Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Purity: the seemingly impossible target

By Michael Bahjejian

Mat 8:2-3

1. Introduction

1.1 Uniqueness of the Bible
Before starting my message, I’d like to make a few comments about the Bible:
I believe it is the word of God, the revealed and uncorrupted word of God to humankind. Islam says the Bible has been corrupted, but no trace of these so called ‘uncorrupted version(s)’ has ever been found.

It is the only Holy Book. No other so called ‘holy book’ exist as there is only one God and He cannot contradict himself. Our Bible does not accept that a single word or even a comma might be added to or removed from it.

In our Bible, there are the New and the Old Testaments. The New Testament does not contradict the Old one but fulfils it. It reveals the spiritual reality of practices and symbols, like the practice of sacrifices that were given to humankind before the coming of Christ. Paul says it was the mere shadow of what was to come or the good things to come with the substance belonging to Christ (Col 2:17; Heb 10:1). But even a ‘biblical shadow’ is not to be despised, since the shadow of Peter the Apostle could heal sick people that were placed on its path (Act 5:15).
The New Testament itself reveals our Lord Jesus, who is among other things, God among us, the testimony of God’s love and the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation for humankind. Even if we still see spiritual things in a mirror dimly (1Cor 13:12a), what is behind this blurry glass is the right thing and one day at last, we will be able to see God face to face and know Him as well as He knows us.

1.2 Availability of the Bible

For centuries, it has been very difficult or even impossible to read the Bible. One of the reasons was that most people could not read. It is still partially true today, especially in India and in Africa. Also, it was impossible to read it because it was only written in a language that was different from the one people used everyday. Only religious people of the time knew Latin and that was the only language used to read the Bible and talk about it in most of the developed world of that time. It was then forbidden to translate the Bible in everyday language and those who braved the interdiction faced death and many died on the stake, burnt alive. Now that by God’s grace, the Bible has become available in many languages, many countries have forbidden its production, distribution and possession. When you think that just over a century ago, it was still impossible for a Catholic nun to read the full Bible, you realise that we are living in a changing time. Today, the Bible is available online in many languages and this is a great opportunity for many to have access to the word of God and praise God for those who work in that field.

1.3 Satan is still at work

As we know that the devil does not give up easily, he has started poisoning the very Bible we use. In the Left Behind 3 movie, that is the physical way the New World Order leader tries to kill Christians. Be aware, dear brothers and sisters of the bad translations of the Bible that cannot feed your souls spiritually properly. Key passages are removed, key words are replaced and the very dynamic of the Scripture is changed. Nowadays, everyone has to do his homework and decide by themselves which Bible they want to be fed with. May God bless you in this sometimes hard work.

One of the strategies of the devil is to paraphrase the scripture and present it as a authentic Bible. The ‘Message’ version, for example, introduces itself as a reading Bible and not as a study Bible. The website introducing ‘The Message’ reads:
“The goal of The Message is to engage people in the reading process and help them understand what they read. This is not a study Bible, but rather "a reading Bible." The verse numbers, which are not in the original documents, have been left out of the print version to facilitate easy and enjoyable reading.”

Although it is true that Jesus did not quote the verses he rebuked Satan with, it is nevertheless a help that has been useful for centuries. Also it reads:
“When we hear something over and over again in the same way, we can become so familiar with it that the text loses its impact. The Message strives to help readers hear the living Word of God—the Bible—in a way that engages and intrigues us right where we are.”
In this, it contradicts Joshua 1:8

This Book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein. For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”

I personally do not think that God agrees with making a difference between reading and studying his word. As for the ‘artificial’ way of making the Bible attractive and easier to read, it is most likely to make the reader lazy in his mind by selecting for them a single interpretation where God had willingly left it open to discussion on purpose. ‘The Message’ and other similar ‘successful new versions’ of the Bible try to do what the work of the Holy Spirit is, that is to make the Scriptures alive in our hearts. I think it is a short-sighted view to make something new for the sake of it, since ‘The Message’ itself will grow older too with time and what will refresh it then? On top of that, who would go back to a ‘study Bible version’ when they have been used to reading a type of ‘easy listening’ one. For those who like children movies, do you remember how hard it was for the edge hook from the “Over the Edge” movie to go back to the healthy bark, after having tasted chips and other junk food.

So today, it is our privilege to have in our hands a Bible where the key words have not been ‘tempered with’, to be able to read and study it, to have the time and the motivation to do it and to be able to listen to messages about it. Praise God for that. Amen.

The Bible is unique as it is self explanatory. It is like these fruit trees that are auto fertile. With the Bible only, and the help of the Holy Spirit, you can understand the Bible and live it. Many commentaries and preaching, although not all of them, are often a distraction and a waste of time. The Bible explains the Bible. That is the reason why you need a good version. At the end of many Bibles, you can find what is called a Concordance. Each translation has his own one and you can also find entire book that are the Concordance of a specific version and they can be quite exhaustive. They are very useful to find passages you sometimes know, but are unable to find otherwise.

