in as the hours slowly passed by.
If I were in their spot, I think I’d be having a pity party. I’d probably be saying to myself, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” — Here they were being punished for doing good; for helping somebody. They had been convicted on trumped up charges, brutally beaten in public, thrown into the inner-most part of the prison, and had their feet fastened in stocks. I mean who has ever heard of casting someone into jail for casting out a demon? — If that were me, I’d be singing the blues. These two men weren’t singing the blues, however, they were singing praises!
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16:25-26).
There have been some pretty remarkable “coincidences” over the years. Some are almost too creepy to even believe, but they’re true. For instance, in 1974, a man died when his moped was hit by a taxi in Bermuda. One year later, his twin brother was riding that same moped when he was struck and killed by the same taxi, driven by the same person, and carrying the same passenger. Isn’t that creepy?
In 1950, a church exploded in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska. The blast demolished the building, shattered windows in nearby houses, and forced a local radio station off the air. Choir practice was supposed to begin at 7:20 that night, five minutes before the explosion occurred. Yet none of the 15 members were injured because all of them were running late. That’s creepy!
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both assassinated while in office. Both men were shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while sitting beside their wives (neither of whom were injured). Moreover, they were both in the presence of another couple and each time the man with them was also wounded.
Lincoln and Kennedy were both succeeded by vice-presidents named “Johnson,” who were both born in the year “08.” Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 and Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908. Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and fled to a warehouse, while Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theatre. Both assassins were detained by officers named “Baker.” And finally, both assassins used 3 names (John Wilkes Booth / Lee Harvey Oswald) and each had 15 letters total in their name.
Those are certainly creepy coincidences. Almost too creepy to even believe. But what happened in the Philippian jail that night was no coincidence, it was providence. It was the deliberate work of God through natural means and circumstance to accomplish a purpose.
The earthquake was so powerful that it unlocked every single cell and unloosed every single chain holding the prisoners, and yet the roof didn’t collapse, the walls didn’t crumble, and there wasn’t the slightest injury to anyone. Do you see what I mean? This was God’s doing!
When the jailer awoke and saw the cells opened, he assumed everyone had escaped and was about to kill himself. That may seem drastic to us, but under Roman law he was as good as dead anyway. Jailers were held personally responsible for their prisoners. If they escaped, you were executed. And in that society, it was considered more honorable to take your own life than to let someone else take it. Just as he raised the sword, however, he was spared by a voice in the dark.
“But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved’” (Acts 16:28-29)?
The jailer, who had probably already heard Paul and Silas witnessing in the jail, seems to have interpreted the earthquake as an act of God; and it compelled him to ask the most important question that anyone could ask — “What must I do to be saved?”
The missionaries told the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus and then started sharing stories about their wonderful Savior. They probably recited how He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, how He confounded the wise and healed the sick, how He was betrayed by a friend and crucified on a cross, and how He triumphantly conquered the grave on that third day. And in that very hour, the jailer and his family were baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins. They did exactly what Jesus had said to do in Mark 16:16 — “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
The earthquake was not designed to deliver the prisoners, it was designed to deliver the jailer. That was the reason God made the “jailhouse rock!”
Jesus the Lamb
Jesus the Lamb
There have been many stories of amazing animals who saved lives. These remarkable creatures behaved in extraordinary ways to rescue someone in danger. Here are a few examples.
- Mila the Whale. When a 26-year-old woman experienced leg cramps during a diving competition without breathing equipment and was unable to reach the surface, Mila the Whale gently grabbed her leg and pushed her to the top of the pool.
- Willie the Parrot. When a 2-year-old girl began choking on a Pop-Tart while her babysitter was in the bathroom, Willie the Parrot started screaming, flapping his wings, and saying things like, “Mama! Baby! Mama! Baby!” The babysitter ran out of the bathroom and found the girl gasping for air. Her face and lips were blue. The babysitter was able to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver on the child.
- Lulu the Pig. When JoAnn Altsman had a heart attack and collapsed to the ground, Lulu, her daughter’s pot-bellied pig, ran out of the house and laid down in the street to stop traffic. Finally, one person stopped and followed the determined pig back to the house, where they found Altsman in pain on the floor. She was immediately rushed to a hospital.
