What is the relationship between your faith and having your prayers answered? Certainly there is a relationship, but how much faith do you need to have?
What about righteousness, or personal holiness? If 1 Peter 3 tells husbands to dwell with their wives in understanding lest their prayers be hindered, does that mean that a lack of personal holiness can hinder your prayers? If James 5 says that the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much, then what about an unrighteous person who prays?
In our weekly Sermon Extra video, Mike and I discuss this topic. You can get these videos, or the podcast audio version of these discussions, every week by subscribing to our YouTube channel or our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Here’s our discussion of the topic of the how faith and righteousness affect prayer:
A while back a friend shared a TikTok video with me in which a young guy was teaching something from the Bible which he portrayed as something people had overlooked, or about which they had been unaware, which could be potentially paradigm-shifting.
What this young man claimed is that the gospels tell us that Jesus healed a centurion’s servant, but that the word used there for “servant” actually means a same-sex lover. Thus, his conclusion was that by doing this, Jesus essentially affirmed and condoned, rather than condemned, homosexual sexual relationships.
The story of this healing is found in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and is about a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus and begs that Jesus heal his servant. Jesus agrees and says he will come to the centurion’s home, but the centurion says that he does not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and that he has faith that all Jesus has to do is say the word, and his servant will be healed.
Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same Sex Lover?
The word in question is the Greek word “Pais.” Interestingly, the word Pais literally means boy. There is another Greek word for servant, the word doulos, but the word pais was used to designate a young, male servant boy.
Pederasty and Sexual Abuse
As Preston Sprinkle explains in his excellent book, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, it was common in the Greco-Roman culture of Jesus’ day for homosexual sex to be part of the power differential in a relationship, but only as long as the dominant partner was older, of higher social standing, and in the penetrating role. This is often referred to as pederasty, in which older men would have dominant sexual relationships with teenage boys. Both modern psychology and laws would deem these relationships to be unethical and illegal for multiple reasons, as they are abusive and harmful; not only are they an abuse of power, but these relationships were physically, sexually, and psychologically abusive to the younger victim.
Furthermore, Sprinkle goes on to explain that such relationships in the ancient world were not at all like our modern conception of a gay couple in a loving, consensual, co-equal relationship. For example, the penetrating partner in such relationships was not necessarily considered “gay” or “same-sex attracted,” rather this was an act of subjugating the passive partner and was about asserting power.
Pais Alone Doesn’t Imply a Homosexual Relationship
However, there is actually no indication that this centurion had such a relationship with his servant boy just by use of the word “pais.” While these relationships did exist, to assume that this centurion was sexually abusing his servant boy based on the simple fact that he had a servant boy, would be like reading that a man had a wife and then assuming that he must have abused his wife, because some people do that. It’s a major assumption, in other words, that requires a giant leap that is not indicated by anything in the text.
In fact, Luke uses the word doulos (the general word for servant) to describe this boy (Luke 7:2). Furthermore, of the 24 uses of pais in the Greek New Testament, it is never used of a homosexual relationship. So, the idea that this specific servant boy was being sexually abused by his master is definitely not something that ancient readers would have automatically assumed based on the use of the word pais. Furthermore, since any such relationship would have been abusive in nature, to say that this is an example of Jesus condoning or affirming a homosexual relationship is far-fetched and misguided; certainly no one would argue that Jesus, by healing this servant, was affirming or condoning of the sexual abuse of a minor by an older man in position of power.
Would Jesus have healed a gay person?
Although it is very unlikely that this passage is speaking about the healing of a centurion’s same-sex partner, the question remains: Would Jesus have healed a gay person? I think the answer to this question is also very simple: Yes.
Here’s why I say this: because Jesus’ healing of people never hinged on, or depended on, their level of personal righteousness. When Jesus healed the man born blind, he never brought up that man’s struggle with bitterness, greed, or envy. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, he never brought up that man’s struggle with lust. Healing is an act of grace, and grace – by definition – is not something that is earned or merited, it is a gift from a God who gives to undeserving recipients.
The message of the gospel is that God shows grace to sinners, and that’s good news for a sinner like me, and for you as well. As Paul tells us in Romans 2, the kindness of God often leads us to repentance.
Outside of proverbs, bribery is spoken against. Inside proverbs we see both direct opposition to it, but also some almost-approving of it. I won’t list verses which speak against it because they’re numerous and easy to find, but I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding verses like these:
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers. Proverbs 17:8 ESV
A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath. Proverbs 21:14 ESV
Corruption and bribery are major topics here in Ukraine and we’ve dealt with this question a few times.
