Seven guidelines for understanding the Old Testament

  1. The laws revealed in the Old Testament (O.T.) were not originally given for us to follow today as God’s will for our lives. They were required of God’s people during Old Testament history to distinguish them as they lived in ancient near eastern cultures (see: Misreading the Bible).
  2. We don’t understand all of the reasons for some of the laws in the O. T., but we know that the times during which they were written were exceptionally evil. Although some laws appear to us as unusual, it likely reveals our lack of understanding regarding the circumstances of the time. The laws were at least meant to distinguish God’s people from the nations around them. 
  3. The O. T. was never intended to be a complete or perfect expression of God’s will. It was provisional for a specific time and pointed to a new covenant that would be a fulfillment and replacement of the old covenant (see: A truth we must accept).
  4. Those who follow the Bible should not quote laws directed to Israel as if they are God’s will for people today unless reaffirmed in the New Testament. We should not, for example,  look to detailed legislation in Leviticus to specifically guide us as followers of Christ.
  5. We only apply Old Testament Scriptures to our lives if they are taught by Jesus and the apostles. Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (see – Matthew 5:18-20). Although He was “born under the law” (Gal.4:4) and “fulfilled all righteousness” (Matt.3:15), Jesus wrapped up the era of biblical history where the law regulated the covenant relationship of the people of God. Jesus is the new locus of authority for God’s people. He established for us what is pleasing to God.
    (see: Christ is the end of the Law)
  6. The primary way O.T. law speaks to us is in the revelation it gives of the holy nature of God in contrast with our sinfulness. This prepares us to see our need to be forgiven and reconciled with God through the grace offered in Jesus Christ.
  7. Those who mock people for following Scripture should reflect on their hypocrisy because they also hold to standards (even the one they’re using to discredit those who follow Scripture). Why do they expect others to accept their ethical code as reasonable?

Steve Cornell

The parable of the wheat and tares

The parable of the wheat and the weeds is one of the more difficult to interpret and one of the most misinterpreted parables. The primary misinterpretation is to make it about the Church (an error quite common among Church fathers). Take some time and patiently consider these profound words from our Savior. (Audio message here)

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

The Parable Explained (Matthew 13:36-43)

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

The story unfolds…..

  • The owner plants good seed (wheat)
  • The enemy plants bad seed (weeds)
  • The weeds become evident
  • The servants want to pull the weeds
  • The owner says let both grow together until the harvest
  • Then there will be a separation and destruction of the weeds

Parable explained……

  • The owner is the Son of Man
  • The field is the world
  • The good seed is people of the kingdom
  • The weeds are people of the evil one 
  • The enemy is the Devil
  • The harvest is the end of the age
  • The harvesters are angels
  • The weeds will be cast into furnace
  • The righteous will shine forth in the Kingdom

Note: The “tares” or “weeds” probably refers to darnel, a weed organically related to wheat and difficult to distinguish in early stages of growth. After the darnel and wheat are grown, they’re more easily distinguishable and harvesters can separate them.

Question answered…..

  • Can the work of Jesus and his followers really be the kingdom when there is still so much evil in the world?

The background for this question is the way first century Jews viewed the Kingdom in national-political terms. There expectations of a Messiah were shaped around hope for deliverance from earthly oppression and the establishment of a Kingdom for God’s people that would overthrow all earthly kingdoms. While there is plenty of prophecy regarding this expectation, Scripture also pointed to a suffering Messiah who would be “despised and rejected by mankind,
 a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3).

John the Baptist had difficulty with this aspect of Jesus’ ministry – see: Matthew 3:10-13; 11:3

We might ask how Jesus words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18) could possibly be true when it appears that evil is more in control.

Two Primary points…..

