How I Bible Study: Tips, Recommendations, and Resources

I’ve been going back and forth on making a post like this for quite some time now. There isn’t one right formula for studying your Bible, and I’m not saying there is. As long as you’re reading God’s word, praying for His guidance, and working to know Him better then you can have a productive study. I don’t want to imply the way I study is the “right” or “best” way. But a few people have asked me to recommend Bible study resources, and I also realized that some of the study tools I use to help me understand the Greek and Hebrew behind our English translations aren’t familiar to everyone.

In this post, I’ll go through resources I use frequently and highly recommend. If you have other resources that you like to use, I’d love to learn about them. Please leave a comment so everyone reading can benefit from the recommendations 🙂

Disclaimer: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links (marked with an *). This means that if the resource I mention is available for purchase on Amazon, I provide a link and if you use that link to make a purchase I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Background Reading

Whenever I’m reading a text, I like to ask myself contextual questions. When was this written? Who was it written for? What culture(s) influenced the writer? When reading the Bible, the ultimate author behind the text is God, but He used human beings who were influenced by the world they lived in. Modern, Western Christians often think of Christianity as a Western/European religion and either don’t think about or misunderstand the ancient Eastern cultural context. This can lead to misinterpretations of the Bible and misunderstandings about underlying concepts such as how language works.

Misreading Scriptures with Western Eyes (coupled with attending a Messianic congregation for several years) fundamentally changed how I read the Bible, I think very much for the better. The modern world, particularly modern Western culture, is not very similar to the Biblical world. While God’s message is simple enough for a child to understand and His word can speak to everyone where they are, it’s also full of riches so deep we’ll never reach the bottom. Familiarizing yourself with the cultural context is key to understanding the Bible on a deeper level. These are my two favorite books I’ve found so far on that topic:

Digital Tools

There are three free digital resources that I use to support a deeper study of God’s word. These tools provide a variety of Bible translations, the ability to compare those translations, resources for studying the Greek and Hebrew behind our English translations, and a variety of commentaries. I use all of these tools to varying degrees, depending on exactly what I’m trying to study.

  • MySword app–this is a free-to-download Android app. I use this app on my phone as my Bible when at church, traveling, and often when studying at home. It makes it easy to compare translations, look up words in a dictionary, and do pretty robust word studies all in the palm of your hand. It’s also a great supplement to the language tools I’ll talk about in the next section.
    • The search tool for MySword is pretty good, and you can search for Greek and Hebrew words by searching for the Strong’s number in translations that include those. However, the free version of MySword doesn’t include all the search tools that eSword has and it limits you to 100 results.
  • eSword for PC–a free-to-download Bible study program. I mostly use this one if I want to search for specific words or topics in the Bible. The search tools are robust (even more so than MySword) and make it easy to search for parts of words, whole words, and Greek and Hebrew words (by searching for the Strong’s number). You can also have a Bible, dictionary, commentary, and your own notes all open on the same screen.
  • BibleGateway–an online resource that makes comparing Bible translations very simple. It’s the easiest tool I’ve found for looking at multiple translations side-by-side and doing full text searches of more than one translation at the same time. I use it all the time when writing my blog posts for this site. One thing I like about this website compared to MySword or eSword is that it includes full footnotes (very handy with translations like NET).
screenshot of eSword Bible program showing search tools using the example  of searching for partial matches to the words "love law"
Screenshot showing eSword search tool

Language Tools

I’ve done some formal study of Greek–enough to recognize words, understand basic grammar, and read it a little–but not much for Hebrew. The tools I use to study the Bible’s original languages aren’t a perfect substitute for really learning the languages, but I think they do make it easier for someone with a basic understanding of how language works (something any of us can learn relatively easily) to get a deeper look into the nuances of the Bible without devoting their lives to a study of ancient languages.

