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Self-absorption is defined as "a preoccupation with one's own feelings, interests, or situation."  By nature, every person is self-absorbed (selfish). We constantly think about how we feel, what we like, and how we can change (i.e., "fix") people around us to better enjoy our lives than we do thinking about what is best for others.

Selfishness is like a slithering snake with a poisonous bite. Nobody sees it because as it silently and secretly slithers closer. It is rarely noticed until it strikes. Few flaunt their love for self, and most deny ever loving self.

When one thinks about self-absorption biblically (and logically), one can trace the source of every sin to the serpent of self-absorption  "For where there is self-absorption (i.e., "envy") and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice" (James 3:16).

Here are a few symptoms of the poison of self-absorption:

1. Your finger freezes in a permanent position of pointing at others.
2. Your brain fixates on fixing others with nary a thought of fixing yourself
3. Your tongue casts continual condemnations of character - in others.
4. Your eyes lock on the worst in others but go blind when looking at yourself.
5. Your heart is searing in pain, and you can't "love" the person you blame for the pain.

Self-absorption must be crushed to live life to its fullest.

I must die to self.

That's why everyone needs Jesus. Jesus alone has the power to crush the head of the serpent that poisons my life. Surrendering to Him as Lord moves me from concentrating on others and their problems to focusing only on the sin in me (Genesis 3:15). To be His disciple, "I must die daily to self and follow Him" (Luke 9:23).

So how do I know Jesus has crushed the head of the serpent in my life?

Love Is the Antidote

"By your love will all know that you are my disciple" (John 13:35).

There used to run on television a Wendy's commercial where an elderly lady would order a hamburger from a rival hamburger chain, separate the buns, and ask the question, "Where's the beef?"

I think those of us who name Christ as Lord should ask the question: "Where's the love?" 

I can claim to be Christ's disciple, and I can say I love others, but the proof is in the doing, not the speaking (or singing). Christ is to daily transform the way I think, speak, and live. He fills me with love for others.

Christ crushes the source of my self-absorption. He empowers me to love others as He loves me.

Love In the Mirror

When a self-absorbed person says, "I love you," what is actually meant is "You make me feel good," or "You make me look good," or "You make my life good."

Christ slays self-absorption and fills the heart with real love.

So what does this love look like?

It is beautifully described in I Corinthians 13. If you want to know if your way of living life is void of self-absorption and filled with real love, review the following fifteen characteristics of love.



1. Love is patient.

The Greek word translated "patience" is a compound word meaning longsuffering. I don't really display the love of God until I suffer. More pointedly, real love involves suffering a long time. To love while suffering is like the dark side of the moon. It is rarely seen or discussed. We all suffer deceit, broken promises, slander, disrespect, unjust anger, rejection, and innumerable kinds of other injuries. Most people "want out" of relationship when that happens. Do I suffer and love?

2. Love is kind.

Kindness is more than just "grinning and bearing it." This biblical word kindness means "doing good." "Do not repay evil for evil to anyone; but always do good to all" (Romans 12:17, 21). That is love.  Love is not saying "I love you" because "You make me feel good," rather love is showing "I love you" by doing kind things for you even when you're evil towards me. 

3. Love does not envy. 

Christ causes His people to feel content "whether our rank is as high as that of angels, or as low as that of beggars." We have learned, by God's grace, to be content in any situation we are in (Philippians 4:11). So we "rejoice with those that are rejoicing" (Romans 12:15). Love means we find happiness in seeing others prosper. 

4. Love does not boast.

Love never exalts myself to a superior position by saying, "I would never do that!" or "That's one thing that can't be said about me!" Boasting is a declaration of comparison. Boasting is the belief that others are not as good as I. Rather than saying, "I am the very least of all the saints" (Ephesians 3:8) and "I am the foremost of sinners" (I Timothy 1:15), I'm conveying "I don't deserve this" through a spirit of superiority.  When I compare and boast I am defending myself, not loving others outside of myself.

