Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective

Malankara World Journal
Penta Centum Souvenir Edition
Volume 8 No. 500 October 14, 2018


Chapter - 9: Bible

10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep (conveniently) forgetting by Dr. Joe McKeever

No one can command his own emotions - fear, anger, love, hate, etc - to the point of being able to turn them on or off at will. ...

Revelation: Its Central Theme Illuminated by Charles S. Meek

The central theme of Revelation is the coming judgment against Old Covenant Israel in AD 70, and the establishment of the New Covenant in full..

Who Is Poor in the New Testament? by Jerome H. Neyrey

Who was poor in New Testament times? Was "poor" an economic or social term or both? What part of the population would be considered "poor"? How did people become "poor"? ...

How Important is The Bible? by Mary Southerland

If we really want to know God, if we really want to understand who we are, the Bible must have the highest place of importance in our lives.  ...

10 Steps to Interpreting Scripture by Jennifer Slattery

With so many different interpretations, and many presented by brilliant scholars, how can we ever know which is correct? ...

10 of the Best Things Jesus Ever Said (from Matthew) by Joe

These are my nominations for ten of the best things our Lord said as recorded in Matthew's Gospel. Each one is a nugget of pure gold, deserving to be valued and loved, memorized and obey, preached and taught as often as possible. ...

Chapter - 9: Bible

10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep (conveniently) forgetting

by Dr. Joe McKeever

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not the things I tell you" (Luke 6:46).

"If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).

I apologize for the title. There are wonderful churches filled with faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who are getting these things right; I don't mean to imply otherwise. But that does not negate the fact that untold thousands of churches still exist primarily for themselves, have no vision outside their doors and no compassion for anyone knocking on those doors.

If none of this fits you or your congregation, give thanks. If it does, you are hereby assigned to take the lead in reversing matters.

1) We keep forgetting the second commandment is a command.

We want our religion to be private, just "me and the Lord."

Jesus refuses to play that game. He said, "And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). This is a command, not an option, an opinion, a wish, a Facebook "like," or a good idea. To love one's neighbor strongly is a key component of the kind of witness Jesus envisioned His people extending to the world.

So, why don't we obey it? We have found it inconvenient, difficult, and demanding. When we love people - truly care for them to the point that they know it - they might need us and that would interfere with our schedule. It's much easier to love the lovely, to care for the appreciative, and to reach out to those who need little or nothing.

2) We keep forgetting two things about His command to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, visit the sick, etc., in Matthew 25.

First, we forget that this is a command and is not optional, something the Lord hopes we might find time to do along life's way while attending to more important matters. Jesus honestly expects His people to do this. I'm happy to report many churches are taking this seriously, and are involving their people in strong ministries to the down and out, the voiceless, the forgotten.

Secondly, when we do these things "unto the least of these my brethren," He takes it personally. We are to do good to everyone, but brothers and sisters in Christ have dibs on our assistance. Paul said, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).

A side note: Nowhere - underscore that - nowhere! does the Bible tell the church to take care of all the poor of the world. It gets tiresome hearing people say that the government would not have to get involved in welfare if the church did its duty. (It's almost ludicrous to imagine Jesus telling the handful of disciples in Jerusalem they were to go into all the world and meet the physical needs of the billions. He did not do this. Let us give thanks.)

3) We forget that loving people and loving the Lord is all about action, not emotion.

When our Lord told us to "love your enemies" in Luke 6:27ff, He immediately explained that what He's calling for is action: do good, bless, pray, give, etc. Throughout the Upper Room discourse (John 13-16), Jesus emphasized that whoever loves Him keeps His commands. Words are important, of course, and emotions can be, too. But nothing packs more punch than actions, the works we do. The Lord said, "Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like one who builds his house on a rock" (Matthew 7:24).

No one can command his own emotions - fear, anger, love, hate, etc - to the point of being able to turn them on or off at will. So, if love is merely a feeling, in calling on us to love anyone (God, neighbor, family, disciples, enemies) the Lord is asking for what cannot be given. Fortunately, what He is calling for is far more manageable and doable. We can give, pray, bless and/or help others. To do so - regardless how we feel about it! - is to do a loving thing.

4) We keep forgetting the Lord told us to expect to be treated badly.

"An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God" (John 16:2).

God's people keep expecting to be loved and appreciated by those to whom we minister and often end up getting blind-sided by their hostility. We wonder, "Why are they treating us this way? All I was doing was helping and blessing." "Where is God? What's wrong?"

Answer: Nothing is wrong.You are right on schedule.

We have forgotten Matthew 10:16-22 and similar passages where Jesus warned we would be hated "by all for (His) name's sake."

I run into disillusioned ministers who were badly treated by churches, and are angry at the Lord who called them into this work but seems to have no place for them to serve. Some no longer go to church. You wonder if these people don't read their Bibles. Don't they see that Scripture warns us to expect trouble from inside the church as well as outside? (Acts 20:28ff for one.)

5) We keep forgetting He told us to love our enemies.

This point follows on the heels of the previous ones for good reason. They treat us badly and how are we to react? We are to love them, not nurse our anger, bear grudges or protect our resentment as though we now possess a get-out-of-jail-free card entitling us to despise them.

Anyone who spends even a few minutes on Facebook reading the posts of professing Christians will come away horrified at the hostility some of the Lord's people express toward other religions, worldly pleasure-lovers, and wayward politicians.

6. We no long remember we are commissioned to throw parties for the undeserving and undesirable.

"When you give a reception (banquet), invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed,since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:13-14).

These people have our Lord's heart. They are special to Him. "He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord," Scripture says in Proverbs. The closer we are to Jesus, the more such ones will matter to us, too. (If you haven't read Tony Campolo's "The Kingdom of God is a Party," then get it and dive in. Tony has a way of hitting us between the eyes with the 2 x 4 of God's love.)

