Matthew 12: “The Unforgivable Sin”

Everything Except

I always love asking an absolute question and getting a sort of absolute answer. For example: To my son, “Did you clean your room?”

“I did, except my floor…”

“So you didn’t clean you room?”

“No! I did!”

It’s a funny conversation, but it’s so true! We hear it all the time! I did everything you asked, but… Well, then you didn’t do everything I asked.

This feeling above is the same feeling I got when I read Matthew 12:31-32 (NLT) 31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.

This is one of those passages that we typically just want to skip over because one, we don’t get it, and two, we don’t want to get it. What do you mean there’s a sin that God can’t forgive? What about the scriptural promise found in 1 John 1:9? If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from ALL unrighteousness (NIV).

But there’s nothing untrue about Matthew 12 and 1 John 1. Truthfully, the answer to Matthew 12 is found in 1 John 1. All we need to do is look at the first five words of verse 9, IF we confess our sins. 

Listen: The only sin God can’t forgive is the one that is unconfessed. In Matthew 12 Jesus is speaking to the evil in the heart of the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that their utter contempt for who he is will keep them from experiencing Heaven.

The Denied Dove

I was speaking with a wise sage in my church. He passed onto me a great analogy of the way it was taught to him. He said, “If we picture the Holy Spirit like a dove, the Pharisees were figuratively denying the dove the ability to land in their hand. In fact, they weren’t just denying the dove, they were toying with it, almost taunting the Holy Spirit.”

This is a helpful analogy to understand the heart of the Pharisees at this point.

The “unforgivable sin” isn’t about God’s inability to forgive sin, but the Pharisees inability to seek God’s forgiveness. 

This isn’t the first time we see God issuing a warning regarding the unforgivable sin. All of these things connect to the word of God found in Deuteronomy 29:18-20 (NLT) 18 I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.

19 “Those who hear the warnings of this curse should not congratulate themselves, thinking, ‘I am safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart.’ This would lead to utter ruin! 20 The Lord will never pardon such people. Instead his anger and jealousy will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will come down on them, and the Lord will erase their names from under heaven.

Where do we go from here?

It’s not uncommon for a young Christian to live in fear that they have committed the “unforgivable sin.” It’s important again to understand the point in context: As the IVP New Testament Commentary reads, “the sin is unforgivable only because it reflects a heart too hard to repent. Those who desire to repent, troubled by the fear that they may have committed this sin, plainly have not committed it!”

2 Timothy 1: “Just a Small Brush Fire”

South Philadelphia, July, 1989

If you’re just joining us, I’ve shared a couple of stories growing up, but for this story it’s important to know that I grew up on the South Side of Philadelphia. In fact, I grew up about 75 yards from the busiest set of railroad tracks on the east coast that ran from New York to Washington D.C. called, “The Northeast Corridor.”

One day in the middle of summer, my friends and I thought it would be fun to light spinners and throw them in the air. (FYI: Spinners don’t spin when you throw them in the air.) We would often go to the end of my street to perform these shenanigans because it was a dead end. Well, on this particularly hot and windy day, one of the spinner blew over the fence near the rail road tracks. Realizing, “wait, this could start a fire,” we ran around the fence onto the tracks to stomp out the spinner. Feeling the adrenaline rush of that moment, we decided to keep going.

Unfortunately our 4th grade minds didn’t take into consideration the very tall dead grass less than twenty feet from where we were standing. Needless to say, one of the spinners got carried away in the wind and fell into the dense covering of really tall dead grass.

We thought we had the fire contained and stomped out, so we all decided to put down our incendiary devices and go back to playing in the street. Suddenly we could see smoke starting to peak over the large bushes and fence down by the tracks. You may be thinking, “what did you do?” WE RAN, of course! All of us ran home and tried to pretend that nothing happened.

