I want to share my recent experiences with you in this blog. I am neither a doctor, medical practitioner, dietician or nutritionist. I am writing about my experience and what I learned from it. This is my journey, and I hope it encourages you and helps you on yours.

COVID Kilos

I know I’m not alone in this, but at the start of the first lockdown in 2020, I started eating quite unhealthily. While I still went for a brisk walk each day, I enjoyed way too much chocolate and other snacks most evenings, which went on for the two years of lockdowns. The result? I found myself the heaviest I’ve ever been and tipped the scales at 96 kg.

I’m tall and could carry the extra weight without anyone noticing, but I noticed. My shirts and trousers seemed to shrink every time they were washed, and some no longer fit. I needed to choose: either I bought new clothes or lost weight. I decided on the latter.

A Shock

The decision to cut the COVID kilos was spurred on by a visit to my doctor for a regular check-up, including blood tests. The results alarmed me because they came back indicating that I was pre-diabetic and needed to go on medication to correct it. I asked my GP if there was anything else I should do. He poked me in the belly and said, “Losing some of this would be a good start.” I’ve known him for a few decades, so his response did not surprise me.

It was the incentive I needed, along with the increasingly tight clothing, to do something to correct the two years of less-than-healthy eating and subsequent weight gain.

My Response

From that day, I started eating healthily and exercising. My exercise schedule included (and still includes) three gym sessions per week, Pilates once a week, and brisk walking every day. That, combined with eating high-fibre fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and good fats, led to a steady decline in my weight over the next year or two. I’ve avoided starches and processed “foods” as well as sugar, chocolate, and high-carb, sugary drinks.

I am very focused when I set my mind to something, a quality that has served me well throughout my life. So, I maintained my healthy discipline throughout 2022 and 23. The result was a total weight loss of 17 kilos. I still had to buy some new clothes, but now it was because my old ones were too loose!

I returned to my doctor for blood tests. The results showed that I was no longer pre-diabetic, and I came off the medication. I am NOT suggesting that weight loss can prevent or heal all medical conditions, but it has worked for me.

God’s Help

I don’t want to underestimate the encouragement I received from God and the scriptures in my weight loss journey. Losing weight is hard, and keeping it off is equally as tricky. But God is always present to help us. And that’s a key: constantly relying on the strength of the Holy Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit includes forbearance and self-control. Forbearance means patience and restraint, and self-control is self-evident. We need these qualities with whatever we set our minds to achieve. So many other scriptures are helpful, and I’ve included a list at the end of this blog.

What Else?

If you want to lose a few kilos, there are a few other things that I’d encourage you to consider. Firstly, talk to your doctor and ask for their guidance. You may be on medication that makes weight loss difficult or have conditions that need to be monitored. Ask their advice about foods to avoid and discover what works for you.

Secondly, be realistic about your body type and work with what you’ve got. The media constantly bombards us with “beautiful” bodies. Social media is the worst. I especially feel for young people who are confronted with unachievable body images, often from photoshopped pictures. A few people are genetically blessed, but most don’t fall into that category. You can’t change your genetics, but you can make the best of what you have.

Lifestyle Choice

Achieving a healthy weight is a lifestyle choice. Understand that certain foods are not appropriate for you and find alternatives. Be aware of instant gratification. Ask yourself, is the short-term enjoyment of this (fill in the blank) more significant than the long-term enjoyment of the benefits of sustaining a healthy weight—of feeling better about myself, being healthier, and being more comfortable in my clothes?

Healthy eating and exercise are lifestyle choices that help you avoid fad diets and the trap of losing weight only to gain it again. They also allow you to embrace a health-giving future. People live longer than ever, but our extra time sometimes reduces our quality of life. Rather than lifespan, we should make healthspan our focus. Why would we want to live longer if the last decade or two of our lives were spent in doctors’ surgeries and specialists’ waiting rooms?

Patience

The weight loss journey is long. Patience is critical, especially when your weight plateaus, which can last weeks or months. Stay cheerful, optimistic, and focused on the benefits during these times.

I’ve also found planning to be incredibly valuable. Making a meal plan, preparing food in advance, and cooking extra so there are lunches for the next day(s) are all good tips. And don’t get addicted to the scales. If you use them, make sure they are good ones and have an accountability buddy if you need one.

By doing all this, I lost excess weight and feel great and full of energy. I am now maintaining weight by embracing a healthy lifestyle, exercising daily, and eating well. I hope my story encourages you to do the same.

Scriptures to Help You

Proverbs 16:3, Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Psalm 145:15-16, The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

Psalm 63:5, I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Lamentations 2:22-23, The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Isaiah 40:31, Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.

Romans 12:1, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Matthew 4:4, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Isaiah 26:3, You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.

Psalm 32:8, I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.

1 Corinthians 10:31, So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Hebrews 12:11, No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained by it.

Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

1 Timothy 4:8, For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Corinthians 9:24, Do you not know that all the runners run in a race, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

 

The last few years have been a momentous time around the world. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, worldwide floods and fires, plus wars in Ukraine, Gaza, and other places. International tensions are at their highest for some time. Add to that the dire economic challenges many people face because of high inflation, and you might be tempted to think that this is the most challenging time to be alive.

My purpose in this blog is NOT to minimise the genuine hardships and suffering being experienced by many people today. But it may be helpful for our sense of perspective to revisit a time in history that is often described as the worst time to be alive.

