Archive for November, 2021

A theological reflection on the steps to being born again (from above) Part 1.

November 30, 2021


Part one is all about thinking about the issues of salvation and eternal life and where we stand.  In the second part we are going to look at how Herman Bavinck explains the steps towards being born again.  Nowadays the term ‘born again’ gets thrown all over the place and it has lost its meaning in modern culture.  We forget about sin and the broken relationship with God.  For some people being born again is a lifestyle choice and there is no conviction of what sin actually is.  In some churches sin is probably not even mentioned because it causes offence. This is the whole point.  A patient has every right to know what the cause of the ailment is.  It is the same with spiritual truths.  Let us bite the bullet and look deeper into the social ills of our soul in the direction to finding the perfect cure.

I took this one evening when I went for a local walk.


“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21”

For some people to be born again is a lifestyle choice.  Presidents have claimed to be born again and it has been a very large winning vote in some parts of the world.  Only God really knows if these politicians were sincere in their belief in Christ or whether it was because they wanted power. Ultimate power resides in heaven and not on earth. 

God works in mysterious ways that we will never understand but we can have some understanding of his nature as revealed through Holy Scripture. By the Holy Spirit we can have some glimpses into God’s motives.  So from a very basic level what are some of the characteristics of God.  Off the top of my head thinking about Scripture here is a short list:

·        God is Love

·        God is Holy

·        God is righteous

·        God is Judge

·        God is Creator

·        God is omnipotent

·        God is omnipresent

·        God is omniscient

·        God became a Man

·        God sent His Son and he died on a cross

·        God the son rose from the dead

·        God in Christ by the Holy Spirit loves his Church

I’m sure one could make this list even longer.  What about Man (humans)

·        Man has Broken his relationship with God because he wanted to be God

·        Man is a Sinner

·        Man is Self-centred

·        Man is marred by the Fall

·        Man is capricious can love one moment and hate the next

·        Man can be judgmental based on false motives

·        Man can create new ways to sin

·        Man is powerless although some fool themselves to thinking they have power

·        Man can only be in one place at one time even through the internet knowledge is finite

·        Man is completely lost, and he cannot save himself.

·        Man’s knowledge is limited.

When we look at these two lists, we can see that there are very big differences between the God of the Bible and the nature of humans.  As humans we are perishing and there is no sight of salvation on the horizon.  We are like a ship without a rudder in a stormy sea.  Is there any hope for us?  O look over there I see a light house.  It is God who switched the light on, it is God who has thrown us a line to come to him!   I want to now look at some verses from John’s Gospel and try to start to understand what the issues are about being born again:

“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21”

“For God so loved the world”

When God created the world before the sin of Adam the world was perfect, and it was good.  The first chapter in Genesis tells us it was good.   Humans marred this beautiful creation yet even though this was the case God gave us a way through the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith.  God’s motive is love because his nature is love so it does not surprise me that the text continues to say,

” That He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The story of Noah points to this truth that we are all drowning, and we cannot save ourselves.  It is a salvage job by God to save a remnant.  From the two basic lists I made about God and Man at the beginning we could see that there was no way that Man can fix this broken relationship with God.  God have to take the first step.  God did a lot more than take the first step.  He sent His Son into the world and died for our sins.  This was a high cost.  Judgement is already on our heads because of the wrongs we have done.  Self-centredness is the biggest crime because it refuses God-centredness:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 


What about Nicodemus in the passage when Jesus says to him “you must be born again”?   The literal translation is born from above (ἄνωθεν John 3:3) the root being ‘ana’ = above.  Looking at the context of the whole passage we can see that Jesus is talking about how to enter God’s Kingdom, but Nicodemus interpreted it as entering into the womb a second time. The usual word for again is actually παλιν (again). Jesus did not use this word but this is how Nicodemus understood it.

As well as the adverb from above in the Nicodemus story, John uses it in other place too:

·        “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. John 3:31

·        And He was saying to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. John 8:23

·        Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11


I also found it interesting that James the Lord’s brother also uses ‘above’ with the same meaning as Christ:

·        Every good thing given, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

·        This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. James 3:15

·        But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17

So then why did Nicodemus ask the question; “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” John 3:4

Nicodemus was half correct but missed the main meaning.  Nicodemus had to have a new birth, but he interpreted it in an earthly physical way.  


