Despiteful

Romans 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,


In graduate school, I studied computer science and one semester took analysis of algorithms, a challenging class. It was taught by a supercilious Spanish professor who treated her students with contempt and scorn. She was a fine academic, attending prestigious schools and publishing many academic papers, but she could not teach nor could she relate to people, including non students, for many of the department support staff found her intolerable.

When a teacher has this type of reputation, most of the students avoid her class. Sometimes this is not possible because the class is mandatory, but as a rule, the class is avoided at all costs, regardless of the interest in the topic. When I took the class, there were only three students, and two of them were PHD candidates who were required to take it — I was the only person dumb enough to enroll on my own volition.

To make a long story short, I had been both a good student and a poor student in college, but I had never been treated with such scorn and contempt. Remember, I was in graduate school. Most graduate students are highly motivated and want to be in school, and if that were not the case, they would be working in the private sector instead of studying. That said, she treated me so poorly that I dreaded going to class. As we went over very difficult mathematical proofs, she would make you look and feel small and worthless. At the end of the year, students are able to write evaluations for their professors. I remember part of what I wrote: “She treated me like a Prussian field marshall treats a conscripted second lieutenant — with complete disdain.”

Toward the end of the year, I had finally had enough. In one class, she started in on me again, and I stood up, gathered my books, and headed for the door. As I was leaving, she told me to sit down, and I responded that I had had enough of her bullshit, and I wasn’t going to sit there and take it anymore. This was difficult because I had straight A’s and wanted to finish my graduate career with a 4.0, but this act of defiance made that impossible. People can only be pushed so far, and I was prepared to fail the class, if need be.

The word despiteful in v. 30 is a translation of the Greek word hybristes, which is where we get the English word hubris. It literally means one who is so uplifted with pride that he either heaps insulting language on others or does them some shameful act of wrong. That describes my college professor — she was despiteful.

Paul used this same word to describe himself. 1 Timothy 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious [despiteful]: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. injurious is the same Greek word rendered despiteful — Paul treated people with contempt because, like my professor, he was arrogant. He was an extremely educated man — a doctor of the law –, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that he was the equivalent of what we call a professor. And before his conversion, he treated the early Christians with contempt and scorn.

Most of us are not in the position of authority like Paul and my professor, but for those of us who are, how you treat people is important to God. The Bible says that God is “no respecter of persons.” That means, God doesn’t care if you are wealthy or poor; educated or uneducated; beautiful or plain; black or white; he views, treats, and judges everyone the same. We should do the same.

When I was a pastor, I never looked at how much money individuals were giving to the church. You cannot do that because when you start treating one person different than another based on their tithing, you have become a respecter of persons, which is offensive to God. In one church, our piano player quit because the worship team insisted that everyone practice during the week, but she would not. The church secretary said to me, “She’s the best tither in the church.” So be it. If people can’t practice with the worship team then they are not going to be up there on Sunday, good tither or not.

Prayer: Lord, let me not be a respecter of persons, and let me not be someone who makes others feel small.

Vindication

Romans 3:3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? 4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.


Doctors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren of Australia won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the cause of ulcers and many stomach cancers. However, it took them years to publish their findings because most of their colleagues did not believe them. For years the conventional wisdom held that ulcers were caused by stress and diet, but Marshall and Warren discovered that the Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) bacteria was the actual cause, and that people could be fully cured through a course of antibiotics. For years Marshall was an object of ridicule, but he was so convinced of his findings that he infected himself with H. Pylori and then cured himself with antibiotics. (Because lab animals did not develop ulcers when infected with H. Pylori, a human subject was required. Ethically, Marshall could only infect himself.) As a result, people no longer suffer from debilitating ulcers and in the West stomach cancer has been nearly eradicated. Sometimes when we are right, we stand alone.

Paul wrote Romans 3:3-4 because many of the Roman Jews objected to Paul’s gospel because it had not been received by the bulk of Jews in Palestine and Samaria. That is, they had rejected Jesus Christ as the resurrected Messiah, and so if they did not believe, how could Paul’s contention that Jesus was the Messiah be true? If Jesus was truly the Messiah, wouldn’t the message be received by the Palestinian Jews and wouldn’t that message be blessed by God? Paul’s response was similar to Marshall’s and Warren’s — the entire world may reject my message but I’m convinced that God is true and his gospel is true. Later in the letter, Paul says that Isaiah prophesied that most of the Jews would reject Christ, but the Gentiles would receive him (Romans 10:16-21).

We live in a time of unbelief and a time when the Church is in decline. It is sometimes difficult to witness for Jesus Christ because although we will not face death, we will face ridicule and ostracism. Nevertheless, God is still true, right, and just — it doesn’t matter that no one else believes (as it did not matter to Marshall and Warren), God will be vindicated, just as Christ was vindicated by the resurrection.

