7) How do you deal with someone who repeatedly asks for your help but seems completely closed to the advice you give? What do you do when it seems like they are coming not for help but almost using you as a confessional?
The answer is, you continue for a while to give advice and pray that at some point the eyes of their heart will be opened so that they can see the truth and act upon it. But that does not mean that you make yourself unendingly available to someone who wants to talk but apparently does not want to listen. It is not a sin to say “No, I won’t meet with you this week” after you have met with them 25 times already. Some people are time-wasters because they never take your words to heart. At some point you are enabling their bad behavior by continuing to meet with them. And the time you spend with them is time that might be better spent helping someone else. There is no hard and fast rule here. We need wisdom mixed with grace and courage to know when to keep listening and when to say, “Since you don’t really want my help, I am not going to meet with you anymore.”
8) What about polygamy?
God’s design for marriage has always been one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18-25). Jesus reaffirmed this in Matthew 19:1-10 and so did Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33. In the Old Testament Abraham, David and Jacob (among others) had multiple wives. God permitted plural marriage but it was never his ultimate design for the human race. Deuteronomy 21:15-16 is instructive in this regard. The passage speaks of a man with two wives, one he loves and one he does not love. God mandated that the children of the loved woman not be favored over the children of the unloved woman. The law regulates an unhealthy situation (to protect the children) without giving approval to the relationship that brought it about. It’s hard to find a single case of biblical polygamy that had positive results. But the Bible reveals to us the competition and jealousy in Jacob’s family among his wives and concubines (and their sons), and it plainly says that Solomon’s foreign wives turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:3-4). See What Makes a Marriage?
9) Does God change his mind?
Malachi 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change.” 1 Samuel 15:29 declares, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” Theologians call this the doctrine of immutability, which means that God does not change in his basic character. His purposes do not change, he never differs from himself, and he never improves upon his own perfection. Because God’s character does not change, his promises remain true and his purposes unchanging. What he was to our grandparents, he will be to our grandchildren. See To Every Generation.
10) What about verses that seem to say that God “repents"?
Jonah 3:10 is sometimes cited as an example of God changing his mind. In that case, it is not God who changed his mind but the people of Nineveh. When they repented, God had compassion upon the people and withheld the threatened judgment. We might say that God is immutable but not immobile. He is stable but not static. He responds to the changing conditions on the earth by presenting different aspects of his personality. He responds to us as we respond to him. See God Unchanging.
11) Where was Joseph when Jesus was crucified?
Joseph drops out of the story after Jesus went to the temple at the age of 12 (Luke 2:41-50). When he was dying, Jesus said to Mary, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother” (John 19:25-27), leading most Bible commentators to conclude that Joseph had died by the time Jesus had started his public ministry.
12) Will we know each other in heaven?
I think the answer must be yes. When Jesus was transfigured (Mark 9:1-8), Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain with him. Although Moses had been dead for over a thousand years and Elijah had gone to heaven 800 years earlier, James, Peter and John knew who they were. And once Jesus revealed himself to Mary (John 20:15-18), she recognized him. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that in heaven we will know fully even as we are fully known. It is impossible that we know each other better on earth than we will in heaven. I believe in heaven our friendships will be deeper, purer, and more satisfying because all the sinful stuff that gets in the way now will be removed. Sin always creates a barrier to true knowledge. In heaven there will be no strangers. See What is Heaven Like?
13) What Bible translations do you recommend?
I think the day is over when there will be one standard translation used by evangelical Christians everywhere. It’s hard to imagine a situation where any translation will hold the same position the King James Version held for so many years. I do think it’s wise for a church to use one main translation simply to make it easy for people to follow the teaching. I preach from the ESV and the NIV, but I read and consult many versions, including the New King James Version, the NASB, the NLT, the Message, the NET Bible, and I encourage people to purchase several study Bibles, such as the upcoming ESV Study Bible, the NIV Study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible, the Life Application Bible, the Ryrie Study Bible, and so on. You can find many good choices in any Christian bookstore or by searching online. I also recommend Bible Gateway and Online Translations of the Bible as good places to read and compare many different translations side by side.
14) Where was Jesus between his death and resurrection?
His body was in the grave. When Jesus said to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), he indicated that he was going to heaven. However, 1 Peter 3:18-22 may mean that during that between his death and resurrection, he also declared his victory over the devil and his demons. When the Apostles’ Creed says that he “descended into hell,” it cannot mean that he continued to suffer for our sins after his death on the cross. When he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30), he meant that the price for sin had been fully paid. While there are mysteries here and questions we can’t fully answer, we must not say anything that diminishes the fact that Jesus fully paid for our sins in his bloody death at Calvary. For a further discussion of this question, see The Strangest Part of the Creed.
15) What does 1 Samuel 18:10 mean when it says that “an evil spirit from God came upon Saul"? If God is not the author of evil, how could he send an evil spirit to Saul?
Remember that God is sovereign over the devil and his demons. We know the devil cannot touch us without God’s permission (see Job 1 and Luke 22:31). And remember also that Saul had already given himself over to envy because of David’s rising popularity with the people (1 Samuel 18:9). Earlier in Saul’s life, the Holy Spirit had come upon him at different times to bless him (1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6). But when Saul rebelled against the Lord (1 Samuel 15:22-23), the Holy Spirit was withdrawn, opening the door for an evil spirit (a demon) to torment him. God sent the evil spirit as a judgment on Saul for his disobedience. Evil spirits are evil by nature so they need no encouragement, and since Saul was in a state of rebellion, he was open to their influence. It’s not as if God sent an evil spirit to a man who was trying to please him. Although God is not the source of evil, he can use wicked people (and evil beings) to accomplish his purposes. See Overcoming Lingering Bitterness.
More Q&A tomorrow.