In both eSword and MySword, I recommend Thayer’s Dictionary for Greek and Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) for Hebrew. Both of these digital tools offer downloadable modules that link those dictionaries to Strong’s numbers. For any Bible translation that includes Strong’s numbers, you can click on that number and go right to the dictionary. Some of the translations also offer codes that give you more insight into how the word is used. For example, here’s what John 1:1 looks like in the MySword module for A Faithful Version with Strong’s numbers and Morphology (AFV+) if you click on more detail for the word translated “Word.”

I don’t read AFV+ much just because all those codes can get confusing to look at, but it is great for looking up the nuances behind a translation. If you click on the Strong’s number (G3056), it takes you to Thayer’s dictionary. I don’t have this in the screenshot, but if you scrolled down it would also provide Strong’s definition and a list of all the places this word is used in the New Testament (you could also search for G3056 in the AFV+ or other Strong’s coded translation to see all the places its used).

If you click on the morphology link (N-NSM) this translation shows you linguistic information for the word. Logos is a noun, and here it’s in the nominative case (identifying logos as the subject of the sentence), singular in number, and masculine gender (Greek has gendered nouns much like French or German). I use this tool most often to look up whether a word is singular or plural since you can’t always tell in English (e.g. when Paul says “you are the temple of God,” “you” is plural in the Greek but ambiguous in English).

Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries

In addition to these digital language tools, I also have two print dictionaries that I really like. These provide more complete definitions than the tools in eSword or MySword and also help you understand how different words relate to each other.

  • The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament* by Spiros Zodhiates—my favorite Greek dictionary. It uses Strong’s numbering system and is simple to use.
  • Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament* (TWOT) by Laird R. Hariss, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke — my favorite Hebrew dictionary. Rather than being tied to Strong’s numbers, this dictionary groups Hebrew words by their root, which provides a much deeper look at the nuances of the Hebrew language. The different numbering system can make this one a bit more challenging to use, but in MySword the BDB dictionary module makes things easy by telling you where to look up the word in TWOT.

Google Is Your Friend

Another general tool that I use a lot is a simple Google search. Don’t know what the Genitive Case is in Greek? There are language-learning tools to help you understand Greek grammar. Partly remember a verse but can’t find it in eSword, MySword, or BibleGateway? Try Googling the words you remember with the word “Bible” and it’ll help you figure out if it’s in a translation you hadn’t thought of or if it’s a quote from something else. Suddenly need an interlinear version of the Septuagint? I recently found one on StudyLight.org. We’re fortunate to live in a time when we have access to Bible Study tools people even just a few decades before could only dream about or could only access in specialized print books.

Finding Study Topics

Most of my Bible studies end up on this blog. That means I’m usually looking at specific topics when I study, so being able to search the Bible effectively, look up Hebrew and Greek words, and compare translations is super helpful. It’s also helpful to be listening to and reading things that prompt Bible-related ideas that can turn into studies which then show up here on my blog. Here are some of my favorite Christian resources for inspiring new studies:

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, not everyone Bible studies the same way, and that’s okay. We have different spiritual temperaments and different ways we most easily connect with God and His word. Some might spend more time reading whole books rather than focusing on topics. Some might find the most value in picking one verse and meditating on it for their whole study time. Others could read, then search for ways to put those lessons into real-world action. And I’m sure there are way more study styles than I could list here.

I like Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Pathways* as a tool to describe those temperaments (you can read my full review by clicking here). I most closely align with what he calls the “Contemplative” and “Intellectual” temperaments, and I suspect others with similar ways of relating to God will be the ones that find this post most useful (if they haven’t already tracked down similar resources of their own). Still, I hope some of these tools and resources will be helpful for you whatever your spiritual temperament. And I hope you’ll share some of your own favorite resources in the comments.

