Posts Tagged ‘Blessing’

Our True High Priest, and the New Covenant

Our True High Priest and the New Covenant

© C.O.Bishop 7/14/17 THCF 7/16/17

Hebrews 8:1-13

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Hebrews. Over and over we have seen the theme “Jesus is better” played out in the scripture. Only one exception has been presented: Jesus was not said to be better than Melchisedec. But in every other case, His credentials were shown to far surpass those of all the “heavy-hitters” of Judaism: The Prophets, the Angels, the priesthood, Abraham, Moses…all fell far short of the standard set by Jesus the Messiah.

But now the writer returns to the theme, and sums up the clear Superiority of Jesus over the High Priests of Israel, showing His true office as our High Priest: the mediator of the New Covenant.

Our True High Priest

 1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

The writer is beginning to wrap up his treatise on the superiority of Jesus the Messiah over every aspect of Judaism. (By the way, please keep in mind that this is in no way a “criticism of Judaism:” All of the Old Testament scriptures are “God-breathed.” Judaism, as taught in the scriptures, was entirely from God, and, collectively, it was the introduction to, and prediction of, the Messiah. But Jesus is the Messiah: no more allegory or foreshadowing is needed: He is the real fulfilment of the promises.)

One thing we touched on earlier, but which is worth repeating: the high priest of the Old Covenant could never sit down, while he was “on the job”: the only “seat” in the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat—the “lid” of the Ark of the Covenant…God’s throne on earth. No one ever tried sitting there. People had died under God’s judgment for just touching the ark, even though they had good intentions. Sitting on it would have been a guaranteed path to instant destruction.

So, the point then, is that, in both Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 8:1, we see that Jesus finished his work and sat downand He is still interceding as our High Priest. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”. He is still on the job! So…where is he sitting? Both passages make it clear that he is seated at the right hand of the Father.

But, remembering the Holy of Holies—that means he has to be seated in the throne, with God… all of which agrees with John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus simply resumed his seat of authority with the Father, as is His due. He is God the Son. By the way, consider John 5:22, here, too (“All judgment is committed to the Son”)—Jesus is the Judge of all the Earth. He is the one who sits enthroned and will Judge the nations, as well as the hearts of men. The Throne of God truly is his rightful throne.

A person may think through all this material and still find it puzzling how Jesus could be called our High Priest. But consider this: The High Priest of Israel had two specific functions:

  1. He offered a sacrifice for the nation, once every year, reconciling the nation to God, and
  2. He represented the nation of Israel before God, interceding on their behalf, in prayer.

Jesus’s sacrifice was Himself: His own body, willingly given; and He is still interceding for us. He is our High Priest!

 

What is Different about the Priesthood of Jesus?

For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.

For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:

Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

If Jesus had remained on earth, he could not even serve as a priest, let alone the High Priest: the earthly tabernacle (and later, the Temple,) were served by one family, under the Law. Only a Levite could serve in any capacity. But that tabernacle given by revelation through Moses, was still only a figure, or a shadow, of the real thing: the heavenly throne room with the literal, continual presence of God was the real thing. And that is where Jesus serves today… It is where He came from.

Moses was commanded to make the tabernacle according to the pattern he had seen in his visions on Mount Sinai. He did so, as faithfully as he could. In fact, God says that He put the spirit of wisdom into the men who did the actual work: they had not seen the vision…they could only work from what Moses told them. But evidently God overshadowed their limitations, and supernaturally guided their hands so that the tabernacle actually came out the way Moses had seen it. The result was a very good (though limited) man-made (though God-ordained) copy. It did not and could not serve the same purpose as the real thing, even though God actually appeared in that tabernacle on at least some occasions. Further, we can see here that the priesthood itself was only a foreshadowing of the “real thing”… Jesus; God the Son. All the sacrifices looked forward to the one blood sacrifice that Jesus was to make at the Cross. All the offerings and prayers and rituals were looking forward to Jesus, in his priestly ministry.

In similar manner, we are told that Jesus is the living Word of God, and that the written Word is God’s best communication of Himself to us. It was given through human writers who, just as he overshadowed the human builders of the Tabernacle, were borne along by the Holy Spirit so that the communication was literally the Word of God. We look to the written Word, as unto a light in a dark place, until the true light of the world—the living Word of God—Jesus—returns.

1st Timothy 2:5 states that “…there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the real High Priest. He is the “One Mediator between God and Men.”

