Tag Archives: Bible Study

How to explain the strange parts the Bible to your kids

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

The article I want to link to today is from super-mom Christian apologist Natasha Crain, who writes at Christian Mom Thoughts. She has lots of interesting ideas about how to introduce kids to apologetics, which is really important, especially the way things are going in the culture. Parents have to be watching out for the kids who has a plan for making sure that Christianity is presented to them intelligently and effectively. If both parents do this, it works much better.

Anyway, here is her topic:

With the start of the new school year, we’ve begun reading through the Bible together as a family again (see this post if you want to know more about what we’re doing).

One reason I love the children’s Bible we’re using is that it includes far more stories and much more detail than most children’s Bibles I’ve seen. That means we’ve had the opportunity to dig deeper into Genesis than our young kids have ever dug before. And there’s a running theme to what they’re noticing about these new stories:

There’s a lot of really strange stuff in the Bible.

For example, we’ve been reading stories like Abraham entertaining angels, angels striking a crowd with blindness, Lot’s wife turning into salt, God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Jacob wrestling with God.

I hope you don’t think it’s irreverent to label these and many other Bible stories as strange. The definition of strange is “unusual or surprising in a way that is hard to understand; not previously visited, seen, or encountered; unfamiliar or alien.”

To acknowledge and discuss with our kids that the Bible is strange is not irreverent…it’s actually extremely important when preparing them to engage with a secular world. In this post, we’ll take a look at why that’s the case, and how to discuss biblical strangeness with your kids.

The rest of her post has a lot of strategies for explaining the strangeness in the Bible to your kids. It’s a long post, and it’s got a ton of useful advice.

On this blog, we believe in evidence, so this part of her post jumped out at me:

There are a lot of things in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, that are strange because they recount historical events tied to an ancient culture far different than our own. For example, in Genesis 15:9-21, God reiterates the covenant he had with Abraham by having him cut a bunch of animals in half and leave a path in the middle for God to pass through (as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch).


When we read this story last week, I had no idea what it was about. Somehow I had always read right through it. So we researched it and learned that this was a type of ritual done in the ancient Near East to seal a covenant (see this article for more). It was meaningful to Abraham based on his cultural context, but is a completely foreign idea to us.

Stories with elements of cultural strangeness are a great opportunity to:

  • Research what the significance of something was in an ancient culture.
  • Emphasize that the Bible communicates real history across thousands of years, so we naturally read about people who lived very differently than we do.
  • Talk about why so many laws very strange to us today exist in the Bible (like what to do if your ox falls into a pit—Exodus 21:33).

With the Bible, what you read has to be connected with an investigation of material outside the Bible. The means connecting what the Bible says with the evidence from history and mainstream science as much as possible. Otherwise, the Bible just becomes like any other work of fiction, and kids will find it creepy that you believe it’s real, but never connect it with anything out there in the real world. Like someone who believes that Santa Claus is real, and talks about him a lot, but never feels the need to prove anything to anyone else using evidence that a normal person would accept.

The Bible is full of interesting things to investigate. For example, the moral rules. You can read studies to find out about things like divorce, homosexuality, fatherlessness, premarital sex, and so on. You can find out what what the cuddle hormone (oxytocin) is, you can find out whether cohabitation raises your risk of divorce, you can read about the demographic crisis in Europe, etc. You can go see the Dead Sea scrolls, you can look at gospel manuscript fragments, you can look at coins and inscriptions. You can look at the science of cosmic fine-tuning, you can look at Cambrian era fossils. Bible reading isn’t meant to be self-contained. The purpose of it is not to feel good and have community with others. You’re not supposed to talk about it in the abstract, you’re supposed to test it, and put it into practice. It’s supposed to change what you value, your beliefs about the way the world really is, and how much you let God into your decision-making.

A little bit more Natasha:

Every supernatural event in the Bible should be considered strange. Miracles are by definition not part of our everyday experience. Stories with supernatural strangeness are a great opportunity to:

  • Acknowledge that some people assume miracles aren’t possible, so they reject the Bible without consideration. If God exists, however, miracles are possible (this is why it’s so important that your kids understand the evidence for God’s existence—the entire plausibility of the resurrection miracle rests on whether or not God exists).

What I have found in my church is that basic beliefs like “a Creator and Designer exists” are never argued for, but everyone keeps talking about God and miracles without ever providing any evidence. Pastors and parents all assume that God exists and that the Bible is without error – just like that and no questions asked. No criticisms are raised, nothing is responded to using normal evidence from history or science. What a disaster. We gave away all our smartest kids because we thought that not talking about truth and evidence was somehow more pious than allowing questions and debates. Would you trust someone to sell you a car or fly you to Baltimore if they kept shushing your questions and urging you to just believe?

