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That I May Know Him

That I May Know Him

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/2018

Philippian 3:9-17

Introduction:

We have been studying through Philippians together: When we last met, we ended on Philippians 3:9, where Paul concluded his statements as to having lost the things that were once important to him, but having found himself “In Christ.”

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. His standing with God was made forever secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin. This difference, between the two concepts, “Position” (Where I am, and Who I am, in Christ), and “Condition” (How I am doing, and What I am doing) has been the source of much bad teaching, and misunderstanding in the church, for centuries. Paul’s old condition, from human perspective, was quite admirable. Lots of great credentials and accomplishments. But his old Position (still in his sins…still “In Adam”) was terrible—he was headed for destruction!

When he embraced the redemption provided at the Cross, he lost his social standing, and his accomplishments were no longer respected. He lost them because of the Cross, but gained something new at the Cross, at the same moment. He gained a new Position. He is now no longer “in Adam”…he is “in Christ.” This is in keeping with 1st Corinthians 15:22 And all his own efforts do not add to that position, nor does a failure on his part detract from that position. His works can only affect his condition, not his position.

Paul said that he counted all those things as garbage! Why? Because they could not enhance his position at all, and possibly could prove a snare to him, in terms of the practical outworking of his relationship with God. He said that those things have been willingly set aside: why? So that he could focus on growing in an experiential knowledge of Christ

That I may Know Him

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

“That I may know Him?” What can he mean by this? Didn’t he already know Jesus? He met Him on the road to Damascus… he was commissioned by Jesus for service. How could he not know Him?

The word Paul chose to use, here (Greek “gnonai”, from “gnosko”), means to have experiential knowledge—not merely acquaintance, or knowing a fact, or even figuring something out. I may “know” something because of careful reasoning. I may “know” something as a fact about which I have been told. I may even “know” a person because I have met them once. I sometimes tell people about famous violinmakers that I happen to have met. I could say, “I know him.” But I have to qualify that remark, by saying, “He wouldn’t remember me. I only met him once.”

To know someone in an ongoing relationship which is growing in depth and closeness is the kind of continuing knowledge Paul sought. And all the things he once took pride in would detract from that relationship if they had any affect at all. If he set them all aside in terms of value or importance, they could have no negative effect. But if he clung to any of them as being “vital to his identity”, they would surely detract from his identity in Christ, as a distraction, if nothing else.

This can be true in our own lives as well: If it really is central to my self-view that I am part of some trade (a welder, in my case, or a violin maker, or a teacher or pastor), or that I belong to some political party, or a particular church, or even a particular nationality,  or ethnic group… then how central is my relationship with Christ? To the degree that “something else” is central to “who I am”, Jesus has been dethroned in my life.

What do we call it when “something else” has taken the place of God in my life? The fact is, this constitutes idolatry. Perhaps Paul avoided using that word in order to underscore the relational issues, but we do tend to elevate such minutia to ridiculous levels of importance. We have our little “in” groups of people who drive a certain kind of car, drink a certain kind of beverage, follow a particular sport, or a specific team within that sport, or who are alumni of a specific school. Our society promotes this kind of thing, and says we ought to have “pride” in the school we attend, etc. We even argue over which kind of shoes to wear. Proverbs states that pride is the root of contention. And if it ruins human relationships, how much more would it limit our relationship with a holy God? We need to think clearly about what is important to us, and why…and, to what extent.

Grammatically, Paul applied that same word for knowledge to the whole list he enumerated: To Know Christ, and (to know) the power of His resurrection, and (to know) the fellowship of his suffering, being made conformable to his death.

To experientially know the power of the resurrection in my life is to see the new life in Christ take hold and transform me from the inside out. I began “knowing” that power the day I first trusted in Christ as my savior. But it is an ongoing transformation, and I want to see it increasing continually. We are to live “as those alive from among the dead.” We can’t have our old perspective on life anymore. We have been resurrected with Christ.

To experientially know the fellowship of His suffering: fellowship means “sharing in”—“partnership”. How can we be partners in the suffering of Christ? He did say that we are to take up our cross and follow him. That we are to count our own life as a thing of the past, and join him in his passion for the lost world. Do we personally share in having nails driven through our flesh? No, not as a rule. But we can at least recognize that His suffering was for a purpose, a testimony, etc., and we can join him in in enduring whatever is set before us as a way to demonstrate his Love and faithfulness to others. I think that would at least be a start. Jesus poured himself out to meet the need of a lost world. We can pour ourselves out daily to serve, as He gives us opportunity.

What does it mean to “be made conformable to His death?” Over in Hebrews 12:4, Paul commented to the believers that “ye have not yet resisted unto [the shedding of] blood, striving against sin.” In their particular case, the suffering for Christ had taken no serious turn, though it certainly had, in the lives of the many believers who had been tortured and killed for their faith. Could they have borne such a burden? Perhaps not, because these are the same believers he rebuked for having backslidden into babyhood, in Hebrews 5:12.

Is it possible then, that the issue in becoming “conformable to His death” may have to do with becoming committed enough that, if called upon, he could follow Jesus in death? Maybe. That would be some serious growth, as a believer. But that is exactly what eventually happened to Paul. And, yes, he was ready!

“Arriving”

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

What is he saying? Does he mean that the way to be resurrected is to do all the things he just listed? Why then, would he say, in Romans 6, that as many as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and his resurrection? (By the way, that baptism is not in reference to water, either.) Why would he say in Ephesians 2:6 that I have already been raised up with Christ (resurrection) and have already been seated with him in the heavenlies…in fact, that I am there, now? (Not only already resurrected, but already ascended!)

So, we can be sure that he is not saying one is to earn the resurrection from the dead. In fact, he did not say “earn”—he said “attain.” The Greek word is “katantiso”, meaning “arrive”. It is only used 13 times in the New Testament, and in all but two cases it is translated “come to”, in the sense of “arrival”. So, in what sense could Paul question his “arrival” at the resurrection? According to his comment in Ephesians 2:6, he is already there. So he cannot fail to be resurrected. Some commentators suggest that he only wants to live to see the rapture. In that case the next sentence would make absolutely no sense, as he said he “isn’t there yet”. That would be a silly statement, as the rapture, obviously, still hasn’t happened. Incidentally, the word in verse 12 for “attained” comes from yet another Greek root: “elabon”, which comes from “lambano” which is usually (133 times) translated “received,” meaning to “take for oneself.” So, whatever Paul is talking about, it is something to be received, not earned, and it is not something that everyone receives at the same time. It is individual in nature, and something at which to “arrive.”

So, there have been a variety of possibilities suggested, each having some problems. But what if the issue is only that he wants to live out the reality of the resurrection in his own life? That he wants to live like one risen out from among the dead (the Greek word, here, for “Resurrection” is “ex-anastasin”—resurrection from out of”…and this is the only time in the New Testament where this specific word is used.)

What if the real issue is that he wants to live in such a way that Christ’s new life will be the only thing other people see? That would be something to “attain to”, wouldn’t it? Something worth striving toward? If that is what he means, then all the following comments make plain sense, too. And, as it happens, we have another admonition from Paul that says exactly that—Romans 6:13 says that we are to live “as those alive from the dead”. I believe Paul was “leading by example, and saying that that was his goal as well.

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

The Greek word translated “apprehend”, here. Is “katalambano.” It is translated several ways, but it seems to mean, in general, to “seize something, with the purpose of making it one’s own”. So, Paul knows that he himself has been “seized upon” by Jesus, and made the “personal property of Christ.” He, in turn, wants to “seize” the relationship with Christ, and make it a living reality in his life, so that Jesus is all people will see in him. And he concludes that he, personally, has chosen to “press toward the goal!”

Paul says that his whole goal is to draw close enough to Jesus that nothing else is visible in his life. Have you ever heard a plane coming, overhead, but when you looked up, it turned out that they were so close to being lined up with the sun, that all you could see was the sun? You could still hear the plane, so you knew it was there, but all you could see was the sun, until the plane moved to a position further out of line with the sun.

If your life is so “lined up with” the Son of God, that when people look at you, He is all they see, you are “apprehending” that for which Christ died to provide. Follow after! Press on, toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ.

Paul clearly says that he has not arrived at that point in his life, but that it is his goal to continually strive toward it. And there is a reward for the striving; a prize. God knows the heart…He will reward the striving, the consistent attempt to “get out of the way” and allow the resurrected Christ to live through us.

Examples to Follow

Paul goes on to say that we are to follow his example. This is good leadership. “Follow me!” is something you can only say from “out in front.” Paul was definitely out in front. In this passage and other similar passages, he says “follow me as I follow Christ” or “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1st Corinthians 11:1) Paul was leading by example. He could literally say, “Do as I do!”

15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

The word for “rule” here, is “kanoni”—a standard; not a law. This is not a suggestion that we need to set up “rules to live by”. The “standard” that Paul had just erected was that he personally sought to follow Jesus closely, hoping to “arrive” at a level where only Jesus would be visible in his life. That is the standard…the living reality of Christ.

We have the same example for us to follow, then. We are not left to wonder how we should live. We have a written command, and a living example. Paul says we can look around us, and take note of those among us who follow his example, and imitate what we see in their lives. And, we are to learn to set such an example ourselves.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

We are not to follow blindly: we are to read our Bibles, then compare what we see with what the Bible says, and, as our leaders, pastors, teachers and fellow believers follow the example of Christ, we can also follow their living example.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see you in the believers’ lives around us. Help us to learn to walk by faith, but to see the reality every day, in the lives of the men and women of God around us.


What Examples do We Follow?

What Examples do We Follow?

© C. o. Bishop, 2/9/2018 THCF 2/11/2018

Hebrews 13:7-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly working our way through the Epistle to the Hebrews. We have finally reached the last chapter, and we are reading the writer’s instructions to the Hebrew believers. The epistle has presented a series of comparisons, where Jesus is compared to the Old Testament figures of the Messiah—foreshadowings of the real person who was to come. There were the Prophets who spoke the living Word to the people…and were usually ignored, and eventually killed. There was the Temple and the tabernacle, each of which was loaded with pre-figures of the redemption that the coming Messiah would deliver to the World. There were Angels, revered as the messengers of God, above whom the Messiah is recognized to be not only their Commanding officer, but their actual creator…God himself!

A total of seven such comparisons were made, and, in every case, Jesus was shown to be infinitely superior to the Old Testament pictures, just as virtually anything we can see is far superior to a grainy, scratched, black and white photograph, from an old-time “Brownie” camera.

But the writer in making no more comparisons.

A total of seven warnings were also given, evidently to those unsettled in their faith… specifically, to those dabbling in faith, but convinced in their own minds, that, “If things don’t work out”, they could still go back to the Jewish religion of the Law. The writer makes it clear that, if they reject the real Lamb of God…the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, then there was no animal sacrifice they could turn to, for redemption.

They must either make a clear “step” from believing in the old sacrifices as being God-ordained (and they were!) to placing their faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and pictures, or…they would have nowhere to turn. Seven such warnings were given, becoming more stern and serious as they progressed.

But the writer is offering no more warnings.

He is only offering instructions for real believers, now: He began in Hebrews 12:1, and continues to the end of the epistle. We are in Hebrews chapter 13, now, and considering just three verses, today; Hebrews 13:7-9.

The Example of the Church Leaders and Teachers.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

This in an admonition to look to the local church leaders and teachers—the elders, or overseers—the shepherds or pastors—as examples of how to live our lives. We are to learn from them a living faith, not just a head-knowledge of appropriate doctrine. The writer says to consider the results of how they live. I take this as a warning, personally, that I am to live in a way that will not lead someone else astray. Peter also said that the elders were to live as examples for the flock. (1st Peter 5:1-3) Quite honestly, I find that command very intimidating. I don’t know whether I can fulfil that command. All I can do, again, is to throw myself on the mercy of God, and seek his guidance daily.

Have there been shepherds who did a good job? Certainly, there have been. Moses was an excellent example. Was he perfect? Nope. God never said he was. But he did say that, among all the people of God, “Moses was faithful!” That is quite a testimony, coming from God.

Joshua, whom Moses trained, was also an excellent example. There were only two times when he should have asked God’s direction and failed to do so. The first was disastrous, the second only a continuing burden for Israel. But there was not a single recorded instance of his disobedience to God. Joshua was the first (and best) of the Judges.

Samuel was the last of the Judges, and was right up there with Joshua. There is no record of any disobedience on his part…only that he failed to raise his sons in a godly manner. (Actually, only that they turned out rather badly. God does not say, (as He did in the case of Eli) that Samuel had done a bad job. Most of the Judges had some personal problems, in spite of their faith and service.

Moses followed God. Joshua followed Moses’s example, and learned, in his own life, to follow God. That is the kind of example God calls the elders to provide. In fact, he gives a peculiar assignment, to the elders, to go along with the command to live as examples for the flock: he tells then to find reliable men and deliberately disciple them, training them to follow along and feed the flock as well. (2nd Timothy 2:2) The elders are to produce other elders, as well as shepherding the flock.

Leaders are not “made by” seminaries and Bible colleges, though such institutions can help with schooling. Many men and women, however, who completed theological training subsequently have fallen prey to the enemy, through temptation of one sort or another, and become shipwrecked…a castaway: still part of God’s flock, but no longer able to serve. Church leadership is trained up within the church. Human credentials are neither part of the qualifications nor part of the responsibilities.