 

The Covenant of Jesus is Better than the Old Covenant

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

Notice the tenses in the above statement: He has obtained (past tense) a more excellent ministry (than that which employed the human priesthood). He IS (present tense) the mediator of a better covenant, which was (past tense) established upon better promises.

I find it strangely thrilling, to see the precision of God’s Word. Jesus obtained (past tense) through his service and sacrifice, a better ministry, or office, than the one the Old Testament priests held, and which they all served. It was consummated at the Cross. (“It is finished!”)

But He serves now (present tense) in that specific ministry, as the mediator of the New Covenant, which is only begun in the Church Age, and which will find (future tense) completion in the Kingdom Age. But He is already at work, and has been for 2000 years. One of the better promises was that he was to be a High Priest eternally, after the order of Melchisedec. The promise of the coming New Covenant was made six hundred years before Christ. The promise was fulfilled at the Cross—still past tense for us and for the recipients of this epistle. But the mediation of that covenant is present tense, and it never stops to take a break. Our High Priest never gets tired, and His sacrifice transforms the lives of those who place their trust in Him.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

This was God’s revelation to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) of the coming New Covenant… with whom? The Church? No, he said, here, in verse 8 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31) that the covenant was with Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern nation), and then reiterates it in verse 10. That promise was not to the Church! (Read on!)

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

He says that GOD found fault with the Old Covenant. But how could He? He was its author! The fault was not a moral failure, nor a design failure: it did exactly what it was designed to do: it drove believers to see their need for a savior. When will the New Covenant occur? After his return: this is a Kingdom age promise. How can we tell the time for sure? Read the next verse:

11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

When, on this earth will every single Jew know Jesus and have the Law of God written in each of their individual hearts? This can only be the Kingdom Age. Has the Kingdom age begun? Absolutely not! Paul warned the church that they not be tricked in that regard…there are a number of things that have to occur first, including the removal of the Church, the revelation of the antichrist, and the terrible seven-year tribulation in which half the world’s population will perish. The new Covenant for Israel will begin shortly after the return of the Lord Jesus.

Has the New Covenant begun for the Church? Absolutely! In fact, that New Covenant is the only one we have, in this age, as Jewish or Gentile believers. Israel had been looking forward to the whole New Covenant as promised, for 600 years, or thereabout, when Jesus announced the good news of the Kingdom. And they rejected it.

The Covenant still stands, but it will only be ratified with the Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. Not before. The Church-age believers experience two small parts of that promise, though vital ones:

  1. In this age, every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit: no exceptions. That will apparently be true in the Kingdom age as well.
  2. In this age, (and all of them, for that matter), the believer stands righteous before God, by imputed righteousness, not by the works which they may or may not accomplish. God remembers our sins no more. But in the kingdom age, God will not rub Israel’s collective nose in the dirt of their past sins. They will simply stand righteous before Him, in Christ. And that is our current standing—“in Christ!”

 

The Old Covenant was passing away—and is now obsolete.

13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

This is the final warning that the Old Covenant was about to expire: it had reached its “pull-date”, as it were. The Kingdom age was not being offered to that generation any more. And the Temple (though the readers did not know it, of course) was about to be destroyed. There would no longer exist on earth even the shadow of reality that the temple in Jerusalem had represented for so many years. There would literally be no way to return to their old way of life.

So, the only way these Hebrew believers could enter into the New Covenant was to believe fully in the Person of Christ, and enter into the New Covenant as it applies to the Church. The New Covenant, as initially offered to Israel, had been temporarily withdrawn.

The promise still stands, and it will definitely be fulfilled, to the letter, but, just as the promise of the land was offered to the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses, and, because of unbelief, they failed to enter in; the generation of Jews who were personally approached by the Messiah also rejected His offer through unbelief, and, in turn, were refused the Kingdom. Could they repent and believe? Certainly, but now they enter in along with the Gentiles, and have the same status as the Gentiles. The ultimate promise of the land and the Earthly Kingdom will not be fulfilled, nor even offered again, until Jesus returns.

 

Conclusion: What can we do (or not do) about the New Covenant?

One thing that keeps coming up is the temptation to go back under the Law, when God says, right here in this passage, that we are not to do so: that the Law never could change a life, and that Grace has always been the means by which we are saved…and that the Law has, in fact, become obsolete. We need to be vigilant against the kind of thinking that insists that our standing with God—our position in Him—is dependent upon our behavior—our walk with Him. Only our state—our current condition—is dependent upon our walk.

