Saturday, July 31, 2010


Why do people follow the Lord?  What are the reasons that we seek to do His will, to serve Him, to live for Him or whatever you may call it?  Please bear with me as I seek to explore some possible reasons or motivations.
  • Is it fear?  The Old Testament uses the expression many times.  “So and so feared God.”  Even Paul in the New Testament spoke of “the fear of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:11).  But what kind of fear is it?  Is it a fear of negative consequences?  In some passages he speaks of this, but in Romans 8:15, he tells his readers, “You have not received a spirit of bondage leading again to fear.”
  • Is it duty?  It’s simply what we should do?  A necessity or obligation laid on us?  Well, Paul again, spoke of a “debt” that he owed. But it was a debt owed, not back to God, but to others (Romans 1:14; 13:7, 8) – the gospel.
  • How about guilt or shame?  Much popular preaching seems to use guilt as a motivator.  I was actually once told, “People shouldn’t leave church feeling good, but feeling bad.  Then they’ll serve God!”  Even some of our hymns could be understood that way.  But Christ has removed our guilt on the cross!
  • Perhaps it’s simply habit?  Certainly much of what we do, whether “serving God” or something else, is strictly done out of habit, without a moment’s thought.  But, while I think we should form good habits, I don’t find anywhere in the New Testament where we are exhorted to do so.
  • Many would say we serve God totally out of love.  Certainly this should be our primary motive.  The command to love God with all our being is called by Jesus the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37, 38). Love is that which seeks the greatest good in its object.  (See:  WHAT IS LOVE?)
And the way many would define this love is that it is totally selfless, with no regard for one’s own welfare.  I disagree!  That’s not love; it’s altruism.  I don’t believe that we, or anyone else, serve(s) God out of pure altruism.  I believe that even though we may and should be living for God out of love for Him, we also are, deep down inside asking the question, “What’s in it for me?”

All who come to Christ by faith come, in the first place, because we have a need.  The need may be expressed in different ways in and by different persons: a fear of the wrath of God; a fear of hell; a totally empty life; nothing else works; we’re lost; we need someone or something to make sense out of our lives.  There is no exception.  No one comes to Christ because He needs us.  If our motives were completely pure, Christ would not have had to die for us.

So if this is true, do we then immediately switch to a totally “selfless” altruistic motivation?  My needs have been met, so now I can be open to completely selfless service?  I don’t think so! I believe a proper motivation for the Christian life is the promise of future as well as present rewards – something in it for us.

I have friends, sincere Christians, who would deny what I just wrote.  One friend called this a “mercenary spirit” and implied that we should somehow be above that.  But the biblical evidence seems too strong to be denied.

The words translated reward are used over 30 times in the New Testament, over half of them by Jesus Himself.  The most common Greek noun is MISTHOS, which is also translated wage (Matthew 20:8).  It is related to a whole family of Greek words, all having to do with hiring for a wage or salary (MISTHIOS – hired servant – Luke 15:17, 19, 21; MISTHOOMAI – hire – Matthew 20;1, 7)

Two Greek verbs translated reward are APODIDOMI which has the idea of giving back or repaying (Luke 10:35) and ANTAPODIDOMI with the same meaning (Luke 14:14).  Their corresponding nouns are ANTAPODOSIS (Colossians 3:24) and ANTAPODOMA (Luke 14:12), both meaning repayment or reward.

Though the concept of reward is found throughout the New Testament, probably the best known passage is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:1-4.

“Watch out that you don’t do your righteousness before people to be seen by them, otherwise you don’t have a reward (MISTHON - wage) before your Father in the Heavens.

Whenever you do a charitable work don’t blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do … in order that they may be glorified by people. Amen I tell you, they have their reward (MISTHON).  But you when you do your charitable work, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  That your charity may be in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (APODIDOMI – pay you back).”

The same pattern with the same words is repeated in verses 5-7 and in verses 16-18.  He’s telling His hearers that good works done for show, to be seen by others, may be applauded by others, but that’s all the reward there is.  Good works that are done for only God to see will be rewarded by Him in the future.

