John T. Willis

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Holy Spirit

When I first became a member of the denomination called The Churches of Christ, a big issue was the Holy Spirit. Many preachers and author of written articles in pulp magazines argued that the ONLY way the Holy Spirit works is THROUGH the written word of God, that is the present Bible. These advocates based this on two texts:
  1. Ephesians 6:17: "Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
  2. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13: "Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for TONGUES [referring back to 1 Corinthians 12:10 and expanded in 1 Corinthians 14], they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
  In those days in the 1950s and 1960s, exponents argued that God empowered Christians to speak in tongues through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 14), but 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 CLEARLY teaches that after the deaths of the early apostles, speaking in tongues and other miracles cannot occur.

At the Highland Church of Christ, a faithful Christian woman who studied the Bible very carefully, taught the elders at Highland that this traditional view was far from the truth of the Bible. She cited numerous texts in the Bible that the Holy Spirit works in our lives  just as much as he did in the first century. Slowly, but surely, the whole church listened and learned and changed our position FOR THE GOOD. This was a VERY IMPORTANT truth. Unfortunately, many of the issues which we used to think were very important were insignificant, to say the least, as future blog will point out.

If ANYONE studies the Bible, it will become clear that the Holy Spirit not only exists, but is very alive and important in the lives of individuals and the church. The problem here is the very same one which we face about God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. For example, there are MANY TEXTS in the Bible [Hebrew Bible and New Testament] which declare that God sends rain on our land. Even Jesus declared this truth in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:45 [see also Amos 4:7-8; Psalm 104:13; Job 37:10-13; 38:25-30; and there are MANY OTHERS]. BUT even today many people do NOT REALLY BELIEVE that God "sends rain" on the earth. Instead, rain is a "natural phenomenon." All such arguments are based on the Enlightenment, not on biblical truth.

Here are ONLY a few texts about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

1. Romans 8:26-27: "Likewise the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

2. Galatians 5:16-18: "Live by the Spirit, I say, and do no gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law." All of God's true people must LIVE by the Holy Spirit and BE LED BY the Holy Spirit.

3. Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Our hope, joy, and peace comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.

4. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."  The Holy Spirit dwells in our body as a worshipper dwells in a temple.

5. 2 Timothy 1:14: "Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us." The Holy Spirit lives in us as he helps us to carry out God's purposes in life.

These texts are just a tip of the iceberg. I am so thankful that many people in Churches of Christ now realize that the Holy Spirit is vibrant and motivating and transforming all of us into the image of God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord. From time to time, we will be discussing the works of the Holy Spirit in future blogs.

Share your wishes and questions and experiences and failures and successes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Human Being is Good--Psalms 14 and 53

Psalm 14 is essentially a doublet of Psalm 53. The only real differences are the superscriptions and slight differences between Psalm 14:5-6 and Psalm 53:5. The superscription of Psalm 14 is: "To the leader. Of David." The superscription of Psalm 53 is: "To the leader: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David." The meanings of "according to Mahalath" and "Maskil" are debated and uncertain. Psalms 14:7 and 53:6 assume that God's people are in Babylonian exile and seek God's deliverance. "Restore the fortunes" is an idiomatic term alluding to God bringing his people back to Judah to rebuild the temple, restore the law, and rebuild the wall. But there is little evidence of the historical setting of these psalms. Psalms 14 and 53 fall into three parts.

