Give Me this Power

Simon was a sorcerer, using witchcraft to promote himself as a godly man (Ac 8:9-11), until he believed on Christ and was saved. (13) But Simon’s thinking about the nature of spiritual power was still off, and it immediately got him into trouble.

When Simon observed the Holy Spirit falling on people, as Peter and John prayerfully laid hands on them, he offered to pay the apostles for this capability. (Act 8:18-19) But Peter rebuked Simon sharply (Ac 8:20-21) — Simon still had the witchcraft perspective: that we obtain spiritual power via ritual, not relationship.

This is the essence of witchcraft: trying to harness spiritual forces by following a formula or technique. “If I say in Jesus’ Name when I pray then God will answer me.” “If I pray the rosary 10 times and say 20 Hail Mary’s then God will forgive me.” “If I spend X hours in prayer then God will fill me with the Holy Spirit.” “If I stop thinking and start babbling then God will give me supernatural tongues.” All examples of the spirit of witchcraft, treating God like a machine rather than a Person.

Yet spiritual power doesn’t work like this. We don’t get our prayers answered by praying a lot, or by following a formula. (Mt 6:7) God answers prayer as we abide in Him, saturated with His word (Jn 15:7), praying according to God’s heart and will (1Jn 5:14-15) by faith. (Mk 11:22-24) God gives spiritual gifts according to His purposes (1Co 12:11), not to those with the right technique.

Seeking spiritual power apart from God Himself is actually very dangerous business; it’s wickedness that springs from bondage to iniquity. (Ac 8:22-23) The enemy lures us through our discontent, through lust for power and significance, in order to counterfeit God’s gifts in us, so he can wreck havoc in our lives, and in the lives of others, while we’re trying to exalt ourselves. It may seem spiritual on the surface, but it won’t be love, and it will be worse than nothing. (1Co 13:1-2)

Seeking spiritual gifts over the Giver Himself is to miss all. When we rightly understand God we’ll be perfectly satisfied in Him. Like Simon, we may not yet be content in God’s love and forgiveness in Christ, and that He’s given us particular gifts and callings according to His purpose. We may not yet know unspeakable joy in God, how to feed in His majesty. In our unrest, we may stoop to trying to impress others with our pseudo-spirituality, or to trying to manipulate circumstances for our convenience rather than waiting on God to glorify Himself.

Fulfillment and peace is only found in humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, enjoying every moment as His perfect gift, casting all our care upon Him, knowing He cares for us. (1Pe 5:6-7)

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The Keys of the Kingdom

When Simon Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16), Christ acknowledges that God the Father has revealed this precious truth to him. (17) Christ then proclaims that He will build His church upon this bedrock truth, that He Himself is the Messiah sent from God as the essence of God, and does a word-play with Peter’s name, which also means rock. (18)

Christ then promises Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, declaring that whatever Peter binds or looses on Earth will be accordingly bound or loosed in Heaven. (19) Roman Catholics derive their doctrine of Apostolic Secession from this, that Peter was the first Pope, with authority to make up the rules as he goes.

But Peter was clearly not given such authority, for moments later Peter asserts himself so badly that Christ calls him Satan (23), and years later Peter is still blundering so profoundly that Paul has to rebuke him publicly for not living uprightly according to the Gospel. (Ga 2:11,14) Peter didn’t do so well when left to himself; neither would any of the rest of us.

So, it appears that the keys of the kingdom are not given to Peter as an isolated believer, but as part of a spiritual brotherhood, calling upon God in unison for Him to glorify Himself on Earth as He does in Heaven. (Mt 6:10) This is confirmed when Christ repeats this same promise to the Church: whatever they agree together to ask the Father He will do for them. (Mt 18:18-19)

This implies that the kind of alignment which moves God is a supernatural gift of mutual faith as believers seek His glory together in community. God gives no one the freedom to channel His power at their whim; He promises to live through His people as they pursue His heart in supernatural unity. (2Co 6:16) For such community, grounding all truth-claims and motives in the reality of God (1Ti 3:15), nothing is impossible. (Mt 17:20)

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Against Nature

God intends for us to learn from His design (1Co 11:14); it’s good in every conceivable way. (Ge 1:31) So when we violate any aspect of natural order, we’re asking for trouble.

This is the fundamental problem with homosexuality: it violates natural design. God calls this out when He describes it as changing the natural use into that which is against nature (Ro 1:26), and leaving the natural use. (Ro 1:27)

This isn’t complicated: we’re perfectly designed as male and female to procreate though stable, heterosexual relationships. Homosexuality is a fundamental, flagrant violation of this design: such relationships can’t produce offspring because they’re unnatural; it’s using sexuality in unintended ways for unintended purposes, twisting it, perverting it.

