Cephas to His Friends

Cephas to His Friends

Have you ever wondered why the apostles often seemed to have more than one name?

Let’s take the apostle Peter, for example. He is sometimes in the Bible called Peter; he is sometimes called Simon; and he is sometimes called Cephas. All three names are used to refer to the same man, sometimes in close proximity to each other.

Cephas was known by other names.

Cephas was known by other names.

For instance, in the book of Galatians, Paul refers to Peter, as Peter in Galatians 2:7, 8. But he calls him Cephas in Galatians 1:13, and Galatians 2:11, 14. This is not the only time Paul calls Peter, Cephas. He does so as well in 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5 and 15:5.  Why the different name?

And why is Peter called Simon in so many other places? In approximately 69 places in the New Testament, in the four Gospels and in Acts, the name Simon is used to identify Peter. (cf. Acts 11:13, etc.)

Peter is the name most often used (well over a hundred times) and is the name used by the apostle himself when penning his own epistles (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) though in his second epistle, he identifies himself as Simon Peter, or Simeon Peter, depending on the spelling. (2 Peter 1:1)

The answer has to do with languages, and perhaps something to do with the reason why God chose the period of time He did for the birth of the church and the initial preaching of the Gospel.

We are told that in many synagogues in Palestine, in the first century, Jewish children were taught to read, write and speak in at least three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It was also common for Jews to have names for each of these languages. In Peter’s case, Simon was his given Hebrew name, the name he grew up with. In John 1:42, when Simon meets Jesus, Jesus gives him a new nick-name: Cephas. Cephas is Aramaic for rock. The Greek equivalent to Cephas is Peter, which also means stone, or rock.

Paul, writing to the Galatians in the Greek language, naturally used the name Peter in some places. This was the name most of the Greek-speaking church would have known him by. However, in private conversation, with his friends, Peter, who was a native Aramaic speaker, most likely called himself Cephas. Thus Paul, when thinking about his close friend and brother, often thought of him as Cephas, the name by which he knew him best.

Though we often think of the apostles as “uneducated,” we should recognize that they were each multi-lingual individuals who could read and write fluently in several languages. This practiced ability was further supplemented by the miraculous gift of tongues which allowed them to preach and teach to a wide variety of individuals in that own individual’s native language. (cf. Acts 2:7-11)

It was God’s plan for His apostles to take the Gospel to the world, and the world all spoke different languages. It was thus necessary for the apostles to each be able to communicate effectively to a wide swath of people. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews,” and “to those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law,” we should not overlook the lingual aspects of this approach. (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-21)

God wanted the Gospel presented to people where they were, in the place where they lived, in the language they were accustomed to speaking. This is why the books of the New Testament were so quickly translated into other languages soon after they were written, including Coptic and Latin. It was so that men could have the message taken to them in their own language.

This was God’s plan, and it is reflected in the Lord’s grand commission, commanding us to, “Go to all the world (Matthew 28:19).” One wonders how often modern Christians would prefer for the world to come to us?

If we meet a non-believer who is also not a native English speaker, would we prefer that they first learn English before we convert them, or are we willing to put forth the effort to learn their tongue so as to better teach them? Do we prefer potential converts to walk into the doors of our buildings, or are we willing to go out and meet them where they are? These are important questions to consider.

As we consider such questions, we might keep in mind the Apostle who was willing to address his epistles, in Greek, as Peter, even though to his friends, he normally went by Cephas.

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Distraction and Destruction

Distraction and Destruction

Most folks start the day with a list of projects that they want to tackle.  Yet, on the way to achieving their purposes, distraction rises up.  Not all distraction is worthless or troublesome.  There are distractions which are wonderfully spiritual.  Some distraction is very rewarding and perhaps represents even greater value than the original intended purposes of the day.  The distraction simply needs to be what is authorized in Christ (Colossians 3:17). Regardless of its worth, distraction makes itself ever present.  Consider for a brief moment the brief exhortation of focus from the Hebrew author:

Do not let distraction avert your eyes from your true and eternal purpose.

