Category Archives: 2020 – Jan/Feb

Government As God’s Avenger, Corporal Punishment, Incarceration, Restitution — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: January/February, 2020)

It is prudent in 2020 to study what the Bible says about government and the Christian’s relationship with it.  Accordingly, many of the editorials this year will examine biblical principles which relate to government.  This issue focuses on government as God’s avenger, corporal punishment, incarceration, and restitution.

Our Lord through Paul inspired the saints in Rome to bless their persecutors and repay no one evil for evil; they were commanded to live peaceably with all as much as depended on them and not avenge themselves when wrong was done to them (Rom. 12:14, 17-21).  Yet Satan can still easily tempt us to seek personal vengeance against those who harm us rather than waiting on God’s vengeance when He returns in glory (2 Thess. 1:7-9).  It is likely for this reason that God then immediately mentioned government as His instrument to execute wrath upon the evildoer (Rom. 13:1-7).  Christians promised, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19) can therefore look to the governmental authorities of their countries as “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4).

It is for this reason that the government “does not bear the sword in vain” against the evildoer (Rom. 13:4).  Swords are weapons, and weapons are used to hurt people.  By saying governmental authorities do not bear these weapons “in vain” within the context of being an avenger of God to execute wrath upon those who practice evil (Rom. 13:4), God shows that governmental authorities have the right to hurt those who are wicked without it being held against them as sin, since sin is ultimately the most vain and meaningless act in which one can involve themselves (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8).  The sword and other weapons of violence could also be used by governmental authorities to take away the freedom of their people through forced imprisonment or the taking of finances and property as restitution for wrongdoing

Accordingly, the Law of Moses prescribed corporal punishment (Deut. 25:1-3).  There are also examples in Scripture of governmental authorities incarcerating people both justly and unjustly (Gen. 39:7-20; 42; Judg. 16; 1 Kings 22:26-27; 2 Kings 17:1-4; Matt. 18:21-35; Acts 12, 21-28).  Moses required a thief to repay full restitution or else be sold for his theft (Ex. 22:1-3; cf. Prov. 6:30-31); if the animals he stole were found alive in his possession, he would “restore double” (Ex. 22:4).  He ordered restitution for other situations too (Ex. 22:5-6).  The Torah reveals similar laws concerning fines and restitutions.

Granted, governmental rulers can misuse their right to exercise punishment; for example, corporal punishment was used unjustly to try to silence the gospel (John 19:1-5; Acts 5:40-42; 16:22-34; 22:23-29; 2 Cor. 11:24-25).  Reports exist today of those who have been treated brutally without just cause by tyrannical governments.  Yet these misuses of power do not change the fact that God authorized in His Word governmental authorities to exercise these punishments as a way to avenge wrongs done by evildoers (Rom. 13:4).

God willing, capital punishment will be examined next issue.

The Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

There is no doubt that the religious climate in the Western world has become increasingly colder toward the Christian faith. The New Atheists and others like them make few attempts to understand Christianity, choosing instead to attack caricatures of it or dismiss it out of hand. They act as if all believers are simple-minded “faith-heads” (to quote Richard Dawkins) who have never wrestled with philosophical arguments or scientific data. This derisive attitude is captured in a speech when Dawkins urged a crowd gathered at the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington D.C. to mock believers and ridicule them publicly.

Thanks to the aggressive efforts of public figures like Dawkins and others, many people have begun to question their faith. In an age of scientific investigation where we put a premium upon evidence, what proof do Christians have for God? Can his existence be determined by a test or procedure, or be discovered under a microscope or in the stars? If God is a spiritual being (John 4:24), how do we know he exists? And is it a little too convenient if we don’t have scientific proof?

The apostle Paul tells Christians in Rome that they can detect evidence of God’s existence in creation itself (Rom. 1:18-20). On this point, Christians should agree. This is where we introduce the cosmological argument for God’s existence. This argument can be outlined as follows:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist must have an adequate cause.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The universe has a cause.

Whatever Begins To Exist Has A Cause

Something cannot come from nothing. This has found expression in the traditional phrase ex nihilo nihil fit (“Out of nothing, nothing comes”). This is common sense for most people but creates numerous problems when trying to formulate an opinion on the origin of our cosmos. Many people may not realize that thinkers for millennia have grappled with the idea of an infinite past and whether the universe had a beginning. Plato understood that everything had to have a point of origin when he wrote, “The answer is that it has come into being … And what comes into being or changes must do so, we said, owing to some cause” (Timaeus, 28).