7. We conveniently forget that "Jesus saves."

We know He forgives and we love to sing about it. What we have pushed to the back burner however is the fact that He came to save sinners (see Matthew 1:21 and Luke 2:11 for starters) and that is to be our business too.

We who devote ourselves to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and so forth, sometimes think we have fulfilled our assignment. Not even close. We fail people when we give them bread but keep silent about the Savior who can meet their true needs, fill their deepest hungers, and heal their greatest hurts.

8. We forget that with Jesus, change is the norm.

Luke 5:36-39 presents new wineskins as the Lord's pattern for His disciples: strong, flexible, faithful, growing, etc.

We do love our status quo. Physicists call it "inertia," the tendency of a body to go on doing whatever it's doing at the moment, moving or remaining stationary. However, the Lord does not play this game with us. He is forever calling us out of our comfort zones, away from our customary methods, into new ways of seeing and doing and achieving. No one unwilling to constantly be changing and adapting can follow Jesus Christ for long.

9. We keep forgetting that the object is not to keep rules.

The object is obedience to the Lord, not slavishly keeping the rules. Many of the Lord's well-intentioned children miss the fine line between those two.

"The letter of the law kills, the Spirit gives life (II Cor 3:6)." Anyone who requires a demonstration of that proof needs only to drop in on a legalistic church and hang around a few weeks. They will be heartbroken over the way rule-keepers "omit the weightier matters" in order to "tithe mint and dill and cummin" (Matthew 23:23).

Recently, while I was preaching in a church located near a sizeable Amish community, the pastor had stories about the interesting ways of these neighbors. One man had disinherited his adult sons for buying a car. Yet, that same man would hire a car and driver to transport him to Nashville where he would board planes to take him all over the world.

To the legalists who were twisting God's laws into shackles for their neighbors, our Lord said, "Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27).

I say without fear of contradiction that every church in the land has members (and often leaders) who need constant reminders of this.

10. We keep forgetting to read all the Word and not take a verse or two out of context.

"Here a verse, there a verse." I stand before you today to confess that I'm as guilty as anyone I know. We do love our verses, don't we? They fit so conveniently on bumper stickers and in our tweets.

How many people know and love Jeremiah 29:11 ("I know the plans I have for you….") and claim it as their own but have no clue what's going on in that chapter and to whom it was given.

Here's another: In Luke 9:3, Jesus said to the disciples, "Take nothing for your journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece." Clear enough, right? Wrong.

Not long ago, a distinguished Christian columnist quoted Luke 9:3 as the basis of God expecting poverty from Christian workers. However, the Lord reversed that command in Luke 22:35-36.

It's an easy mistake to make unless you are a diligent student of the Word.

All of which proves once again that His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8).

We do like our religion easy and palatable, comfortable and undemanding with instant rewards and no room for outsiders unless they quickly become like us.

The Lord bless you and give you great joy in serving Him and blessing others in the name of Jesus.

I leave you (and this subject) with one of the most powerful and overlooked scriptures on this subject: Jeremiah 22:16.

"'Did not your father (that would be Josiah) eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?' declares the Lord."

Revelation: Its Central Theme Illuminated

by Charles S. Meek

The book of Revelation is surprisingly easy to understand. While the book's symbolism may leave certain details debatable, the overarching themes are quite clear. Yet, Christians often misunderstand Bible prophecy for at least four reasons:

(1) they fail to see how Revelation ties to the rest of Scripture,
(2) they are largely unfamiliar with the Old Testament,
(3) they are ignorant of Hebraic apocalyptic language, and
(4) they are heavily influenced by unbiblical assumptions.

In this article, I will briefly give some important highlights. For more details on eschatology, the reader is invited to see related articles at my website linked at the bottom.


The evidence is strong that the book was written in the mid-60's AD, prior to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Here are some import clues, among many others:

It was written during the tribulation (Revelation 1:9), which Jesus time-restricted to his own generation (Matthew 24:9, 21, 29, 34).
It was written while the temple was still standing (Revelation 11:1).
It was written during the reign of Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome (Revelation 17:10 "now is") who ruled from AD 54 to AD 68.

There is no mention in the book of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 as a past event. Further, ancient sources suggest that John (the author) was killed, about the same time that Paul and Peter were martyred, during the era of intense Christian persecution from AD 64 to 68. (Over 130 theologians have been identified as holding to this early dating of Revelation.)


Revelation contains over 30 passages that demand its imminent, i.e. soon, fulfillment. We see such statements as "must shortly take place," "soon," "near," and "about to happen" (Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6-20; etc.). There are over 70 other imminence statements in the rest of the New Testament that confirm the time-line for fulfillment of most, if not all, prophecy.

While many Christians read thousands of years later into these words, this does violence to the text. Words mean something and God repeatedly used understandable words of imminent fulfillment that can be clearly understood - as long as your mind is not cluttered with futurist presuppositions. God does not deceive. It is illegitimate to pour unbiblical or non-dictionary meanings into plain words.

While Revelation is a timeless book with universal application (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 13:7; 14:6), the fulfillment of prophecy was AT HAND when the Bible was being penned (Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28; 24:29-34; 26:64; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; 10:37; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 4:7, 17; 1 John 2:17-18; etc.).