God forbids such perversion in His Law (Le 20:13), along with many other kinds of sexual activity. Because God is good, His Law is also good (Ro 7:12) for us all, and it isn’t optional: those who refuse to obey God as a manner of life identify themselves as children of disobedience, alienated from God and subject to His wrath. (Ep 2:2-3)

Our desires and natural instincts are not the point; we’re all born with a sin nature, with an inclination to violate God’s law: in our natural state we won’t submit to God. (Ro 8:7) God didn’t make us this way; we’re fallen beings, corrupted through our own lusts (2Pe 1:4), with a will that’s free to depart from God, and does so with remarkable consistency.

It’s not easy for anyone to control and discipline themselves, consistently curbing their natural appetites for a greater good; this is the mark of maturity and wholesomeness; very few master themselves here. It’s a journey, and it takes time. To truly overcome our evil tendencies, we must start by getting a new nature from God (Ez 36:26); our old one won’t get us very far at all.  (Ga 6:15)

When we give ourselves over to unnatural desires they become part of us, taking root and establishing themselves, corrupting our souls and enslaving us (2Ti 2:25-26); this ultimately drives us to sin and separates us from God. (Ja 1:15) Normalizing perversion simply encourages more of us to do this, weakening our culture and destroying the fabric of society.

It’s wisdom to recognize God’s perfect design in us, and to concede that any inclinations contrary to it are rooted in lies designed to destroy us. When we align our minds with truth, our passions inevitably follow. It’s a spiritual war with a real, evil, spiritual enemy (Ep 6:12), seducing and tempting us. We ought not to give such an enemy place in us, receiving his appeals to seek satisfaction apart from God. (Ep 4:27) Rather, we should ask God to help us learn to be content (Php 4:11) in Him, trusting God to quicken us so that we can live for Him.

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I Will Have Mercy

One Sabbath day the disciples were hungry, so Jesus went through some corn fields so they could eat. (Mt 12:1) This was part of God’s social safety net (De 23:25), but the Pharisees began accusing them of breaking the Sabbath, looking for a way to find fault. (2)

In reply, Christ asks the Pharisees what they thought of David eating the shewbread as he was escaping from Saul (3-4), something they’d never allow. Why hadn’t God called David out on this? And why had God commanded the priests to continue their priestly duties on the Sabbath, something the Pharisees would consider profane in others? (5)

Christ concludes by noting that He’s greater than the temple (6), as reality is greater than its shadow (Col 2:17), and Master of the Sabbath, being its Author and knowing perfectly well how to apply it. (8)

Further, Christ declares the disciples formally innocent; they’d not actually broken Sabbath at all, only burdensome Pharisaical extrapolations of sabbatarian precepts, and identifies the root cause of the Pharisees’ error in their ignorance of a very basic principle of Torah: God prefers a merciful heart to overly strict ceremonial observance. (7)

If the Pharisees had honored the spirit of Torah, loving mercy and humility as well as justice (Mi 6:8), they’d not have been adding burdensome regulations to Torah, and passing off their man-made doctrine as if it were God’s. (Mt 15:9)

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The Office of a Bishop

God describes two offices in His Church to which a man might be chosen: bishop (1Ti 3:1) and deacon. (1Ti 3:13) Each role serves the congregation as a representative, acting on its behalf.

Deacons oversee temporal concerns (Ac 6:2), and bishops provide spiritual care. (1Ti 3:5) Each role requires a solid, godly character, known by the saints and verified by experience over time in close community. (1Ti 3:2, 10)

Conspicuously absent are the roles of pastor and elder; neither term describes a church role or office. A pastor is spiritually gifted in caring for others, shepherding and nurturing saints to spiritual maturity. (Ep 4:11-12) An elder is simply an older man. (1Ti 5:1-2) Neither of these terms identifies a formal leadership role to which one might be chosen; no moral qualifications are ever mentioned for either one.

A unified brotherhood is the only valid leadership model in Christ’s church; any other is a corruption of the biblical pattern. Bishops and deacons are first and foremost brothers (Mt 23:8), acknowledged by the brotherhood as equipped to represent the congregation in specific ways.

Bishops, in particular, are typically chosen from among the elder brothers (Tit 1:5), being recognized by the brothers as God’s representatives of the congregation to those outside it. (1Ti 3:7) No specific duties or responsibilities are ever detailed for bishops; they evidently have no specific function to fulfill within the church itself, apart from their roles as older, more influential and respected brothers. (1Pe 5:1-3)

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