Loving to Serve and Serving to Love

February 4, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Luke | 3 Comments
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Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

Luke 10:38-40

Both Martha and Mary were doing something good, but one was doing something better and one got bitter. The attitude of Mary of Bethany when it came to worship was focused on Jesus’s feet.

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

John 11:32

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

John 12:3

On all three occasions there was a smell associated with her worship: food, death, and perfume. This reminds us that our worship is described as a sweet-smelling savor to God. Are you more like Martha or more like Mary? Are you more of a worshiper or a worker? Working is very important. Christians ought to be the hardest-working people around, but that does not always equate to the “busiest” people around. Do you have a personal, private prayer time? Do you have a personal, private devotion time? Don’t get these backward: you don’t serve Christ so you can be a good worshiper; you worship so you can be a good server.

In Christianity our activity does not determine our identity. Our identity determines our activity. Why does it work that way? Because worship produces love, and love is the right motive for service. As a parent it is part of your job to play with your children, but hopefully you don’t just play with them because it’s part of your job. Hopefully you enjoy it, too. What are your children’s favorite snacks? Do you give them snacks merely because it’s your job to feed them? Or do you enjoy providing them with the snacks that will make them happy? When your children are sick do you take care of them because it’s your job, or do you actually enjoy caring for the children you love and trying to ease their suffering? When you serve someone you love, it can be difficult, but it is also a treat. When you worship God more, you will love Him more.

Love and Order

October 24, 2017 at 10:25 am | Posted in I Corinthians | 3 Comments
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Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

I Corinthians 13:1

The reference to speaking with the tongues of angels appears to be hyperbole, which is a common device used in Paul’s letters, although it is taken by some as evidence of a heavenly language spoken by angels and unknown on earth except by people with a gift for ecstatic utterances. The mention of sounding brass and tinkling cymbals is a warning against the cacophonous sounds and the disorder that would result from people speaking different languages all at once. It is also an allusion to the pagan practice of using percussive sounds or instruments in worship.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

I Corinthians 13:2

Paul, being an Apostle, surely did have the gift of prophecy, but he continued in the vein of hyperbole when discussing the understanding of “all” mysteries, “all” knowledge, and “all” faith. Even if someone had all these gifts, and all this wisdom, it would be useless without Christian love (“charity,” agape).

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

I Corinthians 13:3

The gifts that he went on about in Chapter 12 are important, but they must be handled with maturity, and the definition of maturity in New Testament Christianity cannot be separated from grace, knowledge, and love. Christian love puts up with wrongdoing for a long time, and it is not puffy with pride. It is not rude or impolite or discourteous, and it is not overly touchy. It gives the benefit of the doubt; it doesn’t assume the worst; it makes charitable judgments. It does not get happy when it is proven wrong and finds iniquity when it was hoping not to, and it rejoices in objective reality with a contagious joy, because things are being done out in the open and are being given value because of their truthfulness.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

I Corinthians 13:8

Christian love is shown to be superior to the spiritual gifts because of its endurance.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

I Corinthians 13:10

The “perfect” which is to come could be referring the completion of the canon of Scripture, although this is rejected by most recent scholars. It could be referring to the complete maturity of the Church – the Body of Christ. Or it could be referring to the return of Christ for His Church and our entry into Heaven. We tend to associate the term “perfect” with the idea of being sinless or faultless, but usually in the Bible it means “complete” or “lacking nothing.” Certainly the Church will not be “perfect” in either sense of the word until we are glorified with Christ at our departure from this world.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I Corinthians 13:11

This indicates that “sign” gifts like tongues and healing were “childish” gifts in the sense that they were needed for a very young church. It was anticipated that the Church would “outgrow” the need for signs and wonders.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

I Corinthians 13:12

The image of looking through a glass, darkly, might mean that we see things now the way things are seen through a dirty window, but, more likely, Paul means for the reader to imagine a “looking-glass” (mirror), which would not have given as accurate a reflection in those days as mirrors do in ours. This analogy is often misinterpreted, but the correct meaning is that, once we see Jesus face to face, we will know Him “immediately.” We will see Him personally, the way He is able to see us now.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I Corinthians 13:13

Christian love is not the only Christian grace that will endure, but it is greater than these others because faith will become sight, and hope will be fulfilled. Love (I John 4:8) will still be needed in Heaven. Christian maturity equals Christian love, and we can “grow” and become more spiritually mature by practicing it (even when we might not necessarily “feel” it) NOW.