When it Wasn’t

When you read “the worst time to be alive,” what comes to mind? Maybe it was the 1300s when the Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic, wiped out half of Europe’s population. Or was it 1918 when one of history’s bloodiest conflicts ended, only for a global pandemic to begin? The Spanish flu killed more than 50 million people, primarily young adults.

Was it a few decades later when the world was once again plunged into a global war? 1943 was the worst year of World War Two, witnessing some of the largest and bloodiest battles as well as the climax of the Nazi’s genocide of the Jews. At the same time, around 3 million people in the Bengal province (modern-day Bangladesh) died due to famine and disease.

When it Was

But, as bad as they were, none of those were the worst times to be alive. The very worst time in recorded human history was the year 536. That year, a shadowy fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months.

Sixth-century historian Procopius wrote, “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year.” Summer temperatures dropped by over two degrees, ushering in the coldest decade in the past 2000 years. China experienced summer snow, crops failed, and people starved. One Irish text from the period describes “a failure of bread” that year. Local conflicts raged under such stressed conditions.

It was the worst time to be alive, with some conditions very similar to those we’re experiencing today because of climate change—drought, less rain in some places, and flash flooding in others.

Just When you Thought …

I’m sure you’ll agree that all that sounds like an awful time. But it got worse. Five years later, in 541, the bubonic plague struck the Roman port city of Pelusium on Egypt’s Nile Delta. Known as the Justinian Plague, it quickly spread and killed up to 50% of the population of the Eastern Roman Empire. These cataclysmic events plunged Europe into economic stagnation for a century.

I find this fascinating and strangely comforting. It’s easy for us to look around the world today and despair. But people in the past have faced far worse than we do today. The human race is incredibly resilient.

What Caused it?

The cause of the dark clouds in the Dark Ages has, until recently, been a mystery. According to the Science.org website, “an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier…has fingered a culprit—a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536.” Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547, plunging much of the world into a Volcanic Winter.

When a volcano erupts, it emits sulphur, bismuth metal dust, and other substances high into the atmosphere, forming an aerosol veil that reflects the sun’s light into space, cooling the planet.

The discovery is intriguing and current because, as I write this blog, Iceland’s volcanos are once again threatening to erupt. Yesterday’s news from the Icelandic Met Office warned that an eruption could start with very little warning time. The hazard level was raised to indicate an impending eruption.

Our Response

I am not suggesting that any imminent eruption may be as destructive as the one in 536. But what if it was? What if the world was plunged into semi-darkness for a year or two? How would we respond and cope with this?

Would some of our Christian friends dive into bizarre conspiracies as they did during the recent pandemic? Would futuristic interpretations of Revelation zoom around the internet? Or would Christians follow Jesus and humbly seek to serve those most impacted by the disaster? I hope it’s the latter.

The last few years have shown us that modern people are not exempt from natural or human-made disasters. We must prepare for future catastrophes and pandemics that may affect this planet. Today’s world is not somehow exempt from these things. Please choose now to act in a way that reflects our faith in the one who came to serve and give his life to others.

The apostle Peter encourages us to “stand firm in the faith because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

If you’ve been around Australian churches for any time, you will have heard about the 17th-century prophecy concerning the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit. We sang about it with gusto in the Nineties until we realised the lyrics offended some of our indigenous friends. So, what is this prophecy and has it been interpreted correctly by today’s church?

Expedition

It all began a little over 400 years ago (1605) when a Portuguese explorer, Pedro Ferdinand de Quirós, secured sponsorship from Pope Clement VIII and King Philip III of Spain to seek out the southern continent – Terra Australis Incognito (Unknown South Land).

According to historian Gunter Schneider, “It was felt that an undiscovered southern continent had to exist because the known land masses of the southern hemisphere were not sufficient to balance those of the northern half of the globe.” We are amused by this assessment today, but it was considered factual then.

De Quirós, a Catholic Jew, set sail from Peru to discover and create a holy settlement called The New Jerusalem so that the indigenous people “may have knowledge of the Gospel and be brought into Spiritual obedience.” Where and what he found has caused much debate.

Declaration

In May 1606, de Quirós proclaimed: “Be witness the heavens and the earth, and the sea and all its inhabitants, and those who are present, that I, the Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quirós, in these parts which up to the present time have been unknown … [W]ith authority from the Supreme Roman Pontiff, Clement VIII, and by order of the King, Don Philip III, King of Spain … I take possession of all the … lands that I have newly discovered … and all this region of the south as far as the Pole, which from this time shall be called Austrialia del Espiritu Santo.” And no, I didn’t misspell Australia.

De Quirós named the land in honour of Philip III of Spain of the House of Hapsburgs, who ruled Spain then and was known as the House of Austria. The name did not come from Terra Australis Incognita. He likely named it such to ingratiate himself with the king in the hope of receiving money for future expeditions. Austrialia del Espiritu Santo translates as the Austrian Land of the Holy Spirit.

But de Quirós hadn’t discovered the southern continent, only the largest island in what is today known as Vanuatu.

Motivation

Australian historian Manning Clark described de Quirós as “one of the flowers of the Catholic reformation, part of that movement of religious idealism and of missionary fervour which strengthened the church after the disasters of Luther and Calvin.” The Catholic Reformation was a counter-movement seeking to gain ground the Roman Church had lost to the Protestants.

De Quirós, with the backing of Pope Clement VIII, sought to bring the salvation offered by the Catholic Church to the pagans and convert them to Catholicism. He named a stream running into the island’s bay the river Jordan and declared the New Jerusalem would be built amid the coral reefs! His religious fervour caused great unrest amongst his crew.

