Feasting With The Pharisees – An Examination of Luke 14:1-24

tintoretto_theweddingfeastThe meal table is the main social center of the home. Think of some of your warmest memories and many of them will be associated with meal-time. In our text, the entire passage is centered around and on a meal table. The great question discussed was who will sit around God’s table in the kingdom? The Pharisees had one idea and obviously, Jesus had another.

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The Setting (v. 1a):

Following the Sabbath day activities at a local synagogue, Jesus “went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees” (v. 1a).[i] Luke is the only gospel writer to include accounts of Jesus eating with Pharisees (cf. 7:36; 11:37). In each of these situations the motives for inviting Jesus were less than honorable. Rather than being occasions for friendly conversation and warm hospitality these meals where punctuated by hostility and contempt on the part of the Pharisees and this meal would be no different.

The Setup (vv. 1b-6):

As Jesus entered the home, the other invited guests, “were watching Him carefully” (v. 1b). With great emphasis Luke declares, “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy” or as the NIV renders it, “abnormal swelling of his body” (v. 2). This is the only record of this disease in the New Testament and quite appropriate coming from the pen of the physician (ref. Colossians 4:14). This poor, pitiful man was not invited out of goodwill; rather, he was a pawn in the Pharisee’s game to entrap Jesus. On a previous occasion, “the scribes and Pharisees watched Him, to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse Him” (Luke 6:7).

The Pharisees believed healing on the Sabbath violated the fourth commandment’s prohibition of not working on the seventh day (ref. Exodus 20:8-11).  “‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” (v. 3; cf. Luke 6:9) Jesus asked. Uninterested in a theological discussion, or coming to a proper understanding of God’s will for Sabbath keeping “they remained silent” (v. 4a). Their one and only goal was entrapping Jesus. Without waiting for the Pharisees to respond, Jesus graciously, took the man, “healed him and sent him away” (v. 4b).

With the man gone, our Lord asked a second question of the Pharisees, “‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’” (v. 5).[ii] The Lord defended Sabbath healings by showing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ own actions (cf. Luke 13:15-16). No matter what the Pharisees taught or demanded of others, they made exceptions for themselves. They believed it was permissible for them to help a fallen animal or family member on the Sabbath day. Therefore, should not the same principle be applied to all suffering people as well?  Our Lord’s argument silenced the naysayers, “And they could not reply to these things” (v. 6; cf. Luke 13:17). The apostle John reasoned, that because of Jesus’ Sabbath day healings the Jewish leaders, “were persecuting [him… and] were seeking all the more to kill him” (John 5:16, 18; cf. Luke 6:11).

Jesus Rebuked the Guest (vv. 7-11):

In this less than welcoming atmosphere, the guest clamored to “chose the places of honor” (v. 7a) around the table. In the ancient Jewish world, where a person sat at a feast or in the synagogue was a public advertisement of one’s status or at least perceived status. Therefore, the matter of seating arrangements was carefully considered. One might presume to claim a more honorable seat with the hope that it (and the honor that went with it) might be granted.[iii] Kistmaker explains the scene noting,

“Couches at a feast were arranged in the shape of an elongated horseshoe consisting of a number of tables. The man receiving the highest honor was at the head table, with second and third places to the left and right of this person. Every couch accommodated three people, with the middle man receiving the highest honor. The couch to the left of the head table was next in order of priority, and after that the couch to the right. Consequently, Jewish guests were governed by the social etiquette of the day to find the correct place at the table. However, if the privilege of choosing seats was given to the invited guest, they could very well display selfishness, conceit and pride. And this is exactly what happened at the house of the prominent Pharisee to which Jesus was invited. Pharisees and experts of the Law had created a climate of haughtiness and arrogance, devoid of love and humility.”[iv]

It would take little imagination to picture which seat was left for our Lord. No doubt the lowest, least honorable place around the table would have been reserved for Him. On more than one occasion Jesus rebuked the Pharisee’s arrogant attitude regarding places of honor (ref. Luke 11:43; 20:46). This particular day was no different; taking note of the social jockeying, Jesus “told a parable” (v. 7b) about humility to these haughty guest that was strikingly similar to the wisdom of Proverbs 25:6-7. His instruction took the form of two parallel lines contrasting what not to do and what to do when invited to a feast. 

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast,” Jesus said, do not assume you deserve to “sit… in a place of honor” it may be that “someone more distinguished than you” has been invited by the host (v. 8). How shamefully embarrassing it would be for the host to come “‘and say to you ‘Give your place to this person,’” and you are then forced to take the lowest place (v. 9). Instead, Jesus taught the wisdom of humility saying, “‘when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you’” (v. 10) rather than being shamed.

Our Lord was not focused on teaching table manners, or how to move up the social ladder. Rather, he used the guest’s haughty desire for seats of honor to teach a deep spiritual truth, “‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’” (v. 11; cf. Luke 18:14; Matthew 23:12). As the parable showed, this could happen in temporal affairs; however, the main thrust of our Lord’s instruction was in spiritual matters. To exalt one’s self meant ultimate abasement; the way of true exaltation was, and still is, humility. What is most important to Jesus is not honor that is pursued or insisted upon, but honor that is graciously given.  

Jesus Rebuked the Host (vv. 12-14):

After rebuking the guest, our Lord turned His attention “to the man who had invited Him” (v. 12a). Just as the guest had sought to bring honor to themselves upon their arrival at the meal, so the host had followed similar conventions when putting together his guest list. The world of Jesus’ day revolved around the ethics of reciprocity. So, the host had invited people who would have boosted his social status by eating at his table and in return inviting him to their banquet as well. Jesus’ rebuke takes the same form of two parallel lines as in vv. 8-10 contrasting what not to do and what to do when inviting others to a banquet.

“‘When you give a banquet,’” Jesus advised, “‘do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid’” (v. 12b). Obviously, Jesus is not establishing an absolute prohibition against inviting friends or relatives to a meal. Rather, He is addressing the self-serving attitude that controlled His pharisaical host. His point being, by following the social practices of the day one would only be rewarded, or “repaid” with honor in this life.