- Mandy the Goat. When Austrian farmer Noel Osborne fell in a remote area and was severely injured, his goat Mandy huddled beside him for five days, keeping him warm. She even fed the man with her milk. Eventually, his friends found him.
These stories of animals “coming to the rescue” are impressive and heartwarming. They show that heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and smells. However, my favorite story involves “Jesus the Lamb.”
When mankind fell into sin and was in danger of eternal death, Jesus the Lamb knew just what to do. He left the comfortable confines of heaven and wrapped Himself in the womb of a woman. Nine months later he emerged as an infant in the tiny town of Bethlehem.
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7).
Jesus the Lamb was on a rescue mission, though you would not have known it by looking at Him. As He was growing up, Jesus appeared to be just like everybody else. He had a mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and cousins. He played in the streets, attended synagogue services, and helped his dad in the family business. There was that one occasion in Jerusalem, however, that must have raised some eyebrows.
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:41-47).
Jesus the Lamb started garnering more attention when His ministry began at age 30. He was a powerful preacher who spoke with authority and offered hope, help, and healing to the people. He also performed miracles. It was not long, though, before envious enemies tried to destroy Him.
Jesus the Lamb attracted those who weren’t very attractive. He was a friend to the despised and downtrodden. In fact, one of the most memorable chapters of the Bible, Luke 15, came in response to the self-righteous ranting of the religious leaders about Jesus’ associations.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable” (Luke 15:1-3).
Jesus the Lamb knew this rescue mission would require bloodshed. He knew that in order to save man’s life, He had to lay down His own life. It was not a surprise. He even told the apostles exactly what was going to happen.
“And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’” (Luke 18:31-33).
Jesus the Lamb voluntarily went to the cross to save man. He was “lifted up” to lift us up!
“Crucifixion” was the worst form of execution in the Roman Empire. It was a particularly prolonged, painful, and public way to die. In fact, the word “excruciating” means “out of crucifying.” The person usually lingered for hours before finally succumbing to heart failure, shock, asphyxia, or dehydration. The ISBE says, “The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths” (Vol. 2, p. 761).
Mila the Whale saved a woman from drowning, and Willie the Parrot saved a child from choking; but only Jesus the Lamb could save mankind from eternal death. The question is, do our actions demonstrate that we truly appreciate what He did? Do we pray fervently, talk graciously, help willingly, give generously, evangelize eagerly, and attend services regularly? Are we growing in grace and knowledge, and letting our light shine before others? Jesus the Lamb died for you, are you living for Him?
Ants in Your Pants
Ants in Your Pants
Paul Railton of Consett, England, was fined and barred from driving for six months after a cyclist witnessed him "walking" his dog while driving. Railton was holding the leash out the car window as he drove slowly down the street. Though he pled guilty to the charge of "not being in proper control of a vehicle," the real crime was sloth.
"Sloth" is laziness. It can denote either inactivity or sluggishness in the performance of a task. Words like "apathy," "idleness," "indifference," and "lethargy" are often associated with sloth. A slothful person delays work and does not complete work already begun. He lives by the saying, "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow." He cuts corners and looks for the easy way out.
A slothful person asks someone else to change the channel, walks by an overflowing trash can without emptying it, drinks straight from the milk carton, coughs without covering his mouth, daydreams with a deadline approaching, doesn't flush the toilet, never uses a blinker, hides from the boss, cheats on tests, and arrives late to appointments. He walks a dog while driving.
The Bible has a lot to say about sloth, especially in the book of Proverbs. The writer frequently condemns the "sluggard" (ESV) or "slacker" (HCSB). Young's Literal Translation uses the word "slothful:"
- "As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the slothful to those sending him" (10:26).
- "The soul of the slothful is desiring, and hath not. And the soul of the diligent is made fat" (13:4).
- "The way of the slothful is as a hedge of briers, and the path of the upright is raised up" (15:19).
- "The slothful hath hidden his hand in a dish, even unto his mouth he bringeth it not back" (19:24).
- "Because of winter the slothful plougheth not, he asketh in harvest, and there is nothing" (20:4).
- "The desire of the slothful slayeth him, for his hands have refused to work" (21:25).
- "The slothful hath said, 'A lion is without, in the midst of the broad places I am slain'" (22:13).