Remember that Israel, as a nation, is and has been the “Chosen People” of God whether or not they are in a good relationship with Him. He has never “dropped them and chosen someone else.” But His blessing, on a year by year basis, as a nation, has definitely been based on their walk with Him. When God warned Israel, saying, in effect, “if you obey Me, I will bless you; if you disobey Me I will curse you”, it never affected their position as the Chosen People of God. It changed their condition, as blessed or cursed…which is a huge issue all by itself.

God still defends Israel, as His People, though they have been in terrible condition, spiritually, for thousands of years. And the day is coming (soon, I hope) when they will awaken, nationally, and stand again as the people of God.

We have an even more precious position—the Jews and Gentiles called out of the World over the last 2000 years, are called the Church: the Body of Christ—the Bride of Christ. He sees us as being already perfect in Him, and already seated with Him in Heaven, though our experience may be quite different, at times, here on Earth.

Our position in Him is perfect and eternally secure. Our condition may vary wildly. But we don’t want our condition to be vacillating like that! We want to have a blessed relationship with the Savior, not a rocky, shabby relationship that dishonors Him by our bad behavior.

So, out of love to the Savior, not out of fear of the Judge, let’s look to our lives, and learn to walk in obedience by faith.

Attempting to live a holy life in our own strength is not pleasing to Him, as He has already told us we cannot do it. So, we confess that we cannot live holy lives on our own. We ask Him to take control and live through us. We read His Word, to see how to live; we join in fellowship with other believers to encourage one another; and we confess our sins when we fail. But we don’t waste time groveling over our failures: we stand up by faith, and walk again, knowing that even our fumbling attempts to walk by faith are pleasing to Him.

Let’s walk together, encouraging one another; blessing one another, as we seek to walk with Him. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn away into self-effort, self-improvement and self-righteousness.

Lord Jesus, draw us into full faith, and teach us to walk with you in obedience by Faith.


Church Unity

Unity in the Church

© C. O. Bishop 10/31/16 THCF 11/6/16

Romans 15:8-13: The Gentiles in Prophecy; Unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
 

Introduction:

The Old Testament is full of promises; mostly (but not all) directed specifically to Israel. In the verses we just read, the Apostle Paul states that Jesus came to serve Israel with regard to the truth of God; in confirmation of the promises made to the patriarchs; but also so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his Mercy.

Paul alludes to Isaiah 42:6, 7, where it says that the Messiah would be a covenant (confirmation of the promises) to the people (Israel,) and a light to the Gentiles, providing healing to the nations. He then gives several examples (by no means exhaustive) of the prophecies specifically referring to the Gentiles. He quotes Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:1, 10. There are many other passages that make promises specifically directed to whole Gentile nations, or to all the Gentiles as a group. I suspect that, while the Jewish teachers were aware of the theory that the Gentiles would also inherit the mercy and blessing of God, they were, at best, less than enthusiastic about it. Thus, the seeds of division were still present in the early church, though the foundation for unity had been laid at the Cross.

 

How are the Gentiles to Fit In? And, how can the Jews be at Peace?

Paul’s conclusion regarding the Gentile believers (who were the recipients of this epistle) is, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” They are not to feel inferior to the Jewish believers in any way, nor, as we saw in Romans chapters 9-11, are they to feel superior in any way.

Both groups were condemned under sin, and guilty before God, according to Romans chapters 1-3, and both have been the recipients of God’s Grace through the person of Christ, according to Romans chapters 4-8. They are called to be a blessing to one another and live in unity even regarding things about which they traditionally are in disagreement. (See verse 10: they were to rejoice WITH God’s people the Jews.) Have you noticed that the Jewish believers (as a whole) were never told to drop their customs and start eating foods they considered unclean?

Peter was commanded (Acts 10) to graciously receive the Gentiles who had come to him in obedience to the angelic command given to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. And the means by which Peter was commanded was by a vision, wherein he was shown some unclean animals, and was told “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” Was God commanding him to eat unclean food? No; the three repetitions of the command in the vision were only to prepare him for the three Gentile men who were approaching the front door at that moment. God told him three times that if God had made something clean, he, Peter, had no authority to call it unclean. Peter responded correctly to the Gentiles because God correctly prepared him. Romans chapters 14 and 15 are the equivalent preparation for the whole church—the small differences we may have because of cultural backgrounds, diverging traditions within churches, etc. are not allowed to cause division. All believers share in the blessed hope of Christ. But the seeds of division are still there!

The Gentiles were frustrated by the Jews continual emphasis on the Law, and the feast days, and their dietary restrictions. The Jews were horrified that the Gentiles were not in compliance with all these things. Paul said that they were not to be divided over such things, but rather that they were to appreciate one another, and recognize that, just as each part of a human body has a different task (1st Corinthians 12), so we are to appreciate one another for how each fits into God’s Building, the Church.