After this lengthily but hopefully useful introduction, it is time to go to today’s message:

2. Our message: Purity: the seemingly impossible target

2.1 Three passages among others mention purity

1 Pet 1:22
22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[a] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,

James 4:8
8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Phil 1:22
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Peter asks us to purify our souls, James asks us to purify our hearts and Paul asks us to meditate on whatever things are pure. What does that mean? There, we are the ones who are asked to do the purification. Furthermore, we are told how to do it:

Our souls are purified through obedience to the truth through the Holy Spirit
Our hearts are purified by coming closer to God and being single-minded
We are to assess whatever things are pure to meditate on them.

2.2 Obedience

1 Pet 1:22
22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[a] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,

Obedience is central to our Christian walk. In people’s life, the Holy Spirit is revealing progressively how to obey God’s commandments then it becomes a dialogue about what to do and not what to be, who to be and not to be. Jesus himself showed us the way: He was obedient unto death (Ph 2:8), he accepted the truth that was revealed by the prophets in the Scripture that he had to die (Luc 24:25-27)

8And being found in the fashion of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death--even the death of the cross.

As Christians, we are everyday asked to choose between two masters who require our obedience. Matthew 6:24 (21st Century King James Version)
24"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

This obedience leads to righteousness, one of God principles as it is written in:

Rom 6:16
16Do you not know that if you present yourselves(A) to anyone as obedient slaves,[a] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

This does not mean, as the devil would like us to believe, that if we sin, we become his slaves as long as it is not our choice to live in sin. We have to constantly throw our sins at the foot of the cross, as our sins belong to Christ who bore all of them and use the gift of repentance to come right before God one more time.

According to 1Peter 1:22, the purification of our souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit will lead us to love one another more fervently, with a pure heart. Obedience dissipates the risk of being hypocrites in our mutual love. Alleluia for that!

2.3 Being single-minded

James 4:8
8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Being single minded is certainly a key to holiness as it is so hard to be. Single minded means:
1. Having one overriding purpose or goal
2. Steadfast; resolute:

A quotation from WikiHow reads: "single-minded" has to do with the power of focus. Your ability to focus is ultimately your biggest ally in accomplishing tasks and projects. With practice, this is an ability one can develop. Your level of achievement and success depends upon it. The good form of "single-minded" is the ability to block out distractions and erroneous thoughts in order to concentrate better. Your desire to become more single-minded will enable you to finish projects with more efficiency in less time.

To purify our heart is to constantly remove from it any ideas, thoughts and desires that are not in agreement with the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is an active process that never ends, and that is not related to our growth in the Christian faith as the devil attacks with more determination those who are a danger for him and his kingdom of darkness. He is single minded too in his determination to destroy God’s plan.

2.4 The things that are pure

The world is obsessed with what is pure. Pure water, pure gold, 100% pure NZ. ‘Pure’ is a very attractive word. However, it brings many people under the slavery of what to do and what not to do, especially about food. Halal for Muslims, Kosher for Jewish, Vegan for animal lovers. Although God himself, in the Old testament, gave a lot of commands concerning many aspects of life, this has been replaced now by the rule of our conciences enlightened by the Holy Spirit. This rule is not accepted by other religions like Islam. They think that only the threat of a harsh punishment can prevent them from immorality.

In Arabic-speaking countries, the term is used to describe anything permissible under Islamic law, in contrast to haraam, that which is forbidden. This includes human behavior, speech communication, clothing, conduct, manner and dietary laws.In non-Arabic-speaking countries, the term is most commonly used in the narrower context of just Muslim dietary laws, especially where meat and poultry are concerned, though it can be used for the more general meaning, as well.Veganism is a diet and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.[1][2] Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind.[3] The most common reasons for becoming a vegan are ethical commitment or moral conviction concerning animal rights, the environment, human health, and spiritual or religious concerns.[2][4][5]Of particular concern to many vegans are the practices involved in factory farming and animal testing, and the intensive use of land and other resources for animal farming.Vegan diets (sometimes called strict or pure vegetarian diets) are a subset of vegetarian diets.
All these concerns keep many people busy, others obsessed and others rich but it is in God’s eyes a distraction from what he calls pure. To mention only a few, here are some things that the Bible considers pure:

The fear of God Ps 19:10
The fruit of wisdom Pr 8:19
The commands of the Lord Ps 19:9
The wisdom from on high James 3:17
The New Jerusalem made of pure gold Rev21:18
What God declares pure Act 11:19

3. Conclusion

Mat 8:2-3
And behold, a leper[a] came to him and(B) knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." 3And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Leprosy in the Bible represents sin and its result on the skin. I believe that God wants us to be pure and clean. And what seems impossible to us because we are so weak, our God will do it, because He is strong. However, He requires from us to persevere and keep his words alive in our hearts and keep the faith.May God bless you in this walk in and towards purity. Amen

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