My mother, who apparently wasn’t born yesterday, as she would remind me, saw me sitting out on our stoop with my shoes sitting next to me, came out and asked me what was going on. Of course I lied and said, “nothing…”

“Steven? What did you do?”

“Seriously Mom, nothing’s going on…”

What happened next was a blur of activity:

  • A neighbor who’s house was right next to the fire pulled out his garden hose to fight the blazing inferno
  • The fire siren went off and the fire dept. was dispatched for the brush fire
  • The fire trucks first went to the wrong side of the tracks and had to turn around to come back on the other side
  • Thick black smoke was billowing up as the plastic covering on the fence melted away
  • South bound local train service was halted
  • The siding of the neighbors house was melted due to the heat of the fire

All because, that which we thought was extinguished, reignited because of the strong wind. Then, as the wind continued to blow it just served as fuel to spread the fire along the line of dead grass and bushes.

Fan Into Flame

Paul in 2 Timothy reminds Timothy to, “…fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

If you’ve ever spent anytime around a fire you know that even a fire that looks out can be quickly reignited simply by adding wind. The reminder/encouragement Paul provides Timothy indicates that his fire may have all but been out at this point. When you add verse 7 into the mix, we can deduce that Timothy was probably suffering from being fearful and timid in the faith as well.

Hear me: Paul isn’t just reminding Timothy, but reminds us today to allow the wind of the Holy Spirit to reignite the flame of His presence in our lives! Later he will say, (v. 14) 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.”

(v. 8) So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.

 

Ephesians 6: “Armor of God”

Battle Axes

Hanging in the entryway of my family home was a large picture of a man wearing a full suit of armor. The armor was even complete with chainmail around the face. Hanging as an adornment behind the large picture were two fairly large brass battle axe’s with a spear on the end of each one. I didn’t figure it out until I was older, but the man in the picture was the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce. Even though it took me a while to learn who Robert the Bruce was, it didn’t take me long to figure out how to use a pair of battle axes hanging on the wall.

I for sure remember the time my friend Andy and I decided to have an old fashion sword fight around the house. Everything was going well until I ran our couch straight through. I did my best to hide the evidence, but the stuffing of the couch peaking through the seat cushion made it a little obvious. Come to think of it, I’m thankful the couch was the only thing that got run through.

One of the most quintessential analogies of all of Paul’s letters is found in Ephesians 6, The Armor of God. These are the last recorded words of Paul to the church in Ephesus, the culmination of his entire letter to a people striving to live out the Christian life in a pagan nation. Three different times in this chapter, Paul instructs the Ephesians to “stand firm (v. 11, 13. 14).” His instruction isn’t for an arbitrary reason, but because, “our battle is not against flesh-and-blood (v. 12).”

The Armor of God

Here’s the thing about the armor of God: God gives it you, but we’re instructed to put it on (v. 13). In fact, many of you may have the armor of God, but it’s useless because you, not God, haven’t put it on. You gotta know: A pile of armor sitting in the corner of your room will do nothing to ensure your safety against the attacks of the devil! God gives it, but you have to put it on!

Here’s the other thing about the armor of God: You don’t get to choose what pieces. The scripture doesn’t say to put on pieces of the armor, it says, “put on every piece of God’s armor (v. 13).” Notice who’s armor it is? It’s God’s armor, not yours. Your armor stinks! Your armor is what got you into this mess. We are in need of God’s armor.

The Armor

  • (v. 14) Belt of Truth
  • (v. 14) Breastplate of Righteousness
  • (v. 15) Shoes Ready to Share the Gospel
  • (v. 16) Shield of Faith
  • (v. 17) Helmet of Salvation
  • (v. 17) Sword of the Spirit (God’s Word)

Here’s the last thing about the armor of God: We tend to forget that Prayer is a part of the armor.