 

What about Other differences?

Other potential areas of division (and just as inappropriate) would include styles of ministry, or individual gifting. One Elder may be specifically gifted as a preacher, and he may completely give himself to encouraging, edifying, and comforting the flock (1st Corinthians 14:3). He will be a blessing to all those in his care. People are moved by preaching, and blessed, and their hearts are warmed. They find reassurance, and a stronger faith thereby. All of which is good!

But: another elder in the same assembly may be specifically gifted as a teacher. He may spend countless hours ferreting out the most accurate interpretation for any given passage of scripture, so that he can teach others, also, to clearly understand God’s Word. To those hungering to understand, he, too will be a blessing, but in a different way. No one gets “warm fuzzy feelings” over a well-taught point of theology, though some may be thrilled to see how ALL of God’s Word holds together in full agreement. But the emotional content simply is not the same.

And yet, both gifts are valid, and need one another, as well as being needed by the assembly. Good application is built upon good interpretation. Good interpretation still requires appropriate application, as well. It is not a safe practice to simply “jump” to application in one’s life when reading a passage of scripture. One has to read carefully, and consider what is being said, by whom, to whom, and so forth, before deciding how to apply it. Neither is it appropriate to simply understand a passage. Understanding demands action. This is not just “fun stuff to know and tell.”  Knowledge is for the purpose of conduct. (Think that over.)

There are cultural divides within major cultures, as well. Music, aesthetics, clothing styles, dietary choices, public behavior, table manners…virtually anything can be a source of division, so long as we are willing to take occasion to do so. The key is to not be willing to break fellowship over such things.

 

Jew and Gentile issues, again

So, how does all this tie into the issues between the Jewish and the Gentile believers? Consider: How might it help for the Jewish believers to continue on with the Jewish feast days? How might it hurt? How would it help for the Gentile believers to cheerfully go on with their work, their clothing choices and their diets, without regard for the Old Testament Jewish laws? (This is not in reference to moral issues, or things condemned as sin in all dispensations.)

Paul had Timothy circumcised, as a Jew, because he was a Jew, though he had a Gentile father and was not raised as a practicing Jew. He made no attempt to have Titus become a Jewish proselyte, though he had a seemingly identical ministry. Why?  Because Timothy was better able to reach Jews with the Gospel, and minister to the needs of Jewish believers, if he fully embraced his Jewish heritage, and was someone they did not see as a renegade, or an apostate. Titus, on the other hand, was a full Gentile by birth, and it would have been detrimental to his testimony to become a Jewish proselyte, because it would add confusion to the message of the Gospel. It may have pacified the “Judaizers”, but it would also have strengthened their claim that one has to become a Jew to be saved, which is pure heresy, and which was exactly what Paul was fighting against from the beginning.

This is why it was so important for the believers at Rome to accept one another as they were, without criticism about things that had no bearing on one’s relationship with God. The enemy was already at work to divide the newborn church, to split it into warring factions, and to destroy the credibility of its testimony. They could either overcome the differences by obedience to God’s Word, or allow the Enemy to destroy the church.

What did the apostle James say about the matter? (Acts 15:19) That the Jewish believers were not to “trouble those who from among the Gentiles had turned to God”. The same could be said of the Gentile believers, that they were not to trouble the Jewish believers. The whole issue, here in Romans 14 and 15, is the matter of unity in spite of differences. They could either choose to appreciate one another for the unique ways that God had gifted them, or choose to destroy the work of God through self-centered arrogance.

 

So, What about Today?

Those are the choices today, as well. It is never a question of condoning sin, but rather of allowing and appreciating liberty within the holiness of God. A well-meaning pastor once accused my youngest son of being a “worldly man” while he himself claimed to be a “Godly man,” based entirely upon my son’s choice in music. I felt that it was a sad thing, to destroy fellowship over such a thing, and I privately wondered what the music had been that occasioned such an attack, but I didn’t ask. A week or so later, my son and I were driving somewhere, and he had some pretty rocky-sounding music playing on his car system; then he said “This is the song that the pastor was complaining about, when he called me a “worldly man.” So, I listened more closely to the lyrics, to see what the content of the song really was. This is what I heard: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me! Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…”

The song was the 51st Psalm, set to music. That is what he was being condemned for. Why? Because the human accuser did not like the music. But the Accuser of the Brethren is not human, and he doesn’t like the lyrics. He will use any means possible to cause division, and to diminish the effectiveness of the Church. Frequently the damage done is irreparable…the wounded brother quietly leaves, and the accuser feels justified, and grimly quotes, “They went out from among us because they were not of us!”