When Jesus made the statement in his answer to Nicodemus:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3


 , “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born a new he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3


, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

God by the Holy Spirit has to make the first move in order that we can even see God’s Kingdom.  Nicodemus was a pharisee and represented the Law.  He could not see the kingdom of God and it had to be explained to him from Jesus our Lord.  This tells us that the law although it is good because God sent it, it cannot save us from our sins.   In part 2 I will be going through Bavincks ethics as he explains to us the steps to becoming a follower of Christ.  

The Trinitarian God and the gift of faith

November 13, 2021

 There has always been controversy on how we become followers of Christ.  The truth is we were dead in our sins and trespasses and there is no way a person who is dead towards God can become alive.  It is an impossibility. Faith is seen as a gift of God and so it should be.  St Augustine was living the sinful life and then he heard a child singing about opening a book. He took it as a command from God and he got converted after reading Romans:

Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.Romans 13:13-14”

(Taken from )

Whilst walking 10000 steps this was the view! Beautiful


Faith is a gift because God has to make the first move and then there is the effect of salvation (mystical union).  I don’t understand how the work of salvation happens and the order.  It is a mystery:

“. . . God works in us without our help. ” Without any cooperation on our part, God begins this regeneration in us by his irresistible grace, penetrating our conscience through to our heart and pouring into us a new life-principle. This enlightens our understanding, judgment, conscience, and memory so that the darkness disappears, and we evaluate ourselves, God, and Christ differently.113 The scales fall from our eyes (Acts 9:18). God bends and turns around our will, so that sinners cannot resist, and drives them to Christ; he re-creates their inclinations and passions and rekindles in them a love for God and Christ. He opens the heart, as he did with Lydia (Acts 16:14), rips away the lock of the heart (Hosea 13:8), which until now was closed through prejudgments, and conquers the power and mastery of the flesh. The “new person” is born and the old has passed away (2 Cor. 5:17).” (Taken from Reformed Ethics; by Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Baker publishing; page 262)

This is why faith should be seen as a gift.  If I was a car God had to turn the ignition key for it to start.  The engine would start, the lights would work, the mileage would show up and the tank of petrol would be full. Even though God created the whole of the universe and mankind, he also created a brand-new creation in the human being.  When a person was estranged from God one moment, the next moment they are worshipping him.  What a mystery!

In relation to this mystery Bavinck quotes Jesus:

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8”

As Bavinck says this new birth, regeneration ‘born again’ is completely mysterious to us.  We don’t even know how it happens:

“We do not know how life comes to the soul—Whether it is carried in from the outside or created from within.”  He also quotes revelations:

“And the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Revelation 1:18

God uses Scripture and it is the Holy Spirit who wields this sword.  Bavinck uses the metaphor of a hammer hitting us.

God the Holy Spirit has to make us ‘living twigs’ before we can be ingrafted into the olive tree:

He says “But the only way to come into fellowship with Christ is by faith; this assumes a spiritual act, and it thus already assumes spiritual life, rebirth.  Thus we arrive at this proposition: the initial life in regeneration is produced through and from the Holy Spirit, and that life is manifest in the work of faith, and that faith grasps Christ.118 Mystical union arises (logically) after regeneration, simultaneously with and through faith. Becoming one with Christ, we therefore already have the organizing principle of life. But this life-principle now draws, as it grows, all its power, strength, and nourishment from Christ. And in order to be grafted into him who is the olive tree, we must already be living twigs. One does not engraft dead branches.” (From pages 262-263)


We now understand why faith is a gift of God. While we were sinners before the foundation of the world God had a plan for us.  God called us while deep in sin. I’m not going any deeper than this at the moment because my aim is to encourage believers to stay faithful to Christ.  A gift is a beautiful thing if it is from the heart.  God created us in the first place in the first creation.  We messed up really badly and we lost our way home to our spiritual father.  Therefore, God has made a new creation in us by writing his laws on our hearts.  To me election is like the wind we will never fully grasp it here on earth.  There is no guarantee that even after 10000 years we will understand the depths of election and how much God really loved us.    The main point is that we have been saved from eternal separation from our Trinitarian God.