That’s a great question. To answer it, I reached out to a friend who lives in Ukraine where he serves as a pastor and missionary: Benjamin Morrison.
We had a great discussion on this topic, which I think you will really enjoy and benefit from. In this video we discuss the nature of the Book of Proverbs, different scenarios in which bribes are asked for or offered – and how to respond in each, as well as some personal stories. Finally we end the conversation on a note of how the gospel helps and empowers us to face corruption and bribery and other things that are wrong in the world. Enjoy!
This year this blog continued to grow, both in page views and in subscribers. Thank you for reading and sharing these articles with friends and on social media, and for submitting your questions and requests for topics!
These were the top 10 most read and shared articles of 2020:
There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received the following questions:
Question 1: Does God forgive our repetitive or habitual sins?
In Romans 8:1-4, Pauls says that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that there is no judgment, conviction, or guilty verdict for past sins, or does it also include sins committed after the believer comes to Christ, as long as he asks for forgiveness? What about our repetitive and “pet” sins?
The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has taken the judgment for our sins, the condemnation that we deserved. Therefore, if someone is in Christ – which means to trust in, cling to Jesus and what he accomplished in his sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection, they will not face condemnation for their sins because Jesus has already faced it for them on their behalf.
When it comes to habitual or repetitive sins, one of the places in the New Testament that deals with this question directly is the Epistle of 1 John.
In 1 John, John is writing to believers, and yet he says:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 1:8-10, 2:1
John also says things like, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:9) Think about it like this: you “practice” things that you want to get better at; you practice your golf swing, you practice the guitar, because you want to improve. John is describing two types of people: one who desires to sin and delights in it, and another who stumbles into sin on occasion but hates it and mourns over it.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The idea is that you become a “whole new animal,” if you will; you go from being a pig to being a sheep. Whereas a sheep might sometimes fall in the mud, the pig’s entire goal in life is to find some mud and roll in it; it’s the pig’s every dream and goal in life. The person who is in Christ has gone from being a pig to being a sheep.
The existence of habitual or persistent sin in a believer’s life is indeed cause for concern. However, it is of even greater concern if it doesn’t bother you. The promise of the Lord to us, is that in Christ and in the power of His strength we can overcome any temptation:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
Question 2: Will believers be judged?
Yes and no. Believers will not be judged for condemnation for their sins, but they will be judged for reward for the good things they have done.
Think about it like this: there are judges over criminal courts, who condemn criminals for their crimes, and there are also judges in the olympics who hand out bronze, silver, and gold medals for performances.
We who are in Christ through believing will not be judged for our sins, since Jesus already took that judgment – but we will be judged for our good works unto reward.
This reward seat is sometimes called the Béma seat of judgment. Paul describes this judgment for reward in 1 Corinthians 3:
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
Question 3: Are we still to be submitted to the authorities even if the authorities are against God’s Word?
If authorities demand that we do something which is in contradiction to what God has commanded in His Word, we are to obey God rather than human authorities.
Romans 13 and 1 Peter both instruct believers to obey the authorities that God has placed over us in His providence. Keep in mind that the authorities in these cases were pagan, ungodly, and even cruel and terrible dictators, yet by honoring them, we are honoring God.
However, there are limits to our submission to authorities. Passages like Acts 4 are examples of times when believers disobeyed the authorities when they commanded them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, which was something they could not do because they had been commanded by Jesus to preach the gospel and make disciples.
Question 4: What has been your way of memorizing scripture?
I have never spent much time trying to memorize Scripture, but I have succeeded in memorizing much of it. Here are some things I do which have helped me to do it:
Read Scripture regularly
Choose one translation of the Bible and stick to it.
Quote Scripture often, and speak it aloud.
When quoting Scripture, avoid paraphrasing. Try instead to quote it precisely, until you succeed in memorizing it through use.
Thanks for the questions, and I hope those answers help!
Join us on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020 for a time of singing Christ-centered Christmas songs and a message from Galatians 4:4-5 about how the Son of God came to us so that we could become children of God.
But what about Christmas? Does Christmas have pagan origins?
The Claims About the Pagan Origins of Christmas
Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice?
