Firstborn

Q. Heb 12:23-24 “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” I thought firstborn refers to Jesus, (Rev 1:5), but why is plural used i.e. whose names are written in heaven?

A. Yes, firstborn refers to Jesus, not only in Heb 12:23, but also in:

Rom 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
• Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
• Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
• Heb 1:6 And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.”
• Rev 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—

Firstborn, or first begotten, is not just first chronologically, but also first in preeminence. He is the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead, and the firstborn among many brethren.

The text reads “church of the firstborn” i.e. “church of Jesus Christ”, not “firstborns”. “Church” is a collective noun, referring to the whole assembly. That’s why it is “whose names are written in heaven”, meaning all those who are born-again. There is no contradiction.

Refugees and the Bible

Q. What does the Bible say about how we should treat refugees?

A. In view of real and fake refugees requiring wisdom to discern how we should relate to each, neither the open door policy welcoming all, nor the closed-door barring anyone from entry, seem appropriate. The word “refugee” appears only 6 times in the NASB, but as narrative, not prescriptive. However, there are equivalent terms such as aliens, strangers etc. that yield principles governing the way to relate to them. Since there are too many verses I will not list all of them, only the key ideas.

Alien – a person who sojourns among the native people:
Lev 19:34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
• Lev 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Also Lev 19:10; Deut 24:19-21)
• Num 15:16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Also Ex 12:49; Lev 24:22; Num 15:29)
• Deut 10:18-19 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Stranger
Ex 22:21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Also Ex 23:9; Lev 19:33)
• Ps 146:9 The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
• Zech 7:10 and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
• Mt 25:35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
• Heb 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Also 1 Tim 5:10)

Real refugees are those forced to leave their homeland due to war, natural disaster, or persecution. They sojourn in foreign lands in search of security, where they are aliens and strangers. Natives should love them as themselves, give alms to them because they are needy, and treat them as they would other natives. They should not wrong or oppress refugees, but show hospitality to them by inviting them in, because the LORD protects them.

Fake refugees, however, are to be prosecuted just as any native law-breaker, because there is one law for the native and the alien. Ideally they should be screened before entry and kept out of the country. If any slipped through the security net, they need to be caught before they cause damage, and punished according to the law of the land.

Muslim Refugees?

Q. I had a brief discussion with a Christian lady. She thinks we Christians have to help Muslims as they need our help. I told her about the European countries which received and helped them, and were repaid with violence and welfare abuse by the Muslims. They want to take over the countries which let them in, and do not assimilate. They want to convert people to Islam, change the place into an Islamic state, and impose Sharia law. They resort to violence, riots, and terrorism. They abuse the welfare system, and drain the countries’ resources. I quoted Deut 7:2-5 and Mt 10:16 to her. Why did God want all Canaanites killed? If I apply Deut 7:2-5, would God want us to embrace these Muslims to love them, because God is love? I feel if I apply Mt 10:16 to refugees, we are to have love but also wisdom.

A. First, I think we need to make a distinction between real refugees forced to leave their country to escape war, natural disaster or persecution, and those coming under a pretense to perpetrate terrorism, create havoc, and cause disruption to overthrow and destroy. I don’t have statistics to prove it, but I expect the former to be in the majority, and the latter to be in the minority. Unfortunately, it’s the minority extremists that cause most of the problems and give a bad name to the whole. You’ve probably met people who claim all Christians are bigots and cause all the problems in the world, such as the crusades, the Inquisition, inciting hatred against LGBTQ etc. That’s not true, but the label that Christians are self-righteous snobs sticks, and you wished people knew better.

Like you, I deplore the fake refugees’ abuses of the system which showed them kindness. But I would not apply Deut 7:2-5 to Muslim refugees, because that’s misapplying Scripture. First, let’s examine the text:

Deut 7:1-5 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,
• 2 and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.
• 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.
• 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.
• 5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

From what you wrote, you are equating:
• Present day Muslim refugees = the seven nations living in the Promised land in OT times, and
• Current “Christian” nations= the ancient Israelites who utterly destroyed the nations to take over the land.

