Topics: idle words, sinning against God in heaven, degrees of eternal reward and punishment, 1 Corinthian 2:7’s “secret wisdom,” comparison of Sodom and the United States, participation in prayers led by non-Christians, bearing one another’s burdens, asking forgiveness in prayer
Yesterday was the most recent Bible Question & Answer session at the Duncan Church of Christ in Duncan, SC. I really appreciate these questions, those who ask them, and the research required of me to provide biblical answers. Activities such as these help us all to grow (1 Pet. 3:15).
Please explain “idle words” (Matt. 12:36-37).
“Idle” (argos) literally means “free from labor, at leisure; lazy, shunning the labor which one ought to perform.” “Idle words” therefore refer to words which we utter lazily, at our leisure, shunning the responsibilities concerning them which God says we have.
God gives us many responsibilities concerning what we speak and how we are to speak it (cf. Matt. 6:9; Eph. 5:4; Matt. 5:33-37; Eph. 4:15, 29; etc.) When we unrepentantly speak in haste (don’t think before we speak) or don’t care about what we say or how we say it, we are “idle” when it comes to our words and will be condemned accordingly.
The devil sinned against God in heaven by thinking he was more powerful. Does that mean we could also sin against God by thinking we are more powerful?
The Bible says the sin Satan committed was pride (1 Tim. 3:6). Pride in the sense that he thought he was more powerful than God? Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t clearly state as much (Deut. 29:29).
We will not sin against God in heaven for whatever reason because the righteous are promised ETERNAL life after judgment, without end (Matt. 25:46). In the new heaven and earth, death/separation from God will be no more (Rev. 21:4; cf. Rom. 6:23). Nothing unclean will ever enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27; 22:15).
Are there varying degrees of Heaven and Hell?
There’s no biblical evidence that our human spirit will be fundamentally and basically changed after death. Thus, it’s likely we will be capable of various degrees of satisfaction in eternity, depending upon our capacity for such, since we are capable of different levels of satisfaction in this life.
The Bible implies varying levels of reward for the saved. Jesus’ parable of the 10 minas teaches such (Luke 19:12ff). He promised to “repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27). “According to” (kata) implies a norm, a standard by which rewards or punishments are given, signifying a proportionately fair dispersal. Paul knew he would have both joy and glory for converting souls (1 Thess. 2:19-20), yet he also cautioned us to seek true converts over superficial ones because if one’s converts did not endure, he himself would still be saved while also suffering “loss” of the joy and glory of knowing his work of converting those souls would be fruitful for eternity (1 Cor. 3:10ff; cf. Gal. 4:11). In other words, the more of our converts who endure and finally arrive in heaven, the greater our joy and reward will be.
In like manner, the Bible also implies varying levels of punishment for the condemned. Cities in Galilee were told it would be “more tolerable” for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom than for them (Matt. 11:20-24; cf. 10:15). The knowingly disobedient would be punished more than those who were punished because they ignorantly disobeyed (Luke 12:47-48). Pilate was told that those who had delivered Jesus to him “have the greater sin” (John 19:11), implying a greater punishment. Willful, unrepentant sinners under the New Covenant would receive a “worse” punishment than unrepentant sinners under the Old Covenant (Heb. 10:26-31). The “last state” of apostate Christians would be “worse” than it would have been should they had never been converted in the first place (2 Pet. 2:20-22; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17).
What is the “secret wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:7)?
Not human wisdom (2:6, 8); rather, a mystery hidden from man which God ordained before creation (2:7) in order to glorify those who accept him (cf. 2 Thess. 1:10). It pertains to things which we cannot perceive on our own which God first prepared (2:9), then revealed via the Spirit to the apostles and prophets (2:10-11; cf. John 16:12-14; Eph. 3:1-5), who received it (2:12) and then spoke/wrote it to us (2:13; cf. Eph. 3:3-4).
What is it? The inspired New Testament, the gospel (Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
Please compare the continuous evil thoughts and actions of Sodom to the current state of affairs in the United States.
To clarify, the population of the world in Noah’s day were the ones of whom it was said that every thought and intention of their heart was evil, not Sodom (Gen. 6:5).
In comparing Sodom to the U.S., we must note several things:
- Sodom was punished because of ungodliness (2 Pet. 2:6), fornication in the form of homosexuality (Jude 7), and selfish, prideful lack of benevolence to the needy in spite of excess of food and prosperous ease (Ezek. 16:49).
- Cites who unrepentantly rejected Christ would be in a worse predicament than Sodom on Judgment (Matt. 10:15; 11:23-24).
- God was willing to spare Sodom if 10-50 righteous people were found within it, possibly .5% of its population at most.
- The entire male population of the town was willing to commit homosexual rape of strangers (Gen. 19:4).
The overall ungodliness and immorality of America is headed towards the same levels of Sodom…but are we there yet? Compare…
- Homosexuality is embraced by many as last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide proves…but are all or even most of the population of the United States in favor of homosexual rape of strangers?
- It’s probable that more than .5% tops of the U.S. population are righteous or at the very least wanting to be righteous.
- Christ is generally accepted far more in the U.S. than could have been said of the Galilean cities of his day, of whom it was said were in worse shape than Sodom.