Rather, Jesus said, “‘when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (v. 13). In the social climate of the first century, the wealthy would not have invited those of lower social standing to their banquets because it would not have served their self-interest. The poor and infirmed were kept at arm’s length and only used to promote Pharisee’s agenda (ref. v. 1-2; cf. Matthew 6:1-4). Our Lord points out that true blessing, or honor, comes from inviting this class of people “because they cannot repay you” (v. 14a). That is, they cannot reciprocate the invitation or the honor given to them; nevertheless, God would repay the generous man “at the resurrection of the just” (v. 14b; cf. Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 25:40).

The Interruption (v. 15):

The tension in the room must have been thick; the Savior had foiled their trap, He had rebuked the guest along with the host for their haughtiness. With the mention of the resurrection an unnamed guest, perhaps in an effort to lighten the mood, blurted out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (v. 15). No doubt, this man was referencing the prophetic image of God’s coming kingdom as a banquet. The prophet Isaiah described it this way:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wine, of rich food full of morrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Additionally, on a number of occasions in the gospels, our Lord also pictured the kingdom as a banquet (ref. Matthew 22:1-14;[v] Luke 12:37; 16:22; 22:18, 30) with “people… coming from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29; cf. Matthew 8:11).

However, there was one thing greatly amiss with this man’s statement: he spoke from the vantage point of one who would be sitting at the table. He, along with the other Pharisees and lawyers reclining around the table that day, had an exclusivist view of who would feast at God’s table. Later in His ministry, Jesus would rebuke the Pharisees for “shut[ting] the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” and not “allowing those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13). Furthermore, he would rebuke the lawyers for “tak[ing] away the key of knowledge” and thus “hinder[ing] those who were entering” the kingdom (Luke 11:52). In the eyes of the religious establishment, they had reserved seats at the Lord’s table, while the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” along with “tax collectors and sinners” and Gentiles would be excluded.[vi] In fact, the Pharisees’ and lawyers’ own tables reflected their perceptions of the Lord’s table. However, Jesus had something very different to say about the anticipated celebration.

The Rebuttal or the Parable of the Great Banquet(vv. 16-24):

It is often the case in Luke’s gospel that someone’s interruption becomes the launching pad for the Lord’s teaching (ref. Luke 11:27, 45; 12:13; 13:1, 23, 31). The case of the parable of the Great Banquet was no different. The unnamed man’s interruption was the springboard for our Lord teaching that challenged the religious elite’s supposed acceptance of God’s invitation and their conception of who would really sit at the Lord’s table.

“A man once gave a great banquet” Jesus began, “and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come for everything is now ready’” (vv. 16-17). A great banquet is hosted by a great man who would have naturally invited his social peers. A two-fold or double invitation is to be understood as being in view. Sometime before the appointed day, the host would have sent his servant out to invite the guest to his banquet that would be held on such-and-such a day. The guest would then either accept or reject the invitation. Those who accepted the invitation thus committed themselves to be available on the appointed day to immediately come to the feast. Early on the selected day, preparations were started for the feast: animals butchered, breads baked, dishes mixed, couches and tables prepared. Once the preparations were started the countdown began and cannot be stopped. The appropriate food was being prepared and must be eaten that night. The guests who accepted the first invitation were duty-bound to appear.[vii] When “all things were ready” the call to “come” was issued and the guests were expected to immediately come to the host’s home, but shockingly, “they all alike began to make excuses” (v. 18a). Everyone who had given their word to come to the noble banquet suddenly began to make excuses for why they would not be there.

Even though the host “invited many” people (v. 16b), only three excuses are recorded. While each was offered individually, surprisingly it seems the guest have conspired against the host. The KJV even alludes to this by rendering v. 18a as, “And they all with one consent began to make excuses.” All three excuses follow the same formula (the third varied slightly): (A) I did _____, (B) therefore I must do _____, (C) please excuse me.

The first man the servant encountered said, “‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused’” (v. 18b). As incredible as it sounds, this man stated he has bought a field site unseen.[viii] Unapologetically, he asked to be excused because he must go inspect his purchase. His choice of land over his relationship with the host gives the appearance that he publicly wished to insult the nobleman.

Moving on, the servant summoned another guest, who in like manner said, “‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused’” (v. 19). Again, the excuse offered was hardly to be believed. No self-respecting farmer procured oxen without first testing them. How did he know if they could actually pull a plow, or pull together, or even if they were alive or not? Unashamedly, he asked to be excused because he was in the process of going to test them. His choice of oxen over the host also implied he too desired to publicly humiliate the nobleman.

Finally, the servant called on a third guest to “Come, for everything is now ready” (v. 17b). However, this one said, “‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’” (v. 20). If the first two excuses were unbelievable, the third is comical, especially in a male dominated society. In the original, “cannot” is the Greek word, dunamai which means power.[ix] The guest is therefore saying, “I have married a wife, and therefore I [do not have the power to] come.” In colloquial terms this man was henpecked. Shamelessly, he did not ask to be excused but declared himself powerless to attend. Together these three men represented the “many” guest who were invited but rejected the nobleman’s call to come. In essence the guests had exalted themselves above the nobleman and were saying, “We don’t need you.”

By this point, the progression of the parable is quite evident. The messianic banquet has been announced and many have stated their intent to be a part of the festivities. Now, in Jesus Christ, the hour for the kingdom banquet has come and all things are ready (ref. Luke 4:43). However, suddenly there is a stream of excuses from the invited guest. The three excuses need not stand for any particular type of reason for rejecting the kingdom. What all three shared was an extraordinary lameness. They are meant to strike the hearer as ridiculous and to the point of absurdity of any excuse for rejecting God’s call into his kingdom.[x] The religious rulers complained when He eats with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34; 15:1-2), and when He does not keep the Sabbath in a strict fashion (Luke 6:1-11). They despised His teachings (Luke 16:14) and belittle His miracles (Luke 11:14-23). The Lord Jesus did not fulfill their theological and nationalistic expectations of the Messiah. The parable says that as they were rejecting Jesus with their ridiculous excuses, therefore, they were also rejecting the great banquet promised by God.[xi]

Returning to the parable, after being rejected by the first guest, the servant “reported these things to his mater” (v. 21a). Understandably, “the master of the house” was very “angry” (v. 21b). He had made expensive preparations for his “great banquet” and he would not let his efforts go to waste. He desired his house to filled with guest, therefore, “he said to servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame’” (v. 21c). These are the very people Jesus’ pharisaical host had barred from his table and by extension God’s table. However these are the ones who most readily accept an invitation to set at the banquet table of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). It was the “humble” Jesus said, who would be “exalted” (v. 11).  

