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Wordwise Insight, Issue #014 -- discipleship, God's kingdom, hymn stories
February 14, 2006

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. The process of discipleship

READER Q & A. What is the kingdom of God? What was the star of Bethlehem?

IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH. A hymn writer program

NEWS & REVIEWS. 52 Hymn Stories Dramatized


The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, a young pastor, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2:2). This verse gives us an important overview of the process of discipleship.

1. Receive – “The things that you have heard from me...”
We each need to hear the Word of God for ourselves (hear it audibly, or as we read and study it personally). And more than just physical hearing with the ears is implied by the biblical term. Jesus shows that by His repeated use of the expression, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 11:15; 13:9, 43). Of course they had physical ears. But to “hear” in this sense is to attend to, to perceive and understand, to learn. Contrast the Lord’s indictment. He told Ezekiel Israel “has eyes to see but does not see, and ears to hear but does not hear; for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 12:2).

2. Ratify – “Among many witnesses...”
We each need to confirm, support and attest to the truth for ourselves. To that end, Paul appeals to “many witnesses” who could assure others that what he taught was true. These could include contemporary observers like the other apostles (“those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses,” Lk. 1:2; cf. I Jn. 1:1-3). But they also include the writers of the Old Testament who foretold events that were taking place (cf. Acts 17:11). The importance of this is demonstrated by the Gospel writers’ frequent assertion that things happened “as it is written” (Mk. 1:2; 7:6; 9:13; 14:21, etc.).

Today we could add the testimonies and written biographies of other Christians. Their lives are a confirmation as well. Sound and insightful Bible commentaries and study books bear witness too. And there is one more witness to consider–our own experience. The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the many who trusts in Him” (Ps. 34:8), and, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2). Spiritual growth, and the experience of the Lord’s goodness in our own lives are a significant means of personally ratifying the truth.

3. Recruit – “Commit these to faithful men...”
The next step is to prepare to pass on what we are learning. But not to just anybody. There is a place for that–for broadcasting truth widely. But here Paul counsels Pastor Timothy to seek out some particular people.

a) In this case they are to be men, because it is men who are to provide leadership in the church (cf. I Tim. 3:1-7); but in other contexts women are included too (cf. Tit. 2:1-5).

b) They are to be men of conviction, “faithful,” reliable individuals--in other words men of godly Christian character. We read of Ezra that he “prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). We cannot teach others what we are not at least in the process of learning ourselves.

c) As implied by the fourth point below, these are to be individuals who demonstrate some desire and ability to lead and to teach others.

4. Reproduce – “Who will be able to teach others also.”
The truth is to be “committed” (entrusted) to others, with a view to them passing it on to still others. We need to “hear” God’s Word with that intention. Isaiah said, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.” And how did God prepare him for this? “He awakens me morning by morning, he awakens my ear to hear as the learned. The Lord has opened my ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away” (Isa. 50:4-5; cf. II Cor. 1:3-4).

Some seem to come to church because it is the thing to do. If they learn anything, it is almost by accident. They make no particular effort to do so. Others come with a desire to learn for themselves, and to benefit their own spiritual lives. This is good. But there is a step beyond, illustrated by what Ezra did: To learn for one’s self with the added purpose of not only applying the truth personally but of sharing it with others.

In listening to a sermon, do you consciously consider ways and opportunities to pass on what you are hearing? In teaching a Sunday School class, do you look for those in the class to whom you might give an opportunity to teach? In your times of personal devotions, are you excited by things you could share? Without this purposeful and intentional process of multiplication there can be no healthy and consistent church growth. It is vital to the future of the local church.


Question: Elias takes issue with a statement I made to the effect that the dying thief on the cross “entered the kingdom in the throes of death” (Lk. 23:42-43). He points out that Christ did not at that point begin his earthly reign, therefore the thief could not have entered the kingdom.

Answer: This view seems to be based on the false assumption that a word or a symbol is always used in precisely the same way throughout Scripture. Such is not always the case. For example, Paul’s use of the term “justification” is quite different from James’s. The future earthly messianic kingdom is not the only manifestation of the kingdom of God. Paul is able to write to the Colossians and say “the Father....has [i.e. past tense, has already] delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:12-13, NKJV). Believers are already a part of the kingdom, possessing a heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20), even though Christ’s earthly rule is yet to come.