I. All Human Beings are Sinners. Psalms 14:1-4; 53:1-4.
    a. The psalmist begins by declaring "FOOLS say in their HEARTS, 'There is no God.'" In a context like this, the word "fool" does not mean "ignorant," but "spiritually separate from God." Such people feel self-sufficient. They think they need no help from others or from God. Consequently, they are corrupt--they feel they can think, say, or do anything they wish; hence, they do abominable deeds-- ungodly things which sensible, godly people would never consider; there is NO ONE WHO DOES GOOD. This is very pessimistic, but very realistic. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). 14:1; 53:1.
    b. Yahweh is not on earth, but dwells above somewhere in heaven. He looks down from heaven on all human beings to see if there are ANY who are WISE, who SEEK AFTER GOD. The concept "wise" in this verse stands in bold contrast to "fools" in verse 1. This shows that to be wise does not mean to be intellectually smart, but to be subservient to God. James 3:13-18 emphasizes the nature of genuine wisdom, "the wisdom from above." 14:2; 53:2.
    c. Verse 3-4 are essentially a repetition of verse 1: ALL human beings have gone astray, they are ALL alike perverse; there is NO ONE WHO DOES GOOD, NO, NOT ONE. Have they no knowledge [knowledge here is not IQ knowledge, but spiritual knowledge], all the evildoers who eat my God's people as they eat bread, and do not call upon Yahweh? [To call upon Yahweh is to pray to Yahweh and depend on him in all aspects of life]. All of us are in the very same boat. We are all sinners, and can never be saved without God's grace. See Ephesians 2:8-10. 14:3-4; 53:3-4.
II. Yahweh Protects those who turn to Him in Faith. Psalms 14:5-6; 53:5.
     a. Evildoers, those who are hard-hearted and refuse to come to Yahweh, will be in great terror, because God is with the company of the righteous. "Righteous" does not mean sinless, but humble and dependent on God. 14:5. This terror is great, in terror such as has not been. 53:5a-b.
     b. Evildoers would like to confound the plans of the poor, but Yahweh is their refuge or protection. God as our refuge is a common metaphor in the Psalms (see for example, Psalms 46:1; 62:7-8). 14:6. God will scatter the bones of the ungodly, they will be put to shame for God has rejected them. 53:5c-d.

III. The Psalmist prays that Yahweh will deliver His People from their Present Affliction. Psalms 14:7; 53:6.
      a. The psalmist cries out: "O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!" Israel must be delivered from some difficult situation. It seems most likely that this is the Babylonian exile, but this is uncertain. 14:7a; 53:6a.
      b. The psalmist proclaims that when Yahweh restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. The idiom "restore the fortunes" is the primary theme in Jeremiah 30-33 with reference to the return of faithful Judeans from Babylon to Jerusalem: Jeremiah 30:3, 18; 31:23; 32:44; 33:7, 11, 26. 14:7b-c; 53:6b-c.

Share YOUR concepts and transformations and nuances and joys and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Christians Going to War

In my early years in the Highland Church when I was in Abilene High School and Abilene Christian College, a big issue that people discussed frequently was whether a Christian should go to war. Different people argued strongly on both sides of this question. As I remember these discussions in religious papers and in sermons, the arguments ran something like this.

1. It would be a sin for Christians to enter into the armed services because:
    a. The Law of Moses says: "You shall not kill." Therefore, it is clear that killing a person in war is a violation of one of the ten commandments. Exodus 20:13.
    b. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:43-45. Therefore, it would be a violation of Jesus' teaching to kill an enemy in war.
   c. When the Jewish authorities arrested Jesus when Judas Iscariot identified him by kissing him on the cheek, Simon Peter drew his sword and cut off the right ear of the high priest's slave Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back in your sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:10-11). This "example" shows that the followers of Jesus must not enter into warlike situations.