I never grew up in this Christian family bubble. I never sat in churches and listened to pastors assume that the foundations of the faith were true, and then talk about trivialities while ignoring all criticisms being raised in the culture. I grew up watching William Lane Craig debates… it was all about scientific evidence for a Creator/Designer, answers to philosophical objections, and which parts of the Bible were most or least historically evidenced. (And we both affirm inerrancy, but I’m talking about how to talk about the Bible with a non-Christian)The normal Christian home and the normal Christian church where everything is assumed is just weird to me. Like, who would waste time with parent-talk and pastor-talk? Let’s get on to the interesting evidence and debates instead.

Bible study: the importance of gratitude, and making moral judgments

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

First, I’ll start with a passage that makes it clear that it’s good for Christians to make moral judgments when people do evil things.

2 Samuel 12:1-12:

1 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him,“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.

2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds,

3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.

4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan,“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die,

6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.

8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.

9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.

12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”

So, in this case Uriah had done his best to help David to achieve David’s goals, even going so far as to fight for him against his enemies. And how did David repay him? David repaid him by orchestrating his death and stealing his wife. Uriah only had the one wife, and David had lots of wives. But that didn’t stop David from going after Uriah’s one wife – he just would not be satisfied. How did Nathan respond to this? Nathan went to David and made a moral judgment (verbal) against David. David responded well and said he was sorry. But that didn’t get him out of punishment. A bit later in the book, David shows that he really is sorry for what he did. He doesn’t try to get into a discussion about it with Nathan do determine whether he did something wrong to Uriah – he knows that he has done wrong. Although he got his forgiveness in exchange for his repentance, he still got hammered by God for what he did to Uriah. I guess God would have hammered him even more had he not repented at all, though.

Second passage, this one about being grateful. If someone you know has helped you out, then you should let the good thing they have done for you change your character – change the way that you treat others.

Matthew 18:21-35:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.

24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.

32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

What is really bad is when you treat someone well by performing X for them… assisting them financially, helping them to find a mate, helping them to achieve success, getting them a job, giving them gifts, serving them somehow, etc. and then they come back and actually undermine you in the exact same area where you helped them. That’s the really bad situation that you want to avoid. If someone helps you by doing X, make sure that you don’t turn around and hurt them by doing (not X) back to them – hurting them in the very area where they tried to help you.

I’m going to try to tie these two passages together. Imagine how this ingratitude would work in the David and Uriah case. Suppose Uriah helped David somehow to try to win the heart of a woman he really liked. Then David turns around and steals Uriah’s wife in response to being helped. You don’t want to be that guy who responds to kindness by doing the exact opposite of how you were helped. I think it’s important to respect the abilities of the people who help you and let the gratitude you should feel for them change your character. Don’t respond to them by doing the exact opposite for them or others that they did for you. And if you see someone doing that, give them the Nathan treatment – “you are the man!”. Awesome. Don’t be the guy who won’t make a moral judgment because he wants to be friends with David, even over the dead body of Uriah.

Does the Bible say that you should forgive someone who does not repent?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Kevin Lewis, a professor of Theology and Law at the conservative Biola University, was asked this question:

Recently, I was reading Dr. Kenneth Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” (IVP press 2008). When commenting on Matthew 6:12-13, he writes,

“It is a common human assumption that the violator of the rights of others must ask for forgiveness before the wronged party can be expected to accept the apology and grant forgiveness…But Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when when there is no confession of guilt… There is a voice from the cross that echoes across history to all saying ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Neither Pilate nor the high priest nor the centurion offered any apology to Jesus, yet he prayed for divine forgiveness…(p.125)”

And here’s his response in full, copied with permission from his Facebook note:

Regarding Bailey’s comments on Matthew 6:12, he errs by not considering the theological context of this statement and fails to consider any implied biblical conditions for forgiveness inherent in the statement. The text simply does not mean what he says it means. He is reading too much into the statement.
Bailey states, “Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when there is no confession of guilt…”

Bailey errs. Here, Jesus is giving a model for prayer commensurate with the way His Kingdom works. Jesus teaches them to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is a statement of the objective, “forgiveness,” without a discussion of any express or implied conditions to accomplish the objective. It is also a statement of the proper attitude of the Christian, that is, that we must have a demeanor of being willing to forgive, just as God was willing to forgive us. Bailey’s assertion that there is no “confession of guilt” or repentance is merely an unwarranted assumption.

