Q&A: Why is the Apostle John known as the beloved?

Q: Why is the Apostle John known as the beloved? Why does Scripture tend to lead us to believe Jesus loved John more than the other disciples?

It's true that John referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" on several occasions. But here are some important facts:

First of all, John is the only one who uses this title for himself, so, technically speaking, he wasn't "known as the beloved" — it's simply a kind of nickname he applied to himself. But the next fact is that John never explains why he uses that title nor does he explain what it means. 

I think we can be absolutely certain that John never intended to convey that Jesus loved him more than anyone else. I mean, this is the same man who recorded the words, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..." John understood the love of God and I don't believe he saw himself as a unique or special recipient of the love of Jesus.

The other thing we need to understand is that there were many sayings and statements used in antiquity that translate very poorly into modern English. I believe this is one of them. I think John was actually using this statement in place of his own name as a way of simply referring to himself as one who was loved by Jesus. Not the only one, mind you, or even the one best loved...but just simply one loved by the Lord. I think it's a name that any of us could take on after coming to the realization that we are the unlikely recipients of God's unconditional and life-transforming love. John was so taken with the idea that Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice, that he spoke of that love in a personal and tender way. "I am one who is loved by Jesus." Whatever exclusivity we hear in that statement is, I believe, more of an irregularity of the transition from ancient to Greek to modern English.

Q&A: What does it mean to fear the Lord?

Q: What does it mean to fear the Lord?

I actually get this question quite often because a modern reader sees the word fear and wonders if it means to be terrified. But that interpretation misses the emphasis of what God is trying to convey when His Word tells us to "fear God." 

At its essence, fearing God means to acknowledge and honor the Lord for who He is and to obey His Word. This is what is included in the exhortation to "fear the Lord and shun evil." (Proverbs 3:7)

We have all seen practical examples of this in everyday life while driving on the freeway. People are moving along at a brisk pace until someone spots a police car parked alongside the highway with his radar gun pointed at oncoming traffic. Instantly, brake lights pop on one after the other, as people slow down to avoid being stopped for speeding. Although it may seem somewhat simple, this response to the police officer by those on the freeway is a good example of what it means to fear God. The drivers slow down because they recognize and respect the officer's authority and ability to hold them accountable for their unlawful actions. 

When we recognize that God is sovereign and all-powerful and that He has this same authority and ability to hold us accountable for our actions, we respond to Him with what the Bible calls a reverent fear and we adjust our behavior in keeping with His will, whether revealed in His Word or merely confirmed by our conscience. 

Q&A: Can we trust people who claim to see our future?

Q: Can anyone (even Christians) see someone's future? Can we trust such people? Does the Bible say something about this?

It is clear from the Bible that people themselves DO NOT have the ability to see the future, for themselves or anyone else. Only God can know what lies ahead and the only way we can know it is if the He reveals it to us.

There is such a thing as the gift of prophecy, and sometimes those so gifted may have something revealed to them from the Lord about what is to come — whether a future event or a future action by someone or a group of people. There are many examples in the Bible of God allowing His prophets to know what would come to pass in the days ahead. But those insights were given so that the prophet could sound a warning to individuals or to an entire nation. Let me repeat, prophets themselves CANNOT know the future without God revealing it to them. They have no crystal ball or power within themselves to see what is to come.

Along with those who have a genuine prophetic gifting, the Bible also warns about false prophets. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15), and the Apostle John encouraged us in a similar way, saying, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)

Notice John tells us through the Holy Spirit to "test the spirits" — this means to test any prophetic messages we may receive. We test them by comparing what they are saying to Scripture, and also by allowing the test of time to play out to see if what they are saying comes to pass. And finally, we test the prophet's own personal "fruit" — meaning their way of life. Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16) Anyone with a true prophetic gifting will be humble and welcome this kind of testing. False prophets, on the other hand, will demand that you accept their words at face value and become annoyed if you insist on putting them to the test.

If you are currently in an environment where people are often claiming to know the future life and actions of others, I would encourage you to be VERY cautious and perhaps even find a new fellowship. Although prophetic giftings are biblical and real, false prophets are just as real.