Prayer

The last weapon might not seem like a weapon at all, but it is! We’re told in God’s word to pray with the Spirit’s power. We may ask, well how powerful is the Spirit of God? Well, Paul uses the word “boldly” or dunamis in the Greek. Like you’ve read before, this word is where we get our English word “dynamite.” Let me ask you this: Would it be helpful if you walked into every battle knowing the you had a stick of dynamite in your pocket you could use at any time? We’re told by Paul to, “pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (v. 18).” 

Know that you have been given power and authority over the evil of this world. We fight this battle in the heavenly realms wearing the armor that God gave us. The only trick is that YOU have to put it on.

Romans 8: “Our Aching Groans”

Romans 8, by many scholars standards, is the quintessential chapter of the entire New Testament. Think about that! They’re saying that out of the 260 chapters of the New Testament, Romans 8 is the most important.

It’s here that Paul begins to hit his stride as result of a shift in his letter. Before we go any further you have to know that up until this point, Paul only mentions the Holy Spirit twice in his letter; Paul, however, will mention the Holy Spirit nineteen times here in Romans 8 alone! Paul will begin to help the reader begin to fully understand the role the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the believer. Simply put, Romans 8 is the answer to the questions raised in Romans 7.

Popular Verses of Romans 8

Growing up, and even now, when ever the preacher said Romans 8, for you, what verse typically followed? 28! As a refresher, let’s take a look at that: Romans 8:28 (NIV) 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

This is the “everything is going to be okay” verse. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great verse, but it’s served more like a band-aid for bad things than a faithful promise of things to come. Go ahead, tell the parents who just lost their daughter to an accident caused by a drunk driver… well, we know that in all things God works for the good…

The second verse that we typically herald out of Romans 8 is…? 37! Wow you’re good at this! Romans 8:37 (NIV) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Now I have to admit, this is one of my favorite verses! This is like the Braveheart, Gladiator, General, speech before the soldiers go off to fight. Nothing can stop us! You’re not a conquerer today, you’re MORE than a conquerer! Now go fight to the death…or something like that. You can even keep reading other passages that fit this theme like Romans 8:31 (NLT) 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? And the church said… Amen!

But if I’m honest, these verses don’t settle the anxiousness I feel in my heart as a pastor. Theses verses don’t make it easier when you have to sit with your Children’s Pastor, and her family, who just suddenly lost their mother and wife. These verses don’t quite straighten out the thought for me that a dear family in our church is in the ring, yet another time, battling the formidable opponent, cancer.

Already, But Not Yet

But for me, reading Romans 8 today caused my heart to stir in a way that I didn’t quite anticipate. Instead of jumping to the huge theological boulders and debating concepts like predestination or eternal security, I found God’s Spirit reaching out to my spirit and bestowing on me a God breathed promise.

Awhile back I heard Tim Dilena read a passage from Romans 7 from the Message. Although I don’t do this as a standard of practice, I can’t help now but read Romans 7 & 8 from the Message. This is the passage of scripture that grabbed me: (read it slowly and intentionally) Romans 8:17-21 (MSG) 17 We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.

What Paul is advocating here is known as the “already, but not yet.” Developed by Princeton Theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, “already, but not yet” is the tension we find ourselves in between this present age and the age to come. It’s the time of great waiting. In this present age we experience struggle, heartache, and even death; but in the age to come, there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away (Revelation 21:4).

Conclusion

So since we find ourselves in the “already, but not yet,” what then do we do? How then are we to act? What do we say to people who are going through such difficult situations? How do we justify that God loves us, yet we still experience such deep hurt and anguish? I leave you with these words… (again, read it slowly and intentionally)

Romans 8:26-28 (MSG) 26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 

 

 

 

Romans 2: “Attaboy”

Growing up I was never fearful of a little hard work. In fact, it was expected in my home that if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat… Okay, that might be an overstatement, but it’s not too far off. You see, growing up, my parents gave me a wonderful gift… it was called hard work. The example of my parents was a mom who woke up at 4:30am every morning to spend quiet time with God before heading into work around 6:30am… every… day. My father only missed one day of work for sickness in the 35+ years at the same company. He even tore his MCL at work one day falling off a ladder and stayed to try and finish his shift. Seriously… hard work! Do you know how hard it was to try and stay home from school because you didn’t “feel good”? My arm or leg had to be hanging on by a thread in order to stay home.