  1. The kingdom of God has come with Jesus’ ministry, but final judgment awaits the appointed time for the harvest when God will separate the evil from the righteous
  2. The kingdom is present but in an unexpected way because of the delay of judgment and the continued presence of evil

“If the parable is about the presence of the kingdom in the midst of an evil world, the kingdom of the Son of Man is the kingdom that the Son of Man has brought as an incomplete kingdom, a proleptic kingdom which does not yet obliterate evil. This kingdom remains incomplete until the consummation when evil will be removed. Note that both “all offenses” (neuter) and “all those doing lawlessness” (masculine/generic) are removed. The completed kingdom devoid of evil is the kingdom of the Father. This understanding of the kingdom of the Father as the consummation of all things is paralleled in Matt. 26:29.”

“…its primary teaching is that the kingdom is present despite the presence of evil and that evil will be dealt with at the judgment. The focus is the nature of the kingdom, and implications for human conduct are secondary. The use of the aorist passive “The kingdom has become like…” is no accident. The kingdom has arrived and is like a field with both wheat and weeds which will one day be separated. The kingdom is like the whole process described in the parable from sowing to separation. The parable is not a complete picture of the kingdom; no parable is. But it does emphasize the presence of the kingdom and the future judgment” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent).

Lessons from the parable

1. The kingdom is present and judgment will come

“The present church needs to make the same two points the parable teaches. First, the kingdom is present, even though judgment is not taking place, because of the ministry of Jesus and the work of the Spirit. The presence of evil is no evidence that the kingdom is not at work. Second, while this is not the time for judgment, judgment will certainly come” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent).

2. The parable does not endorse passivity toward evil and non-retaliation

“It answers the question “How can this be the kingdom if evil is present? not “What shall we do about evil?” …It also provides a worldview that accounts for and is not surprised at the presence of evil.” … “In light of the teaching of Jesus any thought of passivity toward evil or assertion that the church does not need to be a pure community is bizarre.”

“Questions about how we should respond to evil are spawned by the parable, but not addressed. Other texts must be brought in for that discussion, but clearly any idea of doing God’s work of judging or any thought that we will obliterate evil are set aside by the parable. The biblical message always leaves us dealing with tension. We cannot be tolerant of evil, but the destruction of all evil is not our task. We must stop being evil, and we must stop evil from destroying, but how can we stop evil without becoming evil in the process? That may well be the human question. (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent).

3. The parable helps us understand the presence of evil in the world

“The parable contributes to discussions of theodicy and helps address our consternation that evil still is at work, that life is not fair, even though Christ and his kingdom have come. God is not the only one at work, and not all actions in this world can be attributed to God. God often gets blamed for every event that occurs, but he is not the cause of every event. Evil happens that can only be identified as the work of an enemy. Accordingly, this parable should slow down an overemphasis on the sovereignty of God or a naïveté that attributes every event to God’s manipulation. …. The parable is also a reminder that Christians should be neither surprised at nor unaware of the fact that evil is active at the same time that God’s reign is. ” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent).

4. Reflect on these truths when you desire judgment to fall on the wicked

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:3-4).

Steve Cornell

Fill me with joy in your presence

Transformation of desire is at the heart of spiritual change. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

One example of transformed desire occurs when a desire to learn to love becomes greater than the desire for love. This happens when “we know and rely on the love God has for us” (I John 4:16).

When we experience transformation in this way, we begin to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10).

God’s kingdom is always ready to challenge the desires that preoccupy everyone (Matthew 6:32). God is always calling us away from lesser desires to draw us to more noble and lasting passions.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (C. S. Lewis).

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Faith in Jesus Christ is not merely an agreement with facts about God and Jesus. It’s a matter of appetite and longing; hunger and thirst; satisfaction and fulfillment in the One who is the bread of life. It’s a satisfaction of our deepest longings and needs.

But our hearts will remain hungry until they find satisfaction in God and our souls thirsty until quenched by God. Of course, it must be understood, that as fallen beings, we can only be satisfied with unsatisfied satisfaction. As we taste and see that the Lord is good, we must return to the same source in our  hungering and thirsting.