He says we are to consider the “end” of the lifestyle of the elders: does it honor God, as a general result? Then it is a good thing to emulate. Does it consistently point you to the Bible for authority, rather than itself? Does it always point you to a better walk with Christ? Then it is a good example to follow.

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 

I’m not completely sure why this verse is here…the only thing I know to do is to connect it with the previous command, “…consider the end of their conversation”. The result of a consistent walk with God should be that an observer sees the person of Christ in the believer’s life. And Jesus has not changed, throughout the ages. The character of the believers’ lives in the time of Abraham was the same as it is supposed to be, today. Godliness is not just a matter of piety, but rather the Agapé love of God, along with His righteousness, and holiness, flowing through a believer into the World around them. He hasn’t changed.

Once, when I was in Bible School, I was struggling with the concept of having a love for God. He still seemed too abstract for me to love, not to mention the fact that I still had no concept of what the Agape love really was. I was looking for a feeling of “loving God.” As I was pondering this lack in my life, I was praying while I studied the scriptures, and it occurred to me to say, “I have a hard time loving what I can’t see!”  (Actually, that is quite Biblical, though I didn’t know it!)  But as I prayed, it suddenly occurred to me that I could see Jesus in a somewhat older fellow student who had kindly taken me under his wing, and was lovingly drawing me along to a more stable walk with God. He offered no condemnation for my worldly, foolish former life, but just encouraged me to move forward. The man’s name was Bob Mulloy, and he has served for nearly 40 years now in Indonesia, as a missionary. That memory is still precious to me, because I am now aware that his loving example was what drew me along, specifically because I could see in him the living Christ.

On a personal level, I think it is important to constantly self-examine: 1st John 1:5, 6 says, “this, then, is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” If I am not walking in the light, then I am not in fellowship with God. He goes on to say, in verse seven, “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is something to strive for and to maintain.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 

This is a warning, peculiar to believers; there will always be those who teach “strange doctrines”. They come up with odd, obscure references and interpret them in such a way as to bring believers into bondage regarding food, clothing, and rituals of various sorts. None of those things have any real effect on the believer’s life. Grace, not external trivia, is to be the core issue for us. The writer points out, in passing, that the Jews had the dietary laws, and kept them, but it did not profit them. That is important to see: it did not profit them! None of their self-efforts were profitable. Maybe the Jews didn’t do a great job of obeying God’s Laws, but they surely did it better than I do: And it did NOT have a good result! It was NOT profitable!

Most frequently, when a cult adds legalism to the Grace of God, it draws its treasured trinkets from a limited understanding of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple rituals. Remember, those were only a foreshadowing of the reality to come, which is Christ. We have the reality, now and forever; why do we need a grainy, limited-quality photograph, when we have the living Christ?

Think for a moment about who the people were who gave Jesus the worst trouble during His earthly ministry: It was not the common people, with their goofy, misguided thinking about things in general. It was not the Gentiles, as a rule, though they got involved at the end. It was not even the blatantly ungodly sinners among the people who gave him the fierce, consistent resistance: It was the religious leaders! Specifically, it was the religious leaders within Judaism, which was truly ordained by God.  They had all of God’s Word at the time: the whole Old Testament. They had the Temple, and the memory of the tabernacle. They were conscious of the miraculous history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. They knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah…but had locked in on one aspect of His coming that they really liked, and were ignoring all the rest.

Their doctrine had begun correctly, but had become nothing but legalism. And it was not profitable, either for individuals who attempted to live it, or for the nation. It resulted in their utterly rejecting the Messiah when he finally came.

Later on, both Peter and James (see Acts 15), when confronted with the demand from the Judaizers, that the Gentile believers should be forced to become Jews, responded by saying “Neither we nor our forefathers were ever able to carry that burden: why do you suppose the Gentiles would ever be able to do so?”

Jesus has not changed, and humans have not changed. He is still holy, and pure, and is still holding out the gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. We, as humans, still want to add to it, take away from it, twist it and deny it. So, how can we avoid the traps of false teaching?

The Example of God’s Word:

Avoiding the Snares of False Doctrine

There are a couple of keys, here: One is the command, back in verse seven: “Consider them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” What kind of doctrine are they teaching? As we asked before, “Are they turning your eyes to the Bible for answers?” That is a good place to start.

Within that answer, though, is a caveat, a “beware sign”. The writer says your heart should be strengthened by Grace, not what you eat. He used “diet” as a single example of the kinds of wrong focus that bad teaching produces. Jewish dietary laws are one of the things that many cults latch onto, because they think they can do it! “Here is something I can do to make God approve of me: I don’t eat this, I do eat that!” But that is characteristic of all legalism, not just the dietary law of Judaism, which was specifically for them, no one else.

Any teaching which tends to point me away from God’s Grace (even when it seems to be coming from God’s Word), and which makes my relationship with Him dependent upon outward “trappings of faith,” or “acts of piety” instead of an actual, active, living Faith in the Grace of an actual, active, living God, is likely to provide a snare for my soul. Such teachings turn us away from the actual source of living water, the Person of Christ, and encourage us to “dig out cisterns” (our own works) in which to store our own supply of “water.”

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah 2:12, 13

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Two Evils!

  1. They forsook the LORD—the God of Israel—who alone is the source of righteousness, and eternal life…and
  2. They turned to their own works, as a replacement.

The Lord calls Himself the fountain of living waters. Compare this to John 7:37-39 where Jesus said that those who came to him in thirst would receive an indwelling fountain of living waters…and it goes on to say that he referred to the Holy Spirit, which at that time was not yet given. The Holy Spirit is God! And, God is the one who offers the living water! In the desert, Moses was told to command the rock, and it would bring forth water for the nation. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4 that “…that Rock was Christ.” (Wow!)

So, in Jeremiah, we see Jehovah God as the source of living waters. In John, we see the Holy Spirit as the indwelling source of living waters. And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even back in the desert, 1500 years before the first advent, the Rock—the source of the water—was Christ!

So: humans ignoring God’s command to allow him to provide, and to guide, and to bless, is a pretty major abdication, to begin with. But having the total audacity, and arrogance to suggest that “…my water is better, anyway”, when we can’t even produce water, let alone store it, is beyond imagination. It is utter insanity! And yet we do it! We choose to look away from God and His Spirit, and His Written Word, and His final eternal payment for sin, at the Cross…and look to our own works, our own philosophies, and smugly say, “I have my own way!”

Jesus said that He himself was the only approach to the Father, and that He himself was the only sacrifice for our sins.

So…any teaching that wanders away from those central ideas, and turns us away from Grace, to legalism, is something to be avoided. Any teaching that turns us away from God’s written Word, which he says we are to focus on, as unto a light in a dark place…is to be avoided. Any teaching that tends to marginalize or minimize the preaching of the Cross, is to be avoided. These things are all central to a relationship with God. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says for us not to be “…carried about with strange doctrines.” We can only obey that teaching by deliberately choosing to follow the teaching of God’s Word…learning from the examples of our teachers, and remembering that Jesus himself has never changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Lord Jesus, we are utterly dependent upon your immutability—your unchanging goodness. We know that you have never changed, and we ask that you teach us to follow your Word, so that we are not drawn away by false teaching, or odd practices. Teach us to rely upon your Grace.


A General Warning and a Personal Example

A General Warning and a Personal Example

© C. O. Bishop, 2/9/2018 Cornell Estates 2/11/2018

Philippians 3:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Philippians, for several months, and have seen that it is a very personal letter to a group of people in Philippi, with whom Paul shared a close relationship. They had served with him, and suffered with him, and they had supported him in his work. The epistle is noteworthy because it does not have any “corrective” teaching, and certainly no rebuke. There is encouragement, and thanksgiving, and teaching, some of which they may have heard before. We teachers do tend to repeat ourselves, because we are forever teaching the same concepts, sometimes to different pupils, sometimes a mixture of old and new. The teaching has not changed, and sometimes we hear a concept more than once.

Paul was aware that they had heard at least some of these things before. He begins by encouraging the believers to continue rejoicing “in the Lord.” He absolutely does not say that all our circumstances will be happy ones: he says, rather, that we can rejoice in the person of Christ.

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

Saying “finally,” Paul seems to begin a conclusion, but, in reality, he is just turning to a final set of exhortations. It seems significant to me, that he prefaces a series of warnings with an exhortation to rejoice in the Lord. He goes on to suggest that what he was about to say was probably nothing new to his readers, but that it did not bother him to repeat himself, and that it provided a margin of safety for them, much like a warning sign on a road. It doesn’t hurt to hear it again.

A Strange Warning

2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

This is a strange comment: who are the “dogs”; who are the “evil-workers,” and who are the “concision”?  I would have jumped to the conclusion that the “dogs” were simply heathen, who could not be trusted entirely, simply because their agenda is completely different, and their values are co9mpletely different, than that of a believer. I still suspect that this may be the best understanding. Dr. McGee states that the “dogs” are false prophets, citing Isaiah, where God described the false prophets as “dumb” (speechless) dogs…watchdogs who don’t keep watch, and don’t sound the alarm when there is certainly cause to do so. Possibly he is right…but it doesn’t seem to fit this context. John Walvoord thinks it was the Judaizers against whom he raised the warning. But it seems likely to me that the “concision” were the Judaizers, who were physically “mutilated” as if they were believing Jews, but whose hearts were at odds with the Gospel. Evil workers would seem to be a catch-all term, at first glance, as there are evil workers everywhere. C. I. Scofield seems to think that all three were in reference to the Judaizers. But let’s take a look at all three in order:

  1. Dogs: If this is the heathen, simply unbelievers (and this is a term the Jews used to use, referring to heathen—gentiles—us), then they (unbelievers) are simply to be viewed with some caution at all times, knowing that their goals are completely different than those of the church, as are their values. This is still in keeping with the sure knowledge that these are souls for whom Christ died. We do not condemn them: we reach out to them. But we maintain an awareness that they are “not on our team.”
    An example, at a national level, can be seen in the history of our business dealings in Asia. Westerners frequently find that they have been “cheated”, when the reality is that the Asians are simply playing by a different set of rules, and cheerfully take advantage of our naiveté.
    Churches are frequently duped by unbelievers who seem to be “offering the church a special deal”, but in reality, are cheating churches. Does that mean we shouldn’t have any dealings with unbelievers? No! It is simply a warning to be careful.
    A church with which I was vaguely familiar told how a local businessman began attending their church. They were glad to have him, and when he said that he needed cash, and change for his businesses, and offered to give them a check each week, to the exact amount of all the loose change and bills in their offering, they saw no harm in it, and, yes, the check cleared, every week. But, early the next year, they got a letter from the IRS asking whether this individual had really been giving them all these donations! He had been claiming those checks as charitable giving! From his perspective, he was being clever. But it was a scam, pure and simple!
  2. Evil workers: This could refer to people who claim to be believers but whose lives demonstrate the opposite. I am not suggesting that because a believer has a sin nature and occasionally proves it, he or she is not really a believer. I am referring to those who can recite a believable testimony, but their whole pattern of life outside of church meetings is blatantly ungodly. We have probably all known individuals like this. They are perplexing, because we want to accept them as a brother or sister in Christ, but all their behavior suggests they may not be one. We just have to be careful. I have known several people like this at work. Some, as far as I can tell, were probably believers. Some turned out to definitely be “false brethren.”
  3. The Concision: (The Greek word, here, literally means “mutilation.”) If this term is in reference to the Judaizers, then the whole trio fits together as living examples of the three enemies of the Christian: “the World, the Flesh and the Devil”, as
    1. “The World” is certainly represented in unbelievers as a whole;
    2. “The Flesh” is the old sin-nature, which every believer still does have. And “evil-workers” are those who habitually obey their sin-nature, whether believers or unbelievers; and, finally,
    3. Satan does his most dangerous work through false religion. (This was true in the time of Christ, through the Pharisees and scribes and the corrupt priesthood, but today is perhaps best exemplified in various world religions and cults, and even in good churches that have gone bad. (It happens!)

There is a fair amount of controversy over these three, but this interpretation seems to resonate well with the rest of Scripture. I do not claim it to be the only way to understand the passage.

What is the True Circumcision?

3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Paul mentioned this concept in Romans and in Galatians: the “circumcision” that God approves is the setting aside of the “flesh”—the old sin-nature. We can’t “get rid of it,” completely, but we have turned away from it, the day we chose to believe in Jesus as our savior, and we continually choose to “set aside the flesh” when we worship and serve God in the person of Christ.

We find our Joy in Him, and have ceased to have confidence in our own ability to understand, our own capability to will or to do, apart from His direction. We think more, and scheme less, as a result. We are willing to follow His lead, and we do not demand that he explain every part of his every decision, as if His will must have our approval before it can proceed.

Do we still complain and act out in unbelief sometimes? Certainly, we do, which is simply a demonstration that we still have our old sin nature. The sin nature cannot be corrected, or improved upon. It feeds upon sin, and Ephesians 4:22 states that it is actively corrupt by nature. It is not subject to God, and cannot be, according to Romans 8:7.