My parents also taught me that if you wanted something, you needed to earn the money to get it. At twelve-years-old I started working cleaning pots and pans at a campground earning a whopping $20 a day! My staff laughs at me when I share with them all the jobs I’ve had up till the point of becoming a Pastor.

Although I worked hard, and didn’t mind working hard, I also didn’t mind the praise that came along with it. I was an “Attaboy” junkie! There were times when I would try as hard as I could to get an “Attaboy” out of my stubborn bosses or co-workers. I can remember when one night heaven and earth met in a cosmic alignment when my boss at the Deli said to me, “Attaboy.” I couldn’t believe it! He actually said, “Attaboy.” He said not to get to used to it because one “oh crap” takes them all away.

It wasn’t until later in life that I began to realize that I was spending a lot of my time trying to receive praise from man, verses receiving praise from God. I began to understand the power of Colossians 3:23 (NLT)  23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Let me ask you this question: From who and what are you seeking praise? 


Romans 2:29b (NLT) 29 And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.


As we’ve heard and read before, Paul is faithfully trying to communicate that circumcision will do nothing to draw you closer to God. You need to remember that Paul is talking to both Jewish and Gentile believers, but primarily Gentile believers who are trying to understand what “being a Christian” is all about. As he declares in verse 29, circumcision won’t/ can’t produce a change of heart, that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit! He goes on to conclude that when the Holy Spirit redirects our heart, He also redirects our motives. We no longer live to seek the praise of people, but rather we seek the praise from God.

Galatians 4: “God Took Our Head Out”

Galatians 4:4-7 (NLT) But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

I included more of the passage for context, but the point for today can be made directly from verse 5. As we discussed Saturday, we serve a mighty and powerful God who although can’t have anything to do with sin, loved us enough to send his one and only son to die on our behalf. This particular passage, especially verse 5 is a great example and representation of being justified, regenerated, and adopted by faith. Being a Nazarene pastor it brought to mind Article 9 from our denominations Manual.


 IX. Justification, Regeneration, and Adoption (From the Manual 2013-2017)

9 We believe that justification is the gracious and judicial act of God by which He grants full pardon of all guilt and complete release from the penalty of sins committed, and acceptance as righteous, to all who believe on Jesus Christ and receive Him as Lord and Savior.

9.1 We believe that regeneration, or the new birth, is that gracious work of God whereby the moral nature of the repentant believer is spiritually quickened and given a distinctively spiritual life, capable of faith, love, and obedience.

9.2 We believe that adoption is that gracious act of God by which the justified and regenerated believer is constituted a son of God.

9.3 We believe that justification, regeneration, and adoption are simultaneous in the experience of seekers after God and are obtained upon the condition of faith, preceded by repentance; and that to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.


Paul often uses the imagery of slavery to describe our life before Christ. He also uses it to explain our life after salvation, but that’s for another time. Here in verse 5, Paul indicates that before Christ we were slaves to the law, but we could experience freedom because Jesus would buy our freedom.

God Took Our Head Out

Eugene Nida, former American Bible Society Executive Secretary for Translations, told this story in his 1952 book “God’s Word in Man’s Language”.

“How do you say ‘God redeemed us’ so that your Bambara people can understand?” the missionary asked.

“We say ‘God took our heads out,’” replied the missionary’s Mali, West African translation helper.

He then explained about the long lines of men and women wearily walking to the coast, each with a heavy iron collar around his neck and with a chain leading from one slave to another.

Sometimes as a line of condemned slaves went through a village, a local chief or king might see a friend being led away and would want to keep him from slavery. The chief or king would have to pay the Arab slave traders enough gold, silver, brass, or ivory to redeem the friend, and then the chief or king would literally “take his head out of the iron collar.”