- "The door turneth round on its hinge, and the slothful on his bed" (26:14).
- "Wiser is the slothful in his own eyes, than seven men returning a reason" (26:16).
The above verses describe the slothful person as an aggravating, unmotivated, excuse-filled, self-conceited drain on society. He is a disgrace to himself and his Creator. He will rust out long before he will wear out! This is the opposite of what Christians are to be. We are to be energetic and hardworking people (Colossians 3:22-24) who use our time wisely (Colossians 4:5).
God has always required man to work. It was expected of Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:15) and of Israel in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:9). In fact, there was a saying that developed among the Jews, "He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal." It is no wonder then that Jesus worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3).
Christians who were unwilling to work were disciplined in the early church. Paul said to "keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness" and "have nothing to do with him" (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14). He also taught that those who would not work should not eat (v. 10) and that those who do not provide for their families are worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8). This emphasizes just how important it is for Christians to have a strong work ethic.
Ants in Your Pants
Ants are amazing creatures. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. They have the largest brain among insects; they have a second stomach to store food for other ants; they can communicate with one another through chemicals known as "pheromones;" they can farm smaller insects; and they can enslave other ants. Some ants are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight. (The dung beetle can lift 1,000 times its own weight). Ants move an estimated 50 tons of soil per year in one square mile. They are tiny yet industrious creatures.
In Proverbs 6, the slothful person is urged to consider the ants and learn from their ways.
"Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber" (vv. 6-11, NLT).
Ants are diligent. They work hard without having to be overseen. They do not procrastinate or piddle around. They are astute, energized, and motivated to do their tasks. Therefore, the writer of Proverbs says to the slothful person, "Get some ants in your pants!"
An old man and his wife were sitting in front of the fireplace one evening when she said, "Jed, I think it's raining. Get up and see." The old man continued to gaze into the fire for a while and then replied, "Why don't we just call in the dog and see if he's wet?" Sadly, that same slothful attitude characterizes many in our society. They are stuck in neutral. They have no drive in their lives. However, it should never characterize members of the Lord's church. Slothfulness is sinfulness (Matthew 25:26-30).
There have been many suggestions made about the “love feasts” in Jude 12. Some say they were meals eaten by Christians in the assembly. Others say they were meals eaten by Christians outside the assembly. Still others say that Jude’s expression refers to the Lord’s Supper or is merely figurative. The text itself provides no additional details.
I was surprised to see how many reputable sources say that “love feasts” were meals eaten by Christians in the assembly, usually in connection with the Lord’s Supper. Here is a sampling.
- Thayer: “…feasts expressing and fostering mutual love which used to be held by Christians before the celebration of the Lord’s supper, and at which the poorer Christians mingled with the wealthier and partook in common with the rest of food provided at the expense of the wealthy” (p. 4).
- Arndt and Gingrich: “…a common meal eaten by early Christians in connection w. their church services, for the purpose of fostering and expressing brotherly love” (p. 6).
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “In the opinion of the great majority of scholars the Agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord’s command… The Agape was thus related to the Eucharist as Christ’s last Passover to the Christian rite which He grafted upon it. It preceded and led up to the Eucharist, and was quite distinct from it” (Vol. 1, p. 70).
- AMG’s Comprehensive Dictionary of New Testament Words: “Meal expressing and nurturing mutual affection eaten together by early Christians… At the beginning of the church, the Lord’s supper was celebrated during those feasts” (p. 641).
- History of the Christian Church: “In the apostolic period the eucharist was celebrated… in connection with a simple meal of brotherly love (agape), in which the Christians, in communion with their common Redeemer, forgot all distinctions of rank, wealth, and culture, and felt themselves to be members of one family of God” (Vol. 1, p. 473).
- Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: “Certainly by the time of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians (ca. AD 55) it is evident that that church observed the practice of meeting together for a common meal before partaking of the Lord’s Supper... The situation described here is possible only in the context of a meal more substantial than, and preceding the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper” (p. 660).
Tertullian (200 AD) went into some detail about “love feasts” in his Apology 39, though there is no indication they were connected to the Lord’s Supper.
“Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy… If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste… As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed. We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.”