5. Love is not arrogant (proud).

The difference between boasting and arrogance is similar to the difference between what is displayed on the outside of the house and what actually goes on in inside. Arrogance is an attitude; boasting is a behavior. I must be careful from assigning pride to others (I do not know others' hearts), but I must be diligent in identifying pride within myself. Love is not proud. Humility is not stooping to be smaller than I am, Humility is standing at my true height with an appreciation for the Highest. When I truly see God, I see myself as no big deal.  

6. Love does not dishonor others.

Facebook, politics, and Hollywood seek to convince me that rude, uncouth, unbecoming individuals are people I should admire or imitate. But Christ tells me something different. "Love does not act unbecomingly"  When I am rude, denigrating, and dishonoring to others, it's a sign that self-absorption rules and Christ's love is absent. Outward disappropriation of you is a sign of Divine reprobation in me.

7. Love is not self-seeking.

Before Christ, life was all about self. It was all about demanding my rights, getting what is due me, and forging my way ahead of others. But Jesus performs a transformational change within. He changes the inner compass. "Love is not self-seeking." As Albert Barnes writes,  "No man is a Christian who lives for himself alone. No man is a Christian who does not deny himself. No one who's not willing to sacrifice his own comfort, time, wealth, and ease, to advance the welfare of mankind has any part in Christ."

8. Love is not easily provoked.

The word translated provoke (paroxynomai) means "to make sharp, sharpen" as in stir up, stimulate,  irritate, arouse to anger, or exasperate. This verse is translated "not easily provoked" (KJV), "not provoked" (NASB, NKJV), "not irritable" (ESV), "not upset with others" (NCV). It's used only 4 times in the New Testament. Whenever we allow another person to control our emotions, we reveal self-absorption. We want to "feel," "experience,' or "live" a certain way, and the person who "provokes us" is getting in our way. What is it everyone wants in life? "What is desired in a man is steadfast love" (Proverbs 19:22). When I develop the habit of turning to the steadfast love of God (Psalm 33:20-22).

9. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

There is a distinction to be made between wrongs suffered by me and wrongs suffered by others. Resentment over the former is called hate; resentment over the latter is called honor. The refusal to keep a record of wrongs perpetrated against me is an act of genuine love. But God calls on me to protect the weak, the persecuted, and the defenseless people in our world, so I must notice wrongs done to others (and keep a record). "Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 82:4).  God never wastes my experiences or sorrows. He reigns over the affairs of my life with transcendent goodness. I can rest, refusing to keep a record of wrongs done to me because "we know that God causes all things to work together for good" (Romans 8:28). Do you know this to be true in your life? If so, you'll keep no list of the wrongs done toward you. 

List keeping of the wrongs done toward you is not a list kept on a refrigerator door. It is a list locked in your mind and heart and revealed through your language:
List keepers use absolute language. "You always, you never, I would never, etc."
List keepers relate based on performance. Loved ones get tired of trying to measure up.
List keepers can't trust; they protect themselves. The prospect of future hurt paralyzes relationships.
List keepers hurt people because they hurt themselves. Healing only comes from Christ.
10. Love does not delight in unrighteousness.

What does this mean? The word unrighteousness translates the Greek adikia (a = not + dikê = right) and means "a condition of not being right."  A loving person will take steps to make right what is not right, help straighten what is bent, correct what is crooked, and adust what is unjust. But the motivation is always for the betterment of others, never oneself. Since God alone has the power to make right the unrighteous, God's people are only tools in God's hand. The tools remain on the shelf if the crooked one is blind to his crookedness. So we pray that God will turn on the light in another person's heart and patiently wait to be used by God when He turns the light on.