Scholars agree that the major theme of Revelation is the defeat of "Babylon," but disagree on what Babylon represents. Babylon was an historic enemy of God's people, and it is used symbolically in Revelation to represent Old Covenant Israel/Jerusalem who had become unfaithful. This is the theme of chapters 16-19. Jesus' wrath, promised in Revelation, would come against "the great city Babylon" (Revelation 18:21-24) which is clearly identified as the "city where the Lord was slain" (Revelation 11:8-9). This unambiguously confirms that the Great Judgment was against Jerusalem. There is an abundance of additional proof:

Babylon is described as a harlot (Revelation 17:1, 15; 19:2). Throughout the Bible, when Israel was unfaithful, she is characterized as a harlot or adulterer (Deuteronomy 31:16-18; Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6-9; Ezekiel 6:8-9; 16:15, 26, 28; Hosea 1:2; 9:1). The harlot is adorned in purple and scarlet (Revelation 17:4), which are the colors of the ritual dress of the high priest and the colors that adorn the temple (Exodus 28:5-6; 39:1-2).

In Revelation, we find a reiteration of the biblical theme of God's final wrath upon unfaithful Israel. This theme began all the way back in Deuteronomy 27-32 where we see a discussion about God's covenant with Israel (29:1), which could be sustained only IF the Israelites were obedient. The passage in Deuteronomy intimates that at some time in the future - at the "end" (32:20), further described as the "latter days" (32:29) - Israel would break their side of the covenant (31:16) and be destroyed (28:20, 24, 33, 45, 48, 61, 64; 32:23, 26). This fits perfectly with what happened in AD 70 - when the ancient custom of temple sacrifices for sin ended forever and the priesthood was dissolved.

This same theme is portrayed by other Old Testament prophets. For example, Daniel 12 prophesied that the "time of the end" (Daniel 12:6) would happen when the "power of the holy people comes to an end" (Daniel 12:7), and when "the regular burnt offering is taken away" (Daniel 12:11) - which would be the time of the "abomination of desolation" (Daniel 12:11). Jesus confirmed Daniel's time line in the Olivet Discourse (Abomination of Desolation, Matthew 24:15), which would close out the END OF THE AGE (Matthew 24:3, 13) while some of those living in the first century were still alive (Matthew 24:34) - all coincident with the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:2). This was clearly the culminating end of the Old Covenant Age, which was just in front of the biblical writers (Hebrews 8:13). It was never to be the "end of time," as many Christians think, but rather the "time of the end" - the end of the Old Covenant Age, which ended in finality in AD 70.

In Matthew 23:29-39, Jesus told the Jews of his day that THEY were the target of his wrath. The blood of all the prophets EVER IN HISTORY would befall THEM, fulfilling the prophecy from Deuteronomy 32:43 and echoed by the other Old Testament prophets! This is an astounding prophecy which we cannot legitimately assign to any other group of people. Revelation has several DIRECT REFERENCES to Matthew 23 - Revelation 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2.

It is irrefutably clear that the wrath upon Jerusalem in Matthew 23 (and elsewhere) would be fulfilled in Jesus' generation per Matthew 23:36. The Great Judgment of which the Bible frequently speaks was directed squarely at the generation of Jews living in the first century. While each person is judged when he dies per Hebrews 9:27 and other passages, the overwhelming number of judgment passages in the New Testament are about AD 70.

Jesus tied the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy to his own generation multiple other times. For example, the time of VENGEANCE from Deuteronomy 32:35, 41, 43 (cf. Isaiah 63:4) was the first-century generation. Jesus said, "THESE are the days of VENGEANCE to fulfill all that is written" (Luke 21:22, 32). Jesus also echoed the Deuteronomy prophecy about a "perverse generation" (Deuteronomy 32:20), and told the Jews of his day that THEY were that generation (Matthew 12:38, 39, 42; 16:4; 17:17; Luke 11:29-32).

Revelation, we should note, is part of the Bible. It does not introduce totally new concepts from the rest of Scripture; rather, it elaborates on them. John's gospel, interestingly, does not contain the Olivet Discourse as do the other three gospels (Matthew 24/25, Mark 13, Luke 21). So, Revelation can easily be understood to be John's expanded version of Jesus' Olivet sermon. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus' emphatically prophesied that his own generation would not pass away until all was fulfilled (Matthew 24:29-34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). There is no mistaking its meaning of "this generation," by the way, as this expression is used eight times outside of the Olivet Discourse and always clearly means the generation of people living in the first century (Matthew 11:16; 12:38-45; Mark 8:12; 8:38-9:1; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32, 49-51; 17:25).

Thus, Revelation and the Olivet Discourse are thematically the same - the vengeance against Old Covenant Israel. So, why would Jesus have been so upset with the Jews of the first century? Well,

(1) they were indeed evil (Luke 11:29),
(2) they fulfilled all Old Testament prophecy (Luke 21:22), and
(3) they refused to accept Him as Savior (Matthew 21:33-46; 22:1-14; 23:37).

The destruction of the temple, and along with it the end of Jewish temple rituals, is theologically very important. No longer could anyone legitimately think they were saved through the temple sacrificial system. Jesus became the new temple (Revelation 21:22) and the sole source of our salvation.

In summary, the central theme of Revelation is the coming judgment against Old Covenant Israel in AD 70, and the establishment of the New Covenant in full. It is the same judgment - and predicted change of the covenants - spoken of throughout the Old and New Testaments (Deuteronomy 32:5; Jeremiah 31:31; Matthew 21:43; 22:7-8; Hebrews 8:13; etc.).

Source: Prophecy Questions Blog

Who Is Poor in the New Testament?

by Jerome H. Neyrey
University of Notre Dame

We often hear references to "the poor" in the New Testament. To understand these, we need to ask several key questions. Who was poor in New Testament times? Was "poor" an economic or social term or both? What part of the population would be considered "poor"? How did people become "poor"?

Who is Poor?

The Greek language has two terms for "poor": penes and ptochos. Penes refers to a person who does manual labor, and so is contrasted with plousios, a member of the landed class who does not work. At stake is the social status or honor rating of a "worker."