Below is a brief overview of some aspects or manifestations of the kingdom concept, and an indication of how the church of Jesus Christ relates--or does not--to each:

1) The universal kingdom of God. This refers to God’s supreme rule over all, for time and eternity (Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:34-35). There is nothing that exists that is not under His sovereign control. (The church is obviously a part of this.)

2) The spiritual kingdom of God is that which is entered by the new birth (Jn. 3:3; Col. 1:13), and it involves the Lord’s rule over individual believers. (This concept of the kingdom may be considered equivalent to the church, the body of Christ in this age.)

3) The Theocratic or mediatorial kingdom. (The word theocracy comes from the Greek language: theo = God, kratein = to rule.) This has to do with God’s rule being administered over the earth through a human representative or mediator.

a) A theocratic rule was exercised, however briefly, through Adam, prior to the fall (Gen. 1:26, 28; cf. 2:19, 23). (The church was not a part of this, not being in existence at the time.)

b) The mediatorial kingdom was instituted at a national level over Israel with the giving of the Mosaic Law. Sometimes it is called the Davidic Kingdom, in that God’s covenant with David promised one of his descendants would occupy the throne forever (II Sam. 7:12-17). As Israel’s Messiah, Christ will be the ultimate fulfilment of this covenant. The nation was to be a showcase of the blessing of being under God’s rule, and other nations were to experience blessing through Israel (Exod. 19:5-6). But Israel turned away from God to worship idols and the theocratic rule was put in abeyance with the Babylonian Captivity which began the Times of the Gentiles (Lk. 21:24). (The church is not a part of this.)

c) The mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) refers to “Christendom,” between Christ’s two advents. It includes both true believers and unbelievers–among whom are those who are Christian only in name (cf. Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). (The true church is a part of Christendom, but the two are not identical.)

d) The mediatorial kingdom will flower again as a world-wide entity when the messianic kingdom becomes a reality with Christ’s rule over the earth for a thousand years at His second coming (Mic. 4:1-8). (The Church Age saints will reign with Christ at this time, Matt. 6:10; Rev. 5:10; 20:4.)

Question: What was the star that the wise men saw? How could a star far out in space travel ahead of them to Bethlehem?

Answer The fact that science cannot explain it has led skeptics once more to mock the Scriptures on this subject. No natural explanation for the star described by the wise men in Matthew 2:1-12 can account for its unique properties. But that does not mean the account of the star is a myth or a fairy tale. It simply indicates it was supernaturally prepared and sovereignly directed by Almighty God.

The wise men (or magi) were members of the Persian court who studied the stars and made predictions based on what they saw. Thus they were familiar enough with the visible constellations to notice when an new star “appeared” (vs. 7). To them it portended a special event of some kind. But how did heathen fortune tellers make the connection to a “King of the Jews” (vs. 2)? Though it is not mentioned, they may have received a revelation from the Lord, perhaps through the angel Gabriel who was actively involved with the events of that first Christmas (cf. Lk. 1:26-27).

Whether this occurred or not, I believe the ministry of Daniel long before in the Babylonian/Persian court had left a legacy of awareness of the Hebrew Scriptures. Centuries before Daniel’s time the mercenary prophet Balaam had declared, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17). And Daniel’s own prophecies also spoke of the Messiah’s coming (cf. Dan. 9:24-27).

But that is hardly the end of the mysteries of the star. Did it appear to the magi, and then disappear for a time? The wording of vs. 2 seems to imply that. And the trip to the capital city of Jerusalem seems more based on logic than divine direction. If the star appeared at the time of Christ’s birth, it may well have been six months to a year later when the magi arrived, since Persia was hundreds of miles distant. (Manger scenes picturing the shepherds and the wise men gathered together in the stable are in error. By the time the wise men arrived the family was living in a “house” and Jesus was a “young Child,” vs. 11.)