If you drive away another believer with your criticism, don’t accuse them of being unfaithful, or of being false brethren. It is your critical heart that is doing the damage. Ezekiel 34:15-22 says that God sees such doings, and will judge those doing the damage.

15I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. 16I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

17And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. 18Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? 19And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.

20Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. 21Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; 22Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

Those who are driving away the weaker believers will be judged by God. We need to develop a very tender heart toward such offences, and be very careful about our words and actions.

This is not just about what happens in church, by the way: it is a warning that touches on every human relationship. James says that we all tend to sin with our tongues. We tend to have big mouths, and we need to put a guard on them, so as not to injure others with thoughtless words. The root of the tongue, of course, is the heart. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

The self-will and self-centeredness that controls the heart of every unregenerate man is still there, in believers, but we are no longer its slaves. We no longer have to sin. (Romans 6:1-18) We are dead to sin, just as surely as we are dead to the Law. So, we need to set aside the critical spirit that wells up within us, and embrace the New Life in Christ, to the extent that we no longer reject one another based upon differences in tastes, mannerisms, styles, giftedness, or even minor doctrinal differences. It is simply not acceptable to reject one another over things that God accepts…to reject a person whom God says is “Accepted in the Beloved.”

 

The Result?

Paul says that the church is to be filled “with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

We are to abound in hope through whose Power? That of the Holy Spirit. This is not a “do-it-yourself” project. We are told to endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” We don’t create that unity, and, as the Psalmist says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” But we are not to disrupt that unity for the sake of any of the types of things listed here: Not what we eat or drink (both strictly temporal, at worst); not what we wear, not our ministry style, or our taste in music; not what we believe about the end times (which are easily misunderstood at best, and not everyone who is “confused” is necessarily a false teacher.)

We are to be characterized by the Agapé love, not by our many divisions and schisms. Paul sternly warned the Corinthian church against such divisions. (1st Corinthians 1:10-16) They were divided over who their individual mentors had been. Some claimed that Paul was their leader. Others claimed to follow Apollos. Still others took the high road and said “Well I follow Jesus!” That one sounds good, maybe, but what they were actually accomplishing was more division, not corrective teaching. Had they said “Can’t we all just follow Jesus? I mean that’s who both Paul and Apollos follow, right?” Then, I would say they were part of the solution. But as it is, they were part of the problem of contention, self-will and sectarian pride.

That still happens today: There was a fellow with whom I attended high school, who was not a believer when we graduated. I was a brand new believer at that time. We met about eight or ten years later and he was a brand new, enthusiastic, and friendly, warm brother in the Lord. We had good fellowship! But I met him again, perhaps five years later, in a grocery store, and something had changed:

He asked me what church I attended. I had been attending a Baptist church, because it was local, and because, doctrinally speaking, it was the closest thing I could find, nearby. So that is what I told him: “We’ve been attending this Baptist Church, up the street.” He physically straightened up so that he could look down his nose at me, and in a sanctimonious, smug, self-satisfied tone, said, “Well, I’m still gathering to the name of Jesus!” I was so disappointed to have him respond that way. He had not asked me about my beliefs, nor my practices. The only thing that mattered to him was the fact that I fellowshipped with people who were “part of a denomination.” The group with whom he met for fellowship, claimed to have no denominational ties, but, in fact they do! In separating themselves from all other believers, they have become a very tight-knit, world-wide denomination (or at least association). They are tarred with the same brush!

 

Conclusion:

Division is serious business. We are to avoid it like a fatal disease…because it is one! If the Jewish believers were not to reject the Gentile believers because of their worldly habits, and the Gentile believers were not to reject the Jews because of their legalistic bent, and if Paul rebuked the early beginning of sectarianism based on personality cults, then how can we feel we have the right to break fellowship over anything that is not flagrant sin?

We are not to cause division, nor to allow it to continue, if it is possible to heal the rifts. We do not sacrifice sound doctrine to create a false unity…called Ecumenism; but we do seek to maintain unity with those who truly believe the Bible is God’s Word, and who see the Priorities of the Gospel as paramount. It is difficult to sort out, sometimes, but we must be committed to the unity of the true church while not abandoning the Holiness of God.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom through your Word, and by your Holy Spirit to discern good and evil, and renew in us a pure heart with which to offer the agapé love to those around us. Apart from your divine help and intervention and empowerment, the task is impossible. Arm us for the fight, and fill us with your Joy, for the sake of your honor and glory.