Q&A: How do we make sense of the different genealogies given for Jesus as recorded in Matthew and Luke?

Q&A: Matthew and Luke give very different genealogies for Jesus in their Gospel accounts. I've heard you say that Matthew is recording Joseph's lineage while Luke is recording Mary's. What proof do we have that this is correct?

While I personally believe that Luke is giving our Lord's maternal genealogy through Mary, my position is based on clues rather than proof. And yet, I believe those clues are compelling.

The key is that Matthew and Luke each give a different name for the father of Joseph. Matthew says Joseph’s father was Jacob (Matthew 1:16), while Luke says it was Heli (Luke 3:23). Since the Jews were extremely careful when recording genealogies, it seems highly unlikely that these two men just got it wrong, especially since they were dealing with a name that was only one generation removed. So, how do we explain this?

My belief is that since there was no specific Koine Greek word for “son-in-law,” Joseph was called the “son of Heli” by marriage to Mary — which means Mary was Heli’s daughter. Also, Luke speaks of Jesus being the son of Joseph, “as was supposed” (Luke 3:23).  

The other clue that leads us to believe that Luke is recording Mary's genealogy is the fact that no other Gospel writer gives more information about Jesus' life as a child. It seems very likely that Luke spent time with Mary getting details that could have come from no other source.

The benefit of recording both Mary’s and Joseph’s family lineage is that Jesus is seen as the legitimate son of David whether determined by law through Joseph (as recorded by Matthew) or by blood through Mary (as seen in Luke). Some people object to this conclusion based on the fact that tracing someone's genealogy through a woman was extremely rare. I agree...but a virgin birth is even more rare!  



Q&A: Can believers claim the promises given to Israel by invoking the name of Jesus Christ?

 
Q&A: Can believers claim the promises given to Israel by invoking the name of Jesus Christ?

Some of them we can, and others we cannot. Many of the promises given to the Israelites are simply promises based on God's care for His children and speak of His own faithfulness and goodness. Those statements and promises are for all time. But there are other promises that are specific to the Mosaic Covenant. Those we CANNOT claim because they were given to Israel and had a very specific promise attached to them that pertained to the LAND that was promised to Abraham as well as the blessing that would attend their obedience to the Law.

As the Apostle Paul tells us, "We are not under law" (Romans 6:14) which means we are not involved in the covenant that God made with Israel through Moses. In fact, even in the Old Testament prophetic writings, God told Israel that He was going to make a new covenant with them — which is the covenant of grace we now have through Jesus Christ. (See Jeremiah 31:31) So, technically even the Jews of Israel can no longer claim the promises of the Mosaic Covenant. God offered them a new covenant through His Son. The fact that they rejected His Son and the New Covenant doesn't mean the Old Covenant is still in force. As the writer of Hebrews says, it is "obsolete" and "ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13)

Q&A: Is getting a vaccine an act of unbelief in Jesus' healing power?

Q: Is getting a vaccine an act of unbelief in Jesus' healing power? What is the biblical view on this issue?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This question is NOT about the Covid-19 vaccine. Pastor Paul is responding to a general question about vaccines, medicines and doctors and how such things fit into a life of faith. 

What might be an act of unbelief for one person isn't necessarily an act of unbelief for another. It all comes down to the heart.

For example, one man may submit to a surgical procedure but place himself completely in the hands of God for the outcome, while another man has the same procedure and places his complete trust in doctors and medicine for the desired outcome. It depends on the individual and where their ultimate trust and confidence lies.

Obviously the Bible doesn't specifically address vaccines or even say much about doctors for that matter. But it does talk a lot about trusting God. I suppose all those passages about trusting God with all of our heart are why some claim that going to the doctor and taking medicines is not walking by faith. But those very same people walk into grocery stores and clothing stores every day and think nothing of it even though Jesus promised that God would feed and clothe us. (Matthew 6:25-33) Wouldn't that also be considered a faithless act in light of God's promise?

I don't believe using doctors or medicines or vaccines are what define our faith. Real faith is a matter of the heart. One man may take a vaccine and remain fully convinced that God is in charge of his life and health, while another man expresses this same faith by rejecting the vaccine. Each one should be fully convinced in their own heart and not cast judgment upon the other.