Dutifully, the servant carried out his master’s command reporting, “‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’” (v. 22).[xii] In an effort to fill every seat and have his house overflowing with guest the host instructed his servant to go out a third, “‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled’” (v. 23). Moving beyond the boundaries of his community, the servant was instructed to “urge” (NLT, NET) otherwise reluctant guest to accept the host’s gracious invitation. Obviously, the attendees would not be as homogeneous as the Pharisees would picture the great banquet. Both Jew and Gentile would come. Both rich and poor, educated and uneducated, male and female, slave and free would be welcomed at the Lord’s Table (cf. Galatians 3:28).[xiii] This is in keeping with the original image of God’s great banquet from Isaiah 25:6-9, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast.”  

Jesus concludes the parable with the master saying, “‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’” (v. 24). The first guest who had “exalted” themselves were now “humbled” (v. 11).  It was a common practice in Jesus’ day for a host to send a small portion of food to excused guest.[xiv] However, this act of grace would not be extended to those who excused themselves from God’s banquet table. Jesus is thus stating to those who would like to “eat bread in the kingdom of God” (v. 15) they had better hurry and accept his invitation for table fellowship, because they will not be able to participate at a distance.

The lesson of the parable of the Great Banquet is just as powerful for us today as it was for its original audience. God has sent forth His servants with the message that the kingdom of God has come. Those who hear the message are invited to share in God’s banquet. They should accept, not making excuses, or delaying, lest they eventually be barred from entering the hall and their seat given to another. “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b). If you ignore God’s call, someone else will take your place and you will receive nothing but a “too late” from behind the closed doors of the banquet-hall.[xv]

[i] Unless otherwise stated, Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[ii] The NKJV translates v. 5 as, “‘Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?’” (cf. Deuteronomy 22:4; Luke 13:15; Matthew 12:11-12).

[iii] See Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke: New International Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1991. (p. 550)

[iv] Kistemaker, Simon. The Parables, Understanding the Stores Jesus Told. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002. (p. 159)

[v] Another parable, the parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) shares some thematic similarities, though with striking differences in details, with the parable of the Great Banquet.

[vi] For a discussion on the Messianic Banquet from the perspectives of the Targum, the book of 1 Enoch and writings from the Qumran community, see Bailey, Kenneth. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies In The Gospels. Downers Groove: IVP Academic, 2008. pp. 310-11. In all three instances, those of lower social status are excluded and Gentiles, who think they are invited, are viciously slain.

[vii] For a more in-depth discussion on the Middle Eastern custom of the double invitation see Bailey, Kenneth. Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke Combined Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1983. pp. 94-95. He also points out that the command to “come” literally means, keep on coming. The guest had already started to come by accepting the first invitation now they must continue to come since all things were ready.

[viii] Bailey argues in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (pp. 314-315) that this man’s excuse is a bold-face lie since land purchases took a very long time to complete and inspections were extremely detailed.

[ix] Caldwell, C. G. The Gospel According to Luke. Bowling Green: Guardian of Truth Fourndation, 2011. (p. 808)

[x] Bloomberg, Craig L. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990. (p. 234)

[xi] Bailey, Kenneth. Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Com., 1983. (p. 99)

[xii] Perhaps the most stirring commentary on this passage is from Albert Barnes who stated, “He went out and invited all he found in the lanes, and yet the table was not full. This he also reported to his master. “There is room!” What a glorious declaration is this in regard to the gospel! There yet is room. Millions have been saved, but there yet is room. Millions have been invited, and have come, and have gone to heaven, but heaven is not yet full. There is a banquet there which no number can exhaust; there are fountains which no number can drink dry; there are harps there which other hands may strike; and there are seats there which others may occupy. Heaven is not full, and there yet is room. The Sunday school teacher may say to his class, there yet is room; the parent may say to his children, there yet is room; the minister of the gospel may go and say to the wide world, there yet is room. The mercy of God is not exhausted; the blood of the atonement has not lost its efficacy; heaven is not full. What a sad message it “would” be if we were compelled to go and say, “There is no more room – heaven is full – not another one can be saved. No matter what their prayers, or tears, or sighs, they cannot be saved. Every place is filled; every seat is occupied.” But, thanks be to God, this is not the message which we are to bear; and if there yet is room, come, sinners, young and old, and enter into heaven. Fill up that room, that heaven may be full of the happy and the blessed. If any part of the universe is to be vacant, O let it be the dark world of woe!” From Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes On The New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1962. pp. 226-227

[xiii] Caldwell, C. G. The Gospel According to Luke. Bowling Green: Guardian of Truth Fourndation, 2011. (p. 811)

[xiv] Ibid p. 812 and Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes p. 109.

[xv] Jeremias, Joachim. Rediscovering the Parables.  Chatham, Kent, Great Britian: SCM Press, 1993. (p. 142)

Are You Babe-Like or Babyish?

Babes in ChristThe Bible is full of figurative language or imagery, used to describe Christians. Christians are compared sheep, soldiers, athletes, brothers and sisters, workers, slaves, children and babes. It’s the last one in our list that I would like to spend some time exploring in this lesson and ask the question, “Are you babe-like or are you babyish?”