Featured image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

The Beatitudes, Part Eight: Blessed Are Those Who Have Been Persecuted

This last beatitude is probably the most difficult one to hear. The need for humility as we recognize our spiritual helplessness is something we can wrap our mind around. We know that mourning and grief are part of being human, and we welcome God’s promise of comfort. Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit and a character trait of Christ, so we know that it’s a good thing for us to learn. A hunger and thirst for righteousness is like a hunger and thirst for God. Giving and getting mercy and forgiveness is a familiar theme through scripture. We also know that we’re supposed to become like God, who is pure and perfect, so it’s no surprise that the “pure in heart” are blessed. And God loves peace so much that it seems natural for Jesus to call peacemakers children of God. But then we come to this last one.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:10, WEB

For many Christians around the world and throughout history, the idea that they’ll be persecuted for their faith is not shocking. In fact, Christianity is among the most persecuted religions in the world. Just last year, one report stated that “Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels'” in certain countries (BBC News, 3 May 2019). More recently, the 2020 World Watch List report released by Open Doors found that “1 in 8 believers, worldwide” “experience high levels of persecution” for their faith in Jesus Christ (click here for more information).

Here in the US, though, we have not experienced anything like this. Moreover, Western Christians in the modern world seem to have a sense that we shouldn’t be persecuted; as if somehow we deserve an exemption because we live in such evolved, democratic societies. And even if we don’t feel like that, persecution is frightening. It may even make us wonder if following Jesus is worth the cost. Perhaps that’s why this is the one beatitude that Jesus immediately elaborates on.

Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12, WEB

If we are persecuted (or worry we may be persecuted), this is the sort of thing we need to hear; a reassurance that we can hold tight to God and that He’ll take care of us. None of us are alone. God’s people don’t fit in with the rest of the world, and from the very earliest Bible records those who follow God faced opposition from the world. But they didn’t face it by themselves and neither will we, because God is on our side. Not only that, but we have a future goal to look forward to which is amazing enough to make whatever happens to us in this life seem like it really doesn’t matter.

Faithful and Righteous

The Hebrews 11 faith chapter comes to mind while reading about those who are persecuted and blessed. All the people listed there were faithful and righteous, and most faced persecutions of some sort. Abel was murdered. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not get along well with everyone they met, and some stole from or cheated them. Joseph was sold into slavery. Moses suffered abuse for Christ (Heb. 11:26, NET). David was hunted by Saul.

Others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others were tried by mocking and scourging, yes, moreover by bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn apart. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword. They went around in sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth.

Hebrews 11:35-38, WEB

I don’t much like reading this passage. The whole “sawn asunder” (v. 37, KJV) thing especially bothers me. But I think, like the people these verses are talking about did, we need to focus on this part: “That they might obtain a better resurrection.” Or, to quote a translation I recently fell in love with, “to obtain resurrection to a better life” (v. 35, NET).

The Beatitudes, Part Eight: Blessed Are Those Who Have Been Persecuted | LikeAnAnchor.com

When We Suffer, We’re Being Like Christ

Jesus promises that God has a reward for those who face persecution “for righteousness’ sake.” This isn’t a concept you hear much about in the world today, but righteousness is a key part of scripture. In a broad sense, Thayer’s dictionary defines it as the “state of him who is as he ought to be” (G1343, dikaiosune). God is righteous and He’s the one who models and defines righteousness for us. It involves obedience to God, personal integrity, “purity of life,” and “correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting” (Thayer).

Peter talks about the idea of suffering for righteousness several times in his first epistle. He says that “it is commendable” if you patiently endure suffering you don’t deserve “because of conscience toward God.” That is, after all, what Christ did (1 Pet. 2:19-25). Jesus suffered for our sins and if we suffer for following Him and doing God’s will, well, that’s better than if we were to suffer for doing wrong (1 Pet. 3:17-18).

But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.

1 Peter 3:14-16, NET (Old Testament quotes bolded in original)

When Peter wrote this epistle, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was thinking back to something Jesus told him and the other disciples at His last Passover here on earth. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. … they will do all these things to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know him who sent me” (John 15:20-21).