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to stand up for my beliefs despite the opposition of others.

Ignorance is bliss

Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Dak Prescott, the rookie quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, has had a tremendous year. The Cowboys improved from 4-12 last season to 13-2 and were serious Super Bowl contenders. However, no rookie quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl because they play most of the season in darkness, presented with defenses they have never seen, running offenses they have never run. (Most college quarterbacks run simple offenses with the quarterback in the shotgun. In the pros, the offenses are much more sophisticated, and the quarterback mostly lines up under center.) Instead of just reacting while on the field, they are constantly thinking and groping in the dark. Often times rookie quarterbacks, even if they are drafted in the first round, never play a down their first year so they can watch and learn. In the NFL, it takes several years for a quarterback to master an offense — to have his eyes opened and go from darkness to light. This enlightenment often happens in an instant, as if a switch had been turned on. The player often describes it as the game slowing down.

So it is for the believer. Before we come to Christ, we are in darkness. We may hear about Jesus Christ for years, but often there is some sort of epiphany, which happens in an instant, that brings us from the darkness to the light.

Acts 26:18 is literally talking about Gentiles (non Jews) who worshipped a pantheon of false gods (Baal, Molech, Diana, Zeus, etc.). Until Paul, on his missionary journeys, brought the gospel, these Gentiles were living in darkness — ignorant of the Old Testament and ignorant of God. Israel is a special nation in the eyes of God because he gave it a special mission: to bear witness to the God of the Bible, preserve his precepts and commands, and bring forth and bear witness to Jesus Christ, his son. Although most of the world prefers to live in darkness, people can know the truth and plan of God — be enlightened — through Jesus Christ (John 1:5).

Unlike the rookie quarterback, the spiritual enlightenment of this verse has a supernatural origin. That is, you cannot see Christ for who he is, Lord and Savior, apart from supernatural intervention. On the road to Damascus, Paul saw a great light and heard the voice of Christ, and when we make a decision for Christ, we also see a great light and hear his voice — not audibly but in our hearts. I came to Jesus Christ while reading the Book of Romans — it was then that I realized apart from Jesus Christ I was outside of God’s will.

All that said, most people choose to remain in darkness, as the maximum declares, “ignorance is bliss.” In America, there is a church on just about every block, and Bibles, in every language, in every book store. However, most people love their sin more than they love God and don’t want it exposed to the light. John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Prayer: Lord, give me the desire and the strength to live in the truth and to walk in the light.

The power of death

Acts 22:15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.


Pastor Joseph Ton, a minister in communist Romania during the 70s and early 80s, was arrested by the secret police for a sermon he delivered urging Christians to resist the Government’s takeover of the church and its ministries. That is, the new law would require sermons and ministry materials to be approved by the the Government. When Pastor Ton told the authorities he would not recant his sermon, they threatened him with death. He defiantly told them to go ahead and kill him because that would make his sermons only more powerful and widespread. Dying for his beliefs would only seal his witness — the people would understand that he believed and lived what he preached. At first they let him go, but ultimately, in 1981, the communist government banished him.

The English word martyr comes from the Greek word for witness, for by analogy, those who witness and make a stand for Jesus Christ often become martyrs, at least in the ancient world. Acts 22:15 describes the commission that Jesus Christ gave to Paul, but in reality Jesus has given this commission to all his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

We are all called to witness the salvation we have in Christ, and, even though we do not face imminent death, this is very hard because we often face ostracism from our family, friends, and colleagues (Matthew 10:34-39). For example, if you oppose gay marriage and support biblical morality, you may lose your job or be shunned by your colleagues. However, the witness of Paul, the witness of Joseph Ton, and the witness of countless others is that if you are going to live for Christ, you must first die to yourself, and, admittedly, this is easier said then done.

In the Modern Church there are at least two reasons why people fail in their witness. First, they are ignorant of the Bible and ignorant of the way that God views things. They are going along with the rest of the world because they have been fed spiritual milk and not strong meat (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12-13; Romans 12:2). This describes large swathes of the Modern Evangelical Church. Second, some “Christians” love the world more than they love God (James 4:4) — they have never actually died to themselves; they are still on the throne and Christ serves them.

Prayer: Lord, please give me the strength, conviction, eloquence, and integrity to die to myself and be a bold and unapologetic witness for Jesus Christ.

Christian slavery

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,


When the European settlers came to America and started planting cash crops they tried to make American Indians slaves, but most of them preferred death over slavery.

The word servant in Romans 1:1 literally means slave. Slavery has many negative connotations and rightfully so, but in the New Testament the word is often used in a positive sense. It is about dying to oneself and surrendering to Jesus Christ, and as such it expresses a full commitment to Jesus Christ.