11. Love rejoices with the truth.

When Jesus is Lord, we come to grips with reality and rejoice! This is who I am. This is what I've done. This is where I've been. This is me. Truth in Greek is the compound word alethia. The little "a" means—not,  and "lethe" means - hiding; So truth means "not forgetting" or "not hiding" In ancient Greek mythology Lethe was the daughter of Eris, goddess of strife and discord. Lethe was known for her sleeping and hiding in the shadows. She is often contrasted to the goddess of memory and light—Mnemosyne. The Greeks gave to the river that flows through the valley of Hades the name Lethe. Ancient Greeks believed that souls were made to drink from the river Lethe before being reincarnated so that they would not remember their past lives. This forgetting and concealing were "good things" to the ancients. But for the Christian. The little "a" (not) before "lethe" best describes who we are. Love never allows us to forget our faults and never encourages us to hide our harmful habits. We rejoice in alethia because God loves us "even when we were sinners." Why seek to get steadfast love from anyone else but Him.  The person who rejoices with the truth is always quick to seek forgiveness of others and never hides in shame when faults are pointed out by others because he or she is secure in God's love for them.

12. Love bears people.

The word "bear" in English translates the Greek word stego. This words means "to cover" or "to hide." It conveys the idea that you will "cover" or "hide" the faults of those you love. You might object and say, "Wait! We just read that love "rejoices in the truth!" You're correct. Alethia means "to not hide" and people who love always rejoice in not hiding. So which is it? Do we hide and cover or do we not hide and not cover? 

Answer: Love means I am open about my faults, but I cover the faults of others. In every marriage counseling session when one spouse is more vocal about their mates' faults, I immediately began asking probing questions of the one pointing his or her finger at the other person. Marriages ultimately break down because someone is refusing to love the other person. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (I Peter 4:8). We are not ashamed to reveal our faults, our failures, our wrongs, our past, our sins. Jesus Christ has removed the guilt we feel and given us the love we need; we are open. But we get no joy or satisfaction pointing out weaknesses and failures in those we love.

This "bearing" does not mean "enabling." Not at all. Love means that I will always talk to the one I love about his problems for his sake, but I will refuse to talk with other people the problems of the one I love. 
13. Love believes people.

Love looks beyond where a person has been to where a person is headed. That means one who loves looks beyond what others have done to what others are declaring. Love believes. This truth might cause some concern in some because it's different than what many have been taught. "Talk is cheap," we are told. "Doing is proving it." That's true when it comes to a personal evaluation of myself. But placing others on a performance scale is the opposite of loving people. Peter asked, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? (Matthew 18:21). Jesus responded, "Seventy times seven!" which actually is a Hebraism for infinity. There is never an occasion where you are not to forgive the one you love.  In a parallel passage, Jesus says. "If your loved one sins against you seven times in a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him" (Luke 17:4). The disciples respond, "Lord, increase our faith." (Matthew 5:38-48). It's not increased faith that is needed; it's increased love. Love believes the person who says, even if the person does repeatedly opposite of what he says. Believing others doesn't do us any real harm because being hoodwinked and defrauded by others is in God's hands, not ours. It's better to believe in someone and have your heart broken than to have no heart. British poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." If you've ever told somebody, "I don't believe you," you're actually saying, "I don't love you."

14. Love hopes all things.

"Love hopes" is not "wishful thinking" about other people. Hope conveys a settled certainty. Hope is the Greek word elpizo, and if you make elpizo negative by adding the preposition "a" in Greek (apelpizo), you have the Greek word  for "despair."  Hope in all people means you never despair over people. When I love others by never losing hope in people, I will not let myself become dependant on the actions of another for my personal happiness. I will never shut myself off from one who has mistreated me or wronged me. I will recognize that life's events are orchestrated by God for my good and His glory. I will always be conscious and aware that my need for control reveals my distrust in God. I will live life with the joy of each present moment and without any fear over the future. "Therefore having such a hope, we have great boldness" (II Corinthians 3:12).


15. Love endures all things.

When I endure, I abide in a relationship and do not personally abandon. This word "endure" is the Greek word hupomeno and occurs seventeen times in the New Testament. It is a compound word: hupounder and menoabide. It means "to abide under a burden." When I love someone, I don't abandon him or her, but you abide in the relationship. When I endure, I support you and feel no need to shame you. I am not enduring when things are going well; I am enjoying.  Endurance speaks of a burden. "Hupo" refers a willingness to abide under a burden, to lift, and to support. When I endure others and the burdens they bring, I love people the way Christ loves me. "Let's fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 12:2). 