The colony was soon abandoned due to the understandable hostility of the Ni-Vanuatu people, and on 8 June 1606, de Quirós set sail to return to Peru. He had travelled more than 38,000 kilometres, never to raise another expedition, and died in 1614 thinking he had stood on the land mass of the southern continent.

Fiction

Much of what we’ve heard about Australia as the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit is a myth. While I don’t doubt de Quirós’ missionary zeal, he wasn’t a seer and didn’t make any prophetic declarations about our nation. The apostle Paul encourages us to “have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” We would do well to heed his advice.

We would also do well to remember that God’s Kingdom isn’t a geographical location. Jesus taught the very opposite. When the Pharisees asked him when the kingdom would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’ For you see, the kingdom of God is [within] you.” Consider those words in light of those that preach the Great Southland “prophecy.” They say revival will come to Australia because of a declaration of the Catholic missionary. Jesus told us not to say, ‘Look here or there.’ God’s kingdom is not a geographical location; it lies within the hearts and lives of all people who consent to God’s rule.

God’s kingdom attracts people “from every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages.” No ethnic group has a geographical advantage! God does not favour one nation over another. “For God so loved the world stands at the very heart of the gospel.

Colonisation

The world is outraged today when one country invades, annexes, or occupies another, and rightly so. And yet, this is what Christians and churches celebrate when they buy into the so-called Great Southland prophecy.

De Quirós declaration spoke of hitherto unknown parts that he possessed in the name of Jesus, St Francis and John of God, and all the professed members of their Orders. He also added “in the name of King Philip III” because he was paying the bills.

It must be remembered that people already owned and occupied these lands. It appears that little consideration was given to a statement made by Paul in Acts speaking of the human race, “[God] marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Colonisation ignored this truth and stole land from indigenous peoples. It was (and is) the ultimate affirmation of white supremacy.

While I acknowledge that our forebears did this, it does not absolve us of all responsibility. We must recognise past injustices, apologise, and work in unity with Indigenous people to find a shared future where everyone is respected.

Conclusion

Pedro Fernandez de Quirós was not a Prophet Over Australia. His declaration was a politically and institutionally driven grab for land already occupied. None of what he “prophesied” came to pass, much like many of today’s so-called prophecies. In recent times, modern “prophets” have proclaimed that Trump would regain the presidency (in 2020) and that COVID-19 would be over by Passover 2020. They were wrong on all counts and are a blight on a genuine and precious spiritual gift that is intended to strengthen, encourage and comfort God’s people.

The Scriptures encourage us to test prophecy, but so many of God’s people gullibly soak all this stuff up and confuse emotional hype for the presence of God.

It seems we contemporary Christians are addicted to the spectacular. Something exciting has always got to be “about to happen.” The ‘revival carrot’ is dangled in front of people to keep them engaged. This year’s vision (or conference) has got to be bigger and better than last year’s. “What’s next?” we ask instead of simply getting on with what God has already placed in our hands.

Compare this to the Scriptures’ teaching on simply committing ourselves to following and living like Jesus. Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life a long obedience in the same direction. Let’s get on with living authentically with Jesus and each other and stop buying into godless myths and old wives’ tales.

We read about the Twelve Apostles[1] in all four gospels. While John doesn’t mention the selection and calling of these men, he does refer to The Twelve several times. The Twelve[2] became the designated title for Jesus’ closest friends.

Choosing Twelve

Mark tells us that Jesus went up to a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.

How would those left out have felt? Jesus recognised something we all need to learn: not everyone can be close to us. Jesus had hundreds of followers but only twelve apostles. And even amongst the Twelve, Jesus had three close friends – Peter, James and John – and John was his closest friend.

Luke mentions Jesus made these decisions after spending the night praying to God. It’s always wise to spend time in prayer before making important decisions.

The Unlikely

Jesus’ choice of twelve was a symbolic gesture. Initially, the people of Israel consisted of twelve tribes.

Four of the guys, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, along with James and John, were fishermen. They would have been often ceremonially unclean because of their work, making them unlikely spiritual leaders. Add to that James and John’s fiery temper. Jesus called them Boanerges, the Aramaic term meaning “sons of thunder.”

Christianity.com describes James and John as “rough-hewn guys—amazing, colourful characters. They would not back away from a confrontation. In fact, they might even have looked forward to one. They could be very aggressive. And they also could be very insensitive.” On one occasion, Jesus was speaking about his impending death. The brothers asked, “Can we sit on either side of you in your kingdom?” Imagine you tell people you have one week to live, and they ask if they can have your car.

On another occasion, the brothers wanted to destroy an entire Samaritan town with fire. These guys were volatile young adults, but Jesus saw something in them that was worth choosing.

The Obscure

Philip was from Bethsaida, the same city Andrew and Peter were from. Philip was shy and introverted.

Nathanael was cynical. John writes that Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael asked, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” I understand Nathanael’s response because Nazareth was a small rural town of 500 – 1000 people, and Jesus was a common name, as it still is in Latin countries. It would be the same as me telling you that I’d found the Messiah, and his name is Bob from Mt. Isa. Jesus responded to Nathanael by declaring he had a clean spirit.

Two other disciples are obscure: James and Judas. These guys should not be confused with John’s brother, James, or Judas Iscariot. James is the son of Alphaeus and is identified in church tradition as James the Younger or James the Less. His brother is Matthew, the tax collector. Judas is also called Jude and Thaddaeus. He is the author of the little letter, Jude, tucked in before Revelation.

