TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

II. Other Significant Practices

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Chapter 29  Part II

Other Significant Practices

It is important for each Christian to understand all significant church practices. The practice of confessing Jesus Christ is one such practice that we need to understand – and be prepared to do. The weekly Sabbath is to some extent ignored by a lot of Christians, many seeing it as not relevant in the new covenant – but many evangelical theologians would “beg to differ”. Reasons both for and against observing it are included in this section. Fasting, when undertaken with a godly focus, is a significant practice that is a very valuable supplement to such things as prayer and worship. The laying on of hands is a further common practice, and so we should also be familiar with its significance and use in the Bible.

Confession of Jesus Christ

The NT speaks of confessing or acknowledging Jesus Christ. Usually it is implicit or suggested – as the word “confess” implies – that this is done in the presence of others. Confessing Jesus Christ is an expression of allegiance to him, as Lord, and involves stating what one believes about him. It is often done formally at one’s baptism and corporately in church with the recital of creeds or “confessions”. In addition, many Christians will experience times in which they should acknowledge Jesus Christ and their faith in him before unbelievers – often at the cost or risk of being persecuted. Such a situation is in view in a number of the verses in this section.

Confess (or acknowledge) Jesus Christ, before others

Heb 3:1  Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess, …  NET

Luke 12:8  [Jesus:] I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels.  NET

Note that the Greek translated here as “acknowledge” or “acknowledges” is at times translated as “confess” or “confesses” in other Bible translations – as is the case with this verse (cf. AMP, NASB, NKJV).

Things to confess about Jesus Christ

John 9:22b  For the Jewish leaders had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.  NET

Phil 2:11  And everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and bring glory to God the Father.  NCV™

1Jn 4:15  If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God.  NET

Outcomes of confessing Jesus Christ

Matt 10:32  [Jesus:] Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  NET

Rom 10:9-10  [Paul:] … because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  ESV

One will be saved if one confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes that God raised him to life (v. 9). Presumably the latter has in view also believing the implications of Jesus Christ’s resurrection for our salvation. Note that a literal interpretation of these verses, which a number of commentators do take, would mean that one has to make such a verbal confession to be saved. Another view is that Paul is drawing on the “mouth”/”heart” terminology in the quotation from Deuteronomy 30:14 (v. 8b) to emphasize the need for genuine belief in Christ.

Note: If we deny Jesus Christ, he will deny us

Matt 10:33  [Jesus:] But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.  NET

Mark 8:38  [Jesus:] For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.  NET

Although the gravity of the above warnings should not be diluted, the verses should not be interpreted to mean that a single act of denial will necessarily result in Jesus Christ disowning that person. This is illustrated in Peter’s experience (cf. Matt 26:33-35, 69-75; John 21:15-17).

 Questions for Section A

Keeping the Sabbath Holy

God made the seventh day of the week holy by setting it apart as a day of rest. It is called the “Sabbath”, which means “to cease”. Thus to observe or keep the Sabbath we cease from work and rest. In conjunction with this, rather than engaging in our usual activities we dedicate the day to God. As such we keep the Sabbath day holy, set apart from the other days as sacred to God.

In following God’s example by resting on the Sabbath day, people imitate and associate themselves with God, even fellowship with him. In line with this, for Israel observing the Sabbath was a sign of being God’s people. The necessity for Christians to likewise observe it has been the subject of debate.

On finishing creation, God rested on the seventh day – and made it holy

Gen 2:2-3  By the seventh day God finished the work he had been doing, so he rested from all his work. 3God blessed the seventh day and made it a holy day, because on that day he rested from all the work he had done in creating the world.  NCV™

Keep the Sabbath holy by resting on it

Deut 5:13  [Moses, to the Israelites:] Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  ESV

Ex 35:2a  [Moses, to the Israelites:] In six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord.  NET

Observance of the Sabbath was given as a sign between God and his people Israel

Ex 31:16-17  [God:] The Israelites must keep the Sabbath by observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.  NET

Doing as God had done was to be a sign that the Israelites were of God (v. 17), with them being his people and he being their God. These verses are also often interpreted to indicate that the Sabbath was a sign of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (cf. GNT, NLT).

Further reasons for keeping the Sabbath holy

Ex 20:8-11  [God, to the Israelites:] Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy. 9For six days you may labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.  NET

Verse 10a is in effect saying that the seventh day is a Sabbath “dedicated to” the Lord (GNT, NLT), in honor of him (cf. NCV NIrV). As such, observing the Sabbath honors God. Verse 11 appears to indicate that the Sabbath is to be observed to commemorate God’s rest from his creative work and perhaps also his completion of it. Additionally there is the suggestion that humankind should – even needs to – follow God’s example of resting on the Sabbath. Such an assertion seems only logical as they are made in his image (cf. Gen 1:26-27).

Ex 23:12  For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant’s son and any hired help may refresh themselves.  NET

This points out that resting on the Sabbath enables people to “refresh themselves.”

It is permissible to do good and necessary things on the Sabbath

Matt 12:10-13  A man was there who had a withered hand. And they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they could accuse him. 11He said to them, “Would not any one of you, if he had one sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and it was restored, as healthy as the other.  NET

On the Sabbath God’s people assemble for worship . . .