This “flesh”, not our physical body, is what must be set aside, if we are to walk with God. We set it aside once for all, when we first trusted Christ as our redeeming sacrifice. We continually “set it aside” when we choose to ignore its prompting, and obey Jesus instead.

What about Human Credentials?

Paul certainly had great credentials to which he could point, if he chose to do so, He says:

4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

If there was anyone who would have had the “right” to trust in his own natural ability, education or birthright, it was Paul. He “had a lot going for him”, as the saying goes today. He lists a few of these things, here:

5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

But when he trusted Christ as his savior, all the things he had once trusted in became a potential liability, rather than an asset. In fact, he considers the whole world a potential snare, rather than a gain. It is all on the “wrong side of the ledger,” now—debit, rather than credit. These credentials are what the World approves, and, while they may have some value, the only real and eternal value is in our relationship with Christ. The World is temporary,

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

It must be pointed out, here, that Paul is not suggesting that the way to “win Christ” is to “suffer the loss of all things”. One does not “buy” a relationship with Christ. Paul’s relationship with Christ had cost him all of the things he held dear, including his social standing. He had been “climbing” a social “ladder”, for most of his life, if we can read between the lines a bit. A Jewish student shared with me that the seats in the ancient schools (that of Gamaliel, for example, whom Paul claimed as his mentor), were arranged in tiers, radiating from the teacher’s position outward toward the door. Those “sitting at the feet” were the choice students who had “arrived”, so to speak. Newer students or those less approved sat at the back, or stood beyond the furthest seat. So Paul had “arrived” socially. Still today, Jewish students read the teaching of Gamaliel, whom Paul claimed. But he lost that status, and was considered a “reject”, a failure, because of his relationship with, and his service toward Jesus. And he counted it a cheap price to pay…but that is still not how he gained Christ. The losses were a result of the relationship, not the other way around.

Don’t Attempt a “Do-it-yourseff” Righteousness

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

This is a key point: In Romans 10:3, 4, Paul points out that the Jews were “ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness”. He evidently included himself in that indictment, and he was grateful to find that he had lost his own false, contrived, self-made righteousness, and gained the real, imputed righteousness of Christ.

I think it is a common failing among both believers and unbelievers, that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we still think we can “make ourselves better.” Self-help books, and self-improvement books are among the best sellers in the supposedly “non-fiction” market.  And yet, ultimately, they tend to be “fiction” anyway, as the truth is, we cannot help ourselves, or improve ourselves in the arena of sin and righteousness.

When Isaiah said “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” he wasn’t exaggerating. He was simply stating a fact; that “we are as an unclean thing.” Once, as a small child, I read a story about some children finding a rusty iron pot, at the beach, and cleaning it with sand. I didn’t understand that the “cleansing” they accomplished was only to remove the worst of the rust…that the sand was only an abrasive, and accomplished nothing in terms of hygiene. But it stuck in my young mind that “sand equals soap”. So, a few days later, when my mother told me to wash my hands for supper, I happily walked outside and decided that, in the absence of sand, dirt would surely suffice, and I washed my hands in mud, rinsed them in water from the garden hose, and walked back in feeling very clever. Mom asked me if I had washed my hands, and I cheerfully told her, yes, that I had washed them in the dirt, in the garden! Understandably, she sent me off to the bathroom for a “soap and water” scrub…up to the elbows.

The point of that story was that I did not understand that dirt could not make me clean, physically—dirt was what we wanted to remove, along with the bacteria that are in the dirt. (Years later, I met a cousin of mine who had actually lost an arm to an infection originating in the soil of his back yard…and nearly lost his life in the ordeal.)

Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering to God. The problem was not the vegetables; the problem was sin. The ground had been cursed because of sin, so, despite the healthful character of the vegetables, fruit, or whatever it was, it was unacceptable as a sin offering, and, without a prior sin offering of blood, it was not even acceptable as a worship offering, though after a blood sacrifice for sin it would have been completely acceptable in worship.

Cain was “ignorant of the righteousness of God”, and was “going about to establish his own righteousness.” Even believers can easily lose sight of the cross, and begin to believe that because they adhere to certain practices, (whether church attendance, reciting prayers, a catechism, a creed, giving, or some other activity) that they have by those actions become acceptable to God. The fact is that I am only acceptable to God “in the beloved” (in ChristEphesians 1:6). We cannot cleanse ourselves. God has to do it.

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. Being found “in Him,” his standing with God was forever made secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin.

What can I learn by his example? That I need to stay near the Cross, mentally. I need to remember daily that I am saved from sin…I did not climb out of that pit on my own, nor can I claim any credit for my perseverance. God is the one who keeps me. My own works, tainted by my ever-present old nature, can never improve my standing with God. Only Jesus’s blood at the cross has that capacity. I can’t hope to improve by “washing with dirt.”

Lord Jesus, fix our eyes upon your Cross, and help us to trust in the completion of your work there. Turn our eyes away from our own efforts, and help us to rest in your finished work. Raise us up as an army of men and women freed by your hand, and living to serve you from that perfect position in You.

 


Living Free of Fear

Living Free of Fear

(c) C. O. Bishop 1/26/2018 THCF 1/28/2018

Hebrews 13:6 [Compare Matthew 10:26-31; Hebrews 2:15; 1st John 4:18; Acts 27:24

“I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Hebrews, and we are finally in the last chapter: two weeks ago we touched on the sixth verse,” I will not fear what Man shall do unto me.”

In the context, the contrast was against covetousness: the love of money. He said that we should live free of the love of money, because of God’s promise never to forsake us.

This has implications far beyond finance, however: What fears do we cling to, because of what other people, or their actions, may do to us? If my neighbor gossips about me, will it destroy my reputation? If I maintain a godly lifestyle, which necessarily makes me an “outsider” in many or possibly even most venues, am I likely to lose my position at work, or my social status elsewhere, because I “just don’t fit in?” The worst implied in that particular verse is the loss of financial stability. But the admonition goes far beyond that. “So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

What kinds of limitations are imposed upon me because I fear rejection? What limitations do I accept because I fear harassment, or other forms of persecution? In this passage, the word “fear” (Greek verb, “phobeo”), is used, as in many others. The Greek noun, phobos, is used, where a noun is appropriate. Both are accurately translated “fear,” in English; though, in the case of a “fear of God”, the meaning is usually positive, while, in the case of a fear of other things, it is used in a negative sense. Fear is recognized by the Lord, but it is also categorized as being:

  • Positive (the fear of the Lord,)
  • Perilous (the fear of death,) or
  • Prohibited (the fear of man.)

We should look at both positive and negative:

When is it Appropriate to Fear?

Though many of the commands regarding fear are to “fear not”, there are places where the reverse is true. Let’s look at one of them:

Matthew 10:26-31

26 Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.
27 What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.

28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.

In context, here, Jesus had begun by telling His disciples whom to not fear: those who would persecute them, hate them, and put them to death for being His disciples. But he says that they needed to take the long view, so to speak, and consider the last chapter.

He said that the same sort of people who would crucify him and who called him Beelzebub (which literally means “the Lord of the Flies”, but carries the connotation of “the prince of demons”)…that those sort of people would naturally also persecute the disciples. He said that they, his disciples, should not consider themselves to warrant better treatment than He himself had received. And His conclusion was that they (his disciples) should not fear those persecutors.

Bear in mind that the kind of persecution they were to experience was not the “social stigma” type of persecution which we so dread…It was a genuine persecution with potentially deadly intent. And they were commanded to not fear those attackers, but rather, to fear whom?

Jesus said to fear only God—the one who has full authority, both to kill, and to sentence to an eternity in Hell. Some have supposed that this referred to Satan, because of the reference to Hell. But Satan has no authority at all to determine the eternal destiny of a soul. The ultimate Judge, ironically, of both the disciples and their persecutors, will be the Lord Jesus, himself. So, the fear of God is seen as a positive thing, while the fear of man is not.

How about the Fear of Death?

We could guess from the above passage, that, since the disciples were told to not fear those who could only kill the body, they were also commanded to not fear death. In a sense that is so: but back in Hebrews 2:14, 15, we can see that the fear of Death is at least more or less universal, and that God recognizes how we are constantly enslaved due to our fear of death.

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Jesus experienced Death on our behalf, to destroy the power of Satan over our lives. We have been tormented by fear of death and pain our whole lives, and the person responsible is Satan. Clear back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to send a deliverer, the “Seed of the Woman”, who would crush the Serpent’s head. Want to guess when that promise was fulfilled? It was fulfilled at the Cross, when Jesus laid the groundwork for the destruction of the Devil himself. When will it be completed? Revelation 20:10 says that, just before the Great White Throne Judgment, the Devil will finally be cast into the lake of fire. But his power was destroyed at the Cross!

So, is it OK to fear death? In the sense of self-preservation, we are taught to recognize danger, and to make healthy decisions about it. But in the sense of being paralyzed by fear, so that we cannot make a good decision, due to fear, then it has gone too far. The kind of courage we are called to demonstrate is the kind that will obey God in spite of the fear of death. That we can go ahead and do rightly, even though it may cost us dearly.

When we read of those who daily risked their lives to smuggle persecuted Jews out of Europe during the war, we are moved to tears, by their courage. Did they fear death? Certainly! But they knew that unless they acted, risking death themselves, those helpless refugees were doomed to a certain death at the hand of the oppressors.

Yes, it is OK to fear death…but we are not to be enslaved to that fear! It can paralyze us so that we are unable to live for God.

What does the Bible Teach about Fear?

1st John 4:17, 18

17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

As believers, we have a certain amount of confidence regarding the coming judgment. We are taught that the World will be judged, but that the judgment for our sins was carried out at the Cross. The more confident we are in this truth, the less fear we have for the future. We gain boldness in Christ as we grow in our knowledge and love of the Savior.

The word for “perfect” here, is translated from the Greek word “teleo”. It means “completed”, or finished, or mature, in some cases. In fact, it is very nearly the same form as is translated “It is finished!” in John 19:30, when Jesus spoke from the Cross, regarding his work of redemption! So, the perfection here, is not a matter of “flawless.”, but of “being completed…fully formed.”

The same Agape love that was bestowed upon us is the Love that allowed Jesus to go to the Cross, and to die on our behalf, tortured to death by His enemies who were supposed to be His friends. Prophetically, He is actually asked “where did you get those wounds in your hands?”, and the reply is given, “in the house of my friends…”

Keep in mind that what Jesus faced was not only the pain of being tortured to death, but the shame of being hung up naked before his enemies, to die, not only in agony, but in ultimate humiliation. And, even more, which is beyond our comprehension, He became Sin for us. He took the place of the sins of the entire Human Race, under the Wrath of God. He became Sin for us, so that we could be made the Righteousness of God in Him. Did he fear the agony of the Cross, and the burden of our sins? Yes! The prayer at Gethsemane reveals that he was entirely human in this regard. Yes, he feared the death of the Cross. But he was not enslaved to that fear. He acted in spite of the fear, and He gave Himself for our redemption.

This is the essence of courage: acknowledging the fear, and then acting in a manner independent of the fear. Soldiers are trained to run toward the battle, not away. Police are trained to evacuate the area of bystanders, but then to move toward the danger, not away. We, too, are told to set aside our natural fears, and go ahead and function as we have been commanded.

Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” Gates don’t go anywhere! We are to charge the gates! We are to attack, in prayer, in witnessing, in teaching, preaching, and in giving. The Gates of Hell will not be able to withstand our attack. Wherever the Gospel goes, people are saved. Sometimes only a few, but the Gospel reaches past the Gates of Hell, and snatches sinners from its dominion. But, in doing so, it sometimes costs the lives of the witnesses. But the Church keeps reaching out!

2nd Timothy 1:7 says that “God hath not given us the spirit of Fear, but of Power, and of Love, and of a sound mind.”  If it isn’t coming from God, that only leaves two sources: The enemy, or our old Sin nature.

What about the Fear of Man?

Romans 8:31 poses the rhetorical question, “If God be for us, who can be against?” We read that, and verbally we agree, but we aren’t really comfortable with the answer. We still are uncomfortable in our roles as the “outsiders” in this world. We are as “strangers and foreigners”, and we are aware, that we are “no longer of this world.” We are in enemy territory, both figuratively, and literally. It leaves us feeling intimidated, like a goldfish in a pool of piranhas. The big difference is that we are here for a good reason, (not just to be piranha food, like that poor goldfish,) and we already have eternal life… it can’t be taken, and we can’t lose it.

That is why we are exhorted to live free of fear, whether about “what we will eat, or what we shall wear, or where we shall live,” and even regarding “how will others treat us?” Is it possible we will starve? It is possible…highly unlikely, in this country, but possible. Is it possible we will become destitute of all belongings, homeless, and looked upon with contempt by others? Certainly! And God says that those to whom that very thing happened (remember Hebrews chapter 11?)  …were the “best of the best!” He says “the World is not worthy of them!” Is it even possible that we might be imprisoned or executed for telling people about Jesus? It has already happened, many times in history, in various places in the World. Could it happen here? Yep. It could! And, we are told in advance that it is a possibility, and that we are not to be paralyzed by fear of such calamity, but to rejoice at the coming reward.

Now: how does that apply to daily life as things are, here, today, in this country? Honestly? It means that we are fearful over things too minor to even be included in the accounts God gave us as to what has already happened to believers down through history.