Ignatius (110 AD) discussed when to “celebrate a love feast” in his letter to the Smyrnaeans (8:2), and Pliny the Younger (112 AD) reported to Trajan that “on a fixed day” Christians would assemble “to partake of food, ordinary and innocent food” (97).
The Didache (100 A.D.) gives instruction for a Eucharistic prayer “after you are satisfied with food” (10:1), which may imply that a meal was eaten before the Lord’s Supper was observed. It also says to come together on the Lord’s day to “break bread and hold Eucharist” (14:1), apparently making a distinction between the two acts.
Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (215 AD) links the Lord’s Supper to a broader meal. It says, “When they dine, the faithful shall take from the hand of the bishop a small piece of bread before taking their own bread, because it is blessed. Yet it is not the eucharist, like the body of the Lord” (26:1). It also encourages Christians to “eat and drink in moderation” (28:1) and to keep some food as “leftovers of the saints, so that the one to whom it is sent may rejoice” (28:3). Moreover, it specifies that the Eucharistic bread and wine should be taken "before eating anything else” (36:1).
We know that the Council of Laodicea outlawed “love feasts” in the fourth century (Canon 28). This legislation was later reiterated by the Third Council of Carthage and the Second Council of Orleans.
All of this made me wonder if there are any passages in the New Testament to support the idea that Christians shared a meal when they gathered together. The answer is “yes.”
According to 1 Corinthians 11, the church at Corinth ate meals prior to their worship service. These meals not only provided a good opportunity for fellowship, but they gave the wealthy members a chance to share their abundance with the poor. (That might have been the best meal the slaves had to eat all week). However, the rich got tired of waiting for the poor to arrive and ate without them. This left the poor with very little or no food.
“For in eating, each goes on ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (v. 21).
Paul rebuked this outrageous behavior. It not only missed the point of the meal, but embarrassed the latecomers. Therefore, he told those who were too selfish to wait for others to go home and eat.
“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (v. 22).
The Voice translation renders the first part of that verse this way: “What is going on? If a self-centered meal is what you want, can’t you eat and drink at home?” That seems to be the point.
Paul then launched into a discussion about the Lord’s Supper, which apparently followed the meal (vv. 23-32). This was because their treatment of one another while dining was incompatible with the selflessness of Christ and unity of believers reflected in the observance of communion done afterwards. He even gave this warning, "If you eat and drink without paying attention to those who are the Lord’s body, your eating and drinking will cause you to be judged guilty" (1 Corinthians 11:29, ERV). He concluded his remarks with this instruction:
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (vv. 33-34).
For a long time, I thought they were waiting to “eat” the Lord’s Supper. I was wrong. It actually refers to the broader meal that was eaten before the Lord’s Supper. How do I know? Because whatever they were going to “eat” in verse 33 could be eaten “at home” in verse 34. That excludes communion.
Paul was saying that when you come together to eat this meal, which is capable of satisfying hunger and getting you drunk (v. 21), wait for one another. Those who are too hungry to wait should eat at home. This is brought out in certain translations/paraphrases.
- ERV: “If some are too hungry to wait, they should eat at home."
- NCV: “Anyone who is too hungry should eat at home.”
- Voice: “If someone is hungry and can’t wait, he should go home and eat.”
- Amplified: “If anyone is too hungry [to wait], let him eat at home.”
- The Message: “If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich.”
Brethren who oppose the so-called “second serving” of the Lord’s Supper argue that Paul said to “wait for one another.” Yes, he did; but that is not in reference to the communion. It refers to the eating of a meal that left some “hungry” and others “drunk” (v. 21) and could be eaten “at home” (v. 34).
Paul was not condemning the Corinthians for eating a meal. He was rebuking them for not eating that meal the right way. They needed to wait patiently for one another so that none would be neglected or embarrassed. The fact that he said “when you come together to eat” assumes that he supported the idea of the meal, but they were to “wait for one another” before they partook of it.
The Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of a meal. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread…” (Matthew 26:26, emp. mine). That may explain why there would have been a “meal setting” in the early church. Moreover, the word "supper" is from the Greek deipnon and refers to "a formal meal usually held at the evening" (Thayer). This was the main meal of the day where people not only satisfied their hunger, but enjoyed one another's company with no sense of hurry. Yet in churches today, we use the word much differently. We try to have a "supper" without a meal setting at all!
