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Scripture Studies

Love's Equation

spiralI think it is without question that all of us believe in love. We have our view and understanding about what love is. We all have our own unique experiences when love is shown. We can further ask the same question to a more religious person and they will tell you how they profess and uphold love. Oh, how they love the subject of love! They would not even hesitate and embrace the virtue of loving others as they love themselves. No question about that.

But what do we really know about love?

How does the Bible define love?

I am asking this question about love, because I was once confronted with this question. Some thought that I tend to favor love more than the application of laws and commandments.

Is this observation correct? Is there some validity to the idea that we cannot truly show our love if we want to uphold the law? Are laws and love two different and opposing subject in the Bible? Will you be showing strength when you uphold the law, and you are giving in to some weakness when you favor love?

King David, one of the toughest men in the Bible (he has confronted and killed the mightiest giant of his time, Goliath), once wrote a meditation in concerning the interplay of law and love as he understood it in his life:

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me. Psalm 119:97-98

 David goes further in his affirmation by saying:

I hate the double-minded,
But I love Your law.
You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in Your word.
Depart from me, you evildoers,
For I will keep the commandments of my God! Psalm 119:113-115

So here is David, the righteous King over all Israel, affirming his love for God’s laws. Do we have contradictions here? Did King David confuse himself by showing his love for God?

David further adds in:

My life is continually in my hand,
Yet I do not forget Your law. Psalm 119:109

That why I called this the triple “L” formula in Psalm 119 – Law, plus Love equals Life! I called this the love's equation.

Putting it another way: If you Love God’s Law, then your life will be full. If you love Life then you know that the foundation of that life must be grounded on the law and If you uphold life through love, then you are showing a love that is real! This is the synergy to a real life.

We cannot simply have one without the other. That’s the biblical application of Love. As they say, love is  verb—an action word.  Love defines our way of life. Love is manifested in itself as a fruit in one’s life (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23).

This same principle applies when we understand that our physical body, for example (with its various internal parts or organs woven intricately, playing distinctive roles), has built in system of laws that made our life possible and sustainable.  And so laws are everywhere in God’s creation (laws of gravity, electromagnetism, laws on thermodynamics such as entropy, etc.) because laws are what made life possible. Law made life and love is what makes life worth living. Hence, without the interplay of law and love you can only have chaos, destruction and death.

However, many have this distorted idea about love who subvert those lacking in understanding of true, godly love. That is why the Bible is also full of admonition about a false sense of love, like this one in the book of Proverbs:

Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
Let us delight ourselves with love.
 For my husband is not at home;

He has gone on a long journey;
He has taken a bag of money with him,
And will come home on the appointed day.”

With her enticing speech she caused him to yield,
With her flattering lips she seduced him.
Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks. Proverbs 7:18-22

This is the kind of love that is popular nowadays. Naturally the product of this kind of love is betrayal that causes pain and heartbrokenness in relationships.

Another sense of false love is described by prophet Ezekiel this way:

“As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’  So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain." Ezekiel 33: 30-31

This is empty love that borders on deception and duplicity.  These are commonly seen among those who profess to love God but their action speaks otherwise.  Jesus equally has this strictest condemnation:

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. Matthew 15:8 (See also Isaiah 29:13)  

While there are false concepts of love these should not deter anyone in seeking the true kind of love that truly support and uphold life. In fact, we can confidently say that love is the centerpiece of all Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments).

Moving in the New Testament, Jesus Christ made it very clear in Matthew 22, even as He was challenged by those who claimed to uphold the Law:

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40

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When was the “Last Great day of the Feast” according to John 7:37?

 fot-waterOne verse that was interpreted to mean the “Last Great Day” is found in John 7:37 and it read:

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (NKJV all throughout)

Anyone can readily understand that this verse refers to the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). We know that the topic discussed in this whole chapter 7 of the gospel of John is what transpired during the last feast of Tabernacles of Christ before his crucifixion. John 7:2 shows this to be the case.

“Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles wJohn 7:37as at hand.” John 7:2

There are only seven (7) days in the Feast of Tabernacles and not eight (8). That is a well-established fact. So the last day, the great day of the feast, is the seventh day. There is no contest to that. It is totally absurd to reason out that the Eighth Day is the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles since God or His prophets never referred to it as part of the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. Rather, they simply called it as the Eighth day.

“Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day, there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.” Nehemiah 8:18

“At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly, for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days.” 2 Chronicles 7:8-9

Christ’s words at this last day of the feast in John 7:37 directly relate to the meaning and purpose of the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles.

When Jesus stood up, He said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38

Verse 39 of John 7 gave the explanation to these words of Christ as referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to those who believe on Him.

“But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” John 7:39

Jesus Christ deliberately timed and connected these statements and its meaning to the normal practice of the priests to draw water from the Pool of Siloam and pour this out at the temple during the seven days’ duration of the Feast of Tabernacles. (*Jews also called the last or seventh (7th) day of the feast as Hoshana Rabbah or the “Great Hoshana”. As Hoshana means “save now”, it pictures the last great act of saving through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit in the last days. - Editor)

The priest’s ritual and Christ’s words both point to the offering of salvation and giving of the Holy Spirit to the vast majority of humans (who never had a chance before), as pictured by the seven days feast of Ingathering (Tabernacles). This feast coincides with the great fall harvest of fruit bearing trees, vines and crops in Israel.

Another passage worth considering is the very last verse in Chapter 7 of the book of John. The Eternal inspired John to write this down after the events ended at the last day of the feast:

“…They went each to his own house.” John 7:53

This verse provide us with a clue that the people were staying in temporary accommodations in compliance to God’s command to dwell in temporary (makeshift) shelter for the seven days Feast of Booths, Otherwise, there would be no sense to include the verse in Scripture if it is a usual thing during that week for people to go back to their respective homes every day. Jesus, on the other hand, went to the Mount of Olives.

Early morning of the next day (John 8:2), they were all back at the temple. What happened on this day is accounted for in Chapter 8 and 9 of the gospel of John. Reading these two chapters will give us the information this day is a holy day. This is now the Eighth Day Sabbath.

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him, and He sat down and taught them.” John 8:2

The Sabbath: A Sign Between God and His People

cavite-brethrnTo many people, the Sabbath is just a day of rest based on one’s preference. To some, it is a time of religious study at home, or a classroom type of meeting where one gathers with friends and acquaintances, sits down, listens to the speaker and takes notes. To a few however, it is a day of struggle between do’s and don’ts. And, there are others who view the Sabbath as a burden resembling a 24-hour preventive suspension that hinders one from pursuing other “worthwhile activities”.  

Is the Sabbath just any day we choose to rest? Do we equate Sabbath assemblies to classes we have in school? Have we looked at it as a burden? Has keeping the Sabbath become a routine, dull and mechanical?

Just what is the Sabbath? Does resting and not working on a particular day relate in any way to salvation? What difference does it make whether a person keeps the Sabbath or not? How does God look at the Sabbath? Why did He create it in the first place and make its observance a law?

If Sabbath keeping is important to God, then we need to know why and not to go through life without having the answers to the many questions about it.

The Sabbath is not a physical-material creation. No amount of scientific research, mathematical formula or calculations can even attempt to determine or reach a conclusion that a particular day is the Sabbath. It may be the reason why the great majority chooses any day they want to rest. Some even make everyday a Sabbath.

The separation of the seventh day and the holy days as Sabbaths was primarily done and determined only by the word and revelation of God and none else. God’s word is spirit and it is life. The Eternal’s word is truth.

John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”

John 17:17 “Your (God’s) word is truth.”

Only God’s word is the sole basis of truth. If it’s truth one seeks, the person truly doesn’t have a choice even though he is free to do so.

Yet it is the individual’s responsibility whether to trust God’s word and come under His wings. Either one takes the word of God or not at all.

Joshua 24:15And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

There are church/religious organizations which include the proclamations/revelations of their spiritual leaders or even fundamental beliefs they formulated as established truths. But do these destroy or contradict the living laws of God?