While there are similarities e.g. they will turn your sons (i.e. radicalizing youths) away from following Me (Yahweh) to serve other gods (Allah), there are also differences e.g. they are migrants, NOT nations greater and stronger than you (i.e. the European countries to which they escaped). In fact, the radical refugees see the analogy as:
• Present day Muslim refugees = the ancient Israelites in the minority, and
• Current “Christian” nations = the nations whom they are to utterly destroy to take over the land.
They would be wrong of course, but you can see how by misapplying Scripture you can twist it to justify any wrong action.

What we need, as you rightly pointed out, is both love and wisdom:
Mt 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (NASB)
We need to be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves, with no self-serving agenda (AMP). Our love need to abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Php 1:9). Only then can we discern who are the real refugees that need our help, and screen out the extremists that need to be blocked from harming our people.

Thai Cave Rescue – the Rest of the Story

I received a batch of photos from my brother. I searched the internet and found that they were originally published by GConnect Magazine, on July 11. They beautifully tell the rest of the Thai Cave Rescue story, about all the volunteers who generously joined in the rescue effort that brings out the best in humanity. I know this fallen world often causes us grief when we see all the selfishness, pride, greed, deceit, debauchery and other evils happening around us, but sometimes, just sometimes, we see glimpses of the image of God in people. That image is marred, but not totally eradicated, which gives us hope that all is not lost. In times of crisis God awakens our souls to prod us to go on, to carry His message to all people until He returns. The photos and captions are self-explanatory. So, with credit to GConnect, here’s the rest of the story.

Help those who “deserve” it? (2 of 2)

(Contd. from yesterday)

What about the synonym “worthy“? The word “worthy” appears 51 times in 49 verses in the NASB. In view of space I won’t repeat the verses here. “Worthy” is used both in the negative (e.g. worthy of death) and positive sense. The positive sense is applied to both God and men:

God or Christ
2 Sam 22:4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. (Also Ps 18:3)
• Rev 4:11 Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.
• Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Men
Mt 10:10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. (Also Lk 10:7; 1 Tim 5:18)
• Eph 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, (Also 2 Thes 1:11)
• Lk 7:4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him;

The worker is worthy of his support or wages, but this has nothing to do with “helping” him, because he earned it. Christians are implored to walk worthy of their calling, of the gospel of Christ (Php 1:27), of the Lord (Col 1:10), of God (1 Thes 2:12; 3 Jn 1:6), and of the kingdom (2 Thes 1:5). None of these is earned or deserved, all are received by grace.

The only verse that speaks of someone “deserving” help in the sense of meriting it is Lk 7:4, but that was the Jewish elders’ assessment of the centurion, not God’s. Strictly speaking, God’s evaluation is in:
Lk 17:10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’

The centurion, and we as well, are unprofitable i.e. have not “gained” anything, when all we have done is our duty, what we are supposed to do. We have not “earned” anything by doing what was required, the bare minimum. There’s no merit. One might deserve help according to man’s standards, but not God’s. Nevertheless, God helps us and asks us to help others because of grace, not because he/she is deserving, as none of us are. Hope this helps.

Help those who “deserve” it? (1 of 2)

Q. Is there a passage in the Bible that says help those who deserve help?

A. The answer depends on what exactly do you mean by “deserve“. If by “deserve” you mean they are “needy“, then most definitely YES:

Ps 40:17 Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.
• Ps 70:5 But I am afflicted and needy; Hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.
• Ps 72:12 For He will deliver the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper.
• Ezk 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

If you were thinking is there a “priority ranking” in the Bible such that certain people are more “deserving” of our help than others, the answer is again YES:

1 Tim 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.
• Jas 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

God has a “bias” for the poor, the needy, orphans and widows, those who have no other means of support. While the world in general tries to ingratiate itself with the rich and the powerful, God is diametrically opposite. His nature is just, and His righteousness is such that He prefers the underprivileged.

However, if by “deserve” you mean “merit” or “earned“, then the answer is NO or at best a limited “yes”. First, the Bible’s fundamental premise is grace, not merit. To say someone “deserves” help implies he has earned or merited it, and we are obliged to help him. Not to help means we are not living up to our obligations, and depriving him of something that is rightfully owed him. That is NOT what the Bible teaches.