Those who deny the necessity of baptism often reference two verses in 1 Corinthians 1 to prove their point (“I thank God that I baptized none of you” and “Christ did not send me to baptize”). However, the surrounding context actually makes one of the strongest arguments for baptism. Likewise, brethren who oppose eating a meal when gathered together often reference two verses in 1 Corinthians 11 to prove their point (“Do you not have houses to eat and drink in” and “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home”), when the surrounding context actually authorizes eating together.
The evidence indicates that 1 Corinthians 11 is describing an abuse of the “love feast” mentioned in Jude 12. It was a meal eaten in the assembly which expressed the love and devotion that Christians share. And as Dyron Daughrity said in his book on church history, "Something was lost when the Eucharist lost its original association with a fellowship gathering where like-minded people enjoyed food together" (Roots: Uncovering Why We Do What We Do In Church, p. 103).
"There can be no doubt that the Eucharist at this period (shortly after Pentecost) was preceded uniformly by a common repast, as when the ordinance was instituted. Most scholars hold that this was the prevailing usage in the first centuries after Christ; and we have traces of this practice in 1 Corinthians 11:20ff.”
— Alexander Campbell
Helping Needy Non-Christians
Helping Needy Non-Christians
We all agree that individual Christians are to help those in need, regardless of their spiritual status. We are to “do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). However, there is disagreement about whether churches have that responsibility. Some believe churches may use the treasury to help all those in need, while others say the treasury can be used only to help members. These positions can properly be identified as “saints first” versus “saints only.”
The “saints first” doctrine says that Christians are to be the priority when needs arise, but that non-saints can also be helped by the church; while the “saints only” doctrine says that non-Christians may not receive assistance from the church under any circumstances. So, which is it?
The weakness of an argument is often exposed in the realm of “consistency.” If it is wrong for the church to provide for the needs of non-saints, then it is not permissible to let them drink from the water fountain. After all, the fountain has been purchased and maintained with money from the treasury. (And calling it an “expedient” or “incidental” doesn’t change that fact). Moreover, if the church can provide them with something to drink, why couldn’t it provide them with something to eat? Why can it satisfy their thirst but not satisfy their hunger?
If the “saints only” doctrine were true, it would be wrong for the church to provide non-Christians shelter during a storm, a diaper from the nursery, or a tissue from the restroom. Think about it. The building and all its amenities have been supplied through the treasury; therefore, one would have to turn those folks away to be consistent. If the Lord’s money cannot be used to help needy non-saints, then they would have to be denied.
The weakness of an argument is also exposed in the realm of “absurdity.” Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine have no problem using the treasury to maintain the building and its grounds. Hence, they will spend the Lord’s money to feed the lawn (fertilizer) but will not take a dime to buy food for starving children. To do that, we are told, would be an offense worthy of damnation. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider a proposition that was defended in public debate:
“The Bible teaches that it is a sin for the church to take money from the treasury to buy food for hungry destitute children, and those who do so will go to hell.” (A. C. Grider debate with W. L. Totty)
Surely one can see that this is an absurd position that completely contradicts the loving and compassionate spirit of Jesus Christ. He was deeply concerned about the wellbeing of little children (Mark 10:13-16), yet we are told that His church should let them starve rather than take money from the treasury for food.
Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine will permit the church to “take” from non-saints, but not “give” to them in times of distress. Though generous members often step up in such situations, one can see how bad this doctrine makes the church look. You can help it, but it can’t help you!
God the Father & Jesus
God has always required His people to be benevolent, even to those outside His own. He made sure provisions were set aside for all the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28-29); and it is obvious that the Lord’s disciples were in the habit of using their treasury for the poor in society (John 12:5; 13:29). It is no wonder then that the “churches of Galatia” and the “church of the Thessalonians” were told to “do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). They were to follow that same benevolent spirit!
Everyone acknowledges that Jesus did not practice limited benevolence, yet the “saints only” brethren say that His body must do so or be condemned. They label any congregation that would dare follow the Lord’s example in helping a non-believer “apostate” or “unsound.” Think about that. Any church that follows the example of Christ in the sphere of benevolence will not be accepted by “saints only” brethren.