Isaiah 8:20 “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

Jesus Christ said: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Matthew 5:17-18

No tangible proof exists to show that the Sabbath of God is different from the other days except for the men and women who rest and keep the day holy and who attest to this fact by the miracles they saw and experienced in their lives. No physical evidence was created to show that a particular day is a Sabbath, let alone God’s testimony which was written and preserved in Scripture.

Several given signs identify the real disciples of the true God and the Christ. One is love for one another.

John 13:35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Second, the Holy Spirit in an individual separates God’s people from the world.

Romans 8:10And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Romans 8:16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God..”

The Sabbath is also a sign between God and His people.

Exodus 31:16Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’”

The Sabbaths reveal the identity of the invisible, ever living Sustainer or life, exalt the One being worshipped and point to Him as the true God, and not the idols or any lesser gods; at the same time, mark out and separate His physical flesh and blood heritage from the rest of humanity.

Sunday worship on the other hand, distinguishes the rest of Christendom. Sunday as the Christian Sabbath was the invention of the Roman Catholic Church based on its claim to have the authority to designate the day of worship. This authority stems from their belief that the Christian Sabbath was the offspring of the “union” of the Holy Spirit and the Catholic church His spouse (The Catholic Mirror, series of articles September 1893).

The keeping of the Sabbaths is an act of faith in God’s word/testimony and a witness to the truth that such days exist, created and ordained by the all powerful God who is Spirit.

John 4:24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The only way to truly worship a spirit God is via the spiritual avenue He established and those are His laws  which include His Sabbaths. God’s physical creation is governed by time, and it is through the element of time that God set in motion His revealed Sabbaths.

Time is the essence of life. Our life equals the amount of time we hold at our disposal. All humans, rich and poor, young and old alike, has equal time to use or to give out everyday.  It is not one’s choice to surrender any day he/she wants to God. God requires His Sabbath days in their appointed times be surrendered to Him to carry out His purpose for them.

Freely giving one’s time to God on the Sabbath honors and sets Him apart as our Creator. We acknowledge His claim that we are a product of His creative handiwork, and that He owns us.

Isaiah 64:8But now, O Lord,
You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand.”

The holy days reveal the Lord God (YHVH) also as our Redeemer who is presently working to restore His people to fellowship with Him.

John 5:17 “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

1 John 1:3that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

God’s holy Sabbath days show exactly what God plans to do in a particular time, to redeem and to work out the salvation of His people. God always shows His people the things He is going to do and what will come to pass.

Amos 3:7Surely the Lord God does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.”

Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John..”

Revelation 22:6Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.”

Genesis 17:19Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.”

As landmarks in time, guiding God’s people through God’s timetable of world events, the Sabbaths foretell God’s hand in the affairs of mankind, establishing the fact that He is the Master Organizer of the whole creation. God is always in control. God challenges the idols and those who set themselves up:

Isaiah 41:22-23 “Let them bring forth and show us what will happen;
Let them show the former things, what they were,
That we may consider them,
And know the latter end of them;
Or declare to us things to come.
Show the things that are to come hereafter,
That we may know that you are gods;
Yes, do good or do evil,
That we may be dismayed and see it together.”

The Sabbaths of God stand as signs and signals between Him and His people.

Ezekiel 20:19-20I am the Lord your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.’

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Pentecost: The Day Israel was Betrothed to God (Yah’v’h) - Part 2

marriageThe story of Adam and Eve foreshadowed the story of Christ and his bride. Adam had to go through a number of things to gain his wife, Eve. God had to put him first to a deep sleep (an analogy of death).  In much the same way, Jesus had to die first, to take his bride in marriage.

Removing a rib form Adam’s side required piercing through his flesh, entailing the loss of blood. A Roman soldier took a spear and pierced Christ on his side where blood gushed out of his body. Adam woke up from the deep sleep (an analogy of resurrection), after which he saw Eve whom God gave him for wife. After Christ was resurrected to life, he was able to complete and seal the engagement with his bride, the ecclesia, whom God gave Him.