Lev 23:3a  [Moses, to the Israelites:] You have six days in which to do your work, but remember that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest. On that day do not work, but gather for worship.  GNT

. . . During Sabbath worship there is teaching

Acts 17:2  Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, …  NET

Verses alleged to indicate that Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath

Col 2:16-17  [Paul, to believers:] Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – 17these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!  NET

Rom 14:5-6  [Paul, referring to believers:] One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God.  NET

What Paul is referring to here is possibly inclusive of the Sabbath, although the reference to eating suggests that a special day of feasting may be what is foremost in view. Regarding contentious issues like those in question here, Paul is primarily concerned that: his readers be convinced in themselves (v. 5b), so they can act with a clear conscience; and the chosen course of action be taken for the Lord’s honor (cf. CEV, GNT, NLT) and with thanksgiving (v. 6b).

Note: Early Christians met together on the first day of the week

1Cor 16:2  [Paul, to believers:] On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come.  NET

This verse is quite probably speaking of money being brought to Christian gatherings held on the first day of every week. The fact that the early Christians are recorded meeting together on the first day of the week – probably in view of Jesus rising from the dead on this day – has influenced most Christians to celebrate the Sabbath and meet for worship on this day rather than on the seventh day of the week.

 Questions for Section B

Fasting

Fasting involves abstaining from food and drink, though not necessarily water which provides no calories or energy. Ordained fasts in the OT were usually from sunrise to sunset. People who fast regularly today often do so once or twice a week, for one or two successive meal times. In the Wesleyan revival, fasting was observed from after the Thursday evening meal to mid-afternoon Friday. Note that in the NT there are examples of fasting, but it is not actually commanded.

Fasting involves abstaining from food and drink, for a period of time

Est 4:16a  [Esther, to Mordecai:] Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do.  ESV

Judg 20:26b  They [the Israelites] sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.  NKJV

Fasting can be done regularly – as an adjunct to prayer and worship

Luke 2:37  She [Anna] had lived as a widow since then for eighty–four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  NET

Fasting implies and promotes earnestness in worship and prayer. When fasting, the ache and craving of hunger brings an earnestness and intensity to our worship and prayers. Fasting also promotes clarity of thought. Furthermore, our hunger serves as a reminder to worship and/or pray throughout the fasting period.

Fasting can be done on particular occasions, in petitioning God – as in seeking God’s help . . .

Ezra 8:21, 23  [Ezra:] Then I announced a fast there at the Ahava River so that we might humble ourselves in the presence of our God to ask him for a safe journey for ourselves, for our little ones, and for all our goods.23So we fasted and asked our God for a safe journey, and he answered our prayer.  GW

. . . or as in asking God to relent from punishing sin

Jonah 3:7-10  He [the king of Nineveh] issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything; they must not eat and they must not drink water. 8Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do. 9Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die.” 10When God saw their actions – they turned from their evil way of living! – God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them.  NET

As such, fasting expresses one’s distress in trouble or remorse over sin

Est 4:3  Throughout each and every province where the king’s edict and law [to kill all Jews] were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many.  NET

Neh 9:1-2  On the twenty–fourth day of this same month the Israelites assembled; they were fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust. 2Those truly of Israelite descent separated from all the foreigners, standing and confessing their sins and the iniquities of their ancestors.  NET

As per the subheading, these verses illustrate that fasting can express one’s distress in trouble (Est 4:3) or one’s remorse over sin (Neh 9:1-2).

Note: Fasting in itself is not significant

Isa 58:3-4  [The people, to God:] ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ [God:] Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  ESV

Godly fasting should be accompanied by such things as obedience to God and treating others appropriately. Without such conduct, fasting itself is of no significance.

 Questions for Section C

The Laying on of Hands

Bear in mind that generally at least – and as reflected in some of the passages in this section – the laying on of hands is done in conjunction with prayer.

In conveying the gift of the Holy Spirit

Acts 8:17  Then Peter and John placed their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit.  NET

Note that the laying on of hands to convey the gift of the Holy Spirit is generally done in conjunction with the recipients coming to faith – rather than at a time chosen by those performing the act. Also, it is not essential for a person to have hands laid on them for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

In conveying blessing

Mark 10:16  After he [Jesus] took the children in his arms, he placed his hands on them and blessed them.  NET

Luke 24:50  Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  NET

Here a group of people (the disciples) is being blessed. So instead of hands being laid on each of them individually, the hands are used to convey blessing by being lifted towards the group.

In conveying God’s healing

Acts 28:8  The father of Publius lay sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and after praying, placed his hands on him and healed him.  NET

Those who have the gift of healing, generally convey God’s healing through laying their hands on sick people – as Jesus often did.

In commissioning for ministry

Acts 13:2-3  While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.  NET

Note that generally at least, the laying on of hands is done in conjunction with prayer (cf. Acts 28:8 ⇑).

Note: The OT use of oil to anoint and consecrate people for God’s service

Ex 40:9, 13  [God, to Moses:] Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. … 13and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest.  ESV

2Ki 9:6  Jehu got up and went into the house. The prophet poured olive oil on his head and told him, “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I have anointed you king of the Lord’s people, king of Israel.  GW

In the OT, a person being ordained or inducted into a role in God’s service – notably as a priest (cf. Ex 40:9, 13 ), a prophet or a king (cf. 2Ki 9:6 ) – was anointed with oil. It signified them being set apart by God and consecrated for such a role. This practice is imitated in some churches today, in commissioning people for ministry.

 Questions for Section D

Pray for persecuted Christians