Didn’t Christians simply take over the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia and call it a celebration of the birth of Jesus? After all, that’s why we celebrate Christmas right around the same time as the winter solstice, isn’t it?
I used to believe this one myself. However, upon further investigation, it turns out this may not be true. Here’s why:
We don’t know what time of the year Jesus was born. The one thing we know is that it was almost certainly not in late December. The reason for this is because Luke’s Gospel tells us that the shepherds were watching their flocks by night, sleeping in the fields. In Israel it gets too cold in the winter for that; shepherds sleep outside from about March-September. Clement of Alexandria wrote that some believed May 20 was Jesus’ birthday, others believed it was April 19 or 20, others still believed it was in late March. 
Early Christians also did not celebrate birthdays in the same way we do because ancient cultures did not celebrate birthdays like we do in our modern culture. Only two of the four Gospels talk about Jesus’ birth. The early Christian writer Origen dismissed birthdays as something only celebrated by tyrants, such as Pharaoh and Herod in the Bible. 
Things changed in the early 300’s with the beginning of the celebration of Epiphany, which commemorated the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles at the coming of the Magi to see Jesus after his birth. This was celebrated in early January in the Eastern church, not because they believed this to be the birthday of Jesus, but because of how it fit into the liturgical calendar which gave a plan for teaching through key events in the Gospels every year.
The Western (Latin speaking) part of the church wanted to have a festival similar to Epiphany, and decided that since they did not know when exactly Jesus had been born, they would have their festival of the celebration of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus in late December, before Epiphany – since the Magi would have arrived after the birth of Jesus.
Again, the decision of this date was based on liturgical calendars, not on the taking over of pagan festivals. It was considered significant, however, that the coming of “the light of the world” should be celebrated at the time of the year which is the darkest in the Northern Hemisphere. After this date, the days get longer and the darkness wanes. This symbolism was not lost on the early Christians, but rather considered to be a great symbol of the effect of Jesus’ entrance into the world.
Here’s what’s so interesting: there is a document from about 350 which tells us that Romans celebrated the festival of Sol Invictus Natali (the birth of the unconquered sun) on December 25, and that same document also tells us that Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on this same day. There is no earlier evidence or report of a Roman pagan festival on December 25. In other words, it is just as likely that the pagan Romans chose this day for their pagan festivals because Christians were already celebrating the birth of Jesus on this day, and wanted to have their own counter-festival, than that Christians chose this day because of an existing pagan festival.
Furthermore, there is nothing particularly pagan about celebrating anything at the darkest part of year, right before the days start getting brighter. Judaism, for example, celebrates Chanukah – the Festival of Lights, in which they light candles in the darkness to celebrate God’s faithfulness at this same time of year. Pagans don’t own the symbolism inherent to the orbit of the Earth.
Are Christmas Trees Pagan?
There is some evidence that Roman pagans liked to decorate their homes with greenery during winter festivals, and that early Christians decorated their houses with greenery during Epiphany as well.
It should be remembered that in the ancient world, decorating with greenery in the winter was also common because it was bleak outside and they didn’t have Wayfair.com to depend on for affordable home decor.
Some people claim that these verses in Jeremiah are speaking about the practice of Christmas trees:
“Learn not the way of the nations…for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.
Sounds like a Christmas tree, right? Except that’s not what it’s describing. What Jeremiah is describing is the creation of a household idol out of wood. Isaiah talks about a similar practice in which people would fashion an idol out of wood, stone, or metal, and then worship the very object they had just created.
The history of the Christmas tree dates back to medieval Europe, in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which December 24 was celebrated as “Adam and Eve Day” which was celebrated with the decorating of “paradise trees” by attaching apples to them (think how much bulbs look like apples) – a rarity during the winter, so they were considered treats. Because it was winter, and especially in Northern Europe, evergreen trees were popular to use for this. 
Modern Pagan Christmas?
Perhaps of bigger concern is the way in which our modern consumeristic Christmas traditions can detract from the celebration of Jesus and the incarnation which Christmas is meant to be about.
May we, even in the joys and the fun of our modern celebrations, not lose sight of what it is that we are celebrating this season: that to people like us who live in deep darkness, a light has shone: the promised Messiah has come to save us from our sins and give us the light of life forever! That is certainly something worth celebrating.
This is a devotional I wrote for It is Well, a great Instagram account that posts encouraging devotional messages. They’re worth following!