Anything that exists must receive the quality of existence from its creator. In other words, it must be created. Some scientists have attempted to show that the universe could have come from a quantum vacuum, but these arguments are little more than scientific sleight of hand. In these cases, the term “nothing” must be redefined to permit “something” to exist at the point of “nothingness.” Christians must be cautious when encountering these arguments, which sound impressive when dressed in scientific language but are logically bankrupt (and scientifically specious).

The Universe Began To Exist

That the universe has a beginning is not disputed today, but this has not always been the case. In times past, scientists believed that the universe had existed for eternity. This changed in the 20th century. When the Big Bang first appeared, it met with considerable resistance because it struck many as being too close to the biblical story of creation. Consequently, some opposed it on those grounds alone. In time, the Big Bang theory gained traction and is now the dominant explanation for the existence of our universe as we now see it.

While the Big Bang theory satisfies most scientists, it leaves an important question unanswered: what happened before the Big Bang? Where was our universe at that point? The answer is, essentially, a shrug of the shoulders. The scientific method will not allow us to go back before the cosmic singularity that created the universe as we know it. Therefore, many argue, there is no point in trying to speculate about the matter. This argument is not good enough.

All of the data tells us that the universe began to exist at some point. If it had existed for eternity past, all of the usable energy in the universe would have been exhausted (this process is known as entropy). Every star would have burned out long ago, and the cosmos would be a lifeless expanse. Instead, what we find is a relatively young universe that is still expanding. Because of this expansion, we understand that the universe came into being at some point in the finite past. Because the universe began to exist, something or someone on the outside had to give it the quality of being or existence.

The Universe Has A Cause

If nothing comes from nothing, then the most obvious conclusion is that the universe had a point of origin.  It cannot come from nothing (proven by science), nor can it create itself (a logical impossibility).  This being the case, then the universe must have an adequate cause for its existence.  For philosophical reasons, this cause cannot be material, nor can it be constrained by time and space, and it must be timeless itself.  This certainly fits the description of the biblical God.

Some have tried to respond to the cosmological argument for God’s existence by saying, “If God created the universe, then who created God?”  This is not as creative or innovative a question as critics think.  It is an example of a fallacious argument known as a category mistake.  God is, by definition, an eternal being, unconstrained by space and time, who needs no creator because he has the power of being within himself (due to self-existence, not self-creation).  This is the very kind of creator that the universe needs to exist.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.  He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

Biblical Worldview — Steve Miller

What is your worldview? If you are not sure, we may need to ask: What is a worldview?

“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being” (The Universe Next Door. A Basic Worldview Catalog by James W. Sire. Fourth Edition. [Downers Grove, IL; IVP Academic. 2004], 17-18.) Many influences are involved in an individual’s worldview.

David A. Noebel gets to the heart of the meaning when he writes: “Every individual bases his thoughts, decisions and actions on a worldview.  A person may not be able to identify his worldview, and it may lack consistency, but his most basic assumptions about the origin of life, purpose, and the future guarantee adherence to some system of thought” (Understanding the Times [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1994], 1.)

Philipps and Brown simplify the idea by saying: “A worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world and second, an application of this view to life. In simpler terms, our worldview is a view of the world and a view for the world” (W. Gary Phillips and William E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World [Chicago: Moody Press, 1991], 29.) Applying what we believe to our everyday lives is living our own worldview.

One of the most influential studies on worldview by James Sire has seven questions to consider when examining our worldview:

  1. What is prime reality — the really real? To this we might answer God, or the gods, or the material cosmos. Our answer here is the most fundamental. It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently be given to the other six questions.
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
  3. What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex machine, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, or a naked ape.
  4. What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side.”
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution.
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival.
  7. What is the meaning of human history? (James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door. A Basic Worldview Catalog. Fourth Edition [Downers Grove: IVP, 2004], 20.)

Sire surveys the landscape of people’s ideas on the questions he raises. It is important to note: “The fact is that we cannot avoid assuming some answers to such questions. We will adopt either one stance or another. Refusing to adopt an explicit worldview will turn out to be itself a worldview, or at least a philosophical position” (Sire, 21).

Questions That Need Answers

When we narrow down the field to the three most common questions, we begin to see our worldview more clearly: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going when I die? It is generally conceded that these three questions relating to our existence cover our curiosity and drive us to dig deeper in many cases to discover real, consistent, coherent answers that align with a worldview that makes sense to us. We may not be able to articulate our worldview, but we have one none the less.