The Surprising

The final four apostles are unexpected inclusions in the Twelve for various reasons. Thomas is known for his pessimistic nature and reminds me of Eeyore, the gloomy donkey from Winnie the Pooh. For example, when the disciples learned about Lazarus’ death, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Tax Collectors were despised amongst the Jewish population as Roman collaborators, so it was extraordinary that Jesus would welcome Matthew, knowing well that his inclusion would rattle the nerves of the other disciples and the population he was trying to reach.

Even more astounding was Simon the Zealot. Zealots were a Jewish sect noted for their uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party who despised even Jews who sought peace with the Roman authorities. Extremists among the Zealots turned to terrorism and assassination and became known as Sicarii (“dagger men”).

Finally, Judas Iscariot. His last name indicates his hometown, a “man of Kerioth” in the Judean hill country. Judas was Jesus’ treasurer, a thief, and a traitor. I find it surprising that Jesus chose such a person, knowing he would be a betrayer.

The Lessons

We can learn some valuable lessons from Jesus’ choice of the Twelve. Firstly, God calls imperfect people.[3] The Bible is honest and tells human stories, warts and all. Many people in scripture wouldn’t be allowed in our churches! Have you ever thought God couldn’t use you? Think again!

Secondly, God calls different people. One of the most significant difficulties we all face is relational challenges, and Jesus selected The Twelve, fully aware of their various personalities and the resulting clashes. In my years of pastoring, I’ve seen many people leave the church because they fell out with a fellow believer. They naively go to another church only to experience the same thing. Most of the New Testament epistles address interpersonal conflict. Why do we think a church community would be any different today?

Finally, God empowers people with his Spirit. In scripture, we see the twelve ragtag apostles entirely revolutionised by the power of the Holy Spirit. They were transformed from Jesus-denying, fearful, deserting followers into brave believers speaking boldly in the face of persecution, performing miracles and leading a church of thousands. As followers of Jesus, we must rely on the Holy Spirit and allow him to transform us.

The End

What happened to The Twelve? All but two of them became martyrs for their faith – Judas committed suicide, and John died of old age:

  • James, the brother of John, was beheaded with a sword by King Herod
  • Thomas preached in India and was slain with an arrow.
  • Simon the Zealot and Judas, son of James, were crucified.
  • Nathanael was beaten, crucified, and then beheaded.
  • Andrew, Peter’s brother, was crucified.
  • Matthew was run through with a spear.
  • Philip was crucified and then stoned to death.
  • Peter was crucified upside down.
  • James, the son of Alphaeus, was stoned by the Jews.

 

[1] Greek: apostelló means “to send on a defined mission by a superior.”

[2] From Romans onwards, other people, including women, are designated apostles.

[3] For some entertaining insight into the Twelve Apostles, read this amusing article.

There’s a fascinating verse in Romans chapter 12 that, at first glance, looks like permission to inflict pain on the people we don’t like: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 is about showing kindness to those who don’t like us (or we don’t like, or both). The apostle quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

It appears to read: be nice to your enemies and cause them pain! So, what’s the deal with the burning coals? How should we understand what the Bible is teaching us here? I have found three explanations:

Remorse

In the ancient world, people would carry a tray of burning coals on their heads as a sign of repentance. The scriptures speak of people expressing sorrow by wearing sackcloth and ashes. Consider Mordecai, who, upon learning of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews, tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Jesus reprimanded two cities, Chorazin and Bethsaida, for their hard-heartedness towards his ministry: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Bethsaida was the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Imagine hearing Jesus’ words of rebuke about your birthplace.

So, the explanation is that showing kindness to your enemy may open the door for them to repent and change how they behave towards you. And that certainly can happen.

Judgment

The second understanding of the burning coals symbolises a life of nonviolence and allowing God’s judgement to operate. The context certainly supports that understanding. The previous verse says: Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. In other words, be kind to your enemy and allow God to judge them.

In this interpretation, the burning coals symbolise God’s judgment.

Kindness

In the third explanation, the burning coals are a sign of kindness, not judgment, and I agree. Paul encourages people to act kindly to their enemies.

In ancient times, people would cook their meals over a fire, as in many parts of the world today. If the fire went cold, the woman of the household would put an earthen jar on her head, walk to their neighbour’s house, and ask for hot coals.

Imagine your enemy coming to your door and asking for hot coals from the fire. Our natural inclination would be to refuse them. And that’s Paul’s point for followers of Jesus. Live in such a way that does better than expressing your typical feelings. If your enemy is in need and you have the opportunity to be kind, then be kind. If their fire’s gone out, give them hot coals to carry home on their head.

Jesus’ Teaching

In Romans 12, Paul reiterates Jesus’ teaching from his sermon on the Mount:

  • Give to the one who asks you.
  • Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Pray for those who persecute you.
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Paul agrees:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • If possible, as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

The last statement is significant because sometimes, living at peace with someone is impossible. You should not feel duty-bound in such circumstances.

Jesus’ way is never passive or idle. Jesus was an activist, not a passivist. But the activism he supported was showing practical kindness to others, even our enemies.

We could summarise Paul’s teaching here by this statement: The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn them into a friend.

It must have been a slow news day, or maybe the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, wanted to be the first to grab the New Year headlines. In early January, Woolworths announced it would no longer sell Australia Day-themed merchandise. It seems that revelation was too much for some of my culture-warrior friends, who started to protest at the attack on Australia’s national day.

