Ask the Pastor
On Sunday, September 3, I answered Bible questions from the congregation. Here are six answers:
I'm excited to present answers to the questions you have sent me. Before we get started, I have to make a couple of comments. Because of time limits, I will not be able to answer all the questions I received. I'm sorry about this. I've put the answers to six questions in the booklet on the book table. If we don't get to them all, please take a booklet home to study. If we run out, let me know and I'll print more. Again because of time limits, the answers are brief. Where I think more detail is needed, I've included that detail or links to longer articles in the booklet.
My thanks to everyone who submitted questions. They were all very interesting and challenging and I enjoyed researching the answers. I learned from the process.
Now ... let's get started:
In Matthew 6:14-15, does Jesus mean that if we don't forgive we are damned?
To answer the question, we need to look at the wider context. Verses 14-15 are an explanation of verse 12, which is part of the Lord's prayer:
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ... 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. - Matthew 6:12, 14-15
In verse 12, Jesus isn't talking about salvation or justification, which is the kind of forgiveness that permanently rescues us from final judgment and restores us to God forever. We know this because Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray and they, like all believers, are already saved or justified through faith in Jesus.
Rather, in verse 12, Jesus is talking about the restoration of our fellowship with God after we've sinned in some way. We all need daily cleansing from sin like washing hands after handling the garbage. That's what 1 John 1:9 is all about.
Verses 14 and 15 expand on verse 12. Jesus explains a simple reality that we've all experienced: when we hold a grudge, or harbor bitterness, or refuse to forgive, our hearts grow hardened and we don't experience fellowship with God. We don't experience the freedom of daily cleansing and forgiveness.
Why does Jesus double-down on forgiving here? Because forgiving others is the mark of a genuine follower of Jesus. Forgiven people forgive people. As Jesus goes on to say in 7:17: "... every good tree bears good fruit ..." See also Matthew 18:21-35 for a parable on forgiving.
We may go through a struggle to forgive someone who has hurt us badly. In the end, however, we'll do it because we know that Christ died on the cross to obtain forgiveness for all our sins (Colossians 2:13-14). Those who've experienced God's grace and mercy rather than the awful justice they deserve, are eager to extend it to others.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. - see Ephesians 4:31-32
Pastor Rick Warren has several very helpful online articles about forgiveness. Here are three:
What does Matthew 18:20 mean?
As always, the context is important. Verses 15-17 are about repeated attempts to get a believer who has gotten into sin to repent and do the right thing. Every effort has failed and finally the assembly removes him/her from the fellowship of the church. This is what we call church discipline.
Then, Jesus taught this:
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” - Matthew 18:18-20
Remember: The context isn't about prayer. It's about church discipline.
Therefore, this is what Jesus is NOT saying: "I am present in a special way even if only 2-3 of you are praying. So, don't give up praying in small groups."
Instead, this is what Jesus is saying: "When the church meets for church discipline, I am there with the witnesses and those making judgment and whatever they decide on earth, that's going to be the verdict in heaven. Don't give up on doing the right thing even when its hard. I'm standing with you."
That's how seriously God takes church discipline.
For more information, check out these links:
In heaven, will we see the three persons of the Triune Godhead, or only God the Son?
The short answer is this: Yes, but maybe not like we expect. Two verses make it clear that we will see God:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. - Matthew 5:8
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, - Revelation 22:3-4
Here's the problem. God the Father and God the Spirit do not have physical forms. They are spirits - no bodies, no faces. When the Bible speaks about God in physical ways, it is figurative language - anthropomorphic language so we'll understand.
What will we see then?
We will see Jesus - in his glorious resurrection body:
But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. - 1 John 3:2
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw ... someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest ... His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. - Revelation 1:12-18
And we will see the glory of the Father and the Spirit - the visible radiance of their invisible persons:
At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. ... 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. - Revelation 4:2-5
John MacArthur writes: “Heaven will provide us with that privilege–an undiminished, unwearied sight of His infinite glory and beauty, bringing us infinite and eternal delight."
For more information, follow these links:
My life is a history of poor decisions. I cannot seem to break free from the cycle. Is there hope?
Great question. Yes, there is hope, but only if you stop trying to do life on your own. That always ends in failure and you will be discouraged. God has a better way: He gives us a fresh start in Jesus Christ.
If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! - 2 Corinthians 5:17
The Bible teaches us five steps to a changed life: A.B.C.D.E.
Admit you cannot do this on your own; you need God's help.
Believe that Jesus will give you a new life and a fresh start. Faith unites us to Christ's supernatural life and power - see Romans 6.
Change your thinking in order to change your life. What we believe controls how we behave. The Bible has everything you need for changing your thinking.
Do it now. Waiting doesn't work. Don't let fears hold you back. Break the cycle.
Endure. Change is difficult. There will be setbacks. But stay in faith. Lean on God's character and promises. Go forward. Pray. Resist. Fight. Deny yourself. Make good choices. Find encouragement, support and teaching in a church.