Paul was told, in Acts 27:24

24 …Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.

The context? Paul was a prisoner, in chains, aboard a ship in a terrible storm on the Mediterranean Sea. He, with everyone else, was in danger of death by drowning. If he escaped drowning, he faced possible execution. Some of the people God promised to save along with him were the Roman soldiers conducting him to Caesar, to stand trial. And God told him, “Fear not!”

I don’t know about you, but I have never been in a situation as dire as that one. Paul’s circumstances looked pretty bad, regardless of the storm, but to be battered by a storm at sea, when you are shackled with heavy manacles, so that, even if there was a chance to swim for it, you’d drown, and even if you survived the storm, you were going be taken to face the judgment of a blatantly ungodly emperor… nope, I haven’t faced anything like that.

And, then, to have part of the promise to be that you will get through the storm, and that you will come out with your guards still beside you, and that you will arrive at Caesar’s court. That just doesn’t sound like a logical time to “fear not!” Drowning would probably have sounded pretty good to most people at that point. But Paul had already come to a point of a mature faith, and mature love, where he valued the lives of his companions, and disregarded his own personal comfort and safety, so long as it meant the magnification of the Gospel…which was precisely what he had been told he would do in Rome.

What about Us?

In Matthew 28:20, the Great Commission was given to the eleven apostles. But it is worded in such a way that it becomes the inheritance and the blessing of every believer who has ever been persuaded by the preaching of Christ. It says, “…teaching them (us) to observe ALL things, whatsoever I have commanded YOU.” So, we have the same commission! And, the final reiteration, in Acts 1:8, is that we are to be witnesses to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”

Will we actually do that? Or will we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear? This is a day-by-day decision. Remember, Peter was once paralyzed by fear, and because of it, he denied Christ. But eventually, he overcame his fear, and his life became a shining testimony to the truth of Christ, and… he died as a martyr, many years later. He learned to set aside his fear, and go ahead and function.  All we are told to do, on a day-to-day basis, is to set aside our fears, and go ahead and function. In most cases, the things we fear won’t happen anyway…but even if they do, the promises have not changed. He says, and we can read the written record: I will not, I will not ever leave you! I will not, I will not, I will not ever forsake you!” We fear abandonment, as little children, and we have the perfect father, who not only will not abandon us, but will nourish us and protect us. We have eternal life, so that we should have no fear in this life.

We have His written Word, upon which we can feed our New Nature, so as to eliminate our creeping fears, and build a solid, mature faith, resulting in a solid, complete, mature Love…which casts out Fear.

 

Lord Jesus, soak us in your Word, train up our hearts to trust you in all things. Allow us to walk with you in perfect peace.


Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

© C. O. Bishop 1/20/2018 Cornell Estates 1/21/2018

John 5:24; 1st John 5:11-13; Romans 3:23; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17

Introduction:

A month or so ago, I was asked, privately, “Why don’t you give invitations at the end of your sermons?” Well…that’s a good question, and, after some thought, I have decided that it should be answered publicly.

There have been times during the last 40-odd years, when I have asked a person how they became a Christian. They replied with one of the following: “I went forward in church; I raised my hand in a youth-group meeting, I prayed with a missionary who visited our church; I was baptized…” or something along those lines. Notice that every one of those statements began with “I (did something).” Isn’t it perhaps more important that God did something? Were they depending on their prayer, their public confession of sins, or some other action on their own part? I can’t tell. Were they even saved? I have no idea! I can’t see into their heart! I can’t examine the witness of their soul before God. The Holy Spirit is just as invisible to me as He is to everyone else! The real question we all need to answer is “How does God save people? How can we be certain that we have eternal life?”

How can we be saved?

The Philippian Jailer asked this very question in Acts 16:30. He asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” You see, he had the same idea: There must be something God wants us to do in order to earn eternal life! But they answered “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!” (Believe….)

The people in John chapter five, whom Jesus fed with bread and fish, confronted him in chapter six (John 6:28) asking “What should we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered in verse 29: “This is the Work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”

I don’t know how the people in John 6 were responding, but the fellow in Philippi was about to commit suicide, if you remember the story: his life had effectively just ended, had Paul not called out and assured him that all the prisoners were still present. So Paul really could have told him anything, and the man was ready to do it. But instead, Paul and Silas told Him that all God was asking him to do was to believe the Gospel: to place his trust in Jesus as his Savior. He was evidently willing to do, or attempt to do, all the works any person could do. But all he was asked to do was to believe! That is very odd, isn’t it? Why did Paul not “lay on him all the demands of God?” Why did he not quote the Ten Commandments? Or tell him he had to be baptized, at least? (By the way, he and his family actually were baptized after they believed, but that is not what was required of them.)

It seems that believing is at least the “key” response that God is looking for. The Pharisees had lots of good works, but didn’t believe in Jesus as their Messiah. We Gentiles look like total heathens to any orthodox Jew (that’s actually what “Gentile” means!), but God isn’t judging us by our works. He is offering His Grace, on the basis of Faith (believing.) And that is the only way he has ever saved sinners, throughout all history. But what was the second question?

Can I Know that I Have Eternal Life?

I have also been emphatically told, many times, over the years, that “It is impossible to know that you have eternal life.” That, you have to “wait until you die to find out whether you were good enough:” …to find out whether you “made the team.” Or, simply, to find out whether you are “One of the Chosen.” I can’t understand how anyone would be comfortable with that idea, personally.

So, what’s wrong with that idea? Is that really what God says? Does he offer us no more secure hope than that? Let’s see what God actually says about that particular issue. (Remember that Jesus is “God in the flesh.”) So, in John 5:24, Jesus (God in the Flesh) made a very important promise:

Verily, verily (truly…it’s a promise), I say unto you, he that heareth my words, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Every word, there, is important: We can see, back in verse 19, that Jesus is the one talking, even if we don’t have a red-letter edition Bible. So the first thing Jesus does, is to assure us that this is really true: That He is making a promise! He says, “Verily, Verily, I say unto you…” It is a personal promise from Jesus! And it has two conditions:

The Conditions

He that heareth and believeth…” This is a “Whosever will”-type “invitation.” An invitation to what? To “go forward in church”, or to “sign a tract”, or to “make a commitment to Christ?” No! This is an invitation to hear the Gospel, and believe it: to place your personal trust in Jesus as your Savior! Nothing more or less! If I have heard that God is Holy…that I am a sinner…and that Jesus paid the price of my sins at the Cross, I have fulfilled the first of the two conditions. The day I placed my trust in His shed blood for my salvation, and began looking forward to His coming again, I fulfilled the second condition. And, on the basis of those two conditions, Jesus laid out a three-clause promise:

The Clauses

  1. If the two conditions have been met, what does Jesus say is the immediate (not eventual) result? “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent me…what?” Does it say they “will have” eternal life? No! It says that this individual, on the basis of having heard the Gospel of Christ and believed, has everlasting life now! This isn’t my opinion: this is the promise of Jesus! The moment I saw the truth; that I was a lost sinner, and that Jesus’ blood at the Cross was God’s only offering for my sin, and I believed; trusting God’s promise for my salvation, then, from that moment on, I have had eternal life! How long is eternal? Silly question, right? But Eternal means everlasting…forever!
  2. What else did Jesus promise? We saw that the first clause of the promise was present tense; but what about the second clause? “…and shall not come into condemnation…” What tense would that be? That’s right! It is future tense! It means I can look into my future as far as forever, and know that God will never condemn me for my sins again! In fact, clear back in Psalm 103:12, He says that he has removed our iniquities from us “as far as the East is from the West”. I think it is great that he said “east from west”, rather than north from south: You can start at the North Pole and go south only until you get to the South Pole. But you can start anywhere, and go East or West forever, and never “get there!” My sins have been eternally removed from my ledger before God, and He will never judge me for my sins. I shall not come unto condemnation. My future is secure.
  3. And the final clause? “…but is passed from death into life.” Some Bibles translate this “…but has crossed over from death into life.” …which is also fine. But the best the English language will give us on this verse is that it is “past tense.” The fact, however, is that the Greek verb is in perfect tense: “a completed action which occurred at some point in the past, with permanent results for the future…” Do you see how important that idea is? It means, “This is a done deal!” It means “You have been born again, and you cannot be un-born again.” It doesn’t lend itself very well to translation in English, unfortunately, but that is the intent.

So…that was Jesus’s promise to anyone willing to hear Him and believe Him. He covered their past, present and future, with a single promise. Do you believe it? On the basis of His promise, then, do you have eternal life?

I could pose a second question: Does God want you to know that you have eternal life? (Notice I am underscoring the word “know”, here…) If He did, wouldn’t He tell us how to know it? Let’s see what He says:

A Parallel Promise

1st John 5:11-13
11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

So, let’s break this one down as we did the previous promise:

  1. The record (God’s Word) states that God has given (past tense) eternal life to us, and
  2. This eternal life is in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. If you have the Son (have received Him by faith), you have eternal life.
  4. If you do not have the Son (have not believed—have not received Him by faith), you do not have eternal life.
  5. The purpose of this being written is that you who believe (trust in) the name of the Son of God (Jesus), may Know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe on the name of the Son of God! That is the purpose-clause of this portion of this document! God wants you to know (now) that you have eternal life!

So, the question we posed a few minutes ago, was “Can I know that I have Eternal life?” According to the two faithful promises we just read, I would have to emphatically state that not only we can know that we have eternal life, but that God wants us to know so! He is not interested in a “hope-so” relationship. This wedding ring on my finger does not mean “I hope I got married 36 years ago, to a wonderful woman who is my best friend today:” It means I KNOW that we were married, and I am not going to forget it!

God gave us his written Word for assurance, so that we have it in writing. He also comes to live in the bodies of believers, on an individual basis, at the moment of salvation: whether I knew it or not, he came to indwell me, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the moment I believed. I may have only learned about it later, but He keeps His Word, and that is also part of His promise. So, with all that background as the foundation, why would I hesitate to give an altar call…to give invitations to “come forward in church,” or anything similar?

Why I Hesitate

When people tell me “I went forward in church when I was twelve,” I begin to ask questions, to find out whether they actually believed the Gospel. I may say, “So, that is when you saw yourself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior?” That doesn’t always go over well! As it happens, some have never seen themselves as a “lost sinner, needing a Savior!” In fact, the idea is repulsive to them: I recently had a young woman adamantly tell me “I am not a bad person!!” OK! As people go, I would say that was a fair assessment. But—does it come up to God’s standard? Let’s see: Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God;” (Hmm…)

Sometimes I approach it a different way: I say, “If you were to die today, and God were to ask you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven?’ what would you say?” I have had answers such as “I have done my best,” “I haven’t done anything really bad,” or, “…maybe I could just squeeze in the door?”  Bu the fact is, the rules were laid down in God’s Word: all are sinners; Jesus paid for all our sins; all those who have received the Son have life; and all those who haven’t do not! If my answer to God is not “Because Jesus died for my sins! He is my only hope!”, then according to God’s Word, I have zero chance of being accepted with God. But if he is my Savior, then, according to His Word, I am already accepted with God. I didn’t make those rules; but quite honestly, they seem more than fair, to me!

So, if I ask someone to come forward and “pray for salvation”, and they do so, they may go away thinking they have “done something” to get eternal life…when the truth is that there is nothing we can do to get eternal life! Jesus did it all at the cross! If they actually came because they believe that Jesus is the full payment for their sins, then the prayer didn’t hurt anything, of course. But if they came because they thought they could win merit thereby, they go away inoculated against the true Gospel. They say “I already did that!” And, sadly, I have had many people tell me just that. But when I ask questions, I find that they have never believed the Gospel! They do not believe that they are a lost sinner. They do not believe that Jesus’s Blood was full payment for their sins personally. And they are resting their hope for eternity on something they did, instead of what Jesus completed at the Cross.

Having seen this so often, and being aware that there is not a single example of an “altar call” or an “invitation”, beyond the “Whosoever will may come…!”, I am hesitant to give people a false hope based on their own actions, when the only true hope is the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But is there an invitation? Yes!

The Invitation of God

So! Having said all that, here is the invitation:

In John 3:16, Jesus said that he came “…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is an invitation to you! How can I say that? Because He said “whosoever!” Had he actually called you by name, here in the Bible, there may be someone else by that same name, and He could have meant them, not you! But He said “Whosoever!” That means He is inviting you to believe, and be saved! Right where you sit, He is asking you to believe in Him, and trust in Him alone for your eternal salvation.

Clear back in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 55:1, the principle was laid down: He said, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!” That must have boggled the minds of those who read it! But He reiterates it in the very last chapter of the Bible. In Revelation 22:17 he says, “And the Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life, freely.”

So—the invitation given by the Holy Spirit, is to come to Jesus, the eternal source of living water…the Author of eternal life!

The invitation given by the Church is the same. He says those who hear (That’s us, folks!) should echo that same invitation to those around us: “Come to Jesus. Own Him as your personal Savior! Take the Eternal life that is freely offered to you!” The invitation says “…anyone who is thirsty is to come!” and finally, “Anyone who is willing is to come!” You do have to be willing!

