Monday, April 26, 2010

It may be wrong to say that God’s spiritual gifts are irrevocable

This article does NOT intend to dwell on what constituted spiritual gifts. I confine them to just the 9 spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Others include the gifts found in Ephesians 4:11 and Romans 12:6-8. One thing for sure, "the gifts" are not referring to the gift of life or salvation. Whichever combinations you use to define spiritual gifts, I believe this article is equally applicable.

Romans 11:29 – better phrase is still “without repentance”
I heard people said that God’s gifts and his call for us are irrevocable, quoting Romans 11:29 – for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. (NIV). The use of the word “irrevocable” in the many Bible translations needs to be carefully examined. Actually, in my opinion, the old phrase “without repentance” should have been left intact. The old text from King James version is this: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Contextually, there are be 2 possible meanings, but neither meant irrevocability:

1. the gifts and calling (salvation call) are by grace, or
2. the gifts and calling (salvation call) are without regret.

From the recipient viewpoint
The first interpretation puts the frame on the recipient. Contextually, the call referred to, is the salvation call. What is salvation call? It is the call of God to people to come into salvation. The “gifts” here is more open to varied interpretations, but contextually, it could refer to grace and mercy and favors granted (If you apply it in the corporate sense, which I will cover later in the article, it could include many more things, perhaps, including spiritual gifts). Contextually, when the frame is on the recipient, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, such gifts and call were given by grace, without any of them being worthy of, or had earned the gifts or call. The salvation call, for example, was given even when we were yet sinners.

From the giver viewpoint
The second interpretation puts the frame on the giver, God. Contextually, in simple language, it meant God gave the gifts or call without regret, or in other words God would never regret. I believe God never regret his actions. The only action coming close to “a regret” by God was the wiping out of all men except Noah and his family, in The Flood. Even then, I would not call it a regret. God is good all the time, and therefore all his actions are good. And so, He cannot regret His actions, even though He, in human terms, can be grieved, even greatly, as in the case of The Flood. This actually also means that God does not undo things, meaning He does not do what Superman, did in the movie, went back in time to redo a scene (to save his girlfriend) because He did not like what came afterwards. I strongly believe God does not go back in time, but has chosen to deal with man in chronological time (for the reason that He created man in a world of chronological time), and operated everything in real-time. He is capable of looking into time, and therefore can see what will happen in the future, but I believe He does not go back in time. He just keeps moving forwards, tweaking as He goes, but never goes back to redo. With this understanding, I believe it is also correct to say that God’s gifts and call are without regret; meaning He will not go back and re-decide not to give particular (previously given) gifts or calling. God always works with what is done is done, and moves forward from there, but it is not the same as saying that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. What is done is done, but it does not mean that God will not stop the operation of the gifts unless of course, if the gift is a one-off thing. Salvation calling can be regarded as a one-off thing which perhaps cannot be stopped, but under gifts, depending on the nature, a gift can be stopped. It is my belief that favors, grace and mercy, and spiritual gifts (like gift of healing, etc) can be stopped, although what was already “consumed” will not be touched/affected. So, in this sense, gifts are not irrevocable. I can accept salvation call as irrevocable, but not gifts, generally, on a personal basis (About gifts given corporately, the position might be slightly different, and I will cover it later).

{Added 20/12/2010 - Salvation call by God may be irrevocable, but a person can still renounce his salvation or does things to force the hand of God to let go of him, to head for Hell.}

A simple illustration:
Say, now there is a fraternity. To be accepted as a member of the fraternity, one has to meet certain criteria, and I make them very simple, you just need to be a man (not a woman), and a citizen of the country. And so, if you are a man, and you are a citizen of the country, and I pronounce that you are a member, I cannot afterwards, unless I change the criteria, or that you are either no longer a man or a citizen of the country, revoke your membership. In this sense, if I liken this to salvation call, it is irrevocable.

For gifts, let me illustrate in this way: Still using the fraternity above, say, you have already been admitted as a member, and I, the President of the fraternity decide to give free beer passes to members to have beer in a certain pub for a year. You did nothing, and you are not required to do anything or pay anything, the pass is given to you for free. The next year, I continue to give you the free pass. After 2 years, I now decide that I will no longer give free beer pass, and so you do not get one. But I did not ask that the previous 2 years’ free beer consumption be returned. I just stop giving you free beer pass, no more free flow of beer! I gave you the beer pass without regret, but the giving was not irrevocable.

Individual’s spiritual gift is not irrevocable
This verse, Romans 11:29, has become incorrectly used by people to say that God’s spiritual gifts to individuals are irrevocable. God may give an individual a lot of slack but if He wants to stop the operation of the gift in the individual, He can and will do it. The reason is simply because He did not say the gift is irrevocable. If He had said it, then He will be lying, and that will not do because He is not supposed to lie because He said He will not lie (Num 23:19). “By grace” and “irrevocable” are completely different things. When one is given a gift by grace, it meant that he is given the gift without him earning it or having made himself deserving of it. When one is given a gift and when it is said to be irrevocable (wrongly), it meant that he is given the gift and the operation of the gift will not be stopped for whatsoever reason. Now, I am not playing with words. In the first place, a gift meant a “thing” given. When we give a “thing”, it belongs to another, we actually cannot take it back; it is no longer ours. In this sense, it is redundant to say that a gift is irrevocable. A gift that is given out cannot be retrieved, unless the recipient is willing to give it back. The people who used “irrevocable” here, know the subject matter, the “thing” is something that still need the giver to operate it to be of any use.

For example, the gift of healing, for it to be of any use, God is needed to work the healing virtue through. So, the people who used the term irrevocable (the opposite, of course, is revocable), obviously meant that the operation will not be stopped by God. They cannot now argue that the giving of the “thing” is irrevocable but the operation thereof is revocable, because without the operation thereof, the gift is nothing. It is nonsensical to talk about a healing gift that cannot heal. Therefore, by irrevocable, obviously, they meant that God will not revoke his working of the healing gift. I do not think I am alone to say that if you who have the healing gift, oppose God, defile yourself, and sin without regard, you may not be able to pray for the sick and expect the sick to be healed by God through you. In this scenario, what did it mean? It meant that God has revoked the gift. Look, one is playing with words, if one says that the gift is not revoked; only the operation is revoked.

