HOW TO DETERMINE WHETHER SOMETHING IS GOD’S WILL FOR YOU

A couple of weeks, I preached a lesson on “The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on the Mountaintop.” In that story, we learned how important it is to set aside prayer time and prayer partners who can keep us accountable and encouraged. Jesus often withdrew from the busyness of life with some of his closest friends (Peter, James and John) to pray and express his anguish and how overwhelmed he was (Matt 26: 37 – 38, Luke 9:28). Through prayer and Scripture reading, we get to discover God’s will and purpose for our lives. Jesus always knew God’s will for His life, yet He still took the time to pray asking for the strength to accept God’s will (Luke 22: 40 – 43). Besides prayer, which should always be first and foremost, how can disciples of Christ determine whether something is God’s will for their lives?
          A few people reached out to me asking to share with them the list of 7 questions I presented during that lesson – 7 questions to help us determine whether something/someone is God’s will for our lives. There are many voices out there, including our own sometimes, that may adversely influence the choices we make and how we live our lives. I believe the following questions can help us better determine God’s will for our lives:

  1. Does this promote or hinder my joy in Christ Jesus?
  2. Paul taught us in Philippians 4: 6 – 7 that God’s will for our lives is to be joyful. Therefore, I do not believe that our creator would want us to do something or be part of anything that robs us of our joy of salvation in Christ Jesus
  3. Does it encourage me to be holy or immoral?
  4. The Bible is clear about the importance of holiness in the life of a believer (1 Thess 4:13, Heb. 12:4), and God would never want you involved with immoral things that can compromise your holiness.
  5. Is it going to help me be more grateful and content?
  6. This life can push us to want more and more and never be grateful and content with how blessed we currently are. It is God’s will for us to live grateful and content lives (1 Thess 5:18)
  7. Will it keep me humble or make me more prideful?
  8. Humility is a virtue that God desires for all believers to foster and exhibit in their spiritual journey (Phil 2:3, Ja 4:6). God would not want us to be in a position/situation that makes us arrogant and prideful
  9. Does it help me convey the love of God to my neighbors?
  10. All believers are called to love God and their neighbors. Love must always be at the center of all we do because love is how the world knows we are of God (1 John 4, 1 Cor. 13, john 13: 35)
  11. Does it help me focus on serving others or only myself?
  12. God’s will for us is not to be selfish, but to use our talents and blessings to serve others and the Church (Gal 5:13, Mark 10:45, Matt 25: 14 – 46)
  13. Does it promote or hinder my salvation in Christ Jesus?
  14. God’s ultimate desire for all of us is to be saved. He would never want us involved with anything that could potentially compromise the salvific work of Jesus Christ.
    (1 Timothy 2: 3 – 4, Matt 18:9)

PRACTICAL CHRISTIAN TEACHINGS ROMANS 12: 9 – 21

Romans 12 contains some of the most practical teachings among all of Paul’s letters. The apostle Paul made an urgent plea to his Christian audience: a) to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God (v. 1 – 2), b) to serve one another in the Church body (v. 3 – 8), and c) to actively love people without hypocrisy (v. 9 – 21). So far, we have talked about the first and second segment of the chapter, today I’d like for us to consider a very important aspect of our Christian lives: Love – pure and undefiled love.
            Love is at the center of everything godly. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was asked; “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” He responded, “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” (Matthew 22: 34 – 40). Paul echoed Jesus’ teachings on love in the thirteenth chapter of Romans: “For he who loves another has fulfilled the law of Christ… love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13: 8, 10). John made it clear that “God is love, and he who does not love does not know God because God is love (1 John 4). In the Old Testament, we learn that God chose the nation of Israel not because they were more numerous than the other nations but because He loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7). Jesus taught his disciples that the world will know who they are ‘If they love one another” (John 13: 34-35). Many are the verses in the Bible that talk about the important and imperative of love in the life of a believer. However, I believe Romans 12: 9 – 21 offers us a deeper and more practical teaching on love other than the teachings of Jesus Christ himself.
            Paul started the pericope with these words: “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Why did Paul have to encourage disciples of Christ to love one another without hypocrisy? Shouldn’t that be expected of the Lord’s Church? Shouldn’t love always be true, pure, and undefiled in the Lord’s Church? (These questions are rhetorical). Love should never have any agendas. Love should always be patient, kind, hopeful, non-provoking, truthful, and real (1 Corinthian 13: 4 – 8). However, many of us may struggle to absolutely love one another as we are supposed to according to Scripture. That is why I said we need to “actively love people.” In 1 John 3: 18, the beloved apostle exhorted his fellow believers to not only love with our words but also with our actions: love must be active, it must come from the heart. Paul explained further what it means to love without hypocrisy. The “Roman” author says that when you love someone you need to be kind to that person and be willing to value their interests as your own. Also, love seeks to be at peace with everyone, as long as it depends on you (verse 18) and it does not seek revenge. Love does not hold any grudges, nor does it keep a record of wrongdoings to remind people of later in a relationship. It is possible for a disciple of Christ to not have a peaceful relationship with everyone where kindness and love are not reciprocated, but you must strive to keep no ill-will for any human being. When you love someone, you need to bless them with your words. The word “bless,” in this context, means to speak well of them and to actively wish them well even when it is not welcomed. If there is anything you can say or do to contribute to their overall well-being and success in life you ought to do it, because that is what love does. These two word “Love Does” are the title of a book written by Bob Goff, and I would strongly recommend it to any disciple of Christ who is striving to understand how love must be actively present in their life, just as much as God must be actively present in their life. After all, God is love (1 John 4), and if God is living in you, love cannot help but be actively present in your day to day interaction with other people around you. Love does not act because of what it is expecting in return, love simply acts.