Summary: Next time we're moved to declare our love, we might consider reading I Corinthians 13 to ensure the love we profess is our way of living and not just our way of speaking. 



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Of the dozens of Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament, each of them beautifully fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ to bring "peace" (i.e. the meaning of the Hebrew word Shiloh) between sinners and our Creator, the prophecy from Genesis 49:10 is my favorite.
"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples."
If you have 27 minutes to spare and a willing mind, take half an hour to cement your understanding of why the Bible is unique among all other books and Jesus is the Messiah sent from God.

Wade Burleson: Until Shiloh Comes from Emmanuel Enid on Vimeo.
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John Allen Chau
John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old graduate of Oral Roberts University and an American missionary in the Pacific, was killed November 21, 2018, by indigenous people on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal.

For centuries, the Sentinelese people have resisted all contact with the outside world, sometimes violently. As a result, the Sentinelese people have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

National Public Radio reports that Chau's death has launched a national debate over the appropriateness of evangelizing cultures which are either ignorant of or hostile to Christianity, especially when the evangelist faces potential death for sharing Christ.  

The debate is not new.

200 years ago another missionary, a Choctaw Indian named Oakchiah, faced imminent death for boldly sharing Christ with a culture hostile to Christianity. 

The culture was the Choctaw tribe.  

The threat of death came from Oakchiah's own father

On the south bank of the Arkansas River, just north of the old fort from which Fort Smith, Arkansas
Old Fort Smith, Burial Place of Oakchiah
draws her name, lies buried an Indian named Oakchiah. 

Born in Mississippi in April 1810, Oakchiah grew up in a full-blood Choctaw family steeped in traditional ways, living in what is called "The Old Choctaw Nation."

Previous to the Choctaws forcible removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the U.S. government during the 1820s and 1830s, an awakening of Christian faith came to the Choctaws. Many tribal natives came to faith in Jesus Christ. 

Oakchiah was one of the Christian converts. 

According to those acquainted with Oakchiah after his conversion,  the young Choctaw Indian was an active, energetic, and zealous disciple of Christ. He desired that those among his people who still walked in darkness come to know Christ.  He took the Christian name William Winans at his baptism, but he also retained his Indian name Oakchiah until his death. 

Whenever an opportunity was given to Oakchiah, he would speak boldly of Christ to his fellow Indians, warning in his native tongue that his people should repent of their sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Oakchiah was not a tall Choctaw, standing only about five feet and five inches. He was thin and delicate in frame, with an expressive face. He spoke in a dignified, graceful, and easy manner. His fellow Indians considered him popular, earnest, and very successful preacher. He conveyed his message gently and soothingly, melting the hearts of the hearers. A contemporary said, “In almost every instance when I have heard him preach, the congregations have been bathed in tears before the sermon closed.”

But Oakchia's message troubled and offended many who were wed to the old ways. Bitter persecutions arose against Oakchiah from within his own family. Oakchiah's earthly father told him that if he ever again spoke to the people about Christ, he would kill him. 

Duly warned, Oakchiah had a decision to make before the next council meeting. 

Would he heed the advice of his father and be silent about Christ? Or would Oakchiah risk his own life and again appeal to the Choctaws to turn to Christ for salvation? 

Oakchiah chose to continue to preach the gospel of Christ. He knew his decision would cost him his life. 