One Crazy, Wonderful Day

December 21, 2015 at 10:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Today my wife and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. Since there are 24 hours in a day, I suppose we might think of our marriage so far as one long day, with each year representing an hour. If so, this has been one crazy day!

From the rush and panic of getting ready for a busy day, to the quick interlude of a lunch-hour break, to a long grueling afternoon of hard work, to the relief of a “happy hour,” to the excitement of a romantic evening on the town (or in the home!), to late-night discussions, arguments, tickle-fights, cuddling, and laughter, to the darkest, most frightening midnight hours of learning to trust and lean on each other for support and comfort, to a morning of new hope and joy, it has been a “day” given to us and arranged by God for our good and His glory.

I am thankful beyond expression for my wife. When I woke up this morning, by her side, I realized she is just as stunningly beautiful today as when we first met. She is my sister in Christ, my friend, my counselor, my partner, my helper, my passion, and the love of my life. When God (the same God Who had already given me eternal life and salvation in His Son, Jesus!) wanted to do something else really, really special and wonderful for me, He gave me Laura Hampton to be my wife. I thank Him and praise Him for her, and I ask Him, by His grace, mercy, and love, to bless us and keep us together all the days of our lives.

Preferential Treatment

December 2, 2011 at 10:27 am | Posted in Romans | 2 Comments
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Romans Chapter 15 deals mainly with how effective our ministry can be when strong Christians work together with weak Christians, and when long-time believers work hand-in-hand with new believers.

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.

Romans 15:1-2

We ought to bear the weaknesses of other believers, but even more than simply “putting up” with them, we ought to bless them. Like my old Sunday School teacher used to say: “Be a blessing, not a burden.” It’s not enough to just not be a burden. We should actively seek to be a blessing. The prime of example of this is Jesus. He not only put up with those to whom He ministered – He actually put their lives ahead of His.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

Romans 15:4

The Word of God can work in us to focus us on how we should love each other. Even the Old Testament was written for our learning. We bring glory to the Name of God by getting along with each other. We bring shame on the Name of God by fussing and fighting with each other.

And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.

Genesis 13:8

When a dispute arose between the herdmen of Abram and Lot, Abram set a good example by trying to make peace. He emphasized that he and Lot were brothers – and that the neighbors were watching! If you are a Christian, the lost people around you are watching to see how you get along with other Christians. I hope that we “prefer one another.”

This pattern of receiving the weak, of ministering to the weak, of the weak and strong rejoicing together, of having unity, of bringing glory to God, and of magnifying the Name of Christ is shown in the early history of the Church.

Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:8-13

Jesus and the Apostles of the early Church ministered to the Jews. Then the Gospel went to the Samaritans. And finally the Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles worshiped together and served together.

Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:15-16 (emphasis added)

As ministers of the Gospel – as soul-winners – we have a responsibility similar to the Old Testament ministers or priests. We have to bring our best, and to sacrifice our best. The Apostle Paul took this very seriously. He had been wanting to come to Rome, but he had been busy doing the work of the ministry.

Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Romans 15:19

From Jerusalem “round about unto Illyricum” was about 1400 miles.

Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:

Romans 15:20.

Paul went to places where no one else had preached the truth. This refutes the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church which says that Peter founded the church at Rome. It is highly unlikely that Paul would have gone there if Peter had already been.

Leavenless Lump

October 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Bible Studies, I Corinthians | 10 Comments
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Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

I Corinthians 5:7

The Passover feast was Christ’s appointed time – the time when the spotless Lamb of God would shed His blood for the sins of the world. A little over 2000 years later, under the New Covenant, we remember this occasion by observing the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

At the Jewish Passover there was to be no leaven in the lump of dough used to make the bread. Leaven is a picture of sin in a congregation. Leaven may be small, but it is powerful. It works secretly. It “puffs up.” It spreads.

But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

I Corinthians 5:11

Sometimes the Lord’s Supper is called “Communion,” a word which speaks of common unity. When a group of New Testament Christians assembles to observe the ordinance of Communion, one the worst instances of “leaven” would be feelings of hatred among different members of the body.

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I Corinthians 5:8

Doubtful Disputations Deter Doxological Demonstrations Displaying Desired Decorum

October 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Romans | 15 Comments
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I find it easier to explain Romans Chapter 14 by skipping ahead just a little and looking at the very first verse of Chapter 15:

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Romans 15:1 (emphasis added)

The “then” means, “Considering what I just said…” Romans 14 deals with the problem of pleasing ourselves at the expense of others’ “infirmities.” Those who have infirmities are called the “weak in the faith.” How we treat our fellow Christians will be determined by answering the question, “Who do you love?” You are going to please those whom you love. Should you be trying to please the exuberant, loud, extroverted believers? Or should you try to please the mean, quiet, bored-looking believers? Those are overt questions, but they are only masking the real question: Am I going to please God, or am I going to please myself?