Best not to use Romans 11:29 on revocability of spiritual gifts
It is best we do not say a spiritual gift given is revocable or irrevocable, because Romans 11:29 was not about revocability. We must understand that, giving by grace (or without regret) and revocability are completely different matters. Let me again, illustrate:

I can decide to support a particular brother in his desire to go full-time in his ministry, whatever that maybe. I can by grace, give that brother, a monthly sum of money of say $300.00. It is a gift by grace. The brother did not need to do anything for me, or prove anything to me. I can, for example just deposit the sum into the brother’s bank account, without any question asked, of the brother. But, say, a year later, if I so decide, I can stop the giving, and no one can fault me for anything whatsoever. What I give by grace, I can stop giving. I am not demanding back what I gave the brother for the past year; if I do that, people can say I should not take back what I have already given out as a gift. Because I did not give an irrevocable undertaking that binds me for life, I can stop giving at any time I want, and without regret.

There are actual situations in the Bible where God had granted favors (favor of God) to people, like the descendants of Esau and Lot, and then later because of the sins and disobedience of these people, God stop granting the favors.

Grace is like that. What is being given out of grace, it can be stopped. Another example is found in the story of Jonah. God made a vine to grow up to shield Jonah from the heat, but God also subsequently caused a worm to kill the vine. When Jonah protested, God said Jonah was not justified to be angry because Jonah made no contribution to the vine coming up, it was God who gave the shelter to Jonah out of His grace, and so, He could refrain from keeping the vine alive. In this particular case, God stopped the flow of the benefit of the shade by killing the vine. God did not undo the past; likewise, God can stop the operation of the healing gift, but He will not “unheal” those who had previously been healed through you.

Therefore, my advice to people is this, if they want to operate in their spiritual gifts consistently, they have to watch their lives. Instead of holding onto Romans 11:29, and telling God that His word said that He will not revoke His spiritual gifts, they should live in the ways of God and refrain from disobeying God.

What about on a corporate basis?
Actually, the context of Romans 11:29 was a corporate context; God was referring to the Jews and the Gentiles, corporately. The actual context of the verse, I believe was on the gift of life, or salvation call, corporately, for the Jews and the Gentiles. But if one wants to widen the application, especially in terms of what can be covered under the word, “gifts” and “call”, I believe it is best to stick to a corporate context.

It would be more likely that, corporately, spiritual gifts would not be revoked. What do I mean by that? It means that in a corporate setting, like in a body of Christ, a church for example, God when He has decided to give the body a healing gift, He might be more reluctant to take it away, than say, when the same is given to an individual. Of course, when the gift is given, it is given to an individual, but it is not the same as giving it to the individual per se. Let me explain: When God gives a healing gift to the church, someone has to receive it on the church’s behalf. Say, God chooses me, Anthony, to be the bearer of the gift; and when I pray for the sick, God will come and work His healing virtue through, and the sick get healed. But when I sin without regard, and blatantly disregard Him, He might decide to revoke that gift I received on behalf of the church. If His original intention was that the gift was meant for the body of Christ, He might choose another bearer in the body to take over. In this way, the gift is not revoked from the body, corporately.

Frankly speaking, this is the correct way of viewing one’s spiritual gift. One is just the chosen bearer of the gift from within the body of Christ. And body of Christ can be referring to the small numbers of believers habitually coming together, your local church, the national church, or the larger worldwide church. God may choose one bearer or many bearers, and can change bearers (Please note that I am not talking of gift of life, here. Gift of life, is best viewed on a personal basis, ultimately).

But there is no need to fret
In the Book of James, in James 1:16-18, we can see how we ought to view gifts.

16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18)

It said every good and perfect gift is from God who does not change like shifting shadows. Notice that James referenced the giver, and said that he does not change like shifting shadows. God does not change like shifting shadows, it is not about whether or not the gift changes or will disappear or is gone; the Giver is not fickle-minded.

As if referencing the gifts and call (collectively referencing the grace, mercy, favor {gifts} and salvation call) of Romans 11:29, James said God chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.

It is interesting that, even though the theme of James 1:2-18 was on trials, James ended the discussion with the verses above.

I believe perhaps, among those who faced trials, whom James was trying to encourage, were people who at some points in time, previously, were evidently used of God in many wonderful ways, perhaps, to heal the sick, perform miracles, etc, but were now faced with trials. I believe he was trying to say that they should not, for a moment, think that what they were capable of accomplishing in the past, with the exercise of their spiritual gifts, were not from God {thus he said all good and perfect gift is from God}, or that God was fickle-minded and had abandoned them {thus he said God does not change like shifting shadows}. James said He chose; God chose to give them life through the Word. Implicit in that I believe, James said that God loved them {despite their facing of trials}, for at the base of it all, love is a choice. When God chose to birth anyone of us {salvation, 2nd birth}, He bound Himself to love us. Love is a choice, and then a commitment, but we must also understand that God's love for men is first of all, love unto righteousness (there are righteousness demands  in His love for you).

Correctly, it is you should NOT think that God does NOT love you anymore when you no longer operate in any of the gifts that you used to operate in, but there is always the need for us to self-examine if there are areas of our life that have gone displeasing to the Lord.  Don't fret, but be self-examining and inquire of the Lord. [Add: 11 Feb 2015 - removed agape, and restated addition made on 2 Aug 2011 on love unto righteousness {'ahab love}]

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – God does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17b), but spiritual gifts are not necessarily irrevocable.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Fall of Man (Part II)

This series has 3 parts, namely:

Part I – The Need for understanding of the topic, background, and the fall
Part II – The Consequences of The Fall
Part III – Controversial Issues on the topic

In this part II of a 3-part article we are covering the consequences of The Fall.

