Should provide for the needy:
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that you’re produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. – – Deuteronomy 14:28-29
The Bible supports an organised system of caring for the poor. God told his people to use their tithe every third year for those who were helpless, hungry, or poor. These regulations were designed to prevent the country from sinking under crushing poverty and oppression. It was everyone’s responsibility to care for those less fortunate. Families were to help other family members, and towns were to help members of their community. National laws protected the rights of the poor, but helping the poor was also an active part of religious life. God counts on believers to provide for the needy, and we should use what God has given us to aid those less fortunate. Look beyond your regular giving and think of ways to help the needy. This will help you show your regard for God as Creator of all people, share God’s goodness with others, and draw them to him. It is a practical and essential way to make faith work in everyday life.
must support each other in difficult times:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” – – Esther 4:16
By calling for a fast, Esther was asking the Jews to pray for God’s help on her dangerous mission. In the Old Testament, prayer always accompanies fasting (see Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; Ezra 8:21-23). An important function of a community of believers it mutual support in difficult times. When you are experiencing struggles, turn to fellow believers for support by sharing your trials with them and gaining strength from the bond that unites you. Ask them to pray for you. And when others need support, give it willingly.
Save your own skin and Watch out for number one are mottoes that reflect our world’s selfish outlook on life. Esther’s attitude stands in bold contrast to this. She knew what she had to do, and she knew it could cost her her life. And yet she responded, “If I perish, I perish.” We should have the same commitment to do what is right despite the possible consequences. Do you try to save yourself by remaining silent rather than standing up for what is right? Decide to do what God wants, and trust him for the outcome.
must trust God in adversity too:
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. – – Job 1:9
Satan attacked Job’s motives, saying that Job was blameless and upright only because he had no reason to turn against God. Ever since he had started following God, everything had gone well for Job. Satan wanted to prove that Job worshipped God, not out of love, but because God had given him so much.
Satan accurately analysed why many people trust God. They are fair-weather believers, following God only when everything is going well or for what they can get. Adversity destroys this superficial faith. But adversity strengthens real faith by causing believers to dig their roots deeper into God in order to withstand the storms. How deep does your faith go? Put the roots of your faith down deep into God so that you can withstand any storm you may face.
all are God’s chosen people:
“But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, You descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from the farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – – Isaiah 41:8-10
God chose Israel through Abraham because he wanted to, not because the people deserved it (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 9:4-6). Although God chose the Israelites to represent him to the world, they failed to do this; so God punished them and sent them into captivity. Now all believers are God’s chosen people, and all share the responsibility of representing him to the world. One day God will bring all his faithful people together. We need not fear because (1) God is with us (“I am your God”), and (3) God gives us assurance of his strength, help, and victory over sin and death. Have you realised all the ways God has helped you?
People will be judged by how they treat believers:
“The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. – – Obadiah 15
Why will God’s judgment fall on all the nations? Edom was not the only nation to rejoice at Judah’s fall. All nations and individuals will be judged for the way they have treated God’s people. Some nations today treat God’s people favourably, while others are hostile towards them. God will judge all people according to the way they treat others, especially believers (Revelation 20:12, 13). Jesus talked about this in Matthew 25:31-46.
Many who claim to be will be rejected by God:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. – – Matthew 7:21
Some self-professed athletes can “talk” a great game, but that tells you nothing about their athletic skills. And not everyone who talks about heaven belongs to God’s kingdom. Jesus is more concerned about our walk than our talk. He wants us to do right, not just say the right words. Your house (which represents your life, 7:24) will withstand the storms of life only if you do what is right instead of just talking about it. What you do cannot be separated from what you believe.
Jesus exposed those people who sounded religious but had no personal relationship with him. On “that day” (the day of judgment), only our relationship with Christ – – our acceptance of him as Saviour and our obedience to him – – will matter. Many people think that if they are “good people and say religious things, they will be rewarded with eternal life. In reality, faith in Christ is what will count at the judgment.
Most coexist with unbelievers:
Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “ – – Matthew 13:30
The young weeds and the young blades of wheat look the same and can’t be distinguished until they are grown and ready for harvest. Weeds (unbelievers) and wheat (believers) must live side by side in this world. God allows unbelievers to remain for a while, just as a farmer allows weeds to remain in his field so the surrounding wheat isn’t uprooted with them. At the harvest, however, the weeds will be uprooted and thrown away. God’s harvest (judgment) of all people is coming. We are to make ourselves ready by making sure that our faith is sincere.
Now have direct access to God:
In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you loved me and have believed that I came from God. – – John 16:23-27
Jesus is talking about a new relationship between the believer and God. Previously, people approached God through priests. After Jesus’ resurrection, any believer could approach God directly. A new day has dawned and now all believers are priests, talking with God personally and directly (see Hebrews 10:19-23). We approach God, not because of our own merit, but because Jesus, our great high priest, has made us acceptable to God.