You don’t need me, or a church, or a religious experience of any kind. You need to trust Jesus as your Savior, and learn to walk with Him. This invitation has been there in the Scripture for thousands of years; but each of us are limited, in terms of time. Don’t wait! If you know you need a Savior, then believe in Him, and have eternal life, today.

That is the invitation—it is from God, not me. Answer it as you choose. You alone can choose!

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves clearly, so that we can receive your promise, believe your promise, and learn to walk with you. Teach us to extend the invitation to those around us, too.


Instructions to Believers: Part One

Instructions to Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 1/10/2018 THCF 1/14/2018

Hebrews 13:1-6

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews for many months, now: there have been seven comparisons made, comparing Jesus to all of the important facets of Judaism, with the constant conclusion that “Jesus is better”, because He is the fulfillment of all the promises, the real sacrifice, the real temple, the real Sabbath. Indeed, the central theme of the whole book has been that “Jesus is better.”

There have also been seven warnings, in increasingly stark terms of judgment to come, for those who have pretended faith, but never have made Jesus their Savior on a personal basis. Those who have “gone along for the ride”, giving lip-service to belief, but who have never seen themselves as guilty sinners, needing a Savior, and who have never claimed Jesus’s blood as the full payment for their own sins, are facing eternal loss. We are warned to examine ourselves to be sure that our faith is personal: that we have seen ourselves as guilty sinners before a Holy God, and that we have placed our dependence on Jesus as our only hope for redemption.

The writer (Paul, we think) addresses several seemingly unrelated issues, in closing. He raises no more points demonstrating the superiority of Christ, now, nor any further warnings against false or partial faith. He simply addresses the believers and the need for practical holiness in their lives, as well as the practical outworking of the Love of Christ.

Love is the Foundation

 1Let brotherly love continue.

The phrase “brotherly love” in this verse is actually the Greek word “philadelphia”. Contrary to popular wisdom, the word “Philadelphia” does not mean “The city of brotherly love.” It just means the “love of the brethren”. The city in Pennsylvania is simply named “brotherly love”, though the reality, there, as is true in most cities, pretty much makes a travesty of the concept.

The believers are to love one another as family. This is one of the only two places where “love” is used as a command, and it is not the Agape love in question. Every other place where love is commanded, it is the fully committed, altruistic Agape Love that God demonstrated at the Cross. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…” it does not mean “God loved the world SO MUCH…”, but “In this manner God loved the World: that He gave His only Begotten Son.”

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

It is interesting to me that the very next idea mentioned is the strangers…the word usually translated “hospitality” is “philoxenia”, meaning the “love of the stranger”. It means taking care of the needs of those with whom you have no natural bond of friendship, doing so simply because of your relationship with Christ. Here the word for hospitality has been spelled out, as a phrase: “entertain strangers”—love those, care for those to whom no such favor is due from a natural viewpoint, as there is no relationship. They are a stranger to you.

The only two examples I can think of when humans actually fed or cared for angels were Abraham and Lot. And in those cases, it was the same two angels. (Abraham had three, but one was the “Angel of the LORD”—actually the pre-incarnate Christ. The other two left Abraham and went to find Lot.) It’s possible that there are other examples, but those two stand out in Biblical history. Sampson’s parents could be another, I suppose, but that was a little different.

Quite honestly, I have never practiced hospitality with this in mind; I have never “hoped to see an angel.” I have simply met the need because there was a need to be met. As far as I know they were all bona fide humans. I do not think, either, that there is any doctrine here that “angels are all around us, masquerading as humans,” though many popular Christian books hint at that idea. Is it possible? Certainly…but, in general, what would be the point?

The word for “angels” (Greek “aggelous”) just means “messengers.” In Hebrews chapter one, they are described as spirits, specifically ministering (serving) spirits, sent out “…to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.” I do not think I understand much about angelic beings, mainly because the Scripture does not tell us very much. I also do not trust extra-biblical sources about such subjects, simply because there has been so much folklore about angels and the spirit world, from the beginning of time, which is virtually all false. I prefer to take God’s Word alone on such subjects, and leave the speculation to others. God tells us to cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. (2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5)

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

The Writer brings up some specific needs, here. Persecution had already begun against the Church. The believers were already being arrested and imprisoned for their faith. God reminds the Hebrew believers that the Body of Christ is one Body. (Compare 1st Corinthians 12:12, 20-22) We need to see one another’s needs as being our own needs. We should be as fervent in prayer for another brother or sister as if we ourselves were the one experiencing the adversity.

What about Marriage?

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

God has always rejected Promiscuity. Marriage, although it has been the center of much debate in recent years, was the only relational gift God gave to the human race before sin entered into the world. It was, and is, literally, undefiled. It is not a human invention or tradition, though it has been overlaid with thousands of years of human traditions, differing wildly from culture to culture. It was not inaugurated by humans at all, but only continued in one form or another, sometimes quite corrupted, sometimes not. We are to preserve it in an uncorrupted form.

I have had people tell me that if a man and woman cohabitate, then “they are married, in God’s eyes.” That is not true: remember what Jesus told the Woman at the Well: “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband:’ for thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that thou saidst truly.” (John 4:17, 18) There are several things we can get from that comment, beside the obvious fact of His supernatural knowledge (which in itself is not surprising when one considers that He is God, in the flesh.)

The first thing I can see is that Jesus recognized both divorce and remarriage: though he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and considers the whole practice of divorce and remarriage adulterous, he recognizes it. He did not say, “You have had one husband and have been committing adultery with five men since then.” He said “you have had five husbands.” Those were legitimate marriages. Jesus himself said so, though he did not approve of the divorces.

But the other side of that fact is that He definitely does not recognize “living together” as marriage. He said “…he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” So cohabitation is definitely not marriage. Then what is marriage?

Marriage is a social contract between one man and one woman. (Yes, God recognizes polygamy, too, but does not approve it as a practice. He said it was intended as one spouse, and is to be a lifelong commitment.) Marriage is that state in any given culture (not just a fringe sub-culture) within which a man and a woman can, because of that social contract, live together with the full approval of the whole culture.

In some cultures it is pretty simple. In others it is quite a complex problem. In Mexico, (I am told by friends who are Mexican citizens) the state does not recognize a marriage by the church, and the Church does not recognize a marriage by the state. You have to have both authorizations, in order to be recognized by both. (Something wrong with that picture, I think, but that is how it is.)

In at least some (of the many) tribes in New Guinea, if a woman leaves with a man, for the purpose of becoming his wife, she is married to him. For example, I was told of a situation where a young man crept out of the jungle near the sweet-potato field where his sweetheart was working with her mother. He managed to attract her attention, and persuaded her, through gestures, to run away with him. She left the field, and headed off with him. The mother realized what had happened, and chased after them with her digging stick, caught them, and beat them both quite savagely…but eventually she went back to her field alone. They were married. She absolutely did not approve, but she recognized that the commitment had been made.

In our culture (USA), one needs a “marriage license” in order to have a marriage that is recognized by (for example) the IRS, but I have never heard of a church not recognizing a civil wedding as being valid, though, as a culture, we may prefer church weddings.

In some cultures, a dowry is paid by the bride’s family to the groom. In other cultures that is reversed, and a bride-price is paid by the groom to the family of the bride. In our culture neither is practiced, but there are cultural norms as to “who pays for what.” (Weddings, Receptions, etc.)

The Results of the Promise of God

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

#1 – No Fear of Loss

There are some words in Old English which have pretty dramatically changed meaning: “Conversation” is one of them. The Old English word “conversation” invariably meant “way of life”, “lifestyle”, and “behavior”, or some related idea. In one instance it comes from a word meaning citizenship—where we live—but in all the others it means “how we live”. In this particular instance, alone, the Greek word is “tropos,” meaning “way, or manner, or lifestyle.” Several of the other occurrences are related words.

So the Writer warns, here, against avarice, or greed—specifically the “love of money.” The word for “covetousness”, here, is the Greek word “philargurion”; (literally, “the love of silver”). And on what basis does he say that we are to abandon our fixation on money? The fact that we have the promise of God that he will never abandon us, but will continually sustain and uphold us.

The love of (or obsession with) money is not limited to misers, greedy capitalists, or whomever: It is not limited to the wealthy. Once, early in our marriage, I was out of work because of huge layoffs, and my wife was newly pregnant with our first child. I was absolutely consumed with the fear of failing to provide for my little family. During that time, my very first waking thought, each morning, and my last waking thought at night was “What can I do to make some money?” I was not trusting God at all! When it comes to fixating on money, it does not have to be riches: it could only be the rent. The one, we condemn; but the other we commend as “being responsible as a Man,” etc. But when that passion for earning, saving or possessing is all-consuming, and it has turned your heart away from a steadfast faith in a faithful Creator, then it is sin, whether great or small. The amount of money is not the issue; the heart response is. The root is unbelief.

#2 — No Fear of Abandonment

“…for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

There is a very interesting translation “glitch” here in this passage. There is nothing at all wrong with the translation: just with the language. In English, if we use a “double negative,” technically speaking, it renders a positive. For example, if I said, I will not never leave you, and will not never no-how forsake you”, in English, it would be simply laughably poor grammar, and there would be real question as to whether I was promising not to leave, or promising to leave!

But in Greek, you can strengthen a negative by compounding negative prefixes…and that is what is done here, in Greek. The Writer does not employ separate words of negation, but rather he uses multiple prefixes which each further negate the verb, so that the literal translation would be something similar to, “Let your life be free from the love of money, for he himself has said (and it stands on record) ‘I will not, I will not ever leave you! I will not, I will not, I will NOT ever forsake you!” It is an emphatically strong statement of commitment!

#3 — No Self-Dependency

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

Because I had turned my heart away from God’s supply, and I saw my sustenance as being only my responsibility, and so I was far more concerned with earning money than pursuing the imperative of my dependence on the Grace of God, I could not confidently say, “The Lord is my helper”, and I very definitely feared the possibility of losing our little home (a single-wide mobile home.) Yes, there were extended family members who, undoubtedly, would have stepped in and rescued us (and in fact, did, at various times and to various degrees, during that year,) but I saw it as being entirely my responsibility, and I bitterly desired to carry that load myself.

But sometime during that time of near-poverty, I recognized the meaning and practical application of 1st Timothy 6:9, 10 “But they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown man in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil, which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” I saw myself as being in danger of doing just that. I saw other related verses, such as the passage here in Hebrews 13, and I recognized that, while I had always thought of “covetousness” as being primarily a “rich man’s disease,” it is, in truth, a human failing. I am guilty, simply because I do not trust God for my financial and physical well-being, nor for the well-being of my family. I want a “do-it-yourself” security. I have to confess it as sin.

The roots of this sin go deeper than just our human frailties: Isaiah 14:12-14 tells of Lucifer’s fall into sin, completely rooted in self-will, self-importance, self-expression, and self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we attempt to dethrone God, and declare ourselves to be the fountain of all we are and have. People boast of being a “self-made man”, and the like. There is even a poem, Invictus, whose closing lines declare “I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!” (What arrogant folly!) But am I not doing essentially the same thing when I turn away from an active dependence on the living God, and attempt to be self-sufficient? Yes, I am!

There is nothing wrong with working: we are commanded to do so. There is nothing wrong with seeking to care for our families: we are commanded to do so. But we are constantly warned to remember the True Source of all things. Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and He shall direct thy paths.” We glibly quote that passage, but don’t we consider the real implications.

This is something for us to think about! So, ponder it! Meditate upon this passage, and consider how it may apply to your own experience. Next time, we will expand further on this passage.

Lord Jesus, Free us from self-will, from self-sufficiency, and from self-reliance. Teach us to walk with you in faith, trusting you for all things.

 


So, What about Sin?

So, What about Sin?

© C. O. Bishop 1/5/2018 Cornell Estates 1/7/2018

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans, and the first three chapters are nearly entirely given over to explaining the bad news of the wreckage of the human race in Sin, thus making the “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ entirely appropriate for every human…real good news, in response to real bad news.

So, What is Sin, Anyway?

What is sin? Why is it even an issue? Is it strictly a matter of opinion, and interpretation, or are there some solid truths involved?

The New Testament Greek word “hamartia” reflected a “miss” in spear-throwing, specifically, and one of the primary Hebrew words for “sin” (the Hebrew word chattaah), reflected an archery term meaning to “miss the ‘gold’ (bulls-eye) with an arrow.” But the English word “sin” goes back to various Germanic roots all carrying the idea of “moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, a feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed, etc.”

The various words translated “sin” are used hundreds of times in the Bible, in varying forms, and always treated as something serious. The first warning as to the result of wrongdoing (simple disobedience, in this case, having to do with eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) is in Genesis 2:17, where the Creator warns Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  We find out later that spiritual death, separation from God, was the primary fulfillment, and it occurred the very moment Adam ate that fruit.

Three thousand years later, an important general comment is made regarding Sin: Ezekiel 18:4 states that “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This answer was given against the human charge that God is punishing children for what their parents did.

Romans 5:12 has another important idea: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Yes, sin entered by one man. Sin was introduced to the entire human race in its progenitor, Adam. Think of it as a “genetic code modification,” if that helps: we all became sinners, the moment Adam ate of that fruit. But, we all individually sin, and press home God’s point about the whole human race: Every single one of us, at one level or another…no one escapes that stigma, because we all prove it true on an individual basis. Romans 3:23 makes it abundantly clear: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” We all have missed the mark!