The key text for this portion, apart from those in Genesis 3 which were typically cited for the Fall of Man is this:

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Gen 2:16-17)

Because it was first stated for us in Genesis 2, and not repeated completely for us in Genesis 3, often times, not enough emphasis is put on it as the primary consequence of The Fall. Even though Genesis 3:22-24 captured God’s saying that man could not be allowed to reach for the fruit from the tree of life, and God’s banishing of men from the Garden of Eden, these verses did not quite reflect the penalty of death curse in Genesis 2:16-17; although it was necessary, in fact, quite imperative that men be kept away from the fruit from the tree of life so that God’s word in Genesis 2:16-17 shall stand.

Primary consequences for man

Destined to Hell, eternal separation from God. This is a punishment but how do we come to this conclusion? To understand this, we have to look at Genesis 2:16-17:

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Gen 2:16-17)

God’s word must stand. God gave a command/prohibition/law, the penalty of which is a curse or damnation. God said that if man broke that command, he would surely die. Did man break the command? Yes; and so man must die. If man could still live forever, just like that, God’s word was of no effect, empty threat, or worse still, it implied God lied.

But then, even so, did man die? No; not in the natural or physical sense. We know from Scripture that subsequently God put man out of the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve lived to give birth to 3 sons, Cain, Abel and Seth. So, did God lie? No, the death that God was referring to was not the natural or physical death; it was referring to the separation from God, or commonly being referred to as the 2nd death. And this 2nd death is the living forever in Hell, in the lake of burning fire. Man, because of his spirited soul, can never die in the sense that it will become nothingness. I believe a spirited soul lives forever, either in Heaven or in Hell. Having to live in Hell is an eternal separation from God, and is a spiritual punishment, on the spirited soul. If you have read my article on the Tripartite man (or Man is body, soul and spirit), you will understand my reasoning here.

The punishments listed in verses Gen 3:16 -19 were in addition to this death condemnation or curse (of the law). People who preached on the Fall of Man without making reference to this death penalty was really doing injustice to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for if there was not, this death curse or condemnation, there was no need for Jesus’ (primary) justification.

Of course God could have let Adam and Eve die the natural or physical death immediately after the disobedience, but He did not. He was acting in grace but not in contradiction to his own law or commandment, for the penalty of that law was not natural/physical death, 1st death but the 2nd death. God’s plan from the very start was to have man populate the Heaven, to live with God in Heaven, and his allowing Adam and Eve to live on, on earth was in keeping to that plan, God was still desirous of man to populate Heaven despite The Fall. I believe since God allowed man to live on, on earth, God decided there must still be some form of punishment (listed under verses Gen 3:16-19) for the bodily/physical man (the spirited soul was already subjected to eternal damnation because of the disobedience, by the eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil).

In line with His word in Genesis 2:16-17, God had to disallow man to reach for the fruit from the tree of life, and banished man from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:22-24). The detailed exposition of this point I will leave it to Part III.

Loss of righteousness. In the Book of Romans, the God’s appointed apostle, Paul said in Rom 3:10, that there is no one righteous, not even one. Indeed, after The Fall, no man was ever righteous without God imputing it on him. This is also a primary consequence of The Fall. This is not the same as the damnation to Hell. The damnation, as a curse, was referring to a future event; meanwhile man still lived a natural life on earth, and he is not righteous, not even one is. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – this is commonly quoted to encapsulate the effect of The Fall of man. In essence, man has lost the original righteousness that he has when God first created him (Anyone wants to dispute this? Obviously God created man righteous. Why wouldn’t He; man was the pinnacle of His Creation? Furthermore, we read in Genesis, it was as if it were daily affair that God would just come looking for man and to fellowship with man in the Garden of Eden.).

What does this loss of original righteousness mean?

1. Worthless. It means that starting from The Fall, man has turned away, and they have become worthless [Rom 3:12] (worthless, because God always looked at the “end-result” {“” used because really there is no end for God, only eternality (end-result, talking in man’s perspective of time).} Without help from God, fallen man is destined to Hell, eternal separation from God – what use is there of man, to God, when that happens? No use, and therefore, worthless. Even as an object of love, man’s sinfulness is offensive to the holiness of God. Yet, God still cometh for Man in love, and this is pure grace.

2. Deeds also worthless. Because of the fallen nature of man, no deeds of man are ever good, not even one. The deeds of fallen man (unrighteous man; a fallen man is an unrighteous man) can never be good in the eyes of God (although it does not mean that God will not consider them or accept them by grace – by grace, meaning that they are considered or accepted undeservingly).

3. Man started to become wicked. Also, when man lost his righteousness (through The Fall), what it meant was that man had become wicked or wickedness had been found in him. Romans 3:13-17 talked about the inclinations and the motivations of the hearts of wicked men. From those thoughts of the hearts birthed forth the actions – practice of snaring and deceits; slandering, cursing and embittering speech; harm, bloodshed and murder; life ruining and misery inflicting actions; violations of peace; and no fear of God. Of course, the degree of wickedness found in man varied over the history of men. At one point during Noah’s times, it was so bad that God had to bring on The Flood. It suffices here, to say that the seed of wickedness, Iniquity (or Sin), came into Man at The Fall.