Examples abound in books and materials with varying lists of questions that center around the same, basic inquiries as listed above. The biblical worldview answers each of the questions consistently as they are considered in reality and join together the overall plan of God for man:

Where did I come from? Mankind was the crowning glory of God’s creation. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Why am I here?  “The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).

Where am I going when I die? Our eternal destiny depends on obedience to His commandments. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).

The Big Issue

One’s view of God is the starting point for all worldviews. God is present in the foundation of our worldview if we have a biblical one. If we fail to include God in our worldview (Rom. 1:21), then we operate on an atheistic platform that will fail us eternally.

A biblical worldview is a perspective that sees everything through the “glasses” of Scripture.  Rather than allowing culture or experience to determine a worldview, it allows the Bible to make that determination.  “The Christian belief system, which the Christian knows to be grounded in divine revelation, is relevant to all of life” (Carl F.H. Henry, Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief [Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1990], 113.).

Divine Direction

The following are only a beginning sampling of biblical reminders of living our lives after the pattern of Him who died for us. A biblical worldview will be lived out by our unwavering allegiance to God and His Word in every category of life. We are not being true to God if we compartmentalize our faith and fail to consistently apply the gospel to our whole existence.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2).

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8).

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).

Take time to examine what you believe and why you believe it. Make sure your foundation is built upon God and His Word and seek to live your life in a consistent manner daily, all the while keeping your eyes focused upon Jesus Christ and His example.  A biblical worldview is the way of life for the Christian and must be maintained in order to please God our Creator.

Steve serves as one of the ministers at the church of Christ at Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill, SC.  He has just written a book about living the Christian life, Between Sundays.

Women of the Bible: Eve — Samantha Harvey

When I think of the first woman of creation, my first thought is to wonder “Why, Eve, did you eat that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Look what you have done!” But is that all she is to us as humans: the first to sin and therefore introduce evil into an otherwise perfect world? When I was given the task to write an article about Eve, I wondered what on earth I could write about her and could any of that be positive. In my study I found there is much more to Eve than sin and upon studying creation in order to research Eve, I learned much about God’s essence in the process.

To better understand Eve’s purpose in creation, we must first look at what God had created before her. After all, she was created last.  As a woman, it is very fulfilling to understand why. God took an empty earth and made light, dry land and seas. He filled the land with vegetation and the firmament with lights. He filled the sky and waters with living creatures and saw that it all of it was good. Then God made man in His own image (Gen. 1:27). Adam was formed from the dust of the ground just like the animals (Gen. 2:7, 19). Yet, Adam was set apart from other living beings because of how the gift of life was bestowed. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Gen. 2:7). Now man has become a living soul. God planted a wonderful garden for man to care for but determined that is was not good for man to be alone. This is the first instance we know of in which God describes something as “not good.” God gave man company in the form of animals, but none were comparable to him.

Why did God not just make Eve first, before the animals? I believe God wanted Adam to discover for himself the lack of existence of another human in the garden and to have a desire for human and personal fellowship.  In other words, God wanted Adam to desire his future wife. God knew that it was not good because Adam was missing his helpmeet, his completion, his wife.

Once Adam realized this, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, took one of his ribs and made it into a woman, and He brought her to the man. God had created a desire in man for a wife and now He had filled it. Eve became the subject of the first poem (Gen. 2:23). The relevance of this act is that man and woman are originally one. Even though they each have their own existence, one needs the other for self-completion. “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11). A man shall leave his parents, cleave unto his wife and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). I think it is worth noting that God designed this before Adam and Eve even became parents.

God made Adam and Eve as adults with the ability to communicate with God and each other. Within that communication, He set clear boundaries and gave them a law to be obeyed as well as the consequence for not obeying. He gave them work to do in that they were to tend and keep the garden. God planned for both man and woman to work for their own good. Idleness leads to many other sins (1 Tim. 5:13). “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Man was told to “keep” the garden as well as to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before woman was created (Gen. 2:15,17). In Hebrew, the phrase “to keep” is shâmar, which according to Strong’s definition means to “guard; generally, to protect, attend to, etc.” What was Adam to protect the garden against? Was he to protect the tree of forbidden fruit? Was he to be on guard from an evil force that might try to deceive him or his future wife? At this time in creation, the animals and humans ate plants so he didn’t need protection from them (Gen. 1:29-30). The Bible does not specify for certain the answer to that question.