Genesis 2:21-22 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”

The patriarch Jacob, had to work as a servant to Laban a total of 14 years to have Rachel for his wife, because he was deceived the first seven years of labor by being given Leah instead of Rachel (Gen.29:25).

Washing by Water: Miqvah or mikvah (mik-vaw), a collection or body of water

Hebrew brides undergo washing by water (dipping whole body in a river or water seservoir) their purification to signify separation, indicating that they are leaving behind their past and concentrating their life ahead on the groom.

A day or two before Pentecost (the day of Firstfruits - Num. 28:26), the Rock of Israel asked all the people to wash their clothes, bathe, and avoid any defilement; and appear clean and washed physically and ceremonially before Him.

Exodus 19:14-15 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.”

Previously, ancient Israel had undergone a symbolic baptism after they went down the water of the Red Sea and crossed it. They were also under the waters held by the cloud as they walked through the desert, and even when they stood before the mount on the day of Pentecost - Shavout.

I Corinthians 10:1-2 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

Blood of sacrifices they offered at Sinai were collected in basins and were sprinkled on the altar and on the people by Moses after he read the book of the covenant before everyone. It is symbolic of the act of binding (as a blood compact), and cleansing the people and the altar used to offer the sacrifices; for the covenant was made with the Holy One Himself.

Exodus 24:6-8 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”

Upon embracing the role of the groom in their lives, New Testament believers act on it by changing their lifestyle and ways (repentance), and turning from the former life of lawlessness to tread, thereafter, the raod to a new life with the groom. They signify this by going through the rite of water baptism: a symbol of the washing away of past sins.

Token or Seal: Owth (oth) or chotham (khoo-thawm) a sign, token, evidence, or signature, ring, seal

Something of great value is usually given to the Hebrew bride as a symbol of the love, loyalty and commitment of the groom. Normally, a gold or diamond ring is given as a gift to the bride by the groom as a sign that she is engaged to be married to him.

With ancient Israel standing as the bride, a precious gift given to her by Yah’v’h were the two tablets of testimony (owth).  What made it so valuable was because God himself wrote in them with His own fingers, bearing His own signature (chotham); the primary terms of the covenant, engraved on both sides of the tablets.

Exodus 32:15-16 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. 16 Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.”

When Moses came down form the mount as saw Israel indulging in idolatry, he brake down and destroyed the two tables of testimony, because she did not fulfill her part of the covenant, but simply despised it. Thus, what could have been a betrothal by God was not completed or sealed that day.

Exodus 32:19 So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”

As replacement for the ones he broke, Yah’v’h asked Moses to cut to shape a new set of tables; then go up to the mount to receive additional instructions to be relayed to the people; and for Him (the Rock) to rewrite his covenant on the tables.

Exodus 34:1 And the Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke.

The second tables of testimony Moses brought down to the people, finally sealed and completed Yah’v’h’s engagement to ancient Israel. These were later placed inside the ark of the covenant.

Exodus 40:20-21 He took the Testimony and put it into the ark, inserted the poles through the rings of the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. 21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, hung up the veil of the covering, and partitioned off the ark of the Testimony, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

God took a rib, an essential part of the cage protecting Adam’s heart, to serve as an instrument that would provide the gift of life to Eve. In like manner, Jesus Christ gave a precious part of His Spirit body (the Holy Spirit), His chotham to serve as the earnest of everlasting life for his bride.

The completed and sealed betrothal rite (erusin) is known in Hebrew as Kiddushin which means sanctification.

After an engagement between Hebrew couple has been clinched and the ‘ketubah’ signed, the groom departs and goes back to his father to prepare a place for the bride. The bride is set apart (sanctified) till the day the groom comes back for her.

At the last supper before His crucifixion, Christ told His disciples he go and prepare a place for them.

John 14:2-3  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

John 17:15-16 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

No relationship involving humans is smooth sailing all the way. What is important is to keep the lines of communication open and busy all the time. For while the groom is away, Satan and his demons will do everything within their allowable means to break the engagement and destroy the relationship. The Eternal, however, defines the boundaries.