Woke Woolies

Rather than an attack on Australia Day, Woolworths’ decision was because of “a gradual decline in demand” for Australia Day merchandise from their stores over recent years. It was a business decision rather than a protest. Peter Dutton admitted he won’t be wearing Australia Day thongs. For the record, I won’t be sporting them either. (For my American readers, thongs in Australia are flip flops, not skimpy undergarments).

Mr Dutton accused the anti-Australia Day brigade of shaming families into not celebrating the holiday. Those of us who would like to observe our national day on another date are a bunch of “woke whingers and s**t stirrers.” That’s not very nice, Mr Dutton.

It’s worth noting that the word “woke” has its origins amongst America’s black population in the 1930s and 40s. It was slang that encouraged black people to be vigilant to physical danger. Later, it was adopted by white people who wanted to stand with their black brothers and sisters in their fight for justice. Sadly, the word was then co-opted by right-leaning people and used as an insult.

Australia Day

Is Australia Day under attack by Woolworths, and we woke whingers? A glance at history provides the answer.

The first historical records of celebrations on 26 January happened in 1808, twenty years after the first fleet arrived from Great Britain. The first official national day, called Australia Day, was on 30 July 1915. Did you follow that? Australia Day was first celebrated in July and not January.

The first Australia Day was a day to raise funds for the World War I effort. In the decades following, different states held celebrations on various dates: 1 or 28 December, 1 June, or 28 or 30 July.

From 1935, all states and territories celebrated on the same date, although various names were still used (Foundation Day, Anniversary Day, or Proclamation Day). Australia Day officially became a public holiday for all states and territories in 1994 when Peter Dutton was 24.

Protesting the Date

First Nation peoples have been protesting white settlement for almost a hundred years. The first official’ Day of Mourning’ was held by the Australian Natives Association on 26 January 1938, marking the 150th Anniversary of white settlement.

British pastoralists established Wave Hill Station on the Gurindji lands in the 1880s. Mounted police assisted in settling the lands by killing any Indigenous people who dared to resist the invasion of their homes. Indigenous people were unpaid, had deplorable working conditions, were beaten or killed for defying the landowners, and the women were often used as sex slaves. The isolation of the Station allowed this treatment to continue for 80 years.

Then, on 23 August 1966, Wave Hill workers and their families, led by Gurindji spokesman Vincent Lingiari, walked off the Station and began their protest. The protest lasted nine years when Vincent toured Australia to lobby politicians and galvanise support. The victory was achieved in 1975!

The protest is immortalised by the song, From Little Things, Big Things Grow,” by Australian Paul Kelly.

Treaty

In 1835, a treaty was made between John Batman and the Aboriginal people. There was an exchange of goods and blankets for 250,000 Ha of land. However, this Treaty was never recognised by the authorities, and so Australia remains the only Commonwealth national government that has yet to sign a treaty with its Indigenous people.

Tasmanian Aboriginal writer and activist Michael Mansell said, “A treaty would break the 200-year-old cycle of governments not negotiating with the Aboriginal people…It would say, ‘we’re no longer just going to do things to them, but that they’re included and empowered.”

A Treaty would provide a framework for negotiations on indigenous issues such as welfare, employment, education, health and land ownership.

The Future

In 2017, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders gathered at the National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky to make a statement from the heart. It’s a stunning and gracious declaration we heard much about last year in the failed First Nations Voice referendum. The failure of that referendum is not the end of Indigenous recognition, truth-telling, and Treaty.

26 January is an annual event that rubs salt in the wounds of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. To many of them, it is a commemoration of a profound loss. What harm would it do to celebrate Australia Day on another date as it was in times past so that everyone could celebrate this wonderful country together? It’s not about being a woke whinger, but instead, it would be a tremendous act that expresses the Golden Rule and the Royal Law found in Scripture that encapsulates the nature of Jesus and the call of Christians.

Last year, I wrote a blog addressing some of the mistakes I’ve made and traps I’ve fallen into in my years of pastoring. The blog was written in response to the scandals at Hillsong Church, and the documentary The Kingdom screened on SBS.

Two pitfalls I succumbed to as a younger pastor were the frenetic pace of the contemporary church and unholy expectations. I have tackled these two irritants in my life and our church, and we are all happier and much more relaxed.

The Relentless Pursuit of More

The contemporary church has bought into a secular myth that constantly desires more. I’ve already seen it on social media at the beginning of this new year: “So much more in ’24” was the clichéd rhyming statement posted by a pastor who took most of last year off because he was burned out.

We do ourselves and the people we lead a disservice if we are constantly dangling a carrot of grander visions and dreams and striving for more because it ultimately leads to disappointment. It also buys into the original temptation in Eden. The first humans had everything. The snake came along and whispered, “There’s more. You’re missing out. What you have is not enough.” Adam and Eve embraced it, and we’re still paying the price.

A Better Way

I’m not saying that churches (or businesses) shouldn’t seek growth, but we need to be on our guard for the relentless pursuit of more. Not all growth is healthy. Cancer is growth, and we deal with it harshly.

There’s a better way which says, “What I have is more than enough!” It’s called contentment. Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” I invite you to reflect on these Scriptures: Philippians 4:11-13, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Tim 6:6-10.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647 speaks of humanity’s primary goal as glorifying God and enjoying him forever. At the start of this new year, I encourage you to ponder questions like when is enough enough? And, what gives me the greatest contentment in life?

Set the Bar Lower

Practising contentment helps avoid disappointment. Another way is to have low expectations. There’s a message you won’t hear in most of today’s overactive churches, yet that’s a strong message in scripture. Consider the chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, in which the author writes about extraordinary men and women of faith who all died without receiving the things promised (13). Let that sink in.

