Knowledge, Christian freedom, and love

Roman idol sacrifice

Roman relief: sacrifice of bull. Now at the Antiques Museum, Royal Palace, Stockholm

Have you ever noticed that the world of the Bible is very different from our own society? Sometimes it can seem hard to relate to some of the topics.

But we’re not as far removed from the ancients as we like to think. After all, we’re human, too.

The church at Corinth sent Paul a letter with some questions. We can reconstruct them in the structure of 1 Corinthians.

Paul begins various sections with the phrase “now concerning.” In 1 Corinthians 8, it’s “Now concerning meat sacrificed to idols.”

It still matters.… Read the rest

What’s a faithful Christian community?

Holy wisdom

Holy wisdom icon (Yaroslavl) / Russian, 17th century

Paul’s epistle to the Colossians is the only one he wrote where he hadn’t founded the church.

The church was rife with heresy, and its leader Epaphras visited Paul in prison to get some guidance. Paul addressed the epistle not to the church at Colossae, but to the saints and faithful there.

Paul’s opening prayer for the Colossian saints, and I’m sure for all Christians anywhere, was that they would “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

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Truly preparing to worship

Worship serviceWe prepare to go to church. That’s not quite the same as preparing for worship. It is quite possible to come to church and go home without having worshiped.

Some churches make it nearly impossible for anyone to worship.

I’m thinking in particular of a service where the sermon was little more than a book review and the congregation had little chance to participate. Or of other services where the sermon has consisted of the preacher explaining away what the Scripture lesson clearly taught.

But even in churches where the content of the service is good and the congregation has ample ways to participate, it is too easy just to go through the motions and leave unmoved.… Read the rest

The priority of prayer in worship

Worship servicePaul warned Timothy that some in the church had rejected faith and conscience. He specifically named Hymenaeus and Alexander. The chapter numbers and headings in our Bibles aren’t original, of course, but 1 Timothy 2 begins immediately after that warning, and “Instructions about Worship” is a typical heading.

“First of all,” says Paul, “I urge prayer.” He goes on to point out that God wants all to be saved. There are certainly people in churches to this day who reject faith.

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Worshiping through the Apocalypse

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” — Revelation (a.k.a. Apocalypse) 1:3 (NASB)

Someone has said that the New Testament is so simple that you need someone to help you misunderstand it. We’ve all had plenty of help! As far as Revelation is concerned though, I doubt if many find it simple at all.

There seem to be two predominant kinds of Christians when it comes to that book. Many avoid it entirely; it is too overwhelmingly confusing. Others teach from it all the time, attempting to guide people through the spiritual implications of today’s news.… Read the rest

What the God of love hates: false worship


Christians love to proclaim that we worship a God of love. We get uncomfortable when the Bible talks about what God hates. That’s all the more reason to pay careful attention. In Amos 5:21-24, God despises feast

Prophet Amos, old Russian Orthodox icon

days, sacred assemblies, offerings, and worship music. He commanded all of those things in the law. Why did he hate them? They had become false worship, a failure of love for both God and other people.

First, Amos spoke to the Northern Kingdom, where worship took place at unauthorized altars in the presence of idols. No one can worship truly when distracted by things of the world.… Read the rest