The penetes were all those people who needed to work in shops or in the fields and consequently without the leisure characteristic of the rich gentry, who were free to give their time to politics, education and war. This too represents an elite perspective which implies that the "leisured" class were of another species than the masses of "working" people.

A ptochos, however, refers to a person reduced to begging, that is, someone who is destitute of all resources, especially farm and family. One gives alms to a ptochos. A penes, who has little wealth yet has "sufficiency," is not called "poor" in the same sense of the term.

One historian says of the ptochos: "The ptochos was someone who had lost many or all of his family and social ties. He often was a wanderer, therefore a foreigner for others, unable to tax for any length of time the resources of a group to which he could contribute very little or nothing at all." Thus the "begging poor" person is bereft of all social support as well as all means of support.

At the tope of the social stratification of ancient society were monarch and/or aristocratic families (1-2%). Moving down the ladder, we find a retainer class: tax gatherers, police, scribes, priests, etc. (5-7%). The bulk of the population (i.e., 75%) consists of merchants, very few of whom were well off; artisans, almost all of whom lacked worldly goods; and farmers and fishermen, some of whom owned more and some less land. Finally below these are the untouchablers (i.e., 15%) who are beggars, cripples, prostitutes, criminals, who lived in the hedges outside the cities.


The rise of cities and empires in antiquity took place because peasants were able to produce an agricultural surplus. Of course, they never kept it, for in the pecking order there were always stronger and cleverer folk who took it away from them, either by plunder or by taxes. The following kind of taxes were common lin the Greco-Roman period: 1) head tax, 2) land tax, 3) requisitions (i.e., billeting soldiers, surrendering food and animals for military use, impressed labor), 4) tolls on all produce and manufactured good brought to market, and 5) tithes.

Let's look at Jonah the fisherman and his sons Peter and Andrew. They paid a fee to fish in the lake, not anywhere, but in a specific area; they paid a tax to the toll collectors just to take their catch to market; when the fish was sold, that too was taxed. On top of all of this, the tax collector came annually to collect the other taxes listed above. Even if they caught a boatload of fish (Luke 5:6-7), after tolls and taxes there could not be much left. The taxation system might take 30-40% from peasant farmers and artisans.

When taxes were so high, life for peasants was at best "subsistence," that is, they had only several months of food stored. The wolf was always at the door. And there was no unemployment insurance, no social security, no disability and no medicare. The state took the surplus from the peasants and gave them nothing in return.

Roman taxation of Palestine became so oppressive that it created a flood of debtors who finally lost their lands because they could not pay their taxes; here we find a major source of those who becoming "begging poor." About the crushing burden of Israelite taxation in the time of Tiberius Caesar we read: "The provinces of Syria and Judea, exhausted by their burdens, were pressing for a diminution of the tribute" (Tacitus, Annales 2.42). Both Romans and Jerusalem aristocrats began a process of creating large estates by the annexation of small plots, a task made easy by the hyper-taxation of the peasants. Elites, as absentee landlords, lived in the city; peasants worked the land. This ought to give us a better purchase on certain motifs in the gospels. For example, how often in the gospel parables an absent landlord appears (Matt 21:33-41; 24:45-47; 25:14-30; Luke 16:1-8). Recall, also, how frequently "debt" is talked about: 1) "Forgive us our debts" in the Our Father (Matt 6:12), 2) the parable of the two debtors (Matt 18:23-35), 3) the frequent mention of "debt" in the gospels (e.g., Luke 7:41). Failure to pay taxes, moreover, results in loss of land, as noted above, as well as slavery and/or torture (Matt 18:25).,

What This Looks Like in the Gospels

Let us briefly tour some of the major passages in the gospels where "poor" are in view, the causes of their poorness and its alleviation.

Poor. Jesus' response to the imprisoned Baptizer indicates both his power and generosity to the least in the land, to the blind, the lame, the lepers and the dead, whom we consider "begging poor." And so the last item in the Jesus' list ("the poor have the good news preached to them," Matt 11:5/Luke 7:22), also belongs to this category of "begging poor." "The ‘poor' you have always with you" (Matt 26:11/Mark 14:7; John 12:8) refers likewise to the "begging poor."

Blind Bartimaeus begging on the road (Mark 10:46-52), Lazarus begging at the gate of the house of the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), and the crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-10) exemplify the degradation of the begging poor forced out of cities and towns and consigned to roads and gates to beg for alms. In several parables we learn that the elite wealthy refuse the king's supper, which is then feasted upon by the very opposite in the social scale, the unclean outcasts, the "begging poor": "Go out to the alleys and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame. . .Go outside the city to the highways and hedges" (Luke 14:21-23). Furthermore, anyone with a family who might carry them to Jesus is not "begging poor." People without any social or material resources such as the disguised in Matt 25:36-45 are "begging poor."

Made Poor for the Sake of Jesus

The original four Beatitudes included mention only of the "poor," the hungry/thirsty, mourning, and those cast out. If we start with the last of these, the final and longest of the four, we discover the chief reason why these disciples (". . .for my sake") are "poor," hungry/thirst, and mourning. The last and climactic Beatitude call honorable those disciples of Jesus whom their families disown and excommunicate for their loyalty to Rabbi Jesus. When a family banns and disowns its offspring, the children immediately drop from "working poor"to "begging poor."

Similarly, we hear about a banished couple who are told to "look at the birds of the air. . .look at the lilies of the field" (Matt 6:25-33). Males worked in the fields to grow grain, which they harvested and gathered into storage areas; but this male, who has no land, looks at the birds whom God feeds. His wife, one of whose tasks was clothing production, has no sheep, no wool, no flax, and no loom to make clothing. But when she looks at the lilies she sees that God clothes them. Once this couple was "working poor," but for the sake of the gospel they became "begging poor" (no economic or social resources).