Christian Living and Relationships; Part 4

Christian Living and Relationships; Part Four

Dealing with Human Adversaries

© C. O. Bishop, 6/7/16 THCF 7/3/16

Romans 12:14-21

Introduction:

Dealing with human adversaries is an unpleasant reality, but a reality, nonetheless. Believe it or not, there will be folk who don’t like you, and the reverse is true as well. It is dishonest to ourselves and to God, to pretend that it never happens, though some personalities seem to have an easier time dealing with unpleasant people than do others. Those people are a blessing.

I read about a man who always had something nice to say about people. It was habitual, though sometimes just a matter of personal discipline. He and a friend were driving cross-country on business, when they saw a hitch-hiker. They stopped and gave the man a ride, but soon regretted that decision: the fellow smelled bad, he cursed constantly, as he complained non-stop about life in general: local politics, the weather, and everything else that came to mind. Finally they dropped him off near his home, and he grunted some sort of insincere thanks, and was gone.

The driver, less inclined to say pleasant things, turned to his friend, and said, “OK, brother! What can you say nice about that guy?” The “man of blessing” thought for a moment, then looked out the window and said, “He surely lives in a pretty part of the country!” That sort of person is a blessing to be around. But there is more to it than just saying mice things: Let’s see what Paul says.

Dealing with Human Enemies…with Love

Paul gives good instructions, here, as to how to deal with human enemies. Over in Ephesians 6, Paul points out that our real enemies are not flesh and blood people, but satanic forces that motivate the world around us. He gives us weaponry and armor to deal with those enemies. But here, he gives instructions as to how to deal with the human adversaries in life.

The underlying principle is Love, whether with believers or unbelievers: just human adversaries in general. It is unfortunately not unusual to find two Christians who behave like adversaries toward one another. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. So, in that case, even more emphatically, the underlying principle is to be Love…the Agapé Love. Jesus says so, too! (Matthew 5:44)

Blessing

14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

This is where it begins. You are to be a blessing to the people around you, regardless of who they are. Bless your enemies as well as your friends. Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” It begins with you committing yourself to being a blessing to those around you, even if they are a curse to you. That is a loose definition of Agapé love, actually: “Committing oneself to the good of another, without regard to how it affects oneself.” Keep in mind that this is exactly what Jesus did at the Cross. John 13:1 concludes, “…having loved His own which were in the World, He loved them to the end.” How? The word used here is agapao: He committed himself to the Cross for their sake, but kept teaching and encouraging them all the way there. And, in the midst of that course, he said “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)

Empathy and Compassion

15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

We tend to think of this only as “how we deal with other believers”…but what better way to deal in Love with an enemy, than to be genuinely glad when things go well for them, and genuinely distressed for them when things do not go well. This behavior builds bridges, not walls.

There was a young man, years ago at work, who was bitterly opposed to the Gospel, and hated Christians. I don’t know why he felt that way, and I was never privileged to discuss it with him. But one day, I chatted with him about some other subject, and he told me he was about to get married. I burst out “Good for you! Congratulations!” I was genuinely happy for him; thrilled for him, and he could tell it was genuine. A shy smile spread over his face… and that was the only “breakthrough” I ever had with him. The last I heard, he had moved to Indonesia, and now bitterly hates the United States. So…did it do any good? Who knows? But it was genuine, and if he ever thinks back on that, I think he knows that I rejoiced with him.

Compassion for the lost is another critical application of agapé love. Compassion for other believers is relatively easy, by comparison, but if we consider the bleak, hopeless future awaiting those who have spurned the grace of God, shouldn’t we feel even more compassion for those lost souls? Remember that God says we were all enemies of God before He saved us. If it were not for Him loving the unlovely, we would all still be lost.

Neighborliness

16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

It is easy to take the “high road” and hold yourself separate from those you think are enemies. But, again, we are to be building bridges, not walls. Look for opportunities to be a blessing to those individuals. Look for things you can do that make for open doors. It is far too easy to respond with the same unfriendly behavior they offer us, and that just confirms to them that we are the problem. It may seem unfair or unreasonable, but we are called to be peacemakers. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.”