The Materialistic Gravy Train and the Great Deception that can cost a person their soul.

November 10, 2021

Money and wealth is something that a lot of people crave for.  They somehow think that it will make them happy and content.  Sadly, this is not only an idea in the world but it has also infiltrated the Church.   I remember writing about the abuse of wealth in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics:

As Christians let us be rich towards God and our neighbours walking by faith in Love.  Our text today is Hebrews 13. 5-6

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say,


WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” Hebrews 13:5-6

This is Apostolic teaching and that should suffice for us to accept God’s word.  However, we are going to go deeper and look at the source of this wisdom which flows from the teaching of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  Our great teacher has quite a few things to say about riches that come in various guises:

Matt. 6:19. Do not lay up for your

selves treasures upon earth, where

moth and rust destroy, and where

thieves break in and steal.

Riches do not last but rather they can turn our hearts away from our Saviour. 

Matt. 13:22. And the one on whom

seed was sown among the thorns, this

is the man who hears the word, and the

worry of the world, and the deceitful

ness of riches choke the word, and it

becomes unfruitful. Mark 4:7, 18, 19;

Luke 8:7, 14.

We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Riches here are spoken of as deceitful. Deceitfulness is a deception. 

Vine says:

Deceitfulness apate (539), “deceit or deceitfulness” (akin to apatao, “to cheat, deceive, beguile”), that which gives a false impression, whether by appearance, statement or influence, is said of riches, Matt. 13:22; Mark 4:19; of sin, Heb. 3:13. The phrase in Eph. 4:22, “deceitful lusts,” KJV, “lusts of deceit,” RV, signifies lusts excited by “deceit,” of which “deceit” is the source of strength, not lusts “deceitful” in themselves. In 2 Thess. 2:10, “all deceit of unrighteousness,” RV, signifies all manner of unscrupulous words and deeds designed to “deceive” (see Rev. 13:13–15). In Col. 2:8, “vain deceit” suggests that “deceit” is void of anything profitable. Matthew 13:22

I think that wealth is a great deception.  A person could have the latest cars, houses, boats, mistresses.  It is a bubble and is not real.  It goes against the fruit of the Spirit, and it is in direct opposition to God who is True and Pure Love.  The wages of sin is death.

Matt. 16:26. For what will a man be

profited, if he gains the whole world,

and forfeits his soul? Or what will a

man give in exchange for his soul

You were created in the image of God and you have a soul.  In Christ we have real value.  You have heard of the ‘rat race’.  Some choose to be rats and they will deceive in order to get rich.  This road leads to a spiritual death.  It means lying and cheating which is in contraventions to what God teaches.

Matt. 19:23. Truly I say to you, it is

hard for a rich man to enter the king

dom of heaven. 24. And again I say to

you, it is easier for a camel to go

through the eye of a needle, than for a

rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Having looked at the verses above Jesus’ metaphor of a rich man going through the eyes of a needle is very true.  The reason for this is that the person is focusing on this world, on themselves, on their ego, on their earthly god (idol). 

Our Lord’s teachings in the Gospels continue:

Mark 10:23. How hard it will be for

those who are wealthy to enter the

kingdom of God! 24. Children, how

hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Mark 12:43. Truly I say to you, this

poor widow put in more than all the

contributors to the treasury; 44. for

they all put in out of their surplus, but

she, out of her poverty, put in all she

owned, all she had to live on.

Luke 12:19. “And I will say to my

soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid

up for many years to come; take your

ease, eat, drink and be merry.”. 20.

But God said to him, “You fool! This

very night your soul is required of you;

and now who will own what you have

prepared?”, 21. So is the man who lays

up treasure for himself, and is not rich

toward God.

So how can we be rich towards God?  If we have followed the teachings of Hebrews, we already know the answer as it is living by faith and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Let us not make ourselves an idol of greed but rather let us become free through obedience to God.  Let us not fixate on wealth as our Lord says:

33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-34

Our Lord had a lot to say about riches and having the right attitude towards them.  They are an easy snare for the human being to fall into.  The Apostle spent three years with our Lord and even St Paul disappeared for a few years learning about Christ’s Way before he set off on his ministry.  It is on this foundation, Christ’s teachings that we can start to interpret wealth and how it ought to be used. 