Begging Poor and Almsgiving

Simply put, beggars beg for alms (Acts 3:;2-3; Luke 16:19-21). Almsgiving was a sacred obligation in Israel: ". . .who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering" (Sirach 35:2), a form of worship after the temple was destroyed. In this context we note how often people are exhorted to give alms (Matt 6:2-4; Luke 11:41; 12:22); some people are canonized for their almsgiving (Acts10:2-4). The inner circle of disciples around Jesus regularly gave alms to the begging poor (John 13:28-29).

Yet in one of the most celebrated of Jesus' parables, he implies that alms means for than money. When the king separates the sheep from the goats, he praises one group and condemns the other according to the criteria of their almsgiving to the begging poor: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me" (Matt 25:35-36). Nothing could be clearer, except how foolish it would have been to lavish the goods of a subsistence family on non-kin. The old saying, "Charity begins at home," certainly applied in Jesus' world where one's kinship group was the sum total of all social support available. Hence, those who bestowed such alms on the "begging poor" were thought of as prodigal and wasteful of rare family assets. In contrast those who did not give such alms to the begging poor were considered wise, prudent and clever. But not in God's eyes, for God turns the foolishness of this world into wisdom and worldly wisdom into foolishness. The bottom line, then, endorses the radical care of the "begging poor.":

What Return Shall We God?

It is a truism in the biblical world that some sense of balanced reciprocity governed the giving of all alms, all patronage, and all benefaction. Give and get! But "Give and do not get" is folly. Why give alms to the "begging poor"? What good will it bring me? Indirectly, the New Testament addresses this. Luke especially has a clear teaching on how those who have resources should "make friends with their money." That is, they should invite to their table those who cannot repay them (14:12-14); they are to act as patrons, but without accepting the debts that naturally accrued to those who played the patron. Balance and return is normal in patronage: the centurion build the Judeans a synagogue, and when his slave falls ill, he calls in the debt. On his behalf the synagogue elders approach Jesus for help, arguing that since the centurion was generous to them, they in turn seek to help him.

Ideally, then, the scales get balanced all around: everybody gives and gets. But this is not the gospel view of patronage. For example, Zaccheus serves as an excellent example of a patron: as a chief tax collector he grew wealthy by taking from others as much as he could; now as a disciple, he give half of his possessions to the (begging) poor (Luke 19:8). All he gets in return is the praise of Jesus.

What Do We Know If We Know This?

First, remember to shift cultural gears when reading about "poor" in the Bible! "Poor" was much more than an economic calculation, because the most valuable thing one possessed at that time was family, who alone provided food, clothing, shelter, loyalty and support. To lose family means immediate descent into the ranks of the "begging poor." "Working poor" were yards higher on the social pyramid than the "begging poor." Relative to their own strata, the "working poor" enjoyed some honor and thus respect; not to the "begging poor."

The political world served as a vacuum cleaner which sucked up by means of taxes as much surplus as a peasant produced and more. I was impossible, then, to "better oneself." With heavy taxation came crushing debt and eventual loss of land and assets. People who experienced such became the source of the ever-replenishing ranks of the "begging poor." At best, such "begging poor" would struggle to find their "daily bread." With only few exceptions, the disciples of Jesus and Paul were all "working poor." The occasional person of means was prevailed upon to open up his house for group assembly, but nothing indicates that he ever fed anyone. Being "poor" was never a virtue or value; one's choice to follow Jesus might imply a choice to leave all, family included, and to lose one's life for the kingdom. Yet this was always balanced with a calculus that the "begging poor" status which results would be resolved by the prospect of a Heavenly Father who promises a new family with heavenly resources to the tune of a hundredfold.


Hamel, Gildas, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, First Three Centuries C.E (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990)

Malina, Bruce J.,"Wealth and Poverty in the New Testament and Its World," Interpretation 41 (1987): 354-67

Neyrey, Jerome H. , "Loss of Wealth, Loss of Family and Loss of Honour. The Cultural Context of the Original Makarisms in Q," Modelling Early Christianity. Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context, ed. Phillip F. Esler (London: Routledge, 1995) 139-58.

"Who Is Poor in the New Testament?," Scripture from Scratch. October 2002.

"Attitudes to the Poor in New Testament Times," Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., University of Notre Dame, 2002.

How Important is The Bible?

by Mary Southerland

Today's Truth

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT).

Friend to Friend

If we really want to know God, if we really want to understand who we are, the Bible must have the highest place of importance in our lives. We don't have to be Bible scholars to apply God's truth. As we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will help us understand the spiritual truth that uncovers God's plan and purpose for our lives. He will then give us the power we need to live out that plan and purpose.

A disciple is a follower, a learner, or a student. If we want to be disciples of God, we have to understand the importance of the Bible and saturate our lives with it. I thought I was doing a fair job of plugging God's Word into my life until I rammed right into Psalm 119 where I discovered a test that helped determine the importance I was really placing on God's Word. Take this test with me to see if God's Word has the place in your life that it should have.

Is God's Word more important than food?

Psalm 119:103 "Your promises are sweet to me, sweeter than honey in my mouth." The Bible is our spiritual food. God's Word sustains and strengthens us just as food sustains and strengthens our physical body. Just as malnutrition affects our physical growth, spiritual malnutrition affects our spiritual growth. We rarely miss a meal. We always find a way to eat. Do we have the same commitment to our spiritual growth as we do to satisfying the hunger pains of our human body?

Is God's Word more important than money?

Psalm 119:72 "Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Spiritual wealth is more important than human wealth. Do we really live that way? I have a friend who is totally committed to God and to serving Him whole-heartedly. My friend is a garbage collector - a happy garbage collector. I once asked him why he was so happy in his work. "Mary, I collect garbage to pay the bills, but my real passion in life is to share Jesus and to serve Him with joy." He has the right backdrop for life, and it is not wealth or money.