If you are a parent of siblings, then you know one of the most pleasing things you can experience is watching your kids “prefer one another.”

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

Romans 12:10 (emphasis added)

Similarly, God is pleased when, instead of a “me first” attitude, I have a “you go first” attitude toward my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

Romans 14:1 (emphasis added)

When a fellow Christian is weak in the faith, we need to receive him – but not for the purpose of disputing with him over his personal convictions. Those who are counted as “weak in the faith” in this passage of Scripture are those who have trouble understanding their freedom in Christ. They think they’re more spiritual because of what they eat or drink (or what they don’t eat or drink) or because they keep certain days holy. Here are two misconceptions which are both dangerous ditches on the sides of the road:

Misconception #1: The rule-keepers are “better Christians.”

Misconception #2: Those who have personal convictions are “legalists.”

We must stay balanced on the road and not fall into either ditch. Here are some examples: I strongly prefer the King James Version of the Bible. It is the translation I study and the only one from which I teach in church. I believe it’s the one that everyone ought to use. That does not make me a legalist. I often wear ties, dress shirts, socks, and shoes to church. That does not make me a legalist. I have friends who use other translations of the Bible. I have friends who wear flip-flops to church. I have friends who wear leather motorcycle chaps to church. I have friends who don’t eat pork because it was forbidden to the Jews in the Old Testament. I have friends who enjoy few things better than killing a deer. I probably eat about a pound of bacon a week, and I wouldn’t shoot a deer unless it was attacking me. Which of us is the “weaker” Christian? I don’t know. But I do know we need to have Scriptural reasons for doing what we do, and, when we disagree on non-essentials of the Christian faith, we need to receive each other in Christian love.

What’s the reasoning for this “receiving in love?” Why is it a good thing to do?

1. God wants us to do it.
2. Ultimately, people are answerable to God, not to me.
3. No true Christian is an island unto himself.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

Romans 14:7-8

I’m not your ultimate judge and you’re not my ultimate judge. In Christ, we are free from bondage, not enslaved to each other. We will give an account of our freedom one day – not to each other – but to Whom?

For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

Romans 14:11

Notice that the verse does not say that every eye will wink, every hat will tip… No, it says the knees will bow and the tongues will confess.

If you are not in Christ Jesus, that verse should horrify you. On judgment day there will not be any mumbling about a lot of different ways to Heaven. No one will be saying, “You called Him Jesus, I called him Buddha, but it was all the same thing.” You will be face to face with the Christian God of the Bible and none other.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Romans 14:12

In a previous post, I addressed the truth that Christians are not free to sin. We are free from sin – from its power.

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.

Romans 14:16-18

The manifestation of freedom is not breaking rules. The manifestation is in joy in the Holy Ghost. Some Christians spend every day reviewing every little mistake and wringing their hands over how mad God is at them. We have to remind them over and over how nothing can separate them from the love of God. Little kids fight over the “last word” or whose “turn” it is. How freeing it is when we don’t feel the need to enforce our freedom! When we can enjoy the true freedom of letting our brothers and our sisters have “our” turn, or the “last word” if they want it. True Christians still battle with the flesh. The flesh will always have a tendency to look at something questionable, and ask, “Why can’t I do that? What’s wrong with it?” But the Spirit asks, “What’s right about it?”

Reverence in Marriage (Part 1)

June 1, 2011 at 10:33 am | Posted in Biblical Marriage | 10 Comments
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Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Ephesians 5:25-33, emphasis added

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

I John 4:18

“Reverence” in Ephesians 5:33 is translated from the Greek word “phobos,” meaning “fear.” It might sound contradictory to you as a wife if I tell you that the Bible commands you to both love and fear your husband. However, fear does not cancel out “agape” love, which was described in a previous lesson. Think of it in terms of how you love God. We are commanded to love God and to draw close to Him. Drawing closer to God always brings greater love and fear.

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22:34-40

The Pharisees had a theory that if they could know which commandment was the greatest, then they could keep that one and be right with God, and thereby earn eternal salvation. Jesus tells them that “agape” is the greatest commandment. Think about why this is. For one thing, it is impossible to sin while exercising true “agape.” “Agape” seeks to show kindness and to move the other person to righteousness.