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Who Should Prophesy?

pro-ezekielHow should one recognize a “prophet" from God? Can we be able to recognize him today? What is this thing called “prophecy” or “prophesying”? Should Christians prophesy today?

When we think of a prophet and of prophecy, we normally associate the words with the great prophets of old in the Bible. We think of eccentric and rough dessert men like Elijah or John the Baptist. We recall the vivid and very colorful yet enigmatic prophecies of Amos, Joel, Daniel or Ezekiel. We learn from the Bible that God actually could raised up a prophet from the royal line who was educated, and who would use his literary talents to write poetic prophecies, like Isaiah. And, God even chose a prophet while he was still in his mother’s womb, like the prophet Jeremiah.

But who are God’s prophets today? And what does prophesying have to do with being a Christian?

In a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to Christians at Corinth, after emphasizing to them the all important role of love and how spiritual gifts can be made more effective through it (I Corinthians 12 and 13), he brought them back to the basics of why we need spiritual gifts from God. He wrote:

"Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but specially that you may prophesy." I Corinthians 14:1

In verse 31, Paul says that all of us can actually prophesy. He wrote:

"For you can ALL prophesy one by one, that all may be encouraged."

Later in the same chapter, in verse 39 he again emphasized and wrote down, "Therefore, brethren, DESIRE earnestly to prophesy…" In the authorized version (KJV) it reads, "Covet to prophesy."

What did Paul mean by the above verses, specifically pointing out that we must all "covet" or "desire earnestly" to prophesy? Is there something in prophesying that, like the early Christians at Corinth, we still do not understand?

Let’s have some background.

In the book of Acts during the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter declared before thousands of gatherings, the following words (quoting the prophecies of Joel):

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see vision; your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants [men] and on My maidservants [women] I will pour out My Spirit in those days and they shall PROPHESY." Acts 2:17-18

Here we can learn that prophesying was a phenomenon that accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit and is very much a sign of God’s people. Those who heard the words of apostle Peter obviously understood his meaning and saw its fulfillment or they wouldn’t have believed him and be baptized on that very same day. The record says three thousand people were immediately added to the church (Acts 2:41) and daring feats were made by them as we can read in succeeding verses and chapters of the book of Acts.

In a letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul noted that prophets and prophesying are part of a five-fold ministry that God equips His church:

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,…" Ephesians 4:11-12

Hence, the church is built on these foundations as Paul affirmed earlier (Ephesians 2: 20-22).

As Paul also explained in I Corinthians 12, prophecy is one of the nine gifts (or manifestations) that the Holy Spirit gave to every believer:

"But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one…

the word of WISDOM…word of KNOWLEDGE…FAITH…gifts of HEALING…workings of MIRACLES…PROPHECY…DISCERNING of Spirits…different kinds of TONGUES…INTERPRETATION of tongues. I Corinthians 12:7-11

But the question now is: Can we all receive the same gifts? Can one man take to himself an inventory of these gifts and use them as he wills?

In concluding the same chapter, Paul asked the question: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets?… Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues?" (I Cor. 12:29-30) The implication of his questions was that all these gifts are not for one man or woman alone but that these gifts are given in different measures so all will profit and learn from one another so that the whole body (Church) will be edified (12:26). These are enabling gifts not for the individual but for the church. But then he says that we should "earnestly desire the best gifts." What did he mean?

In I Corinthians 13, Paul gave us the proper motivation for gifts to be exercised properly—and to the fullest. Contrary to what some believe that Paul talked about the "greatest gift" in this chapter and by that, they mean love, Paul actually viewed love (Gk: agape) as "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9) which is present and must grow in each individual and without it, spiritual gifts would be misdirected—thus, would amount to nothing (I Cor. 13:1-10). In earnestly desiring the best gift Paul showed them "a more excellent way" which is the exercise of spiritual gift through love. Consequently, love should be the stirring factor in all spiritual gifts. And, Paul’s emphasis should be viewed in the light of what he said in chapter fourteen, when he asserted, "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but specially that you may PROPHESY."