But we don’t even need the usages of these particular words to see the concept of reward.  If we go back to the preceding chapter (Matthew 5), we find it in the Beatitudes (verses 3-12).  Every "blessed" (or happy or lucky) that Jesus pronounced is followed by a “for.”  Jesus doesn’t simply say that those are blessed who are poor or mourning or hungry or persecuted or insulted.  He’s not calling to some sort of spiritual masochism!  It’s that which follows, that which is anticipated, that makes up the blessing.  It’s the joys of the Kingdom, of comfort, of seeing God.

The teaching on rewards is carried through the rest of the New Testament.  Paul speaks of the Judgment seat of Christ:  “Everyone’s work will become evident, for the Day will show it, because it will be revealed by fire and the fire will test everyone’s work  Then of course, there are all those references to “crowns.”

I could go on and on, but I believe the idea is clear enough.

I believe that while we serve the Lord for many reasons, there are two main ones.  One is our love for Him.  The second is what’s in it for us – our personal reward, whatever it may be, or however it may be described.  These are not mutually exclusive!

If my prudish readers will forgive me, it’s like making love to my wife.  I want her to receive the maximum pleasure from the experience while I also receive maximum pleasure.  If I seek only my pleasure or only hers, I believe that would be a sick relationship.

Though the Bible tells a little about what these rewards will be it is not totally clear.  It leaves out the details. But when I see Jesus, my greatest desire should be hearing from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).  If I bring Him pleasure, that will bring me pleasure.  And there is so much more.

Monday, July 26, 2010


One of the comments on my previous post was: “Bill, We are called to pray for those in authority but I don't find that the scriptures limit how we are to pray. I can pray for the items you have listed but I can also pray with the Psalmist 109:8,’May his days be few; may another take his office.’"

My reply was: “Rod: In Psalm 109, David is praying a prayer of vengeance against some enemy, someone who has done him serious wrong. We don't know who this person is, though some believe it may have been his counselor Ahithophel, who betrayed him. In Acts 1:20, it is applied to Judas. The Psalm was not written, however, to be arbitrarily applied to anyone we happen to dislike. I believe you need to read the story in Luke 9:51-56. As Jesus said in verses.55 and 56, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.’"

As this is not the first time I’ve received or heard comments like this, I feel that I need to say a few more things about what are known as “imprecatory Psalms,” psalms or portions of psalms in which the psalmist calls down curses on his enemies. They’re actually quite common in the Book of Psalms.
     “Hold them guilty O God,
     By their own transgressions let them fall!
     In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out,
     For they are rebellious against You!” (5:10)
     “Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer;
     Seek out his wickedness until You find none.” (10:15)
     “Let the wicked be put to shame;
     Let them be silent in Sheol!
     Let the lying lips be dumb,
     Which speak arrogantly against the righteous,
     with pride and contempt.” (31:17b, 18)
     “O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
     break the fangs of the young lions O LORD!” (58:6)
     “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
     he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked!” (58:10)
These are only a few. There are many, many more.

Well then, what are we to do with these? They are Scripture – the Word of God. If we agree with the apostle Paul that “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), what do we do with this stuff? Can we Christians pray prayers like these? As Uni and I pray for those in the persecuted church around the world, it is very tempting to intercede against their persecutors – to pray that God would “smite them” – men like Kim Jong Il of North Korea or Omar al-Bashir of Sudan or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, men who are evil by anyone’s definition. But before we just jump in and pray this, I believe we need to consider a few things:
• The Psalmists were living under a different dispensation and a different covenant, the Covenant that God made with the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses. We live under the New Covenant.
• The Psalms express a desire for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. One of the methods used under the Old Covenant was warfare. Under the New Covenant, God’s methods are clearly given as the preaching of the Gospel. It should be noted, however, that every time we pray what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” we too are praying toward that end – “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 5:10).
• They express a hatred for sin and a desire for justice by God as well as the Psalmist. See Psalm 101, where David declares “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice” and then proceeds to describe how he will institute justice.
• They express a concern for people to know God and understand His righteousness. Compare Psalm 58:10 quoted above with verse 11. “And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous. Surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” Or 59:13, “Destroy them in wrath, destroy them, that they may be no more; that man may know that God rules in “Jacob and to the ends of the earth!”
• The Old Testament and the New Testament both forbid personal vengeance:
     “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD!” (Leviticus 19:18)
     “Vengeance is Mine and retribution …
     For the LORD will vindicate His people …” (Deuteronomy 32:35a, 36a)
     “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
     If he is thirsty give him water to drink;
     For you will heap burning coals on his head,
     And the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21, 22)
     Paul quotes from both the Deuteronomy passage and the Proverbs passage in Romans 12:19, 20.
• Jesus “superseded” the laws of vengeance in His Sermon on the Mount:
     “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, don’t withstand the evil …” (Matthew 5:38, 39a)
     “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:43, 44) (Though the expression “hate your enemy” is not expressly stated in the Old Testament, the idea certainly could have been inferred from the passages in the Psalms quoted above.)