The Apostles teachings

In this section we are going to look at what the Apostles thinking is about riches and wealth.  When we have finished you will see that they follow directly from the teachings of Christ.  When the Apostles use Christ’s teachings it is directly into the contemporary life of the Church.  Here I am defining ‘contemporary’ in terms of the relationship of the Apostles to the early Church.  We are also contemporary with the early Church because we have the same Holy Spirit and He is the glue that binds all Christians (The invisible Church) to Christ by faith.

Apostles Teachings

I used to get the following references below.

1 Timothy 6:9

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction”

Greed destroys a person from within.  What type of destruction can there be?

If a person can have anything they want, then ultimately the destruction of the soul.  However, there are many levels along the way.

Desire to be rich at any cost can make a rat in character

Wealth can make someone’s ego become an idol where they think they are better than their neighbour.

Temptations that can ruin a person are manifold; alcohol dulls the mind, secret relationships can break families apart,

Affording the latest luxuries can make a person fat.

Wealth can make a person even more selfish

The self becomes ‘a god’. To be more precise a person has more power to do what they want and are prone to fall into the trap that Paul warned about:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21

1 Timothy 6:17

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy

Wealth and riches of whatever type is a great deception, so we need to be aware of its dangers. 

49.1TM | 1 Timothy 6:18

Instruct them to do good to be rich in good works to be generous and ready to share

True happiness is found through faith in Christ.  When one releases the burdens of greed and self-centredness then one starts to live a new life.  We can become soul rich because we put God first.   God created all that is good in the first place and all we are doing is like the prodigal son ‘returning home’.

51.HBR | Hebrews 11:26

considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward

Moses put God first and he was known as the most humble man on the earth.  He wasn’t rich but his life is celebrated all around the world. 

James 1:10

and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation because like flowering grass he will pass away

Wealth can be a humiliation because one only thinks about their own bank balance, so he thinks.  The selfish man is only around for a time and then there is the judgement

James 1:11

… its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away

Pursuing God and his ways brings real wealth which will not fade. 

James 2:5

Listen my beloved brethren did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him

As Bavinck said somewhere the ‘fruit of faith is works’.  It was a big mistake for Martin Luther to call this book ‘straw’.  James the Lord’s brother was the leader of the Jerusalem Church and according to Josephus he was murdered by jealousy and hate. 

We have a few more verses below if you care to read.

James 2:6; But you have dishonored the poor man Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court

James 5:1; Come now you rich weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you

James 5:2; Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth eaten

Revelation 2:9; I know your tribulation and your poverty but you are rich and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan

Revelation 3:17; Because you say I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked

Revelation 18:3; …mmitted acts of immorality with her and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality

Revelation 18:15; The merchants of these things who became rich from her will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment weeping and mourning

Revelation 18:19; …ourning saying Woe woe the great city in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth for in one hour she has been laid waste

This was just background reading.  Money and wealth in itself does nothing.  At the end of the day, we ought to be good stewards of what God has given us.  A person may have inherited his wealth or became wealthy through good business transactions.  This is not a problem.  The problem is the Fall.  When the Fall happened in the garden of Eden it was to do with Adam and Eve wanting to become their own sovereignties without being dependent on God.  They thought that they could be like God!  This is a natural state of people that we want to be in charge, and we think that wealth can make us happy.  It is the great deception.  If we want to be truly happy, we need to watch our attitudes and perceptions.  It is a great temptation for many a politician to be wealthy and famous and some will lie and cheat to end up at ‘the top of the pack’.  This is sad because all a politician is, is a servant of the people.  Unfortunately, if you watch some politicians around the world, you can see and feel the pride that ‘they have made it’.  They have made it for the gravy train of riches, but little do they know that God’s judgment like a massive Juggernaut train is coming towards them full throttle and it may cost them their soul.  