Our Vocabulary:

It is common to hear new Christians described as babes in Christ. This phrase has been used so often, it basically has been accepted as the bible’s description of a new Christian. However, in the scriptures, a new Christian is never exclusively likened to a babe. It is my guess that this language comes from the fact that Christians are “born again” as believers (cf. John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). However, as you will see, when babe imagery is employed in the scriptures there is no reference to how long a person had been a Christian. In fact, in the negative usages of babe imagery, the believers under consideration have been Christians for quite some time, they are not new Christians by any stretch of the imagination, they’re long in the tooth so-to-speak. The Biblical language describing a new Christian is rather straightforward calling a new Christian a, “recent convert” (1 Timothy 3:6); or, as in the KJV, “a novice” which actually means newly planted. So if you get right down to it, the scriptures liken new Christians as tender transplants. Where this becomes problematic is when we are seeking to understand what is being taught with the figurative babe language, and its commonly associated counterpart “the milk of the word.” If we import our vocabulary into the biblical text, especially when our vocabulary does not fit the Bible’s word usage, we can totally miss what is being taught. So, as we approach the three passages we will consider, I would encourage you to completely divorce yourself of the idea that the Bible exclusively describes new Christians as babes in Christ, otherwise you are liable to fail to see the points that are being made in the text.

Negative Usages (1 Corinthians 1:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14):

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed several issues plaguing the church; some reported to him by members, others he addressed at the request of the church. One of the issues that was reported to him was the divisions that beset the church, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you… What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). It appears from Paul’s writing that at least one of the key elements driving this division (or at least the rejection of Paul by say those who identified themselves with Apollos) centered on Paul’s teaching. Some charged his preaching lacked depth, and was devoid of eloquence and philosophical wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16). The apostles dismissed the later complaints by insisting that he wanted their “faith to not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). Additionally, he addressed the first complaint, a lack of depth, saying in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a:

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3a)

Paul explained because the Corinthians had been “fleshly,” or “carnal” (KJV) in their thinking (remember where they came from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) he had to lower the bar on what he taught them. When he was first with them, he focused more on teaching bible basics, which he called “milk,” instead of more advanced doctrines, which he likened to “solid food” or “meat” (KJV). The problem was not with Paul, but with the Corinthians. Paul was only teaching them what they could handle. Sadly, however, by the time 1 Corinthians was written, the believers there had still not grown in their thinking, they were “still of the flesh” evidenced by the divisions among them. They had not matured in the faith, as they should have. Therefore, Paul still had to feed them with Bible basics, or the “milk,” of the word. From this passage, we learn that being a babe in Christ had nothing to do with being a new Christian per se, but everything to do with how one acts and thinks as a Christian (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20). Based on this negative usage, a person could have been a Christian for years and years, for decades even, but because of their thinking and actions they would be a babe in Christ, solely living off basic Bible doctrines.

Our second negative usage is found in the letter to the Hebrews. Here the writer said much of the same in Hebrews 5:11-14. In New Testament times, many Jewish believers, who, having stepped out of Judaism into Christianity, wanted to reverse course and go back into Judaism. Hebrews was written to exhort these believers to “hold fast” to their “confidence” (3:6, 14), “confession” (4:14; 10:23), and “hope” (6:18). The Hebrew writer centers his arguments around the fact that Christ and His covenant is superior to Moses and the old covenant in every way. One portion of that argument centers on a superior high priest. The writer is explaining how Jesus is a greater high priest than since He is of the order of Melchizedek when he abruptly breaks off his argument and said:

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Here again is a negative usage of the babe in Christ imagery. You will see that many of the same elements we saw in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a are present in this one as well. The writer is bemoaning the fact that the Hebrew Christian had become “dull of hearing.” Therefore, they had not matured beyond the “basic principles,” or the “milk,” of God’s word. They should have been sharing Christ with others; instead, they were forgetful and needed to be taught again. They should have been skilled in God’s word; rather, they were “unskilled” babes in Christ. Again, according to the context, in a negative sense, a babe in Christ is one who is unskilled in the word, unable to “distinguish good from evil.” Why, because these believers did not want to be challenged by God’s word, they were content to live off basic bible principles, and nothing more. There is a danger in not maturing as a Christian. Paul said, in Ephesians 4:14, the “babe[i] is one who is in danger of being “tossed to and fro by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” The reason the Hebrews were digressing was because they were babes in Christ.

To summarize, according to Paul and the Hebrew writer, to be a babe in Christ is to be: 1) fleshly in one’s thinking and actions, that is, to be focused on earthly things. 2) To be unskilled in the word unable to distinguish good from evil. 3) And finally, a babe in Christ desires to live off basic bible teaching, or “milk of the word”, as opposed to more in-depth teachings, characterized as “solid food”. Frankly, we do not want to be this kind of babe in Christ. We don’t want to be babyish.

Positive Usage (1 Peter 2:2):

Now that we have looked at two negative usages of babe in Christ, let’s turn our attention to a positive usage of the same figurative language. In 1 Peter, the apostle is writing to Christians who were enduring persecution, reminding them that they were a changed people. Therefore, their actions needed to change as well. Beginning in 1 Peter 1:22, Peter talks about the importance of the word of God in the life of the believer. His teaching comes to a culmination when he encouraged his readers to be:

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the word, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

Before we explore what Peter is saying in the passage, we need to remind ourselves of a couple of points. First, as we noted earlier, we cannot import our own vocabulary into this passage and expect to grasp the truth Peter is teaching. Secondly, we cannot bring our understanding of the babe/milk imagery we explored in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a and Hebrews 5:11-14 with us to 1 Peter 2:2, because the former were negative usages, which is the opposite of how Peter uses it. The same imagery can be used differently depending on the context and have two opposite meanings. Another example of this would be the use of leaven imagery which was used in the positive sense in Matthew 13:33 but in the negative sense in Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6, and Galatians 5:9.

imageMy wife and I welcomed our third child into this world a few days ago. Every two or three hours, I am reminded of the truth of Peter’s statement. All newborn babies crave milk, it is ingrained within the DNA to whine and cry until they get that milk. Peter is saying, I want you as a Christian (and he is talking to all Christians) to “long for,” or “crave” God’s word as a newborn baby craves milk; it is a part of your Christian DNA to crave God’s word. This use is different from our two previous passages we explored. Peter is not saying here his audience is immature Christians or fleshly-minded Christians as in 1 Corinthians 3 or Hebrews 5. Nor, as we said in the previous points, is he calling “milk of the word” the basic principles, rather, he likening all of God’s word to “pure” undiluted “milk.” Continuing the idea, just as a baby needs milk to grow, all Christians need God’s word to “grow up into salvation” or as the CEV says, to “help you grow and be saved.” Thus, Peter is exhorting all Christians, young, old, recent convert, or seasoned saint, to be babe like in their longing for God’s word, just as an infant longs for milk.