Jesus has called us to a radical new ethic, an ethic that reflects Him. It is an ethic of love and it is instilled in us by His Holy Spirit. He has called us to, as Paul states in Romans 12:2, “Stop being conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind!” Vengeance against our enemies is not permitted us. It’s not our prerogative. It’s God’s!

We will have enemies; we’re not told that we won’t. The New Testament is filled with promises and examples of persecution and conflict. But I don’t believe that we are to choose our enemies, nor to consider those with whom we simply disagree as our enemies. Nor are we to pray for their demise. We can’t prevent some people from being our enemies, but we should leave the choice to them. And we are to love them.


Bill Ball

Monday, July 19, 2010


The following thoughts were suggested by Uni the other morning as we were praying (our morning prayers are often a three-way conversation). This is a joint effort and an expression of our hearts’ desire.

Nowadays it seems in some circles to be considered patriotic, even “spiritual” to badmouth our leaders, especially our President (our current President, that is). There is a constant harping and nit picking agitation against him. Any malicious rumor is considered true. Any epithet is acceptable (short of profanity, of course :^)). Uni and I often find ourselves extremely uncomfortable in the company of some of our Christian friends, when the conversation moves in this direction.

But this is not a behavior we find encouraged in the New Testament. This is not a behavior that God expects of His children.

We have a suggestion:
“I exhort then first of all for entreaties, prayers, intercessions to be made for all persons, for kings and all those who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the presence of God our Savior, who wants all persons to be saved and to come into knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy seems pretty clear and straightforward. It also seems pretty all-inclusive (the word “all” appears 5 times in these 4 verses.

We are to pray for everyone. There doesn’t appear to be any exception. Now I don’t believe we are expected to simply say “God bless everybody” just before we eat or crawl into bed. We are to pray for all whom we have opportunity to know, or whose needs we know of.

And we are to pray not just general prayers, but to intercede, to plead with God on behalf of these persons. The third word for prayer in this passage I have translated “intercessions” because it is related to a verb translated “intercede.” We are told in Romans 8:26, 27 that the Spirit intercedes for us, and in Romans 8:34 that Christ intercedes. In this passage, however, we are to be the interceders.

More specifically, we are to do this “for kings and all those in authority.” And the reason given is “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Could it be any clearer? We don’t pray for our leaders for their benefit alone, but also for our benefit.

But then Paul gives a further reason – the reason why a tranquil and quiet life is to be desired. It is pleasing to God, because He wants everyone to be saved. He wants those in authority to be saved, of course, but He also wants them to promote peace because apparently a peaceful environment is more conducive to evangelism.

Elsewhere in the New Testament we’re given other responsibilities toward human authority that we have as citizens of two kingdoms: pay taxes, submit to laws, honor those in authority (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13, 17).

But here we are told to pray for them.

And there are no qualifiers given. We aren’t told to pray only for those of a certain political party or only for those who take a particular stand on some piece of legislation. We’re not even told to pray only for the “good” ones. The authorities of the Roman Empire in which Paul’s readers lived were already beginning to persecute them. In a few years Paul himself would be beheaded by the very authority he prayed for.