Having faithfully preached Christ to his people for the last time, as he supposed, he returned to meet his infuriated parent, at the threshold of the cabin. There the father stood with form erect, broad and athletic, in the vigor of manhood; his tawny visage was rendered almost black by the malice which rankled in his breast; the deadly rifle was in his hand, and he was fully prepared to consummate his fiend like purpose.
Oakchiah approached, expecting to fall, but was calm and fearless; for he was in the discharge of duty, and God’s grace wonderfully strengthened and sustained him in the dark hour of trial. With deep peace in his soul and with love beaming in his countenance, and with unusual tenderness in the intonations of his voice, he addressed his parent:
 "Father, will you shoot me? What have I done that I must die so soon? Father, I die a Christian, and shall go to the land of the pure and good to live with the blessed Savior!"
Although the rifle had been leveled to take deadly aim the old man paused, his muscles relaxed, the weapon fell to the ground, and a torrent of tears gushed from his eyes, and flowed down his cheeks. He was a warrior who could boldly meet the deadly foe on the battle-field; his spirit never cowered in presence of danger or of death; he scorned the rage and power of man; but the meek spirit of a follower of Christ completely unmanned him. In such forbearance and love he saw arguments irresistible in favor of the Christian religion. Thus the father was conquered; his haughty spirit was subdued; he became deeply penitent, and was soon numbered with the believers in Jesus.
Oakchiah would later become a missionary among his own people in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), faithfully preaching Christ among his own people. 

Not many Oklahomans know of this preacher of the gospel buried right across our border on the southern bank of the Arkansas River, but the testimony of faithful preachers like Oakchiah encourage me to realize that true gospel preachers are always willing to pay the price, with a loving spirit, for the cause of truth.

It's too early to know, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if God uses Chau like he used Oakchia to soften the hearts of many to the ways of Christ. 

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From all accounts of those who are friends with the new President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and from my brief interactions with Paul Chitwood while we served together as fellow trustees of the IMB during three contentious and controversial years (2005-2008), Paul Chitwood is a personable fellow.  I wish him the best in his new role as President of the largest missions sending organization in the world.

I also question Paul Chitwood's biblical intelligence and his adherence to Landmark Baptist identity (Please read this link very carefully). 

Paul Chitwood was the Chairman of the Personnel Committee of the International Mission Board when trustee leadership unwisely sought to remove me from serving as a fellow trustee at the IMB in 2006.

I opposed internal IMB policies on baptism and a "private prayer language," policies which exceeded the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and were surreptitiously passed in a veiled attempt to remove Jerry Rankin as President of the International Board. Ten years later, with little fanfare, the policies I initially opposed were officially reversed by the trustees of the International Mission Board. The labor and delivery times of the baby named wisdom are often painful and prolonged, but in the end, wisdom is always birthed in the Kingdom of Christ.

It's a painful time of waiting for the delivery of wisdom in the SBC

J.D. Greear, a pastor in North Carolina in 2008 and elected the President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2018, put his name on a list of pastors who opposed the IMB's ill-advised policies way back in 2008.

That's wisdom.

Paul Chitwood in 2008 was at the forefront of defending the unwise and unbiblical policies.

That, in my book, is foolish, unconscionable, and indefensible.

After Paul Chitwood and the Executive Committee of the International Mission Board unwisely and unsuccessfully sought to remove me as an IMB trustee, Chairman Paul Chitwood wrote to Frank Page, asking for a "White Paper" to defend the new policies he had helped implement. 

Let me repeat what I just wrote.

Paul Chitwood and the Executive Committee of the International Mission Board implemented doctrinal policies at the IMB in 2005 that exceeded the BFM 2000, violated the constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention, and only after my opposition to those policies, then wrote a letter requesting a white paper defending the policy changes.

Typically a white paper is presented before a recommendation of policy changes. Visionary, astute leaders think before acting on behalf of an organization.  When organizational leaders act before thinking, that organization is in trouble.

I have been warning the Southern Baptist Convention for 15 years about the dangers of Baptist Identity (e.g. "Landmarkism").

Where Paul Chitwood takes the SBC's missions organization will be largely dependent on whether or not Southern Baptists pay attention in the future as to what's happening at their International Mission Board.
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Dave Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, co-authors of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (and a host of other helpful books), are speaking at a conference at Emmanuel Enid this week.

Sunday morning, Dave mentioned an obscure passage in Numbers 11:1-3 where the Scripture names a place in the Wilderness where the people of God continually complained about the difficulties of their lives and their dissatisfaction in God's provision for them. The people of Israel kept complaining "it could be better." The discontent people died at a place the English Bible translates Taberah.