Hope for the Disfavored
The true measure of character is not how we treat the privileged, but how we treat the disfavored. There was no one more disfavored in the minds of the Jewish people than the Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews. After all, the Jewish people were God’s chosen people. What then of the Gentiles?
And yet, Romans 15:10-13 tells us something incredible: quoting from Deuteronomy, we read: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him,” because “the root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles, and in him will the Gentiles hope.”
The good news of Christmas, is that God has come to the disfavored, to save them and welcome them into his family! That is good news for us, who have fallen out of favor with God because of our sins.
Great rulers and conquerors, from Alexander to Augustus, had established empires which provided people with stability and peace. But as the Roman philosopher Epictetus explained: “While the emperor can give peace from war on land or sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, which men long for more than outward peace.” And yet the promise of the gospel is Jesus has come to give us the peace which our hearts long for by making peace between us and God through the sacrifice of himself on our behalf.
The good news of Christmas is that God has treated disfavored people like us with kindness and grace. He came to us, in the person of Jesus, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The way to receive this great gift, Romans 15:13 tells us, is by “believing,” which means “to trust in, to rely upon, and to cling to” Jesus. That is the way to be filled with joy and peace, and to abound in hope this Christmas season.
I saw a Christmas ornament advertised online today: a dumpster fire with 2020 written on it. 2020 has been a year filled with difficulty, frustration, tension, and sorrow, to the point where people are apt to say that they are “over it.”
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said something incredible, especially when you consider the circumstances in which he wrote it:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel
This statement is particularly surprising when you consider what things Paul is referring to here that had happened to him:
What Had Happened to Paul?
When Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he was being held as a prisoner in Rome.
Prior to his arrest, Paul had spent years traveling around the Roman Empire as missionary: preaching the gospel and starting churches, and training others to do the same. But then, some people who wanted to hinder Paul’s work and hinder the spread of the gospel, started spreading fake news that Paul was an anti-government revolutionary. As a result, Paul was arrested.
While under arrest, Paul was no longer able to travel the world to advance the gospel. Because of corruption in the judicial system, Paul was left in prison for several years, until he appealed his case to the Roman supreme court, which is how he came to be in Rome at the time when he wrote to the Philippians. Paul was under house arrest, awaiting trial, and chained to Roman soldiers 24 hours a day.
With those details in mind, consider again what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel
The things which had happened to Paul were:
The loss of his freedom
Suffering at the hands of corrupt officials.
It would be easy to look at those circumstances and conclude that these things which had happened to Paul were preventing him from advancing the gospel, but Paul says, “No. Everything that has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”
Being under house arrest had obvious limitations, but it also afforded Paul some unique opportunities.
One of those opportunities was: down time, and Paul used that time to pen four letters under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which are now part of our New Testament canon, and for the past two millennia have been used by God to bring encouragement and instruction to those who read them.
Another unique opportunity this situation gave him, was that Paul was chained to members of Caesar Nero’s Imperial Guard for 24 hours a day, the soldiers being changed out on shifts. Rather than seeing himself as restrained, however, Paul viewed this as an evangelist’s dream! It wasn’t that he was chained to soldiers, Paul thought, but those soldiers were chained to him! For hours at a time, he had a soldier’s undivided attention, and when their time was up, a new soldier would be brought in and chained to him. Paul viewed himself as a missionary to those people in that place. I imagine Paul’s biggest struggle must have been finding time to sleep because he was so excited to make new friends and tell them about Jesus.
Some of these guards, Paul tells us, were becoming Christians. If Paul had not been in custody, but had rather knocked on the door of Caesar’s Palace and said, “Hi, I’m Paul, I’d like to talk to you about your sins and convert you to Christianity,” they would have slammed the door in his face, but because of what happened to him: the injustice, the slander, and the corruption, Paul now had unique opportunity for the furtherance of the gospel which he could not have had otherwise.
Paul was able to see the opportunities in the midst of the calamity, and he wanted his readers to develop that mindset as well.
Paul’s Mindset In Our Situation
The events of this past year have been difficult and uncomfortable for all of us, from the pandemic, to the racial and political tensions, the economic hardships, the isolation, and the online fatigue. But how would the Apostle Paul have looked at this situation, and how would he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have encouraged us to view these circumstances? Would it not be to view them through the eyes of faith, knowing that all of these difficulties have presented us with unique opportunities for the furtherance of the gospel, and that “what has happened has really served the furtherance of the gospel”?