So, how should we intercede for our President? What should we pray for?
  • First of all, that he and his family might be genuine believers in Jesus Christ.
  • That his life would be totally committed to Jesus Christ.
  • That he would be a man of integrity.
  • That he would have wisdom for the decisions he must make.
  • That he would seek peace and justice for America and in the world.
  • That God will protect him and his family from those who wish them harm.
  • That the Christian community would pray for him.
Bill Ball


If you're viewing this in a feed or reader, come on over and check it out.

I want to thank my daughter Sherry for my blog’s new look.  When I complained about not being able to read the light letters on the black background, Sherry first informed me it was'nt black but dark blue and then installed the new template. I love all the books.  She also put on the new index of topics as well as all the pictures and she made me add the tabs “About Me” and “Books”.

Also, I want to thank Uni’s youngest sister Hope for making the new logo out of a photo of my Greek New Testament and all the other help she's given along the way.

And, of course, I want to acknowledge Uni (my Suitable Helper). She types and posts everything. (I’m a dinosaur and still write out all my thoughts in pencil on a yellow pad.) She also edits, corrects and comments. Many of the thoughts posted are the products of our discussions.

I am, however, the one who does the reading, studying, research and Bible translation. And I will claim responsibility (blame or credit) for everything that is finally published.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The above remark allegedly came from a neighbor of the “Murphys” who were accused of being Russian spies. “They couldn’t be spies – look at what she did with the hydrangeas!”

Among the news reports we received last week was a report of how the FBI uncovered a Russian spy ring operating over different parts of the United States. Among all the reports of wars, dirty politics, an oil spill, nasty weather, etc., came this report. And while not exactly good news, it was comic relief. It had all the makings of a movie, and I can suppose it may soon be showing in our theaters.

The facts, as far as I can glean them are:
  • Eleven Russian spies entered this country at various times over the last 10 or more years.
  • These spies made themselves at home in the suburbs of New York, Boston and Washington, DC.
  • They held down jobs.
  • Some of them raised families, even children born in the United States.
  • They became respectable members of their communities.
  • None of their neighbors or co-workers suspected their mission.
  • Their mission was (apparently) to infiltrate society, especially political circles and to gain sympathizers, through whom they could obtain intelligence.
  • Privately, “they went through the motions of espionage” (The Week, 7-16-10), doing all the little things that spies do.
  • They accomplished nothing pertaining to their goal.
  • Though the FBI watched them for a decade, they could never actually catch them in the act.
  • When arrested, they pleaded guilty to minor offenses.
  • They were sent back to Russia in exchange for real spies.
  • Apparently these “Borises and Natashas” were enjoying the best of both worlds. They were enjoying the good life in America and receiving salaries and bonuses from Russia.
Does anyone else see the irony here? This could be a parable – even an allegory – applicable to us – American Christians!
  • We’re also aliens sent from another Kingdom to this country on a mission.
  • Are we living comfortably in America?
  • Are we living respectable lives – the American dream?
  • Are we going through the motions of our mission without accomplishing anything?
  • If we were arrested for doing our mission, would there be enough evidence to convict us?
One Russian commentator, writing on this fiasco, complained: “Nowadays nobody spies out of principle.”

          Bill Ball


I figured that having published 200 posts is a sort of milepost and that I needed to say a few things regarding the occasion.

I always write with readers in mind, and I actually have a few. They may be friends – old or new -- family or neighbors. They may be persons in whose lives I’ve had some sort of ministry. Or they may be people who just happen across my blog on the internet.

When I started blogging, I didn’t give much consideration to my purpose in writing other than to get my thoughts down. Since then, I have attempted to clarify my purpose (see WHY I BLOG and WHY I BLOG, 2).

I have published a variety of posts: theological papers, Bible studies, sermons and devotionals. I’ve written book reviews and reviews of magazine articles. I’ve given answers to questions I’ve received, as well as reactions to and opinions on issues that confront us today.

Looking back at this time, I have to ask myself, what is it that connects all these various strands of thought? I believe it is this: I have attempted to write everything from within a Christian/biblical worldview. I readily admit that I have not always succeeded, but this has been my desire, not only in my writing, but in my thinking and in my actions.