The Psalmist said to God, “You make known to me the path of life;
 you will fill me with joy in your presence,
 with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
 And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail,
 but God is the strength of my heart
 and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

Steve Cornell


A closer look at repentance

Jesus called people to repent. 

  • When his ministry began, Jesus said, “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15).
  • Jesus said that his mission was not “to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
  • “After he had risen from the dead, Jesus said, “It is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

What does it mean to repent?

Look more closely at the Greek word behind our english word “repent.”

Repent –  μετανοέω – metanoeo

Two parts: (meta and noeo)

  1. Meta – change
  2. Noeo- the mind and its thoughts, perceptions and disposition.

Repent = to change your mind or your way of seeing things or perspective.

Insights from others

C. S. Lewis explained repentance not as “something God demands of you before he will take you back; it is simply a description of what going back is like.”

“To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own… In itself, far from being sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world, because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself and you are in fellowship with God.” (William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury)

Joy and repentance

  • “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
  • “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

“Repenting is what happens inside of us that leads to the fruits of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds.” (John Piper).

  • “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8).

Deep repentance

Repentance is not merely feeling bad about our sins. Repentance is sorrow for what we are in our deepest beings, that we are wrong in our deepest roots because our interior life is governed by Self and not by God.

Sorrow and repentance

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (II Corinthians 7:10-11).

Repent or perish

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’” (Luke 13:1-5, cf. vv. 6-9).

God grants repentance

“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses (return to a sound mind, free from illusions and intoxicated thinking, become sober) and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:24-26).

Steve Cornell

What did Jesus mean when he said….

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42)

  • Should we suspend discernment and hand over money to anyone who asks for it? 
  • Should we be concerned about cultivating irresponsibility or laziness by offering hand outs?
  • Is Jesus teaching us to be careless with our resources or to help others in ways that do not really help them?

Insight from Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“Our Lord does not encourage us here to help frauds or professional beggars or drunkards. I put it like this plainly because we all have these experiences. A man comes to you under the influence of alcohol and asks you to give him some money. Although he says it’s for a night’s lodging, you know he will go immediately and spend it on drink. Our Lord does not tell us to encourage or help such a man. He is not even considering that. What He is considering is the tendency of a man because of self, and a self-centered spirit, not to help those who are in real need. It is this holding on to what is mine that He is concerned about.”

“We can therefore put it like this. We must always be ready to listen and to give to a man the benefit of the doubt. It is not something we do mechanically or thoughtlessly. We must think, and say: ‘If this man is in need, it is my business to help him if I am in a position to do so. I may be taking a risk, but if he is in need I will help him.’ The apostle John gives us a perfect exposition of this. ‘But whoso hath this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his compassion from him, how does the love of God dwell in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth’ (I Jn. 3:17, 18). That is the way we are to follow. ‘Whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need.’”

“The man under the influence of drink who asks us for money is not in need, neither is the man who lives by this sort of thing and is too lazy to work. Paul says of such: ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.’ So your professional beggar is not in need and I do not give to him. But if I see that my brother is in need and I have this world’s goods and am in a position to help him, I must not shut up my compassion from him, because, if I do, the love of God is not in me. The love of God is a love that gives of itself in order to help and strengthen those who are in need.” (Sermon on the Mount, pp.288-289).

 Steve Cornell

Answer the call

Before His death, our Lord gave us important words of insight into His work on earth:

“I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).  

Jesus loved the church and gave Himself up for her. As the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, Jesus — with His life blood — purchased for God humans from every tribe, language, people and nation.

After His resurrection, before He ascended to His Father, Jesus gave His followers a mission to fulfill:

“Go and make disciples of all nations.” He said, “The Holy Spirit will come on you and empower you and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And as the followers of Christ take up this mission, they do it supported by a great promise from their Master: “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

The One who is able to save us to the uttermost, sends His ambassadors to the uttermost parts of the earth to make disciples of all nations. And we witness and work with great anticipation of a final celebration of an international harvest of souls —people from every tribe, tongue and nation—worshipping the Lamb who is worthy!