- The U.S. is prosperous, and we are pridefully selfish with our excess to a degree…but we are also well known for our benevolence toward many domestically and abroad.
If we continue down the road we’re on, we will arrive to where Sodom was perhaps within a generation or three. Yet even now there is still much positive good in America, and we as Christians can make an impact for even more good.
But only if we are far more evangelistic than we currently are.
Is it proper for a member of the church to participate in a prayer led by a non-member? If I pray along with that non-member, does my “Amen” validate that prayer led by that non-member before God?
God does not hear the prayers of alien sinners (Is. 59:2), save for those who are searching for the truth with honest hearts (Matt. 5:6; Acts 10:1-4; 11:13-14; Luke 8:15). “Amen” (“so be it”) by definition shows verbal approval, so does God want us showing approval of error? (Eph. 5:11; 2 John 9-11)
That said, many factors make each individual case in which this situation occurs a matter of personal judgment:
- In some cases we know the hearts of an individual (Mark 7:20-23), yet in others we don’t (1 Tim. 5:24). Can we in every case know if the non-Christian who’s leading the prayer is closed-minded to the gospel, or like Cornelius whose prayers outside of Christ were heard because he obviously was open to the truth?
- If we bow our head during a public prayer led by someone not a member of the church, are we giving them and our brethren the impression that we endorse their prayer and thus consider them to be in Christ even though they’re denomination? Would that be a stumbling block to weaker brethren, leading them to become more ecumenical? (Rom. 14:21)
- Children are not members of the church, yet they are not sinners either if they’ve not yet become accountable. We are to train them how to pray (Eph. 6:4), allowing them to pray verbally themselves as a teaching tool. We would hinder our efforts to teach them if they noticed we openly weren’t praying alongside them.
One would be wise to consider each of these and other elements and whether they truly play a factor in each individual situation, and then make a personal judgment accordingly and individually, keeping it between you and God (Rom. 14:22). If you have any doubts whatsoever, then abstain because whatever violates your conscience is sin (Rom. 14:23).
Saying “Amen” itself doesn’t validate a prayer before God. Rather, whether the prayer is in complete accordance with his will does that (Col. 3:17).
If what is being prayed by the non-Christian is completely scriptural, and if you’ve taken into account the previously-discussed factors and made the personal, private judgment that it’s okay to make it your own prayer to God…then your prayer would be valid before God, not because of the “Amen” per se, but because what was prayed is scriptural and you made it your own prayer.
To what extent are we to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)? Does this verse teach humility (v. 3)? Does this verse teach us to still bear others’ burdens when they are the result of the person’s transgression (v. 1)? If yes, we have a great need for love and humility when carrying out this command.
The father in the parable of the prodigal son unhesitatingly and compassionately took back his wayward yet penitent son and comforted him (Luke 15:20-32). When we do the same, we help bear that person’s burdens.
God providentially both blesses and corrects the unjust (Matt. 5:45; Ps. 119:67). In like manner, we bear the burdens of the one who is overtaken in transgression by no only correcting them (v. 1), but also by patiently comforting and encouraging them (v. 10: cf. 1 Thess. 5:11, 14-15). Doing so requries much love for the one caught in transgression and for our brethren and fellow man in general (1 John 3:11, 14, 16-17).
The one who limits their interaction with a brother or sister caught in transgression to nothing more than correction or gossip loves themselves only…but not their brethren and certainly not God!!
To love others and help them shoulder their burdens requires much humility, a willingness to recognize that we are sinners who need each other’s help also (cf. Matt. 7:12), exactly what Galatians 6:3 is talking about.
Also, note that “bear one another’s burdens“ (Gal. 6:2) is baros in the Greek, which Thayer defines as “heaviness, weight, burden, trouble.” Yet, “for each will have to bear his own load“ (Gal. 6:5) is phortion in the Greek, which Strong defines as “a burden which must be carried by the individual, i.e. as something personal and hence is not transferrable, i.e. it cannot ‘be shifted’ to someone else.”
Thus, Christians must bear each other’s sorrows over sins and misfortunes (Gal. 6:2)…yet each of us must still bear and fulfill our own individual responsibilities (Gal. 6:5). Balance is required (Matt. 23:23). We must never try to completely take the problems of another away from them or shoulder all of their responsibilities. It can’t be done, and trying to do it will hinder them from becoming stronger (Heb. 12:5-11). Yet we must also not have the mindset of “They laid their bed, now let them sleep in it!”, an attitude that joyfully takes heart in their hardships and selfishly refuses to try to help.
There also comes a time to walk away, yet with love (Tit. 3:10-11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).
When do we ask for forgiveness in our private prayers (1 John 1:9)? Should we ask at the beginning of our prayer, or does it matter when we ask?
The model prayer which places forgiveness toward the end of the prayer is meant to be a model, not an exact replica to be repeated verbatim (Matt. 6:7-13). David requested forgiveness right at the start of one of his prayers (Ps. 51:1-2).
Thus, it matters not when in the prayer the Christian asks for forgiveness, only that he asks…and with a penitent heart (cf. Acts 8:22).