Count The Cost

Suffering as a Christian is pretty much guaranteed. If you aren’t persecuted for righteousness’ sake, scripture makes it seem like that’s actually more unusual than if you are. That’s one reason we’re told to count the cost before following Jesus; because this life demands commitment and sacrifice (Luke 14:25-35). When Paul counted that cost, even with all the persecutions he suffered (2 Cor. 11:23-28), he concluded that nothing else mattered as much as knowing Christ and that the rewards for following Him will be so amazing the suffering seems as nothing (Rom. 8:18-30).

Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death, if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:8-11, WEB

Paul says here that he “suffered the loss of all things,” and that’s in addition to all the direct persecutions he talks about in other epistles. But when he counted the cost of following Jesus, he still came to the conclusion that it was all worth the effort. He, like those in the faith chapter, “looked for the city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11: 10, WEB). He knew the reward for following God far outweighed any downsides.

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

The reward mentioned in this beatitude brings us full circle in our series of posts. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said at the beginning of this sermon on the mount, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:5, WEB). The New English Translation puts it a little differently: “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

When John the Baptist and then Jesus came preaching, they both said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:1-2; 4:17). Throughout Matthew’s gospel (other writers use the phrase “kingdom of God”), this emphasis on the kingdom of heaven continues. Jesus told us who would and would not enter the kingdom of heaven, taught us to pray “Let your kingdom come,” and shared analogies for what the kingdom is like (click for verse list).

One of the things Jesus said is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21, NET). Just a little earlier in the same sermon where He makes this statement, Jesus gives us a succinct guide in the form of Beatitudes to some of the ways we can align ourselves with God. This is what righteousness is about — not being “experts in the law” but going beyond that and learning to truly be like God (Matt. 5:18-20), even to the point that the same people who hate Jesus will also hate us because we are so much like Him. Yes, that may mean we are among “those who are persecuted for righteousness,” but “the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” And I think Paul is right when he says getting into that kingdom and being with God forever is worth whatever we might have to give up or go through in this life.

Featured image credit: Magnify Studio via Lightstock

The Beatitudes, Part Seven: Blessed Are The Peacemakers

The seventh type of person that Jesus talks about in what we call the beatitudes is the peacemaker. Like the others in this list, they are blessed — fully satisfied by God — and they also receive an additional, specific blessing.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Matthew 5:9, all quotes from WEB translation

Being part of God’s family is what He desires for everyone who He has called into His church. Here, Jesus specifically links being God’s children with being peacemakers. This is an activity that God, the ultimate peacemaker, does and it’s one He wants us to learn.

Much as in English, the Greek word for “peacemaker” basically means someone who makes peace. “Peace,” in this sense, is a tranquil, blessed state with security and without strife (eirene, G1515). The Hebrew equivalent is shalom wholeness; nothing missing and nothing broken.

Jesus’s Example

In Psalms and Proverbs, it talks about God making peace for His people by blocking their enemies from harming them (Ps. 147:14; Prov. 16:7). Moving beyond simply referring to “peace” as an absence of war, God promises to “make with them a covenant of peace” which will make them secure in their lands and involve God placing His dwelling among them (Ezk. 34:25; 37:26). It’s looking forward to the time when divisions between God and mankind are removed and there can be true, complete peace.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace.

Ephesians 2:13-15

Jesus “made peace through the blood of his cross” and reconciled us to God (Col. 1:20-22). Without that, there would be separation because of our sins, but God cared so much about making peace with us that Jesus died to remove those sins. He established a covenant of peace by giving His life. He was all-in as a peacemaker; fully committed to reconciling humanity and God.

Following Things of Peace

We know we’re to imitate Jesus, and that includes in His commitment to peacemaking. He is the Sar Shalom — Prince of Peace (Is. 9:16-17) — and His people also value peace. If we have His spirit and wisdom inside us, we will “make peace” and sow “the fruit of righteousness” in peace (James 3:17-18).

So then, let’s follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up.

Romans 14:9

If you look at this verse in-context, Paul is telling us that how we treat each other is more important than making sure we all believe the same things on relatively minor topics. One of God’s primary expectations for those in His church is that they will live at peace with each other. This requires humility and selfless care for others (Phil. 2:1-4) and a commitment to living out the fruit of the spirit, including peace (Gal. 5:22-23).

