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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.