Nida then said, “And so today Bambara evangelists explain to the huddled bands around the evening village fire that God saw us in slavery to sin and self, being driven under the lash of Satan, and so He sent His Son to die that men might live. He redeemed us. Literally, ‘He took our heads out.’

“‘And furthermore,’ the evangelists explain, ‘just as in ancient times a redeemed slave felt an obligation to serve for a lifetime the one who had redeemed him, so we may be the voluntary slaves of Jesus Christ.’”

 

2 Corinth. 7: “Difference Between Sorrow and Repentance”

Finally some good news! This must have been what Paul was thinking when Titus came to bring an update from Corinth. Up to this point all we’ve heard about was all the problems plaguing the church in Corinth, but now there’s a different story.

I don’t know about you, but I can always find a reason to celebrate. I love to celebrate! It doesn’t matter what it is, I truly love to get together, laugh, joke, have fun, reminisce, and celebrate! Child looses their first tooth, celebrate! You brought home an “A,” celebrate! Your hamster had babies, cry, mourn, give away the babies then… celebrate! You can almost hear the change in Pauls tone as he recalls the emotions he experienced when he, Titus, and the rest of Paul’s team celebrated the change in the Corinthians.

Paul mentions that he sent a “severe letter” letter to the Corinthians, but we need to know and understand that this isn’t the previous letter we read as 1 Corinthians. This “severe letter” is one of two letters that were lost of Paul’s four letters to the Corinthians. It’s also important to know that the primary content of this lost letter was how deeply hurt he was by the actions of the Corinthian church. Paul eludes in this letter (2 Corinthians) to being upset over his authority being questioned. Paul’s purpose in writing the letter was not to make the church feel guilty about what they’ve done, but instead to experience the conviction that only God, through the Holy Spirit, can bring.


2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (NLT) I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.


Difference Between Sorrow and Repentance

Paul makes a very important distinction here between sorrow and repentance. One of the key differences is the action that is associated with both. Someone can be “sorry,” or “filled with sorrow,” over something they did, but still not be led to repentance. Repentance is an action, not a feeling. You can “feel” sorry, but if you’re “feeling” repentant it’s because you repented. Repentance, involves a recognition that a wrong has been committed. It’s also the difference between the “Godly sorrow” verses “worldly sorrow.”

The kind of sorrow that God intends results in a change of heart:Your sorrow led you to repentance (v. 9). It’s apparent that the church in Corinth felt sorry for how they treated Paul, but the church didn’t stop there, you see repentance goes further. It not only recognizes the wrong committed but also seeks to make it right. This the Corinthians did by admitting their blame and by punishing the offender (2:6; 7:11). At it’s core, this action of the Corinthians is godly sorrow. Godly sorrow recognizes the wrong committed and then does everything within its power to repair the damage. Simply put, godly sorrow is constructive.

Two People and a Cup of Coffee

As a commentator noted in a story: Two people are chatting over coffee. In reaching for the sugar, one of them accidentally knocks her cup in the other’s lap. A typical reaction would be “Look at the mess I’ve made. I’m so sorry.” This is the voice of regret. A certain kind of person will continue to berate herself for her clumsiness. But constructive sorrow is different from either. It says: “Here are some napkins. I’ll get the table cleaned up. And please let me pay the cleaning bill.” Constructive sorrow is the kind of sorrow that leads to salvation and leaves no regret (v. 10).

The Corinthian people wronged Paul and had to face the reality of their actions. And so it is with God. We have all wronged God at some point in our spiritual journey, and we too need to come to the reality that we will be held accountable for our actions. The question isn’t whether we feel “sorry” or not, the question is, what we going to do about it.

 

2 Corinth. 6: “Prove It!”

I’m not sure if people growing up in my neighborhood were just skeptical, but a popular phrase you would hear often was simply, “prove it!”