Why the world hates them:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. – – John 17:14
The world hates Christians because Christians’ values differ from the world’s. Because Christ’s followers don’t co-operate with the world by joining in their sin, they are living accusations against the world’s immorality. The world follows Satan’s agenda, and Satan is the avowed enemy of Jesus and his people.
Essential for them to be unified:
…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. – – John 17:21-23
Jesus’ great desire for his disciples was that they would become one. He wanted them unified as a powerful witness to the reality of God’s love. Are you helping to unify the body of Christ, the church? You can pray for other Christians, avoid gossip, build others up, work together in humility, give your time and money, exalt Christ, and refuse to get sidetracked arguing over divisive matters.
Jesus prayed for unity among the believers based on the believers’ unity with him and the Father. Christians can know unity among themselves if they are living in union with God. For example, each branch living in union with the vine is united with all other branches doing the same.
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no-one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was near by, they laid Jesus there. – – John 19:38-42
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were secret followers of Jesus. They were afraid to make this allegiance known because of their positions in the Jewish community. Joseph was a leader and honoured member of the Jewish council. Nicodemus, also a member of the council, had come to Jesus by night (3:1) and later tried to defend him before the other religious leaders (7:50-52). Yet they risked their reputations to provide for Jesus’ burial. Are you a secret believer? Do you hide your faith from your friends and fellow workers? This is an appropriate time to step out of hiding and let others know whom you follow.
Four people were changed in the process of Jesus’ death. The criminal, dying on the cross beside Jesus, asked Jesus to include him in his kingdom (Luke 23:39-43). The Roman centurion proclaimed that surely Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 15:39). Joseph and Nicodemus, members of the Jewish council and secret followers of Jesus (7:50-52), came out of hiding. These men were changed more by Jesus’ death than by his life. They realised who Jesus was, and that realisation brought out their belief, proclamation, and action. When confronted with Jesus and his death, we should be changed – – to believe, proclaim, and act.
This tomb was probably a cave carved out of the stone hillside. It was large enough for a person to walk into, so Joseph and Nicodemus carried Jesus’ body into it. A large stone was rolled in front of the entrance.
why they didn’t join apostles at first:
No-one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. – – Acts 5:13
Although many people greatly respected the apostles, they did not dare join them in the temple or work beside them. Some may have been afraid to face the same kind of persecution the apostles had just faced (4:17), while others may have feared a similar fate as the one that fell on Ananias and Sapphira.
importance of helping new ones:
…and then when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for the whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. – – Acts 11:26
Barnabas and Saul stayed at Antioch for a full year, teaching the new believers. They could have left for other cities, but they saw the importance of follow-through and training. Have you helped someone believe in God? Spend time teaching and encouraging that person. Are you a new believer? Remember, you are just beginning your Christian life. Your faith needs to grow and mature through consistent Bible study and teaching.
Barnabas gives us a wonderful example of how to help new Christians. He demonstrated strong faith; he ministered joyfully with kindness and encouragement; he taught new believers further lessons about God (see 9:26-30). Remember Barnabas when you see new believers, and think of ways to help them grow in their faith.
The young church at Antioch was a curious mixture of Jews (who spoke Greek or Aramaic) and Gentiles. It is significant that this is the first place where the believers were called Christians (or “Christ-ones”), because all they had in common was Christ – – not race, culture, or even language. Christ can cross all boundaries and unify all people.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will pay it back – – not to mention that you owe me your very self. – – Philemon 17-19
Paul genuinely loved Onesimus. Paul showed his love by personally guaranteeing payment for any stolen goods or wrongs for which Onesimus might be responsible. Paul’s investment in the life of this new believer certainly encouraged and strengthened Onesimus’ faith. Are there young believers who need you to demonstrate such self-sacrifice towards them? Be grateful when you can invest in the lives of others, helping them with Bible study, prayer, encouragement, support, and friendship.
How others’ life experiences can help you better know how God works:
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. – – Acts 10:45
Cornelius and Peter were very different people. Cornelius was wealthy, a Gentile, and a military man. Peter was a Jewish fisherman turned preacher. But God’s plan included both of them. In Cornelius’ house that day, a new chapter in Christian history was written as a Jewish Christian leader and a Gentile Christian convert each discovered something significant about God at work in the other person. Cornelius needed Peter and his gospel to know the way to salvation. Peter needed Cornelius and his salvation experience to know that Gentiles were included in God’s plan. You and another believer may also need each other to understand how God works!
“The circumcised believers” could be translated, “the Jewish believers” (see also 11:2).
do people know you as one?
