Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

© C. O. Bishop 3/17/2018 Cornell Estates 3/18/18

Philippians 3:17-4:1; 2nd Peter 2; Acts 20:17, 28-31

Introduction:

We ended, last time, on Philippians 3:17, where Paul had instructed the Philippian believers to be followers together of himself, and to take note of their other human leaders who lived in the same way as the apostles, so as to use their example and see the same fruits in their own lives.

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

Paul says that there are others (especially church leaders, we hope) whom we can imitate, but warns that we are to “be picky”—take note of those who walk as Paul and the other apostles did, and imitate that kind of individual, not those who live as counter-examples to that faith. He said, back in verse 15 that, if we are trying to imitate this pattern, and if there is a “glitch” of some sort, so that our walk is being misdirected in some way, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to reveal that fact to us, and re-direct our path. That is comforting to know.

But then he notes, parenthetically, that there are some bad examples, too: People whose lives we should absolutely avoid imitating.

The Parenthesis: Who Not to Follow

It is entirely possible for a true believer to be misinformed and misdirected. That is not what is being warned against, here. Our defense against such a thing is to be in the Word and in Prayer, specifically seeking to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, all the while recognizing that He, the Holy Spirit, will never lead contrary to the written Word of God, but that it is possible for us to misunderstand the scriptures. However, in this passage, he is talking about licentious behavior along with bad teaching…definite sin. He goes on to describe the false teachers who are a deadly danger to believers:

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

I don’t know who Paul is referring to, specifically, as he describes them only in general terms: no information specific enough to identify a group. Remember, however, that, while we are all described (Romans 5:10), as having once been the “enemies of God”, we were not described as being the enemies of the Gospel, or the enemies of the Cross. I believe the people he is referring to must be those who are deliberately false teachers, though they may be hard to define, except by observation. Not all who teach false doctrine are doing so deliberately, and not all who act as our enemies are also an enemy of the Cross. Paul gives some examples, elsewhere:

Unbelievers

Romans 11:28 definitely refers to unbelieving Jews as being “enemies” as regarding the gospel, but the enmity is a “one-way” enmity: The unbelieving Jews despised all the believers for the sake of the Gospel, and even were enemies physically, in that regard. Paul cautioned the Gentile believers that those unbelieving Jews were still precious souls for whom Christ died: that they were beloved for the sake of Israel, even when they were acting as enemies. They were still not enemies of the Cross, or enemies of the Gospel, as the false teachers were. They were simply responding as enemies because of the Gospel.

Unbelieving Gentiles were sometimes equally dangerous, but usually were less volatile, as, while the Gospel does indict the Gentiles as sinners, it does not tell them that they have crucified their own Messiah. That one is a pretty tough thing for the Jews to hear.

False Teachers

It is possible for a genuine believer to be sadly mistaken about something, but to teach it with a clean heart, because he simply does not understand a particular concept in the Bible. We don’t hold that against a brother, because there are bound to be things about which we are mistaken, too. We just keep honing our understanding of the Word of God, and bear in mind that it all has to agree with itself or else we are reading it wrong. These are not what the Bible calls a false teacher. It requires an unregenerate heart, and a corrupt motive for teaching the false doctrine.

All of the descriptors here in verse 19 seem to closely match those listed in 2nd Peter 2, (read it!) where Paul is definitely describing deliberately false teachers, and their habitual sin, along with their false doctrine. These are very heavily condemned for their lifestyle (“…whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” (here in Philippians,) and “bringing in damnable heresies; …denying the Lord that bought them; …they that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness;” etc. (in 2nd Peter chapter 2))  Eternal judgment is predicted for them (“Whose end is destruction; who bring upon themselves swift destruction; whose judgment of a long time lingereth not; they shall utterly perish in their own corruption;” etc.).

They are said to be knowingly deceiving the believers: “…sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you…” It makes them feel smart to be fooling the believers around them. And, according to Acts 20:30, they will draw away followers after themselves. Some of you may recall a false teacher, Jim Jones, who led away 900 followers, and moved them all to Guyana…and there, in the jungle, he induced them all to commit suicide, and shot all those who refused. He was a classic false teacher, who began by using the scriptures, but finally threw his Bible down, and said “You don’t need the Bible; you need me!” Those who continued to follow him eventually died, as a result. It is a very sad story, but it was entirely avoidable.

Not all false teachers have such a dramatic end, but all result in souls being drawn away from Christ, either believing false doctrine that prevents them from being born again to begin with, or, in the case of those who are already saved, following teachings that can prevent them from living for God, and experiencing the liberty and peace of God.

It is these false teachers, in 2nd Peter 2, regarding whom the apostle says, “But it has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog has turned unto his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2nd Peter 2:22)

Notice that it does not say, “…The sheep has turned back into a dog, or a pig.” What it says is that a dog, who had, for a time, abandoned his ordinary canine ways, has returned to behaving in accord with his true nature. And, a pig, who had been outwardly washed, but who, at heart, was always a pig, has returned to her old ways. Why? Because given the opportunity, a dog acts like a dog. And a pig is always happiest when he or she is acting like a pig. Sinners are most comfortable in Sin. People who are pretending faith, but have never truly placed their faith in the Savior, will eventually go back to their real comfort zone, and follow their true nature.

So, Paul is warning us that it is possible for an unbeliever to deceive the believers, and finagle his way into a position of leadership. But a combination of bad doctrine that clearly sets aside the authority and holiness of God’s Word, and bad behavior, specifically moral corruption, is a “red flag” for us, warning that they are really a false teacher. Could there be a false teacher who lives a moral life? Yes, I think there can be, but it is uncommon. I think I may actually have known one: He claimed to be a believer, and he had good Bible and ministerial training. As far as I could tell, he lived a blameless life. BUT: he did not believe the Bible was the Word of God, and he taught such things from the pulpit. We confronted him, and he laughed it off, as though we were simple-minded, primitive believers, and that his unbelief was a mark of sophistication. I don’t know what to make of that. I don’t know if he was a genuine believer who was badly deceived by the enemy, or a false teacher who thought he was getting away with something.

Wolves Among the Sheep

Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus to be on guard against this very thing: He said that, after his departure, “grievous wolves” would enter in among them, “not sparing the flock;” and that, furthermore, some would spring up from among the leadership, teaching “perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:17, 28-31) The motive could be money, pride, lusts of various types, or just the desire for power and control.

We need to be careful, though, who we label as an “enemy of the Cross,” as that is a pretty heavy accusation. If it is really true, then so be it; but if it is not, then we may fall into the snare of Satan, becoming, with him, an “accuser of the brethren”. I really do not want to go there. Genuine believers can fall into the condemnation and the snare of the devil, according to the warnings in 1st Timothy 3:6, 7. We want to avoid that.

Please note, too, that Paul said he was weeping for those who were enemies of the Cross, not despising them. Were you ever truly grieved for the eternal destiny of an enemy: someone who constantly torments you, or is deliberately dangerous to you? Personally, I find it difficult to care for their destiny: it is far easier to secretly be glad that judgment is coming, and ignore Jesus’s clear command (Matthew 5:44) to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who treat us badly. That is what Jonah did! He ignored the command of God! It takes deliberate repentance, confession, and day-by-day obedience, for me to change that pattern.

Our New Citizenship

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

This is an interesting passage, partly because of the word “conversation,” here in the KJV. The Greek word usually translated “conversation” is “tropos” meaning “way of life.” But this Greek word “politeuma”, means “commonwealth”, or “citizenship”. In the case of either Greek root, the King James Bible word, “conversation,” has nothing to do with “two people talking together.” In the one case, it means our lifestyle. In this particular case, though, the statement is that because our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be imitators of Christ, who ultimately, Paul concludes, will completely change us into his likeness, both physically and spiritually. We will lose our tendency to sin, as we will no longer have a sin nature. We will see things from God’s perspective, and understand things that were mysteries before.

That is the living hope of the believer. Every one of us knows that we are a sinner: Every one of us grieves over our sin, and longs to be set free. And the day of release is coming. Paul rejoiced over that in Romans 7:24, 25, saying “…who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”, and again in Romans 8:21-23, saying that the whole creation is looking forward to that day, because they will be (mostly) freed from the curse, when the Kingdom age begins, during which time we will have our new bodies…and no sin nature.

In 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52, Paul says that, for those believers who are still alive, the first step of that time will happen in a flash: we will get our new bodies at the moment of the rapture. But the kingdom age will not begin until seven years later, after the rapture of the church. Here, in Philippians, he gives us a little insight about what those new bodies will be like:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

I am really looking forward to that “change”. Although our physical body does not “cause sin”, it is still true that, so long as we are living in these bodies, we will still be subject to sin. Paul experienced this, too, and grieved over it, just as we do. There is coming a day when our old nature will be gone, and we will be free at last.

In the meantime, our freedom has already been provided for, and we are to stand fast in Christ. In Romans 6, we see that we are no longer enslaved to sin: we do not have to sin. We face temptation and we fall prey to it, but we have a choice: we can submit to Christ and obey His Word, instead of our old habitual submission to Sin.

Chapter 4

1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Paul considered this church to be the best of those whom he had led to Christ. They were a total joy to him, and a “victor’s crown.” The Greek word for “crown” here is “stephanos.” It is not the crown of a king, but the victor’s laurel wreath that was awarded to the winner in the Olympic Games. It is translated “crown”, but it always means a victor’s crown. Paul considered these believers to be his trophy…his “blue ribbon.” And, he says, on the basis of all that went before, for them to “stand fast”: To remain steadfast in the face of hard times, in the face of temptation, in the face of tribulations and persecutions. To remain steadfast against false teaching, and to steadfastly follow the leaders God had given, as those leaders steadfastly followed Christ.

That is what we are to do, as well! This letter is to us, as well as to those who first received it. All the epistles are to the churches, not to some high-ranking church leaders: the letters are to YOU.

We need to absorb these truths, and allow them to change our lives. Allow God to use His Word to remake you in His own image. Believe his promises. Obey His commands. Allow His love to flow through you to those around you. That is what it means to stand fast and to walk with God, Following Christ.

Lord Jesus, remake us in your own image: make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be. Allow us to follow you, and to serve faithfully as ambassadors of Christ, offering your love to the World around us, and living in the practical holiness you have assigned to us.

 


Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

How can we be saved?

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

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

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

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

Can I Know that I Have Eternal Life?

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

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

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

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

The Conditions

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

The Clauses

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

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

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

A Parallel Promise

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Hesitate

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

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

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

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

The Invitation of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sheep Food!

Sheep Food!

© C. O. Bishop 9/9/2016; THCF 9/11/2016

1st Peter 2:2; Jeremiah 15:16;

Introduction:

We read in the scripture that the elders are to feed the flock. We also see that the flock is commanded to “feed” as well…and that the food is specifically the Word of God. So, we need to give some attention as to how that feeding is to occur, and when, and by whom, etc.

In 1st Peter 2:2, the newborn believers are told to hunger for the “milk” of God’s Word; but in Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer complains that the particular believers to whom he was writing should have graduated from “milk” and should now be consuming solid food…and it is still referring to the Word of God. Jeremiah 15:16 makes the statement that feeding on God’s Word was the joy of the heart of the prophet, because he himself belonged to the family of God…he was called by God’s name. These sort of passages lay out the normal life for believers: we are to feed on God’s Word. And it should become a joy to our hearts simply because, as believers, we are His children. We should be growing stronger in the Word, so that we move on from baby food, and feed joyfully on the tougher things of the Bible, while not forgetting the foundation that was laid in the simple truths of the Gospel.

So…what does it mean, to “Feed on” God’s Word? Do we simply read it? Is hearing it on the radio enough? Do we have to attend Bible College? Do we have to memorize the Bible? What does it mean when the Psalmist says he “meditated” on God’s Word? Do you have to sit with your legs contorted, and your eyes closed while you think about the Bible?

I would like to suggest, as a starter, that there are at least five ways the Scripture tells us to feed upon the Word of God:

  1. Hear
  2. Read
  3. Study
  4. Memorize, and
  5. Meditate

Probably that is actually an ascending order, each attaining a deeper, stronger grasp of the Word.  Let’s look at each of them and see how they apply to us as believers.

Hear the Word

Deuteronomy 6:4 begins with the words, “Hear O Israel…” This passage is well-known to all orthodox Jews…it is called the “Shammah”, because the word “hear” is translated from the Hebrew word “shammah”. Over and over, Jesus said “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” The willing reception of the spoken Word of God is what is in view. Hearing it has an impact all by itself, without study, without comment, without further reflection, even. God’s Word does not return to Him void. It always has an effect. Bear in mind that the sun, shining on potter’s clay, has the reverse effect of the same sunlight warming wax. One grows harder, while the other grows softer. The difference is in the character of the material. “He that hath an ear to hear” will be changed in a positive way by the reception of God’s Word. A person who only receives the Word because of a sense of social responsibility or, worse, to look good among his peers, may find that he is gradually inoculated against the influence of the Word, because he has privately, habitually rejected its teaching. He is gradually given over to a reprobate mind, so that he becomes blinded to the truth of God’s Word, and deaf to the pleading of God’s Spirit.

Luke 8:18 says, “Take heed therefore how ye hear….” Hearing the word is important, and how we hear it is important. We need to hear it with a willing heart, and look for ways to apply it to our lives…not dismiss it or critique it as if it were the writings of men. It is the Word of God. Take heed how you hear. Apply your heart to the Word as you hear it. Hunger for it. Allow it to cleanse you, and purge you.

Read the Word

It is interesting and instructive, to see that long before a king sat on a throne in Israel, God commanded (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) that that future king was to write for himself a copy of the Law of God, out of the scrolls possessed by the Levites, and that he was to read that copy all the days of his life! Every day, as long as he lives!

We in the Church age, as believers, are called “kings and priests.” How might that Old Testament command apply to us? Although I doubt we are called to personally write out our own copy (the printing press and movable type seem to have freed us from that), I do think we might be admonished to be in the Word on a “steady-diet” basis, rather than a “once-in-a-while nibble.”  The results God predicted for those kings are interesting, too. Five results are listed:

  1. That he may learn to fear the LORD his God, and
  2. To keep all the words of this Law, and these statutes, to do them,
  3. That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and
  4. That he turn not aside from the commandments, to the right hand or to the left;
  5. To the end (result) that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Now, I am not an earthly king, especially not a king of Israel, but I can see from the rest of the Word of God that those predicted results apply to all who apply God’s Word to their lives. The Psalms state that the Word “is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” They further state that a man can cleanse his way “by taking heed thereto according to God’s Word”.  (Psalm 119:9, 105) Simply reading the Word daily, as a steady diet, providing constant contact, will have eternal results.

Study the Word

This one is a little harder, but the word “study” in Old English, and in Greek, means to “apply oneself diligently.” So, when Paul says (2nd Timothy 2:15) “study to show thyself approved unto God…”, it means “make this a priority, and apply yourself diligently to that end.” But; the rest of the verse says “…a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So, applying oneself diligently to learning to rightly divide God’s Word would necessitate the kind of thing we call “study,” today, as well, would it not? Paul also exhorted Timothy to give himself to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine. This meant not only the public reading of the scriptures, but a constant ministry of encouraging others and teaching them to understand and obey God’s Word. That requires study, too.

The Bereans were commended (Acts 17:11) as being “more noble than those in Thessalonica”, because they “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” That is study, folks! Searching the scriptures, comparing scripture with scripture, looking for understanding. That is study!

Could it mean going off to school and applying yourself to nothing but study for a period of time? Certainly, it could, but that is by no means necessary. Bear in mind that Paul was trained by one of the most famous educators of his time, but considered that whole experience to be rubbish. He did not rest upon his credentials. He rested upon the credentials of Christ. He rested upon the truth of God’s Word.

But we are exhorted to apply ourselves to the goal of understanding the Word of God. The result is supposed to be the collective maturity and stability of the church…so that we believers will not be easily swept away by every novel doctrine that comes along; so that we will be well-equipped ministers of God’s Grace, and so that we are able to build up the body in the Love of God. (Ephesians 4:12-16) These are all the result of absorbing God’s Word, through hearing, reading and studying. What else can we do?

Memorize the Word

Psalm 119:11 is the best verse for this, though there are many others. The psalmist said “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Later, in Jeremiah 31:33, God promised that (during the coming Kingdom age) He himself would “…put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”, with the result being holiness of life and a wholesome, continuing walk with God. He says, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

When Jesus refuted Satan, during the temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), he did so with the Word of God, citing (and reciting) appropriate passages to defend against the attack of the evil one. I use this tool daily, when tempted to be angry, or in some other way, reciting to myself the passages that strengthen me against sin. David did the same thing. He remembered the precepts of God, and drew upon them for strength.

Solomon commented upon this concept: Proverbs 4:4, 5 says, in part, “…let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments and live. Get Wisdom, get understanding, forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.” This is not just rote memorization, but the overall absorption and retention of God’s Word. It takes time, and it takes deliberate work.

When I was in school we were required to memorize hundreds of passages; sometimes single verses, sometimes short passages, some whole chapters, and one whole book (Ephesians). Do I still remember then all? Nope. But the result has been profitable, and I still know how to apply myself to memorization.

After my mother died we found her written memory-aids (stenographer’s tablets full of them, all written by hand), and we realized just how much she had applied this concept: she had memorized several whole books of the New Testament, and was working on more, right up until she could no longer function to do so. Not everyone is gifted equally in this regard, but virtually anyone can repeat back to you, nearly verbatim, a conversation they had yesterday or last week, with another individual. So it is certainly possible to consider the Word of God a series of “conversations” between God and man, and recite portions of those conversations as needed…and it is not an unreasonable expectation at all. You can do this!

Meditate upon the Word

When people today use the word “meditate,” they usually mean meditation in the sense of some Eastern religion; Hinduism, or its off-shoots; Buddhism, the Hari Krishna cult, Transcendental Meditation, or something similar. In each of these cases, one is encouraged to empty one’s mind of conscious thought and open oneself to whatever comes in. Biblical meditation has nothing to do with this practice.

Joshua 1:8 is the first command regarding Meditation. Let’s see what God told Joshua about it.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

How much of that is a promise to me? None of it! This is a command with a promise to Joshua… not even to Israel as a whole; just Joshua. But how much of it could be applicable to you and to me, at least in a general sense? Every bit of it!

We are not to depart from God’s Word, the Bible. It is to be our first and final authority in all things. And, we are to dwell upon its precepts, considering how to rightly apply them to our lives. Meditation is not empty-headed open-mindedness! It is deliberate, conscious thinking about the content and concepts of God’s Word. It is pondering, and comparing scripture to scripture, and considering whether there is something you have missed, in reading it.

Sometimes I have used an elementary trick of reciting a passage slowly, repeating it with a different word emphasized each time, to see if that sheds a different light. But it is always a slow, conscious rumination…a “chewing of the cud”, so to speak. A careful digestion of the Word of God, being anxious not to miss anything.

There are two primary words in the Old Testament, translated “meditate”. Together they are used 12 times. There is one word in the New Testament, translated “meditate”, and it is used twice: both times in command form. Joshua, as a servant of God, was commanded (Joshua 1:8) to meditate upon the Word of God. Timothy, as a servant of God, was commanded (1st Timothy 4:15) to meditate upon the things taught in God’s Word. David, a servant of God, testified that he meditated upon the precepts of God’s Word, and mused upon them, pondering their meaning.

How much more do we need? This is how the servants of God strengthen themselves for the service of God. They were feeding upon it deeply and continually.

So—Who Does the Feeding?

The answer is, “We ALL do!” Every believer is called upon to feed on God’s Word to whatever capacity he or she is gifted to do so. No one is exempted. Everyone can at least choose to hear it, and take heed how they hear it.

If you can read, you are called upon to read it. If you can read, and can at least think clearly, you are called upon to study, and to feed at that level. We are called upon to attain to solid food, not continuing to consume only the simple, baby-food portions over and over.

At whatever level we can do so, we are called upon to memorize God’s Word. And we are called upon to spend time meditating upon it: deliberately thinking, praying and considering how to understand and apply what we have heard, read, studied and memorized.

How Important is the Written Word?

God says (Psalm 138:2) that he has magnified his Word even above his Name. That is an incredible thought, as His name is Holy, and not to be taken lightly. It could be a reflection of the fact that Jesus Himself is identified in a few passages as being the Word of God, in Person. John 1:1, 14 “In the Beginning was the Word…The Word became flesh, and dwelt among Men…” And when he comes at last, as the triumphant King, it says (Revelation 19:13) that “His name is called “The Word of God”.”

Jesus, during his earthly ministry stated clearly that every word of the Scriptures would be brought to pass…fulfilled to the letter. Peter says (2nd Peter 1:19) that the written Word is our only light in this dark World, until the Savior returns for us, and we have His Light in Person.

I am personally convinced that how a believer responds to the Written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately how he or she also will respond to the Living Word, Jesus. Give that some thought!

If you are a leader, a teacher, a parent, or are in any other way responsible for the spiritual well-being of another person, then you are doubly accountable to these precepts. You can’t feed others if you are not feeding yourself. And you can’t feed them clean food, unless you are applying the Word well enough to understand what you are teaching. Jesus confronted the teachers in Israel for failing to understand and for failing to obey. He said they had become blind guides. We really do not want that charge to be laid upon us. We want to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Take heed how you hear! The way you choose to respond to this message will definitely have an effect upon your life.

Lord Jesus, teach us to hear your Word with the intent to apply it to our lives, to think on it, and obey it. Let us be doers of your Word, and not forgetful hearers. Teach us to feed on the clean food of your Word, and by it to grow strong!


Christian Living And Relationships, Part Two

Christian Living and Relationships (Part Two)

© C. O. Bishop, 5/20/16 THCF 5/22/16

Romans 12:3-11

Introduction:

We began looking at the practical outworking of our new relationship with Christ, two weeks ago, reading and considering Romans 12:1-3. We saw that we were to submit ourselves to God, as living sacrifices; daily making the choice to live for Him: to serve God, not self. It isn’t easy; which is why it is called a “Living” sacrifice: it can never just be a “done deal”—we always have to either renew that choice, or fail to do so.

Those verses, telling us how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and how we can avoid being pressed into the mold of the world, are based upon our individual relationships with Christ. A proper relationship with Him in a growing, ongoing bond of love, will result in a changed life. It also results in changed relationships with other people, as we saw in Ephesians 4:1-6; another passage where Paul begs us to walk worthy of the vocation to which we have been called. We are to maintain unity with one another, and forbear (tolerate) one another, learning to love and appreciate one another, just for who each of us is in Christ.

Here in Romans we are reminded of some of the gifts of service that believers are given by which to be a blessing to one another, and we are told in what spirit to use each of them.

What does “Christian Service” look like?

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

One of the more obvious dangers in Christian service is the temptation to serve in the same spirit as do those of the world. We desire human recognition, and like to feel appreciated. Many times churches create titles and “jobs” within the church organization, so that a person feels proud to do the job they have been assigned. But this practice establishes boundaries, and territories, and effectively divides the body. Everyone is thus encouraged toward “self” expression, and “self” fulfillment, “owning” the ministry, and can easily forget who the head of the body actually is. Paul caution us to “not think more highly of” ourselves, but, rather, to think soberly.

I have known of communities where deacons, for instance, attach that title to their name, and actually introduce themselves as “Deacon So-and-so.” Many pastors do the same thing, and in many circles they are expected to do so. Then we invent honorifics to go with the title, or even supplant it—the “Right Reverend so-and-so… your excellency…your Grace”… do you see how that feeds pride?

The fact is, I don’t need a title, or a “territory”. I can sit and listen to someone else teach, and take careful notes, so as to actually learn from their teaching; and I will be perfectly happy. I have no need for the limelight. I would be happy to serve from the back pew, and have frequently done so. I have taught because I was asked to teach, and, since I keep getting asked to continue teaching, I conclude that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I also do it, even in private, because that is my gift—it is simply what I do.

The result seems to be that folks get fed, and understanding increases. I don’t need an “office” or title, to do any of that. If it is the job—the gift—Jesus gave me to do, then I will either do it, or fail to do it. I am given to believe that my gifts are in this area, and when I pray, “Lord, I just don’t know what to do!” the immediate answer is “Feed my flock!” So, by faith, I press on. If He gives me a different job, or assignment, He will let me know it.

All the gifts have this in common: they don’t need “titles”, or honorifics; they just need a willing heart. But we each have different gifts, though all the believers are part of that one Body of Christ. That is the source of Unity—our position in Christ. But each of us has something to offer. Each of us can choose to be a blessing to those around us, but it will be done in different ways. Many years ago, a teacher told me, “If I go to church to be a blessing, I will almost always come home blessed. But if I go there to get a blessing, I can frequently come home empty and sour.” The Agapé love always seeks to bless those around it…not to receive a blessing. But the result is that it is always blessed.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

Notice it says that we are members one of another. We are not just “employees of the same company—co-workers”; we belong to one another. We are truly part of a select brotherhood, because we are born from above, of the same Father. We are one body, and, though we may feel somewhat alienated from one another at times, due to sin, we really are one.

All of us know what it means to “hurt all over”, because of an injury or illness. I have actually heard of people who endured a fairly small injury (a mashed finger or the like) but who then went into shock and died…the whole body responded to the injury of one member so drastically that the body shut down completely. In contrast to the physical body, that mutual care will not shut us down; it will empower us, but we are to have that sort of deep compassion and care for one another, so that if one member is hurting, it is a concern for all. And, if one is blessed, it is a joy to all, as all are invigorated by the goodness of God, seen reflected in another person’s life.

What is a Prophet?

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

When we consider the New Testament gift of prophecy, we must remember that even the Old Testament word does not mean a “teller of the future”, but a spokesman for God; a mouthpiece for God. In Exodus 4:12, God told Moses, “…go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say!” That is pretty much the definition of a prophet, through all the ages. In the early days, it frequently (but not always) involved “fore-telling”. In fact, when we use the word “prophecy”, or “prophetic,” we usually mean “the telling of the future”. But all the word really means is being “a mouthpiece for God”.

As far as I can tell, a person who simply gives the clear meaning of scripture and can tie it all together, so that the listeners can see it all as God’s Word, not just a collection of disconnected pamphlets by forgotten writers, is a good teacher. That would be one who is gifted to teach. But if they are also used of God to bring a corrective message, or a message of encouragement, or a message from scripture that builds up the believers for the work of service, then they are functioning as a New Testament prophet.

1st Corinthians 14:3 states that “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” That is the definition of a prophet’s job, in this age. The Old Testament gift of foretelling the future seems to have pretty much disappeared by the end of the book of Acts. We are told nothing further about it in the epistles, at least. Even false prophets are not warned against in the epistles, so much as false teachers.

A prophet, then, must have the faith to pursue God, personally, and absorb the Word of God, and learn the will of God, as revealed in Scripture. The prophet has to have the faith to see God’s will in black and white, and be able to declare it firmly, though humbly, knowing it to be true, because Jesus says so. “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” This is Paul’s message to the prophets in the New Testament Church.

What is “Ministry?”

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

Ministry means service. The Greek word, here, for service, is “diakonia”. The companion word, “diakonous” is where we get the word “deacon”, in English. It simply means servant. We disdain the word servant, as if it is a “low-caste” calling, to which no one should be relegated. But God calls it a gift, and a high, holy calling. It is interesting to learn that the root of the word “menial” which we really don’t like, is exactly the same as that of the word “ministry” which we claim to love. Jesus taught this lesson in John 13, doing a menial task (foot-washing) that was ordinarily relegated to the lowest servants, in order to demonstrate the principle of ministry to his disciples.

Every believer is called to this life of service, but some are gifted beyond others, and can throw themselves into any task without reserve, as it is their joy to serve. There are no restrictions as to who can serve God: anyone can serve, but not all at the same tasks. He chooses our tasks. There may be human restrictions of a practical nature: a life-guard, for example, is in a position that absolutely demands that he or she be a very strong swimmer, and specifically trained to work in deep water to bring a struggling or injured person to safety. A church pianist must be someone who has endured the discipline of learning to play the piano well enough to accompany singers, in any key needed. There are many other human limitations, and we recognize them; but anyone can serve, and there are innumerable ways in which to do so. If you have a heart for service, God will give you an avenue in which to serve faithfully. And faithfulness itself is worthy of reward. God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful Servant!”

What about Teaching?

Teaching, as we mentioned earlier, is the gift of being able to read, study and understand scripture, and to teach what it means, accurately, in keeping with the rest of the Word of God, so that the hearers are not just hearing, but understanding the scriptures, themselves. It was mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New, and is a valuable gift, as well. A teacher does not necessarily have to be a leader, but an elder (overseer, pastor, bishop) has to be a teacher, as far as I can see. 1st Timothy 3:1-8 states some of the qualifications of being an elder, and one of them is “apt to teach”—able to teach. I do not think that this is just the ability to teach carpentry, or cooking, or mathematics, as, in the first place, those are not related to the work of God. It is also not just the rudimentary abilty that ALL people have, to transmit information. It is specifically referring to the spiritual gift of teaching that is vital to the health of a church. This, along with the gift of prophecy, is how the Flock is to be fed…and they are to be fed on the Word of God, not philosophy, or other bits of human wisdom. God’s Word is clean “sheep food.” That is all we have to offer. But how can we tell if we are gifted?

Teaching has not been accomplished until learning occurs. I teach several classes at work; each has numerous tests associated with it. Some of the tests are quite difficult. None of the tests could be passed by someone who has not received the teaching. So, my “report card” is “what percentage of my students can now understand and use what I taught…and are they doing so?”

A Bible teacher should grade himself or herself by the same standard: “Do my students better understand the scriptures?”, and “Are they better able to apply them than before?” It is much harder to tell, for sure, as there is no “sit down and take the exam” kind of test to apply. But I knew a woman (now home with the Lord) who taught “Good News Club” Bible classes in her home for many years, training little children to understand the Word of God. Her report card? Most of the deacons in her church, before she died, were men whom she had taught as little children, in her home. She had led many of them to Christ. That is a great “Report Card!”

Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Exhortation–Encouragement

Encouragement is a pretty vital gift, too—the ability to see a need in someone’s life, and strengthen them by drawing alongside and being a friend, or a helper, or to encourage them to make good decisions. Some people are a constant encourager to those around them. Some are not. We are all told to encourage one another, and those of us who do not come by it naturally have no excuse—we are still told to do it. But there are those who are gifted by God to be an encourager to other believers. Encouragement flows out of them wherever they go. They are a tremendous blessing to the Church. We so badly need encouragers.

Giving with Simplicity

Giving, obviously, requires having something to give. But I remember hearing about a woman who picked blackberries all summer, with the express intent of having enough to buy her daughter a student violin. How precious that violin was to her grown daughter many years later.

Giving can be done in a showy manner, making a spectacle of the gift—and that practice is condemned by Jesus. Or it can be done simply, privately, with no fanfare, no attention to the gift or the giver…just meeting a need. That is a blessing in itself. Seeing to the need of another person without regard to one’s own benefit is the simplest definition of Agapé Love. When we consider what Jesus did at the Cross, we see that he completely personified that love.

Ruling with Diligence

Not all administrators are diligent…and not all are gifted to rule. But it takes diligent work to do a good job of overseeing any sort of job, or group of people. Some people are gifted to do the job of administration, and can do an efficient job without damaging the people with whom they serve. Others simply want power, and cause offense, as they bully the others in their group.

This desire for preeminence is rooted in self-will, and has nothing to do with the gift of administration. The Love of God has to be the motivating power in every area of the church, but especially in those who rule.

Showing Mercy, with Cheerfulness

Mercy is a gift that goes along with service and encouragement. It is tremendously valuable, because it mends hearts, comforts the feeble and quiets the fearful. It is the Compassion of God in human form. The “Report Card” on this one is how it is received. If little children and the elderly are blessed when they are near you, and people are comforted by your presence, then perhaps you are gifted in this area. It is difficult to tell about and describe, but it is easy to see in others. God said that Mercy was more valuable, and acceptable to Him than sacrifice.

Love is the Conclusion

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

Love– the Agapé love as well as its companion word phileo—brotherly love—is the key to all relationships in the body of Christ. Those two loves never lead to evil; only to what is best. So a person who is claiming to express agapé love, but is doing wrong, is faking the love for the sake of cloaking the evil. Paul says, love is to be without dissimulation—without fakery—no pretension.

We are to completely avoid evil, and see it as abominable, wherever it appears…but especially in ourselves; in our motives, and our thoughts, since that is where God is looking: God says he “is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We are to cling to what is good, without exception. Our love for one another must be pure, drawing us closer to one another and to Christ.
We should be most comfortable in the company of other believers, and give each other full respect and honor as children of God. In business and productivity, that Love should produce an excellent work ethic, as we recognize that we are serving God as well as our employer. If our spirit is right with God, it should produce a fervent love and worship for God, and a fervent desire to do His will and draw others to Him as well. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:31)

These are the principles by which we are to guide our walk with God, our relationships with other believers and our relationship with the World around us. I trust that, as we meditate on this passage we can see it come to life in us, and transform us into the hands and feet and heart of Jesus, doing His work in this World.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness. Teach us to discern your will and search for ways to serve one another in Love. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.