Q&A: If I refuse to get back together with my abusive boyfriend does that mean I haven’t really forgiven him?

Q: My boyfriend was abusive so we broke up. He’s been wanting to get back together and when I said no he questioned whether I had actually forgiven him for all he had done. (I told him I had.) If I refuse to get back together with him does that mean I haven’t really forgiven him?

There is a common belief that REAL forgiveness is best seen by extending to the offending person a second chance (or third or fourth or fifth chance, whichever the case may be). Any refusal to do this is seen as proof positive that forgiveness was never truly offered. This idea is so strong, even among Christians, that some believers will actually withhold forgiveness because they are afraid of letting the offending person back into their lives for fear of those offenses being repeated. 

But is that true? Does your refusal to let someone back into your life prove that you haven’t forgiven them or that you're somehow judging them for their wrongs?

There is a story recorded in 1 Samuel that helps to give some understanding to this matter. Chapter 26 records the events of a time when David was on the run from King Saul because the king wanted David dead. However, when Saul came out to pursue David, the Lord created circumstances in which David had the advantage and an opportunity to kill Saul while he slept. But David refused to take Saul’s life. 

When King Saul discovered that David had spared his life, the king openly and publicly expressed deep regret for his actions. Furthermore, he encouraged David to return home with promises that no harm would ever come to him. He said “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” (1 Samuel 26:21) But the chapter ends by saying, David went his way, and Saul returned to his place. (1 Samuel 26:25)

David chose to forgive Saul for all the evil and cruelty he had displayed in the past, but when urged to “forgive and forget,” David wisely chose to keep his distance. He knew that words alone weren’t any kind of proof that Saul had changed his ways. Sadly, Saul’s life ended with no real transformation.

This passage shows that true forgiveness CAN take place without reopening one’s life once again to someone who has only offered words of regret and nothing else. But let me end by saying that there ARE times when someone who previously caused hurt in the lives of others has truly given their life to Jesus and changed for the better. I’ve seen it happen many times. The key is to look for the FRUIT of change (this is called repentance) and a genuine determination in that person to follow Jesus.






Q&A: How can I know for certain that God exists?

Q: All of my adult life I have tried to remove the doubts I have on the existence of God. My feeble brain has a hard time wrapping itself around eternity, infinity etc.

I don't think your issue is not being able to wrap your mind around eternity and infinity. Your issue is that you somehow believed you were capable of doing such a thing in the FIRST place. Other people don't have faith in God because they can wrap their minds around those things. They believe in God and eternity and infinity IN SPITE of their lack of understanding of those things. The human mind CAN'T comprehend the incomprehensible. It never could, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just blowing smoke.

God has given humans the capacity to know that something exists, even if we can't know HOW that thing exists. For example, I can know that there is such a thing as timelessness (eternity), and yet, as a creature of time, I also understand that there is NOTHING in my life experience that I can point to that displays the characteristics of eternity. In fact, EVERYTHING around me is just as much a prisoner of time as I am. So, how do I know that there IS such a thing as eternity? Simply because God communicates it to me in His Word. I accept it on faith. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "...he has put eternity into man’s heart..." It's in our hearts, but NOT in our minds to comprehend it. We must leave room for that as a mystery of God.

Were I to say that eternity cannot exist simply because I cannot comprehend such a thing, I would essentially be declaring my mind to be the greatest thing in the Universe, and anything outside my mind (or beyond my mind) cannot possibly exist and is therefore untrue. That would be the height of human arrogance.

Many people over the years have confessed to me their inability to accept that God is a Trinity — one God and three Persons — because they cannot fathom how such a thing could be. But what they fail to realize is that if they COULD fathom the nature of God, their mind would be EQUAL to God. But, by definition, God MUST be greater than man, otherwise He would not be God. And if God is greater than man, then it is logical to believe that His nature is also greater than man's comprehension (or ability to know).