At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realise that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’ “ – – Acts 23:2-5
Josephus, a respected first-century historian, described Anaias as profane, greedy, and hot-tempered. Paul’s outburst came as a result of the illegal command that Ananias had given. Ananias had violated Jewish law by assuming that Paul was guilty without a trial and ordering his punishment (see Deuteronomy 19:15). Paul didn’t recognise Anaias as the high priest, probably because Ananias’ command broke the law he was pledged to represent. As Christians, we are to represent Christ. When those around us say, “I didn’t know you were a Christian,” we have failed to represent him as we should. We are not merely Christ’s followers; we are his representatives to others.
how to know if you are one:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. – – Romans 8:9
Have you ever worried about whether or not you really are a Christian? A Christian is anyone who has the Spirit of God living in him or her. If you have sincerely trusted Christ for your salvation and acknowledged him as Lord, then the Holy Spirit has come into your life, and you are a Christian. You won’t know that the Holy Spirit has come if you are waiting for a certain feeling; you will know he has come because Jesus promised he would. When the Holy Spirit is working within you, you will believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that eternal life comes through him (1 John 5:5); you will begin to act as Christ directs (Romans 8:5; Galatians 5:22, 23); you will find help in your daily problems and in your praying (Romans 8:26, 27); you will be empowered to serve God and do his will (Acts 1:8; Romans 12:6ff); and you will become part of God’s plan to build up his church (Ephesians 4:12, 13).
do you act more like an unbeliever?
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Paul is describing characteristics of unbelievers. He doesn’t mean that idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, slanderers or swindlers are automatically and irrevocably excluded from heaven. Christians come out of all kinds of different backgrounds, including these. They may still struggle with evil desires, but they should not continue in these practices. In 6:11, Paul clearly states that even those who sin in these ways can have their lives changed by Christ. However, those who say that they are Christians but persist in these practices with no sign of remorse will not inherit the kingdom of God. Such people need to re-evaluate their lives to see if they truly believe in Christ.
In a permissive society it is easy for Christians to overlook or tolerate some forms of immoral behaviour (greed, drunkenness, etc.) while remaining outraged at others (homosexuality, thievery). We must not participate in sin or condone it in any way, nor may we be selective about what we condemn or excuse. Staying away from more “acceptable” forms of sin is difficult, but it is no harder for us than it was for the Corinthians. God expects his followers in any age to have high standards.
Paul emphasises God’s action in making believers new people. The three aspects of God’s work are all part of our salvation: our sins were washed away, we were set apart for special use (“sanctified”), and we were pronounced not guilty (“justified”) for our sins.
two gifts God gives to believers:
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
Paul mentions two gifts God gives when we become believers: (1) a seal of ownership to show who our Master is, and (2) the Holy Spirit, who guarantees that we belong to him and will receive all his benefits (Ephesians 1:13, 14). The Holy Spirit guarantees that salvation is ours now, and that we will receive so much more when Christ returns. The great comfort and power the Holy Spirit gives in this life is a foretaste or down payment (“deposit”) of the benefits of our eternal life in God’s presence. With the privilege of belonging to God comes the responsibility of identifying ourselves as his faithful servants. Don’t be ashamed to let others know that you are his.
be wary of binding partnerships with unbelievers:
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – – I speak as to my children – – open wide your hearts also.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – –2 Corinthians 6:4-18
Paul urges believers not to form binding relationships with non-believers, because this might weaken their Christian commitment, integrity, or standards. It would be a mismatch. Earlier, Paul had explained that this did not mean isolating oneself from non-believers (see 1 Corinthians 5:9, 10). Paul even tells Christians to stay with their non-believing spouses (1 Corinthians 7:12, 13). Paul wants believers to be active in their witness for Christ to non-believers, but they should not lock themselves into personal or business relationships that could cause them to compromise the faith. Believers should do everything in their power to avoid situations that could force them to divide their loyalties.
Belial is a name that Paul uses for Satan. For those who have discovered God’s light, there can be no fellowship or compromise with the darkness (1 Corinthians 10:20, 21).