Before I go into the punishments listed in verses 16-19 of Genesis 3, which I term as the secondary consequences for man, let me say that the redemption of man from the damnation or curse, and the reestablishment of the righteousness of man, we now know, can only be achieved through the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul went at length at this in Romans 3, particularly verses 9-11. Very briefly, there are 2 dimensions to the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are firstly, justified by his blood. Justification is about reestablishing the original righteousness of man, lost in The Fall of man, by Jesus’ paying for the death penalty curse with his own life. With that payment, we are no longer condemned or cursed to eternal separation from God, in Hell (which was the original curse/penalty for The Fall). We are secondly, always having the sacrificial atonement, Jesus, to cleanse us of all our sins. How it works, is the same as the primary justification except that we are not referring to the original sin or the original curse or penalty. All sins subsequent to salvation or born again are covered here, and all sins must to be paid for, the associated curse or penalty needs to be paid for. It is Jesus’ sinless blood (similar in a sense, the blood of unblemished sacrificial animals used in the Old Testament) which is paying and cleansing us from our unrighteousness resulted from a sin. Sins incur God’s wrath. It is through Jesus, that our sins are forgiven us, and the wrath of God set aside, and the peace of God with us, be restored.

Secondary consequences for man

To the woman he said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband,and he will rule over you." (Gen 3:16)

For the woman, God said her childbearing pain would be increased as one punishment. As a punishment the woman’s desire would be for her husband, and her husband would rule over her. I will not go into my expositions of this verse here, but to leave it to part III of this series.

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'
"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Gen 3:17-19)

To the man, he disobeyed a direct command or prohibition by God. For that, God pronounced a curse on the ground with the result that it would not be so easy for the man to satisfy his food need from the ground; he would need to toil painfully for his food all the days of his life. The soil would not be yielding good food for man all the times, at times all man would get, would be thorns and thistles, and man would need to sweat for his food until he dies. For further comments on this punishment, I am leaving it to Part III of this series.

Consequences for Satan

Before we end this part, on the consequences of the Fall, we need to know there was also punishment for the serpent or Satan.

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this,
"Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Gen 3:14-15)

The serpent, of course, being the mastermind, deserved to be cursed, from being the most crafty wild animal, it became the most cursed animal. {Added 15/11/2010 - You should remember that this part was talking about secondary consequences, consequences related to the continuing existence of both Man and Satan, as opposed to the primary consequence of living in the burning lake of fire, in Hell, which was of a future time; Satan was already destined to go to Hell, because of his earlier (first) sin {Eze 28}, apart from this; and therefore, there was no relevance of primary consequence for Satan here, in this sin of tempting Man in the Garden of Eden.}

God said He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s offspring. The offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, and the serpent would strike the woman’s offspring’s heel. The detailed exposition of this, I leave it to Part III of this series.

Anthony Chia – God punishes because God is Holiness. God punishes because God is Justice. God grants grace and mercy because God is Love. God grants grace and mercy because God is Compassion. But God is Holiness, first.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Judges 9 – Abimelech, a king who was not