Then, the author focuses on people called “the others.” These faith-filled people experienced great suffering that didn’t end until they passed from this life to the next—the world was not worthy of them. These were all commended for their faith, yet none received what had been promised.

They were still living by faith when they died.

They were all commended for their faith.

They hadn’t received the things promised.

They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

They were full of faith and vision but were realistic in their expectations. When we’re unrealistic, we get disappointed, so why not lower the bar?

I know many wonderful faith-filled people who suffer in life and, short of a miracle, will continue to suffer till death. Such people should not be made to feel like second-class Christians because they haven’t received an answer to prayer.

A Happy Life

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice,” psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote, “The secret to happiness is low expectations.” Lowering your expectations increases both your resilience and your happiness almost every time.

  • You’ll be frustrated when you have high expectations, and the outcome is worse.
  • You’ll be grateful when you have low expectations, and the result is better.

Jim Stockdale was an American Vice Admiral captured and imprisoned during the Vietnam War. He was held and tortured for seven years in what became known as the Hanoi Hilton. Stockdale said the first people to die in captivity were the optimists, who kept thinking things would get better quickly and they’d be released. He said, “They died of a broken heart.” Instead, Stockdale argued, the key to survival was to combine realism and hope. Stockdale wrote, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Confront the facts, but always keep hope. Set Low Expectations. Practice contentment. And you’ll avoid disappointment.

The Christmas story usually goes like this: Joseph and Mary arrive at the sleepy town of Bethlehem in the middle of the night. Mary is already in labour and sits on a donkey while Joseph desperately tries to find a room in one of the local inns, but he’s unsuccessful. Anxiously, he begs one reluctant innkeeper for any place where Mary could give birth to her baby. The innkeeper finally relents and makes room for them in a stable.

We get this story from a translation of one verse in Luke’s gospel: She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

But this is different from how the birth of Jesus happened, so let me set the record straight.

What Really Happened?

Firstly, Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem well before Mary gave birth. The Bible says, While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” So, they were already in Bethlehem. They didn’t arrive the night before.

Secondly, Joseph and Mary were both from the Royal line of King David. Joseph was from Bethlehem and would be well known in the town. His extended family would open their homes – especially to a woman about to give birth to a baby.

So, what does the Bible mean when it says, “because there was no room for them in the inn”?

Wrongly Translated

The word rendered “Inn” in Luke’s gospel is elsewhere in the New Testament, translated as “guest room.” (Gk. Kataluma. Cf. Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). There was no space for Joseph and Mary in the guest room because someone else was staying there.

Typical village homes in first-century Israel would have a couple of rooms. One was the family room, where the household would live, cook, and eat during the day and sleep at night. Next to it was a guest room.

At the end of the family room, steps led down to the stable. The mangers (feeding troughs) were positioned at the end of the family room so the animals could feed when they were hungry. There was no solid wall between the family room and the stable.

The New International Version gets the translation right: “And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them.” And so, Mary gave birth to Jesus in the family room of a private house with one of the mangers making the perfect cradle for the newborn king. And then came the visitors.

The Visitors

The Shepherds were the first to hear about the Messiah. Shepherds were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in Israel. They were poor, unclean peasants and were asked to visit Jesus. But they would have been afraid. How would those on the lowest rung of society be received? “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for everyone. Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” just like a normal baby in a regular house.

Jesus came for the poor, the lowly and the rejected – but he also arrived for the wealthy and wise. The subsequent guests (probably a year or so later) were the wise men from the East, students of the planets and stars. The wise men were possibly wealthy gentiles from Arabia – the only place where the trees grew from which Frankincense and Myrrh were harvested. Gold was also mined in Arabia, and only the rich would own it.

A Fascinating Story

In the 1920s, a British scholar, E.F.F. Bishop, visited a Bedouin tribe in Jordan. The Muslim tribe was called al Koka Bani – meaning “Those who study or follow the planets.” Bishop asked the tribal elders why they called themselves by that name. They told him it was because their ancestors followed the planets and had travelled west to Israel to show honour to the great prophet Jesus when he was born.

So, the birth of Jesus the Messiah broke down all the barriers between people: Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, royal and lowly, male and female, slave and free – and that’s what we celebrate when we think of the birth of Jesus today.

When God was born into the human race, it was to embrace all people without exception. No wonder all of heaven rejoices. May we celebrate too.

There are several occasions in the Gospels when Jesus heals someone or raises them from the dead and then gives them strict orders not to tell anyone. Have you ever wondered why Jesus did this? If I or someone I loved was supernaturally restored, how could I not shout it from the rooftop?

One Story

We find one such story in Mark 5, where Jairus, an official of the local synagogue, begged Jesus to place his hands on his little daughter, who was very sick. Jairus believed that if Jesus did this, she would get well and live. However, while Jesus was on his way, Jairus’ daughter died. Upon arrival at the house, Jesus held her by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” To the astonishment of everyone in the room, she stood up and began to walk around.

At this point, Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone and to give her something to eat. People believed that ghosts and spirits could not eat food, so Jesus told the family to feed the girl to prove that she was alive. Furthermore, it had been a big day, and she was probably hungry!

Tell No-One

Why did Jesus order them to tell no one about the miracle? He did this on several occasions. One of these gives us a clue as to why Jesus was firm on this. It concerns the leper’s healing (Mark 1): Then Jesus spoke sternly to him and sent him away at once, after saying to him, “Listen, do not tell anyone about this…but the man went away and began to spread the news everywhere. Indeed, he talked so much that Jesus could not go into a town publicly. Instead, he stayed out in lonely places, and people came to him from everywhere.