In our natural state, most of use want to remain on our own throne. That is, we want to remain our own masters. There was a time when I was on the throne of my own life but made a mess of things. It was at my lowest point when I got on my knees and surrendered to Jesus Christ and made him my Lord and Savior. Genuine Christianity involves surrender; it involves dying to yourself; and as Paul has expressed it here, it requires becoming a slave.

For modern man this is strange, but in the ancient world slavery was widespread and common, and consequently God gave the Israelites certain precepts concerning the practice. For example, Israelites were instructed to let their Jewish slaves go after seven years of service but this created some complications. If the master had given a wife to a male slave, the slave had the option of going free or staying with his master and with this wife and children. (Exodus 21:1-6). So it is with the believer in Jesus Christ. No one compels us to surrender to Jesus Christ. Indeed, we are surrounded by unbelievers who have not surrendered. They will surrender — “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” — but because of our redemption we love Jesus Christ so much that we choose to be a servant, we choose to surrender. Exodus 21:5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

In my own life, I have struggled with a debilitating disease. For years I have been unable to work and there have been times when my mind was so muddled I could not remember my zip code. As I got better, I wondered if I would go back to work in computer science or in ministry. There are many benefits to going back to work in computer science: I would get paid more — a lot more; I would get health insurance, which is a real challenge when you have a pre-existing condition. But I realized that if I were ever able to think again, if I were ever to able to go back to work, it would have only been because of Jesus Christ — modern medicine never helped me; anyone who is very ill comes to realize that it is just you and the Lord (and Satan very much tries to delude you into believing you are alone). So I would have to be his slave, not out of compulsion but out of gratitude and love. Exodus 21:5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

Losing your gift

Romans 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;


Don Henley and Glen Frey of the Eagles once said they would continue with the band as long as the songs kept coming — they feared that someday they would lose the inspiration that made the songs possible. At the end of their run, the songs did not come very easily, which is why their last album was entitled the Long Run — writing and recording had become a painful grind and burden.

We often think the word prophesy means prognostication, but the New Testament definition is broader than that. It means discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether reproving and admonishing the wicked, comforting the afflicted, or revealing hidden things. For today’s Church, it means teaching and preaching the Word of God with authority and insight.

In that sense, I once had the gift of prophesy. I taught a well attended and received adult Sunday School, and I pastored two churches that loved me and my messages. It was easy back then because God’s inspiration had made it that way. I was never at a loss for a sermon — indeed, I could not preach all the sermons I would have liked. I had the gift of prophecy but that gift has left me now. Recently I have tried to write some sermons, but they are never coherent and I fail to complete them. I have no desire to teach Sunday school — I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. This lassitude is probably because of my IBS and my brain fog (impaired cognitive ability), but I will never know for sure.

In the Old Testament, the Lord departs from King Saul (1 Samuel 18:12) and from that point forward his reign is cursed. In some ways I feel like King Saul. I once had the blessing and the gift of prophesy but now it has departed.

Lord, I thank you for the gifts and the blessings that I do have, and let me never take them for granted.

Paradigm shift

Passage: Luke 24:36-56 – The Crucifixion

Verse: Luke 23:45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.


In 1962 Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and in it he argued that science does not proceed in a linear fashion, but instead there are paradigm shifts that vault science forward to a different level, a different reality. For instance, man would have never unlocked the power of the atom without Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which replaced Newtonian Physics as the ultimate reality of the universe. Today’s passage also describes a paradigm shift in the way man accesses and approaches God.

The veil of the temple refers to the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place within the temple complex in Jerusalem. The mercy seat and the ark of the covenant were kept in the Holy of Holies, and it is here where God himself would meet with the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. But in the dispensation of the Old Testament only the high priest was allowed to meet with God, and only priests from the tribe of Levi were permitted to make offerings. Now, after the crucifixion of Christ, the veil that separated to two chambers was torn asunder, signifying that all believers now have direct access to God. This is why the New Testament describes every believer as a priest – we are priests through Christ and have direct access to God. This was indeed a paradigm shift.

In your own life, think of what it means to have direct access to God. Remember, for most of human history, only 5-10% of the people were literate. That is, only 5-10% of the people could actually read the Word of God for themselves. Now, 95% of the population is literate, but we can only get 5-10% of believers to read the Word of God for themselves.

Think about the comfort and consolation you have by knowing God. In my own life, I have been afflicted with a debilitating disease – one that has made it impossible to work in my previous capacity. I often joke with my daughter that I was once a leader of men, and now I’m not qualified to take tickets at the fair. That is partly true, but the reality is that apart from Jesus Christ and apart from my access and fellowship with God, I would be a very bitter and disillusioned person. But that is not who I am in Christ.

Prayer: Lord, help me to take advantage of the privileges I have in Jesus Christ, and let me never take them for granted.