Furthermore, Adam and Eve possessed a moral capacity to choose between right and wrong since they were created in God’s image. If not, then how would they be set apart from the animals and able to have dominion over them? It is my opinion that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was placed in the garden to test their obedience and exercise their moral capacity. Remember, God made humans with free will. Man and woman must decide whether they will obey and stay in spiritual communion with God or disobey and separate themselves from their Creator.

Having the ability to choose between right and wrong is different than knowing good and evil; one can be wrong and still not be evil.  I believe such was the case with Eve.  I do not conclude that Eve initially had a desire to do wrong and wanted disobey.  The Bible says she was deceived (Gen. 3:13; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14).  Eve knew she was told not to eat of the fruit of the tree or touch it, lest she die.  The serpent took what was bad and made it seem like it was not so.  He told Eve she would not die but would be like God (Gen. 3:3-5).  He gave Eve a twisted version of what God said.  It is interesting that Satan presented to Eve the same pride of life that was his downfall (1 Tim. 3:6).  I believe that in her naivety and in her trust and love for God, she thought that being like Him would be a good thing.  However, with his words Satan had planted a seed of temptation.  Eve allowed that seed to grow into a personal desire, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:15-17), and that desire brought forth sin (James 1:14-15).  Thus, she ate of the fruit and gave it to her husband with her, and he ate.  Adam was with her and he did not protect his wife from the serpent’s words, nor did he protect the tree’s fruit.  Instead, he partook in lawlessness.  They both made a wrong choice and they suffered.  Because they became like God in knowing good and evil, they took on a moral obligation to do all that is good and abstain from all that is evil.  Because mankind is not God, we fail at this responsibility.

When Eve was confronted by God about her sin, she did not deny it. She said “I ate” (Gen. 3:13). I believe Eve was sorry for what she did even though she could not undo it. I don’t believe it was only because of the consequences they suffered thereafter. She lost a face-to-face relationship with God! What can compare? Yet Eve did not hang her head and quit on life. She continued to fulfill the role she was meant to do. She still became a mother even though childbirth would be painful. She still continued on after Cain killed Abel and was banished by God. She still gave God the glory for Seth being born.

Just like Eve, we make wrong choices and even desire to be rebellious at times.  Yet we must persevere just as she did. Do not let sin overcome you so that you feel like you cannot go on. Remember that God sends rain on the just and the unjust; God forgives. Now we have redemption through Christ who is our mediator, who also came from lineage of Eve.

Samantha and her family live in Florence, SC.

The Bible’s Wrestling Matches — Victor M. Eskew

This writer grew up in Memphis, Tennessee in the 60s and 70s.  One of the favorite sports in the city was wrestling.  Wrestling came on television every Saturday.  Every Monday night, wrestling matches were held at the Coliseum.  Some of the popular wrestlers were Tojo Yammamoto, Jerry Lawler, Jackie Fargo, Hulk Hogan, Spunik Monroe, Bill Goldberg, and Randy Savage.  The two main announcers in our area were Lance Russell and Dave Brown.  Wrestling continues to be very popular today.  There are matches on TV several times a week.  Wrestling still fills arenas with screaming fans.

Did you know that wrestling is mentioned four times in the Bible?  One was a literal wrestling match (Gen. 32:24).  Another wrestling match involved a relationship between two women (Gen. 30:8).  The other two places that mention wrestling involve spiritual battles:  against spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:12) and against those who oppose the truth (Jude 3).

This first wrestling match involved a patriarch named Jacob and an angel.  It is recorded in Genesis 32:22-30.  Jacob was returning to his home in Canaan after having been away many years.  As he traveled, he came to the ford Jabbok.  That afternoon, he sent his family across the ford, but he remained by himself.  “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of day” (Gen. 32:24).  It was a long bout.  Many things happened during that night match.  When the angel did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh “and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint” (Gen. 32:25).  Jacob would not let the messenger go until he received a blessing from him (Gen. 32:26).  Jacob’s name was changed from Jacob to Israel (Gen. 32:27-28).  Jacob had power with God and with men and prevailed that evening (Gen. 32:28).  Jacob received a blessing (Gen. 32:29).  Jacob named the place Peniel (Gen.  32:30).  He chose that name because he had “seen God face to face,” and his life was preserved (Gen. 32:30).