It was the same with the healing of the deaf man (Mark 7): Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. Nevertheless, the more he did so, the more they talked about it.

Five Reasons Why

I have pondered the reasons why Jesus was so strict about this and suggested five reasons why Jesus told people to be quiet:

  1. Jesus wanted people to know the genuineness of the miracles.

Through the years, I have heard many people claim they’ve healed. I have also listened to evangelists glorify their ministry by talking up the hundreds or thousands of people saved and healed at their meetings – all without proof. It appears that Jesus is concerned about genuine miracles. Who would have thought?

When the leper was healed, Jesus spoke to him sternly: “Don’t tell anyone, but go straight to the priest and let him examine you; then, in order to prove to everyone that you are cured, offer the sacrifice that Moses ordered.” If you believe you have been healed through prayer, I encourage you to go to your doctor to authenticate the legitimacy of the miracle.

  1. Jesus didn’t want the publicity to make him too famous.

The former leper mentioned above talked so much that Jesus could not go into a town publicly. Word spread like a bushfire about Jesus’ healing power, and he became too much in demand. His popularity restricted his ministry. He had to change location from the towns to deserted places.

  1. Jesus’ popularity affected his personal life and emotions.

Mark reports that Jesus stayed out in lonely places. That’s an interesting choice of words by Mark. We tend to think about famous people with a touch of envy but consider how restricted they are because of their fame. Many of the freedoms we take for granted are off-limits to them, thus impacting their personal lives and emotions. Jesus undoubtedly saw his popularity as affecting him deeply and wanted to care for himself so that he could also care for others.

  1. Jesus wanted the miracles to stay within his message.

Jesus’ message was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, a genuine offer for God to rule in the hearts of those who believe in His name. Miracles are incredible, but the message changes a life now and for eternity. Throughout my many years of following Jesus, I have come across many people who follow signs and wonders, and in so doing, they often miss the life-changing message of the Gospel. Miracles belong within the gospel message and should never be our focus.

  1. The miracles and crowds made the Pharisees jealous.

Jealously was the driving force that eventually caused the Pharisees to arrest Jesus. However, Jesus would be cautious about inflaming their envy unnecessarily because he had much to do before he was finally arrested and crucified.

Consider Matthew’s account of the healing of two blind men when their sight was restored. Jesus spoke sternly to them, “Don’t tell this to anyone! But they left and spread the news about Jesus all over that part of the country. Matthew then tells of an unhelpful interaction with the Pharisees. Jesus did not want to be arrested and crucified ahead of time.

The Exception

The only time Jesus told someone to talk about the miracle was the man delivered from the legion of demons: Return to your home [the Decapolis] and declare how much God has done for you. (Lk. 8:38-39).

The Decapolis was a gentile area that Jesus would visit later with great success. This man would do the groundwork for Jesus by sharing his testimony. Jesus did not need or desire the same level of publicity in Jewish regions.

There are a few reasons that Jesus told people to remain silent when he healed them. Today, some of these explanations still apply. Followers of Jesus should be careful not to follow miracles, thus making them idols. Moreover, when miracles happen, they should be tested to ensure they are genuine. Let us be wary of calling something a miracle or healing before it has been authenticated.

What’s the deal with the wrath of God? I mean, the Bible tells us that God is love. And yet, numerous times in Scripture, God is angry, punishing those who fall out of line. So, how are we to understand the wrath of God? The New Testament uses this term to refer to three different things as determined by the context:

  1. The “coming wrath” describes the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D.
  2. God’s wrath refers to the Day of Judgement at the end of time.
  3. God’s wrath is the natural consequence of sin.

The “Coming Wrath”

The events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem feature heavily in the prophetic parts of the New Testament. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are entirely dedicated to these events, as is Revelation. (Cf. Revelation 6:16-17; 14:10, 19, 15:1).

John the Baptist questioned the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising people. He said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Luke has John saying this “to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him.” What a novel way to start a sermon!

Jesus said, How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. The land refers to first-century Israel.

Paul spoke of this in 1 Thessalonians: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. More on that in a moment.

Jerusalem’s Destruction

Jesus warned of the events leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, “And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. Then, those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-22). In other words, the so-called “end times” prophecies that some Christians still use to traumatise God’s people were fulfilled in the first century. Let that sink in.

History reveals that Jesus’ followers understood His prophecies. The believers obeyed the warnings and fled Jerusalem to a town called Pella in the southern hills (those in Judea must flee to the hills), thus saving themselves. Not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. Christians left Jerusalem, thus escaping what Jesus referred to as great tribulation. The destruction of Jerusalem occurred three and a half years later, at the end of the Great Tribulation.

And so, this is what Paul foretold in 1 Thessalonians in the early 50s: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Judgement Day

God’s wrath can also refer to the Day of Judgement at the end of time. Judgement Day is God’s guarantee of ultimate justice. Think of all the times when there hasn’t been justice in this life. Maybe you’ve experienced this or seen the fate of others who have suffered unfairly, and you’ve asked yourself, where is the justice in life? Well, wait. The New Testament is replete with forewarnings about Judgement Day:

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” And, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” That’s because they’ve trusted someone who’s been there (death) and returned.

Paul wrote extensively about Judgement Day as an expression of God’s wrath. Consider Romans 2:5: But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Cf. Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6). God’s Judgement is a punishment, not a beating.