How Can We Identify Sin?

As New Testament believers, there is no need for us to go through lists of “Seven Deadly Sins,” “Five Felonious Foul-ups”, or “Nine Nasty No-nos,” or any such thing: we can learn principles by which we can examine our lives, and which cover all those “lists,” plus things we might not have thought of before, and can’t find on any lists. There are four such definitions in the New Testament:

#1 … Transgression of the Law

God gave the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20, and again in Deuteronomy 4. We will not reflect upon it today, because it was specifically given to the Jews, who were never able to keep it, by their own confession (Acts 15:10), and the New Testament specifically forbids placing that yoke on the necks of Gentiles, to whom it was never given in the first place. All that being said, the value of the Law remains unchanged: it is an eternal standard of righteousness. Romans 7:13 says that it “…makes Sin exceedingly sinful.” In light of that fact, over in 1st John 3:4, the apostle states that “…sin is the transgression of the Law.”

All right! There is one clear definition of sin, given in the New Testament, and specifically addressed to New Testament Believers, in spite of the fact that it reflects on Old Testament Law! “Sin is the Transgression of the Law!” Bear in mind that it is definitely talking about the Mosaic Law, not any particular civil law. It is possible (not at all common) for civil law to be contrary to God’s Law, but we will not address that today. How about another?

#2 … All Unrighteousness

In Romans 1:18-32, God addresses His revealed wrath against “…all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” This is a good place to read carefully, because, though the list He proceeds to lay out sounds fairly exhaustive, it is not, and it leaves room for other items not specified. Verse 32 says …”they which do such things…”, not ”those things.” The list is not exhaustive. That is important, because He does say that His wrath is ”revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” So what can we say, when the condemnation is universal, but the list is not?

1st John 5:17 states that “all unrighteousness is sin….”  All unrighteousness is sin! So, everything on that list over in Romans 1 as well as everything in those categories, named or unnamed, is still sin. Galatians 5:19-21 gives a short list (not the same as the one in Romans, but similar), and the list ends with the phrase, “…and such like”. It means “things like these.” All unrighteousness is sin. It doesn’t have to be on anyone’s list, necessarily. How about another definition?

#3 … If a Man Knows to Do Right and Fails to Do So

James 4:17 really makes it personal: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” To him it is sin! We always say that ignorance of the Law is not an excuse for breaking it, but there is a law that reaches beyond that: knowing the GOOD thing to do, and failing to DO it, is just a wrong as knowing the law and breaking it.

And, quite frankly, even law-enforcement officers sometimes extend mercy to someone who is doing something that is perfectly legal in their home state, and which they had no way to know became illegal when they crossed the state line. I have had mercy extended to me in that specific instance on at least two occasions. One for a vehicle equipment deficiency, and another for hitchhiking in a state where it was illegal. (That is how I got into that state!) An unmarked car pulled up and the officer politely asked me whether I was aware that it was illegal to hitchhike in the state of Tennessee. My shoulders slumped, and I blurted, “No, I didn’t know that! That’s why everyone is staring at me, then!” He smiled and asked where I was headed. I said I was headed into Mississippi, to see my Grandparents for Christmas. He smiled again, and said, “Hop in! I’ll take you across the state line!” And he did! That was Grace and Mercy at work! He gave me what I had not earned, which is the very definition of Grace; and he did not give me the citation I had unwittingly earned. That is Mercy! He made a judgment based on my response. He was satisfied that I had no intent of breaking the law, and he extended both Mercy and Grace.

But God takes it a step further, and says that if I know the GOOD thing I should do, and decide not to do it, then I am guilty because of a sin of omission. That becomes pretty personal. We do not all have the same gifts or abilities, and God does not hold us equally accountable. A small child, for instance would not be held accountable for failing to render aid at an accident. But an adult very well may be. A non-swimmer may not be held accountable for failing to try to rescue someone struggling in the water…but a trained lifeguard, who simply decided his or her shift was ending, and couldn’t be bothered could very well be charged with criminal negligence. Good laws! That is how God sees those things, too! How about one more?

#4 … Whatsoever is Not of Faith

Romans 14:23 makes it not only personal but internal to the individual. It is checking the heart-motivation, not just what was done or not done. It says, in conclusion of a lengthy treatise, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That really caps all the others, in my opinion. There are no loopholes, no excuses…It is between you and God. In the context, the issue being discussed was open either direction: any believer was free to go either way. But! God says that if you are convinced in your own heart that something is wrong, and you go ahead and do it anyway, then it IS sin, for you , because you thought it was wrong and chose to rebel!

By the way, we can do right things for wrong reasons, too, and break this one just as fully. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other places, saying “Don’t be like the scribes and the Pharisees,” …who make long prayers for show—who give very publicly, to gain social status, who want the robes and honors of ministry, but don’t have the heart for service. We can do what our conscience tells us not to do, or fail to do what our conscience tells we ought to do, and find that we have sinned, even though the thing in question was not a transgression of the law, nor unrighteousness (by human standards), nor, perhaps would we admit that we “really knew” what to do.

This one almost approaches the mystical, as it is harder to pin down. The only way I know to respond is to keep pretty short accounts with God, and never allow our soul to become calloused. A tender spirit goes a long way toward avoiding this sort of sin.

How do WE Deal with the Question of Sin?

As far as I can see, the religions of the world are divided into four clear groups by their answer to this question:

  1. Those who deny the existence of sin, saying there is nothing that is intrinsically right or wrong, but those concepts have been drummed into us by our respective societies, and that there simply is no such thing as sin, nor guilt for sin. There are not many churches which teach this, because there is an inborn sense of right and wrong, that virtually all people admit to, unless they are specifically taught otherwise. We certainly see things as wrong when someone does them to us! Maybe not so much when they happen to others.
  2. Those who admit there is such a thing as sin, but insist that “God is so loving that He (or she) would never punish a sinner! We are all children of that loving God, and we just need to get along as best we can, and we will all go to heaven eventually!” This isn’t really common either, because along with a sense of right and wrong, most people have a strong sense of retribution built into them. We believe that good people ought to get good things, and bad people ought to get bad things. Revenge is a very common drive in humans across the globe. Of course our ideas about who is good and who is bad are terribly skewed, in many cases, and our ideas about what the human race deserves, is usually pretty mild…at least toward ourselves and “our kind of folk”. (Funny how that works…)
  3. Those who not only admit there is such a thing as sin, but also agree that God hates sin! And then they say that “You need to do lots of good things to overbalance all the bad things you have already done.” And they will definitely tell you what all you need to do: There might be special prayers to recite, or penances of various types. Money gifts are always appreciated; burning incense, lighting candles, cutting your hair in a specific way, wearing certain special clothing…etc. Oddly enough, virtually all the world’s religions fall into this group: why? Because it appeals to our old sin nature! We want to believe that we can DO something to make God accept us! It makes us feel good about ourselves: “I must be good! Look at all the good stuff I do!” and finally,
  4. The ones that agree that sin exists, that God is Holy, and He hates sin, but then go on to admit that every single human is a sinner, and that there is NOTHING we can do to undo the bad things we have already done. That is what the Bible teaches, and, in this regard it stands alone! We are left guilty and with neither defense nor excuse.

    Jesus’s blood at the Cross is the only payment that God has ever accepted, and we can add nothing to that sacrifice!

Our choices, then become pretty clear: if I try to change the game, and redefine sin, I am in trouble with God. But, if I try to deal with sin in some other way than via the Cross, I add insult to injury, as He says in Hebrews 10:29 that I am treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace! Wow! Rough stuff!

Make it Personal…God takes it that way!

God has made it clear that Sin is a pervasive problem, and that it effectively permeates every facet of human existence. He has made it clear that He hates sin. And He has offered us a way to regain a right standing with Himself.

So, the question becomes, since I now know how God defines Sin, how will I deal with it?

  • Will I brush it away, denying it exists?
  • Will I say, “Oh, yeah, I know, but God will forgive me! He’s a great guy! He isn’t concerned about this sort of thing!”
  • Will I grovel in my guilt, and slavishly try to earn God’s favor through my own works?
  • Or will I accept the simple fact that, apart from God’s Grace, and His Mercy, I am completely helpless against the enemies of my soul, and that my only hope is through Jesus’s finished work at the Cross?

That is the choice each of us faces, when we first become believers, but it is also the choice we face as believers: I cannot go back to being lost, but I can act as if I did! I can still rebel, and deny that my behavior is sin. And it will be very costly!

When I do such things, I put myself beyond God’s reach for fellowship and blessing, and I open myself to the attack of the Evil one. Everything I do during that lapse will be worthless to God, even when I am “trying to do good things to get on God’s good side.” I can’t lose my salvation, but I can definitely waste my life, and lose the opportunity to serve with Jesus, and be rewarded with Him.

So what can I do? I can confess to God that my sin is exactly what God calls it: Sin. Not a “personality conflict” or a “genetic trait”, or “my Irish blood”, or whatever excuse I would like to use. I confess it as sin…and what does God do? 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How can you beat a deal like that?

Take that one to the bank! God already signed the check; all you have to do is endorse it by faith!

Lord Jesus, teach us Your Mercy and Your Grace. Teach us to rely upon your mercy and Grace, by faith, as you show us the sin in our lives. Let us repent of our sins, and confess them to you, so as to be fully restored to fellowship.

 

 

 


What Child is This?

What Child is This?

© C. O. Bishop, 12/22/2017 THCF 12/24/2017

(Comparing the lyrics of the hymn to the scriptural promises from which it sprang.)

Introduction:

One of the reason I really love the Christmas hymns is that they so frequently carry a pretty faithful representation of the facts of the Gospel, along with a fairly faithful representation of the facts of Christmas. Certainly, one may protest that there are facts overlaid by legend and mythology. That is true. We go to God’s Word to sort out the truth, and frequently still can see that the intent of the author was to honor God, and to reflect the truth of His Word. And, of course, there are glaring exceptions…but those are not the ones I am drawn to. A year or so ago, we took “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an example and found that, actually, the original words were quite accurate, and that the only questionable line in the lyrics was changed by a later hand (and, ironically, became the title of the hymn.)

This Christmas I would like to examine some of the core questions posed in a different Hymn: Today people try to recreate and re-invent The Jesus of the Bible. Even in his day, people denied that He was who He said he was, and within the first century, unbelievers were trying to change the Gospel to something more comfortable. It is not comfortable! The uncomfortable portions of the “Good News” of the Gospel are that way because of the unthinkable wickedness of the Human Race…because of our sin.

Today, as then, the appropriate question is “Who is this Jesus?” Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “who he was”.  Jesus, himself, asked “but who do you say that I am?”

A Little History: In 1865, in Bristol, England, an insurance company employee named William Chatterton Dix fell ill, and became extremely sick. He gradually recovered, and during that period of convalescence he went through some pretty deep depression, during which time, he read his Bible a great deal, possibly for the first time with comprehension. The result was that he went through what he called a “spiritual renewal.” I can’t say whether that was when he first received the Lord Jesus as his personal sacrifice for sins, or whether this is just the time when it deeply impressed him. He wrote a poem during that time, called “the Manger Throne”, from which three stanzas were later lifted when he wrote the Christmas Hymn, “What Child is This?

“Who do the People say that I am?”

Jesus asked the disciples this question, before asking them about their own answer to that question: They said “Some say that you are John the Baptist, and some Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” We can see that there was great controversy, even at that time, as to who Jesus really was. Each person was to be held accountable for their own answer to the question. Pilate later posed a similar, essential question: “What then shall I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” We are each held accountable to the answer to that question, as well.

Every year, for the last several decades, people have gathered for the “Jesus Symposium” or some similar name, where they essentially “reinvent” Jesus, according to their own tastes. But the Jesus of the Bible was a historical person, and is easily proven to have been so. What becomes more difficult is the fact that only the Bible gives us an accurate view of who He really is, because the whole rest of the world has “an axe to grind,” in that, the entire human race is antagonistic toward the holy God of the Bible. We want a God who is more to our taste…so we re-create God in our image, according to Romans 1:21-23.

When William Dix confronted this question from his sick bed, he asked

What Child is This?

We need to address the same question: Who is He really? So let’s look at William Dix’s approach:

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Where was He to be born? In Bethlehem…fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. (read it!)

Where was he to be found by the Shepherds? In a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, fulfilling the word of the Angelic messenger to the shepherds as a group. And who were those shepherds told that the baby really was? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” They were not told that he was the king, in that particular context, but, if they knew the Old Testament prophecies (such as the one in Micah 5:2), they would have known that the Messiah (Christ) was to be the Eternal King, as well. So they left their flocks and they hurried into Bethlehem; they made haste, the scriptures say, to go see the newborn king. And they found him just as the Angel had said, along with Joseph and Mary. They went back to their flocks with Great Joy. Did they understand it all? I doubt it…but, then, I don’t really claim to “understand it all,” either.

But, why was he in a manger, and not in some hospital ward or maybe in a palace? Philippians 2:5-8 sheds some light on this: “…he humbled himself.” He not only became part of His own creation, but he became a man, not an angel. He not only became a man, he became a poor man, in a nation that was already a slave-state to Rome, a cruel, ungodly, polytheistic nation. A place where life was cheap, and righteousness was foreign.