So from the background reading we understand a little bit better what Apollos was on about:

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say,


WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” Hebrews 13.5-6

Don’t strain for wealth but be happy with what you have.  Love for God is better than love for money.  I liked Donald Guthrie’s comments here:

Contentment means more than passive acceptance of the inevitable. It involves a positive recognition that money is relative. In support of this view, the writer quotes from the Old Testament

And again, on the Old Testament quotation he says:

The writer’s intention is to show that contentment should be based on the character of God, especially on his unfailing presence. As this promise had been a great support to the Israelites faced with the hardships which preceded their entry into the promised land, so the readers of this letter could take their stand on the same promise.” (Tyndale New Testament Commentary on Hebrews; Donald Guthrie; pages 269-270)


Materiality, wealth and riches in itself is not a problem.  The problem is with us humans having faulty attitudes on wealth and riches.  We so easily get fixated on wealth that we end up deceiving ourselves.  From that point of view Satan doesn’t need to do anything.  This seed of greed and self-sovereignty already resides in us from the Fall.  Jesus’ teachings are vital for us so that our attitudes and faith are realigned vertically up towards God and horizontally towards our neighbour.  A proper understanding of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 is a good place to start. 

What advice can I give you.  I’m not your judge.  God loves you and in Christ we can see the great deception for what it is.   This is a very serious topic in the Bible.  As Christians and for that matter Muslims and Jews are expected to love their neighbour and show great hospitality and love. 

So then let us follow the teachings of the Book of Hebrews, the teachings of Jesus and of the Apostles on this great subject Amen.

Let us love, show hospitality, empathize with the needy and honour Marriage!

November 6, 2021

Today we are going to look at some reasons why Apollos wrote Hebrews but not Paul.  We also need to remember that in theology it is within a Pauline school of theology but written in a High Alexandrian Greek style (Philonic style).

We then move on to look at some of the ethical material in chapter 13 namely the first four verses.

Background to Hebrews 13

We have shown and proven using probability that Apollos is the most likely contender as the writer of the book of Hebrews.   Some have argued that the style in chapter 13 has changed.  Yes, the style has changed to being more Pauline like.  Perhaps the reason for this is that Apollos was part of this Pauline school.  Throughout the whole of this letter, we have come across Pauline ideas, and this should not be a surprise.  Apollos in this last section switches to giving advice on how believers ought to live.   In Orthodox traditions Apollos was one of the seventy elders and he was bishop sometime in Corinth.  He may also have been Bishop at Izmir (Smyrna), Caesarea (An archaeological site between Tel Aviv and Haifa) and other places.  Some have also contended that Paul must have written this letter because Timothy is mentioned:

When Paul is writing formally to other churches, he has in a couple of places written ‘our brother’.  However, in other places (more informal perhaps at the end of letters or to Timothy Himself) he calls him his child or son.  There are about 23 references to Timothy in the New Testament

Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Hebrews 13:23

This to me would not make sense because Paul usually refers intimately about Timothy more like a ‘son’ than a brother! Having said that the Church had a special place for Timothy in their affections.  He indeed was a special brother, and it was not unusual for Timothy to team up with Paul or Silas.  There are possibly many instances of Timothy teaming up with other members of the Church.  The writings we have are a snapshot of what was going on. Below are some references to Timothy:

For this reason, I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 1 Corinthians 4:17

Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.

Romans 16:21

10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. 1 Corinthians 16:10

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia:

2 Corinthians 1:1


Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges; THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS; VEN. F. W. FARRAR, D.D., F.R.S.; Farrar, F. W. (1893). The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, With Notes and Introduction (p. iii). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;

(The introduction in the above commentary explains a lot how Apollos could have been the writer and the evidence is very compelling that Apollos wrote it.  Farrar also shows how the Pauline ideas are found in the book of Hebrews but it has an Alexandrian and Philonic style, this includes his vocabulary and choice of words.)


The writer of Hebrews was a man who was from the school of Paul. At the same times he was a writer that wrote in an Alexandrian style.  His style in the Scriptures is pure originality and we can be grateful to have such a masterpiece of writing in the New Testament. According to tradition he was one of the seventy elders, and this gave him God’s authority to command the Church to live godly lives.


Let’s read the first six verses:

Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. 4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. 5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say,



Verse 1

Let love of the brethren continue.