The Letter to the Ephesians affirms these five steps:
We can receive a fresh start in Christ:
Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ - Ephesians 2:4-5
We can break the cycle of poor choices:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; - Ephesians 4:22
We can change our thinking:
Be made new in the attitude of your minds; - Ephesians 4:23
We can do it now because new choices will bring new results:
Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. - Ephesians 4:24
Remember, you are not doing this in your strength. God in you will do it:
God's incomparably great power for us who believe. - Ephesians 1:19
Is God responsible for the existence of evil (e.g. child abuse, cancer, sin, death)? Who brings our trials, agony, or suffering - God or the devil?
Before I answer the question, let me be clear that there is disagreement among Christian scholars about this. I'm giving you my view as humbly as I can.
Both of these questions have to do with the theological doctrine of providence and, in particular, what is called concurrence.
Here's my answer in a nutshell (but I encourage you to read more about it. See the links below):
God is the primary cause of all things. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
God works both directly and indirectly; indirectly through secondary causes, such as disease, disaster, the devil, and humans.
However, God is not the "author" of evil and cannot be blamed for it.
We are responsible for and God holds us accountable for our actions, all of which we make 100% willingly, according to our own choices.
God can use evil things for his glory and our good.
Don't believe anyone who says they understand how 1 and 3 can both be true.
Read Dr. Grudem's whole chapter on concurrence here:
Read John Piper's tremendously encouraging sermon on concurrence here:
Here are some Bible passages that support this doctrine of concurrence:
God is working his plan: "... the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will ..." - Ephesians 1:11
God controls natural events: "He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ ... The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. 11 He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. 12 At his direction they swirl around ... to do whatever he commands them. 13 He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water his earth and show his love." - Job 37:6-13
God controls kingdoms: "His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" - Daniel 4:34-35
God controls our lives: "A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." - Job 14:5
"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." - Proverbs 16:9
God controls disasters: "When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?" - Amos 3:6
God controls our sinful choices: "Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?" - Isaiah 63:17
God controlled the crucifixion of the Jesus: "This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." - Acts 2:23
AND YET, God is not to blame for our sinful choices: "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" - James 1:13
We are held fully responsible for our actions: "They have chosen their own ways" - Isaiah 66:3a
"One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”" - Romans 9:19-20
Are Paul's instructions in I Corinthians 14:34-35 & I Timothy 2:11-12 applicable today?
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. - 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
We always have to begin with context. Here, the broader passage is dealing with good order in church worship meetings. Then, verses 29-33 focus on prophecy - how to give it, and how to evaluate it - "others should weigh carefully what is said" - verse 29.
Here's one possible way to look at verses 34-35: It's talking about the evaluation of prophecy. Possibly the prophet's wives were interrupting or interacting with their husbands and thereby disrupting the meeting. And Paul tells them to stop doing that and wait until they get home to have a discussion.
The application is very narrow, very situational. The principle is clear: God is the God of order, so when we meet to worship God it should be orderly (see 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40).
Here's how we know the application is narrow: 1 Corinthians 11:5 talks about women praying and prophesying in church. So, women weren't expected to sit down and shut up in church. In Romans 16, Paul commends Phoebe the deacon and sends greetings to many women who were his co-workers in Christ. Women have been a active participants in church and ministry since the beginning.
The bottom line: yes, Paul's instructions still apply, but only as this principle: no one should disrupt or bring disorder to the meeting. The principle applies to everyone, men and women.
Now, let's direct our attention to 1 Timothy 2:11-12:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
First, let's look at verse 11: It's about the same issue as we looked at in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul didn't want worship meetings to be disrupted. Why does he single out women? I'm not sure. Maybe there was a problem person in that particular church who was causing a distraction. The principle applies equally to men - see verse 2, which uses the same word, quiet.
Now, look at verse 12. Maybe verse 12 explains what was happening in the church. The phrase "teach or to assume authority over (exercise oversight)" means that Paul is talking about an overseer in the church - a presbyter or elder. Overseers give the authoritative teaching, the bottom line doctrine of the church. So, he's saying that elders should be men, not women. Therefore, perhaps we can guess that a woman was interrupting the church meeting in an effort to take leadership like an elder.
So, does this verse apply today? Personally, I would be happier if it did not because it doesn't fit into our culture every well. However, I believe that the teaching in verse 13 means that verse 12 applies today: 13 "For Adam was formed first, then Eve." This verse roots male leadership in the creation order, before the fall, before the church. The Bible teaches that a husband is the head of his family (Ephesians 5:21-24); and men are the overseers in the church. Do I like that? Not particularly. But it is what it is. I have to accept the authority of the Bible.
Before we end, let me say very clearly that the Bible teaches the full equality of men and women. Women have a full share in salvation. Women receive spiritual gifts and are anointed for service. Women are called to lead in many ways and over the centuries have pioneered very fruitful ministries around the world. Women are not second class or second rate in any sense and should not be held back from full participation in the church. We respect you. We need your ministry!