A Few Concluding Points:

First, we need to be careful about importing our own vocabulary into the Bible. Let’s allow the context to determine the meaning of a word or phrase, not how we commonly use certain words or phrases.

Second, as we noted in the negative usages, sometimes we do not want to be a babe in Christ. While on the other hand, as we noted in the positive usage, we should desire to be like a babe when it comes to craving God’s word. The same imagery can be used two different ways.

Third, we have a responsibility to grow in God’s word. We are to crave it like a newborn babe, allowing it transform our thinking and our actions. At the same time, as we learn to use God’s holy word, we should share it with others. If you don’t, you might be a babe in Christ who is 70 years young and that is condemned int he scriptures.

One last point, as teachers of God’s word, we have the responsibility of feeding our listeners with the milk of the word, as in Bible basics. But, if that is all we do and we never help them mature (or mature ourselves) by introducing meatier teachings, then all we’re doing is raising a bunch of babies.

So, back to our question, Are you babe-like or are you babyish? One is good, the other is not. If I can help your in spiritual journey of maturing in Christ, please email me at clay@claygentry.com. As always, share the good news of Jesus with someone today.

[i] “Child” in Ephesians 4:14, is same Greek word translated as “babe” in Hebrews 5:13.

1-2 Peter and Jude Bible Study Guide

1-2 Peter, Jude Cover

How does a Christian behave when surrounded by a hostile world? Peter and Jude wrote their epistles to remind hard-pressed Christians, those who were facing the threat of increased persecution and false teaching, to encourage them to face their adversaries with a Christlike character. These three epistles are like beacons of hope for making it through hard times. You will see that the wisdom of these letters is just as applicable today as they were then. All the while you will be reminded that in the midst of suffering that the God who deserves all praise is still “able to keep you from stumbling and present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy” (Jude 24).

The latest edition to the Devoted To The Word Bible Study Series is 1-2 Peter & Jude. I pray this work will help you better understand God’s word and navigate through the traps of Satan, persecution and false teaching.

1-2 Peter Jude Bible Study

By Faith… You Can Receive Your Commendation

faithIf those of old had not received their commendation based on their faith (Hebrews 11:2), then Hebrews 11 would have read very differently. Rather than being the Hall-of-Fame of Faith, it would be the Hall-of-Shame of the Faithless. Instead of being remembered as the Heroes of Faith, they would be the Zeroes of Faithlessness. Consider with me the possibilities: 


By carelessness Noah got drunk and his nakedness was exposed by his son Ham (Genesis 9:20-27).

By fear Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah, calling her his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12:10-20).

By fear he did it again (Genesis 20:1-18).

By impatience Sarah took matters into her own hands and offered her servant Hagar to Abraham so that he might have an heir (Genesis 16:1-16).

By favoritism Isaac loved his son Esau more that his son Jacob which resulted in all kinds of problems for his family (Genesis 25:28).

By deceit Jacob tricked his blind father Isaac and stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-46).

By rage Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster, hiding the body in the sand and fleeing into the wilderness (Exodus 2:11-22).

By anger Moses struck the rock to bring forth water instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded. Consequently, Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-13).

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the sins of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David, and the prophets – who through faithlessness erected an idol for Israel to worship (Judges 8:22-27), who refused to fight for the Lord (Judges 4:8), who not only made a rash vow but carried it out (Judges 11:29-40), who was a womanizer (Judges 16:1-22), who took another man’s wife and then murdered the man (2 Samuel 11:1-27), and who out of depression and fear ran from his responsibilities (1 Kings 19:1-18).

Some played the whore with idols, even burning their children in sacrifice, and made the streets of Jerusalem flow with the blood of the innocent (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chronicles 33:1-20).

All of these were condemned because of their sins.


Praise God, the story of the salvation is very different. Rather than being condemned for their sins, the men and women of old were commended for their faith (Hebrews 11:2). Praise God, the Spirit said, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him…” not “Without fault” (Hebrews 11:6). Praise God, real Heroes of the Faith are men and women who fall and fail and are flawed, but in the end receive God’s approval, because through it all, they stayed true to Him by faith. That, my friends, should give us hope.

One of the great qualities of God’s word is that the men and women that are highlighted within its pages are unnervingly real. God does not hide their flaws, nor does He sweep their weaknesses under the rug. The good, the bad and the ugly are presented with unflinching honesty for all to see. I firmly believe God did this so that we might learn from their examples (cf. Romans 15:4). When they fell down, they did not abandon their faith, rather, with God’s help they got back up and pressed on.

The race of faith is a difficult course to run. The terrain the Christian must traverse as we make our way to the finish line of heaven can be rough and steep, difficult and treacherous. All along the course we stumble and fall… and fall again. So often is the case, the pain from those falls is intense, almost beyond bearing. We feel spent and depleted, weak kneed and feeble. We think we cannot go another step, or run another mile. We question ourselves and wonder why we are even in this race to begin with. “What’s the use” we say, “I can’t make it.” There are times when we stop running.

But then suddenly, from some unknown place you hear a clap, then two, quickly followed by a shout, “Come on, you can do it!” Then all at once, a sound like thunder rings in your ears. It is the sound of a mighty chorus calling out your name, cheering you own, and encouraging you to keep on running. There before your eyes is a “great cloud of witnesses,” men and women who have run the same course, who have stumbled and fallen the same way you have, who have been hurt the same way you have been hurt, who have doubted the same way you have doubted. But they are also men and women who know how to trust God through it all; they know how the race is won, not by perfection, but by faith. Like them, we too can receive a commendation from God, by faith. Press on my friends. Keep running.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

If I can be of any help to you in your spiritual race, feel free to email me at clay@claygentry.com. May God bless you as you serve Him, by faith.