But while the men were in Jerusalem the star–whether identifiable by its colour or its unique brilliance–reappeared (vs. 9). This time in the southern sky, since Bethlehem is a few miles south of Jerusalem. More remarkably, it seemed to move, leading the men onward, until it stopped over the place where Jesus was. J. B. Phillips paraphrases vs. 9, “[The star] went in front of them as they traveled until at last it shone immediately above the place where the little Child lay.”

This precise movement indicates that even if it had originally been in the distant heavens, it was now low enough to provide precise direction. An unusual “star” to say the least! Rather than being a true star in the sense of a distant sun, it was more likely a manifestation of the shekinah, the glory light of God which revealed His presence to the Old Testament saints (cf. Exod. 25:22; Ps. 80:1). The phenomenon may have been similar to the pillar of fire by which the Lord led Israel through the wilderness (Exod. 13:21-22). This could explain why no one else seems to have observed this incredible sight. God may have sovereignly blocked the view of others as He did when the pillar of fire stood between the camp of Israel and the Egyptian army (Exod. 14:19-20).

In vs. 2 the wise men tell Herod, “We have seen His star in the East.” “East” could perhaps be better translated “in its rising,” or “when it rose.” It is the same Greek word Zacharias uses to say, “The Dayspring [Daybreak] from on high has visited us” (Lk. 1:78). No doubt Zacharias called to mind the words of Malachi near the end of the Old Testament which promised, “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). That star, whatever it was, symbolized the dawning of a new day, and signaled the coming of One who said of Himself, “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), and called Himself “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). No wonder the wise men bowed before Him in worship (vs. 2, 11).

Next Month: Jeanette asks about the belief that sinners will be annihilated after death, and not face eternal torment in hell. What does the Bible say?


1) A Hymn Writer Program
We live in a day when many churches seem to eschew the hymn book and its precious contents in favour of choruses projected on the wall. This effectively robs the younger generation of a depth of teaching no repetitious chorus can deliver. So many of our hymns are based on the deep spiritual experience of the writers. They provide a richness of reflection on the Scriptures and a language for worship that is irreplaceable.

One way to spark more interest in the use of hymns is to plan an occasional service in which the hymns of a particular author are featured. You can tell folks a little about the writer's life, or explain the background of several hymns. You may also be able to organize the hymns around a theme, or in some logical order. Then you can add in some Scripture readings and perhaps a message on a related topic.

Fanny Crosby is a fine one to start with since so many of her hymns are found in the average hymn book, and information on her life is more easily available. However there are others to consider. Here are some suggestions, by century. From the 20th century: Charles Gabriel, Lelia Morris, John Peterson; from the 19th century: Philip Bliss, Fanny Crosby; from the 18th century: John Newton, Charles Wesley; earlier still, Isaac Watts (called the father of English hymnody because of his important contribution early on).

Check a hymn book which includes an Index of Authors and Composers and you will see a list of hymns by each of these. Then, check out the writings of Ken Osbeck for material on hymns and their authors. He has written: 101 Hymn Stories, and 101 More Hymn Stories. Another significant work of Osbeck’s is described below under Views and Reviews. On the Web, The Cyber Hymnal ( lists some 5,500 hymns, and often has photographs of the writers. (It will even play the tune for you, if that is unfamiliar.)

2) The best Bible study tool ever! At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

3) On the Website!--Interim Pastoral Ministry
Has the pastor of your church recently resigned? As well as beginning the search for a new undershepherd, have you considered the possibility of calling an interim man to minister for a shorter period of time? On the Wordwise website is an article called Interim Pastorates. Check out this practical material.

4) Also see, on the website, an article called 12 Keys to Good Music, giving you 12 biblical principles to evaluate the music in your life.

5) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

6) Check out a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.


52 Hymn Stories Dramatized
The title of this work by Ken Osbeck is pretty self-explanatory. He tells the stories of dozens of hymns, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, How Great Thou Art, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Because He Lives, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, and many more. These are presented as dramatic readings, requiring anywhere from two to half a dozen readers. They can simply be read, or you could consider having individuals memorize the material and present the short vignettes in costume. There is great flexibility in the presentation. Recommended. Check out 52 Hymn Stories Dramatized.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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