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}


1 Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal {Gideon} went to his mother's brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother's clan, 2 "Ask all the citizens of Shechem, 'Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal's sons rule over you, or just one man?' Remember, I am your flesh and blood." [Towards the end of the episode on Gideon in Judges 8, Abimelech was mentioned as the son of Gideon, from a Shechem concubine. The early inhabitants of Shechem are descendants of Hamor (probably the city name took after Hamor’s son name, Shechem), and Hamor was the descendants of Hivites, and Hivites descended from Ham, one of the 3 sons of Noah (Ham, Shem and Japheth). (Israelites descended from Abraham who descended from Shem, son of Noah). In this sense, Abimelech was a mixed-blood between an Israelite from the tribe of Manasseh (one of the two tribes of the house of Joseph, who was one of the son of Israel {aka Jacob}), circumcised, and a descendant from another line from Noah, uncircumcised. From the manner that it was recorded in Judges 8:29-31, it would appear that the other sons of Gideon were from the Israelites’ blood line; not mixed-bloods. Actually way back in Genesis 34, there was already a feud between Hamor (and his son Shechem) and Abraham (and his sons). Abimelech saw himself as different from the other sons of Gideon, He saw himself more a Shechemite than an Israelite. So after Gideon’s death, he went to Shechem to rally support particularly from his maternal uncles.]
3 When the brothers {of Abimelech’s mother} repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our brother." 4 They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. 5 He went to his father's home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. 6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king. [When Abimelech’s maternal uncles got for him the support of the Shechemites, he (Abimelech) got some reckless followers and went back to Ophrah, his father’s town and sought the lives of all his brothers. All the brothers got killed except the youngest by the name of Jotham. Then Abimelech went back to Shechem to be crowned as King Abimelech by the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo (probably a satellite town of Shechem, chief activity there being worship of gods, complete with citadels (temples)). We see later that Jotham spoke against the coronation by way of a parable. There was no mention of fellow Israelites’ reactions to the coronation, of whether they would recognize Abimelech as King. I suspect they did not recognize Abimelech as King, although we read in verse 22 below that Abimelech governed Israel for 3 years. Bible scholars generally consider the “Kings” period as having started only with the installation of King Saul (this happened much later). This period is still being referred to as the “Judges” period.]
7 When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, "Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. 8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, 'Be our king.' [Jotham’s Parable of Reproach on Mount Gerizim. There is very little by way of commentary on this parable. This is what came to my mind as the exposition for this parable: You will remember in Judges 8, we read that the Israelites wanted to make Gideon the King after he had killed the kings of Midian. Trees in the Bible sometimes referred to men. Men are like trees planted of the Lord. The olive tree, I believe, was referring to Gideon. Olive is a symbol of peace. Gideon was a symbol of peace – he brought peace to the people after 7 years of severe oppression under the Midianites. Also how he handled the conflict between the Ephraim and Manasseh (Judges 8:1-3) reflected this.]
9 "But the olive tree answered, 'Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?' [Gideon, we have read in Judges 8 refused. Jotham said the answer for the refusal was that the candidate was of the view that he would lose fruitfulness if he were to be made King. This, you see later, is the same answer for all other potential candidates, until Jotham reached the thornbush. The understanding, I believe, up to that time was that the Lord was the King. In fact the people of God knew very well that their heritage, as was practiced by Moses, demanded that they just have representatives to go before God for major directions - the Lord was the King. Moses, in his days, always went before the Tabernacle (in which God dwelt), which followed the movements of the Israelites; even Moses was not known like a King. Men are like trees planted of the Lord to bear fruits, olive tree to give oil, fig trees to bear fig fruits, vine to bear grapes for wine, etc. – that, I believe, was the understanding. The understanding was that to take up kingship which was not in the vocabulary of God for the people, so to speak, would cause one to lose one’s fruitfulness.]
10 "Next, the trees said to the fig tree, 'Come and be our king.' [The fig tree here, I believe, was referring to the children, excluding Abimelech, the mix-blood, of Gideon. The fig is a many-in-one fruit. I believe fig tree has the connotation of children.] 11 "But the fig tree replied, 'Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?' [Those children of Gideon also declined to be king.]
12 "Then the trees said to the vine, 'Come and be our king.' [Trees referred to men, in general. Vine also referred to men but it has a more specific meaning. I believe vine was used for God’s people, which in the Judges period was referring to the Israelites, and in our modern days is referring to Christians. Joseph was said to a fruitful vine (Gen 49:22), and Jesus talked about Himself as the true vine (John 15:1). Men are likened as trees, and when they have become Christians, they are likened as vines (John 15:5).] 13 "But the vine answered, 'Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?' [The “more eligible” Israelites also declined to be king for the same reason – The Lord was the King, everyone was only to do his part, be fruitful at his station, and not to set himself up as the King or Lord, because God did not indicate the installation of a king was called for.].
14 "Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, 'Come and be our king.'[The thornbush here, I believe, was referring to Abimelech. Finally the people asked Abimelech to be king.] 15 "The thornbush said to the trees, 'If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!' [By this, Jotham was prophesying what would happen if Abimelech became king. Everyone must be subject to him and if they did not, he would destroy them, even the eminent people (cedars of Lebanon).] 16 "Now if you have acted honorably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family, and if you have treated him as he deserves- 17 and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian 18 (but today you have revolted against my father's family, murdered his seventy sons on a single stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his slave girl, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is your brother)- 19 if then you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today, may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! 20 But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!" [Jotham continued to prophesise that there would be mutual destructions for the people who installed Abimelech as king and Abimelech himself, at the hands of each other. It was obvious that the people did not act honorably and in good faith, and was not fair to Gideon and his family despite Gideon’s deliverance of people from the hands of cruelty of the Midianites.] 21 Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech. [Jotham exhibited courage despite being afraid. Remember what I said about the difference between being afraid and courage. One can be afraid and yet be of courage (You may want to re-read my commentary on Judges 7:9-12). I believe that God honored that courage and remembered his favor for Gideon, and extended that favor unto Jotham and brought Jotham’s prophesy to pass, which you would read, in the subsequent verses.]
22 After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, 23 God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. 24 God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal's seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers. 25 In opposition to him these citizens of Shechem set men on the hilltops to ambush and rob everyone who passed by, and this was reported to Abimelech. [The Lord was bringing to pass the prophesy of Jotham. God sent an evil spirit. In a number of places in the Bible, we read of God sending evil spirits against people/individuals. Here is one example, and another example was what happened with King Saul – God sent a tormenting spirit against Saul. (The “Kings” period is after the “Judges” period in the Bible). It is my belief that the most fundamental attribute of God is holiness. (Many people put love as number one. In my opinion, that would be inadequate to explain some of the events in the Bible). In short, holiness necessitates punishment, and the sending of the evil spirit was a punishment. I do not see any evil in God meting out punishment. In verse 25, we read that the citizens of Shechem started to disregard Abimelech.] 26 Now Gaal son of Ebed moved with his brothers into Shechem, and its citizens put their confidence in him. 27 After they had gone out into the fields and gathered the grapes and trodden them, they held a festival in the temple of their god. While they were eating and drinking, they cursed Abimelech. 28 Then Gaal son of Ebed said, "Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should be subject to him? Isn't he Jerub-Baal's son, and isn't Zebul his deputy? Serve the men of Hamor, Shechem's father! Why should we serve Abimelech? 29 If only this people were under my command! Then I would get rid of him. I would say to Abimelech, 'Call out your whole army!' " [These verses gave us a clue to the blood line of the Shechem citizens, and so the maternal blood line of Abimelech, like I explained in the beginning of this chapter. There was an individual called Shechem and his father was Hamor. The city was probably named after Shechem. Hamor was an Hivite, and Hivites are descendants of Ham, one of the 3 sons of Noah, the other two being Shem (from whom descendants of Abraham, and therefore Israel{Jacob},came from), and Jepheth. So here, we read that this fellow called Gaal, instigating a revolt by reminding the citizens of Shechem their blood line, and said that Abimelech was in fact not a true Shechemite because his father, Gideon, was an Israelite, a descendant from Abraham, from Shem (son of Noah), and not from Hamor (although Abimelech’s mother was), and not from Ham, son of Noah. Isn’t it ironical that Abimelech before his installation, was arguing that he was different from the other children of Gideon, that he was brother to the Shechemites! Genesis 34 recorded that there was a feud between Abraham and Hamor. Abraham’s sons killed Hamor and Shechem (Hamor’s son) over Shechem’s affair with Dinah, daughter of Abraham. Gaal was capitalizing on the past feud between the descendants of the two bloodlines.] 30 When Zebul the governor of the city heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was very angry. 31 Under cover he sent messengers to Abimelech, saying, "Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem and are stirring up the city against you. 32 Now then, during the night you and your men should come and lie in wait in the fields. 33 In the morning at sunrise, advance against the city. When Gaal and his men come out against you, do whatever your hand finds to do." 34 So Abimelech and all his troops set out by night and took up concealed positions near Shechem in four companies. 35 Now Gaal son of Ebed had gone out and was standing at the entrance to the city gate just as Abimelech and his soldiers came out from their hiding place. 36 When Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, "Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!" Zebul replied, "You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men." 37 But Gaal spoke up again: "Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and a company is coming from the direction of the soothsayers' tree." 38 Then Zebul said to him, "Where is your big talk now, you who said, 'Who is Abimelech that we should be subject to him?' Aren't these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!" 39 So Gaal led out the citizens of Shechem and fought Abimelech. 40 Abimelech chased him, and many fell wounded in the flight—all the way to the entrance to the gate. 41 Abimelech stayed in Arumah, and Zebul drove Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem. [The above recorded the clash between citizens of Shechem led by Gaal, and Abimelech, led by Zebul. Zebul won and drove Gaal out of Shechem. The part about Abimelech was asked to come to Shechem in the night to position men was because I believe Abimelech was perhaps residenced at his father’s hometown, and ruled from there (verse 22).] 42 The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields, and this was reported to Abimelech. 43 So he took his men, divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he rose to attack them. 44 Abimelech and the companies with him rushed forward to a position at the entrance to the city gate. Then two companies rushed upon those in the fields and struck them down. 45 All that day Abimelech pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it. [We read in verse 22, Abimelech governed Israel for three years, whether or not he was recognized as King over the Israelites was another matter. So, Abimelech’s seat of power was not just Shechem, otherwise he would be destroying himself. Here we read he operated from outside the city of Shechem, captured it and destroyed the city.] 46 On hearing this, the citizens in the tower of Shechem went into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith. 47 When Abimelech heard that they had assembled there, 48 he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon. He took an ax and cut off some branches, which he lifted to his shoulders. He ordered the men with him, "Quick! Do what you have seen me do!" 49 So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelech. They piled them against the stronghold and set it on fire over the people inside. So all the people in the tower of Shechem, about a thousand men and women, also died. [In those days, it was not uncommon for cities to build towers, in and outside the cities. Some were more elaborate, equipped with temple (citadel), the belief being that gods would protect their cities; some were less. What was said of, here, was probably one such towers, fully equipped with a temple stronghold, and this tower was probably outside the city, since the city of Shechem was already destroyed (verse 45). Basically, Abimelech led the troops to set fire and burnt down the whole tower, killing all the people inside, about 1,000 people. Abimelech was probably very pleased with what he had done, especially the last bit of being the first to light the fire to burn the tower (he copied his father’s act; Gideon was first to blow the trumpet and smashed the jar to let out the fire from the torch within, in the major battle against the Midianites). The first part of the prophesy of Jotham came to pass – the destruction of citizens of Shechem by the hands of Abimelech.] 50 Next Abimelech went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. 51 Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled. They locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. 52 Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, 53 a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. 54 Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can't say, 'A woman killed him.' " So his servant ran him through, and he died. 55 When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home. [After his success at burning the tower of Shechem, Abimelech went on to Thebez, a nearby city, about 15km away. Some commentators said that Thebez was attacked because they refused to accept Abimelech when he was installed as king, others said that the people there conspired with the Shechemites to revolt against him. I believe it could be that some of the Shechemites fled to the nearby city, and Abimelech just wanted to completely destroy the rebels (and those who helped the rebels) – the prophesy of Jotham said that citizens of Shemchem and Beth Millo (not just Beth Millo) would “do him in”. When the remaining people in the town fled into the town’s tower, Abimelech thought he could just do the same thing he did for the tower of Shechem, torch it. Little did he know that a woman would drop a millstone on his head and cracked his skull.] 56 Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. 57 God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them. [The mutual destructions of the parties, citizens of Shechem and Abimelech had come to pass, just as prophesised by Jotham.]