Through means of the cross, God was reconciling the world to Himself—not counting our trespasses against us — by making the One who knew no sin bare the just punishment for our sin, that we might have right standing with God through Him. That was what God was doing through the cross!

Now God is making His appeal through us — the ambassadors of Christ — and we implore people (on Christ’s behalf) to be reconciled to God. “As the Father sent Me,” our Lord said, “I am sending you.” 

Between the disappearing and the reappearing of Jesus we have a mission to fulfill — to go and sow the good seed of the Gospel in the world. One has said, “Christianity without mission is Christianity no longer” (John R. W. Stott, The Contemporary Christian, p. 324).  

Christians are not here to meet, eat and retreat. We are a “sent people,” a people to “sowing and reaping,” an ever-present witness in a dark world, instructed by our Lord to capture strategic places of influence like well-lit cities on a hill which cannot be hidden.

But hold everything!

On a personal level, it starts with you — where you are! Please do not dream of foreign fields of mission until you are being His witness where you are. Your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, — do you want them to join the final assembly? If you say, “I am not sure I want them there. I can’t even stand Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday with them.”

Perhaps then you should pray, “Let me see this world, dear Lord, as though I were looking through Your eyes. A world of men who don’t want You, Lord — yet a world for which You died. Let me kneel with You in the garden. Fill my eyes with tears of agony. For if once I could see this world the way You see, I just know I’d serve You more faithfully.”

An old hymn offers another great line. “May His beauty rest upon me, as I seek the lost to win, and may they forget the vessel, seeing only Him.” 

John R. W. Stott reminded us that our mission is shaped by four things.

  1. Our model—the incarnation
  2. The cost—taking up the cross
  3. The motivation—our exalted and coming Lord
  4. The power—the ever-present, indwelling Holy Spirit

Once again, Jesus said, “I will build My church.” As we trace the steps of the early disciples as they obey the great commission, a clear pattern emerges from the New Testament. And we must follow (as closely as possible) the apostolic pattern. Trying new and different ways, which do not adhere to the pattern, could put you at cross purpose with the Lord who builds His church. If you pastor Christ’s Church, remember that it is the “flock of God” (I Peter 5:1-4).

Jesus identifies with His followers in such a way that what we do to or for them, we do to or for Him.

  • Acts 9:4 “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
  • Matthew 25:34-40 – what you’ve done for them you’ve done for me.
  • Hebrews 6:10 “…the labor of love you have shown Him by ministering to his people.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it.”

And as the pattern emerges, we must think of the church not merely as some universal, international, invisible body of believers from Pentecost to the rapture. No! We must relate to and serve the church as a local, visible body of believers.

We do not serve the Lord in the abstract. We serve Him through meaningful connection with a local fellowship of believers, which I would suggest to be the headquarters for discipleship.

The apostles and early followers of Jesus did not simply lead people to Jesus and leave them alone. New Christians were not merely directed to join a Bible study or fellowship group. Instead, evangelism was done with the express intent of placing believers in a local church. And the early church strategically targeted major centers of influence in specific regions:

  • Jerusalem in Syria
  • Corinth in Achaia
  • Thessalonica in Macedonia
  • Ephesus in Asia Minor

Local churches were established in these strategic cities of influence and when people came to Christ, they became parts of these churches. And each church was to function as a kind of headquarters for evangelism and discipleship.

Let’s answer the call and follow the pattern. Keep in step with the Master Builder, Jesus Christ.

Steve Cornell

In Step With the Master Teacher (audio series)

This has been one of the most personally challenging series of messages I’ve presented. 

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from the seen and known to the unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity. The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with truth about God and His Kingdom.

Journey with me as we learn from the Master Teacher in this 11 part audio series:

Steve Cornell