So, we must avoid anything that could be seen as conceit, or standoffishness. Everyone is sensitive to that sort of thing. Try not to be too impressed with your own righteousness and piety and wisdom. When we deliberately take a “learner’s stance,” allowing others the honor of explaining their work, their expertise, their knowledge; and are appropriately impressed with the things they have to say, it puts others at ease, as they don’t see us as a rival. We need to listen as though the other person and their thoughts are important…because they are! If, instead, we feel that we have to “top” their stories, and tell a better joke, or in some way show ourselves smarter, more knowledgeable, more pious, etc. then it not only dishonors our neighbor, but it dishonors God (see Proverbs 6:16-19.)

Testimony: Goodness and Honesty

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

“Payback” is a prevalent concept, worldwide. In some places it has been refined to a point that, whether good or evil, you must pay back your neighbor. Grace and forgiveness are no longer concepts in their culture. In some cultures, such as the Dom tribe of New Guinea, where Jim and Judy Burdett have served for the last 35 years, it has gone so far that there were no longer even words for Grace, Forgiveness, Love, etc. It was very difficult to translate the New Testament, because the very concepts of the New Covenant were missing from their culture…and so were the concepts of honesty and peace. Everyone was an enemy, and everyone was a thief and a liar.

How could you teach a person to live peacefully in such a culture? Every neighboring tribe was a blood-enemy: every stranger an enemy to be killed. And yet, 40 years after first contact was made with the Gospel, things have changed: Not only has a written form been created for the Dom language, and the New Testament translated into that language, but the people have learned to read and to write in their own language, and churches have sprung up, as people placed their faith in the risen Christ.

We recently received photos of a team of these believers, now well-grounded Bible-teachers, returning from a mission into what was once enemy territory. They had gone, by invitation, to a neighboring tribe with similar enough language to allow conversation, and had taught the foundations to faith. They call it “the God-talk”. And the people, long saturated with the violence and deceit of their own making, are yearning for something better. Peace is beginning to result. Is it still a dangerous place with violent people? Absolutely. But it was once a universally dangerous place, completely filled with violent people. Where the Gospel has penetrated hearts, life is beginning to change. A work of the Holy Spirit has begun there, however small.

Is it always possible to live peacefully with others? Nope. It takes two. But God says that as much as lies with us, we are to commit ourselves to living in peace with others.

No Vengeance

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

So, the rules have been tightened, for believers. We frequently think of the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” standard of punishment from the Old Testament, as the minimum, and appropriate. But it was actually established as a maximum, to limit the natural human desire for revenge. In Genesis 4:23, 24 we hear the voice of Lamech (a fifth generation grandson of Cain), boasting to his two wives that had killed a young man for having hurt him. He concluded, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Lamech shall be avenged seventy-sevenfold.”

How interesting that he should choose that particular number to which to compare his revenge. Remember, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive an offending brother: Peter asked whether “seven times” was as far as he had to go, putting up with someone else’s wrongdoing, and forgiving them… provided they even repented and asked for forgiveness. Jesus said, no, that seventy times seven was correct (490 times.) So our whole natural bent toward “don’t get mad, get even” –or even “don’t get even, get ahead!” is not from God at all. It is strictly a product of the flesh.

God says that vengeance is His business, not ours. Paul says here, that we have to leave room for God to work. If we try to take vengeance ourselves we are muddying the water, so to speak, and limiting what God can do. He says “leave room for wrath”. The Greek literally just says “give place to wrath”, which is how KJV translates the passage…but the word used for wrath (Greek orgé) is almost exclusively used to refer to God’s wrath, not human anger. The NASB translators translated the passage “leave room for the wrath of God” if you have the NASB, notice that the “of God” is in italics—that is to say, it is not in the Greek text. However, I think they are probably correct that this is what is in view.  Otherwise, it might have been encouraging us to “let them have room for their anger.” But that is not what is in view, here. We are being asked to “get out of God’s way, and let Him deal with them.”

So, do we just “back off” and watch, and wait, hoping to see the vengeance of God? That is what Jonah did, you may recall. He found a good place from which to watch, and was hoping to see the destruction of Nineveh. But God told him he was wrong. So, then, if we are wrong to just “hope to see the vengeance of God,” what are we to be doing?

Being a Blessing

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Paul says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him! If he is thirsty, give him something to drink!” If you really want “revenge”, overwhelm them with genuine kindness! Go out of your way to make sure they are comfortable, safe, and secure. Do it because God says to do so. He also notes that this will have a greater result: he says it will “heap burning coals upon their head.” I assume that it means they will be tormented inwardly by the fact that I am treating them well, and, perhaps be shamed into realizing that they themselves are behaving badly. But it is possible that it is still talking about the wrath of God, and that my treating them kindly will actually add to their eternal punishment. I hope that is not the meaning, but I am not sure.