Is God's Word more important to you than sleep?

Psalm 119:147-148 "I wake up early in the morning and cry out. I hope in your word. I stay awake all night so I can think about your promises." I know. Now God is getting personal! When we start talking about giving up sleep to read and study the Word of God, we are talking radical obedience. Exactly! If we want to experience God's power in our lives, we have to make a radical commitment to learning and apply Scripture.

How did you do? I will tell you honestly that I failed this test! I have walked with God for many years and I still do not have the hunger and thirst for God's Word that I should have. God is saying, "If you want to get to know me - really know me – if you want to be intimate with Me, then you have to know my Book!"

We live in Kansas City where Kansas Power makes a tremendous amount of electricity available to us. With that power, we can light our homes and stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We can enjoy electrically powered appliances that turn, spin, wash, dry and clean. What difference electricity makes in our lives … when we flip the switch. But until we use and appropriate the power of available electricity, it is worthless to us. The same is true of God's Word.

Let's Pray

Father, please give me a hunger and thirst for your Word. I want to please You with my life through obedience to your truths. I choose to spend time with You each day this week, studying the Bible. Would You please honor my commitment and empower me to keep it? When I fail, Lord, I choose now to forgive myself as You forgive me - and begin again.
In Jesus' name,

Now it's Your Turn

Set aside one hour this week to re-evaluate your plan for reading and studying the Bible.

Set new goals for daily Bible study. Make the goals realistic for your current lifestyle. Next week, add 15 minutes to your study time each day.

Ask God to empower this new commitment.

Choose a specific time and place for your Bible study.

Remember to record new truths and insights in a journal. At the end of the week, go back over your journal entries to see what changes God has made in your life. Praise Him for the power of His Word, and when you fail, do not allow the enemy to discourage you or persuade you to give up. Simply begin again.

Source: Girlfriends in God

10 Steps to Interpreting Scripture

by Jennifer Slattery

Does reading your Bible intimidate you? With so many different interpretations, and many presented by brilliant scholars, how can we ever know which is correct? Or do we each get to decide truth based on what feels right?

If so … won’t the text simply mirror our pre-conceived thoughts? That’s not faith—at least, not in God. That’s making ourselves and our faulty and often deceived wisdom the criteria for truth.

Most of us are far too aware of our limited knowledge—our lack of omniscience—to do that. But that leaves us with an important question: How can we be certain what we’re reading is what God intended? If only there was some way to correctly discern Scripture!

Good news! There is. Though all human interpretation will always hold some degree of error, there are ways we can minimize this. The following ten basic Bible study application tools can help.

1. Discern a verse or passage's meaning based on context.

We’ve all likely had someone overhear a portion of our conversation and arrive at false conclusions. We also know how often public officials and personalities are misquoted. But perhaps the most comical example occurred when, while daydreaming in high school, the teacher called on us and we gave such an outlandish response, the classroom launched into laughter.

If you’ve taken literature classes, you understand how context can change the meaning of a particular word, sentence, or phrase. The same holds true for Scripture. For example, you may have heard someone use Luke 6:37, which says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” to counter a particular teaching regarding a behavior. But when we read Jesus’ words in context, we realize He’s not saying don’t address sin, but instead to make sure we’ve taken a hard look at ourselves first. We’re to evaluate the plank in our own eye—that sin, attitude, motive, and misconception—that’s distorting our vision. Only when we’re certain we’re able to “see clearly” should we attempt to address the speck in our friend’s eye.

The jest of His message in Luke 6, then, seems to be that we should not be so focused on everyone else’s wrongdoing that we become oblivious to our own; rather, we should evaluate ourselves first. Then, if God calls us to lovingly admonish someone, there’s a greater chance God truly is the one leading—rather than our pride or “offense.”

2. Evaluate a verse or passage based on the overall messages and truths of Scripture.

The Bible is unique in that it contains sixty-six individual books of seven different genres, and yet they all tell one cohesive redemptive story. We see Jesus—our need for Him, the promise of His coming, His life, or power—threaded through every narrative, gospel, and epistle. The Old Testament reveals our need for a Savior and tells us Jesus is coming. The New Testament reveals God’s redemptive power unleashed once He came. And throughout each page, God reveals His heart, character, plans, and promises.

And just as one understands individual words in relation to their sentences and paragraphs, each verse and passage of the Bible points to or falls within Scripture’s overall message. When discerning a particular verse or narrative, then, we can ask ourselves a few basic questions:

What does this passage reveal about the human condition?

What does it show about God—His nature, His heart, and His plans?

How does this passage indicate mankind should relate to Him and/or one another?

How does this passage point to Jesus?

3. Watch for repeated words and phrases.

My respect and awe for Scripture increased tenfold once I became a novelist. As I write, a phrase an old editor used to say repeats through my mind: “Make every word fight to be there”. His point—don’t waste page space on anything unnecessary. Good writers select those verbs, anecdotes, and details that reveal their point or deepen the narrative. Repetition is avoided—unless it’s necessary.

When words are repeated, in any literature (Scripture included), there’s a reason. Consider each repetition—first within a particular sentence, then a passage, and then a book—a call to pause for further evaluation.

Take 1 John 1:5-7 for example:

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

In this short passage, John, the author, repeats light three times and darkness twice. If we were to continue reading, we’d see John expand on his contrast between light and dark and a life of obedience versus one of sin.

4. Research historical context surrounding the passage and the original audience.

Consider Romans, a doctrinally rich book that reveals God’s holiness, man’s depravity apart from Him, and the redemption we have in Christ. Through Paul’s writings to the ancient Romans, we receive a clear presentation of the gospel. Considering this, one might assume Paul wrote to evangelize a group of nonbelievers.