James Sire in his book, The Universe Next Door, says that a worldview is “a set of presuppositions … which we hold … about the basic makeup of our world” (page 16). He more precisely and wordily defines it thus: “A worldview is composed of a number of basic presuppositions, more or less consistent with each other, more or less consciously held, more or less true. They are generally unquestioned by each of us, rarely, if ever mentioned by our friends, and only brought to mind when we are challenged by a foreigner from another ideological universe.” I’ll go with that definition, though I find it a bit cumbersome.

Everyone has a worldview. It is a set of eyeglasses through which we view life. Our view of God, of basic reality, of humankind and other human beings, are all components of our worldview. It colors our view of ethics and morality, of history and politics, every aspect of our lives and thinking.

So what is this Christian/biblical worldview from which I claim to write? To write out all the various interrelated aspects would be long and tedious (perhaps that is why I’ve published 200 posts). But some basic points are:
  • There is one God, eternally existing in three Persons.
  • God created all that exists.
  • Man – humankind was created in His image.
  • Man, through disobedience, has fallen from the high position he once held and stands condemned before God.
  • The second Person of God’s threefold being, became a man – Jesus of Nazareth-- and took on Himself, the penalty that was due the human race.
  • God has revealed Himself to humankind in many ways, but especially through the Book we know as the Bible.
I realize that I have not always been consistent in my writing and I’ve been even less consistent in my living. I do believe that blogging has forced me to be more consistent in my thinking. Sometimes, when I haven’t been, I’ve had a few readers who have corrected me and forced me to clarify. I hope this will continue.

I also know that there are many who claim to hold this worldview, yet disagree with much that I have said. They may be correct. I’m not “there” yet. None of us are. I don’t believe any of us will be able to think consistently till Jesus returns and we are made to be like Him.

However, I also fear that many of my fellow Christians let other worldviews take precedence. I fear this for myself. A Christian/Biblical worldview must be the “grid” through which we filter all our thinking:
“… taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ …”
(2 Corinthians 10:5).

          Bill Ball
          July 13, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010


I feel I need to make a few more comments regarding the topic of my previous post. I want to clarify my views and position.

First of all, I need to point out that I was reviewing a book – I was not setting out to give my own views on the topic covered in the book, nor was I giving a blanket endorsement of the book. However, I believe the author gave a very honest and objective view of the facts and I found myself in essential agreement with her conclusions that our prominent Founding Fathers were not Christians and that Enlightenment thinking is prominent in our Constitution and other documents. I have read biographies of many of these men, as well as some of their writings and speeches. These works support her conclusions. The author did not, however, claim that none were Christians or that Christian thinking had no influence.

Now for my views:
  • The United States of America is not, never was and never will be a Christian Nation. “CHRISTIAN AMERICA” is a myth, as I have stated before. There is no such thing as a Christian Nation.
  • Whatever the motives of our Founding Fathers, we Americans are blessed with religious freedom like no other nation. I believe that real democracy is impossible without this right, guaranteed to us in our Constitution.
  • I am an admirer of the great men (and women) of American history, from its early settlement to the present day. I love to read their stories as well as their thoughts. I would love to be assured that all of my heroes were “born again.” The evidence, however, shows that many were not. This does not make their accomplishments of less value. Nor do their moral failures. Most were deeply flawed, often contradictory persons, who were somehow capable of great accomplishments.
  • The religious writings of many of these persons, while often moving, do not always point to Jesus Christ. I am not required to make them into saints, nor pronounce judgment on them as persons.
I find a similar situation with many of the characters in the Bible. We want to make them into more than they were. In a previous post, I referred to them as "EXAMPLES OF GRACE.” Perhaps we could extend that label to our heroes of history and of the present day.

So I can celebrate our great nation and the blessings God has given us, recognizing that “every good and every perfect gift” (James 1:17) is from Him. I can do this without making America into something it isn’t. And I can celebrate America’s heroes without canonizing them.

Bill Ball