  • I can run down this hill faster than anyone else… prove it!
  • I’m a better hockey player than you… prove it!
  • I can cross this down tree over the crick with my eyes closed… prove it…?

Even though I grew up on the south side of Philadelphia we had a small wooded area at the end of my street we called, “the woods.” My friends and I loved going to the woods! Even though it wasn’t large, and it sat right next to the Northeast Corridor (The main railroad track system that ran from N.Y. to Washington D.C.), it was our little slice of eden.

One of the coolest aspects of the woods was the large oak tree you had to cross to get over the “crick.” You read that correctly, the crick. Okay… okay… the creeeek. Not very large, and really just a water runoff during heavy rains, the oak tree stretched all the way from one side of the creek to the other. There was only one problem, if you fell off the tree you would drop at least 15′ to the shallow creek below.

On a hot day in the middle of summer I said to my friends, I can cross the tree over the creek with my eyes closed, to which my friends of course responded with… “prove it!”

Paul Had To Prove It

Because Paul was up against a group of supposed “Super Apostles,” he had to spend a lot of his letter proving the difference between the two. When you read Chapter 6, you’ll notice not only Paul defending his actions, and the actions of his associates, but he also brings to light the differences between himself and this other group. One of the key differences is the way Paul proved himself and his ministry.


2 Corinthians 6:5-7 (NLT) We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.


Paul said, we proved ourselves by our…

  • Purity
  • Understanding
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Holy Spirit Within Us
  • Sincere Love

I always pay attention when Paul creates a list, and for good reason. Paul’s lists give us incredible insight into how we too should live. Don’t ever think that Paul’s lists are unattainable because, well… it’s Paul, but rather, Paul himself indicated that he’s nothing special; just a guy who lives to honor God with his whole life.

If you were to walk into work, school, a family function, or even just being out and about declaring you’re a Christian, how would “prove it?” Would you be able to say, well… I’m pure, understanding, patient, kind, the Holy Spirit is in me, and I show sincere love. Don’t be discouraged if this isn’t true, just begin to live in a way that proves that is.

 

As a Pastor

Speaking as a pastor today, I’m challenged by Paul’s words in verse 3 and 4: We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.

People tend to think that Pastor’s are off-the-hook because we’re pastors, but that’s not true at all! In fact, James 3:1 says the exact opposite when James declares that teachers/preachers will be “judged more harshly.” I desire as a pastor to live in such a way that these verses are reality for me. That’s my challenge today.

The End of the Story

You’re probably wondering what happened with the crossing of the tree over the creek with my eyes closed. Well, I certainly proved something that day… I proved I couldn’t do it.

 

 

2 Corinth. 3: “Blackouts and the Glory of God”

July 1995, Philadelphia

In July of 1995 Philadelphia was experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. I was working at my brother-in-laws family deli in South Philly. The name of the deli was literally, “The Family Deli.” So on a ridiculous summer night in July where the temperature reached 103 degrees, the incredible happened, we lost power. But it wasn’t just us who lost power, as we stepped out of the deli onto the street, as far we could see from the right or left it was completely dark.

As you looked across the street to the row houses, you could see people with flashlight walking through the house. People and employees from other shops came out to see how wide spread the power outage was. Everything stopped. There was no light. Not even the streetlights were blinking. It was the eeriest experience realizing that the cars driving by were providing the only light for the neighborhood.

Philadelphia that summer, much like other city’s on the east cost, had what was called “rolling blackouts.” Basically because the infrastructure of the city electric couldn’t handle the power usage, the city had to manually and systematically turn power off in certain grids to provide relief.

Now the amazing part of the story was a picture that came in showing a full long street with power on one side, but no power on the other. Literally the street was divided in half by power. The other amazing part of the story is the people on this particular street created dinner party’s and barbecues on nights of the blackout. So the people in the dark would walk across the street to the people with light and they would eat together.