The Hebrew name for that place is literally קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה (kibroth hattaavah) or in English, "graves of craving." 

Hunger is different from craving. Israel wasn't hungry. God fed them with manna every morning. Israel was craving something different. They craved the meats of Egypt rather than the manna (food) God provided every morning.

In the passage immediately following the name of the place where God's people died,  Moses describes their intense cravings for the things they had while they were in Egyptian bondage (Numbers 11:4-35).

A craving is "a strong wanting of what promises enjoyment or pleasure."

Israel's cravings would have taken them back to a place of bondage, destruction, and ultimate death (Egypt), but at least they would "enjoy" the journey.  So they were afflicted, died, and were buried in "graves of craving." 

They never made it to the Promised Land. 

Israel convinced themselves, “It was well with us in Egypt.”

It wasn't. 

But cravings have a way of causing God's people to miss our future purpose, to be confused about our past, and to be blind during the present.

Forgetfulness of  God's goodness and loving purpose is the soil where the plant of craving thrives. 

Next time you feel compelled toward a secret sin that is a compelling addiction that brings you pleasure or joy, ask yourself "Why am I craving this?"

The answer may reside in a lack of comprehension or appreciation for God's miraculous intervention and goodness in your life through the Lord Jesus.

Don't allow your life to end in a grave of craving. 
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I will sometimes look at the metrics of Blogger and be surprised at the number of hits certain blogposts receive. In 2014 I wrote a post entitled The Rich Man and Lazarus: A Warning to Preachers and was recently surprised at the large number of unique "hits" this post has received. I've gone back and read this post and realized it is also one of my favorites.

In an effort to connect with some folks who may have missed this post when first published, I'm re-posting with a couple of edits. My hope is that those who are truly interested in Scripture will consider the caution Jesus gives to the professionally religious from this parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus didn't intend this parable as a doctrinal dissertation on the nature of hell. Rather, He was issuing a strong warning to the religious leaders of His day who used their positions of "authority" to fleece and abuse God’s people.

Here is the parable from Luke 16:19-31. I have emphasized in italicized bold the words deserving of your special attention:
"(19) Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— (28) for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (31) But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
It is a given that those who seek diamonds must be experts at moving dirt. Digging in dirt is never enjoyable, but the anticipation of reward makes the effort bearable. So it is with Bible study. If you wish to find a diamond, you must work. So, bear with me, and let's do just a little work. It's worth it, I promise.

To understand the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus you must be familiar with a very obscure passage of Scripture that mentions seven political and religious leaders of Jesus day. It's found in Luke 3:1-2.
"Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness." (Luke 3:1-2).
Luke is introducing two Roman rulers, three Hebrew political leaders, and two Jewish religious leaders who were the chief antagonists of Jesus Christ throughout His earthly ministry. One cannot understand the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus without an understanding that Jesus tells this parable in order to rebuke the religious leaders of His day while at the same ignoring the political leaders. Frankly, we would be wise to model ourselves after Christ.

Principle: Quit worrying over the character and the abuse of power of our political leaders (they will always be corrupt), but never hesitate to rebuke those religious leaders who fleece God's people (they should not be corrupt).

(A). The Roman Rulers: Tiberius was the adopted son and sole heir of Augustus Caesar. He was the emperor of Rome (Caesar) throughout Jesus ministry. He became co-regent of the Roman Empire in AD 12 when his ailing adoptive father (Augustus)  became bedridden and could no longer function as emperor. Luke gives the date for the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry as 'the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar' (AD 26/27). Jesus once answered a question about paying taxes to Rome by saying, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's." The Caesar to whom He referred was this Tiberius in Luke 3. Augustus Caesar was emperor over the Roman empire when Christ was born at Bethlehem. Augustus' son, Tiberius Caesar, was emperor over the Roman empire when Christ was crucified. The second Roman official named in this text is the infamous Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea. He is the Roman official who presides over the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. The American modern equivalent to Tiberius Caesar would be the President of the United States, and Pontius Pilate would be a state governor.