This article was recently featured in Pressing On magazine.

The Calling of the Twelve Apostles

Question: How did Jesus go about calling the men who would later become the apostles?

Answer: Thanks for the question; I’ll do my best to answer it for you. The call of the apostles can be seen in three distinct phases.

First Contact and Part-Time Discipleship:

the 12 apostlesThe first contact between Jesus and any of the apostles is recorded in John 1:35-51. It’s here that Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel meet Jesus for the first time. These encounters occurred in the wilderness where John the Baptist was preaching at the start of Jesus’ ministry. The text reveals that these men were first disciples of John who had heeded his preaching in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah (cf. John 1:15-34; Mark 1:4-5). When John identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (v. 35), Andrew and an unnamed disciple (presumably the apostle John) left John the Baptist and followed Jesus (v. 36). Later that day, Andrew brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus and it is at this time that Jesus began to call him Peter (vv. 40-42). On the next day, as Jesus was leaving the area, He called Philip and Nathanael to follow Him (vv. 43-51). It is generally understood like John, Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael were disciples of John the Baptist as well. While these five men “followed Jesus” (vv. 37, 43) they were not full-time disciples, that is, they had not left their day-jobs to follow Him around. They were part-timers we might say, coming and going as Jesus was in or around Galilee. That is why we will later find them fishing and mending their nets while Jesus is off preaching.

A Call to Full-Time Discipleship:

Phase two of the apostles’ calling was a call to full-time discipleship. This is where the dramatic scenes of Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9-17; Mark 1:16-20; 2:14-22; and Luke 5:1-11; 27-32 come into focus. These disciples had already encountered Jesus through the work of John the Baptist. They had accepted Him as the Christ and they had spent some time with Him (cf. John 2:2). However, their time with Him was brief and they went back to their lives of fishing, tax collecting, etc. It is within the context of this second call of Peter, Andrew, James and John that Jesus performs the miracle of the large catch of fish (Luke 5:4-7), extends the call to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; cf. Luke 5:10) and we read venerable phrase, “immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (Luke 5:11; cf. Matthew 4:20, 22; Mark 1:18, 20). In a less dramatic way, Matthew (Levi) was called to full-time discipleship, but the result was the same, “and leaving everything, he rose and followed Him” (Luke 5:28; cf. Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:12). Judging from Peter’s words in Mark 10:28, “See, we have left everything and followed you” it appears that all twelve apostles were called in similar fashion as those who’s calling were recorded in the gospels (perhaps even the seventy-two where called in the same manner; cf. Luke 10:1). During this short phase, these men would live, travel, aid and learn from Jesus like so many others. But their greatest call still lay ahead.

The Call to Apostleship:

The last phase of the disciples’ calling was to designate them as apostles or the sent ones (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). Jesus’ teaching and work was met with great resistance by the Pharisees and scribes (cf. Luke 5:17-6:11; Mark 2:1-3:6). As it reached a climax, Mark graphically records, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him” (Mark 3:6). It was with this back drop, that Jesus selected the apostles. Because of the importance of the role this office would play in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14), Jesus spent all night in prayer before He selected the twelve (Luke 6:12). From the ranks of His disciples (there must have been hundreds), our Lord “chose twelve, whom He named apostles” (Luke 6:13). Using Luke’s account we find their names were: “Simon, whom He called Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:14-16; cf. Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19). For roughly a year and half, these twelve men would live and learn from Jesus. He would teach and train them to be the bearers of His gospel message. Through triumph and failure, these men will come through the crucible (sans Judas), ready to spread the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20).

Did that answer your question? I hope it did and thank you again for the question. If I can answer any other questions for I would be happy to do so or, if I can be of any help to you in your spiritual race, feel free to email me at clay@claygentry.com. May God bless you and remember, share the good news of Jesus with someone today.

An Alternate Reading of Hebrews 11

faithIf those of old had not receive their commendation based on their faith, then Hebrews 11 would read very differently. Rather than being the Hall-of-Fame of Faith it would be the Hall-of-Shame of the Faithless or instead of the Heroes of Faith they would be the Zeros of Faith. Consider the following examples:


By recklessness Noah got drunk and his nakedness was exposed to his son Ham (Genesis 9:20-27).

By fear Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah, calling her his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12:10-20).

By fear he did it again (Genesis 20:1-18).

By anxiousness Sarah offered her servant Hagar to Abraham so that he might have an heir (Genesis 16:1-16).

By favoritism Isaac loved his son Esau more that his son Jacob and this caused all kinds of problems with his family (Genesis 25:28).

By deceit Jacob stole his brothers blessing by tricking his blind father Isaac (Genesis 27:1-46).

By rage Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster, hiding the body in the sand and fleeing to the wilderness (Exodus 2:11-22).

By anger Moses struck the rock to bring forth water instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded (Numbers 20:10-13).

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the sins of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David, and the prophets – who through faithlessness erected an idol for Israel to worship (Judges 8:22-27), who refused to fight for the Lord (Judges 4:8-9), who made a rash vow (Judges 11:29-40), who was a womanizer (Judges 16:1-22) who took another man’s wife and then murdered the man (2 Samuel 11:1-27), and who out of fear ran from his responsibilities (1 Kings 19:1-18).

Some played the whore with idols and burned their children in sacrifice, even making the streets of Jerusalem flow with the blood of the innocent (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chronicles 33:1-20).

All of these were condemned because of their sins.


But PRAISE GOD, the story of the salvation is so very different. Rather than being condemned for their sins, those who put their trust in God were commended for their faith (Hebrews 11:2). “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Real Heroes of the Faith are men and women who fall and fail and are flawed, but in the end receive God’s approval, because through it all, they stayed true to Him by faith. That, my friends, should give us hope. This same commendation from God can be yours and mine in the very same way, by faith (Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 John 5:4; Revelation 2:10). “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

May God bless you friend. If I can help you in your spiritual journey, please email me at clay@claygentry.com. And as always, share the good news of Jesus with someone today.