Do not let distraction avert your eyes from your true and eternal purpose.

Hebrews 12:1-3Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

We should never be distracted from constantly submitting our lives to Jesus.  He is our Example, our Savior, and our Defender.  He certainly had distractions in His life.  His physical family wanted His time.  Everywhere He went People upon Him to heal them.  Multitudes followed him to hear Him speak.  Crowds sought him out hoping to see miracles or be fed.  The Pharisaical Jews sought him to trick Him or cause Him to stumble in His ultimate purpose so that they would not lose their place of power.  His inner circle of disciples represented distraction of weak faith, puzzled understanding, and even deception.  Satan tried Him and tempted Him when he felt there was an opportune time.  Physical fear and the reality of the pain of the flesh made their calling as well as He unwaveringly came to the cross.  However, the distractions and suffering that Jesus endured provided understanding of the worth of submission to the Father (Hebrews 5:8).  Jesus sits at the right hand of God because of His constant and steady control in keeping His eyes on the Father.  Today, our eyes need to be constantly looking toward Jesus.

Destruction is the result of worldly distraction being our ultimate pursuit (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).  Destruction results from trying to legitimize evil distraction as good (Isaiah 5:20) and turn scriptural wisdom into earthly wisdom (2 Peter 3:16) so we can pursue worldly distraction.  Destruction comes from a heart problem that wants to turn back to the world (Luke 17:32).  However, if you are seeking God (Matthew 6:33), spiritual distraction will not keep you from your God, nor will destruction await you.  Submission of the heart, soul, mind, and strength to God will lovingly have the kingdom of the Father in view.  Be of good cheer in the midst of distraction and boldly march onward (John 16:33).

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Two Witnesses to Your Salvation

Two Witnesses to Your Salvation

The apostle Paul made an astounding affirmation when he said, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). How can I know that I am saved? How can I have confidence that I am pleasing to God? Paul’s words said it all—the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit.

Um, no, not that kind of witness.

Um, no, not that kind of witness.

There is a Biblical concept that should be remembered in all matters, but especially in this one about my salvation. There must be two witnesses. The law of Moses was very clear. No individual could be put to death on the basis of a single witness. “He shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Deut. 17:6). The same was true of other violations of that law. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deut. 19:15).

The same truth is taught in the New Testament. Jesus said, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Matt. 18:16). Paul taught the same in two passages: 2 Corinthians 13:1 and 1 Timothy 5:19. The writer of Hebrews makes this same point (Heb. 10:28).

So, who are the two witnesses that speak so that I can know I am a child of God? The answer is obvious. The Spirit of God and my spirit.

However, it is vital that the words in Romans 8:16 be read carefully. The passage does not say that the Spirit bears witness to my Spirit, but that the Spirit bears witness with my spirit. Had Paul said that God’s Spirit bears witness to my spirit, then I should expect that God would in some way speak to my spirit and that “silent” voice from heaven would be the basis of the confidence in my salvation. This is not what Paul said. Read it again.

The Spirit bears witness, and my spirit bears witness. The Spirit affirms that I am a child of God, and my spirit bears the same witness that I am a child of God. Both spirits bear the same witness.

What does the Spirit say about my salvation or the salvation of any person? The Spirit says that for me to be saved, I must believe (Heb. 11:6). My spirit says that I have believed. The Spirit also says that for me to be saved I must repent, change my heart and life (Acts 17:30). My spirit says that I have repented. The Spirit says that I must verbally confess my faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9). My spirit says I have done this. The Spirit says I must be baptized to have my sins washed away (Acts 22:16). My spirit says I have done this. I can know that I am a child of God because of two witnesses saying that I am—the Spirit and my spirit.

Are you saved? Have you done what the Spirit says you must do to be saved? Remember, it takes two witnesses!