(B). The Hebrew Political Leaders: Luke then names three Hebrew political officials who ruled during Jesus' ministry in Judea - Herod, Philip the Tetrarch (Herod's brother), and Lysanias. Who are these three men? They are the 'leaders' of the ethnic Jews in Jesus day. They were also the sons and political heirs of Herod the Great, the former 'king of the Jews' who died in 4 BC. Herod the Great went ballistic when the wise men asked him "Where is He who is born king of the Jews?" because he (Herod the Great) was already king of the Jews. Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ. His political kingdom was then divided into regional fourths (Greek: tetrarchys) and distributed among his surviving sons to rule (tetrarchs). Leaders of the Judean tetrarchy mentioned in Luke 3 included Herod (nicknamed Antipas), Philip (often called Philip the Tetrarch), and Lysanias. These men were powerful among the Jews, but they couldn't do anything without Rome's permission

At the birth of Jesus, we read in Matthew 2 that Herod the Great was 'king of the Jews.' Thirty-three years later when Jesus is crucified, we read in Luke 23 that Herod orders soldiers to beat Christ and take him to Pilate. This 'Herod' at Christ's crucifixion is the Herod mentioned in Luke 3. He is the son of Herod the Great and is sometimes called Herod Antipas. The quarter of the region Herod was given to 'rule' as tetrarch included Galilee, the land where both John and Jesus based their ministries.  Herod Antipas is the one who had John the Baptist beheaded (picture).

In the ethnic melting pot we call the United States, it is difficult to find a modern equivalent to the tetrarchy positions held by Herod, Philip, and Lysanias. The closest equivalent might be those men who rule over individual political parties, major corporations, unions, and other powerful economic, political, and cultural entities within America. These positions aren't the highest of authority, for they must answer to 'Caesar,' but they have a great deal of influence over a specific category of people.

(C). The Jewish Religious Leaders: Two Wealthy, Powerful Priests. The final two men named by Luke in Luke 3:1-3 are  religious leaders who served as high priests of Israel.  Their names are Annas and Caiaphas. Modern Christians know very little about these two men. Annas was high priest over Israel for ten years (AD 6-15), until at the age of 36, he was removed by the Roman governor Guratus, the predecessor to Pontius Pilate. The other man, Caiaphas, served as high priest over Israel from AD 18 to AD 36, a time period that encompassed all of Jesus adult life and public ministry.

Annas had five sons and one daughter. His daughter married Caiaphas. Interestingly, every one of Annas five sons--as well as his son-in-law Caiaphas--served as the high priest of Israel during Annas' lifetime. Though Caiaphas was high priest during the time of Jesus, Luke names both Annas and Caiaphas because Annas was the power behind the high priest of Israel. It was said that "Annas ruled the religious world," even though his own children were the chief priests of Israel and each had their turn as 'high priest.' It was to Annas that the people first brought Jesus after our Lord's arrest. Only after being questioned by Annas was Jesus sent to Caiaphas for official trial by the Sanhedrin. Modern religious leaders, like Annas, have a tendency to want to control and run things 'behind the scenes.'

Annas and Caiaphas hated everything to do with Christ. Caiaphas particularly was the chief antagonist of our Lord. Caiaphas lived in a palatial mansion inside the walls of Jerusalem. He served as President of the Sanhedrin. If you saw Caiaphas walking around the streets of Jerusalem, he would always have his servants and attendants around him, and he would be dressed in the finest purple and fine linen. He ate the most sumptuous meals, drank the finest wines, always traveled first class, and lived better than the 'common Jew.' The modern equivalent of Caiaphas would be the wealthy religious leaders in America who take a spiritual position of authority and power over the common people of the land.