He came, not as a conquering hero, but as a tiny, helpless infant, enduring all the hardships of life with the people he had called his own. Did they bring him honor? Not so you’d notice. The shepherds were the only witnesses. But, in that manger bed, all the Promises of the Ages were being fulfilled. He came to save sinners…and his entire life was poured out to that single end.

Take it Personally!

The hymnist recognized what was happening, there, and it shook Him. He was moved to a Godly fear, and he became a true believer, if he had not been one before then. He pondered the fact that those tiny, curled-up baby hands would be the same ones later pierced by spikes, as he was tortured on the Cross. That this tiny, helpless body, when full grown, was the same one which would be pierced through by the Roman spear, as his blood was poured out at the Cross. And he knew it was for himself, personally. “Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through…His blood be shed for me, for you!” Take it personally!

He also realized that this was the fulfillment of John 1:14, where it said that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory…)” We, too, can either embrace that truth, knowing that the Word, which was God, is also the Word which became flesh…and thus we can see His glory…or we can go back to seeing Jesus the way the World sees him: just another dead Jew…or perhaps a tragic martyr…or, even just a myth.

He winds up his hymn, encouraging the listener to join in worshipping the God-in-flesh Savior. To say “bring Him incense” is a call for worship. The incense burned in the temple was only used for that purpose…it was not used to make the home smell nice, or any other common purpose. It was a picture of the prayers, and praises, and worship being offered by believers. How do I know? God says so! Revelation 5:8 says that the incense (odours, KJV) in the vials of the elders (the church) were “the prayers of saints”; saints are the “holy ones of God”: believers! If you are a child of God, God says you are a saint! You may not feel that way (nor do I), but our feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. It is a fact. But he says “Bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” Who did that? It was the wise men. Why did they do it? Remember, they weren’t even there, that first night.

Later, within a year or two, the wise men came from the East, and sought “him who is born King of the Jews”. These wise men were not Jews—these were from the area we now call Iraq, most likely, near what was once ancient Babylon, and may possibly have been some of the last surviving disciples of Daniel, the prophet. He had become one of the head wise men (later called Zoroastrian seers) in Babylon, some 500 years earlier, and he had prophesied of the coming Messiah (Daniel 9:26). They did bring him honor, but later…not at his birth. And the things they brought were appropriate: they brought gold, which was an appropriate gift for a king (and which would be needed for their escape into Egypt); they brought frankincense, which was appropriate to a priest and a sacrifice. They brought myrrh, which was a costly resin, used in medicine and in embalming…appropriate to His death. They recognized him for who He was. We need to do the same thing, and not take lightly the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The hymn-writer says that the way is clear, now, for the lowliest of human slaves, to claim the Savior, as well as for any nobleman willing to humble his or her heart. Queen Victoria was one of those monarchs who humbled her heart and by her own testimony, she was saved. Jesus echoes this, and says, “Whosoever will may come!”

The issue, then, becomes “What will I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” That is what Pilate asked, in Matthew 27:22…but then he went on to condemn Jesus to death. He claimed to be innocent, himself, but he was not. He had the authority to do right, and did not do it. God says that is sin (James 4:17). “Therefore, if a man knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Pilate was guilty. We have to choose, as well, what to do with Jesus, the Messiah.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Jesus directed this question to His disciples. Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for that answer. But later, as you remember, Peter denied Jesus…and later still, he went back to commercial fishing…Jesus had to call him again. But God didn’t give up on Peter; He had a use for Peter’s life. And He has a use for yours and for mine.

So… just like Peter, I know who He really is, too …but what am I going to do about it?

The hymn-writer said, “The King of Kings Salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him!” Is that what I will do? Allow him to reign in my heart? Or will I just live life as usual, and let one day follow another for whatever is left of my life, not honoring The King much more than does the World: (“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!”) But no real thought given to the reason we celebrate. Every day of my life, I wake up with one more chance to serve: one more chance to work with Jesus, offering my body a living sacrifice to His glory. Every day I have to choose how to spend my time, how to spend my money…and whether to serve Him, the King of Kings, or to just go ahead and serve my flesh, just doing what I want, to bring honor to myself. And, too frequently, I choose badly.

“Raise, raise, the Song on High!” When we sing together, do you really hear the words? Do you consider the importance of those teachings? Do you sing the words as a song from your own heart? If you do, then the last line says what should be the result:

“Joy! Joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!” We can see Him as the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and all of His promises to Israel and the World! We can see that the perilous times coming are not directed at us, but at the unbelieving world. We can see that our Savior is coming to take us home, to safety and eternal joy! We can experience, every day, the joy of knowing that He is truly in control, and that, regardless of how bad things look, we are headed for a good conclusion.

Lord Jesus, draw us along into Your Joy. Mature us through the teaching of Your Word, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, re-shaping us into Your own likeness, that we can be able ambassadors of Your Grace and Love to a dying world. Please lift us up, as Your tools, Your hands and Your feet, and use us to Your glory.


Shining as Lights in the World

Shining as Lights in the World

© C. O. Bishop 12/16/2017; Cornell Estates 12/17/2017

Philippians 2:14-30

Introduction:

We have been studying through the epistle to the Church at Philippi, and we have seen that the people to whom Paul was writing were already believers, already saved. Paul had stated, in Philippians 1:6, that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.” Then he goes on, in the following verses, to say that the normal behavior of believers is that we are to “shine as lights in the World.” How do we do that? He goes on to give examples:

Shining in Life

14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

Complaining and bickering are not supposed to be part of the “normal Christian life”.  The prohibition against such things actually extends to all people, not just believers. As believers, though, we are supposed to be characterized by love, peace, unity, honesty, stability, etc. So, if that is what we are supposed to “look like”, what would be the result of that reality in our lives?

15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

He says the result will be that others can find no cause for blame in us, unless it is specifically regarding the person of Christ (Remember the prophet Daniel!). People around us will have to admit to themselves that we do no harm to those around us (again, unless they have a specific problem with Christ and the message of the Cross.) We are to live out the reality of the fact that we are called the Sons of God (Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God”), and that we are the Sons (the heirs) of God. If we are his children, then our lives should reflect that truth in all areas, and every day, not just a mish-mash of sacred and secular; sometimes holy, and sometimes contaminated by sin.

There will be no cause for rebuke in our lives, either from other believers or from unbelievers, though we are forced to live in a fallen world. Paul goes so far as to call the World around us “a crooked and perverse nation.” (That seems to fit awfully well, even today, doesn’t it?) But, far from offering the believers a “way out,” he pointed out the purpose of their being there: they were to “shine as lights in the World.” We are to be lights for God; lampstands from which the light of the Gospel can shine, unhindered by sin, disunity, anger, jealousy, etc.

We are to proffer the written Word, as well as the Living Word. Both are part of how we “shine as lights”. Remember what was said about Jesus, the Living Word, in John 1:4 “In Him was Life, and the life was the light of men.”

One thing to keep in mind is that a dirty lamp does not shine brightly. Frequently, over the years, after a winter storm, I have suddenly realized that the headlamps on my automobile had excessive road-grime on them. After I stopped and cleaned them, I was surprised at the dramatic change in brightness. The light was always present in the lamps, you see, but the road-grime had built up slowly enough that I did not realize how much their light was being dimmed by the dirt, until it was very difficult for me to see the road ahead. I think that our personal habits, words, attitudes and behavior can also gradually take on the “patina” of the World around us, until the Light of Christ is quite dim in our lives. So, as the Living Word (Jesus) is present and preeminent in our lives, the Light of God will shine through us. The final result will be that God’s Work in us is not wasted, but is a good investment. That’s how Paul felt, too! His labor had not been wasted!

One other thing it might be well to remember is that the response of others to the light of God is largely dependent upon their personal character, not just the relative brightness or dimness of the light. So long as it is really the light of God, and not just our human piety or cleverness, or “logic”, or something similar, their response is ultimately based on how they respond to light.

J. Vernon McGee once related how, when he was a young boy, he was required to go out at night, and tend to the cattle in his father’s dark barn. He took a lantern with him, and when he opened the barn door, two things happened simultaneously: the rats which had been scavenging on the barn floor all ran for cover, and the birds which were roosting in the rafters mistook the lantern-light for daylight and began to sing. Why the difference? The light was exactly the same! But the lifestyle and character of a rat is very different than that of a bird. Their characters, whether bird or rat, were revealed by their response to the light. It is the same principle, in humans. Our character is revealed by our response to God’s light.

Shining in Suffering

17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

The Greek word for “offered”, here is “sperdomai”…“poured out” –it refers to the drink-offerings which were part of a worship offering; not to be consumed by the priests, but to be poured out upon the offerings being burned as worship offerings. Paul felt that, if his service culminated in death, while their lives were being offered daily as living sacrifices, then he was a worship offering along with their offerings, so they could rejoice together. (What a blessing!)

Later, we will see that Epaphroditus had been terribly sick, as well, and his main concern was for the grief of those who loved him and were anxious for his health. He mourned for their mourning, as he had no way to assure them that he was at peace, and walking with The Lord. (There were no telephones, nor any other means to communicate at a distance: not even a postal service. We will wait, and discuss that portion of scripture when we get there, though.)

Paul was now sending a letter by Epaphroditus, telling them how he himself felt about the prospect of death, and his own past sufferings, as well as how Epaphroditus had responded to the challenge. He doesn’t spend much time on either instance, but we can learn by their examples, so that we, too, can “shine in suffering.”

Shining in Service

Paul then gives Timothy as an example of someone who was “shining in service:”

19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.
20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.
21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.
22 But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.
23 Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.
24 But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.

Timothy was one of Paul’s protégés, and fellow-workers, along with Silas and Titus. Many commentators, for some reason, assign to each of them the office of having been “the pastor” of one of the New Testament churches, but there is absolutely no scriptural evidence to support that notion, and there is much evidence to contradict it.

To begin with, every single example we are given in scripture states that there were multiple elders in every church. The few passages where both the Greek word translated “pastor” (“poimen, which simply means “shepherd”)  and either of the words translated “elder” or “bishop”, are used, all reveal that the pastors, elders and bishops were identical—the same men, in the same office; not some sort of “hierarchy” of ecclesiastical authority. All the various divisions and layering of authority (abbots, archbishops, cardinals, etc.) came later, as error crept into the church, all of which furthered the idea of a separation between clergy and laity…for which there is also no scriptural basis. (“Pastor, elder and bishop” are not the same words: they describe the various functions of the office. But they are the same individuals in every case, in scripture.)

Finally: Titus, Timothy and Silas were all given itinerant ministries; helping the churches, training and appointing leaders, and correcting error, but then…moving on. There are various opinions as to their job-titles, and I am not going to address that now, but it simply cannot be the “pastor” of a local church! Paul specifically told the “pastors, elders, overseers” of the local church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28) to stay put, and tend that flock! Titus, Silas and Timothy were told to do what they had been sent to do and get back to Paulm as soon as possible, for another assignment. You can’t both shepherd a flock and also run all over the Mediterranean coast, tending to all the flocks. Whatever they were, it was not an elder, pastor or bishop (all words for the same office.)

Paul sent Epaphroditus with this letter in hand, but he promised to send Timothy as well. He knew that Timothy would care for and teach the flock as well as he himself might have done, and that he would bring back the news as to how they were thriving (not “take root” there, and be their “pastor.”) Interestingly, some commentators declare that Epaphroditus was the “pastor” of the church at Philippi, others claim that he was definitely not the pastor, but was an “ordinary layman”. Both opinions are utterly lacking in scriptural support, and both, in fact, are in contradiction to definite scriptural teaching. There is no such thing as a singular “pastor” of a local assembly in scripture, but neither is there such a thing as a “layman”. Both ideas are the remnants of a serious, divisive, destructive error that began to creep into the church in the first century, and which, by the fourth century, was established as a general rule, as we see it today. The scriptures teach that every believer is a priest in the body of Christ…and the only two church “offices” named are elders and deacons. No one is a “layman”, and church leadership is always plural.

Without regard to the relative titles of either Epaphroditus or Timothy, Paul reminded the believers at Philippi that they already knew Timothy’s testimony, and his reputation: He was faithful, and had a genuine heart for the welfare of the flock. Paul said that he was the only one currently available to him, in that category. He was not stating that he was the only one in existence…just that he, Paul, had no one else to send. Besides, Timothy had served with Paul, as a son would serve with his father in a secular job, effectively serving as an apprentice. Paul was only waiting to find out what his own sentence might be (as a result of his upcoming trial) before sending Timothy to them. He still was hoping that he himself would be permitted to go and see his friends once more, as well. We don’t know for certain whether he did or not, but my opinion is that he probably did. He stated with some certainty that he expected to come and visit them. It is just that we have no scriptural proof that he actually made the journey there again.

Shining in Sickness

25 Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.

The church at Philippi had sent a gift to Paul by the hand of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus had then stayed and cared for Paul, but had contracted some sort of disease while he was there, and had been very sick: he had nearly died. Evidently he had been there for some time, too, as news had already gotten back to Philippi that he was sick, and likely to die, so they were deeply grieved for him:

26 For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.
27 For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
28 I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.
29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation:
30 Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

Epaphroditus knew that they had been sorrowing for him, and, as he convalesced, he was anxious to go home and let them know that he was well. Paul, then, is sending him, along with this letter, and confirming that he had been very close to death, but that God had mercifully chosen to extend his life. Paul was especially grateful for that, as his own troubles were deep enough without adding to them the grief of losing Epaphroditus.