I love you all,

Donny Pierre

Practial Christian Teachings – Romans 12:3-8

In Romans 12, Paul provides some much-needed practical Christian teachings. The entire chapter can be divided in divided into three segments: a) Being a living sacrifice to God (v 1-2), b) Being of service in the body of Christ (v 3-8), c) How to actively love people without hypocrisy (v 9-21). Last week, we talked about the first segment, today we are going to focus on “Being of service in the body of Christ.”
           In the church today, we often talk about our service to God as our form of corporate worship on Sunday morning. We say things like, “I am going to service,” “How was Sunday morning Service.” To serve God is more than just Sunday morning corporate worship at the building. We also serve God in the way we serve one another as an interdependent community. In verse 3, Paul points out the first requirement to serve God and the body of Christ is humility. Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should, but rather with sober judgment.” The apostle was addressing the people in the Church who considered themselves better than others because of their wealth or power, because of their talent or education… those who probably feel superior to other members in the Church because they have been Christians longer, or they have a greater knowledge of the Bible… (David Roper, Commentary on Romans). It is important for disciples of Christ to be humble and adapt a Christ-like approach in their service to one another. Jesus himself was able to serve us because he emptied himself and “Made Himself of no reputation by taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). He made Himself of “no reputation” when He washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). We cannot properly serve one another if we do not value our fellow believers above ourselves and fail to look out for their interests (Phil 2: 3-4). Paul wants us to highly regard the collective interest of the Church body and focus less on self, and that requires humility.
           We are individual members of the same Church body, and each one of us has a talent/gift that we can use to serve one another. In the following verses (6-8), Paul points out a few gifts the Church in Rome could use to serve one another: prophecy, serving, giving, teaching, leading. Beside humility, I think it is important to determine and develop your spiritual gift(s) to serve one another in the Church body. In verse 6, Paul says “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” So, what is your spiritual gift(s) and how are you using it to serve God and the Church body. Whatever your gifts are, you have a responsibility effectively use them to minister to the Church body in order to glorify God (1 Peter 4:11). Peter said in his epistle, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Now, it is important not to think of spiritual gifts only as some supernatural/divine ability to do specific things in the Church body. Paul clearly pointed out some very practical and yet important things we can do to serve one another. Do you have the gift of teaching? Then you need to do it diligently. Do you have the gift of giving? So, give generously. Do you have the gift of encouraging others? You should do so with all your heart. Do you have the gift of hospitality? Then, be hospitable without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). Maybe you have the gift of visiting others, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry at the soup kitchen, and so on. Do not ever limit what it is God can do in you and through you, because each one of us has a unique gift that can benefit the Church body. 
           To determine and develop our spiritual gifts, I think it is important to focus on the desires that God places in our heart, which He can confirm through other faithful believers around us. In Phil 2: 13, Paul says “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” God can also use our professional skills/abilities coupled with our life experiences to develop our spiritual gifts and serve one another. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul was writing about an unfortunate event he experienced in his life, and he believed that God brought him out of it so that he can use that experience to minister to others (2 Cor 1: 3-6). Whatever your spiritual gifts are, let us use them to serve God and the Church body. 