A Family at Peace

The Beatitudes, Part Seven: Blessed Are The Peacemakers | LikeAnAnchor.com

God is building a family. He does not want a family full of petty bickering, but one of peace. Right now, there are two fully spirit, immortal members of the God-family: Father and Son. Their relationship is so close that Jesus told us, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Their goal is that we may also be one with them, and with each other in them (John 17:11, 20-23).

See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know him. Beloved, now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we will be; but we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure.

1 John 3:1-3

Being children of God involves imitating our Father. Here, John describes that imitation as becoming pure, as God is pure, but we can also include other godly character traits and roles within that goal, including peacemaking. Being a peacemaker is part of living according to God’s spirit — which He gives us as a key part of adopting us as His children — rather than according to the lusts of our flesh (Rom. 8:1-17).

Dear readers, let’s be peacemakers, especially now as we’re living in a time when it’s so easy to divide instead of unite. God has given us His spirit if we’ve committed our lives to Him. And through His spirit, we have what we need to not only be His children, but to act like we’re part of His family by mimicking Him in every aspect of our lives.

The Beatitudes, Part Six: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

We’ve been looking at the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount over the past several weeks. Now we’re up to the sixth of these attitudes that Jesus says result in blessings from God. Those who are “blessed” in this sense are fully satisfied by God, and each also receives a specific blessing to go along with that. For example,

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt. 5:8, all quotes from WEB translation)

Those pure in their hearts are fully satisfied by God, and they get to see Him. It’s a wonderful thing to think about, though when you start to ponder the idea of seeing God more questions come up. What does it mean to see God? How and when will this happen? And what does it actually mean to have a pure heart in the sense used here?

Washing By Jesus

Purity starts with something God does. Jesus told His disciples that they were “pruned clean because of the word” He spoke to them (John 15:3), and that’s the same Greek word translated “pure” in Matthew’s gospel (G2513 katharos). He also said they were “completely clean” if they let Him wash them (John 13:8-10). Extending this to all believers, Peter talks about God’s work with the Gentiles, saying, “He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). It is God’s work in us that gives us pure hearts; we can’t get to that state on our own.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6)

We are washed by the blood of Jesus from all uncleanness that comes from sin. None of us are exempt from the consequences of sin, nor can we fix that problem on our own. We can come to Jesus boldly, though, knowing that He will take care of cleansing us from our sins and making us fit to not only enter God’s presence but become part of His family.

let’s draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure water (Heb. 10:22)

Cleansed In God’s Presence

Back in Old Testament times, God had clear criteria for who He would allow into His temple and therefore His presence. Part of this criteria had to do with ceremonial cleanliness, but even under the first covenant there was a deeper application as well.

Who may ascend to Yahweh’s hill? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully. (Ps. 24:3-4)

You needed a pure heart to get into God’s presence. Jesus’ sacrifice washing us clean takes care of all our ceremonial uncleanness, and it also purifies our hearts. Through Him, we have access to God at a deeper level than was typically possible before the New Covenant. This doesn’t take all the responsibly out of our hands, though. Once our hearts are purified, we play a role in keeping them that way. We do that by following God faithfully and by asking Him for new cleansing if we stumble.

Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth through the Spirit in sincere brotherly affection, love one another from the heart fervently, having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and remains forever. (1 Pet. 1:22-23)

Seeing God’s Face

This idea of being purified to enter God’s presence connects with seeing God’s face. Ultimately, we will see God “as He is” after the resurrection when He welcomes us as spirit-beings into His kingdom (Job 19:26; 1 John 3:1-2). Until then, no ones sees the Father’s face but many people have seen God through Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 14:8-9). We can actually have a “faces to faces” relationship with God today in the sense that we can know Him, see who He really is, and form a close relationship with Him.

seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

Seeing God will be literal in the future, but for now it’s more metaphorical. John said, “He who does evil hasn’t seen God,” which implies that those who do not do evil have seen God (3 John 1:11). When we pursue a relationship with God and commit to living life the way He expects of us, out of a pure heart, then we get the chance to “see” God.