So, why? What does that mean?

First, notice what he said in that same chapter:

"For we know in part and we prophesy in part." I Corinthians 13:8

Prophesying therefore is something that is present in us. We all have it, it is part of God’s earnest upon receiving the Holy Spirit. Just like the disciples in Acts 2, they were given utterances and prophesied as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Each one who receives the Holy Spirit have that spirit of prophecy. And, what is this "spirit of prophecy"?

Let us read from what the apostle John heard and recorded:

"And I [John] fell at his [angel] feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’" Revelation 19:10

So, something must by clear by now in what Paul is trying to explain. Revelation 19:10 says, that the SPIRIT of prophecy is the "TESTIMONY of Jesus Christ." To have the testimony [Gk: martureo from which the word ‘martyr’ was derived] means to bear witness or have a witnessing evidence or proof of His Words (Psalm 19:7; John 21:24). This is what Paul meant when he wrote early on to the Corinthian brethren that, "…you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you so that you come short in no gift…" (I Cor. 1:5-7). Again, he said, "I…did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God." (I Cor. 2:1) This comment is interesting in the light of what he said in I Corinthians 13:8 and 14:1. Every Christian who has the testimony of Jesus Christ has the spirit of prophecy. Though we can’t all be prophets (i.e, "office" of the Prophet) but because we have the testimony of Jesus Christ, we can prophesy "in part", said Paul.

But how is this done? How can one prophesy? Paul’s answers to these can be found in the immediate verse of I Corinthian 14, he wrote:

"But he who prophesies speaks edification, and exhortation and comfort to men." Verse 3.

Thus, this is the emphasis of Paul. To prophesy is to be able to exhort and give comfort for "he who prophesies edifies the church" (verse 4). As he continues:

"How it is then brethren? Whenever you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all thing be done for edificationFor you can all prophesy one by one, that all may be encouraged." I Corinthians 26, 31

Contrary to what some people believe that prophesying always refers to foretelling or forecasting of future events, the meaning refers to a witnessing testimony of God’s words and of His Son, or forth telling (or declaring of something ‘from this day onward’).

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Choosing Life?

Why do mflagg-sost people think that if you live a life that is dedicated to God, it means giving up all the fun and enjoyment of living? They feel that in order to please God, they must renounce all happiness and endure a life of penance and gloom!

To these people, the word “worldly” means everything that is desirable in this life. To them sin is anything that is tied up to pleasure, anything physical and material.  To sin is to commit a number of  “don’ts” which are primarily based on personal and imagined standards—“don’t party”, don’t drink !”, “do not watch movies”, etc.  As a result, they tended to accept a life that that is full of labors and sorrows.

But is this what our Creator God, the author of all life wanted us to live?

 Is it part of His plan to deny us of anything that will make our life happy, satisfied and fulfilled? Does God want us to live an unhappy, empty and depressing state of life?

During a period called “Lent” (or Lenten season), most Filipinos were reminded by their religious upbringing to dedicate a life of penance for forty days (beginning with “Ash Wednesday” leading to Easter Sunday). Based on this belief, devotees and believers alike are encouraged to abstain themselves from certain flesh meat, fast, deny the self for some pleasurable activities—it is even thought as wrong to take a bath during some of these days! Others may even go so far as to “self- flagellate” their bodies so they can please God or somehow receive answer for some of their personal petitions and prayers.  Apparently, these practices impress upon them that such is a religious life—to dedicate yearly, especially during “holy week”, a life that seems to deny the self from joy and happiness. To do otherwise is to become worldly.

But strangely, it seems that none of these people knew that the same Jesus of Nazareth whom they imitate and follow through their acts of penance during these periods, declared that His coming and eventual death and resurrection will bring about real and abundant life!           

“I come” Jesus said, “that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s the purpose of Jesus’ first coming, the reason why He needed to die is for us to live a life that will be full—to have an “abundant life”!