What have we learnt in this episode of Abimelech?
1. Don’t plot evil; don’t do evil; don’t join evil.

2. Don’t “touch” the favored ones of God, not even their families.

3. God is holy, He will punish where punishment is due.

4. From that concerning Jotham, we learnt these:

a. Courage is important, and needed, to serve God, and God honors that

b. We are olive tree (the body of believers liken as a huge olive tree; we are a part thereof).

i. Olive represented peace, we are to seek and guard peace, be peace-makers, bring peace.

ii. Olive tree produces olive fruits from which we get oil. Oil represented fruitfulness.

iii. So, as olive trees, we are to produce olive oil, be peaceful, peace for self and others, and be fruitful. Accordingly if we violate peace and go about things that are inconsistent with God’s word or wishes (that definitely isn’t fruitfulness), we are either a "bad” olive tree or we are no longer one because the test of an olive tree is that it produces olive oil. In the story above, becoming the King was not consistent with God’s word/wishes, so the wise candidates said they would not give up their oil, in other words, fruitfulness.

c. We are vine (and we are to abide in the true vine, Jesus Christ).

i. As in the metaphor of the olive tree, peace and fruitfulness are the same things stressed by Jesus in his teaching. Jesus himself, being the Prince of Peace. If we want peace, we must abide in true vine, Jesus. If we abide in Him, we will have peace, and just as He is Peace, we will be peace.

ii. The fruit of the vine is grapes, from which we get wine. Similarly put, wine represented fruitfulness, like the oil, for the olive tree. Again, Jesus in his teachings, stressed fruitfulness. What will happen to a vine that bears no fruit? Jesus basically said it was useless and its fate would be into the fire to be burnt (The vine and the branches {John 15:1-8}). It is important what we go about doing in this life are not inconsistent with God’s word or wishes. Despite the various interpretations of the Parable of the withering of the fig tree (Matt 21:18-19), I believe one of the point Jesus was trying to put across was that fruitfulness is what God wants, not what we think God should want or what we want.

iii. Abide in Jesus, and we can be both peaceful, peace for self and peace for others, and be fruitful. Some of us have a measure of the first part, peace but lack the second. I believe it is because we have not embraced the Holy Spirit fully. Do you know that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and also the Spirit of Christ Jesus? Yes, we have the written word of God, the Bible, but it is the Holy Spirit who makes the word alive to us, and in real time, in actual setting, gives us the prompting for us to do what God wants done in real time and actual situation. Scripture said that it is the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God. So if we want to know what God’s wills are, from, or in addition to the written word, we have to embrace the Holy Spirit. Do you know that oil is used to symbolize the Holy Spirit? In other words, like what the olive oil represented (fruitfulness), the Holy Spirit is critical to fruitfulness; which is not surprising since we have just said the Holy Spirit is the one who knows the mind of God, and fruitfulness gets to do with what God wants, not what we think God should want or what we want.