When I John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear, the Bible is not contradicting itself. The fear that is being cast out by perfect love is the fear of no longer being right with the person who truly loves you. When I love my spouse perfectly, then my spouse’s insecurity about her “standing” with me is cast out. In other words, perfect love casts out fear of loss of the relationship.

This will be further developed in Part 2.

Mysteriously Meaningful Marriage Part 1

April 1, 2011 at 8:28 am | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Biblical Marriage | 46 Comments
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When the Bible uses the word “love” for the way spouses are supposed to treat each other, it is a translation of the Greek word agape (pronounced uh-GOP-ay). There are different Greek words which can be translated as “love,” but agape is the one we call “Christian love.”

Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:24-32, emphasis added

A “mystery” in the Bible is not something we’re never supposed to think about it, and it’s not something to be solved.

mystery machine

It’s something that God has withheld the fuller revelation of, but is about to be revealed by Him. In Ephesians 5:32 God uses the Apostle Paul to reveal a mystery concerning marriage. Marriage had been around since the time of Adam and Eve, but the full revelation of what it meant had not been revealed until Ephesians 5:24-32. The revelation is that God always intended marriage to be a picture of Christ and His relationship to and with the Church. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, not only in the salvation of individuals (in that He pursues and “takes” a bride), but in that He loves His bride. Christians are supposed to love their spouses the same way that Christ loves His bride, the Church. Therefore, we need to know what kind of “love” is the love of Christ. Obviously, His type of love will be the best type of love. The Greek word for love resulting from relationships, especially familial relationships, such as parent-child and brother-sister is phileo. The Greek word for the type of “love” that is tied to physical passion is eros.

But agape is sometimes translated as “love” and sometimes as “charity” because it is more than just a feeling. It is an active love. It is love in motion. It is true love because it operates in truth and not just in feelings.

And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love [agape] of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love [agape] toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:5-8, parenthetical agapes and emphasis added

For God so loved [agape] the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16, parenthetical agape and emphasis added

Agape love is the love of God when He gave His most valuable Gift: His Son.

Beloved, let us love [agape] one another: for love [agape] is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love [agape]. In this was manifested the love [agape] of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

I John 4:7-9, parenthetical agapes added

In Part 2 I’ll show some very practical applications of the mystery of true marital love.

Careless Love – Part 2 (Divine Rapid Heart Rate)

April 14, 2010 at 10:22 am | Posted in Bible Studies | 7 Comments
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It might be hard to believe, but Christ Himself, the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect, and righteous King over all creation, is smitten with love for an often-rebellious, -scornful, and –lukewarm bride.

Song of Solomon is the book of the Bible which beautifully and poetically sings the praises, not only of the love between a husband and wife, but also of the love of Christ for His bride, the Church.

Song of Solomon 4:9 says, “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.”

How little we understand of Christ’s love! The word “ravish” means “to capture someone’s heart” – to make them come alive with desire – literally, “to cause the heartbeat to speed up.”

All day long Christians are going here, going there, trying to do this, to do that, to make money, to fulfill worldly obligations, to pursue entertainment, to try to keep track of the scores of things we think we have to do. Therefore, we sometimes let hours at a time go by without giving a single thought to our loving Lord.

Then, perhaps, in a moment of realization, we just cast an eye upward in prayer – maybe only for a quick, almost-heartless, almost-unfeeling prayer… and what happens?

Christ’s heart races! If we applied our finite understanding of “fairness,” we would have to say that His heart should not race – He should be angry and cold toward us for ignoring Him – but it does race. Such is the limitless, unsearchable love of God! His love is not a deserved love. It is the undeserved love of grace.

The Bound Heart

March 4, 2010 at 9:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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In Old Testament times Hebrew men would sometimes place passages from the written Word of God into containers, and bind these containers around their necks, across their foreheads, or on their upper arms.

These contraptions were called “phylacteries,” and were designed to remind the wearer at all times of the importance of remembering God’s commands. In modern English we have come close to taking the idea of a “phylactery,” and making it into something lewd by combining it with the prefix “pro,” meaning “before.” The idea is that a “prophylactic” is something that prevents the consequences of an immoral act before it occurs.

In contrast, Proverbs 3:3 describes God’s plan for preventive measures against sin. “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:” A Christian who wants to please the Lord will keep his head down in the Bible on a regular basis to prevent his neck from swiveling around to gaze at every worldly temptation that passes by. He will also go to the trouble (and pleasure) of memorizing Scripture so that it will be written on his heart when he encounters temptation.

Rather than tying actual pages to his arm, a Christian will show forth his true love for Christ in open and obvious ways, thereby wearing his “heart” on his sleeve.

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