Paul was grieved for their sorrow, too, and, by sending Epaphroditus, he hoped to completely alleviate their sorrow, and also to diminish his own. He asked, then, that they receive him as a man of God, gladly accounting Epaphroditus as one who had served; risking his life to honor God. Paul knew that the church at Philippi had very limited resources, and that the gift they had earlier sent by the hand of Epaphroditus was dipping very deeply into their meager income, and they had given beyond what they really could afford.

Epaphroditus had stayed and served in ways they could not serve from such a distance. It was not a lack of care, but a lack of opportunity and ability that forced them to send a representative. They served through Epaphroditus, just as we hope to serve through the missionaries we support, though very few of us are privileged to travel to foreign fields to serve. Paul said that such people are to be respected for their service, and the risks involved with that service.

Shining Today

But each of us have circles of relationships in our individual lives, within which (perhaps) we are the only source of light…or within which we and a few friends or relatives, collectively, are the only sources of light. None of us are completely secluded: there are always individuals whose lives we can touch; those whose lives we can bless; those whom we can serve, and for whom we can “hold forth the Word of Life.” The only question, really, is: How will you respond to the opportunity, when it comes?

Lord Jesus, alert our hearts and minds to the people around us who need your Grace, and who, for whatever cause, have never trusted you as their personal Savior. Give us the passion to reach the lost, and to love the unloved, so that we may be genuine lights in the World around us. Open our eyes and let us see the need. Open our hearts and let us serve you.


The True Mount Zion

The True Mount Zion

© C. O. Bishop 12/08/2017; THCF 12/10/2017

Hebrews 12:18-29

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Hebrews, and have most recently seen God’s exhortation to not allow ourselves to become bitter or discouraged, nor to allow those around us to fall into despair, as it will affect others as well. I take this one pretty personally, as I have suffered from chronic depression for over 45 years. This is one of the pitfalls that Christians can fall prey to, and which can destroy an otherwise productive life.

He further pointed out that there are errors we can make and sins we can fall into—decisions we can make—that we can’t fix: The results will be permanent. He gave the example of Esau, who made a bad decision, and later wanted to repent, but he could not do so; the damage was done.

The writer goes on to point out that the God we are dealing with is not a human authority, but is far beyond all human thought. Far beyond even Mount Sinai, though Mt. Sinai had held the awe of believers for 1500 years at that point, already (and it still does.) We are not dealing with the temporal, but with the eternal.

The True Mount Zion

Mount Zion is beyond Mount Sinai, to begin with. The True Mount Zion reaches beyond this world.

18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

The writer correctly assessed the impression it had made upon the people then, by quoting what Moses said about it…but then he says that the reality we face is far greater. At least what they faced could be physically touched, and seen, and heard, etc.: it could be experienced with the senses. They knew the reality of what they saw, and knew the penalty for disobedience to the God who commanded them. Though it was a physical reality (as were all the other things with which Jesus has been compared in the book of Hebrews), it was only a foreshadowing of the real thing; the true mount Zion.

What we are now involved with is the real thing. Each believer has become part of the Bride of Christ, and, though our sins have been washed from us, so that God will never again condemn us, we still are completely accountable to him, and there is no part of our lives that is exempt from his call. He calls us to respond to him with our whole lives, recognizing that we are His.

22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

Here is a side note: When this passage refers to “God, the Judge of all,” is it referring to God the Father, God, the Son, or God the Holy Spirit? Abraham saw Him (Genesis 18), and addressed Him as the “Judge of all the Earth.” We don’t often consider this, because we only tend to see Jesus, as Jesus: the God-Man, who walked among us. But John 1:18 makes it clear that no one has ever seen God the Father, except in the person of the Son; and, as far as we know, the Spirit has only been seen in visions (Ezekiel), and, at the baptism of Jesus, where He appeared as a Dove…once!  So, Abraham had to be talking to the pre-incarnate Christ: God the Son. If we still have any doubt about the matter, we must consider what Jesus himself said, in John 5:22 “…the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son.” All right, then! That pretty much answers our question: The passage where he says, “God, the judge of all” is still referring to God the Son, and Jesus, our redeemer, is mentioned separately, only because of the Earthly nature of his specific ministry. He still has His resurrected human body. That same Jesus is the One we serve and the One we look to for salvation. He is the mediator of the New Covenant.

The True Sacrifice

24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

This could seem to either refer to the sacrifice Abel brought (Jesus is better) or to the blood of Abel, personally, which was shed by Cain. Both are true, of course, but Abel’s personal blood was not a part of the Old Covenant. Abel’s personal blood cannot be reasonably compared to that of Jesus. Jesus was not a victim, but a willing substitute. The sacrifice Abel brought, though, was the first voluntary substitutionary sacrifice recorded, and it predicted the whole sacrificial system to come. (That is why Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet.) The blood Abel brought was looking forward to the Cross, as did all other Old Testament sacrifices: and, as such, it was only a foreshadowing of the blood of Jesus at the Cross. Therefore, using Abel’s prophetic offering as representative of the entire Old Covenant, the Writer states that Jesus’s blood is better!

The blood of the Old Covenant was temporary, and was offered repeatedly, reminding us of our guilt before God. The blood of the New Covenant is permanent and was only offered once, for all time. The blood of the Old Covenant sacrifices was always that of animals, and could only cover sins. The Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away Sins. (John 1:29)

We know all these things, but we frequently forget the incredible spectacle of the Eternal God, the Creator of all things, deliberately becoming part of His own creation, taking on the form of a man; not one of the “demi-god heroes” of Greek, Roman, and other mythologies, but as a true, relatively ordinary man, and born of a poor family, not that of a king: doing no “heroic deeds,” but only acts of compassion, kindness and mercy. His power and authority was demonstrated, but not exploited. No one was ever harmed by his power while he walked this earth.

He stopped the storm, demonstrating His power over nature. He healed innumerable people of diseases, some of which were at that time incurable (some probably so, even today), and thus proved His power over physical illness. He cast out demons, proving His power over the forces of spiritual darkness and evil in general. Then, just before his crucifixion, He knocked down 200 Roman soldiers (thus showing his power over human governments and enemies), by simply saying His name. And then He invited those same soldiers to take him away, and meekly submitted Himself to their hands, knowing what was to come.

The True Judge

Consider the one with whom we have to do: His was the eternal authority of Heaven. He is still, eternally—past, present and future—the “Judge of all the Earth”. When we look forward to the coming judgement, and fearfully hope that we will be saved by his blood (and we will), we trust in Him as our advocate for the defense. But we easily forget that he is also the Judge! His is the only authority we need to consider, ultimately. Everything He does is under the authority of the Father, and in complete agreement with the Father, but it behooves us to remember that the same Jesus we saw walking into Jerusalem, and feeding the crowds, etc., is the inescapable Judge who will sit upon the Great White Throne of Revelation 20…and exercise that eternal power and authority to finally condemn the sins of the whole human race.

He condemned all of our sins, already, in eternity past, and already made eternal provision for a substitute for us. We see in Revelation 13:8 that He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.”  He also condemned our sins while he was on earth (John 3:18, 19) “he that believeth in Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Those who place their trust in His shed blood will no longer face His righteous judgement at the Great White Throne. But we still are dealing with an Eternally Righteous God who hates sin. Let’s take that seriously!

25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.

This is the seventh (and final) warning to those who were “dabbling” in Christ, but still were rooted in Judaism. The God of Judaism is the same as the God of Christianity. In fact, ironically enough, the Jesus Christ whom Israel had rejected was the Jehovah (Yahweh/YHWH) of the Old Testament, whom they also rejected, time after time.

That is one reason that this epistle begins with the words “God, who at sundry times and in divers manner spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son

The Prophets were fairly uniformly rejected…in fact, many lost their lives for speaking for God. John the Baptist was the final Old Testament prophet, and was also martyred. Jesus, the only begotten son (meaning the heir to the throne), was rejected and killed as well.

But Jesus is the Judge! (John 5:22) Jesus himself is the one they will have to face if they reject him. They will see Him face to face, no longer offering salvation, but only judgment…only His final condemnation for all those who spurned his offer of Grace.

The Jews looked back at the experiences of Israel in the Exodus, as well as the various wars, captivities and famines, and they piously shuddered, thinking “Well, I wouldn’t have failed God in that way!” But they were doing it at that very moment, by rejecting the Son as their Messiah.

The True Savior

Mercy is the only thing that stands between us and the consuming fire of God’s judgment. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercy that we are not consumed.”  Grace is God giving us something we do not deserve (Salvation, for example), while Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve (eternal judgment). Mercy and Grace go hand in hand. Though I still deserve the judgment of God for my sins, I will never be judged for my sins, because of God’s Mercy and Grace. Grace is God, in the person of Jesus Christ, giving himself as the sacrifice for my sins. Mercy is His not holding that sin against me, ever again, though I continue to fail Him daily.

This was God’s final warning, in this epistle, against an uncommitted faith…an impersonal faith. I have asked people on various occasions, “Did Jesus die for your sins?” They replied “He died for everyone’s sins!” I reiterated, “But did he die for your sins, personally?” They invariably insisted that “He died for everyone’s sins!” I could not get them to commit to the statement that his blood was the payment for their personal guilt. Does that mean that they were not believers? I don’t know! I can’t see their hearts…but it makes me fear that they are giving mental and vocal assent to the claims of Christ, but that they do not see themselves as a sinner in need of a savior. If that is actually the case, then, no; of course, they are not believers.

Cain saw himself as having no need of a blood sacrifice for his sins. He brought a vegetable offering. Abel brought a blood sacrifice, thus prophesying the coming Messiah. The folks to whom this warning was directed had undoubtedly brought blood sacrifices, themselves, many times in the past—they were Jews! But they did not do it because they saw their need for a savior. They did it because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do, (“…and besides, who knows? Maybe it will keep me out of trouble with God!”) But they were no more convinced of their own need for a savior than Cain had been, as they were secretly rejecting the blood of Jesus which would eclipse all previous sacrifices, and fulfill the prophesy implied in Abel’s sacrifice.

That is the reason why each of the seven warnings throughout this epistle is given. There are about forty exhortations to the believers as to how to respond to God; how to respond to one another; how to respond to the leadership in the church, etc. But those seven warnings all seem to be directed to those who are dabbling in the faith, and are still uncommitted. Judas fell into that category, too, but he eventually took it a step further, and not only was lost, but was eternally guilty of the betrayal of Jesus. (Compare John 13:10, 11 with John 15:3. The other apostles were saved by faith, the same as everyone else. The Eleven had believed Jesus’s words; Judas had not. The Eleven were clean through Jesus’s words, Judas remained unwashed, uncleansed, unsaved. A person who hears the Gospel and does not make it personal can still fall into this trap today. This is the warning repeated throughout this epistle; seven times, in all.

The writer mentions that God will once more shake the Heavens and the Earth. He goes on to explain that it signifies the utter removal of the created, temporary things, and their replacement with eternal things. We will see the promised “new Heaven and new Earth” when that time comes. Those who ultimately reject the Lord will be judged before the new Heaven and earth are revealed, so it seems that they will never see it at all, unless it is visible from the lake of fire.

I hope the two are to be completely separate. The eternal judgment of the lost is not something I like to think about. I teach it, and I warn of that coming judgment, but I really don’t like to dwell on the topic. All of the trials we experience in this life have an ending: as believers, we always entertain the hope of a coming release and deliverance. For those who ignore the call of God to repentance and salvation, there can be no such hope. He will no longer be offering His Grace and Mercy, but only the eternal consequences of unbelief, and of having rejected His Grace.

Our Response, as True Believers

These are painful things to talk about. This is the last of the seven warnings to the uncommitted hearers of the Gospel who have not claimed Jesus as their Savior. From this point on, the writer gives instructions to believers, only.

If you understand the warning we just read and discussed, I hope it will make you more serious about reaching out to the lost ones in your circle of friends and acquaintances. We see the world spinning rapidly toward the final culmination of history in the Rapture of the Church and the Great Tribulation. Perhaps it will not happen in our time, but I believe it probably will.

How we each respond to the Authority and Love of the Savior is a personal choice, and the results of those choices are inevitably chosen with our responses. We are told by the Apostle Paul, over in 1st Corinthians 3, that it is possible for us to “build upon the foundation of Christ” with gold, silver, and precious Stones, or with wood, hay and stubble. The character of our works, as believers, is to be tested by fire. I’m afraid there have been many sections of my work that were claptrap structures of scrap-wood, bound together with binder twine. It was utterly combustible, and eternally wasted, from God’s perspective. God is faithful and just. He does not forget the worthy things we have done, in faith. But He is imminently fair, and just, as well: He does not reward excursions into self-motivated “projects” which may have seemed good, but were really only our own doings.

He wants our works to originate with Him, and to be carried out by the Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness: change our hearts so that we respond to your Love and Authority with Gratitude and Obedience. Take away our selfish hearts of unbelief, and motivate us to serve from a pure heart. Make us true ambassadors of your Grace.