But Paul was writing to fellow Christians. These Roman believers didn’t need to learn how to receive Christ; they needed to understand how to rest in Him. The Jewish believers who were holding tight to circumcision needed to realize the Old Testament law hadn’t and couldn’t save them. They came to Christ the same way their Gentile brothers and sisters did—through faith. And the Gentile believers, who were being pressured into following the law, needed reassurance and the reminder that their salvation wasn’t dependent upon anything they had or hadn’t done but instead on what Christ had done for them.

Understanding the historical context adds depth and beauty to this ancient letter, reminding us of the saving, transforming, and preserving power of grace.

5. Research the background and ministry of the biblical writer.

Consider Genesis, known as the book of beginnings. Written by Moses, a Hebrew prince turned shepherd turned liberator, we see a historical narrative revealing Creator God to a people who likely had no concept of Him. They’d spent their lives enslaved in a foreign land whose people worshiped everything from the sun and earth to beetles!

So Moses began at the beginning. Through the creation account, he revealed Elohim, the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign beginning of all things. We see this holy God beckoning mankind to Himself, as He did through Moses, inviting His people to godly living. When humans fail to live up to His standard, God remained faithful and true. Nothing, not even man’s sin and rebellion, can thwart His plans.

6. Read verses and passages in different translations.

Some words and phrases make zero sense when translated exactly. Imagine having the following conversation with someone from another language. She asks you how you’ve been, and you reply, “Hanging in there.” Translated exactly, she may envision you swinging from a tree branch.

Every language has its own idioms, hyperboles, and euphemisms that, when expressed in a different tongue, can result in confusion. Bible scholars must decide, then, when to translate word-for-word versus conveying the general thought. Some translations, like the ESV, focus more on a word-for-word translation; others, like the CEV translate thought-for-thought; and still others, like the CSB, attempt to merge both. Because of this, it’s helpful to read the same verse or passage in numerous translations. This often provides a more thorough understanding of the word’s definition.

7. Look up the original Greek or Hebrew words and what they mean in what context.

Language is constantly evolving, and thus definitions change over time. One word, like “screen”, can mean numerous things based on how it’s spoken. This is true for Hebrew as well, and although scholars do their best to find the English equivalent, the depth of some meanings are lost in translation.

Consider 1 Timothy 2:1, for example. In the NIV, we read, “I urge you, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—” A simple reading clearly reveals what Paul is saying here. And that’s the beauty of Scripture. It’s written so all, regardless of reading level, can receive God’s message. But consider how your appreciation for Paul’s exhortation might increase were you to investigate the meaning behind the Greek word, pakaleó.

Translated as “urge”, this word means to beseech or entreat and has the connotation of someone walking closely beside another as an advocate or helper. In the Greek army, paired soldiers called Paracletes stood back-to-back so that no one could come at them from behind. It’s as if Paul is saying to Timothy, the pastor facing persecution outside of his church and division and false teaching within, “I urge you to do this. I know this won’t always be easy—” like when he prayed for his persecutors, perhaps? “—But I’m standing with you!”

8. Read commentaries.

When I get stuck on a passage and feel uncertain as to what God might be trying to say, I like to read the thoughts of others smarter and more educated than myself. Numerous Bible sites host commentaries written by brilliant theologians such as John Calvin, John Wesley, and other greats, allowing readers to evaluate different viewpoints on a particular verse or topic. If we find our interpretation differs from everyone else’s, there’s a good chance we’re wrong.

Many times, these commentators will list other related passages as well, showing how a particular verse or doctrine fits into Scripture as a whole. Some will even present interesting historical facts. For example, during the time of Esther, the queen (think Vashti) was “secluded from the public gaze” (Jamieson Fausset Brown).

9. Pay attention to conjunctions.

The Bible is such a large book, one that can be understood as a whole but is most often read and understood in sections. I rarely read all of Matthew or Romans in one sitting; therefore, it’s easy to miss the connections individual verses or chapters have to one another. Whenever we see words such as for, since, or because, we know the writer is connecting his point to something stated previously.

For example, Romans chapter 12 begins with, “Therefore, I urge you … to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice …” Had we read Romans 1-11, we’d understand Paul meant because of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and the redemption He provided through His death and resurrection, we are to offer ourselves back to Him. This doesn’t change the meaning of Romans 12:1, but it does add weight to Paul’s statement and likely our desire to obey it.

10. Read other related passages.

Using Romans as another example, when we read through it, we find a rich history of God’s redemptive message woven throughout the Old Testament. Paul discusses everything from creation, the law, the symbolism revealed through the story of Abraham, and more. He also quotes or references numerous other passages, like Isaiah 52:5, Psalm 51:4, and Genesis 25:23. By taking time to read these different narratives and verses referenced, which can often be found in your Bible’s footnotes, you’ll gain a broader and deeper understanding of the text and topic.

Scripture is a living yet timeless, life-changing book preserved through numerous generations by a God who is constantly revealing Himself and His will to the people He dearly loves. Whenever we approach His Word with an open and expectant heart, whether we evaluate each word or simply ponder the meaning of a passage, we’ll encounter Him. And that’s when life change—freedom, healing, and growth—occurs.

About The Author:

Jennifer Slattery is a writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of six contemporary novels and maintains a devotional blog. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. ...

Copyright © 2018, All rights reserved

10 of the Best Things Jesus Ever Said (from Matthew)

by Joe

(I actually started this article thinking I could sift all the Lord's wonderful statements down to the Top 10. Now, I see how naive that was! I couldn't even get through Matthew's Gospel with ten, much less the other three gospels. Therefore, here are 10 of the best from Matthew, presented in order of their occurrence.)