One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple. … When you said, “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “I will seek your face, Yahweh.” (Ps. 27: 4, 8)

What a blessing it is to have Jesus personally purify our hearts so that we can have a face-to-face relationship with Him and His Father! There is nothing more precious than the chance to know God intimately and be known by Him.

Featured image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The Beatitudes, Part Five: Blessed Are The Merciful

I recently read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson, shortly after watching the film adaptation (both are excellent, by the way; I highly recommend reading and watching). Mercy and justice are tricky things for us humans to balance. We don’t have perfect perspective on every situation. We don’t know all the relevant facts. We want justice but we often mishandle it badly. And for some reason, it’s often hard to show mercy or to convince others it’s a good idea.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7, all quotes from WEB translation)

We all need mercy, particularly from God. We also all need to give mercy, otherwise we won’t receive any. It’s the same principle as forgiveness. As Jesus says just a little later in the same sermon where He gives us the Beatitudes,

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15)

Reciprocal Mercy

The relation between the character trait and how God rewards it is very direct in this particular Beatitude. You give mercy, you get mercy. And it’s not just about passively letting mercy happen or giving it only when absolutely necessary. The Greek word eleemon (G1655) is “active compassion and benevolence involving thought and action.” It is an expression of the love inside you, and it’s closely related to other words like elos (G1656, applied grace, pity, compassion) and eleemosune (G1654, actions of mercy) (Zodhiates’ dictionary). Here’s the only other place this specific form of the word for “mercy” is used in scripture:

Therefore he was obligated in all things to be made like his brothers, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17)

We’re to have the same kind of mercy that Jesus has as a result of His life here on earth as a human being. He learned what it’s like to be human and that gave Him an even deeper compassion for us than God had before (which was already bountiful).

It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)

Yahweh is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and of great loving kindness. Yahweh is good to all. His tender mercies are over all his works. (Ps. 145:8-9)

Don’t Miss The Point

Mercy is something Jesus was looking for, and which He taught, while on this earth. One of the things He taught was that faith which refuses to show mercy is empty and dead. For example, when the Pharisees berated him for eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus said,

“Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matt. 9:12-13)

He was quoting Hosea 6:6, no doubt a very familiar verse to the religious leaders and experts of His day, and telling them they didn’t understand what it means. At least a few of them probably had all of Hosea memorized, and here’s this young rabbi from Nazareth (of all places) telling them they’re missing the point of this scripture. It’s no wonder the Pharisees were offended, nor is it any wonder so many of the people they’d treated without mercy responded with joy to Jesus’s message. Jesus was boldly proclaiming the mercy which has always been a part of God’s plan, and He made very clear that this mercy did not belong only to an elite group. It is for all His people.

To Ransom With Mercy

If you are reading this the weekend it posted, we just observed Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) less than a week ago. This solemn, holy day represents God’s covering mercy. A more direct translation of the Hebrew words kippur and kaphar might be “to cover (G3722, Strong’s dictionary; Brown, Driver, and Briggs lexicon). However, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament challenges that interpretation and instead links atonement, ransom, and the mercy seat. This word family is about reconciliation made possible by the removal of sins rather than by covering them over (TWOT entry 1023).

On Yom Kippur, the Old Testament priest made a special sacrifice and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat — the place of atonement/propitiation (TWOT 1023c). Sacrifice in this situation, as well as in the more general sense, “was the symbolic expression of an innocent life given for a guilty life” (TWOT 1023a). This concept gains even more meaning in the New Covenant observance of Yom Kippur because Jesus the Messiah is the innocent life given in ransom for our guilty lives.