Moreover, the use of “as” (Grk. hos) in the passage introduces a comparison between the way we forgive and the way God forgives. This comparative phraseology is employed elsewhere on the subject of forgiveness. For example, Ephesians 4:32 states that we should be “forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us. Here, the comparative “just as” (Grk. kathos) is employed and indicates our forgiveness is to be just like God’s forgiveness of us, which flows from a loving disposition. So in the same manner that God forgives, we must forgive. We are to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1). See also Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36 for exhortations to imitate God.

To ascertain whether the Scriptures describe any conditions for forgiveness, one must search elsewhere in the Scriptures for comment. This is the nature of systematic theology. We need to examine what the entire Bible says on a given topic, such as forgiveness. And the Bible contains ample support for the notion that there are conditions for forgiveness.

First, regarding God and His forgiveness, it is undisputed in orthodox Christian theology that God does not forgive everyone. The doctrine of Hell is a sufficient proof of the lack of universal forgiveness by God.

Next, it is clear that God does not forgive without repentance. This doctrine is taught in a number of texts. For example, in Luke 13:3 Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In Mark 1:15 John the Baptist commands that we must “repent and believe the Gospel.” The connection between repentance and forgiveness of sins (i.e. “salvation”) is seen throughout the Scriptures. For example, in Acts 2:38 repentance is directly connected as a condition for the remission of sins. For additional examples of this connection see Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 3:19; 8:22; 17:30-31; Romans 2:4-5; II Corinthians 7:10; II Tim. 2:25-26.

So since we are to be imitators of God and forgive in the same way God forgives, we would expect the Scriptures to be consistent, stating that the condition of repentance is required to be fulfilled before believers are required to forgive each other’s sins. It does.

Jesus stated in Luke 17:3, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Here, the meaning is clear. The word “if” (Grk. ean) introduces the condition for a rebuke and for granting forgiveness. If (subjunctive) a person sins, we must (imperative) rebuke him, and if (subjunctive) he repents, we must (imperative) forgive him. This is as clear a statement as you will find on the subject. Forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance—and this is one of the same criteria that God requires before He forgives sin.

This principle of permitting believers to withhold forgiveness unless the condition of repentance is satisfied is also explicitly seen in Matthew 18:15-17. Compared with the Luke 17:3 text above, the situation is the same. If a brother sins, reprove him; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. Here, the word “reprove” is used rather than “rebuke” and the word “listen” is employed rather than “repent,” but the meaning is virtually identical to Luke 17:3. What we see in Matthew 18 is an escalation of the issue and the result if the person fails to repent (i.e. “listen”). If the person fails to repent, we are to shun him in all appropriate ways (v. 17).

These passages in Luke and Matthew give us the connection between sin, rebuke, repentance and forgiveness. Other biblical texts that merely mention “forgiveness” as a concept or an objective do not necessarily proffer every aspect of the doctrine of forgiveness. As such, they must be read in light of the clear conditions expressed in other passages.

Finally, I would make the case that it is harmful to a person to forgive him without requiring repentance. As seen above, the Bible is clear that sin requires a rebuke. Ignoring sin teaches sinners that sin does not bring consequences. This is harmful to their souls. Continuing to have the benefit of a righteous relationship with another and yet remain in sin against that person results in fostering a habituation of sinful inclinations in their soul, which God says brings about suffering and death.

Moreover, since the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, it is meaningless and harmful to forgive when no reconciliation may be had with the sinner. We cannot “walk together” in a biblical manner in righteous peace when the unrepentant sinner walks in unrighteousness. Necessarily, there is a conflict and a want of shalom. Their soul is headed in a different direction than the believer’s soul; they are walking away from God and we cannot have fellowship with darkness. God has no intimate fellowship with unrepentant people, and that is the model for Christians as well (See Matt. 18).

Regarding personal anger issues commonly raised by Christian psychologists, these types of psychologists unbiblically make unconditional forgiveness a part of therapy. By contrast, however, if a counselee will not forgive after the offending party has truly repented, the counselee sins, and this kind of unforgiveness may be one of the causes of his or her problems. But this is a separate issue from universal and unconditional forgiveness raised above.

Human beings in the image of God may be angry in appropriate ways (Eph.4:26, 31). There is a time to love and a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8). The notion that Christians cannot ever hate, be angry, or lack forgiveness is an unbiblical concept. God Himself is eternally angry with sin, but He is certainly not a psychological basket case. He loves, hates, and is angry in appropriate ways. Our task as believers is to imitate this. Be angry with and hate sin appropriately (Rom. 12:9) and love what good appropriately. For example, righteous anger can evolve beyond the biblical limits to become malice, slander, and bitterness while, to give another example, an appropriate love of food can evolve beyond the biblical limits into gluttony.