In this wrestling match, we find a spiritual application to our prayer lives.  First, prayer can be likened unto a wrestling match.  We latch on to God and hold Him tightly as we pray.  We desire a blessing from Him and will not let Him go until He blesses us.  Second, prayer can take a toll on us.  We can spend long hours in prayer.  We wait for a response.  Before the response comes, we start to question and doubt.  We question God’s love for us.  We question our motives.  We question our faith.  It can also take a toll upon us because we do not always get the things for which we pray.  Third, when we pray we are changed into a different person.  Fourth, when we pray we are blessed.  Lastly, when we rise from prayer we, like Jacob, know that we have been in the very presence of God.

The second wrestling match was a struggle between two women who were married to the same man.  The women are Leah and Rachel.  Their husband was Jacob.  Jacob originally desired Rachel to be his wife.  He labored seven years to obtain her.  However, the custom of the day demanded that the elder daughter be married first.  Thus, he first received Leah as a wife.  When he agreed to work another seven years, he was given Rachel also.

The battle between these two sisters started when children were brought into the family.  Leah was able to conceive, but Rachel was not able at first.  Leah bore Jacob four sons initially:  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.  “And when Rachel saw she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister…” (Gen. 30:1).  Rachel devised a plan whereby she could have children through her handmaid Bilhah.  “And she gave Bilhah her handmaid to wife:  and Jacob went in unto her” (Gen. 30:4).  Two sons were born to Bilhad, Dan and Naphtali.  It was Rachel who chose Naphtali’s name.  “And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed:  and she called his name Naphtali” (Gen. 30:8).  The battle between these two sisters did not stop at that point.  They continued their struggle until eleven sons and one daughter were brought into the family.  Another son would be born later named Benjamin.  The years during which these children were being born were very tumultuous.  The struggles must have been difficult for all involved.  Remember, Rachel described the difficulties as “great wrestlings.”

Most of us have had to face struggles in our relationships while we on earth.  There are all kinds of struggles that we must face.  Husband and wives struggle.  Parents and children wrestle with one another.  We wrestle with our friends.  We have bouts with our co-workers.  Wrestling matches can even happen in the church.  The members can be at odds with church leadership.  Members have their battles one with another.  Sometimes members of the church will find themselves fighting against a false teacher.  From time to time, we may have to do battle with those in the community.  Relationship struggles are some of the most difficult.  They often involve those closest to us and those whom we love deeply.  We work our way through those battles.  Sometimes we come out wounded on the other side of the conflict.  Sometimes, however, our relationships are strengthened.

Let’s now examine two more wrestling matches mentioned in the biblical text.  These are spiritual matches.  Let’s begin by looking at Ephesians 6:11-19.  The apostle Paul writes about the Christian armor.  His wise counsel is to put it on!  In the course of this discussion, he tells us why this armor is so important.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness is high places” (v. 12).  Paul let us know clearly that the warfare in which the Christian is engaged is spiritual in nature.  We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  We wrestle adversaries who are in the unseen realm.  The names by which he refers to them express their exalted status and power:  principalities, powers, rulers, and spiritual wickedness in high places.  These enemies will try to destroy our happiness in this life, but their special mission involves the destruction of our souls.  They tempt us to sin.  They lead us in false ways.  They try to get us to doubt God and blame him.  They desperately desire for us to become the servants of Satan.

All Christians must constantly be aware of these combatants.  They are skilled in their craft.  They understand our weaknesses.  Sadly, many Christians are adversely impacted by them every day.  Gossip runs wild in churches.  Members are not steadfast in their faithfulness.  Children of God are tempted and yield to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  These evil beings reach into our financial lives.  They tempt God’s people to cheat on their taxes, commit extortion, and to refuse to pay their bills.  They bring hardships into our lives that cause many to doubt and to blame God.  They try to lead us away from God by tempting us to believe that worldly and mundane things are more important than spiritual things.

Paul’s counsel is simple:  “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand, and having done all to stand.  Stand therefore…” (Eph. 6:10-11, 13-14).  He tells us that this armor is composed of six things:  loins girt about with truth, a breastplate or righteousness, our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:13-17).  In addition to our armor, he also reminds us to pray.  “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance of supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:19).  Being diligent to have these on at all times will ensure our protection against our Satanic foes.  We will be strong.  We will be able to stand.

Our second spiritual wrestling match is highlighted by Jude.  In verse three of his one-chapter book, he writes:  “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”  In our English translation, we do not read the word “wrestle” in the text.  The translators have used the word “contend.”  The Greek word involves an intensive contest.  One of the contests of the Greek games was wrestling.  These were severe struggles between two powerful men who were trying to pen one another to the mat.  Jude uses that word and exhorts his readers to contend earnestly for the faith.

The faith is the system of faith or body of truth revealed by the inspired penman.  It involves the totality of New Testament teaching.  The reason we are exhorted to contend for the faith is because of false teachers who seek to lead the church astray.  “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).  Peter had warned about this same group of false teachers in 2 Peter 2.  He said they proclaim “damnable heresies” (v. 1) and “feigned words” (v. 3).  Listen to what else he has to say:  “And many shall follow their pernicious ways…” (v. 2).  Just one following these ungodly men is too much, but Peter reveals that “many” will follow them.  For this reason, the faithful must be willing to wrestle with them.  We must know the truth well enough to be able to lock arm in arm with these individuals and prevail over their fanciful, man-made imaginations.  All those who proclaim messages that oppose the knowledge of God must be conquered.

Jude reveals five things that we can do to prepare ourselves for this wrestling match in Jude 20-23.  First, we must build up our most holy faith.  We do this through a diligent study of God’s word (Rom. 10:17; 2 Tim. 2:15).  Second, we must pray fervently according to the dictates revealed by the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:17; James 5:16).  Third, we must keep ourselves in the love of God.  We do this through our obedience (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).  Fourth, keep our hope in mind.  Jude put it in these words: “…looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”  This is what our life here is all about.  Fifth, we must rescue others.  Some will fall victim to the false teachers.  Some will be easy to rescue.  Others will require more effort.  Either way, we want to pull “them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”  If we will do our part, God will do His to keep us safe (Jude 24-25).

Wrestling matches we see on TV and in the stadiums are fun to watch.  Too, we cheer for our favorite wrestlers, but the winner is of no real significance.  This is not the case with the wrestling matches we have studied.  They are not fun.  They are difficult and extremely serious.  Too, we MUST win.  Winning these wrestling matches brings the following: answered prayers, strengthened relationships, overcoming sin, and convicting the gainsayers.  Our ultimate victory will be in the hereafter.  Eternal life in heavenly realms will be ours to enjoy.

Victor is a graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, University of Memphis, and Ambridge University.  He is married to Kathleen, and they have three children and six grandchildren.  He preaches for the Oceanside congregation in Atlantic Beach, FL.

The Example of Paul — Dustin Forthun

The example of Paul is as relevant and powerful as ever!  The apostle Paul’s life shows all that is possible when one wholly surrenders to the Lord.  Before he was the great preacher and missionary that we’ve come to love, Saul (his pre-Christian name) was a Pharisee, and Pharisees hated Christians.  Anything that was good for Christianity was deemed a threat by the Pharisees who felt more than justified in taking the attack to Christians.

Paul was not just a run-of-the-mill Pharisee.  He was excellent in his craft and devoted to his cause.  He believed that hurting Christians was service to God, and he wanted to serve God with excellence.  Within a sea of Jews who hated Jesus, Paul stood out as more zealous than his peers (Gal. 1:14).

Here we can learn a lesson:  Paul believed that devotion drives direction; the deeper one’s love for the Lord is, the more earnest and passionate the service will be.  Ironically, we applaud Paul for giving his best to the Lord.  He did not just want to get by in his religion.  He was not content to be loosely associated with his religion.  His religion was not just something that he thought about a few times a week.

Paul was on a mission to be the best possible representative of his religion.  He wanted to live its tenets totally.  This, of course, is the way man should respond to our great God who is worthy of the very best.  One’s religion is supposed to be real, not rented.  Paul’s was (and this seeming core principle will be seen in his later Christian ministry).  If our religion does not change us, are we really serving the Lord?  If the practice of our religion stays neatly in our comfort zone — doing what we want, how we want, when we want — aren’t we really just serving our self?  Paul was a man whose religion drove him.  He lost himself in the never-ending quest to be his best for God.

Yet Paul was wrong.  Despite his considerable zeal, Paul was wrong in what he thought God wanted.  Here’s our next lesson:  it’s possible for a good man to be wrong.  Paul believed that he was right; he even felt it in his heart (Acts 23:1).  He was highly educated (Acts 22:3) and respected (Acts 22:20).  It’s likely that his family was supportive of his accomplishments and proud of him.  How could so many people be so wrong?

It happens when people think they know what God wants instead of being certain.  Directing one’s own steps usually does not place one on the straight and narrow path (Jer. 10:23).  When minds are closed, even the clearest truths get missed.  Some knew the truth about Jesus.  Even some of the Pharisees deduced that He was from God (John 3:2).  However, an entire religious system worked to hide this truth from the people.  Obviously, the religious leaders had no desire for the masses to follow Jesus.  The most extreme case of their obstruction came when they had the nerve to say that the miracles done by Jesus — the clear sign that He was from God — were actually made possible by Beelzebub (Matt. 12:22-24).

Whether deliberately led astray or just honestly confused, people who thought they were right with God were actually wrong.  Some of these were sincere, well-intending, and good.  Like those on the day of judgement who will defend their righteousness (Matt. 7:21-23), they worked in vain because they did not make sure to find and follow God’s right way.  An important note to consider is that God will always allow one who truly desires salvation to find that right way.  Read Matthew 7:7 and rest assured that no honest soul will be blocked from finding God.

While Paul teaches us that it’s possible for a good man to still be wrong, he further teaches that it’s never too late to obey God.  Paul invested so much time, effort, and energy in his Pharisee life.  He was committed to this way.  He was settled and established, yet he needed to change.  The Lord visited Paul and made it clear that change was necessary (Acts 9:5-6).  In a great example for us, Paul did better as soon as he learned better.  He no longer stayed in the error that was sure to damn his soul.  Amazingly, Paul was hunting Christians when he found Christ.  Paul’s plan was to find and bind Christians whom he considered to be guilty of heresy (Acts 9:2).  In the span of one conversation, Paul learned that he had been wrong his whole life.  Rather than protest or refuse to change, this same man who always loved God and wanted to give Him the best, changed his ways and became a follower of Jesus Christ.

This was life-changing for Paul who literally turned his back on everything he believed to be right.  Imagine the number of relationships suddenly ended and the number of enemies suddenly made.  People who once praised Paul as a Pharisee now hated him as a Christian, and they wanted him dead.  Paul did what he knew was right, and this time he was certain.  Paul’s example speaks to us still.  Your friends in churches of Christ are praying for you to make certain that you’re following the Lord’s right way.

Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road congregation in Greenville, SC.

The Fruit of our Lips — Paul Mays

Greetings, friends and brethren, from your “fired-up” servant of the Lord. I am set for the defense of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:17) and addicted to the ministry of the saints (I Cor. 16:15.) I love God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Word which completely equips us, His one holy bride, and His merciful offer for salvation. This is who I work for and why I work. I labor for the food that does not perish (John 6:27).

I work both as a hymn writer and digital missionary for the Lord and His one church. There is no book or college course, and no formal training that can equip me for what it is that I do. Mine is a unique ministry.

I was raised in the Lord’s church but fell away and lived a selfish life in my 20’s. When I met, fell in love with and married my wife, I realized that if I loved her enough to marry her that I also needed to love her enough to point her to heaven.  More precisely, I could not just point.  I had to lead.

It was at age 33 that I began to get serious about my Christian walk. I continued to draw closer to God but it wasn’t until utilizing Facebook that I began to get serious. I know that sounds impossible. To start with, I began posting just scriptures, and then moved on to adding simple accompanying thoughts. Eventually, I began to regularly defend the truth online. Whenever I saw error, I was compelled to correct it.

I began teaching often. Eventually, I had a standing spot each Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 for live Bible studies online. This kept my mind focused constantly on spiritual matters. I was creating potent Christian teaching memes, frequently holding live Bible studies, writing articles, and eventually was able to marry my musical abilities to my defense of the gospel of Christ.

I like to say that I came out of the womb singing. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t sing constantly. I remember ladies in the local assembly telling me when I was a small child that they wished that they could sing like me. My elementary school music teacher always put me front and center to sing solos. I wrote my first song at age five about Snow White. And boy, did my sisters give me a hard time over that!

I ended up singing lead vocals for several bands in the 80s and 90s during my time away from God. I also continued to write. Currently, I have recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 songs. I estimate that around 125-175 of the songs recorded are hymns, with most being original.