So what does this have to do with the Beatitudes? Everything. To receive this sort of mercy, we have to show this sort of mercy. it is an imperative. God makes the first move — Jesus has already died for us and grace in Him is given freely, not earned by anything we do. But if we do not respond to His gift by showing mercy, He can take back His mercy (Matt. 18:21-35).

What Mercy Looks Like

Jesus told a parable about a man who owed his lord an impossible debt (about 300 metric tons of silver) and was forgiven everything he owed. That man went to one of the other servants who owed him a very small amount (about 500 grams of silver) and refused offer forgiveness. He didn’t even respond to that man’s pleas for patience in repaying the debt. At the end of the parable, the lord says, “Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:33).

If we want to know what mercy looks like, we need only look to God. How has He been merciful to you? Go and treat other people that way. Show mercy, as the good Samaritan did (Luke 10:25-37). And to it with cheerfulness, not out of grudging necessity (Rom. 12:8). Present yourself a living sacrifice to do God’s will, remembering His great mercy toward you (Rom. 12:1). Be tender and compassionate to your brethren (Phil. 2:1-2).

It seems so simplistic to say that God just wants us to love each other and treat each other with compassion and mercy. But that is what He wants. It’s not too much to ask, and the more we become like Him the easier it will be to respond with love and mercy to everyone around us.

Featured image credit: Who Is Like The Lord via Lightstock

The Beatitudes, Part Four: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness

I’m trying to remember the last time I heard someone use the word “righteous” in a positive way, outside of a sermon or a Bible-study discussion. Most of the time in the modern world, this word is paired with “self-righteous” and used as an insult. Righteousness, like many other character traits that are closely associated with God, is not really seen as a good thing in today’s society.

As with many of the traits Jesus talked about in the Beatitudes, though, God has a different view on this than the world does. he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6, all quotes from WEB translation). As we talked about in the second post of this series, “blessed” means fully satisfied by God, which is a very concrete image when we talk about feeding someone who’s hungry. 

Filled With More Than Food

This fourth Beatitude is not the only time God uses imagery of filling His people’s hunger to make a larger point about what we desire and how we relate to Him.

“Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in richness.” (Is. 55:1-2)

God is committed to filling our needs with good things. The same word used in “they shall be filled” is used for the people who ate loaves and fishes after Jesus multiplied food for the multitudes (Matt. 14:20; 15:37). It means filled to satisfaction, even gorged, on abundant food (G5526, chortazo). But, as we have seen, He doesn’t stop at physical food and drink.

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The satisfaction that Jesus and the Father offer for our hunger and thirst goes far deeper than one meal. They are filling us with their holy spirit; with their power and presence.

Craving Righteousness

The people spoken of in this beatitude are hungry and thirsty for a specific thing: righteousness. Though its importance is overlooked or scorned at by the world, righteousness is a pivotal concept for the people of God. Later in this same sermon, Jesus says, “seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). There is a blessing in this seeking, for God promises to fill us with more than “just” righteousness.

and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph. 4:23-24)

When we seek for God to fill us, He responds by sharing all His character traits with us. He’s making us part of His family, and growing in righteousness is a key part of that.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)

We all know that having a close relationship with God is a central part of our Christian faith, and becoming like Him is a core part of that. He does not expect us to get things right all the time, but He does expect us to keep growing and learning and trying to be like Him. To do that, we need to actively practice His character traits, including righteousness, which is defined as having integrity, virtue, and “correctness of thinking,” all while living in a way that is “acceptable to God” (G1343, dikaiosune, Thayer’s dictionary).

Hunger For God

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is essentially a hunger and thirst for God. One of His Hebrew names is Yahweh Tsidquenu — Yahweh our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). Along these same lines, Paul wrote that Jesus “was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is in Him that we can “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:11)

Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” When He fills our hunger and thirst for righteousness — for Him — He makes us capable of producing righteousness as well. Our Father is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:18), and that includes the fruits of His righteous character. As we commit to seeking Him and His righteousness, He will fill our desire to draw nearer to Him.

Featured image credit:  Igor Link from Pixabay