Psychological problems arise from many issues other than lack of forgiveness. For example, a lack of trust in God that He has a particular instance of evil under His sovereign control can cause undue anxiety in one’s life. Also, if a counselee’s self worth is grounded in the shifting sand of how others treat him (i.e., badly) rather than being grounded in the fact that he is a divine image bearer and inherently valuable no matter how badly anyone treats him, he will likely fall into anxiety, depression, and other sorts of psychological maladies. Changing the biblical doctrine of forgiveness will not truly help a counselee. It only makes it worse.

Soli Deo Gloria

I agree with Kevin, and I think it is a helpful tool for people to insist on seeing some sort of repentance and restitution from someone who wrongs you before you trust them again. If they are not even sorry for what they’ve done, and they refuse to explain why what they did is wrong, then they can’t be forgiven, and you can’t trust them again.

I think this is the key passage – Luke 17:3-4:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

That’s Jesus speaking, there.

Also, I was having a debate with someone who disagrees with all this, and while debating with her, I thought of another example.

Luke 18:9-14:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 

12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 

13 But the tax collector,standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 

14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So again, no forgiveness without repentance.

Forgiveness is what happens when someone who is sinned against treats the sinner as if he had never sinned. It is not on the balance sheet. It is not brought to mind. It is not held against them in the future. The forgiver trusts the sinner again as if the previous sin had never happened.

In divine (vertical) forgiveness, there is no forgiveness without repentance. There are Bible verses above to show that.

My argument is twofold. First, there is a clear teaching of Jesus explaining the sequence of sin and forgiveness. Repentance precedes forgiveness, between humans (Luke 17:3). The verses cited by the forgive without repentance crowd don’t show the mechanics of how to forgive, they are making the point that if you want God to forgive you, you should forgive others. The parable in Luke 18:9-14 affirms this again – repentance always precedes forgiveness.

Second, we have an obligation to imitate God, and that means imitating the way he forgives those who sin against him. When I raise that with the unconditional forgiveness crowd, they want to insist that there is a difference, that the word “forgive” means different things. I’m not convinced.

Finally, I do think that forgiving someone is obligatory if they sincerely repent, and even if they screw up again and again. So long as the repentance is sincere, (like if there is restitution and a genuine effort to show an understanding how the sin affected the wronged party in writing), then forgiveness should be automatic. Depending on how bad the sin is, there maybe be more to do than just say “I’m sorry”. If the repentance is genuine, then I think the person who is sinned against must forgive, if they expect to be forgiven by God for the things they repent of.

Alan E. Kurschner adds one final point about the unconditional forgiveness view. He argues that there is serious textual doubt about the originality of Luke 23:34a, a text used by the pro-unconditional-forgiveness crowd.He has a journal article coming out on it, but a synopsis of his argument is here.

He also wrote this in a comment on this blog:

Second, on Matt 6:15, this is what I have to say. Notice the then-clause: “neither will your Father forgive your sins.” This would require universalism on the Father’s part according to the unconditional interpretation given the first half: “But if you do not forgive others their sins.” Since everyone has wronged the Father is the Father required to forgive everyone even if they are not seeking forgiveness?

So I think the case for the forgiveness being conditional on repentance is pretty strong, especially when serious harm has been caused.

Three thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation in Luke 15

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

The Bible passage for this post – the last in the series of five – is in Luke 15.

Luke 15:1-10:

1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.

Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying,

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And now we go to C.S. Lewis for this quote:

“It may be possible for each [person] to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another…. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

— C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

And then there is this from the biography of J. Warner Wallace:

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist for 35 years. He was passionate in his opposition to Christianity, and he enjoyed debating his Christian friends. In debating his friends, J. Warner seldom found them prepared to defend what they believed. He became a Police Officer and eventually advanced to Detective. Along the way, he developed a healthy respect for the role of evidence in discerning truth, and his profession gave him ample opportunity to press into action what he had learned about the nature and power of evidence. Throughout all of this, he remained an “angry atheist”, hostile to Christianity and largely dismissive of Christians.

When J. Warner took time to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he never took the time to examine the evidence for the Christian Worldview without the bias and presupposition of naturalism. He never gave the case for Christianity a fair shake. When he finally examined the evidence fairly, he found it difficult to deny, especially if he hoped to retain his respect for the way evidence is utilized to determine truth. J. Warner found the evidence for Christianity to be convincing.