2. Christian people can enter into the armed services because:
    a. The commandment "You shall not kill" means to murder another person intentionally as a result of anger and retaliation on the part of the murderer. There are three clearly exceptions to this law:
        1. Accidentally or Unintentionally killing another person does not mean "You shall not kill." Deuteronomy 19:5 supplies one example: "Suppose someone goes into the forest with another to cut wood, and when one of them swings the ax to cut down a tree, the head slips from the handle and strikes the other person who then dies; the killer may flee to one of the cities of refuge and live."
        2. Capital punishment. Several laws specifically command those in authority to execute the guilty criminal. "Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
                            Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in
                                 possession, shall be put to death.
                            Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death." (Exodus 21:15-17).
        3. War. God specifically commanded his chosen people Israel to utterly destroy the Canaanites when they entered into the promised land. Deuteronomy 7:1-5. God specifically commanded Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites because they fought against the Israelites as they were moving from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai; when Saul did not obey God's command in this circumstance, God abolished Saul from being king over Israel and replaced David in this position (1 Samuel 15:1-23).
        4. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17 state that all authorities come from God, and Christians must be in subjection to these authorities. Romans 13:3-5 are especially important on this subject:
             "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the
               authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant
               for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not
               bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.
               Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience."
       5. There are evil people on earth. If evil people break into a person's house and intend to kill a man's wife and children, is it best for that man to stand by and allow them to kill his family? Or is it best for that man to defend himself, his wife, and his children? In doing that, it may be necessary for that man to strike or kill the burglars or invaders. The same principle applies to war. If a nation attacks another nation, what should the attacked nation do? Should all the people just stand by and allow the enemy to kill them? Or should all the people defend the attacked nation?

The purpose of this blog is NOT to take a position, but to make a VERY IMPORTANT point. I have never heard a church to DIVIDE over the WAR ISSUE. Somehow we argue our points, and then continue to study and pray and work TOGETHER. But ironically we DIVIDE over many other questions. This does not make sense. At the very least, we need to be consistent. Through the centuries, the war issue has been important for some, and not for others. Human beings cannot agree on any issue. But Christians should love one another and love all people even when we disagree.

Share YOUR thoughts and shortcomings and insights and experiences and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Monday, July 14, 2014

Struggling with God's Apparent Absence--Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is very brief. It contains only six verses. The superscription says: "To the leader. A Psalm of David." This gives one no information about the situation under consideration. The psalmist of Psalm 13 is struggling with the apparent absence of God. Verses 2 and 4 indicate that the psalmist has enemies who look forward to the downfall of the psalmist. Psalm 13 naturally falls into three parts.

I. Difficulties in life seem to never end. Psalm 13:1-2.
   a. Psalm 13 begins with the emotional question "How long?" This occurs FOUR times in verses 1-2, which appears in every line except one. The cry "How long?" presupposes that the psalmist has been in the present situation for a VERY LONG TIME, not recent.
   b. The psalmist ponders to God: Will you forget me forever? Apparently, he has prayed to God often but apparently God has not responded. He assumes that God has "forgotten" him or "forsaken" him. This thought stands in bold contrast to Joshua 1:5, in which God promises: "I will not fail you or forsake you." 13:1a.
   c. Then the psalmist asks: How long will you "hide your face" from me? The expression: God hides his face usually mean that he turns away from people to leave people to their own fate. See Psalms 10:11; 22:24; 27:9. 13:1b.
   d. The psalmist declares that he bears pain in his soul and has sorrow in his heart all day long. His enemy is thriving and thus is exalted over the psalmist. 13:2.

II. The Psalmist turns to God in Prayer. Psalm 13:3-4.
     a. The psalmist now addresses God directly, "O Lord my God." He petitions Yahweh to ANSWER his prayer and give light to his eyes. If Yahweh does not respond, the psalmist feels that he will certainly die. 13:3.
     b. On top of this, the psalmist explains that in his present depressed condition, his enemy will assume, "I have prevailed" against the psalmist, and he will rejoice because the psalmist is shaken. 13:4.

III. The Psalmist resolves to trust in God. Psalm 13:5-6.
      a. The psalmist turns to God's "steadfast love." "Steadfast love" is a prevailing theme throughout the Psalter. The psalmist declares that he "trusted in" God's steadfast love. Therefore, the psalmist's heart will "rejoice" in Yahweh's salvation. He is certain that God will appear and deliver the psalmist from his present affliction. 13:5.
      b. The psalmist resolves to "sing" to Yahweh "because" Yahweh has dealt bountifully with the psalmist in the past. What God has done God can do. 13:6.

Share YOUR concerns and situations and failures and successes and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis