Archive for the ‘Recent Sermon Notes’ Category

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.


The Chastening of Sons

The Chastening of Sons

© C. O. Bishop 11/13/2017 THCF 11/26/2017

Hebrews 12:5-17

Introduction:

Last time, we talked about our need to recognize Jesus, not only as our Savior, but as our Example for living. We explored the command, “Looking unto Jesus”, and how it applies to our lives; and what it means to “lay aside every weight,” and every entanglement, the baggage from our past lives and the sins that so easily ensnare us.

We briefly began to consider the concept of the chastening of God, and how it relates to us as believers. But we didn’t go very far along that line of thought, and we need to pick it up where we left off, and give it a more full examination. The writer begins with an admonition that we remember whose sons we have become, and enter into the full relationship with Him, including the “chastening of sons”.

The Chastening of Sons

The Chastening of Sons is training…it is God shaping our lives so that we can enjoy a more productive life with him. It is “pruning” in some cases, to use a botanical reference, and “training up” in others. There are some branches that need to be trimmed back, or even removed, in order to maintain health in a fruit tree, while there are others that are healthy, but need to be re-directed —trained up—staked up, perhaps, so as to point them away from the ground, or away from another branch, so that they are not competing for light. We need to keep that in mind, as we see God changing the course of our lives.

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

The chastening which God brings in a believer’s life is not “punishment.” The punishment for sin—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (remember: this is only for believers) is the “chastening of sons (huios–heirs).” When life is getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation. The chastening of sons is only for sons, so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the very same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the same things that unbelievers experience, or sometimes even worse, from our point of view (Think of Job’s experience!) But the issue is that we are in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

The Rewards of Chastening

We discussed training, last time, as it applies to an athlete, and the discipline required to succeed: Let’s take this a step further, though: At the end of a sports season, when they hold an awards ceremony, the “Most Valuable Player” award, “Most Points Scored”; Most Improved Player” etc. are not given to everyone…they are awarded to the ones who earned that distinction in the mind of the judge—the coach. Do you see the parallel? The Judgment Seat of Christ is an awards ceremony. Our works will be judged, and rewards given according to our works. But the key issue will still be, “did they originate in Him?” Were they carried out by the Holy Spirit through us, or were they things we just did on our own? Not everyone will receive the same rewards, since not everyone chooses to submit themselves to God for his service. It has nothing to do with the greatness of the results.

Let’s compare two of God’s known servants:

  • Jeremiah preached faithfully, even choosing to go into captivity with the Jews who had rejected his words, so that he could continue ministering to them, though he personally was offered freedom by the Babylonian conquerors. During his entire ministry, so far as we know, only two people really believed him: Baruch, his assistant, and Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch who rescued him from the pit. I assume there were probably others, as well, but apparently very few.
  • Jonah, on the other hand, preached one sermon (evidently repeating the message over and over for three days) and roughly 120,000 people were saved…probably more. And he was angry with God at those results! He didn’t want them saved! They were his enemies, and he wanted them destroyed!

Now: which of those two had the better ministry? From the world’s perspective, Jeremiah was a loser from the beginning, and should perhaps have found something else to do. His “numbers” told a dismal tale, for sure. But he was chosen by God, and he was utterly faithful, while Jonah was disobedient: he wouldn’t preach at all until God forced him into submission, and he was still in rebellion even after the amazing results of his preaching.

The results in both cases were from God: He knew who would respond, and to what message. So, which do you think, by now, has received a better reward? When I read the parable of the talents, and see how the Lord said “well done, thou good and faithful servant”, I would have to conclude that Jeremiah was probably richly rewarded, while Jonah may not have had such a good reward. Of course, I don’t know anything about the rest of Jonah’s life, except that he was from Galilee, and that he was known as a prophet, not only in the situation with Nineveh. So perhaps he had a great reward as well. It is not mine to say…but from the only information we are given, Jonah was certainly not a good example of how to respond to God’s leading.

The Motive of Chastening

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Most of us were trained by parents, who, to whatever degree, tried to mold our lives, so that we would grow up to be beneficial members of society, successful in business, or whatever their goals may have been. We may not have enjoyed what we learned, but most of us can look back and see that it was valuable in at least some ways. Most of us can at least respect what our parents tried to do, even if we feel they did not do a good job as a parent. There are counter examples, I know, and I have heard some of those stories. But as a general rule, most parents, whether godly or not, at least desire that their children grow to be productive, well-adjusted adults. And, ultimately, most people do, to one degree or another.

But God says that His discipline is intended to mold us into His likeness so that we can be partakers of His Holiness. Over in 2nd Peter 1:4, we are told that we can expect to be made partakers of His Divine Nature, through the “exceeding great and precious promises” that He has given us. So, between the Word of God, where those promises are, and the Spirit of God who motivates us and guides us, we are being trained to become more and more like our Savior. That is God’s goal. He gives us instruction as to how to respond to His training.

The Goal of Chastening

12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

God wants us to willingly submit ourselves to His will now, so that we benefit sooner, and can knowingly engage with his plan for our lives. He says for us not to be discouraged by hard times, but to eagerly look to see what He may be doing to train us for further service. Rather than being crushed by adversity, we can be strengthened by it. We are to choose paths that honor God, so that we can see His hand of blessing, even in hard times.

14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

On a daily basis, we will either see the hand of God in our lives or we will not. If we feel that we are not seeing God’s presence in our daily lives, we may need to examine our walk, and “sharpen our gaze”, so to speak. But…that is not the way the phrase “see the Lord” is used here.

What holiness can any man or woman produce in their lives that will match the holiness of God? Why are we told in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?” Why does James say that “in many things we all offend”? It is because we are all sinners, saved by Grace! So, what “holiness” is God calling the prerequisite for seeing Jesus at all for eternity?

In Ephesians 4:24 we get a hint: He says “and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (emphasis mine.) The only human holiness that God can call “holiness” is his own Holiness, reflected in us. Jesus told Nicodemus that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The holiness has to be born in us at the re-birth Jesus required of Nicodemus… it is a new creation. Apart from that, we will not see the Lord. But on an on-going basis, holiness must be pursued, in order to experience it as a daily, ongoing reality. It is not something we just “strap on and forget it.” It is to be cultivated and fed, as we learn to walk with God. We feed the new nature, and pursue the holiness of God.

Consequences of Rejecting Chastening

The following verses warn of the danger in not learning to walk with God: we can become embittered, and as a result, become a casualty in the army of God. Can we lose our place in his family? NO! But we can lose our place of service, and blessing, and become a liability to others.

15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

We need God’s Grace by which to live, day by day. Failing to avail ourselves of His Grace will make us susceptible to bitterness. We are wounded by the enemy…a casualty in the battle. Such a casualty will always affect others. Others will be defiled as well, as they are either drawn into sin, themselves, or repulsed by the sin of the failed Christian testimony. Many new believers (and unbelievers) have been permanently driven away from churches, by what they have experienced in some particular church, long ago. And some never recover. Bitterness is only one source:

16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

Esau is held up as an example of one who “sold out”. Was he a saved man? I have no way to know for sure, but it would seem he was not. He counted one meal to be of greater value than a relationship with God, knowing that the “birthright” included being the family priest, at that time.

17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

This is not a warning that “one can lose his salvation, and will never be able to regain it.” It is simply a solemn warning that it is not always possible to “go back and change things.” Some bad decisions have permanent results…there will be consequences, regardless of our remorse.

Years ago, there was a Republican senatorial bid by a young Southern Baptist pastor whom I actually met, and with whom I was favorably impressed. But, before the primary campaign had really gotten going, he (quite publicly) ran away with his secretary. His friends frantically pleaded with him to give up his folly and come back, and he finally did so. But it was too late: his wife wanted no part of it, and she divorced him. That ended his campaign, his ministry and his reputation. All was ruined, with no hope of recovery. There was no place of repentance. His name was used for years thereafter, to viciously mock Christians, Republicans, Southern Baptists, and Pastors. He was a permanent blot to everyone with whom he had ever been associated.

It was pretty sad, and shameful, at the time, but it stood as a lesson for the rest of us, too. There are some mistakes that you just can’t go back and undo. Did he lose his position in the family of God? No! But he did lose his position of service, and blessing. We can be disqualified for ministry through our sin, whether it is anger, pride, lust, or any other sin. When we look at the qualifications for an elder, for instance, it specifies a “one-woman-man” (Yes, I am aware that it is usually translated: husband of one wifeand I believe that is correct, but this is what it literally says, in Greek.) Had this pastor in the political race repented and gone back to his wife (and had she not divorced him) and had he just tried to go on with his church ministry, would he have been qualified to serve? I think not! He had already proven that he was not a “one-woman-man”.  Divorce is not the issue, there in 1st Timothy 3:2. Character is… it always is!

I have known a few (not many) who have been divorced through no fault of their own. One such man was forced into it by the state of California, because his wife needed institutional mental-health care, and they would not accept her, to give her the care she needed, unless he divorced her. He did not want to do it, but was given no choice. She died there, in that hospital, still loved by her husband, but separated from him by a government regulation. Was he a one-woman man? Yes: he eventually remarried, and has been completely faithful to that wife as well, through years of ministry and declining health. He was a qualified elder/pastor, and served faithfully for years.

But the young pastor who aspired to government, and who deserted his wife for another woman? He had proven himself unqualified as a pastor. There was nothing he could do to recover his lost position of service. There was no place for repentance. This is something to remember.

It is important to realize, too, that there is no such thing as a “secret” from God. Our thoughts are not “hidden” in our own hearts. I’m sure that the pastor in the above example had “toyed with” the sin of adultery for years, before he finally succumbed to it. He had already been in trouble with God! The sin of his heart was only made public through his actions.

I knew another young pastor who succumbed to covetousness: he lost his ministry and his reputation through theft: shoplifting, specifically. He lost his job, his life-calling, and the respect of his wife, family, and friends, all through the avarice that led him to steal what were ultimately just “toys”. He didn’t steal because of “need.” It was simple greed that cast him down. Again, this is something to remember: You don’t have to fall into the same sorts of sin in order to know that they are a bad choice. These fellows proved it for you. They have “done your homework” for you. Learn from their mistakes, and don’t make the same mistakes yourself.

Conclusion

Since we know that the chastening, discipline, and “child training” that God uses to direct our lives is all for our good, and that He is molding us into His likeness, we need to respond accordingly, and be thankful for His guidance, and His provision, even when life is not going the way we want it to go. We can be thankful for prayers that were answered “No!” We can be thankful for stressful situations that He uses to build stamina and endurance in our lives.

By learning to endure patiently, graciously (and even joyfully) the trials we face, we become a much better testimony to the unbelieving world, and a much greater encouragement to our fellow believers. Is it easy? No! Is it worth the trouble? Yes! Jesus says (John 14:21) that if we love Him, and obey Him, then He will make Himself known to us. And experientially knowing the presence and blessing of Christ in our lives on a daily basis, is the most precious thing we can have, in this world.

Lord Jesus, help us to see Your handiwork in our circumstances, and to learn to see Your Grace at work. Help us to give thanks in all circumstances, and to respond in faith, obedience, and love.


Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

© C. O. Bishop 11/14/2017 Cornell Estates 11/19/2017

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

In chapter one, we saw that Paul had hoped to travel to Philippi, and to see the believers there once more. We also found that one of the reasons he loved them is that they had shared in his danger, in his privations, and in his sufferings. They were partners with him in the work of world evangelization. His last words were to the effect that they were experiencing the same conflict and warfare as he was experiencing…and they knew it, but they pressed on anyway. On the basis of this fellowship and Love, he exhorted them to continue in unity, humility and love.

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

It does not seem that Paul is questioning whether, in fact, Jesus could or would produce consolation, etc. in a believer’s life, but rather was saying if you are experiencing these things (and it is understood that you ought to be) then let them result in unity and humilty.

Unity:

2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

  • Likeminded—in agreement with the person of Christ
  • Having the same (mutual) love (agape) for one another that Jesus commanded
  • Being of one accord (in harmony with one another), and
  • Of one mind: doctrinally in unity

Humility

3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

There was not to be any self-centeredness. They were not to be vying for prestige, but rather “stepping back” to allow one another to take precedence. We are not to seek the limelight, so to speak. We are not in competition against one another. (The disciples had a problem with that: “Who shall be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”)

It is important that we see each other as family, or, at the very least, team-mates. I remember being on a wrestling team, and really wanting all my team-mates to win. I wanted to win, too, but every individual win increased our chances of winning as a team. So, even if I did not like a particular person on our team, I wanted that person to win, for the sake of the team. And, whatever I could do to support them in that regard, I did.

We are on a “wrestling team,” of sorts, as well: Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” Those evil forces against whom we are at war will grab any advantage against us, so that a wounded brother or sister can be used against us. It is our responsibility to extend the genuine agape love of Christ, and His commitment and care to all the believers around us. Otherwise we are leaving the church open to attacks from the enemy.

How many terrible church fights and ugly church splits could have been avoided through obedience to these four verses? Probably every single one, if we are honest with ourselves.

Humility is not self-degradation: it is a “deliberate step back”, to allow someone else to be important; to allow someone else to be at peace. In the long run, it results from sobriety: if we see ourselves clearly, in the light of God’s Word, there is no place for pride. We haven’t a single thing of value except the gifts He has given, and those gifts…are just that: gifts! We did nothing to earn them or deserve them.  Jesus demonstrated this supernatural humility when he came into this world. Paul exhorts us to follow His example. Let’s examine it in detail:

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Jesus was really and truly God in the Flesh: but he didn’t strut around making sure everyone knew he was God. He simply walked around doing what His Father sent him to do, without calling undue attention to himself. This passage is sometimes called the “Kenosis” passage: the “self-emptying” of Christ.

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

We can see a seven-fold self-emptying, here:

  1. He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped at—or clung to;
  2. He set aside the honor and prerogatives of deity (making himself of no reputation) and literally became a “nobody”. He was never honored as an important member of society
  3. He took on a much lower form—that of a created being, though he was the Creator; that of a servant, though He was the ultimate Lord and Master.
  4. He was made in the form of a man—in fact, arriving as men arrive—a naked, helpless baby; completely dependent upon others for food and care.
  5. He humbled There was no hint of pride in anything Jesus did on earth: no “Look at me now!” moments.
  6. He was obedient in all things, big and little, convenient and inconvenient.
  7. He was obedient even though it cost him his life. We see this as a fairly noble idea, because we associate it with heroism, and with personal honor; but: He was obedient even though it demanded total degradation as he became sin for us; the shame as he was stripped and scourged, the devastatingly cruel pain in crucifixion, and the crushing soul-agony of desertion, as his own Father rejected Him as the embodiment of Sin. This is not to be compared to “a brave soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades,” though that is noble and praiseworthy. Every single one of those soldiers/teammates deeply appreciates his sacrifice, and will never forget it. But very few of those for whom Jesus died even respect Him for it. They sneer at him and use His name for a curse. He died for the Sins of the whole World.

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s count the seven ways God rewarded His faithfulness:

  1. The Father has Highly Exalted Him:
  2. Has given Him a Name which is above every name
  3. That at the name of Jesus, Every knee shall bow
  4. Of things in Heaven (the holy Angels, the righteous resurrected dead, and the raptured church)
  5. And things in Earth (whoever is living on the restored Earth…in the Millennial Kingdom, apparently), and
  6. Things under the Earth (I assume he means the inhabitants of Sheol), and
  7. That every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. (This does not save anyone, by the way…the lost will confess it, too, but in defeat, not in joy. It is simply a fact.)

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

On the basis of Jesus’ example the believers are encouraged to allow God to continue his work in them, so that the “outworking” of our salvation will be behavior in keeping with God’s presence and will. There are many who attempt to use this sentence-fragment “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, divorced from the context of the rest of the scripture, to claim that one has to earn his salvation through works, or that one has to “work out a way to find salvation”, or some such thing. That is not at all what is being taught here, as the next verse makes it clear that GOD is the one doing all the work, both giving us the will to obey and the wherewithal to follow through.

Other passages, in very definite language, made it clear that “by Grace ye ARE saved, through Faith…not of works….” It does not take much study to discover that for every “doubtful” passage, there are several very clear passages. Part of the problem may be that people do not make a distinction between several critical differences:

  • Salvation vs. practical sanctification—holiness
  • Salvation vs. service—works
  • Law vs. Grace, etc.

A failure to recognize those differences will certainly result in bad teaching.

The people to whom Paul was talking were already believers, already saved. Paul had already stated that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” How, then, would he suggest that they needed to “work to be saved”, if that is indeed what he is saying? He has already told them a lot of things that are only true of saved people.

Either:

  • They are already saved, and they are expected to rest in that truth, or
  • Salvation is a slippery goal, and one can never be sure of it.

But 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.”

Here is 1st John 5:11-13, broken down point by point:

The Fact: This is the Record:

  1. God had given unto us eternal life, and
  2. This life is in His Son.
  3. He that hath the Son, hath life, and
  4. He that hath not the Son of God, hath not

The Purpose: These things are written unto who believe on the Name of the Son of God, that

  1. You may KNOW that you have eternal life, and
  2. That you may (continue to) believe on the name of the Son of God.

Conclusion:

Every one of us is constantly faced with the question “Will I trust God, or not?” God wants us to learn to trust him, moment by moment, for all things, so that we can enjoy His continuing peace. That requires a habitual choice on our parts. If we are not experiencing His peace, this is the probable cause. Let’s consciously work on learning to trust the Lord, and, together, in true unity, to follow Jesus’ example in Faith, Humility and Love.

Lord Jesus, take away our doubts and fears, and self-centeredness, and teach us to follow your example in all things. Make us the ambassadors of your Grace to all people.

 

 


Looking Unto Jesus

Looking Unto Jesus

© C. O. Bishop 11/10/2017 THCF 11/12/2017

Hebrews 12:1-8

Introduction:

Last time, we finished up our study of Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and reduced to just trying to survive. Still others were arrested, tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths. The very last phrase stated that we are part of that same group of people…the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another.

Remember, as we are studying the Bible, that the various chapter divisions, in most cases, and especially the verse divisions, were not part of the original manuscripts, but were added in the sixteenth century to make study easier, just as adding street names and house numbers makes a city easier to navigate. The point is, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

 

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers take this verse to mean that “we have a great cloud of people watching us.” That is not the point of this passage at all. When Jesus said “ye shall be my witnesses unto Jerusalem, and all Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth” what did he mean, in that context, by the word “witnesses”? That we were to watch him? Or did He mean that we are we to testify of Him? To bear witness on his account? Of course, we are called to testify! That is what witnesses do: they bear testimony. That is why we look for eye-witnesses when something such as an accident has occurred. We want them to tell what they saw. God doesn’t need us in order to “find out what happened”…He sees everything, and He knows everything. But He has chosen us to testify on His behalf, and for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony on His behalf is a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we need witnesses to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across the ages, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have nothing better to do than to “sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at an obedient life? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of effort.

Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth…some of the martyrs may still be looking to God for justice to be done (see Revelation 6:9-11), but even that will only be temporary: they are with God! They are not watching the struggles of us who are still on Earth. In fact, so far as I know, that passage (along with a few others, also in regard to the time of the great tribulation) is the only one that suggests they even know what is happening on earth. They have other things to do!

So who are the witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, and they are testifying to us, by their own lives (already completed) that the Christian life can be done! (There is a old joke that goes “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!” I’m sure that in other parts of the world there are other animals who seem unable to successfully cross a road.) Those saints who have gone before us all testify eternally, through God’s written Word, to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means.

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we, by our life-styles have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide the joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter of the self-directed life so much that I would rather keep that wreckage than to lay it aside in order to gain the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage; the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the (long-distance, cross-country) race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony:

But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

 

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “the author and finisher of our faith”. What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith?

Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully soon enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life, and growth. God, the Son is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus.

And, what was the “Joy” set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back out of the market-place of sin, and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would “redeem” us (Greek verb lutrothete—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood. Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28 “…the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride. Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand, because we are frankly not that attractive, as sinners. We have all been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agape love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best, stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. Yep…it fits! 

And one last point: He finished His race perfectly, and is seated in the Throne with The Father. Guess what: He says over in Ephesians 2:6 that we, too, are already seated there with Him! So it is entirely fitting that we should strive to imitate His walk, His motives, and His faithfulness. We can be encouraged by His example:

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I have felt a need to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: prove by my credential that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it (one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant”), but He also endured the abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor him (His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and, as Elijah did, call down fire from heaven to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, as Elisha did, could He have cursed the people so that bears came out and tore them up? Of course he could have. Actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and who was the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured for the sake of the Gospel, and for the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! So I can learn to love the person, in the name of Jesus, and not feel the need to defend my status, my reputation, or my expertise. I can find freedom from my pride, in Him!

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning me, which is probably a good thing…but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the Judge, and He will make things right in His time. So I am to endure, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that submission and obedience to be precious in His sight.

 

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific folk to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There were certainly those in the early church who already had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these people simply had not. (Neither have I!) There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to the countless scars from beatings, stonings, and scourgings, and more. He was aware that, like me, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did, later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and realize that I have had a pretty easy time, and really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway. He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. So do we, I think: part of our whining happens simply because we really don’t understand the purpose God is working out in our lives. He is building up His church!

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

People’s parents nowadays vary a great deal in how they raise their kids, so perhaps that example will not resonate with people today. But let’s consider a successful athletic coach: When he sends his team running laps around the playing field, they may feel that it is punishment, but it is not: it is fitness training. It builds stamina for the contest of their sport (whatever it is,) and is a form of discipline—training. But, successful athletes employ self-discipline, and no one considers it punishment, though it serves the same purpose: They push themselves to become stronger and to have greater endurance. We are called to do the same, in the spiritual realm.

One other aspect of discipline, or training: No athletic coach ever turned to the sidelines and called to someone who was not on the team, demanding that they run laps, or get down on the ground for calisthenics. He is not interested in their improvement. If they interfered with the training in progress, he might order them off the field: but he has no interest in their personal betterment. Any person who is on the team, however, naturally expects to engage in the discipline and training coming from that coach. If they are not on the team, they are not under his discipline, nor are they participating in the game, nor will they be entitled to any reward for winning. Their behavior is immaterial to the coach. Can you see the parallel?

The chastening or training God brings in a believer’s life is not punishment. The punishment for our sins—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (and this is only for believers) is called the “chastening of sons.” When things are getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation.

The “chastening of sons” is only for “sons” (the joint-heirs of God, whether male or female, with Jesus, the Son.), so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the very same things that unbelievers experience, or we may feel it is sometimes even worse. But the difference is that we are now in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

We serve with Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith, and even if it doesn’t look particularly impressive, He rewards our faithfulness, diligence, and obedience. We just need to maintain fellowship so that the Holy Spirit is the one producing the obedience. Otherwise we are only “obedient” in the same sense that Jonah was obedient. He preached, all right, and even had impressive results, but his heart was wrong. We want to avoid the trap of self-powered works.

Next week we will continue the subject of the Chastening that God extends to His children.

Lord Jesus, free us from our selves, and teach us to follow in your footsteps. Teach us to recognize temptation for what it is, and to look for opportunities to exercise faith in your Goodness, your Sustenance, and your Power.

 

 


Paul’s Hope

Paul’s Hope

© C. O. Bishop 11/4/2017 Cornell Estates 11/5/2017

Philippians 1:19-30

Introduction:

Last time we were together, we discussed Paul’s ministry, his imprisonment, and the result of his imprisonment upon the spread of the Gospel. We saw how the persecuted church has always prospered, and that, in Paul’s case, there were actually people preaching the true Gospel with the express hope of increasing Paul’s punishment. That is a very odd idea, but there have been false teachers in the past century who did the same thing, but for money…they were not committed to the Christ of the Gospel, nor to the accuracy of His written Word, but, for some reason they preached a fairly accurate version of the Gospel, and the result was that souls are saved: Why?

Because God’s promise concerning the means of salvation (The Gospel), being believed in, is the only way anyone in the history of the human race has ever been saved. If you happened to have read it in the Bible, and believed it, you are eternally a child of God. If you found it in a discarded tract, or in a Christian newspaper that someone wadded up and used to pack an object for shipping…and believed it, then you are eternally a child of God. If a drunken transient on the street mumbled it to you, while you waited for a taxi…and if it was accurate…and you placed your trust in the Cross because of it, then you are eternally a child of God.

How you got that message and the nature of the messenger, are not important. The Message itself (The Gospel), and how you responded to it (Faith) are all that count, where your salvation is concerned.

What happened after that can only affect the quality of your walk with God, and the reward you can hope for in eternity. There is an extensive list in Hebrews 11 of men and women whom God commended for their faith. When I look through that list and then go read their life-stories in the Old Testament, I am struck by what flawed individuals most of them were, before and after salvation. I am grateful that God chose those sort to commend for faith, because if he only had listed folks like Daniel, who seemed nearly flawless, I would feel somewhat hopeless, as I am also a flawed individual, like those listed along with Daniel. In fact, he didn’t actually name Daniel…he just mentioned the incident with the lions, and left it for us to research on our own.

With that concept as the backdrop, let’s continue on and see the rest of what Paul has to say about his ministry, and his circumstances as this letter was being written.

Hope For Deliverance

19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

The word translated “salvation” here, is “soterian”, and carries the idea of deliverance. In fact, the word “salvation” always means deliverance, but in our language, we have narrowed the meaning of “salvation” to mean “saved from hell” or “saved from sin”, so that we balk over verses that also label Moses or Joshua as a “savior”. We think the word “savior” should be reserved for Jesus alone.

OK… that’s fine! But, in the Old Testament, the same Hebrew word (yasha) is applied to Moses, Joshua and others. The critical issue is only “from what are we being saved, or delivered?” In the case of Moses, he “delivered” Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt. Joshua delivered them from their enemies in Canaan, and the other judges each made similar “saves”, delivering the people of Israel from their various enemies. (Nehemiah 9:27)

But Jesus is the only one said to “save his people from their sins”. Interestingly, the New Testament Greek word used for savior (Gr. soter), is only used when the Savior in question is specifically the person of Jesus Christ, or when it referred to God as our savior. But the form of the word usually translated “salvation” is sometimes translated “health”…having to do with physical well-being. All carry the idea of “deliverance from something.” It is just that, in the New Testament, our primary concern is eternal deliverance from sin.

But Paul was expecting to be delivered or released from prison, through the prayers of the believers, and by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the reasons we suspect that there may have been two imprisonments; we know that he was executed at the end of one particular imprisonment. If there was only one, then he simply had a wrong expectation here in his letter to the Philippians. If there were two, then he may have been released, and re-arrested later, this time culminating in martyrdom.

However, I have to say, it does not hurt my theology either way. Paul was confident in God that Christ would be glorified in his body either through life or through death…and he was somewhat leaning toward desiring the latter, as he knew what was eventually coming, and undoubtedly was ready for “retirement”. They say that “Christian Service doesn’t seem to pay very well, but the retirement is really ‘out of this world’.” Paul was ready to leave, any time.

20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Paul certainly understood that he could only improve his lot by dying. This should demonstrate several things: one, of course, that we can know that we have eternal life. Paul was not one bit worried about whether he could “endure” well enough to “keep” the eternal life he had already been given. It was his! Jesus promised it as an eternal gift, over and over. Paul never made an issue of it, because it simply wasn’t an issue. I have had people emphatically tell me that it is impossible to know that one has eternal life. My only answer has been God’s Word: Jesus himself promised (John 5:24) that anyone who has heard his Word and believed on (placed their trust in) the one who sent Him, has (present tense) eternal life. And, in John’s letter to the churches, he stated that the reason he was writing was so that they could know that they had eternal life. (1st John 5:11-13)

Paul knew he had eternal life, so the issue of whether he lived or died was truly unimportant to him, except that he knew he was still needed here amongst the flock…and if he stayed, He would live for Christ…and if he died, he would enter into eternal glory and reward with his Savior. He simply struggled with which was better!

22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

He was torn between the two desires…the desire to “graduate” and move on into the eternity that awaited him, and, in contrast, the desire to stay, and to feed the flock and bless them. He knew that if he stayed here, he would see the fruit of his labor in the lives of the believers. But that fruit was already present and growing, so, if God called him home, he could go cheerfully, knowing he had faithfully done his part.

25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;

This is the particular verse that convinces many scholars that Paul endured two imprisonments. Paul “knew” that he would abide. I agree with that assessment, so, I think he must have done so; at least for a while. Can I prove it? Nope, I can’t. And, again, it has no effect on my theology, either way. I simply tend to take it “as written,” and believe that Paul was correct: that this was not just “wishful thinking” on Paul’s part. And what was his reasoning? He anticipated seeing the believers at Philippi again before his death.

26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

Paul definitely expected to make another trip to Philippi. We have no record of his actually having done so, but that is not as important as it may seem, because we also have no record (Biblical or extrabiblical) of any activities on the part of most of the other eleven apostles. History, scanty as it is, along with traditions, etc., tell us that they all served and all, or nearly all, were eventually martyred. I lean toward the assumption that Paul must have made a second trip to Philippi. Many Bible maps show a “dotted line” following a conjectured third missionary journey, because of such passages, but it doesn’t appear in the book of Acts; thus the uncertainty. You can deal with that however you want. It is simply a non-issue, to me, anymore.

Hope for Continued Fruit in the Lives of his Proteges

27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Notice that Paul is not suggesting that the believers there have done anything wrong; he only exhorts them to “keep it up!” In fact, that is one of the nice things about this epistle…at no time does Paul feel constrained to rebuke or correct the believers in Philippi. He says for them to “keep the faith”, as it were, letting their behavior be in keeping with their faith, and especially that their unity be unblemished. He exhorted them to stand fast (suggests the conflict that they were enduring) in one spirit, and to “strive together” in unity, for the faith…suggesting evangelism…they were to advance the faith, not just “hunker down and hang on”, waiting for the second coming of Christ. They were to actively advance the Gospel. That is Evangelism.

28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

This is a passage which is often overlooked, or skipped over, possibly because it deals with persecution.  We are not really comfortable with the implications, so we “move along” as if “there is nothing to see here”, when in fact, it is God’s Word, and there is certainly “something to see” here! Paul exhorted the Philippian believers to not be afraid of those who threatened them. He said that their adversaries would misunderstand their lack of fear as fatalism and the fact that they were under persecution as the mark of perdition…being under God’s judgment and hopelessly lost. But the reverse was true! Their supernatural peace was from God, and they were to see that supernatural peace in the face of persecution as further evidence of the security of their salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their deliverance from the presence of sin was yet to come. Their deliverance from the judgment of sin was already past. And their deliverance from the active power of sin in their lives was currently in progress. The enemy can’t stand to see the holiness and Love of God, reflected in believers’ lives, so persecution results. How we respond to it sends a further message as to its reality, to us and to them.

Hope through Suffering

29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;

They were told that, in fact, their suffering as a believer was a mark of having been honored by God…that they were considered worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. It meant that they were really part of the body of Christ. Paul points out that suffering as a believer is a normal and honorable part of the Christian life: He says it has been given to YOU on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for him.

30 Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

Which explains what they were seeing in Paul’s life. He was demonstrating that truth. Not that he willingly went out to seek suffering…that is never called for. He simply accepted the consequences of being an active ambassador for Christ.

I remember a time when working men bore rather proudly the scars of their professions: welders (myself included) had numerous burn scars; carpenters had scars from cuts, along with blackened thumbnails from crush-injuries; Mechanics had black grime worn into their skin and nails that never went away, despite vigorous, prolonged scrubbing.  Sawyers, press-operators and similar machine operators occasionally had missing fingers. Virtually all workers had callouses on their hands, and likely a sunburned neck…and they were frequently branded “red-necks” because of these distinguishing marks. They bore those marks as part of their walk in life. But Paul was openly embracing the physical results and resultant scars of his calling: that of freely, fearlessly preaching the Gospel of Christ. In Galatians 6:17, he said “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”. His scars came from savage beatings, and riveted iron manacles, not everyday work.

I don’t have a single scar that I gained directly because of persecution of any sort. I have perhaps hundreds that were gained in employment as I sought to lead the life to which I was called. I have endured emotional and social distress because of serving the Lord, but I’ve never been physically hurt.

When things happen that seem out of keeping with God’s Grace, we need to remember Paul’s sufferings, which were not all from persecution. He suffered physical ailments as well, and God’s comment was that “My Grace is sufficient for thee.”

We share his Hope in Suffering, and we can pray for those being persecuted for their faith, while we ourselves press forward to serve. We should expect to experience conflict, ourselves, and know that we are sharing in the conflict, just as Paul did.

Lord Jesus, help us to cheerfully and willingly step forward in obedience, counting it all joy when we encounter opposition, whether circumstantial or personal. Mold us into you likeness, and give us Grace to serve as your ambassadors.


The Obedience of Faith

The Obedience of Faith

© C. O. Bishop 10/14/17 THCF 10/29/17

Hebrews 11:17-40

Introduction:

Last time we talked about the Behavior of Faith…what Faith does as a response to Revealed Truth.  In fact, we stated that “Faith is an Obedient Response to a Revealed Truth.” This would include everything from “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” (from Acts 16:31) to “Make thee an ark of gopher wood…” (from Genesis 6:14), and even “Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac…and offer him there for a burnt offering….” (Genesis 22:2). Those were all responses of faith, some requiring a physical response, some not. Paul mentions this idea over in Romans, 1:5, saying that the Gospel had gone into all the world “for the obedience of faith”, or (KJV), “obedience to the faith.”

Hebrews eleven gives us the most examples, all in one place, of the whole Bible, to see what the obedience of faith might look like…and the results in people’s lives. Some were thrilling to read about…some were sad and frightening, when you go back and read the original accounts in the scripture. I do not find the story of Stephen getting beaten to death with rocks, by a mob of angry religious men, to be thrilling. I find it a fearful thing, and depressing, because my old nature says “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people.” (Job and his friends thought that, too, remember.)

The point is this: faith does NOT always bring about a happy, or comfortable life. Faith can be fatal, even, and has been fatal for millions down through the ages. But that is not what we are usually taught to expect. So, let’s look, now, and see the real result of faith, in Hebrews Eleven.

The Obedience of Faith

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. 

Did Abraham obey because it was fun, or exciting, or rewarding, or pleasant? He was being asked to kill his innocent son! He was being asked to offer his “only begotten son”…just as God did for the human race.

Again we can see that “Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” Abraham already had the promise that Isaac, and none other, was to be his heir, but now God called him to sacrifice his son. What is amazing to me is that Abraham did not even argue, as he had done earlier, interceding for Lot, but just got up early and began splitting wood for the sacrificial fire!

We can hardly see it in Genesis, except in seed form, but Abraham looked beyond the apparent paradox, and saw the resurrection! In the Genesis account (Genesis 22:5) we see that Abraham left the servants with the donkey and told them, “I and the lad will go…and come again to you.” That is the statement of faith…and it is all we have to look at until Hebrews 11:19, where we see that Abraham literally believed that he was going to sacrifice Isaac, and that God was going to restore him to life! He looked beyond the paradox and saw the resurrection!

When we read Isaiah 53:10, we see a paradox, as well. It describes the death of the protagonist (the Messiah), and then says “…he shall see his progeny” after he has made his soul an offering for sin. (!!) But we see the paradox from the vantage point of the New Testament, and easily understand that the resurrection comes between those two events. Could you have seen it without the New Testament revelation? I think I would have simply seen a contradiction. The resurrection was known in the Old Testament, for sure, but I am not sure I would have put the two together. Abraham had far less information upon which to build, but, somehow, he made the connection by faith, knowing that

  1. God had made an unchangeable promise, and that
  2. He would have to compensate in some way, to still keep that promise.

That is the result of faith! He believed God more than he believed his eyes. More than he believed his experience. More than he believed the “laws of physics” as he understood them. And God says, in a figurative sense, in a picture of the real resurrection yet to come, Abraham indeed received his son back from the dead.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. 

The only information Isaac had to work with was the prophecy made during the pregnancy: “two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) But he saw the truth of the prophecy, reflected in the lives of his sons, and, as a prophet, he opened his mouth in faith, and God spoke through him.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

Jacob was also a prophet, and God spoke through him. He believed God and spoke the truth, though I’m sure it was not what he would have chosen. He predicted the outcome of the lives of all his sons and those of Joseph. And not all of it was nice. But he was acting in faith.

The Actions of Faith

22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

Joseph believed the promise of God given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and he wanted to be part of the fulfillment. So, he commanded that his bones be transported to the land of the promise when and only when Israel actually returned there.

We have modern day examples of this: The famous pianist Ignacy Paderewski became the Prime minister of Poland during Poland’s struggle for independence, but later served as head of a Polish parliament-in-exile, living in London and touring in the United States to raise money for the Polish relief fund. In 1941, he ultimately fell ill and died of pneumonia in New York, but had asked that his body, though temporarily interred at Arlington, should be removed to Poland after they achieved independence from the Soviets. In 1992, this actually occurred, 51 years after his death. His body is now in Warsaw, Poland, at St. John’s Arch-cathedral. (Oddly, in 1953 his heart had been encased in a bronze sculpture in a Roman Catholic shrine for Polish-Americans, near Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and it remains there today. I don’t know who arranged that.)

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;

25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. 

I have underscored the verbs (“was hid, refused, choosing, esteeming, forsaking,” etc.) in many of the preceding passages, only to point out that faith is not a “feeling”—it is an action. It means being persuaded enough to act. The results are not always what we hope for, in this life. But sometimes they are: the following verses tell of a whole bunch of miraculous victories, healings, and raisings from the dead, etc.

The Results of Faith

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.

31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 

There is an odd little point to notice here: If you are familiar with the life story of each of the people actually named, here, you will remember that most of them were fairly deeply flawed individuals, these were not pious saints who walked around with halos over their heads. They had some pretty severe dysfunctions in their lives. Samuel seems the best of the list, and even he had his failings. David was an adulterer and murderer; Samson was a violent, self-serving narcissistic womanizer. Gideon and Barak were fairly timid, fearful men whom God raised up to a point of valor (to one degree or another) so that great victories were won. And, sadly, Gideon accidentally started an idolatrous mini-cult after his great victories.

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 

This all reads like the flyleaf of some sensational best-selling book from a modern Christian bookstore…and each event, unlike the modern books, was simply historical fact, not sensationalized at all. But, in the midst of all the victories, we hear of the other side of faith:

The Cost of Faith

35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 

Again, I am emphasizing the terrible cost of faith in some believers’ lives. (“Tortured, trials, mockings, scourgings, bonds, imprisonments, stonings,” etc. And what does God say about those people?

Does He mumble something about their faith not having been strong enough? Because that is exactly what the “health-and-wealth” Prosperity Gospel people say, when things don’t go well. They say, “Your faith wasn’t strong enough! If you really believe God for (whatever it is) then you’ll receive it.” I headed into that trap briefly myself, when I was a new believer. I read the place in John 16:24 where it says “hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full”, and I thought I had found the key to getting whatever I wanted in prayer! God disabused me of that notion that very day, as the things I prayed for “in Jesus name” did NOT happen…not even close! It was a very frustrating day; believe me!

But later I chanced upon the passages in 1st John 3:22, and 1st John 5:14, 15. There, the same Apostle John informed me that there was more to the promise than met the eye. The one verse (3:22) said that I had to already be walking with God, in obedience to His will, and the other two (5:14, 15) specified that the things we ask have to be within the will of God. (Ohhhh! So, there was a condition to that particular promise!) I even had a teacher in Bible school who taught this “believe and receive” idea, though I am confident that he later realized he was mistaken.

But, again, what did God say about these who did not experience health, prosperity, or victory? What does God say about these people, whom the World will call pathetic losers, and dupes and fools? Read the next two verses:

38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 

God says these were the best of the best! He says the World was not worthy of them! That they were the real winners, not the losers! Who? The ones who got rich by faith? The ones who saw great triumphs? No! He refers to the ones who were destitute, afflicted, and tormented! The ones who lost everything for God, and, from the world’s perspective, seemed to have died as “pathetic losers.” He says they died, not having received the promise, and that they obtained a good report by faith.” That is their “report card” from God! God says they were the winners: the best of the best! Give that some thought, please! They made choices by faith!

The Choices of Faith

40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Completion of the Church, proper.) 

This promise definitely includes us. And how do we apply it? The writer applied it for us: he says that God has provided for US some better thing…we are in the same position as those “pathetic losers”, condemned by the world for believing God. We are to join them in their faith and obedience, knowing that, ultimately, it may cost us, just as it did them. We attain maturity and completion in Christ along with them, and by means of many of the same tribulations, afflictions and trials. And, ultimately, the Church will be completed, including both those heroic saints of the early church and us, who are latecomers, whether heroic or otherwise.

What choices are involved? Faith is a choice, no matter how it is applied. Every one of you lives by faith, already…I work for two weeks without reward, believing that I will receive a paycheck in due time (and I do receive it.) I sat down in the pew, here in church this morning, without first checking to see whether it would hold me. I make a call on my cell-phone, believing that the correct person will receive my call, when the fact of the matter is that neither one of us understands the phones we are using: we use the phones by faith. We believe the phones will work, so we use them. They do not work because of our faith, but because they are designed well. God’s grace and power are a reality whether or not I believe. But they are applied to my life through faith. And I have to choose to believe, based upon whatever evidence He has given.

Faith is always a choice to believe; a choice to trust, a decision to take someone’s word as true. The real question is, in every case, where are you placing your faith? Will you believe a politician who has a history of lying? A financial corporation who has a history of failing to protect your money or your personal information? A preacher who can barely manage his own life, let alone tell you how to manage yours? Or the eternal God, who created you, who has sustained all life for all time, and who deliberately took your sins on his own shoulders at the Cross, so as to die in your place? We choose to trust Christ!

Initially, we choose to believe in Jesus’s blood at the Cross: so God takes away our guilt and gives us eternal life. Then, every day, we either choose to believe God enough to obey Him, or we decide that someone else, perhaps our own deceitful heart, is more trustworthy.

The choice is yours!

Lord Jesus, help us to enter into the obedience of Faith. Rebuild our lives in your own image! We want to be like you! Make us the men and women of God you have called us to be.


Paul Shares His Ministry and Goals

Paul Shares His Ministry and Goals

So: What is Going On with Paul?

© C. O. Bishop, 10/21/17 Cornell Estates 10/22/17

Philippians 1:12-18

Introduction:

Last week we examined Paul’s prayer-list for the believers at Philippi. Initially, he didn’t say much about his own needs, which is impressive, since he was languishing in a Roman prison. I whine every day to God, asking for my own needs to be met, as well as those of others. Paul was not apparently all that concerned about his own situation, though in some other passages (Ephesians 6:19, 20, for example) he did ask that he would be given the words to speak the message of the Gospel boldly, and in an appropriate way.  But here, he only briefly commented on his own plight, and more specifically on the result it was having as regarding the message of the Gospel.

I think we can see a pattern, here: in Ephesians, he asked prayer that he would be bold to speak the message; in Romans 15:20, we see that his whole focus was to take the Gospel where people had not heard it. (Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named…”) And, here in Philippians, his concern over his own imprisonment is regarding how it will affect the spread of the Gospel.

The Result of Paul’s Imprisonment: The Furtherance of the Gospel.

12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;

The believers in Philippi already knew that Paul was in prison. But, evidently, the news had spread all over the region, with differing responses among the hearers. In essence, the overall effect of his imprisonment was both local and widespread fame regarding the Gospel. People had heard that he was in prison for the sake of the Gospel. That made them interested to know just what it was he had been preaching. And it also inspired other believers to get outside their comfort zone and re-share that same message on their own.

14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Waxing confident by my bonds!” What a statement! This, then, is the result of persecution! I have always read that, historically, the persecuted church has always flourished, even if it meant becoming the underground church. One effect of persecution is the purging of the church: those who are just “hangers-on”, and who have never placed their trust in the Gospel, because they have no root, fall away. Jesus predicted precisely this result. He allegorized the hot sun as being the persecution. But to plants with healthy root systems, the hot sun is not as much of a threat: it warms the soil and causes even greater growth. So, in this case, Paul’s imprisonment emboldened the Church.

Preaching for Wrong Motives

15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will:
16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds:

There was another category, though; one I have a hard time understanding. Paul said that there were people who imagined that they would make his punishment greater if they added to the “damage” by furthering the message of the Gospel. Perhaps there is some obscure facet of Roman law, by which he would be judged more guilty, if the effect of the Gospel was more widespread. So, perhaps they thought they could pile up the punishment against him. It doesn’t seem logical to my Western thoughts, but perhaps that was the case. Paul stated that those individuals thought they would add punishment, or affliction, to the chains he already wore.  Paul got a big grin out of that, because they were evidently actually preaching the true Gospel, not some false version of it…and he was delighted that the message was going out, regardless of the motive.

Is it possible for someone to preach Christ out of wrong motives today? Yes, it actually is. I know a young man who was born again, listening to the message preached by a televangelist who is not known for the faithful treatment of God’s Word. He has publically been proven a liar on many occasions, but he continues to preach…why? Because he gets a lot of money sent to him by his followers, in spite of his evil deceit. Somehow my friend was listening with his heart, and God used this false prophet to send a true message. All Glory to God for such miracles!

There was a movie made, years ago, called “Marjoe”…I have been told about it a number of times, but have never seen it. It was about a travelling evangelist (Marjoe Gortner) in the American South, who was only in the ministry for money, and made very little secret of it. But, oddly, he actually did preach the Gospel, at least part of the time, and I had a pastor friend tell me that he knew a man who was saved under that false teacher’s ministry. He heard God’s Word, believed in the shed blood of Jesus, and was saved. Guess what, folks! That is the only way anyone has ever been saved. So the sincerity (or insincerity) in the preacher is not the real issue…it is entirely possible for an unbeliever to lead a lost soul to Christ. God’s Word and the core message of the Gospel is all that saves.

Paul knew that truth, and was pleased that the Gospel was going out. He didn’t worry about the motive. (I would have been quite annoyed by the motive, at least, and suspicious that the message would be corrupted. Evidently he had heard enough to know they were accurately transmitting the message, and simply rejoiced that it was being transmitted.

Now, how will that affect the eternal state of the false teacher who inadvertently led others to Christ? He will simply be eternally responsible for knowing the truth, and failing to believe it.

Preaching for Right Motives

17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.
18 What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

Some of the believers, then, became more confident in their faith, serving God more openly, knowing the risk they took in doing so. They were becoming more active participants in the work of evangelism. They respected, admired and loved Paul, and were driven by his imprisonment to redouble their efforts to be honest workmen for The Lord. They wanted to make the price paid be worth the effort. If Paul had to suffer, they wanted the values he espoused and the message to which he was committed, to be spread across the known world! They were preaching out of Love…specifically, Agape love.

That is the motive we are to have in preaching, as well. We are to preach the Gospel out of Love. Not the love of money, as Marjoe Gortner did, and as many false teachers on the radio and television do today: we are warned against that motive. Our love for Christ, and his love through us, for the unsaved around us, are to be our only motivation in every case.

I never knew the Apostle Paul, so I can’t say I am preaching out of appreciation for Paul’s ministry, much as I may admire him. I teach and preach out of love and obedience to Christ. He changes my heart toward the world around me, as well, because, I can honestly say that, without him, I would find the human race so frustrating and so exasperating, that I would feel just fine about their being headed for an eternity in Hell! That is the character of my old sin nature! “Pull up the ladder: I’m in! Let everyone else be lost!” What an ungrateful response to the Gospel! Doesn’t the recipient of Grace bear the responsibility to share it with others? But, so often, we are quite willing to let everyone else be lost, because they offend us!

I actually had a young man tell me this, before I was a believer: he was a young believer, himself, and did not like me: He said “Chet, as far as I’m concerned, you’re going to Hell, and that is just too bad!”  He definitely meant it exactly as it sounds. He apologized for it later, but I remember it clearly today. And I understand how he felt. Only God can change our hearts and make us love the fallen race of man, enough to risk preaching the Gospel, and enough to drop our own comfort and reach out to someone else’s benefit.

What can I do?

  1. I can make sure I actually understand the Gospel, well enough to share it with others.
  2. I can pray for the opportunity to share it with others.
  3. I can actively look for those opportunities to share the Gospel with others.
  4. I can faithfully step up to the opportunity and make the attempt, praying for the Holy Spirit to lead me as I go.

There is no reason you cannot do this. As believers, we have been given the responsibility of drawing others to saving faith in Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross. We have been given the example of those who did so in the face of persecution. We are under virtually no danger of persecution today, and yet we hesitate. Give this some thought: Ask yourself why you are hesitating. Then, whatever the reason is, compare that with the definite likelihood that your neighbor may spend a Christless Eternity without that one last chance to receive the gift of eternal life. Is it a good trade? Is it really so uncomfortable that you are still unwilling to try?

Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your great Love for the lost, and help us to cast aside our fears. We fear rejection, so we are willing to let our friends and neighbors be lost. Help us to repent from this sin, and move forward in obedience.


Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

© C. O. Bishop 9/27/17 Cornell Estates 10/15/17

Philippians 1:9-11

Introduction:

Last time we were together, we began looking at the kind of prayer Paul offered for his fellow believers: and the very first thing we saw, was his heartfelt thanksgiving, partly that they had been the recipients of God’s Grace, and partly that they had been participants in the work of evangelism and discipleship with Paul. He went on to say how much he missed them, and recognized that it was God’s love that stirred his heart toward them. They were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and, on top of that, they were his dear friends.

So, when he prayed for them, his prayers were in earnest, and they were aimed at God’s very best blessing appearing in their lives. He did not pray for their physical or financial well-being at all, it seems, which is interesting, because they had all the same needs that we have today. We can learn from this passage, and others like it, what our priorities in prayer ought to be.

Priorities in Prayer

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

It is important, throughout the epistles, to see what the “prayer-list” of the various Apostles contained. It does not seem to bear much resemblance to ours, usually. Paul does not pray for us to get a raise, or get over the flu, or anything like that. There is nothing wrong with either of those, by the way, but in terms of priorities, I think we should see what is on the collective “list” of the apostles.  On this particular “short-list”, the Apostle Paul prays:

  1. That our Love may abound more and more,
  2. In Knowledge (Greek, epiginosko), and
  3. in all Judgment (Greek aesthesis),
  4. That we may approve things that are excellent;
  5. That we may be Sincere (from “eilikrinea”—“clarity, purity, sincerity”) and
  6. without offence until the Day of Christ,
  7. That we may be to the Glory and Praise of God.

Seven little items…all of them having to do with personal and corporate growth in the Grace and Knowledge of God. Notice that the first three on the list are the foundation for growth, while the remaining four are the result of the first three.

Foundation for Growth

I like the fact that the very first thing on Paul’s “list” is the same as the first thing on Jesus’ list (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another…”). Over in Galatians, Paul confirmed the point Jesus had made in the Gospels, that Obedience to that “Law” would cover every other law.

It is also interesting to see that he points out the need for increase—for growth—Yes, we are perfect in Christ, but as a practical matter, there is a need for us to grow in that relationship. When a new mother declares her newborn baby “perfect”, she is not saying that she does not expect that child to grow…only that this is her perfect child and that she is eagerly anticipating watching that growth. God has declared your new nature to be perfect, (Ephesians 4:24 says it is created after God (in His likeness) in righteousness and true holiness.), but He urges us to grow in our relationship with Him, and, thereby, in our relationships with those around us, whether believers or unbelievers.

Three key elements needed for that growth include:

  • Love (Agapé,) as an over-arching life principle,
  • Knowledge: our personal knowledge of God and knowledge of his written Word, and
  • Judgment (Wisdom): Godly discernment and good decision-making.

The Agape Love is the motivation to do what is most profitable for the other person, the recipient of that Love, regardless of how it affects oneself. Jesus demonstrated this Love, by enduring the Cross for the Human race.

Knowledge and Wisdom are closely linked, but are not the same: One can know God’s written word intimately (even as an unbeliever) but be utterly lacking in the wisdom required to correctly interpret and apply it in one’s life. It is just a “piece of literature” at that level, and unlikely to bear fruit. But in fact, this “knowledge is not even a matter of just knowing facts, but rather, the “epiginosko” knowledge, which means an experiential, ongoing relational knowledge, as in, knowing a person completely, because of a long-term committed relationship.

On the other hand, given some knowledge, God can bring conviction, and turn knowledge into wisdom; thus, over a period of time, producing genuine discernment and good judgment.

Evidence of Change

The result should be that our beliefs begin to change in other areas as well. Beginning with the change of belief, by choice, to trust the shed Blood of Jesus as my only hope for salvation, and having placed my dependency therein, I am free to see the whole world differently, as well.

  • I can now approve things that are excellent. Paul points out to the Roman believers (Romans 1:32) that the unbelieving heart not only is itself given to sin of every kind, it gives its approval to those who also pursue the same sorts of sin. (Consider this: Why are the most popular movies always those centered upon themes of immorality, treachery, rebellion, self-will, violence, theft, etc.? )
    It is because all of us, by birth, are those who feed on sin, and that sort of story feeds our old sin nature. But according to this verse, with my new nature, and, by the Holy Spirit, I am capable of separating myself from my old “haunts”, as it were, and approving good things: righteous things, and things that are pleasing to God, as well as being a blessing to those around me. It will likely result in a change in my speech patterns, as well as my interests, and my desires, so that my new nature, more and more, is what makes itself evident in my life.In my flesh, this was not a real likelihood, because, though I might agree, academically, that such things were “good”, I would privately feel that they were “boring”, and I would yearn for the old “hog-wallow” of sin, because that was what I really approved of, regardless of what I might have said.

    My new nature feeds upon God’s Word and yearns for the presence of God, and the fellowship of other believers. So, the fact is, yes, I can now approve the things that are excellent.

  • I can be sincere. The old nature does not have the capacity for sincerity…only the appearance of it. Jeremiah 17:9 states that the heart (the unregenerate heart is implied) is “…deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Ephesians 4:22 states that the “old man…is corrupt (actually, ‘being corrupted’… the word is a present continuous verb) according to the deceitful lusts.”As an unbeliever, even when I intended to “do something good”, it was always for an ulterior motive—to be seen as a hero, or to gain some sort of social approval. It was never, ever, simply to be obedient to a Holy God. Such a thing never entered my mind, and if it had, I would have rebelled against the very idea. Submission to a Holy God was utterly repugnant to me. Self-centeredness was my only mode of operation, even if I tried to prove otherwise. I wanted to be seen as honest, unselfish, and “good”, but, in reality, I was completely the opposite. I was deceiving myself.

    But today, something has changed: I have a new Ephesians 4:24 says my new nature “…after God (in the likeness of God) is created in righteousness and true Holiness.” Notice that the new nature, or “new Man” as the KJV words it, is a created thing…this is not the Holy Spirit, but a new Creation: a new Me.

    The Holy Spirit is God…He is not a created being. But this new creation, the new Me, the new nature, the new man, is capable of genuine Christ-like motives and is, by nature, sincere: pure, transparent.

    There is sometimes a little confusion over this word—the Latin root for the English word “sincere” is “sin ceros”…”without wax”, and I remember being taught that the ancient potters would place their wares in the sun, to warm them, thus demonstrating that there were no wax-filled defects in the glaze. That is true, and all very fine, but the New Testament was not written in Latin: it was written in Greek. The word here means pretty much what we mean by the word sincere in English: “devoid of deception, pure, transparent, honest.” The Latin “sin ceros” was an entirely appropriate translation, as that glazed earthenware pottery, warmed by the Mediterranean sun, would certainly demonstrate the honesty of the potter or tradesman. It was a means of demonstrating honesty, purity, and transparency. That works for me. It’s just that for years I thought that the original word was “sin ceros”…and it is not: the root is “eilikrinea”—“pure, honest, clear”. And that pretty well describes the character of the new creation…the new nature of a born-again individual. Transparent: no hidden agenda; no “murky”, dark behavior.

  • I can be without offence. This sounds like a tall order, because there is always someone who is offended by some But the issue is that I personally am not to be the cause of someone else sinning. Particularly, that no one reject Christ because of me. If they are offended by the Gospel, then that is a different matter. Jesus warned us ahead of time that the Gospel would cause an offense. But we are not to cause the offense.Remember in Galatians we read that the nine-fold fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness Temperance. Those sorts of behaviors do not cause an offense against either the Law, or another individual. We question whether we can actually live that way: Paul makes it clear that we can…but that it takes practice to become consistent in it.

If even our enemies can find no real fault in us except that we are Christians, then probably we are “without offense”. But, if there are other things that are causing others to think evil of the Gospel because they see those things in our lives, then we need to repent, and change our ways.

Is self-righteousness an issue? Pride? Gossip? Complaining? What sorts of things might we be doing that make us a bad testimony of God’s Grace? Those things are what must be changed.

Repentance means “turning around”…going the other way…doing what ought to be done instead of the wrong we have been doing.

  • We begin the cleanup with confession: Admit to God that those things are sin.
  • Repair the damage in relationships by apology if called for—righting wrongs that can be righted…admitting to the wronged individual that we were wrong to have mistreated them.
  • Then we DO the things that God calls for, treating others kindly, not talking behind their backs, not secretly despising them, but praying for their salvation and blessing from God. Be a blessing to them.

This is how we learn to be “without offense.”

  • Finally, I can be to the Glory and Praise of God. The result of all of the above should be that our lives begin to bring honor to God. That people watching will have to conclude that something genuine is going on in our lives, and that either we are wonderful people (we are not, and honesty demands that we say so) or that we serve a wonderful God. The former is not true, the latter most certainly is.

We want to live in such a way as to be a blessing to all around us, not a cause for cursing. We hope that even those who are enemies of the Gospel know that we can be counted upon to tell the truth, to share, and to treat others well. Doesn’t this open us up to people taking advantage of us? Yes, of course, it does! So, we have to be wise, as well. We have to be discerning about how we share, and how we help. Do we always give freely? What about when we can see that the money will not go to the perceived need, but rather, to buy alcohol or drugs? Might we not be better to give food or clothing, in that case?

This is where Wisdom and Judgment come into play. We do not want to be enablers to those who are continually making destructive or self-destructive choices. We do not want to help others to sin. On the other hand, wisdom often tells us to keep our foolish mouths shut, sometimes, and allow God to teach a person, instead of injecting our own thoughts into the existing mess.

But, when a person seems to be open to the Gospel, wisdom tells us how to present the truth to them in a non-judgmental way, so that they can make a clear choice regarding God’s Grace. We are to be a light in the darkness of this world. That light is to be characterized by three things:

The Love of God, the Knowledge of God, and the Wisdom of God, all flowing through us to produce the Light of God…not our own light, but only His light reflected in our lives.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your Spirit, and change us into your likeness, so that we can reflect your Light and Love in the dark world around us.


Paul’s Prayer for Believers: Part 1

Paul’s Prayer for the Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 9/19/17 Cornell Estates 9/24/17

Philippians 1:3-8; Acts 16:12-40

Introduction:

These opening verses are further evidence of the tender love Paul felt for the believers at Philippi: He begins the epistle by spelling out his relationship with them, and their responsiveness to both himself and God, as evidenced by their voluntary, earnest involvement in Paul’s ministry, right from the beginning.

Some History

If you recall, from Acts 16:12-40, when Paul and his entourage had first entered Philippi, unlike many cities, there was apparently no synagogue there, as, instead of gathering at the local synagogue, with the Jews first, and sharing with them the news that the Messiah had come, he went outside the city walls with Silas and the others (Luke was with them by this point), because he had reason to believe that there was some sort of worship being carried on, down there by the river. This was evidently not an idolatrous worship but a group of people who believed in the God of Israel, mostly Jews, though at least some of them seem to have Gentile proselytes. There were a group of women there who met together for prayer. At least a few of them believed the Good News that Paul and Silas brought, and one of these, Lydia, was baptized, along with her family who evidently also believed. She begged them to stay in her home, as her guests, and they did so, while they expanded their ministry in Philippi.

The trouble started some time later, when a young demon-possessed woman followed them around, shouting that they (Paul and Silas) were servants of the Most High God, and were there to tell everyone a way of salvation. Paul finally decided that enough was enough, and he turned around and ordered the demon out of her. Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, perhaps, but the woman was a slave, and her owners had been making money off of her affliction, by selling her talents as a fortune-teller. It seems sad, but that was how they saw things. They were not one bit concerned about her welfare; only their profit margin…and Paul and Silas had just ruined it. So they dragged them in to the courts and accused them of spreading false doctrine and “anti-Roman” behavior.

Paul and Silas were savagely beaten, without benefit of trial, and left in the inner prison cell, bleeding, in stocks and manacles. But, at midnight they were praying, and singing psalms, and an earthquake occurred: a very odd earthquake—it shook everything, destroyed nothing, but made everyone’s manacles fall off. Very odd!

The jailer was ready to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped, because he knew he would be tortured, but Paul called to him, saying, “Don’t hurt yourself! We are all here!” That whole experience convinced the jailer that the message they were preaching was worth hearing, and he asked what he had to do to be saved. They told him “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” So, he and his household believed the Gospel, and he took Paul and Silas into his home (probably attached to the jail), and washed their wounds, and treated them well. The next day, the magistrates, realizing that they had committed a serious error of judgement, in flogging un-convicted Roman citizens, apologized for their error, and begged them to leave town.

So, the small group of believers from the riverside gathering, and the Jailer’s family were the core group of believers that Paul left behind when he and his entourage left for Thessalonica, via Annapolis. That leaves me with the question: “Where did the elders and deacons come from?” Paul had only been there for a few weeks at most, as far as we can tell, and one does not ordain as an elder or deacon people who are novices in the faith (Paul says so…). So where did these leaders come from?

I have to assume that there were at least some Jews among the group of believers, as Paul always sought out the Jews first to offer them the Gospel of Christ (see Romans 1:16). If that is so, then it all makes sense: the Jewish men all had good training in the Scriptures, and, as it seems that some there were already believers, in the Old Testament sense, then they would make the “shift” to being quite mature Christian believers pretty rapidly. The Gentile believers would take some time to catch up, since they had no such training.

This explains why it was possible for Paul to preach in a town for just a few weeks, and leave behind a functioning New Testament Church that was complete with qualified elders and deacons, and fully equipped to continue as a church without “outside help”. The Church at Philippi was one of these examples. The Church at Thessalonica was another.

Paul quite reasonably might have felt a good deal of concern about these “baby Christians” he was leaving behind. He didn’t leave them after such a short time by choice: he did so for their safety, when riots began among the unbelievers. He left, but he actively prayed for them. So, how did he pray for them? We will examine this in two segments, the first being “thanksgiving.”

How Paul Prays for the Believers (1:3-8): Thanksgiving!

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

It is interesting to me, and a little intriguing, that Paul refers to God not simply as “God”, but as “my God”. Why the possessive article?  We need to remember that these people were living in a land where polytheism was the norm. In fact, everywhere Paul went, he had to deal with idolaters of various stripes, some quite hostile to the Good News of Christ. These believers already knew the Lord, so perhaps Paul is only underscoring the fact that both his relationships with them and his relationship with the One God of the Bible, were personal, not theoretical or academic in nature.

Paul thinks of them a lot, and gives thanks every time he thinks of them. He felt this way even toward believers he had never met, as seen in Romans 1:8. But especially for the believers whom he knew personally (1st Corinthians 1:4, etc.), and, these at Philippi were especially dear to him, as he explains in the next few verses:

4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,
5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

It is heart-warming to see that the veteran missionary, Paul the Apostle, was genuinely thankful for the believers at Philippi. (v. 3, 4) I would think for a man with as vital and important a ministry as Paul had…(and he knew it; in spite of the rough service, he knew he was “the apostle to the Gentiles”—he says so in Romans 11:13)…it seems to me it would have been easy to become a little proud, and feel that everyone else should be grateful for him. But Paul had a truly humble spirit, which we can see over and over in the scriptures. He was grateful to God every time he thought of these believers, and joyfully prayed on their behalf, not just once in a while, or when he remembered to do so, or when he looked at his “prayer-list”. He says he prayed for them continually, and rejoiced every time he thought about them.

Thanksgiving for Fellowship

But why did Paul feel so grateful for them (v. 5)? The first thing he mentions is their “fellowship in the Gospel”. Now, we tend to think of fellowship as “standing around drinking coffee and eating finger food”, or maybe sitting around a table at a potluck, and talking about whatever we feel like discussing, from golf scores, to weather, to politics, to gossip…but that is not fellowship. The New Testament sees fellowship in a very functional light—fellowship means “having in common”—“partnership”.

In fact, the NASB translates this word “participation”. That works well, and it is accurate enough, but: as long as we can see that the word “fellowship” always means partnership, participation, etc., then I prefer the word fellowship, because it also implies “unity”. When I am in fellowship with God and other believers, I am in partnership with them and in unity with them. (No coffee or doughnuts required.) I could be in a “partnership” at a business level, with people for whom I had long since lost all respect, or whom I did not trust at all, anymore. The partnership would be real, and legally binding, but unity would be non-existent, and fellowship would be unthinkable as a word to describe our relationship.

The Philippian church had served as Paul’s fellow-workers in Christ, from the beginning. That’s the kind of thing to make any veteran missionary grateful. We fellowship in the person of Christ, when we talk of things that pertain to His glory, when we worship together, sing praises together, witness together, study together, and/or serve together, in sharing the Gospel with those around us. Even when we are apart, working at our assigned tasks, we are partners in the Gospel: we have in common the Love of Christ, and we are in unity regarding our priorities and worship. That’s real fellowship: the kind Paul is talking about, here. What would have to change in our churches to make this kind of fellowship a living reality? (There’s something to ponder….) And they had evidently born fruit, as we will see later. What kind of fruit?

Thanksgiving for Fruitfulness

Every faithful man or woman of God is hoping to bear fruit that will bring eternal glory for God. The Fruit of the Spirit is certainly one sort of fruit-bearing, and we will discuss that subject more fully, later on; but the other kind of fruit-bearing is found in spiritual reproduction: leading others to Christ and then raising them up as genuine disciples. There are few greater joys than that of seeing one’s children in the Lord walking with the Lord, and leading others to Him. Evidently that is what the Philippian believers had been doing; and it brought constant joy to Paul.

Thanksgiving for Future Fulfillment

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Paul’s confidence, even in his absence, is that the Lord Jesus Himself would continue the work in their lives. This verse (Philippians 1:6) is frequently used as a verse to teach assurance of salvation…and it does teach that. But the primary teaching in this verse is that the Lord will continue His work in their lives, and continue to perfect it, or carry it to completion, until either they go home to be with Him, or He comes to get them.

In a broader context, it could be argued that since it says “until the day of Jesus Christ”, it could mean that the Lord will continue to complete the church until the rapture. That’s a possible understanding, and certainly true, but considering the rather personal tone of this book, it seems more likely that we are to gain confidence from this passage that God will not give up on us, personally, and that He will continue to patiently, individually, mold us into the likeness of Christ until the end. That is the way I take it, personally, and it is especially precious to me in that light, as I frequently have felt myself to be a failure, and have wanted to just give up.

I remember one particular time, driving home from work, in deep depression, and grieving over my inability to walk with the Lord in a stable manner, I said, “OK, then, I quit! I cannot do this!” This verse instantly came to mind, as God quietly assured me that He was not quitting. I confessed my lack of faith, thanked Him, and was strengthened to press on.

Thanksgiving for Shared Bonds

7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Paul feels extra confident about these particular saints, because he has seen how they have faithfully joined him in the work; not allowing themselves to be “put off” by his imprisonment, but taking full partnership in his ministry. He says, you were “partakers of my grace”—partners in Paul’s gift of apostleship. In light of this, He calls on God as his witness that he greatly longs after them, and specifically that this longing is fully in keeping with the heart of Christ—however Jesus feels toward his beloved flock, that’s how Paul is feeling toward them.

I wish I could consistently say that of myself. Unfortunately, I am all too human, and frequently forget that this is God’s beloved flock, and just grumble to myself about the behavioral problems of sheep in general, including myself. But what if we earnestly prayed for one another, and gave thanks regularly for the Grace of God in one another’s lives? Wouldn’t that tend to change our perspective? It is hard to grumble against someone for whom you are constantly in prayer. Thanksgiving is an important part of maintaining unity. This is something I want to see changed in my life as a believer.

Paul was genuinely thankful for the brethren. We need to be that way, too. How do I know?

God says it is His will for us!

Thanksgiving and the Will of God

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,

16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

God has clearly stated that our giving thanks is part of His will for us. Over in Romans 1:21, it says that the people, when they knew God, did not glorify him as God, and they were not thankful. And what was the result? The scripture says that “their foolish hearts were darkened, and they became vain in their imaginations”: they succumbed to idolatry, turning their backs on the reality of God.

Gratitude toward God keeps our attention pointed toward Him. We need to move back toward thankfulness, gratitude, and the common courtesy of giving God his due honor. We need to honor him with our lives as the Creator and Master and Sustainer of all things. And, since He commands us to give thanks in ALL things, perhaps the very best move we can make regarding “difficult” people is to pray for them and give thanks.

In the meantime, let’s at least take Paul’s example, and pray for the brothers and sisters around us, giving thanks for them, and rejoicing that God has made His Grace known to them as well as to us. We can rejoice in the fellowship and partnership we can have with them in God’s work.

Next time, we will continue and see the things Paul specifically prayed for in the believers’ lives.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts, and draw us along in your Love and Grace. Teach us a heart of gratitude for one another, and love for one another.

 


Philippians: A Personal Note

Philippians: A Personal Letter from Paul

© C. O. Bishop 9/15/17 Cornell Estates 9/17/17

Philippians 1:1, 2 

Introduction:

When we read the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the church at Philippi, we can sense the relationship he had with the believers in that church:  This is a very personal letter. It is written to people who knew and loved Paul, and were loved by him in return. They were his friends! I believe it was also intended to be a “circular” letter, as all his epistles have been regarded, but the primary recipients were the believers; the church, at Philippi.

The apparent date is around A.D. 64, and it was evidently written from prison. There has been some controversy as to which prison, and even which time he was in prison, but the references to “the palace” in 1:13, and the greeting from “…they of Caesar’s household…”, in 4:22 seem to make it clear that his incarceration was in Rome, which would also agree with Acts 28. Undoubtedly there were other imprisonments, as we know from Paul’s own testimony, and, in fact, one was actually in the city of Philippi (which we can read in Acts 16). But this specific imprisonment was evidently in Rome.

One of the most impressive things about this letter is the lack of correction—these Christians were already living their faith, and Paul had no word of rebuke for them; only words of encouragement. The letters to the church at Corinth were loaded with corrective teaching, as was the letter to the churches of Galatia. But Philippi was a church whose faith had been strengthened by persecution, and which had joined with Paul in the work of evangelism, supporting him, as best they could, as he went from town to town.

Greetings:

1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the things we can notice immediately in the opening lines of the letter to the Philippians is that it is not the same opening greeting that he uses elsewhere. In other epistles he begins by identifying his office (“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God…” or something similar). In this book, he just introduces himself and Timothy as fellow-servants: this church already knew who he was; they did not need his credentials.

As we read on in this book, and compare with the other epistles that refer to this church, as well as in the book of Acts (chapter 16), we can perhaps see why this is so. Paul has had a warm relationship with these folks from the very beginning. He had personally led many of them to Christ. They had given regularly, to support his ministry, when he, himself, was far away (Philippians 4:10-18)—evidently not because he asked them to, but simply because they loved him and wanted to share in his work.

So, since they knew Paul and Timothy, and were his partners in the work, he only identified himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, and he addressed himself “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi,” as well as to the “bishops and deacons.”

It is important to notice that the letter was to the church, along with the leadership, not the other way around. Jesus is still talking to His Flock: He does not require us to go through the hierarchy of a priesthood, or any sort of ecclesiastical “chain of command” to reach the throne of God.

We approach God through the Person of Jesus Christ alone. God approaches us in the same way. We are invited to personally read and study and understand His Word… ourselves! We are not told to submit all thought and understanding to some higher-ranking church authority. We are each called, individually, to do three things, revealed later in this book:

  1. Know the Shepherd, personally
  2. Learn His Word, carefully and thoroughly
  3. Join Him in His Work, joyfully and faithfully.

Note that all three of these things are only done through the power of the Holy Spirit… they cannot be done through self-effort or Human reasoning.

To All the Saints:

Something else to bear in mind is that the word “saint” does not mean “pious” or “goody-goody”, or “self-righteous”. Nor is it in reference to people who have been “beatified” by the pope, or some other religious leader. The word “saint” simply means “holy”, or “set apart for a special purpose”. In adjectival form, “holy” can refer to a person, a place, a building, or an object. But in this case, it points out the fact that God is calling out a people for His name, and that those people, who have responded in faith, belong to Him. They are unchangeably set apart for His purpose.

Any object in the temple was holy because it was set apart for a prescribed use in the temple. If someone misused it, it did not change the fact that it belonged to the temple, and was holy. It simply had to be cleansed before resuming temple use. (There is a good lesson there, for us: how do we apply it to the individual believer? When we sin, we need cleansing, but we have already been permanently set apart for God’s service.)

If you have heard of God’s judgment and Grace, and have recognized that you are a helpless, guilty sinner, and have placed your faith in Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross as full payment for your sin, then God has made you a saint.

You still sin, because He has not taken away your will, nor your sin nature, but: you already belong to Him, and He sees you in Christ, for eternity. He will never fail to see you as holy—a saint, belong to His family and to His service. When you have sinned, He will simply have to cleanse you before using you again in His service. But your position in His family has not changed…and never will! 

1st John 1:7-9 says, “When 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, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(John 13:8-11, and 15:3—notice the context of 13:30—Judas was no longer there.)

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was demonstrating this principle. He told Peter that anyone who was “washed”, was clean all over, and needed only to wash his feet, because of the dirty environment they walked through. He said that not all of them had been washed (referring to Judas Iscariot,) and later, after Judas had left, he reiterated that the other disciples were already clean through the Word they received from Him…they had become believers. Judas had not. They were already saints; Judas was not.

All a believer needs is confession, and fellowship is restored.

What about the Bishops and Deacons?

I find it heart-warming, somehow, to see that the Bishops and Deacons are part of the Church; not the other way around. The only reason shepherds exist is because there is a flock…and, the flock belongs to God, not to the shepherds. The shepherds belong to God as well. They are part of the flock they feed and care for.

It is also interesting to note that the bishops and deacons were always plural. A careful reader will see that this is the normal case throughout the entire New Testament. Paul sent Timothy and Titus, for example, with instructions to ordain elders (plural) in every church (singular). That is a subject for a different sermon. We will not address the relative merits of differing church structures and systems, beyond recognizing that this is definitely the Biblical case.

Grace and Peace

As in all Paul’s epistles, Grace and Peace are offered in that order—Grace, and Peace. It is impossible to experience the Peace of God, or even Peace with God, without first receiving the Grace of God. Both come from the source–God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is one more evidence that this book is strictly to believers: In John 8:44, Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your Father the Devil…” (So much for the “universal Fatherhood of God!”).  In all his epistles Paul only addressed believers as his brothers. (There was at least one occasion in the book of Acts where he did address his fellow Jews as “brethren.”) But he only refers to God as being the “Father” of believers: he makes no exceptions!

God does not claim the whole human race as his children, though He is certainly their Creator. It is only by birth that we enter into a human family as offspring. And it is only by the second birth that we became the offspring of God—his children. Jesus told Nicodemus that only via the second birth could he enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, ff) In John 1:12, we are told that to those who received Him (specifically, those who believed in His name) was given the right to become (genesthai—be generated as) children (tekna, meaning, literally, “born ones”—offspring) of God.

So, it is not a light thing that Paul refers to God as “our Father”—nor is it simply a title, or a term of convenience. It is a fact: he has become our real Father. And so is the fact that he calls Jesus “Lord”—it is a fact, that every child of God is under the lordship of Jesus Christ…owing Him full obedience, loyalty and love. (Do we consistently live that way? Hardly….)

The names here, too, are loaded with meaning: “Jesus” means, “Jehovah saves”—God said in Isaiah 43:11 that beside himself there is no savior, and confirms it in the name of His son. When the angel Gabriel spoke with Joseph, in Mathew 1:21, he said “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins.” Do you see the implication? God said, that other than himself there was no savior. Then he said “call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins…” Jesus is the savior, and his name means “Jehovah is savior.” The deity of Jesus Christ is in view, here. Jesus truly is God in the Flesh.

By the way, the name “Christ” is not Jesus’s “last name”…it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”—meaning “the Anointed One”.  So, we are greeted in the name of the Lord (master, owner, leader and teacher) Jesus (Jehovah, the savior) Christ (the anointed one). It would be a serious mistake to simply “brush over” these words of the first two verses as if they were only a polite greeting. The longer I study God’s Word, the more convinced I become that there is nothing accidental or casual about it. We need to read carefully, and consider what He is telling us, in every passage.

Conclusion:

We have been addressed as the holy ones (the saints) of God, in the name of our real Father, the Creator God, and specifically, the Name of our Master and Savior, The Anointed one, Jesus, the Messiah. In the coming weeks we will go on to read what the Lord has to say to us.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves as you see us, holy and blameless before you. Help us to learn to walk in that reality, and to be the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.