But why do people think otherwise? What’s wrong with our life and beliefs?

Biblically speaking, real Christian life should be based on how we submit our life to God as Christ “lives in us”. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he declared:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NKJV all throughout, otherwise noted)

Does the above verse mean that we need to hang ourselves on the cross and be crucified along with Christ physically? Of course not.  To be “crucified” with Christ means that our life should be geared toward dedication and surrender as we allow Christ to mold us.  To live by the faith means that all we need to do is to trust on His redemptive works. No amount of our self-penance will satisfy or even earn us some “forgiveness points” with God so that our personal wishes or prayers can be granted.

Paul further tells us in Romans 8:10-11, the following:

"And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

Thus, in order for Christ to live in us requires more than just an avowed belief and relying to some folk-“religious” practices that mimic Jesus’ suffering, like resorting to public lashing and even getting oneself crucified in order to show to the world one’s resentment towards worldly life. It means living through “His Spirit who dwells in you” which is able to provide us new life.

But how can we receive this new and abundant life?

First we need to understand that most of the customs and practices observed during “holy week” and Easter are nothing more than man-made replacements of God’s ordained holy days and biblical observances that fall on the same period like Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (Refs: Exodus 12:1-28, Leviticus 23:4-8, Numbers 9:1-14, Deuteronomy 16:1-8, Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, Acts 12:1-4, Acts 18:21, 1 Cor. 11:23-26). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul continued to enjoin believers to observe these in the correct and proper manner (1 Corinthians. 5:6-8). Moreover, the Bible cautions not to follow religious customs that are based on “heathens” or “traditions of men” (Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Jeremiah 10:2; Mark7:6-9; 2 Corinthians 6:14–18; 7:1 ).

Second, the Bible says that we can only be set-apart, purified, cleansed, and made pure in God’s sight—by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The epistle to the Hebrews plainly tells us about this:

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” Hebrews 9:11-14; 13:12

This, along with new and living faith (Hebrews 11:1, 1 Peter 1:21, 2 Corinthians 5:7), humbly submitting to God’s will daily in life (James 4:7-10), seeking His truth always and prayers (John 17:17; I Tim. 4:5), makes us clean in the sight of God. Thus, as noted earlier, no amount of fasting, denial of self from momentary pleasures, or even self-flogging can purify us.

Third, you cannot, of and by yourself, create within you “the desire to do God’s will.”  Paul in Romans 8:5-7 explains:

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."

Only through a life that is in full submission to God’s will and actively led by the Holy Spirit can God work “in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure”:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13. 

Thus having repented and obtained our faith through the shed blood of Christ, we can then receive the benefit of a good and abundant life leading to life eternal!

"The Spirit however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control—and no law exists against any of them."  Galatians 5:22-25 (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

“This Do, as Often… In Remembrance of Me”

bread-breakingOver two thousand years since Jesus of Nazareth lived on this earth, Christians have celebrated a meal with bread and wine. This tradition is based on the account of each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), recorded in the book of Acts, and in First Corinthians. At the very least, this meal reminds every believer of the body and blood of Jesus, but there is much more to contemplate about this simple practice… 

The Church of God Sharing Village believe in the partaking of the “bread and wine” as Jesus Christ taught his early disciples and as He had expanded and fulfilled its meaning and symbolism.  We have regularly taken up its emblem every first Sabbath of the month. And with the knowledge and the value that it benefited us over the years, we deem it necessary to share to you some of its understanding.

It has not been an easy task of course, as we made this addition as most of us have traditionally kept a rather similar observance annually during Passover.  Nor do we want our practice identified with the “Eucharist” as it has evolved among Catholics or the “Communion” of the Protestants or even “Kiddush” of the Jewish.  We just felt and believed that this practice has been in existence long before those practices developed—from its simple act of hospitality and thanksgiving to our Creator, acknowledging His provisions and deliverances, to the future redeeming sacrifice of His Son.  So we called it, as it has commonly been called, the “bread and wine” in Scriptures.

But why bread and wine?