1. "You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-14).

In these two brief statements, the Lord forever set the pattern for believers: we are to be different from the world and change agents in it. We are against the world in order to be for it. Without salt, putrefication sets in; without light, darkness.

You are severely needed in your part of the world, Christ-follower. But only if you are willing to be salt and light: different, consistent, influential, cooperative with others of like values and identity, and sometimes a little lonely.

2. "When you pray, do not keep babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:7-8).

Christ-followers are to be people of prayer, but not like much of the rest of the religious world that sees prayer as so much manipulation of God, efforts to curry favor with God, to build up brownie points with God. Your Lord does not measure prayers' value by volume or weight. He looks at the heart and intent, at the faith and the love. Nothing you tell Him, however, will be news to Him. He knows before you ask what you need and is already arranging the delivery system.

3. "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him" (Matthew 7:11). (Variation: "…give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" Luke 11:13.)

The enemy slanders the Lord by attacking His good will: "He's holding out on you, does not want what's best for you, resents your growing and becoming like Him." He said as much to Eve in the Garden. One of the primary purposes for which Jesus came to earth was to correct the Father's reputation.

As wicked as you are, Jesus told the crowd, you at least know how to do good things for your children. Well, give the Father credit for being at least as loving as you are. Trust Him to do the right and loving thing.

4. "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me" (Matthew 10:40).

The disciples fanning out to tell the world the good news of the Kingdom of God would be depending on hospitality from people of good will. As things turned out, some people were willing to hear them and open their homes, while others grew hostile and even killed those bringing Christ's message. "How they treat you, they are treating me," Jesus told His team.

Not long ago, I told the church where I was preaching that the family that had hosted me had, in a sense, welcomed Jesus into their home that week. Dwell on that one a while.

5. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your herbs, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches" (Matthew 13:31-32).

Whenever the Lord gets ready to do something great, He prefers to start small. For reasons all His own, God loves to use the overlooked, the neglected, the undervalued, the very young, the very old, the weak and the untalented. "Who has despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:10) "It matters little to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many" (I Samuel 14:6).

Anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple; but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.

6. "Therefore, every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" (Matthew 13:52).

One who knows His Bible and then gets saved has a lifetime of discovery in store. Every time he re-enters his treasure–the Word he has learned to love–he finds the old insights and teachings he has long known and believed. But each time, he finds new treasures he had overlooked in previous visits to that blessed storeroom.

This is what keeps God's people returning to the Word every day for all their lives. There are so much spiritual gold yet to be found and mined and experienced there. Only the people of faith and diligence will unearth them and enjoy their delights.

7. "I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18).

The Church belongs to Jesus. He alone builds it. Furthermore, except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.

And where His people acknowledge Him as the Head of the Church–its Owner, Protector, Decision-maker–He guarantees that it will overcome. On the other hand, whenever humans usurp the control of the church and run it their way, He promises nothing and they are guaranteed defeat and shame.

8. "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).

In the truest sense Jesus Christ indwells every believer, and "Christ in you" (Colossians 1:27) is the genius of this life. However, just as solidly scriptural is an extension of that fact: Wherever several believers get together in the Name of Jesus, He is present in a greater sense than previously. That's what keeps believers meeting together for fellowship, prayer, worship, and study. Jesus is more there than when each is alone. We don't have to understand it to believe it.

9. "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son" (Matthew 22:1).

The Lord valued this metaphor so much that He used variations of it on several occasions to make strategic points about spiritual realities. In doing so, He made it far more than a parable (which, by definition, has one meaning), turning it into an allegory (with various teachings). God the Father is the King; Jesus is the Son; the church is the bride, the banquet is Heaven, and so forth.

10. "God is not the God of dead people but of the living" (Matthew 22:32).

The Lord resented a little religious sect telling Him what was in the Bible and what wasn't, what God had planned and what He did not. "Have you not read your Bibles?" he asked. They smarted at that. Their "Bible" was the Pentateuch, we're told, the first five books of the Old Testament. If a teaching was not there, they would not believe it. And surely, they insisted, there is nothing in those books to indicate heaven and hell and the afterlife. Jesus said, "Have you not read where God says He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Well, He's not the God of dead people, but of the living."

It turns out that the Old Testament brims with insights about the afterlife. We think of Job 14:14 and chapter 19; of Psalm 17:15 and 23:6; and many others.

11. "I tell you the truth. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). (And conversely, "did not do for them, you did not do for me" Matthew 25:45).

In these few words, the Lord elevated service to other people, but particularly from a believer to other believers, to its highest. To feed the hungry is to feed Jesus. To clothe them is to clothe Him. There is a general sense in which this principle holds for everyone to whom we minister, but in a specific and deeper sense, it pertains to believers caring for and seeing to the needs of fellow believers.

Many a writer has taken pen in hand to illustrate how that in ministering to the homeless or the hungry or the humble, people have fed and clothed Jesus Christ.

12. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…." (Matthew 28:18-19).

There is the Great Commission given to all Christ-followers. Our generation, at least in America, needs repeated reminders we were not sent to get people to pray the sinners' prayer, not to get them to join the church only, not to become like us, and not even to "like" Jesus. We are sent to make disciples of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a life-long follower who dedicates himself to learning the ways of the Master and obeying Him. We fear a great segment in our churches have never become disciples of the Savior but merely walked the church aisle, prayed a prayer, and were baptized, coming away with a false assurance that their eternal destiny was secured thereby. We preachers and teachers will have a great deal to account for, I fear.

These are my nominations for ten of the best things our Lord said as recorded in Matthew's Gospel. Each one is a nugget of pure gold, deserving to be valued and loved, memorized and obey, preached and taught as often as possible.


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