J. Warner founded PleaseConvinceMe.com as a transparent resource that tracks his own spiritual journey. From angry atheist, to skeptic, to believer, to seminarian, to pastor, to author and podcaster, his journey has been assisted by his experience as a Detective. J. Warner wrote, “Cold-Case Christianity” with a desire to share those experiences with you, It’s J. Warner’s hope that his own efforts to detect and articulate the truth will help you to become a better Christian Case Maker.

In a recent podcast, I heard Wallace mention that he is now an adjunct professor in the apologetics program at Biola University. Adjunct professor.

And this from the biography of the fighting pastor, Pastor Matt Rawlings:

Matt Rawlings is a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Portsmouth, OH and State Director of Development for a Christian legal ministry.

Matt has been married since 1998 to Emily Bennington and they have a son, Jackson who was born in 2003.

Matt is a prodigal preacher’s kid who ran away from home at 15, ended up in Hollywood at 17 where, among other things, he directed music videos for Latin MTV. He returned to his home town of Portsmouth, OH in 1991 and after a wasted year of college, he entered politics (which is just Hollywood for ugly people). Matt worked for 2 Congressional campaigns and spent 2 years working on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide during the “Gingrich Years” of 1995-1997.

It was during this time that Matt was diagnosed with cancer and was saved. After graduating from Shawnee State University in 1998 with a B.A. in History, Matt studied New Testament Greek at Kentucky Christian University and then the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University where he earned a Master of Divinity.

Matt then graduated from Cornell Law School in 2004 while pastoring a small church in Ithaca, New York. After a few years working in a large corporate law firm in West Virginia while serving as an interim pastor for small churches, Matt became a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in 2006. He then helped launch and lead Revolution, a Gen-X & Gen-Y ministry from 2008 to 2013.

Matt earned a certificate in apologetics from BIOLA University. He also launched Free Seminary to train lay Christians to become disciple makers. When Matt isn’t preaching or teaching, he is hanging out with his family or reading theology or detective novels, watching old movies or listening to really loud music.

Pastor Matt spent a period of time as an atheist, and he wrote about it candidly in several posts on his blog. But look at him now.

So here’s what I want to say about all this.

The first point I want to make is that it’s important to understand what human beings are in Christianity. We are not just lumps of meat who evolved by accident in an eternal, undesigned universe. Every single one of us is made in the image of God. We are embodied minds. When we die, our body stops working, but the mind/soul survives. God loves each of us equally and wants us all to come to know him and to have eternal life with him. Those who resist his loving but non-coercive drawing of us to him will spend eternity separated from him. Our lives do not end at the grave. Every single person you speak to was made to live on beyond the grave. And every moment you spend with them, (as a Christian operator, working as God’s ambassador), is leading them to one eternal destination or another. It’s part of God’s plan for your santification that you participate in leading other people to Christ, and building them up once they’ve been led to Christ.

The second point I want to make is that you can know precisely nothing about what a person can accomplish for God from their present state of rebellion against God. Wallace and Rawlings were bold and determined atheists. To every prim and proper church Christian looking on then, they must have looked as if they would never come to faith in Christ, and certainly that they would never make contributions to the Kingdom like the ones they have. It would have been exactly the wrong thing to do, at that time, to count them out and to refuse to engage them. I meet Christians all the time who are regular church-attenders and Bible-readers who I ask to engage with me to grow some of these lost-sheep or newly-found sheep, and I am so surprised to hear the pride in their voice as they dismiss these people as lost causes. Don’t do that! You are not in a position to know what these people are capable of. And I can guarantee you that God hasn’t given you so many people to mentor that you can just be cavalier about throwing some of them out that you deem to be unworthy of your time. Be careful about having your sins forgiven and then refusing to forgive someone else’s sins. If someone needs your mentoring, you better put in the same effort that God put into rescuing you. God uses people to save other people, and God help the “Christian” who makes excuses for not being faithful when they are called. This is not optional.

The third point I want to make is that in the real world, we have to understand what works in order to convince someone to become a Christian or to return to the faith. Christianity is a truth-centered faith. It has certain propositions that must be affirmed as true. In order for those propositions to be affirmed as true, they have to be demonstrated to be true. The way the founder of the religion did this is by providing miracles to authenticate his claims, (just read the gospel of John). Jesus offered these miracles to unbelievers as evidence for them to then freely choose to believe his statements about himself. Here in this time and place, it falls to us to use logical arguments and evidence from nature and history to prove out these same propositions to unbelievers. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 99 found sheep and save the 1 lost sheep, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 9 silver coins and save the 1 lost silver coin, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. Christianity is an evidential faith. If you want to share your faith with the lost, you have to study the evidence for it.

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. When I study Philippians 1, I use D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.


So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.


Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[…]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[…]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.