One of the things that prompted me to write original a cappella hymns is the need for doctrinally sound teaching hymns. One purpose of our singing spiritual songs is to teach one another (Col. 3:16). I find that the Lord’s church is lacking in a good body of doctrinally specific teaching hymns. So one at a time, I’ve tackled many topics through my hymn writing. My favorite topic is salvation on Jesus’s terms. So, I have written many hymns that include God‘s plan for the salvation of man. These include, “Repent and Be Immersed into Christ,” “He That Believes and Is Baptized Will Be Saved,” and “Immersion Is Part of the Gospel of Christ.”  I also teach about the one church of the Bible.  For example, one of my hymns teaches that “Jesus Is Coming As Close As the Clouds”, which includes the lyric “The Faithful Will Meet Him in the Air.”

The main benefit for me as a hymn writer is that my mind stays focused on Christ and the job that He has given to all Christians. I have much scripture hidden in my heart due to writing so much from the scriptures into the teaching hymns.  Other benefits include being able to teach the home congregation the songs I have written, continued study of His Word, and satisfaction of teaching and admonishing with the hymns that I have written.

The church also tells me that they are learning more of the Word from the hymns. One hymn is called “The Gospel Revealed to Us.”  The opening lyric reads as “In first Corinthians fifteen one through four we see the gospel revealed to us.”  Once these lyrics are committed to memory via the melody that they are tied to, it is hard to forget where the definition of the gospel is found. Christians have thanked me specifically for helping them to learn more of the Bible through the songs. This shows the wisdom of God as He designed us to learn this way.

There is a great need in the Lord’s church for doctrinally sound hymns with what I like to call “ungetoverable” lyrics. You cannot miss the message that my hymns teach. For instance: “Be baptized to receive forgiveness that you need” from my hymn entitled “Jesus is King.” I intend to continue to supply the church worldwide with a huge body of hymns written entirely by Christians. I will have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). And that’s precisely what denominations are. I have written over 100 hymns at this point. Almost all of those were written in the past three years. I have a goal of 500 hymns by the year 2028 and I am ahead of schedule. At the same time, I am collecting hymns from other Christians as well. I hope to collect another 500 hymns written by other Christians by that 2028 goal.  This will result in a 1,000-song hymnal to be distributed globally for free.  It will contain only doctrinally accurate hymns,  Many Christians have stepped up to meet the challenge.

There are many spiritual benefits from the singing of hymns.  The Bible speaks of being “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18-19).  Singing truth in hymn form is not just for times of assembling with the saints.  Instead, it is to keep our minds focused on the Master throughout our daily lives.  We should be singing to Him, remembering Him, and glorifying His name as we go through this life.

Just as prayer keeps our minds focused on spiritual matters, so does singing.  “Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).  “Is any among you afflicted?  Let him pray.  Is any merry?  Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13).  It’s crucial that we sing truth and with understanding, lest it be in vain.  “What is it then?  I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.  I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also”  (1 Cor. 14:15).

When we sing, we repeatedly drive home biblical truths.  These biblical truths are tied to melody.  This, by divine design, permanently implants these truths into our hearts.  This is further evidence of the need for doctrinally accurate teaching in hymns.  It is spiritually reckless to sing without understanding just as it is spiritually reckless to sing error.

A mind that is focused on Christ will sing often.  A mind that sings often of Christ will be focused on Christ.  God surely knew what He was doing when He blessed us with this form of worship.  He designed us to remember scriptural truths tied to melody.  In the same way that a melody instantly pops into your head when remembering the Alphabet Song, so does a melody when remembering “Jesus Loves Me.”  These melodies help us remember biblical truths.  This surely points to God’s wisdom and to His glory.

I was asked to describe the pitfalls of my work.  There is but one that I can think of.  What I do is technically new.  I serve in so many capacities but I am not a located pulpit minister.  I have sent out many financial support request letter packages.  I have a letter from my elders who oversee my work and support me.  I have a letter from Don Blackwell at GBN.  The Gospel Broadcasting Network will be running my work soon.  My time is donated to GBN as well.  I am giving my hymns to the church worldwide for corporate a cappella worship.  I am seeking to be supported for these works.  While I have received several generous one-time support checks, my work is ongoing.  Literally every day I work as a hymn writer.  The only pitfall I find is that due to the unique nature of my work I am not being adequately supported financially.  This will not deter my work.  I am unmoved and fired up.  I will continue to write hymns to glorify His name, edify His church, and educate the lost.  I will continue traveling to teach the hymns at gospel singings and at gospel meetings.  Again, I labor for the food that does not perish. 

Contact Paul to receive free and ongoing 11-hymn volumes of his work, “The Fruit of Our Lips.”