God has placed us who are believers here for such a time as this. May we be faithful to steward this great gospel message in a world that needs it, and may we see the opportunities in the midst of the calamity for the furtherance of the gospel.
Through the prophet Habakkuk, God spoke to the people of Judah, telling them this:
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
But what exactly would this thing be that God was going to do, which was so incredible that people wouldn’t have believed it even if they were told? The very next verse reveals the answer:
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
The Chaldeans are also known as the Babylonians. What God was telling the people through Habakkuk was that He was going to raise up the Babylonian Empire to bring judgment on both the Assyrians and… upon Jerusalem!
The result of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem would be that the Temple would be destroyed and the people of Judah would be carried off into exile for an entire generation.
The idea that God would allow a wicked nation like Babylon to attack and destroy Jerusalem was inconceivable to the people of Judah; it was the kind of news that was so incredible that they wouldn’t have believed even if someone told them!
After all, they were the people of God! Didn’t God love them? Then why would he let this wicked nation to attack them, defeat them, destroy the Temple, and carry them off into exile, making them slaves and subjects who lived as minorities under pagan rulers?
The Unexpected Blessings of the Exile
But perhaps even more difficult to believe, would have been the fact that in many ways, though the exile was painful, it would end up being one of the best things that ever happened to the people of Israel.
The destruction of the Temple and exile in Babylon were their greatest fears, and what God was telling them was that their greatest fears were going to become reality. The people of Israel assumed that because they were God’s chosen people, God would never let anything like that happen to them, and yet He did.
It begs the question: if God loved them, why would He let this happen to them?
The answer is: God intended to use this to accomplish good things in their lives that wouldn’t happen any other way.
In Hebrews 12, God tells us that as a loving father, he disciplines His children. He does this not in spite of His love for us, but because of His love for us!
Here are some of the blessings that Israel experienced in exile:
The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were reunited (because Babylon conquered Assyria), and they would come out of the exile as a united nation once again.
Many of the people turned back to God and forsook the worship of idols, which had long plagued them as a people.
A new form of worship was born: because they were cut off from the Temple, the Jewish people began gathering together in Synagogues, where they would study the Scriptures and pray.
Synagogues developed during the exile, and the Jewish people brought them back home with them and continued them after the exile and after the rebuilding of the Temple. Prior to the exile, the people of Israel had a relatively weak relationship with the Scriptures. Consider the fact that when King Josiah found a copy of the Scriptures in the Temple during the renovation, it was the only known copy, and no one had seen it in many years!
Because of the exile, and fueled by the lack of a Temple, the people began regularly studying the Word of God in Babylon, and as they became familiar with it, their hearts were being prepared for the coming of Jesus in the years to come.
The exile was the people’s greatest fear, it was a form of chastisement from God, but ultimately it was one of the best things that ever happened to the people of Israel.
More Than Conquerors
The idea of being in exile was considered by the early Christians to be a good picture of what it means to be a Christian: we are a minority group living in a place that is not our home, and in this place we experience hardships.
As Paul wrote to the Philippians: to be a Christian is to live on Earth, but to have your primary citizenship and identity rooted in Heaven. And yet, as foreigners and sojourners in this world, we understand that God has us here for a purpose.
Just as the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem were the greatest fears of the people of Judah, we might have things in our lives that we consider to be our greatest fears: whether on a social or a personal level. Yet what we learn from Israel’s exile and the realization of their greatest fears, is that God uses even terrible and painful things to accomplish beautiful things in and through our lives.
This is what it means in Romans 8:37 when Paul says that in Christ we are “more than conquerors”: it means that because of what Jesus did for us to redeem us and make us children of God, the worst things that could ever happen to us in this life are also the best things that can ever happen to us! And if that’s the case, then you have absolutely nothing to fear!
Trials and difficulties will be used by God for your good and for His purposes. Hardships will draw you closer to Him. Death will literally bring you to Him. All the worst things that can possibly happen to you, in Christ, are also the best things that can ever happen to you – because of God’s love for you and commitment to you. In him, you are bulletproof! You are more than a conqueror through Him who loved you!
That is very good news that can fill us with confidence, that no matter what comes our way in this life, we can face it boldly and without fear, knowing that we are here in this place for a short time, with a mission from God to carry out with however much time we have left: to be representatives of His Kingdom and messengers of the good news of what Jesus has done to save souls from this present darkness unto eternal life.