Separation from the world involves more than keeping out distance from sinners; it means staying close to God (see 7:1, 2). It involves more than avoiding entertainment that leads to sin; it extends into how we spend our time and money. There is no way to separate ourselves totally from all sinful influences. Nevertheless, we are to resist the sin around us, without either giving up or giving in.
no barriers should separate them:
All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. – – Philippians 4:22
There were many Christians in Rome; some were even in Caesar’s household. Perhaps Paul, while awaiting trial, was making converts of the Roman civil service! Paul sent greetings from these Roman Christians to the believers at Philippi. The gospel had spread to all strata of society, linking people who had no other bond but Christ. The Roman Christians and the Philippian Christians were brothers and sisters because of their unity in Christ. Believers today are also linked to others across cultural, economic, and social barriers. Because all believers are brothers and sisters in Christ, let us live like God’s true family.
all believers are our brothers & sisters:
…no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – – Philemon 16
What a difference Onesimus’ status as a Christian made in his relationship to Philemon. He was no longer merely a slave, but he was also a brother. That meant that both Onesimus and Philemon were members of God’s family – – equals in Christ. A Christian’s status as a member of God’s family transcends all other distinctions among believers. Do you look down on any fellow Christians? Remember, they are your equals before Christ (Galatians 3:28). How you treat your brothers and sisters in Christ’s family reflects your true Christian commitment.
need companionship of other believers:
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – – Hebrew 10:25
To neglect Christian meetings is to give up the encouragement and help of other Christians. We gather together to share our faith and to strengthen one another in the Lord. As we get closer to the “Day” when Christ will return, we will face many spiritual struggles, and even times of persecution. Anti-Christian forces will grow in strength. Difficulties should never be excuses for missing church services. Rather, as difficulties arise, we should make an even greater effort to be faithful in attendance.
We have significant privileges associated with our new life in Christ: (1) we have personal access to God through Christ and can draw near to him without an elaborate system (10:22); (2) we may grow in faith, overcome doubts and questions, and deepen our relationship with God (10:23); (3) we may enjoy encouragement from one another (10:24); (4) we may worship together (10:25).
What is the priesthood of believers?
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – – 1 Peter 2:9
Christians sometimes speak of “the priesthood of all believers”. In Old Testament times, people did not approach God directly. A priest acted as intermediary between God and sinful human beings. With Christ’s victory on the cross, that pattern changed. Now we can come directly into God’s presence without fear (Hebrews 4:16), and we are given the responsibility of bringing others to him also (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). When we are united with Christ as members of his body, we join in his priestly work of reconciling God and man.
People often base their self-concept on their accomplishments. But our relationship with Christ is far more important than our jobs, successes, wealth, or knowledge. We have been chosen by God as his very own, and we have been called to represent him to others. Remember that your value comes from being one of God’s children, not from what you can achieve. You have worth because of what God does, not because of what you do.
elements that should characterise them:
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. – – 1 Peter 3:8
Peter lists five key elements that should characterise any group of believers: (1) harmony – – pursuing the same goals; (2) sympathy – – being responsive to others’ needs; (3) love – – seeing and treating each other as brothers and sisters; (4) compassion – – being affectionately sensitive and caring; and (5) humility – – being willing to encourage one another and rejoice in each other’s successes. These five qualities go a long way towards helping believers serve God effectively.
Peter developed the qualities of compassion and humility the hard way. In his early days with Christ, these attitudes did not come naturally to his impulsive, strong-willed personality (see Mark 8:31-33; John 13:6-9 for examples of Peter’s blustering). But the Holy Spirit changed Peter, moulding his strong personality to God’s use, and teaching him tenderness and humility.
how God seals them in the end times:
Then I heard the number of those who were sealed; 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
from the tribe of Asher 12,00,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12, 00,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000. – – Revelation 7:4-8
The number 144,000 is 12 x 12 x 1,000, symbolising completeness – – all God’s followers will be brought safely to him; not one will be overlooked or forgotten. God seals these believers either by withdrawing them from the earth (this is called Rapture) or by giving them special strength and courage to make it through this time of great persecution. Even though many believers have to undergo persecution, the seal does not necessarily guarantee protection from physical harm – – many will die (see 6:11) – – but God will protect them from spiritual harm. No matter what happens, they will be brought to their reward of eternal life. Their destiny is secure. These believers will not fall away from God even though they may undergo intense persecution.
This is not saying that 144,000 individuals must be sealed before the persecution comes, but that when persecution begins, the faithful will have already been sealed (marked by God) and they will remain true to him until the end.
This is a different list from the usual listing of the 12 tribes in the Old Testament, because it is a symbolic list of God’s true followers. (1) Judah is mentioned first because Judah is the tribe of both David and Jesus the Messiah (Genesis 49:8-12; Matthew 1:1). (2) Levi had no tribal allotment because of the Levites’ work for God in the temple /(Deuteronomy 18:1), but here the tribe is given a place as a reward for faithfulness. (3) Dan is not mentioned because it was known for rebellion and idolatry, traits unacceptable for God’s followers (Genesis 19:17). (4) The two tribes representing Joseph (usually called Ephraim and Manasseh, after Joseph’s sons) are here called Joseph and Manasseh because of Ephraim’s rebellion. See Genesis 49 for the story of the beginning of these 12 tribes.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.