You may also like: By Faith You Can Receive Your Commendation. It’s similar to this article but with a different ending.

Phantom Bible Verses

Phantom Bible Verses

Recent surveys by both Gallup and the Barna Group[i] reveal that bible literacy in America is at an all time low. For example, Fewer than half of all American adults can name the four gospels. Many professed Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60% of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Worse yet, Barna’s work revealed that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A majority of respondents to one poll believed that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. Since bible illiteracy is so prevalent what passes for bible teaching and bible verses is distorted. Because of this, there is a plethora of proverbial sayings that are called Phantom Bible Verses.

What is a Phantom Bible Verse?

A phantom bible verse is any saying that sounds biblical in wording and/or concept, but in fact is not biblical on one and/or both accounts. Because bible illiteracy is so prevalent, people really don’t know the truth from error. We can categorize Phantom Bible Verses into five groups:

Condensed Verses: “Pride goes before a fall” is not in the Bible. It’s a distillation of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Another example would be, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Again, it’s a slightly condensed form of the biblical proverb, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). Condensed Phantom Bible Verse capture the essence of the verse, in a tweet like form, just not the wording.

Summarized Verses: A close cousin to Condensed Verses is Summarized Verses. Again, these are not sayings found in the Bible, but they do capture biblical principles quite nicely. For instance, “You’re to be in the world but not of the world” encapsulates the teaching found in John 17:11, 16 and Romans 12:1-2. Or how about this venerable favorite, “God will never give you more than you can handle” which captures one application of 1 Corinthians 10:13. 

Embellished Verses: These verses are embellishments added to well know Bible stories such Adam and Eve eating an apple, when in fact it was an unnamed fruit (Genesis 3:1-7) or Jonah being swallowed by a whale instead of a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17). Perhaps the granddaddy of them all, the three wise men visiting baby Jesus in the manager. The wise men brought three gifts but their number of men is never mentioned (Matthew 2:1-11). This kind of Phantom Bible Verse stems from man’s desire to explain the unexplained, or add detail when part of the picture is missing. 

Misquoted Verses: “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” We might also add, “The lion shall lay down with the lamb” is a Phantom Bible Verse. It is a misquotation of Isaiah 11:6 which states, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” These subtly changes can be rather benign, as with Isaiah 11:6, or they can be rather serious by altering the meaning of Biblical teaching, as with the example of 1 Timothy 6:10.

Forged Verses: This kind of Phantom Bible Verse will be the subject of this lesson. In my opinion these are the most dangerous kind of verses that we have looked at thus far, because the wording sounds biblical, as does the meaning. Furthermore, these verses are generally accepted by those in the world and those who profess to be Christians. With that in mind, let’s examine for of these Unbiblical Phantom Bible Verses:

“Forgive and Forget.”

Origin: An old saying popularized in Shakespeare’s King Lear and Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The present day version has been condensed and reversed from, “Let us forget and forgive injuries” (Don Quixote) and “Pray ye now, forget and forgive” (King Leer). 

Meaning: The implications of this saying is that in order to forgive, one must also forget the wrong infringe upon them. How often have we ill advised an injured person to, “forgive and forget”? Or, on the flip side, how many times have you heard someone declare, “I’ll forgive but I’ll never forget!”? Or even still, how many people have decided they won’t forgive someone because they knew they could never forget? 

The Truth: The truth is God never joined forgiveness of a wrong with the forgetting of the wrong. Notice the absence of forgetting from such passages as:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will you father forgive you your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) 

“Then Peter came up to and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven time?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from you heart!’” (Matthew 18:21-35) 

“You should rather turn to forgive and comfort… or he may be overwhelmed by excessive grief.” (2 Corinthians 2:5-11) 

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32; cf. Colossians 3:13)

To condition forgiving with forgetting is to add to God’s word, to go beyond what He requires (cf. Proverbs 30:6). Now you might say, “But we’re not supposed to keep a record of wrongs. Isn’t that talking about forgetting?” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). No, that’s talking more about being resentful, than forgetting (see ESV; NASB translations of this verse). If sins are to be forgotten in conjunction with being forgiven, then Paul erred in bringing up Peter and Barnabas’ sin of hypocrisy in Galatians 2:11-14. The forgetting of sin, or better yet, not remembering sin, is an ability that only God possesses, it’s one of His divine attributes (Psalm 25:7; Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12; 10:16-17). He never requires us to purposefully forget, because we can’t. The more we try to forget, the more we remember. Now it doesn’t me we can be resentful, or hold a grudge, or be bitter (cf. Ephesians 4:31-32). This is not a license to sin (cf. Romans 6:1). I’m simply saying, let’s not be fooled by this Phantom Bible Verse, God requires us to forgive as we have been forgiven by Him, but He never demands we forget.

“Moderation in all things.”

Origin: Aristotle from his work the Doctrine of the Mean. His desire was to find the middle ground between excess and deficiency. An example would be courage as the middle ground between rashness and fear.

Meaning: However, it’s original meaning and application is lost in our modern world. Now “moderation in all things” is generally applied to indulging in bad or unhealthy activity so long as one does it in moderation.

The Truth: Now you might be saying to yourself, I know this isn’t in the bible per se, but the concept is because my KJV says in Philippians 4:5, “Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” And Paul told the Corinthians to be “temperate in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Let’s take the Philippians passage first. A better translation is found in the NKJV which reads, “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” The idea is “gentleness” or “patience” as used in 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:1-2; James 3:17 and 1 Peter 2:18. In regards to the Corinthians passage, Paul indeed is emphasizing self-control in not committing sin, which is in fact the opposite of how “moderation in all things” is used by people today. The truth is, no where does the God allow for moderation in all things, whether it’s sinful or otherwise. A little sin, even in moderation, is like “a little leaven [which] leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9). Is it okay to lust, so long as it’s done in moderation? Is it okay to use foul language, or take the Lord’s name in vain, so long as it’s done in moderation? Is it okay to ________________ and you fill in the blank with your sin of choice. Is it okay to do that so long as it’s done in moderation? Well the answer to these questions is no. The flipside of this coin is, do we to show moderation in love, joy, forgiveness, compassion, etc. etc.? Well no, rather, we give ourselves wholehearted to these things. Let’s not be fooled by this Phantom Bible Verse, God doesn’t allow moderation in all things. If it’s evil, don’t dabble in it. If it’s good, give yourself totally to it.