Suffer the Consequences

The final meaning of God’s wrath in Scripture is allowing people to suffer the consequences of their choices. Paul’s letter to the Romans is handy here: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people. The rest of chapter one shows how Paul defines this wrath of God: God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts. God gave them over to shameful lusts. God gave them over to a depraved mind. (Vs. 24, 26, 28)

God is like a parent who says, well, that’s not how I want you to behave, but if you persist with having your way, you’ll also need to be prepared to wear the consequences of your choices. People have free will, and God does not control us.

Controlled Anger

God is a loving father who is angry at injustice. Righteous anger is an ethical expression of authentic love as inferred by the Greek word translated “wrath. Orgē comes from the verb oragō meaning, ‘to teem, or swell.’ God’s wrath is not a sudden outburst but a controlled, passionate response to wickedness and unfairness: His anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God loves all people, but that love doesn’t mean that certain behaviours don’t anger God. God’s wrath will be satisfied by ultimate justice being done and appropriate punishment being given. But, as the Psalmist declares, “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever.” That is good news for everyone.

I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.

 

Someone recently asked this question on social media: Do believers in Christ still face judgment? Many replied “yes,” but others were not as sure. If we’ve accepted Jesus as Saviour, aren’t our sins forgiven and not counted against us anymore, so what is left to judge?

Others indicated that judgement was favourable as a reward for good work. Is that true? Will some of us get fewer rewards in heaven than others? What does that even look like? I’ll do my best to answer these excellent questions in this blog.

Do Believers in Christ face Judgement?

The short answer is YES, but judgments may be separated, with the New Testament suggesting one for unbelievers and another for believers.

Consider 1 Peter 4, in which the apostle contrasts the lifestyle of “pagans” and Christians. I’m not too fond of the word the NIV uses here. “Pagan” is unwarranted and very “us and them” language. Everywhere else in Scripture, the Greek word (ethnos) is rendered “Gentiles” or “nations.” It refers to groups of people who are not Jewish. In context, Peter is writing about non-Jewish people who live in sensuality, especially in connection with idolatrous temple worship:

They are surprised you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. This is why the gospel was preached even to those now dead so that they might be judged according to human standards regarding the body but live according to God regarding the spirit. The end of all things is near. The last statement probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D., a few years away. If not, Peter is way off with his prediction!

Preaching to the Dead?

There is disagreement amongst theologians as to precisely what Peter means in 1 Peter 4:6, Which is why the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead. There are several ways this verse is understood:

  1. The gospel was preached to people when they were alive, but they have since died.
  2. The gospel was preached to people when they were dead.
  3. Peter refers to Christians who faced judgment by earthly courts (human standards) and were executed for their faith in Jesus. These persecuted believers would live according to God regarding the spirit.

Whatever the case, the outcome is positive. “They” live according to God regarding the spirit. For more, listen to my podcast, What Jesus Did in Hell.

God’s Judgment Seat

In Romans 14, Paul instructs the church not to judge others over “disputable matters.” The Greek word refers to a person deliberating with themselves, trying to determine right and wrong in matters of conscience. He then gives two examples: what people eat and when people worship. In Romans 14, Paul writes about our interrelatedness with one another and our reliance on the Lord. I encourage you to read and reflect on Romans 14:8-15.

We could summarise this chapter: Don’t judge each other because that’s God’s job, not yours. We belong to the Lord, and we will give an account of ourselves to God. And this is very important because Paul’s judgement is about accountability. Our salvation is not in question here. It is NOT a judgment of condemnation. It’s more like an evaluation of KPIs in which God interviews us about how we lived out the Royal Law, the Golden Rule, and what we’ve done with our resources, time, and talents.

Christ’s Judgment Seat

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul writes, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that we may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Judgement seat (Gk. Bema [bey-ma] = throne, rostrum, or tribunal).

The Bible.org website says the Bema appears in classical Greek to identify the judge’s seat in the arena of the Olympic games. The Bema was the seat whereon the judge sat, not to punish contestants, but to present awards to the victors. When Christians stand before the Bema of Christ, it will be for the express purpose of being rewarded according to their works. There is no idea of inflicting punishment.

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul again refers to accountability. A person’s salvation is not in question. It’s not about condemnation, as the context reveals. Read and reflect on verses 1 to 10 of that chapter where Paul writes about our longing to be at home with the Lord. Paul is yearning to be in his new body with Jesus. He is not fearful of seeing God or in trepidation of judgement. He’s not concerned that he might die and not be good enough and be condemned to eternal hell.

There are no threats or coercion in these words. Christians are to rest on the salvation gained through Jesus’ completed work. But we should not use God’s grace as an excuse to lead a sloppy or sinful life. We will be accountable for how we conduct our lives, so we make it our goal to please him.

Whether Good or Bad

The believers’ judgement is not about dragging up sins that have been dealt with by the Cross. This judgment assesses our life’s work and actions. But there does appear to be some accountability for destructive things done: each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (worthless, wicked, evil and vile).

How do we balance God’s forgiveness of sin with someone who persists in debauched behaviour? For example, Jesus’ statement, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Consider the numerous cases of Christians who abuse children. There appears to be ultimate justice in Jesus’ words.

And what about a pastor who abuses a member of their congregation, a husband who beats his wife, or a parent who gambles money away instead of supporting their family? Consider Paul’s sobering words to Timothy, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8).

We need to weigh these things. Our sins are forgiven, and none of us is perfect, but the Scriptures point to ultimate justice for those who maltreat others.