Now, the EXISTENCE of God is somewhat easier to establish, because unlike eternity, God has left His fingerprints on everything that I can see in my daily experience. The Apostle Paul explains that God's "...invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." (Romans 1:20) The reason they are "clearly perceived" is because God has also given all of humankind the ability to recognize that which is the by-product of a designer versus that which is the by-product of random forces. For example, if an earthquake were to knock our Scrabble board game off the shelf and onto the floor, I would look at the arrangement of the letters and I would KNOW that the game ended up on the floor as a result of a random event. The very way they were sprawled on the floor would tell me that. If, however, I found that all the letters from the Scrabble game on the floor were arranged in such a way as to spell out a specific message to me with each word spelled correctly, I would know that someone (a designer) had arranged them that way. Why? Because random events of disorder never result in order and intelligence. 

You have convinced yourself that your inability to fathom the incomprehensible is actually a "doubt" as to the existence of God. It is not. It is simply the result of your being a finite human being who CANNOT comprehend what is incomprehensible. The God who created all things and Who is yet uncreated has expressed it in His Word to us, when He says: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8–9)

The Apostle Paul expressed it this way: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable* his ways! (Romans 11:33)

*impossible to understand or interpret.

Q&A: What does the Bible say about generational curses?


Q: What does the Bible say about generational curses?

I’ve had quite a number of people ask me this question before. Some variations to the question include: How can I break a generational curse? Is my family under a generational curse? Is it because of a generational curse that bad things are happening to me? Could it be that a generational curse is the reason I am unable to get past some areas of sin in my life?

Let me begin by citing the passage from which the belief in “generational curses” has emerged:

You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me… (Deuteronomy 5:9)

A great many Christians have been taught about generational curses from this passage. They have been told that an ongoing curse from the Lord may be happening in their life resulting from the past sins of family members, perhaps even before they were born. This has given rise to complex strategies on “how to break generational curses” and the constant blaming of such curses for anything bad that may be happening in their lives. 

But is this true? Is that what this passage is saying?

The answer is NO!! But the reason so many stumble here is because they ignore the five very critical words found at the very end of the verse — “of those who hate me.” This passage teaches us that God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation OF THOSE WHO HATE HIM. In other words, the children are carrying on what the parents started — a hatred and rejection of God. This is the reason why the judgment continues “to the third and fourth generation.” 

But about those who come to Christ — who love the Lord? Are these still under the Lord’s judgment for the sins of their parents or grandparents?

There is a fundamental truth that all Christians need to learn and accept and it is this: generational judgments are broken when we repent of sin and turn to Jesus in faith. I will say it again: coming to Jesus in faith breaks every chain. I can’t emphasize this enough — Jesus is the One who sets us free from every tie to the past. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Notice Paul mentions nothing of generational curses. Why is that? It’s because if generational curses still exist for the believer, then the old has NOT passed away and the new has NOT come. Paul’s statement would be categorically false if generational judgments are still in place for those who have put their faith in Jesus.

Jesus breaks every chain when we come to Him by faith! You are a new creation! Do you know what that means? That means your past, even the horrific things done by you or your relatives — even strongholds of sin — cannot control you or dominate you any longer. As Jesus declared, “...if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

But be careful here. Just because Jesus has set you free from the dominion of sin doesn’t mean you can’t go back and live in your sin once again. There may no longer be anything compelling you to live the way you did before you met Jesus, but you can still choose to be under the dominion of sin. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote what he did to the Galatians when he said, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1). Jesus set you free from the chains of your past, so you no longer have to live that life of slavery to your sinful impulses. But that doesn’t mean you can’t choose to go back and live like a slave. Sadly, some people do.

I hear Christians saying: “This stronghold of sin has taken control of my life,” or “This is why divorce is rampant in my family.” Still others say: “We have a spirit of anger over our family,” or “We’re all struggling with a spirit of fear and that’s why our family is so fearful.” 

They say such things as if there’s no power in the Gospel — no overcoming victory in the cross. And yet, the Bible says that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). I sometimes wonder how many Christians are living defeated in the condemnation of their family’s sinful past, enslaving them to a hopeless existence that robs them of the joy that ought to be theirs in Christ Jesus.