“To thine own self be true.”

Origin: From Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Polonius, the older counselor of Prince Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius, is in the midst of dispensing advice to his son Laertes (who was about to leave Denmark and return to France) when he speaks forth the famous line: “This above all things: to thine own self be true.”

Meaning: I’m confident Polonius’ intent, or its Elizabethan meaning, is different than its modern interpretation. Today, “To thine own self be true” means: be loyal to yourself by being who you are, or following your heart, or doing what you think is right. Perhaps because it has a King Jamesy kind of ring to it, it’s believed to be a bible verse.

The Truth: Of all the sayings we are looking at in this lesson, I do believe this one, unlike the others, has a sliver of truth. I need to know who I am, and not be someone I’m not, especially in areas of my personal strengths and skills. Nevertheless, in the modern world we live in, “To thine own self be true” is the motto of a narcissistic society. Where people are encouraged to be whatever their twisted minds will allow them to be. Just last week I read a news story about a 6 year old transgendered boy, that is, he is a boy who lives as a girl[ii]. His parents are suing their child’s school because he was not allowed to use the girl’s restroom. According to the parents, as early as 18 months their son expressed a desire to be a girl and as the behavior persisted they allowed it. Why, because they have believed the lie, “To thine own self be true.” I don’t want to be true to myself because I’m sinful flesh. I don’t want you to be true to yourself, because you too are sinful flesh. Our Lord doesn’t say, “Be true to self” He says just the opposite:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).

Listen to the words of Paul,

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Notice the example of the Corinthians:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Today the Corinthians would be told to embrace who they are and their lifestyle. However, they didn’t believe the lie, “To thine own self be true.” Therefore, they accepted to call of Christ and renounced their allegiance to self, and died to their own self wills, and gave themselves wholly to Him. Until you and I follow this example, we will not be pleasing to God. That’s the truth. Friends, don’t buy the lie of this phantom bible verse, believe our Lord’s truth.

 “God helps those who help themselves.”

Origin: For American, this phrase was coined by Benjamin Franklin, but it has its roots in ancient world, even being the moral of a story in Aesop’s collection of fables, namely Hercules and the Waggoner. In the story a waggoner has become stranded in a ravine. When he cries out to Hercules for help, Hercules responds,

“Put your shoulders to the wheels, my man. Goad on your bullocks, and never more pray to me for help, until you have done your best to help yourself, or depend upon it you will henceforth pray in vain.”

In essence Hercules was saying, “Don’t pray to me for help until you’ve done all you can do for yourself, because, you might be able to take care of it yourself and not need me.”

Meaning: This is the motto of self-reliance. Meaning, you’ve got to get the ball rollin’ before God will even think about helping you. The irony of this is that Benjamin Franklin was deist. He didn’t believe that God even played a role in man’s life. Therefore, when he said, “God helps those who help themselves” at best he was saying man earns God’s favor and at worse he was saying, God has no part in helping man because man can help himself. I would defer to the latter.

The Truth: Sadly, as a boy, this concept shaped my understanding of salvation more than anything else. It came through the medium of the 1974 film Where the Red Fern Grows. In the movie young Billy wants a couple of coon dogs. He tells his grandfather, that he’s been praying for a couple of dogs but since God had given him any dogs he concluded God didn’t want him to have any dogs. The camera then zooms on the face of the grandfather as he says, “if you want God’s help you’ve got to met him half-way.” That was burned into my mind and my heart. I can recall as a young man preaching, “that if you want God’s help in anything, you’ve got to met Him half-way.” And you know what sadder still, people in the audience were shaking their heads yes! I am so sorry I ever preached anything like that. For reference, here’s the clip. To see what I’m talking about watch the first 1.15 minutes.

The Barna Group says the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is one of the top well known Bible verses, problem is it’s not in the Bible. Moreover, 75% of teenagers thinking this is the central message of the bible. A similar study by Barna found that 68% of “born again” Christian agree with and think the statement is biblical. Nevertheless, it’s not biblical in content or in principle.

Rather than emphasizing man’s need to work his way to God, the bible emphasizes God’s grace and mercy that reaches down to man. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-10:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming age he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by His grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them.”

Did you hear what Paul said? We were dead. We were pitiful. We were helpless to do anything for ourselves. When God looked down upon us he was moved with pity because of our helpless state. For if we have received anything from God as a result of works, and then we can boast before God and others about how awesome we are. Does that sound familiar? Jesus addressed this kind of attitude in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14):

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God I thank you that I’m not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

If God truly helps those who help themselves, then Jesus didn’t get the message. According to Benjamin Franklin the Pharisee had the inside tract and the tax collector didn’t have a prayer (pun intended). If this were the case then the tax collector needed to get his life right and then come to God for salvation. But praise God, Jesus said it was the one who was justified wasn’t the one who worked his way to God. Rather, it is the one who, in his humble and weakened state, cries out to God for help. God doesn’t help those who help themselves… He helps those who surrender to Him.

In the Old Testament, it is recorded for us by the prophets that the nation of Judah was destroyed and the people were in slaved “for a lack of knowledge” (ref. Isaiah 5:3; Hosea 4:6). As we have mentioned, bible literacy is at an all time low in America. I have to wonder if it is also at an all time low among God’s people. I hope this lesson challenged you to reexamine God’s word, and you believe God’s word teaches. It would a terrible thing for the Divine to say… “___________________ (insert your name) was destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” Get into God’s word today. I’m here to serve you and if I can help you with any spiritual need email me at clay@claygentry.com. God bless and remember share the good news of Jesus with someone today.