Anthony Chia – This is what is said in Proverbs 3:33 – The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Twice Paul was warned, yet he still went to Jerusalem

It was Paul’s 2nd major missionary excursion out of Antioch
We read from the Book of Acts, in Paul’s second major missionary excursion out of Antioch, twice Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem, yet he insisted to carry on to go to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, Paul was seized, beaten up, and arrested. He was imprisoned, stood trials before the Sanhedrin, Governors Felix and Festus, King Agrippa, and finally got shipped to Rome (got ship-wreaked, in the journey) when he appealed to go before Caesar.

Paul had wanted to hurry to Jerusalem
Paul had wanted to hurry to Jerusalem; so he opted to by-pass the province of Asia. But still he wanted to see the Ephesus elders, and at the Miletus stop-over, Paul called for the Ephesus elders to come over to Miletus to meet him, and the elders did. Paul explained to the elders that they would never see him again.

In Acts 20:37-38, we read that the elders wept –

37They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.

From Miletus, after meeting and saying good-bye to the Ephesus elders, Paul sailed off, and after a number of stops, landed at Tyre. There Paul and his companions found some disciples, and decided to stay with them.

First warning
The first occasion of warning was given to us in Acts 21:4-5 -

4Finding the disciples there {Tyre}, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they {the disciples} urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5But when our time was up, we {Paul and his companions} left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.

Clearly, the word of God here said that the people who warned Paul were disciples of the faith; they were believers. Also, it was also clearly stated that it was through the Holy Spirit the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. What the latter meant was that the disciples must have received some kind of data from God, maybe it was a vision, a dream, or some words, etc, concerning Paul’s intention. It was very clear from here that it was not something the disciples pulled out of thin air, so to speak, to urge Paul not to carry on with his intention. Yet Paul refused to give up. The disciples and their families even knelt at the beach to pray in the send-off. Was Paul blatantly disregarding the direction from the Holy Spirit? Was he being stiff-necked?

Second warning
The second occasion was given to us in Acts 21:10-11 -

10After we had been there {Caesarea} number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' "

From Miletus, subsequently, Paul and team reached Caesarea (not far from Jerusalem), and stayed at Philips’ house. A prophet by the name of Agabus from Judea came over to Paul, took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said the Holy Spirit said that the Jews in Jerusalem would be doing the same to Paul and would hand him over to the Gentiles. That was to say that he had prophesied that Paul would be bound by the Jews in Jerusalem and be handed over to the Gentiles.

Again, here, a number of things were clearly stated: One, Agabus was a prophet (from Judea, Jerusalem being the “capital”.). Two, with demonstration, Agabus said that the Holy Spirit said that Paul would be bound by the Jews and would be handed over to the Gentiles.

When Scripture specifically stated certain facts, we should not dispute them. When the Bible said that the Holy Spirit was the one who said the thing in verse 11, we should accept it as correct. Therefore, one should not say, it was Agabus’ own saying, not that of the Holy Spirit. I once heard a preacher said that Agabus got it wrong, that it was not the Jews who bound Paul but the Gentiles. He quoted Acts 21:33, which stated that the Roman commander ordered his men to bind Paul with chains. I do not agree that the alleged error by Agabus made the prophesy devoid of its effect on Paul. In any case, I do not interpret that there was an error made here. Firstly, as I have explained, what is literally stated, in Scripture interpretation, we should accept it. Secondly, nowhere was it stated that, that was the first binding of Paul. The people who first instigated the mob (which could largely be Jews) and seized Paul was the Jews from the province of Asia. We were not told when Paul was seized by the mob, whether or not he was bound. He could have been bound, maybe not with chains, but, it could be with something else, maybe a rope, maybe a belt, etc. The people from Asia were Jews, and many of the crowds were Jews, I believe. So, it was all possible that Paul was bound by the Jews. Generally speaking, but especially in a religious city, the Jews and the Gentiles did not mingle. To me, the mob could very well be Jews, not Gentiles. As to who constitutes Jews of Jerusalem, and who were not, I believe, being a religious city, Jews from all over, congregated in Jerusalem. Jews of Jerusalem, should in this case, be regarded as Jews (who could have come from many nations) in the city.

In Acts 21:11-13, we read of the response of Paul to Agabus’ prophesy -

12When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

Paul’s companions and the people of Caesarea pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. But Paul answered that they should not be weeping and breaking his heart by their tears; he said he was not only prepared to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ. Actually, we can see that Paul did not dispute Agabus’ prophesy; only that he insisted to go, still, to Jerusalem. So again, was Paul spiritually stiff-necked? Too arrogant, not willing even to be led by the Holy Spirit?

At first I did not understand
A week ago when I studied again the last few chapters of the Books of Acts, I felt I could not understand why a great man of God, like Paul, did not heed repeated warnings from the Holy Spirit concerning his safety. Also, the recollection of the preaching I heard some times back about Agabus’ prophesy not being quite correct, added to the confusion. I left this study for Good Friday and Resurrection Weekend with a question of why the Scripture had the Holy Spirit promptings recorded, when at the end of the day, Paul still proceeded with his original intention of going to Jerusalem. Do you know why?

I believe it is revelation
During the weekend, while watching a documentary/movie, Furious Love (a sequel to the Finger of God documentary/movie), screened in my church as part of the special services for the Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I believe the Holy Spirit has given me the understanding. To tell the truth, while watching the screening I was not thinking at all about the issue, and therefore, I believe the thought that came suddenly, was from the Holy Spirit, not from myself.

In short, Paul was imitating Jesus
The short answer was that Paul was emulating or imitating Jesus.