Jesus said that those who love “only their brothers” are no better than tax collectors and Gentiles (Matthew 5:46-48). Would that principle not apply to the church, or is it only individual Christians who must be better than them in showing love to everyone? This is devastating to the “saints only” position, for it encourages churches to practice the very kind of “selective love” that Jesus spoke against!
Two passages that draw a lot of attention in this discussion are Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27. Both of those verses speak of helping more than just Christians. They say we are to help “everyone” and especially the most vulnerable in society like “orphans and widows.” However, those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine argue that this is strictly for individuals and that the church must be excluded from such work. Is that true?
While it is true that Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 are for individuals, they are not for individuals only. The “saints only” advocates draw a line of distinction that was never intended. We will consider each passage separately.
Galatians 6:10. The fact that Paul addressed “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2) and used plural pronouns indicate that collective action was not being prohibited. Furthermore, earlier in chapter six Paul said to “restore” those caught in a transgression (6:1) and to “share” with the preacher (6:6). Could the church assist in efforts to restore and share? Then why couldn’t the church assist in efforts to “do good to everyone” a few verses later? That seems inconsistent. Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine draw a line of distinction that was never intended; a line that no one would conclude on their own without help from “saints only” proponents.
James 1:27. The fact that James addressed “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), which is a reference to the church, and used plural pronouns indicate that collective action was not being prohibited. He also discussed behavior in the assembly just a few verses later (2:2), dispelling the argument that he intended to distinguish between individual and collective action.
Some say the word “himself” in James 1:27 proves that it is exclusively for the individual. However, it is not uncommon for personal pronouns to be used when the church is being addressed. For instance, the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3 repeatedly use “he” and “him” even though they were sent to churches. That is because churches are made up of individuals!
James 1:27 defines “pure and undefiled religion” as helping the most vulnerable in society — orphans and widows. Yet the “saints only” brethren say churches cannot do that and be pleasing to God. To them, it is an egregious sin for any congregation to practice pure and undefiled religion.
When a writer in the New Testament wanted to make a distinction between the church and the individual, he said so clearly (1 Timothy 5:16). That is not the case in Galatians 6:10 or James 1:27. There is nothing stated anywhere in those texts to indicate collective action was being forbidden.
Those who embrace the “saints only” doctrine point to passages where a collection was earmarked for needy Christians and argue that this is the exclusive pattern for the church. However, Paul said the collection was “for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Since “all others” is from a Greek term used of non-saints in many other passages (pantas — John 12:32; Acts 5:11; Romans 16:19; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Peter 2:17, etc), it is certainly plausible that they were to be included. Even if one does not think it is a probability, he should at least be willing to admit that it is a possibility. Therefore, we should not be overly dogmatic in saying non-saints must be excluded.
While it is not the church’s responsibility to eliminate poverty from the world, which is an impossibility (Mark 14:7), it is to do good as means and opportunity permit. That task is not just for the individual. I hope that has now been proven. The Scriptures teach saints first, but not saints only.
If a congregation does not want to use the treasury to help non-saints, that is their decision. However, they should not condemn those churches who decide differently. It is a shame that lines have been drawn and fellowship severed over this issue. I would suggest that we respect autonomy rather than require allegiance in such matters. As for me, I would rather stand before God having done too much to help others than not enough.
(1) If the church cannot provide a hungry non-Christian with food, how can it provide a thirsty non-Christian with water? To be consistent, wouldn’t the water fountain need to be for saints only?
(2) What kind of religion is the church to practice? Is it to practice pure religion, impure religion, or no religion at all? See James 1:27.
(3) Is it scriptural for the church to buy fertilizer to feed the lawn?
(4) Did Jesus and the apostles practice limited benevolence?
(5) Suppose a widow needs financial assistance after her husband’s sudden death. He was a devout Christian, but she is not. Could the church help her?
(6) Could a church participate in efforts to “restore” those caught in a transgression (Galatians 6:1) and to “share” with the preacher (Galatians 6:6)? If so, why couldn’t the church also participate in the efforts to “do good to everyone” a few verses later (Galatians 6:10)?
(7) Does the teaching of Jesus about “loving more than just your brothers” in Matthew 5:46-48 apply to the church or is it only individual Christians who must show love to everyone?