First, we have this somewhat overlooked but very significant example that Abraham showed as he met a priest named Melchizedek:

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.  And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.’” Gen 14:18-19

Notice how the bread and wine were used as a symbolic act in the context of “blessing” from a priest “of God Most High”.  The Scripture does not say when Abraham learned this practice but the spontaneity of this incidence showed that it was a regular act or symbol expressed during ancient times as they acknowledged and worshipped their Creator God.  Melchizedek, though identified as a “priest,” was a mysterious personage that lent credence to his figurative preeminence, especially when he was identified in the New Testament as:

“’…king of righteousness’, and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace,’ without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Hebrews 7:2-3

Whatever we perceived from this puzzling biographical sketch, his coming forth with bread and wine were very prophetic in itself when we think of its fulfillment and significance today.

Quite almost unnoticed nowadays, but bread and wine were customary accepted offerings in the Temple. Exo. 29:38-45 showed that it is part of the daily “evening and morning sacrifice.” Note that the LORD says that it has to be done whenever “I will meet you to speak with you” (verse 42). So that bread and wine has become a symbol when the LORD would like to meet and speak with his people.    

 Again, in Exo. 25:23-30, in the instructions to make the table for the Showbread—a stand to which offerings were placed, God commands, “And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always” (verse 30). The showbread itself is described fully in Lev. 24: 5-9.

Twelve “loaves” representing the twelve tribe of Israel were placed in two rows with six loaves in each row.  It was called showbread because it was placed symbolically before the presence or “face” of God.  In other words, the showbread was again symbolically used as our link or communication whenever we approach God.

Num. 15: 1-16, with the law of grain and drink offerings, it again showed that a combination of bread and wine was required for most of the sacrifices in the Temple. Fine flour mixed with olive oil as “grain offering” showed that only the best could be used in the offerings and worship of God.  Wine was used (verses 7,10) as accompaniment to the burnt offerings of lamb, goat, ram, and bull.

During Feast Days, more particularly the three “Pilgrimage Feasts”, bread and wine also played a central role – the “unleavened” during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:6), the two “wave loaves” during the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Lev. 23:17), and the daily “grain and drink offerings” for seven days, during the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:13; Num.29:12-38).

The lesson of the manna as the LORD taught the Israelites was also important as it shows these development and understanding.  Exodus 16, recorded:

“’…in the morning you shall be filled  with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” Verse 11.

Notice how the bread was associated with knowing God. Again in verse 15, we read:

“And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground.  So when the children of Israel saw it, they said  to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD commanded…” verses 15-16a

Again, observe how the giving of bread juxtaposed with the keeping of the instruction.

“Then Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: fill an omer with it to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread which I fed you in the wilderness…” verse 32

Following it up, the author of the letter to the Hebrews listed a golden jar of manna among the contents of the Ark of the Covenant.  So this is worth thinking about: Bread has its ‘eternal’ or regular place [not just once every year] in the Holy of Holies.

Did the Israelites understand the significance of all these? Did they know that these somehow looked forward to their Messiah? The Scriptures does not directly say so, not even Christ’s own disciples until He personally taught them.

But what we do know is that bread and wine are basic stuff among Middle Eastern people, and it is undeniable how this has become inextricably linked to their lives and well-being. It has served as expressions to various acts such as giving of offerings or thanksgiving, ratification of a covenant, act of hospitality or friendship, and in purging alliances, etc.  Most Jews today continue some shades of these practices and still recite blessings over bread and wine in their services, at their Sabbath meals, on holy days, and other special and intimate gatherings.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, the Jews and the deciples should know what Jesus was referring to when He alluded to all these symbolisms.

So what did Jesus Christ say?

Move forward now to the time when Jesus finally revealed Himself in John 6. You may read the whole of John chapter 6, but it would suffice here to repeat the following verses as focus of this study.  Christ declared the following:

“…”Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…

“Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 

“I am the bread of life…

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

“Then Jesus said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

“For my flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

“As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

“This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:32-33,47-48,51,53-58.

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