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Gay: Pathway to Hell or Closer to God?

Paving a pathway to hell doesn’t move you closer to God

In a year when it seems like anyone with a pulse and a few crazy ideas is running for president, Pete Buttigieg has taken center stage. Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But that is not why he is frequently a guest on Sunday morning press shows and what is keeping him in the headlines. Mayor Buttigieg has taken up a war of words with Vice-President Mike Pence about being gay, and has boldly declared, being married to his partner Chasten “has moved me closer to God.”

God desires all people to follow His Word.

God desires all people to follow His Word.

Buttigieg is a democrat, and I admittedly have not studied much about his political views, however, I do want to address two of his theological statements that he has recently made. Doing his best to assume moral high ground Buttigieg declared that being gay was not a choice but was given to him by his Creator. “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade…And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” (see USA Today’s piece here).

While I do not know your pay grade Mr. Buttigieg, I do know science and God are not the reason you are gay. Yes, there were several studies published in the early 1990s (and a few in 2000s) that diligently tried to assert a genetic cause for homosexuality. (e.g., Simon LeVay, 1991; Bailey and Pillard, 1991; Dean Hamer, 1993). However, science has a way of “self-correcting” itself and all of those studies were shown to be poorly conducted and other scientists could not replicate the original findings. In other words, the studies were false. Simply put, science doesn’t support the notion that homosexuals were “born that way.” Again, I recognize saying such in modern times is to beg to be labeled a hatemonger or homophobe. However, my conclusion comes from the scientific evidence—not emotion.

It makes logical sense if one were to set aside the hyperbole, political spin, and passion for just a moment. If homosexuality were genetic, then if an identical twin were homosexual then his twin would have to be as well—because they share the same genes. Yet, this is not what we see in reality. Also, if it were genetic then we would eventually see this gene disappear from the human population—as homosexual couples can’t reproduce.

Mr. Buttigieg is desperately trying to ride in on the coattails of true civil rights issues, but the scientific evidence does not support that he was born that way. If it is not genetic, then that makes it a choice. It also takes the “quarrel” about his behavior and who “he is” away from the Creator, and directly to Mr. Buttigieg’s own doorstep.

The second statement I want to examine is when Buttigieg indicated that being involved in a same-sex marriage has brought him closer to God. “Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent,” he said at the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s annual brunch. “My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” he added, prompting applause (story here).

How does a homosexual marriage bring someone closer to God? There is only one way—and that is if Mayor Buttigieg has recast God into a god that is not found in the Scriptures. In other words, Buttigieg has recast God in an image that he desires—which is idolatry.

God instituted marriage between a man and a woman, (Genesis 2:24). All throughout the Bible marriage is referred to in terms of a man and a woman—even when Jesus speaks of marriage. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is condemned all throughout God’s Word. Whether we are talking about the patriarchal age with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), or the Mosaic Age (Leviticus 18:22-23; 20:13), or in the New Testament (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Revelation 21:8) God views this behavior as an abomination.

Mr. Buttigieg must have skipped over the Scriptures that declare God as holy (1 Peter 1:16) and that sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). The holiness of God is frequently referenced in the Bible. The inspired psalmist observed, “But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel” (22:3). Additionally, we read, “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool—He is holy” (Psalm 99:3). The prophet Isaiah noted: “But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16).

Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 6 that individuals involved in the type of behavior that Mayor Buttigieg and his husband Chasten are involved in will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. In Revelation 21:8 we read that people who practice sexually immoral behavior shall “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Does this sound like someone who is getting closer to God?

1 John 5:3 declares, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Therefore, to “love” is to do what God says in the way he says to do it. In other words, to be loving is to be lawful; to obey God’s commands. The real question is not whether Mayor Buttigieg “feels” closer to God, the real question is whether or not this presidential candidate is willing to humble himself, repent of his sins, and obey God’s commands.