Jesus Condemns the Religious Leaders and Ignores the Political Leaders

It is striking to discover that Jesus says very little about the corrupt Roman and Judean political leaders of His day. These leaders--men like Tiberius Caesar, Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilate--were all evil men. Yet, Jesus says very little publicly about any of them. In fact, when questioned about the supreme political leader (Caesar), Jesus simply says "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar." Jesus is also completely silent before Herod during His trial. Instead of railing against Herod's abuse of political power, Jesus says nothing. It seems Jesus had little to say about politics.

Yet, Jesus boldly and soundly condemned Annas and Caiaphas, the 'rich' religious leaders of His day.

Ironic, is it not, that modern evangelicals often rail against political leaders, but there is an appalling silence when it comes to religious leaders who become rich off the money given by God's people?

Notice the anger and greed of the religiously rich in Jesus' day. The Bible tells us in John 12 that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Caiaphas and Annas sought to kill Lazarus 'because many people were going away and were believing in Jesus.' These people 'going away' from the religious institutions--entities governed by Annas and Caiaphas--did so because they had seen Lazarus, a former dead man, walking around regenerated and enlivened by the power of Christ. These people had seen the power of Christ, and they were now uninterested in institutional religion. John the Apostle puts it like this:
"The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
There are many places that Jesus condemns the religiously rich (i.e. 'the chief priests')  throughout the New Testament, but the most striking example is found in this parable that is more than a parable. Let's read the parable again and see the High Priest of the Jews (Caiaphas) is the Rich Man Jesus is condemning:

 "The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus."
“(19) Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— (28) for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (31) But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Caiaphas, the High Priest of Israel, is the rich man in Jesus parable. Caiaphas is the man "who lifted up his eyes in hell."  Caiaphas, the equivalent to a modern religious leader who becomes rich through his religious service, is the man condemned by Jesus Christ. How do we know this to be true?


  • The rich man wears the robes the color of the High Priest (purple and fine linen).
  • The rich man mistreats the poor man named Lazarus (just as Caiaphas sought to kill Lazarus).
  • The rich man asks a messenger to go to his 'father's house' (Annas' house).
  • The rich man had five brothers (Annas had five sons, Caiaphas was his son-in-law and considered his brothers-in-law to be his brothers).
  • The rich man desires a warning to be given to his five brothers about their behavior (all five of Caiaphas' brothers--the sons of Annas--followed him as 'chief priest' of Israel).
  • The rich man is told that they will not believe "even if someone rises from the dead" (just as Caiaphas, his father Annas, and his five brothers refused to believe in Jesus after Lazarus had been raised from the dead).

If you are a topical preacher you might pick the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and wax eloquent on the subject of 'hell.' You might say something like (1). Hell is real, (2). Hell is rough. (3). Hell is ready. Then you might give the following application: "If you don't let go of your riches and willingly give your tithes and offerings to the church, you may find yourself waking up one day in hell, wanting to warn others to 'repent' and let go of their riches. Don't wait until it is too late! Give to the Kingdom of God today by giving your tithes and offerings!"

That, my friend, is the sorry state of evangelical preaching today. It's taking a text (the Rich Man and Lazarus) out of its context (the resurrection of Lazarus and the chief priests desire to kill Lazarus and stop others from believing on Christ) and turning it into a pretext (a false conclusion).

The lessons of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus are only obtained when you systematically and intentionally learn the Scriptures, take texts in their contexts, and focus on the life transforming truth from God's word. The lessons of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus are as follows:

(1). Any of us who are working in professional religious ministry in order to become rich through our religious services may wake up one day in hell, facing the holy judgment of God.
(2). Instead of railing against the world and our American culture--be it politics, business, Hollywood or some other segment of society--we preachers ought to reserve our harshest words for the religious who seek to become rich by abusing God's people, and focus more on giving the Bread of Life to those who are hungry, regardless of the cost.
(3). We do our Sunday morning crowd a favor when we teach the Scriptures verse by verse because we create a safeguard from misapplications which arrive out of false conclusions of a text, and we will give our hearer a better appreciation of the Person of Jesus Christ and His power to transform lives.
Those, in my opinion, are the lessons of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
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