I’ve got news for you. If you’re in Christ, you ARE a new creation! You’ve been birthed into a new family with an entirely new family identity. This new identity is what controls your life — not your family’s sinful past. The Bible declares that we are from God and have overcome...for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) Greater is He that is in you NOW than the old self that controlled you in the past. 

You have a new “family likeness” not founded on the past patterns of family-related sins but rather on the Person of Jesus Christ. Just respond with a heart of faith to what the Bible tells you about your new life in Christ, and boldly declare, “I am no longer bound to my past or the past of my family. I am free in Christ to follow a new Master — Jesus Christ my Lord.” 


Q&A: If Jesus' death on the cross is an atonement for sin and the price is paid in full, why then do we need to ask for forgiveness in our daily prayers?

Q: If Jesus' death on the cross is an atonement for sin and the price is paid in full, why then do we need to ask for forgiveness in our daily prayers?  Isn't the payment for sins already complete?

This is a fairly common question and the Bible provides a good answer. Allow me to explain.

When a person recognizes their sinful condition and comes by faith to Jesus, accepting the sacrifice He made on the cross and receiving Him as their Savior, that person is born again and completely forgiven of all their sins — past, present and future. This forgiveness is FOR SALVATION and it is perpetual. (1 John 1:7)

Why, then, does the Bible tell us to come to the Lord and say, "Forgive us our trespasses..." if we are already forgiven by the cross of Christ? The reason is for RELATIONSHIP. 

If you are a Christian, a believer and follower of Christ, you are in a relationship with God through the Son, and that relationship can easily become strained and sullied by living in a world where sin is commonplace. This creates the need for us to come to the cross and find forgiveness so that no barriers exist between us and our Lord.

I’ll use the analogy of marriage to explain our relationship with God and why we need to come to Him and ask forgiveness. My wife and I are married and our status as a married couple is perpetual, but because we have a close relationship we sometimes do or say things that hurt the other person. When we do, we remain married, but there now exists a breach or rift in our relationship that needs to be mended before we can move on and be close once again. So, we come together and confess our wrong attitudes, words and actions, and we extend forgiveness where it is needed. In this way, the closeness of our relationship is restored through forgiveness. But throughout this process our status as a married couple never changes.

In the same way, your relationship with God can easily become strained and distant through sin. It doesn't mean you've lost your salvation or are no longer a child of God — that status cannot be affected by sin. But it DOES affect your relationship with God, and that relationship (closeness) needs to be restored. This is why we come to the Lord and confess our sins — so that nothing is able to create distance between us and our Redeemer. 

This picture of cleansing is powerfully depicted in the foot washing that occurred during the Last Supper. Jesus explained, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean...” John 13:10 (ESV) When we accept by faith the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we are "completely clean." But the reality of everyday life causes us to occasionally need to wash our feet because we're walking every day through a world that is filthy with sin.


Photo: BigNazik/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q&A: Where did Cain get his wife?


Where did Cain get his wife?

This is a very common question, because when reading through Genesis we come to chapter 4 where Cain is punished by God for murdering his brother, and immediately afterward we're told that "Cain knew his wife." (v17) People quite naturally want to know where this woman came from since she seems to pop up out of nowhere.

One key element that most people don't take into consideration when dealing with this question is the fact that Bible writers tend to ignore anyone who doesn't make a contribution to their narrative. In other words, we read about Cain, Abel and Seth because their contributions to the story line are critical. But that doesn't mean they were the only children born to Adam and Eve. Not by a long shot.

Cain and Abel are introduced to us in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 4, but in verse 3 there's an important phrase, which says: In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering... (Genesis 4:3) The phrase "in the course of time" presents for us the passage of a considerable amount of time, during which the world's population obviously grew very rapidly. How did it grow? Adam and Eve had many more children, who grew and had children and whose children grew and had children. (see Genesis 5:4) 

The Bible doesn't record how long Cain lived, but if his lifespan was anywhere near that of his brother Seth it would have been in excess of 900 years. In just a fraction of that time the population growth would have been sufficient for Cain to have had several choices in a wife. And even though the woman he married would have been a close relative, the purity of the gene pool in those early days of human history allowed for healthy children.