When you look up “deserve” in the Bible, the emphasis is not on what you merit by virtue of your good works. I’m using the NASB, a literal translation, for clarity; other versions will be different. “Deserve” or “deserves” or “deserved” appear a total of 11 times in the NASB, but except for Judg 9:6 consistently used in a negative sense – deserve to be beaten, to die, deserve punishment – as recompense or reward demanded by our wickedness, iniquities, and folly:

Deut 25:2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt.
• Judg 9:16 “Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved
• 2 Sam 12:5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.
• 1 Kgs 2:26 Then to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth to your own field, for you deserve to die; but I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you were afflicted in everything with which my father was afflicted.”
• Ezra 9:13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this,
• Prov 26:5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.
• Isa 3:11 Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, For what he deserves will be done to him.
• Mt 26:66 what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!”
• Lk 23:41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
• Heb 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
• Revelation 16:6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

It is not used in the sense of earning merit for right, so that we are obliged to help him. Why? Because even though the “good” deeds of “good” people are “good” by human standards, they simply do not measure up to God’s perfect standard:
Isa 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Filthy garments don’t merit anything.

(To be continued)

Thai Cave Rescue – The Other Side of the Story

The world watched with bated breath as the last of the 12 boys and their soccer coach emerged from the cave in northern Thailand where they had been trapped by flood water. We heaved a collective sigh of relief as what could have been a disaster turned into a rescue operation with a miraculous happy ending.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6AxQ8k1KUQ

My brother received a LINE message from his former classmate, a Thai Chinese who returned to Thailand soon after high school graduation. He offered another perspective into the whole incident which is not reported in western media. Some may call it coincidence, but to others it’s providence as too many things converge to attribute it to chance. I have no means of verifying whether this is “fake news” or not, but here are the points for you to ponder:

1. The 25-year-old soccer coach had lived 8 years as a monk, sometimes spending time alone meditating in caves as a spiritual discipline. There he learned how to get clean water which won’t cause sickness, and how to sit still to conserve energy. This was instrumental in keeping the boys alive when they underwent imposed fasting for nearly 10 days before they were discovered and food was delivered to them. And they were polite and orderly in total darkness!

2. By law the premier of the province Chiang Rai became the commander-in-chief of the rescue operation. He majored in geologic survey in university. His knowledge of land structures of the area was very helpful in planning the rescue.

3. The British cave diver John Volanthen who first found the missing boys said “I often wondered why I was so fascinated with cave diving. When I found the boys, I knew God had prepared me all my life to do this very thing!”

4. After the boys went missing for 10 days, British and other divers volunteered to fly to Chiang Rai to join the search and rescue effort. Several retired divers crawled and dived for hours trying to locate the kids in darkness. They had come to the end of the rescue rope they were carrying, so Volanthen emerged from the muddy water to observe his surroundings, and found 13 pairs of eyes staring at him. Had the rope run out 5 meters earlier or later, he would have missed the boys. God really has His own mysterious ways to perform miracles.

5. After the boys were found, the only English-speaking boy out of the entire group became the contact with the foreign divers. It turned out he was born in northern Burma, adopted by a Christian family, who provided for and schooled him such that he was fluent in 4 languages – Thai, Burmese, English and Putonghua. He became the fulcrum upon which communication turned.

6. After the rescue all 13 of them were sent to the nearest hospital for treatment and observation. It turned out about a year earlier a young Thai singer launched a charity event “One Person One Step” to walk from the southern to the northern tip of Thailand, a distance of about 3,000 km. The target was to raise 700 million Baht (about C$27 million) to equip 14 hospitals. 1.5 billion Baht (about C$59 million) were raised, with each hospital receiving about C$4.2 million. One of the recipients was the hospital to which the 13 were sent. Without that funding, they would not be equipped to serve the sudden influx of so many people. And the name of the singer? His nickname is “Wild Boar”, the same as the team of the 12 boys!

7. One more point about the coach. When photos of the 13 were broadcast on social media, people noticed that the coach looked particularly gaunt. It turned out that he gave all the food he had with him to the 12 boys, who did not bring anything as they had expected to spend only one hour to explore it, but were trapped by the monsoon flood. However, he was recognized by a woman in mainland China as her half-brother (same father, different mother) whom she had lost contact for 10 years. When the family broke up, her relatives brought her back to China, while her brother stayed in Thailand, but they lost contact. Later when she read her aunt’s message to her brother encouraging him to stay strong to protect the kids, she was sure it was him. She contacted the authorities and will be reunited with her half-brother, so the ordeal turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Rom 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!