I love this image. Think about it; people in the dark walking across the street to people in the light in order to share a meal together. If we connected this image to words of Paul, you could argue, spiritually speaking, one side of the street was covered by a veil, while the veil on the other side was removed to reflect the glory of the Lord (v. 18).

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant

Here in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul shares the difference between the old covenant written on tablets of stone, verses the new covenant written on the tablets of our hearts. This comparison is not only a comparison between covenants, but Paul also uses it to illustrate the difference between his ministry and the ministry of Moses.

Here’s a quick recap of the story of Moses’ glory in Exodus 34:29-35:

  • Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments
  • When he came down his face shone the glory of God
  • People, including his brother Aaron, were afraid to talk with him
  • Moses still addressed the people, but covered his face with a veil afterward
  • He would remove the veil when speaking with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting
  • After each meeting, Moses would address the people

Paul used this story in order to explain to the Corinthian Christians that eventually for Moses, the glory faded. In fact, as we will learn later, because Moses was fearful of what people thought, he kept his face covered longer than the glory shown.


2 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NLT) Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God!

Pauls point is compelling, because of the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to experience the unveiled, unfading glory of God. It’s because of this truth and revelation that Paul writes in verse 12 Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold.

Are You Reflecting God’s Glory?

2 Corinthians 16-18 (NLT) 16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Which side of the street are you on today? I pray we recognize the opportunity we have to see and reflect the glory of the Lord today!

 

 

1 Corinth. 14: “Works vs. Fruit of the Spirit”

Before we begin you have to know a little about me. I was born and raised embryonic Nazarene. I was born in June and was at camp meeting six weeks later! So if there’s one thing I know, it’s the Church of the Nazarene. With that being said, if there’s one thing I don’t know, it’s any other denominations other than Nazarene. I can remember getting into my first debate about eternal security with a Baptist friend my freshman year in college. I honestly had never heard the term “eternal security” until I went to college.

Here’s another thing you need to know, up until 1917 the Church of the Nazarene was actually called The Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, so the topic of speaking in tongues isn’t as foreign to our tribe as we may think.

I’ve heard many people tell me stories about their experience with speaking in tongues. A friend of mine was in a prayer circle praying when afterwards was shocked to hear from another person in the circle that one of the girls was speaking in tongues. When my friend asked the other people in the group what they heard they said the same thing. The strange thing was, my friend, who was Nazarene by the way, could tell you everything this girl prayed for that night.

Jim Cymbala tells a story of when he was a teenager growing up in the church. He shared the disheartening reality regarding the pressure to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He tried and tried, but never seemed to get to the point of being able to publicly speak in tongues. He recalled one day feeling as if he was supposed to share, but didn’t know if someone else in the congregation was being led to interpret. Suddenly a man a couple of seats down from him leaned forward, looked him the eye and said, “young man, you better share what the Holy Sprit put on your heart.” Jim looked back and asked, “how do you know I’m supposed to share something,” to which the man replied, “because the Lord told me what to interpret for you.”

On the other side of these stories are the stories of friends of mine who grew up in Pentecostal churches and felt forced to do something they didn’t believe in their heart. They felt further from God rather then closer because of the pressure to speak in tongues.

Now hear me, it would be foolish for anyone to say they don’t believe in speaking in tongues. They may not believe in the practice of speaking in tongues, but speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift and there is evidence of this gift found in scripture.

I’ve been asked a couple of times what I would do as a pastor if someone in the congregation stood up to speak in tongues. I would exhibit 1 Corinthians 14:27 (NLT) 27 No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. 28 But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.

Our God is not a God of confusion and as Paul indicated to the church in Corinth, don’t let speaking in tongues hinder the people around you. It’s the very reason why the Church of the Nazarene moved away from the Pentecostal side of the church. We still believe there should be evidence to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but instead of the evidence being through the “works” of the Spirit, we believe it should be evident through the “fruits” of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).