A little comparison
I believe Jesus, as a man, progressively knew more and more of what lied ahead of Him as He drew closer and closer to God in His walk, with God. He knew He would be betrayed, and he even knew who the betrayer was, yet He just continued on without removing Judas Iscariot from his company. When the day drew nearer and nearer, he knew he would need to suffer greatly and even die a gruesome death; yet He just continued on. No one could have revealed His destiny to Him over that period of time, except the Holy Spirit, or God, or God’s messengers, in the form of angels, or the Patriarchs like Elijah and Moses at The Transfiguration; yet He just continued on, and entered Jerusalem. Jesus, as a man, had come to know what He was to do, what He had to do, to fulfill the will of the Father God. Likewise, Paul had come to know what he was to do, what he had to do, to fulfill the will of the Lord. Jesus did not shrink back, overcame his fear, and disregarded his own safety and life, for the sake of accomplishing the will of the Father God. Paul likewise, did not want to shrink back, overcame his fear, and disregarded his own safety and life, for the sake of accomplishing the assignment given to him by the Lord, to preach the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. That was, in short, why Paul just persisted on completing the journey that he felt the Holy Spirit was compelling him to undertake.

In Acts 20:22, we read of Paul mentioning of him being compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Paul just wanted to remain steadfast to what he was tasked to do, just like Jesus, his master and Lord, had done, being steadfast to the sacrifice of his own life on the cross to bring reconciliation of man to God. Without Jesus’ entering Jerusalem to die, reconciliation of man to God would not have been completed.

22 {In addressing the Ephesus elders at Miletus} “And now, compelled by the {Holy} Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:22-24)

But why the 2 Holy Spirit promptings?
One may still ask why the 2 Holy Spirit promptings were given to the disciples at Tyre, and to Agabus, at Caesarea. If we look closely at the 2 promptings by the Holy Spirit, we will find that actually, they were not stated such that the Holy Spirit was suggesting that Paul was not to go to Jerusalem.

First, what exactly happened at Tyre, we were not told. We were not told whether the disciples had a vision, or a dream, or some words, etc. We were only told that through the Holy Spirit the disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Such a sentence merely indicated to us that there was a Holy Spirit inspired occurrence; but we do not know what that was. For such a context, it is not wrong to consider possibilities or likely scenarios. It is different, if something is specifically stated in Scripture, in which case, we just accept what was written. Even in looking at likely scenarios, what we paint must be consistent with whatever data that was already given.

I am suggesting that possibly there was an error in interpretation by the disciples of what they experienced concerning Paul’s journeying to Jerusalem. Perhaps, they did see, through a vision, or a dream, hardship and persecution that Paul would need to go through if he went to Jerusalem, but I believe, perhaps, they misinterpreted what they saw as the Holy Spirit wanting Paul to abandon the trip to Jerusalem, when in actual fact, the Holy Spirit only wanted to alert Paul to the hardship and persecution, including imprisonment, that would be waiting for him in Jerusalem. It could have been the Holy Spirit’s attempt (one of many) to prepare Paul for the things to come. Misinterpretation, such as the kind here, is possible. Please allow me to digress to illustrate this with a hypothetical example.

For example, nowadays, many Christians can receive visions from the Holy Spirit, as a word of knowledge for others. Let’s say when we are praying for an individual, an adult, we receive a vision, and in that vision, we saw an old lady talking angrily to the adult in a home. Now, if the Holy Spirit does not tell us the identity of the old lady, it is best that we say we saw an old lady rather than “cleverly” assumed that the old lady is the mother-in-law of the adult we are praying for. The old lady can be anybody, and we can end up with a scenario whereby the adult would brush off our word of knowledge when he/she actually was not married and therefore, could not have a mother-in-law to talk about.

Now, if you are asking for the hypothetical example above, whether or not, a misinterpretation can at all happened since the Holy Spirit has wanted to say something to the adult who is being ministered to. Yes, in reality, it happens. It is similar (not same, but similar enough) to one asking whether or not, a Christian can sin; in other words, since the Holy Spirit is dwelling inside a Christian, can he still make a mistake, do a wrong, sins? Sure, a Christian can sin (and a mistake can be made in interpretation of signs of the Holy Spirit). Of course, in line with Romans 8:28, it is still possible that even in an error, God can still work thing out for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.

For the second prompting, a prophesy by Agabus, again although it was specifically stated that it was the Holy Spirit who said the binding and the handing over, of Paul, it was not said that Paul was not to go to Jerusalem. In fact, I felt Agabus, did nothing wrong, and I do not think he had erred. He was probably shown a vision or a dream, and perhaps words had accompanied the vision or dream, and Agabus illustrated or demonstrated, and said of the words or thoughts that were given him. Noticed that he said the Holy Spirit said the manner of Paul being tied up would be like what he demonstrated, he was not even saying that the material had to be a belt or a rope or a chain. Again, I believe it was the Holy Spirit attempt to alert Paul, and to confirm to Paul what was likely to happen in Jerusalem, and not that Paul was not to enter Jerusalem.

What can we learn?
This whole story demonstrated to us that we have to be careful how we interpret “bad things” we see, in visions or dreams. They do not necessarily mean for the person concerned, to discontinue with his or her intention, especially if the intention was not a bad thing in the first place. Paul was mature enough to know how to weigh words of knowledge or prophesies given. Actually, it is important that we consider such things together with what we already previously received from the Lord. I am not saying that the Lord cannot give us new things or assignments, but weigh it, and seek the Lord for confirmation.

Paul had demonstrated spiritual maturity of, one, being steadfast with what He knew the Lord had assigned to him, much like his master, the Lord, Jesus, for His assignment, from the Father God; two, not spiritually stiff-necked. It was also not that Paul refused to be led by the Holy Spirit. Paul in fact, said that he was receiving from the Holy Spirit indications of threats of imprisonments and hardships in various cities (Acts 20:23).

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:20-21). Paul did exactly this.

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