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Lessons from 2 Corinthians

Lessons from 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians is a book every preacher and teacher needs to read at least once a quarter.  It is interesting to see how God inspired Paul to both encourage and rebuke the church at Corinth in a balanced way.  Paul would acknowledge and show appreciation for the good the Corinthians were doing, continually state and affirm the great love he and God have for them and the love they have for each other, while also repeatedly bringing up in very blunt and sometimes sarcastic ways their shortcomings while admonishing them to repent.

There are many lessons to be learned from 2 Corinthians.

There are many lessons to be learned from 2 Corinthians.

There’s a lesson in this for us, preachers.  Spiritually building up and edifying fellow Christians to help them become closer to God and overcome sin in their life requires more than telling them what they need to work on.  It equally requires open acknowledgment and appreciation of what we are doing right, and encouragement to keep it up.  I encourage my fellow preachers and teachers in the church, especially those of us who regularly post religious articles on social media, to remember that.  As someone who regularly reads the writings of my fellow Christians, I am struck by the higher ratio of critical articles of brethren and the church there are versus the number of articles which openly thank brethren and the church for the good they do and acknowledge it.  Yes, the articles which bring out what Christians and the church need to do better are more times than not correct and they are sure to get numerous “likes” and comments like “Amen!” and “Preach it, brother!”  However, after a while of being regularly saturated with articles that repeatedly say, “We have this problem”, “We’re not doing what we need to here in this area”, and “We could do better here”, a lot of us will get discouraged and begin to wonder if we can do anything right in the sight of God (or the preacher or teacher who regularly blogs and preaches these messages).

Consider the following examples from Paul and his second inspired letter to Corinth:

  1. He starts by openly wishing upon them grace and peace from God and Christ (1:2).  My fellow preaching and teaching bloggers, how often in our writings to Christians do we openly wish God’s grace and peace upon them, even while we “let them have it”?  I know this is something I need to work on.
  2. He then gives them a very uplifting message about comfort (1:3-5).  He also informs them that they are the reason he and his fellow apostles suffer (1:6) and that his hope in them is unshaken (1:7), before requesting their prayers (1:11).  A stark contrast from sermons and articles I and others have written which simply say to Christians, “Shape up!” without also comforting them and telling them, “I care so much about you, and here’s what I’m willing to do to show it.  I hope in you.  I believe in you, so much so that I’m asking you to pray for me.”
  3. Paul then speaks bluntly to them about their need to forgive the penitent among them (1:23-2:11).  Yet, even while doing so he goes out of his way to tell them that he didn’t think he was better than them (1:24a), acknowledge that they stand firm in their faith (1:24b), inform them that it tore him up to have to rebuke them (2:4a), and make sure they knew that he didn’t want to hurt them because he loved them very much (2:4b).  Again, we preachers can learn from this.  Rebuking people requires more than telling them to repent while specifying their errors.  It also requires telling them that you love them while acknowledging what they are doing right.
  4. Even while defending himself and his companions from the accusation of being “peddlers of God’s word” (2:12-3:1), he tells the Corinthians that their walk with Christ is such that he could use them as a “letter of recommendation” (3:2-3).  What a great example for us, brethren!
  5. Paul then speaks positively about the terrible ordeals he and his companions went through rather than complaining about it (4:8-11) before informing the Christians at Corinth that he willingly went through these trials for their sake (4:12-15).  Preachers, let’s be honest.  We tend to complain to each other about the problems brought upon us due to preaching the gospel, problems which are quite small when compared to Paul’s (see 11:23-27).  Why not speak of how God upholds us even in the midst of our sufferings as Paul did, before informing the church that we would go through it all over again if it would help just one soul in that congregation get closer to God?
  6. Notice how Paul says to the church, “We IMPLORE you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (5:20b) and “we APPEAL to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1).  Preachers and fellow teachers and bloggers, let’s try IMPLORING brethren to repent and APPEALING to them rather than beating them up over the head about it.  Pleading rather than lecturing might produce better results.
  7. Before admonishing them to be different from unbelievers rather than unequally yoking themselves to them (6:14-7:1), notice how Paul went out of his way to tell these Christians that his heart was wide open for them while encouraging them to widen their hearts also (6:11-13).  Notice also that while he ends his admonishment for them to cleanse themselves from defilement, he calls them “beloved” (7:1) and urges them again, “Make room in your hearts for us” (7:2a).  Parents who effectively discipline their children know that their children need to be reminded of their love for them both before and after the spanking.  In like manner, Christians need to know how much we care for them and love them while we rebuke them from the pulpit, in articles, and face to face.
  8. Paul then acknowledged that his previous letter brought them grief which led them to repent (7:8-10).  He then went out of his way to let them know that they were doing a great job repenting (7:11), and that their repentance and subsequent encouraging of Titus comforted Paul and his companions (7:13).  Notice how Paul told them that he had been boasting about them, and that their actions proved his boasts to be well-founded (7:14).  See how he told them that Titus’ affection for them was growing and that Titus remembered how obedient they were (7:15).  Paul then told them about his joy over them and that he had “perfect confidence” in them (7:16).  This is the same church 1 Corinthians was written to, remember.  These are the same people who were very divided, suing each other over trivial matters, openly and arrogantly tolerating extreme fornication among them, arguing over where their brethren bought meat, defiling the Lord’s Supper, childishly wanting the “cool” spiritual gifts rather than the ones most profitable for helping the church grow, and even denying that there would be a resurrection of the dead on Judgment Day…and yet look how Paul is speaking positively of them here.  My fellow preachers, the church in America overall has a lot of problems…but she has a lot of good in her too.  We can take a page from Paul’s book here and acknowledge that.  It might just help our brethren to become better.
  9. While talking up the Macedonian brethren, Paul told Corinth – Corinth, of all people! – that they “excel in everything” while encouraging them to excel in their giving also (8:7).  He then acknowledged that they had in fact excelled in helping their needy brethren and others before urging them to keep it up (8:10-11) and thus prove to others that Paul was right to boast about them (8:24).  He then acknowledged their readiness to participate in this good work and informed them that he was boasting about them to others, who in turn were inspired by them (9:2), all before exhorting them to be ready to give more and give in the right way (9:3-11).  He then told them about how others were glorifying God because of their generosity (9:12-15).  What a great example for us in how to stir up brethren to get more involved in church work!
  10. Take note of how Paul, even while defending himself against his detractors at Corinth, again “entreated” and “begged” Corinth to repent (10:1-2).  Notice also how even in the midst of his sarcastic rebuke of them recorded all throughout chapters 10 through 12, he talks of his hope that their faith would increase (10:15), his fear that Satan would lead them astray (11:3), his love for them (11:11), and his anxiety for them and all other churches (11:28), before informing them that he would “most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (12:15a) that it was “all for your upbuilding, beloved” (12:19b), that he was praying for them (13:7, 9), and that they were more important than him (13:9).  He then ended his letter to them in a very positive note (13:11-14).  What a great example of balance that shows us how to rebuke with love and encourage even while admonishing!

Preachers, teachers, and fellow religious bloggers, we can definitely learn from this.  I know I can.  The brethren need more from us than constant rebukes.  They need expressed love, comfort, concern, and encouragement.  We need to brag on them even though they’re not perfect.  Guess what?  We’re not either.  We need to truly love them, and God shows us how to do so in 2 Corinthians.  May we all work harder to preach the Word like Paul!

Proclaiming God’s truth is a blessing, and those of us who proclaim it from the pulpit and through our writings have the highest privilege bestowed to man other than being a child of God and approaching his throne in prayer. Men of God, thank you for the hard work you put in for the kingdom. I love each of you and keep you in my prayers. We are all imperfect beings made complete by his Son’s blood. Let’s keep striving to do what is right. God bless you for the work you do, preachers.

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