God bless you,
             Donny Pierre 

Practical Christian Teachings Romans 12:9

The book of Romans is often considered to be Paul’s greatest didactic epistle with a special emphasis on “the righteousness of God – a righteousness that can only be acquired through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3: 21 – 26). The 12th chapter of Romans is possibly my favorite one in the entire book, because it provides some practical teachings for disciples of Christ. There is a wealth of hands-on information in this chapter that we all could use right now, and I am going to take the next few weeks to write about Romans 12 in order to both encourage and challenge your discipleship.
            Romans 12 can be divided into three segments: a) Being a living sacrifice to God (v 1-2), b) Being of service in the body of Christ (v 3-8), c) How to actively love people without hypocrisy (v 9-21). Let us focus on the first two verses for now. Paul started the chapter with an urgent plea: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters…” He wanted to captivate his audience’s attention, because what he was about to say was and still is of the utmost important to Christian living. “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom 12: 1). I know many of us are remarkably familiar with this passage of scripture as it is one of the most quoted ones in the Bible. However, please allow me to share some exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation of the text.
            In the Old Testament, worship was all about sacrifices. The nation of Israel was commanded to offer all sort of sacrifices when they worshipped in the tabernacle and in the temple. The holiest day in Judaism is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16), and it is all about sacrifices. The word “sacrifice” means “To surrender or give away something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” God’s people were expected to sacrifice the first fruits of their crops, their animals, and their wealth (Prov 3: 9, Isaiah 56: 7, Lev 23: 10-14, Ex 23: 19). When they offered their “left-overs,” God did not accept their worship because it was not a sacrifice (Mal. 1). Although, we no longer have to offer burnt offerings and animal sacrifices unto God because of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2, Heb 10: 1-18), we are still commanded to offer “spiritual sacrifices” to God when we worship (1 Peter 2:5).  In the Old Testament, when God’s people went to the physical temple, they had to offer sacrifices on the alter, but today OUR BODY IS THE TEMPLE (1 Cor 6:19-20). Therefore, our body must be the living sacrifice itself, and that is how we worship and bring glory to the name of God. Notice that our body is the temple, not the building; therefore, wherever we are and whatever we are doing we must strive to bring glory to His name (Col 3: 17).
            Now, in the 2nd verse, Paul explained what it means to offer your body as a living sacrifice: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” To be a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God, a disciple of Christ must not conform to the pattern of this world. Even in the Old Testament, God never wanted his people to conform or assimilate to the pattern of the world around them (Leviticus 18: 3 – 4, Ezekiel 11: 12). We must not resemble the world more than we resemble Christ. Our values, behaviors, and beliefs must stem from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not from politics, media, and culture. It is a sacrifice because we must strive every day to surrender to the will of God and not be engulfed in the ways of the world around. It is a sacrifice because there are things, habits, hobbies, beliefs, and even people we may have to give up for the sake of Christ. Mother Teresa once said, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” Being a living sacrifice is not meant to be a comfortable life, but a holy and purposeful one. It is a transformation process that occurs over time through the Grace that we receive in Christ Jesus. A disciple of Christ must seek to be more like Christ everyday and less like the world. “He must become greater and greater, I must become less and less” (John 3:30)

I love you all,
Donny Pierre

BE OF GOOD COURAGE

Several weeks ago, I started reading and studying the book of Esther, and I could not help but appreciate how courageous Vashti, Hadassah and Mordecai were in the face of life-threatening danger. Vashti was willing to stand up for herself, knowing there would be some consequences for defying the king’s command – she lost the crown. Mordecai was willing to stand up to Haman knowing he could have gotten killed. Esther was willing to speak up for her people, knowing she could be put to death for going to the King unsummoned.
           Several times in the Bible, God encourages His people “To be of good Courage” (Num 13:20, Deut 31: 6 – 23, Josh 1: 6-18, 2 Chr 15: 18, Psalm 27:14, 31:24). A disciple of Christ draws his/her strength and courage from his/her relationship with God – it is about trusting God to act on your favor regardless of the uncertainties or challenges we face. One of my favorite verses among those mentioned above is Psalm 31:24, “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.” Courage is not always about facing challenges and troubles head on; sometimes, being courageous is about waiting on God to act on your favor. It takes courage to patiently wait on God and not take matters into our own hands, like Abraham and Sarah. Sometimes, it is about God giving you the strength and comfort to accept what may be unacceptable. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying before his crucifixion, the Bible says he was “sorrowful and troubled.” Jesus was asking God to intervene and remove this cup of suffering (the crucifixion) away from him (Matt 26:39, Luke 22:42). However, he was courageous enough to go through with it. It is my prayer that God will continue to bless you, strengthen you and give you the courage you need to keep on walking this Christian walk, no matter how difficult it may get at times.

LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING ALL OF YOU AGAIN

          It’s been a blessing to be able to worship at the Church building again. I know many of us cannot be there physically just yet and we still have to maintain the rules of social distancing, but I am overjoyed to be there on Sunday morning. I look forward to the day when we all will be able to worship together in the same building, but for now I am very grateful that God has been taking care of us and giving us the wisdom and the technology we need to keep moving forward as a Church family. However, the last few Sundays presented certain challenges in my home. To be more specific, my son Andre always wakes up asking me to take him to Church. “It’s time to go to Church daddy,” he says, but I cannot take him with me because he does not understand what’s going on with this pandemic. One day, my wife attempted to put a mask on his face, he took it off and ran away so fast that we couldn’t stop laughing. So, we decided that it was best to keep him home for now away from crowds. Sometimes I wish I were as innocent as he is.
          It breaks my heart that entire family cannot go to the Church building with me, especially having to tell my youngest son “No, you cannot go to Church with me.” As a Christian parent, I cannot imagine having to say these words to my kids: “No you cannot go to Church.” Frankly, it almost sounds sacrilegious to me. The last couple Sundays, I had to wake up earlier than usual so that I could go get dress secretly and just leave the house without him seeing me, because I do not want to see him cry about not going to Church. Now, I know he is only 2 ½ years old and he is more excited about running around the Church building and play with his little friends in the kids room downstairs or the playground in the back, but I want to share this story with you because I certainly hope all of you are looking forward to come back to the Church building and see each other again, as soon as it is possible for all of us to do so. Currently, we have to take precautions because being a Christian does not make you immune to this pandemic; However, let us never lose the joy and passion of being together physically fellowshipping under the same roof. Like always, it is my prayer that “all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit” (3 John 1:2)
          I do not expect everyone to be crying on Sunday morning like my son Andre because they cannot go to the Church building, but I certainly hope we miss each other – we miss each other’s smiles – we miss each other’s hugs – we miss each other’s voices – we miss each other’s encouragement and exhortation. The apostle Paul often wrote in his letters to different Churches how much he always looked forward to seeing his fellow believers to encourage them and strengthen their mutual faith (Romans 1:8 – 13), and I believe we all should be like Paul right now. Brothers and sisters, may we always continue to grow deeper in our love for one another, whether we are present in the body or not. May we always look forward to our fellowship, because we are always united in one Spirit. “I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete” (2 John 1: 12)   
         

I HAVE THE FREEDOM TO DO ANYTHING THAT I WANT (1 CORINTHIANS 10: 14 – 33)