The word used here is φιλαδελφία (Philadelphia).  It is brotherly love.  Brotherly love happens within the family (God’s people the Church).  This word is not the same one as used in love of neighbour by Jesus:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Matthew 5:43-47

In this section Jesus uses the word ἀγαπάω (agapaō).  Basically, Jesus commands us to love everyone.  When Jesus preached, he preached in public to everyone.  The situation of Hebrews is different in the sense that this letter was only addressed to a close-knit congregation (s).  Then again Jesus uses agapaō in the High Priestly prayer:

I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. John 17:23

I am not making any deeply theological statements here, but I am saying that in the Greek language they use a variety of words for love whereas in English we use one word to cover a plethora of meanings.   

Verse 2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Obviously, Apollos is referring to this situation:

Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate. Genesis 18:1-8

So, the key words are love and hospitality.  Hospitality is something that believers should just do and it is even commanded as it is here.  Apollos goes a stage further that we ought to think about ‘strangers’.  We do not know who they are but it may be that they need help.  Perhaps they don’t even have any food and are hungry.  How far would we go out of our way to help some one who is in need? (Or not in need but a friend).

Verse 3

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

So, our three key words are love, hospitality, and now empathy.  

At the end of this chapter, we see that Timothy was in prison and he had only recently been released.  We have also seen it near the end of chapter 10:

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Hebrews 10:32-35

Over the centuries things haven’t changed that much.  Innocent people still get thrown in prison from various situations.  Let us remember too those who are suffering through no fault of their own and are languishing in prison.  We ought to remember even those who have been thrown in prison because of what they have done so that they can come to faith in Christ.  God works in mysterious ways and we don’t always know what the outcome is going to be.

Verse 4

So up to now we have had Love, hospitality, empathy and now honour.

4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4

Marriage in the UK usually lasted a lifetime, but the laws were relaxed in the 1970’s and it got easier to get divorced.  The following link shows different religious groups and some dovorce rates:

This is a sad state of affairs because God is love and those who divorce have decided to break their vows.  I’m not standing in judgement, but it does show that we live in a dysfunctional world and the Fall is very much evident.

As in the early church (such as Corinth) there were believers married to unbelievers; believer married to believers but in all of Paul’s advice marriage was important.  For example, believing couples were commanded to pray for each other 1 Corinthians 7. 5.  When reading chapter 7 Satan is also mentioned in verse 6 (lack of self-control).  We can see that in marriage the old fallen nature and the new nature are at odds.  Prayer is very important because when we pray even for our partners and children it build God’s empathy in our hearts.  Love is the glue that holds a marriage together so it does not surprise me that Marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ and the Church:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33


As Paul did in his letters; Apollos gave advice for faithful living in Christ.  In the first 4 verses we touched on some very important themes, so we ought to take these commands very seriously because they are indicators of how our walk with God is.

Apollos in these first few verses touched on

  • Love
  • Hospitality
  • Empathy
  • Honour

Where do we fit into this picture?

Do we love our neighbour whoever they may be?

Do we love those who have abused or wronged us in some way?

Do we have empathy for those who have had their freedoms taken away from them?

Do we respect marriage and the idea of marriage especially when it is a metaphor of the marriage of Christ and the Church?

Through out the book we had a feast of high Alexandrian Christian Theology, but Apollos is also concerned about our individual walk with God in the nitty gritty of daily life.  Hebrews is definitely part of the Pauline school of Theology written by a Master theologian namely Apollos.

What are the subjective causes of the spiritual life for the believer?

November 5, 2021

November the 16th is a very special day for those who enjoy Herman Bavincks Theology.  Volume 2 of his Reformed Ethics is published on that day.  I have ordered mine, but it will take time to arrive as it is through the post.  Here in Finland the clocks have gone back to the Wintertime and one can feel that soon the temperatures will be below zero.   It reminds me of the children’s story about the Moomin.  Autumn is almost finished and soon the snows will come and the Moomin will be hibernating except the young ones as they start their own adventures.  In the United Kingdom today is Bonfire Night.  This is a celebration of stopping a gun powder plot to blow up the houses of Parliament.  

So, our question today is: What are the subjective causes of the spiritual life for the believer?


When I was studying I made a box for my calliper

This raises serious questions about the steps to conversion (the origin of our spiritual life) being a follower of Christ.  Herman Bavinck points out that within the Churches there are many different views. So, what are the views?

“An actual preparation in the sense of using the light of nature by the free will of humans (Pelagius) or through the means of grace (Remonstrants, Lutherans) does not exist, of course. Remonstrants require that one longs for righteousness through Christ while still in a sinful condition”.  (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 255-256)

When looking at these different views Bavinck says it can become ‘stifling’. (Page 256) I can see where Bavinck is coming from, and it is so much easier to follow the Reformed view that ‘that regeneration is the absolute beginning of the spiritual life’(ibid). When I became a Christian, it was very simple; I heard the sermon God spoke to my heart and that I should follow Christ.  I was only 14 and I did not understand all the ins and outs and the truth is that when the Holy Spirit calls us it is God who is doing this work.  In our past sinful life, we were dead in our sins.  How can a dead person bring themselves to life?

So, what sorts of things precedes Christian conversion?

It is interesting that in the footnotes we have Ames’ ideas mentioned:

“Ames, Conscience, II.iv.1e7. This preparation includes self—examination based on “seriously looking into the Law of God,” resulting in a “conviction of conscience” (Rom. 1:20, 32; 2:20; 7:7), concluded by despair arising from our inability to save ourselves (Rom. 7:9, 13), followed by “a true humiliation of heart, which consists of grief and fear because of sin,” which “brings forth conversion” (Matt. 9:12)”. (Footnote 83 page 256)

Then Bavinck mentions the “British theologians at the Synod of Dort spoke similarly of “antecedents to conversion” such as the hearing of God’s Word, going to church, awareness of God’s will, a sense of sin, fear of punishment, thought of liberation, and hope of some pardon. Divine grace does not work through sudden enthusiasm; it assumes predispositions. “

Herman does not have a problem with preparatory thinking “as long as rebirth/regeneration remains the absolute beginning.” (Page 256)

Having said all of this Bavinck prefers the words ‘antecedent acts’ to ‘preparatory acts.’  The Master theologian gives us some very helpful Scriptural references:

·        Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus (Luke 1921—10).

·        Peters preaching ‘moved’ the crowd before the conversions (Acts 2)

·        The jailer was scared and confused with the earthquake (Acts 16)

·        Paul was struck to the ground and was blind (Acts 9)

With what we have been talking about Herman gives us some thing helpful when thinking about what preceded salvation (regeneration):

“The spiritual life never develops gradually from it, is not earned by it. Sometimes God regenerates apart from all those preparations, at once, suddenly. But ordinarily this preparation precedes, and that is why we must observe the outward means of grace: going to church, reading God’s Word, searching our souls in the light of conscience and Scripture, testing ourselves. God binds his blessing to the use of these means. To this extent we can agree with Prof. Shedd that someone who proceeds in this manner will probably be born again and converted.  At any rate, we must do what we can, taking the path God uses for conversion.” (Page 257)


God calls us into his salvation.  We cannot save ourselves from being completely separated from God.  Before we come to a place to follow Christ, we all have our own story to tell. Our experiences vary but with God nothing is impossible.  I had a Catholic and Muslim background, refugee for a couple of days, displaced from Cyprus because of the troubles in 1974; Then divorce followed, and physical and psychological abuse filled my life. I failed school and as a teenager went to work in a couple of textile mills. I became a Christian in the very early eighties at the preaching the word of God.  The hymn was:

            Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

            This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song,

  Praising my Savior all the day long.

Following Christ is the best thing that happened to me.  I am not a ship without a rudder.   With the gift of faith all the bad is turned to good.  I left the mill went to college and became a theologian, teacher and now at the moment a carpenter.   Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith and I want to Finnish off with some verses from Hebrews:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 NASB


Next time I will follow Herman Bavinck teach us what some of these antecedent acts are. 

You might be a child, teenager, adult or a senior person.  All I can say is that God is love and he reaches his hand out to you no matter how good or bad you might have been.  The Trinitarian God offers you a genuine life in this life and eternal life in the next life.  There is true freedom in obedience.  If you want to know more consult with your local pastor or minister they can pray and support you as you look into these issues.