When my wife was pregnant with Andre, our youngest son, she stopped eating meat altogether and became a vegan, and until today our 2 ½ year old son has never tasted any meat at all. I have tried to feed him chicken, bacon, and sausage, he spits it all out every time. During her pregnancy, I tried to support her by not eating meat either, but that only lasted for a few days. I found myself going out for burgers while I was at work, hoping that Rose would not find out. I felt guilty, like I was doing something terribly wrong; so, eventually we had to talk about it and we agreed that I could eat meat away from the house, because she did get sick any time she smelled meat during the pregnancy. Needless to say, Jamal, my oldest son, and I took frequent trips to different restaurants around town. I have the right to eat meat anytime I want and anywhere I want, especially in my own house, but I freely gave up that right for the benefit of my wife and the well-being of my marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8 – 10, Paul is dealing with a very sensitive issue among Christians in Corinth: eating food sacrificed to idols. Remember, eating the Lord’s Supper demonstrates a willing and active participation in God’s covenantal relationship with his saints (1 Cor. 10: 16-17). Therefore, the Corinthian Christians who engaged in eating sacrificial food at tables where offerings were being made to idols, and not to God, were frowned upon and accused of committing idolatry. Drawing from his audience’s understanding and reverence of the Lord’s Supper, Paul argued that eating cultic meals result in worship of and allegiance to demons, while still maintaining his adherence to monotheistic values (1 Cor. 10:19-22, 8:1-6). Even the Jerusalem council, comprised of the apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem Church, wrote in a letter that abstaining from food sacrificed to idols was an essential requirement of being a disciple of Christ (Acts 15:28-29). Now, it is important to keep in mind that Christians have received freedom in Christ Jesus (John 8:36, Galatians 5: 1) – freedom from sin and death (Romans 6) – freedom from the Mosaic Law (Romans 8: 1-4) that often prohibited Jews from eating certain foods. However, this newly found freedom cannot be used as an excuse to do evil (1 Peter 2: 16). Paul said “Eat whatever is being sold at the market place.” If one knowingly participates in a cultic meal for the purpose of idol worship, that person is wrong. However, Paul’s main concern about eating such food is not the fact that it may, at some point, have been used for idol worship but the context in which it is eaten. Anyone is free to eat anything in a nonreligious, non-cultic context, as long as it is being taken with genuine thanksgiving to God who supplies all food (1 Cor. 10:30).

Some of the Christians wanted to be able to exercise their freedom to eat whatever was sold from the marketplace and not be judged for it: “For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?” (1 Cor 10: 29-30, NLT). Indeed, they had the freedom to eat whatever was sold at the marketplace without fear of judgment, but Paul wanted them to consider more the collective benefit of the Church and less their own self-interest. To be more specific, there are two questions I want us to consider: a) How is your freedom beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23), b) Is it a stumbling block for your fellow believers (1 Cor 8:9). In other words, Paul is not arguing against their respective freedom to do what they think was the right thing to do, but Paul wanted them to think more collectively and less individually. Disciples of Christ need to be looking out for the collective well-being of others and not their own selves (1 Cor. 10: 23, 33), after all “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Cor. 13: 5). In the text (1 Cor.10:23), the Greek word translated “beneficial or helpful” implies a “bringing together.” Basically, Paul was asking: how is your freedom going to help bring people together, or would it just isolate you from the fellowship for the sake of exercising your rights? As Disciples of Christ, we have a responsibility to seek, not what is beneficial to self, but what enables a godly and spiritual edification of the entire Christian community.

During this pandemic, it is imperative that we continue to think about what it is that we can do to actively and positively contribute to the collective well-being of our fellow neighbors, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). I am not a medical expert/professional, but I do believe listening to their council and guidelines can provide us with a clear understanding as to how we can actively contribute to the collective well-being of our Church community. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:3-4)

I love you all, Donny Pierre

WE WALK BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT : 2 CORINTHIANS 5: 7

Yesterday, my wife and I went for a walk at a local trail (Mill Pond Trail in Wolcott, CT) and it was time well spent. We got to exercise together while enjoying each other’s company and the beauty of nature. We encountered a lot of different people who were either walking, running or biking. I know with the ongoing pandemic we are limited as to what we can do and where we can go this summer, but Rose and I are determined to stay active and as healthy as possible. Walking the trail, which is about 3 miles around a big lake, we have to pay attention to the pathway and others around us as we make our way through the trees and over small wooden bridges along the way. Having the ability to see where we are stepping as we move forward is a big advantage and blessing in and of itself. Yesterday, I could not stop thinking about these words written by Paul in the book of 2 Corinthians 5: 7, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
            Although the apostle wasn’t literally talking about the physical ability of walking and seeing, I couldn’t help but think how blessed I am to be able to see while I am walking. Without sight, a person needs someone to guide them. So often, I have seen blind people walking around with the help of a dog – a guide dog. I can even remember once I saw a blind person moving around slowly while using their hands to get a sense of touch and direction. Without sight, most people completely rely on someone or something else to guide them in the right direction. That is the purest form of faith – a faith that does not completely rely on self-ability – a faith that trusts wholeheartedly in the dark – a faith that allows oneself to be guided in the right direction without always having the slightest idea of how rugged and tough the road ahead is. That is Faith.
            Faith, it’s about “Trusting God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3: 5). It is about being totally confident that all things will work out for your good (Rom 8: 28) because you know who is guiding you along life’s journey – you trust and believe in God’s willingness and ability to guide you to your final destination. However, walking by faith does not mean being void of common sense, which is a gift from God that we need to use every now and then. Walking by faith does not mean we need to neglect certain rules and guidelines that are set in place to protect us. In Acts 9, after Paul preached in the synagogues (v. 20 – 22), many Jews were indignant and sought to kill Paul because of his prior life and reputation before becoming a Christian (v. 23). The Bible says “they were watching the gates day and night” waiting to kill Paul (v 24). When the apostle was made aware of the situation, “The disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket” (v 25). Every time I read that verse, I cannot help but ask: “Why didn’t Paul just go through the gates?” After all, he was a man of great faith – a man who was not easily swayed nor threatened by the dangers along his ministerial journey. He could have called on God to help him make it through the gates unscathed, but this great man of faith decided to escape through a window in a wall instead of having faith that he could have made it through the gates. Moreover, some of the disciples were with him, and they could’ve easily been put in danger had Paul gone out the front gate. Obviously, this wasn’t about him having a lack of faith – it wasn’t even about him being afraid for his life. I believe it was about common sense. There was a mob waiting to kill him, and he did what most people would have done: avoid putting his life in danger.
            Walking by faith must involve the use of common sense, because it is important that “We do not put the Lord our God to the test” (Matthew 4: 7). During the temptation of Jesus Christ, Satan took the Lord to the highest point of the temple and asked him to throw himself down because the Bible says God will command his angels to protect you and will not let you get hurt (Matt 4: 6). The law of gravity dictates that if you jump off a tall building, you will get hurt or could possibly die. Therefore, use common sense and don’t break the law of gravity and expect God to rescue you on your way down. That is why Jesus responded, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Yes, we have faith in God’s willingness and ability to protect and help us in our time of needs. Yes, we walk by faith and not by sight. However, it’s also important that we use common sense and follow the different guidelines that are being put forth by the experts and professionals during this pandemic.
 

God bless you, I love you, and keep up the faith.
Donny Pierre

JUSTICE, MERCY & FAITHFULNESS: MATTHEW 23: 23

            Before going any further, please take the time to read Matthew 23 in its entirety so that you can better understand what is written in this article. Did you read it? Alright, let’s get to it. Now, I want you to think about the harsh rhetoric (sons of the devil, brood of vipers, whitewash tomb, snakes, hypocrites) Jesus used in this passage of Scripture to refer to the religious leaders known as “The Scribes and Pharisees.”  Many Bible commentators and theologians believe Matthew 23 to be “The unloveliest chapter in the Gospel,” because of its scathing rebuke that does not quite fit the loving and peaceful message of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I am only going to focus on verse 23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
            The Scribes (teachers of the Law) and the Pharisees were religious leaders during the time of Christ. They were experts in the Law of God, although there were some differences between their religious views and practices (Mark 12: 18). The Pharisees were very popular and influential among the common people, and they firmly believed in outward forms of piety (Matthew 23: 5) and strictly upheld Jewish traditions (washing of hands, not working on Sabbath, not associating with sinners etc.). Jesus’ ministry and mission challenged everything they stood for. Jesus challenged their teaching on “washing of hands” in Matthew 15: 1 – 20. Jesus challenged their understanding of who their neighbor was in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: 25 – 37. He also challenged their teachings regarding working on Sabbath (Mark 3: 1 – 6). They were bitter enemies of Jesus and His cause, which is why they wanted Him killed. However, in Matthew 23: 23, I want us to consider Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the Pharisees’ emphasis on one aspect of the law and total neglect of the more important matters of the law. The Scribes and the Pharisees were known to strictly uphold the laws concerning tithing in the temple, but they failed to uphold God’s laws regarding justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus was not against their faithful adherence to “tithing laws,” but it was hypocritical and unbecoming of them to totally neglect “justice, mercy, and faithfulness,” which are basic characteristics of God (Psalm 9: 8, 16; 89: 14). Also, it is worth noting that Jesus said “Justice, mercy, and faithfulness” were more important matters than tithing according to God’s law. Neglecting these things that are very important to God are the reason why Jesus said “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees.” The things the Scribes and the Pharisees neglect seem to be of a greater concern for others, the common people, unlike themselves. Also, it is possible that Jesus had Micah 6: 8 in mind, although it was not an exact quote: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Even in the Old Testament, God always put a great emphasis on “Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness”
            I believe we, the disciples of Christ, must not put a greater emphasis on certain things in the Bible and neglect other things that are as important to God: Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness. When reading scripture, it is important that we wholeheartedly embrace all of God’s Word, especially the teachings regarding “Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness.” To neglect these doctrines would result in a scathing rebuke from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The other day, my friends, my wife and I watched this movie called “Just Mercy,” and I would encourage everyone to see it. The movie is based on a true story that happened in Alabama back in 1990 where a person was wrongly convicted for a crime he did not commit. That man was placed on death row. But, a young Harvard educated lawyer from Maryland decided to go there and make sure that proper justice was rendered, because he believed the law must serve everyone equally. In the end, after his client was exonerated, the young lawyer said in front of the US Senate, “If we can look at ourselves closely, and honestly, I believe we will see that we all need justice. We all need mercy. And perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” Disciples of Christ must stand for everything written in the word of God, unlike the Scribes and the Pharisees. Proverbs 31: 8 – 9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” (NLT).

Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness
Donny Pierre

BREAKING DOWN DIVIDING WALLS: EPHESIANS 2: 14 – 15

So often when people talk about Church, they tend to have specific and different ideas of the Church – ideas that can be marred by cultural perspectives, personal experiences/expectations, or unfounded teachings. Therefore, it is important to use a biblical approach in developing our understanding of “the Church” as an entity created for a specific purpose. In Matthew 16: 18, Jesus said “Upon this Rock, I will build my Church.” I believe the “Church” was conceived in the mind of Christ and birthed on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Holy Spirt started the Church through the work of the apostles on that day; over three thousand people were baptized and added to the Lord’s Church.
            The Church is a community made of members of Christ, built on the “Rock of Ages” and the foundation of the Apostles’ teaching (Ephesians 2: 19 – 22, 1 Peter 2:5). The Church community is God’s dwelling place where everyone is welcomed, unlike the Jewish Tabernacle (Exodus 25) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 4-5). The former was built by Moses in the wilderness and the latter by Solomon in Jerusalem with the sole purpose of being God’s dwelling place among the people of Israel. The Herodian Temple during the time of Christ was divided by walls to keep gentiles, women, Jewish men and priests in their respective courts. The Gentile courtroom was right outside of the temple and to enter inside could cost them their lives because it was forbidden (Acts 21: 26 – 36). These literal walls in the temple were a reflection of how racially and religiously fragmented their society was at that time. The Jews hated the Samaritans (Luke 9: 51 – 56, John 4: 9), women weren’t equal to men (John 4: 27), gentiles were called uncircumcised in order to keep them away from the “Holy of Holies” (the presence of God), the wealthy did not associate with the poor, and religious leaders like the Pharisees thought themselves to be better than the rest of the people who they classified as sinners (Luke 7: 36 – 39). There was no sense of cohesiveness in the first century community, and Jesus wanted to build a community – a dwelling place for God – where everyone could belong: Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, women and men, rich and poor alike. The Church must be a community where members of Christ are united as one and not divided by racial walls, gender walls, and socio-economic walls (Galatians 3: 28). It is our responsibility to make sure that the Church of today continues to reflect God’s original design and purpose: A spiritual community without dividing walls of any sort
            In the 1st Century when the Church was established, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, Jewish Christians struggled to accept non-Jewish believers in the Lord’s Church. They used the law to promote and perpetuate these walls, which led to ethnocentrism and elitism that only exacerbated the hostilities between them. They wanted to maintain and impose their Jewish way of life on the gentiles, such as circumcision, washing of hands, and observing special holidays, which would only help rebuild the walls Jesus tore down in the first place. That is why Paul said in Ephesians 2: 14 – 15, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.”
            The only way Jesus could break down these walls and unite everyone into one community was by putting an end to the legal system that created them in the first place. Without the work of Christ many of us today would be living without hope in this world (Ephesians 2: 12). In the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul reminded us to “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of [our] love. Make every effort to keep [ourselves] united in the Spirit, binding [ourselves] together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, One God and one Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all” (Ephesians 4: 1 – 6). Brothers and sisters, let us continue to endeavor to keep the bond of unity in the Lord’s Church, regardless of the dividing walls that exist in the world.

Donny Pierre