One commentator (Alva J. McClain,) pointed out that you may drive the person to repentance, who has done you wrong, when they see that you consistently treat them as a friend, and that they will cease to be your enemy. I do not think that is necessarily true of the human heart at large. However, Proverbs 16:7 does say, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. I do think that, in the context of “giving room for the wrath of God”, it is possible that when we commit ourselves to kindness, it allows the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of wrongdoers.

There is an awareness of sin and guilt built into human hearts, though it can be choked and drowned out by a long-standing pattern of evil-doing. Don Richardson records in his book “The Peace Child”, that, in the degenerated cultures in Irian Jaya (same island as Papua New Guinea, but on the Indonesian side), treachery had become the very highest virtue. And, even there, they understood the concept of right and wrong, to a limited degree. But when he tried to teach the Gospel, they saw Judas as the hero of the story. They saw his treachery in “betraying Jesus with a kiss” as being the finest thing they had ever heard. Judas Iscariot was an instant hero to them. Don Richardson felt, at that point, that there was no way to break through the depravity of that culture, to touch their hearts with the real Gospel. But God had a plan already in place.

When Don and his wife had first moved there, they had established a pattern of doing good things, medical care, etc. The people saw that as something to be desired, and eventually it actually became a real problem: as the news got around, other villages wanted that sort of benefit as well, and the rival villagers were ready to kill one another for the privilege of having the Richardson family in their respective villages. Don intervened, and stated that he and his family would leave entirely; permanently, unless the warring factions made peace.

As it turned out, there was only one way to establish peace in that culture. It required that one man give his own child, a baby, to the enemy tribe, to raise as their own. All who accepted the Peace Child were bound by that social contract. Neither tribe could treat the other as an enemy, so long as the Peace Child lived. It was a very rare thing to happen at all, but it was the only lasting peace possible. And, as it happened, the people saw it as being utterly wrong, to kill the Peace Child. And God used that peculiarity to enter their culture with the Gospel, and save them.

Don and his team realized that the cultural analogy had been established by God as an opening for the Gospel. The real Peace Child was Christ himself. So, they re-taught the Gospel, this time explaining that God sent His Son, the Peace Child, in order to bring peace between God and Man. This time the people saw that Judas had betrayed the Peace Child. This time they saw Judas as the ultimate villain, not as a hero. They actually wept, and mourned, as they considered the facts: Peace with God was only possible so long as the Peace Child lived! Their only chance for peace with God had been destroyed by Judas. But when Don continued to teach, and they realized the fact of the Resurrection, they were filled with relief and joy, to know that their Peace with God not only could be established in the person of Christ, but that it was eternally so, as their Peace Child is eternally alive!

The salvation of those precious souls was entirely the work of the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit. But the foundation was laid by God’s people extending kindness to the enemies of God.

Paul’s Conclusion: Be Overcomers!

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus said, in John 16:33, “…In the World ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.” We are to follow His example in this regard, as well as others. We are to “overcome the world” by faith, through obedience to Christ, and kindness to others, coupled with the simple truth of the Gospel; that the Blood of Jesus is full payment for our sins, and his resurrection is full confirmation of that fact, from God the Father. In this way, win or lose, we win with God.

Lord Jesus, allow us to walk in your footsteps, and respond to the Evil people in the World with the Grace and Goodness of Almighty God. Make us the men and women of God you have called us to be.


Revelation 22:19

Regarding Revelation 22:19

© C. O. Bishop 3/5/15 (In response to a question)

That is a pretty hard passage, if taken as a single verse; to treat it carefully, I want to begin a few verses earlier…let’s look at Revelation 22:16-20. Also, it is important to remember that this is God’s Word…not just a dream, or anything. So it ALL has to be true, and it ALL has to hold together. We can’t just take bits and pieces and interpret in light of our opinions.

The Context:

In the previous one and a half chapters John has described the vision of the Holy City. 22:15 is the final comment about it. We saw that all those who previously rejected Christ (and who have subsequently been judged guilty and cast into the Lake of Fire) are permanently excluded from fellowship with the Living God, which is the whole character of the Holy City—eternal fellowship with God. No believer is ever characterized by his sins, in God’s eyes. He said of Israel, (Numbers 23:21) “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel”. (Really? This is immediately after he had destroyed a whole bunch of them because of sin!) This is the position of the believer with God. He does not see us as sinners, and never will.

The Invitation:

In verse 16, the narrator shifts back to a point of view from which he addresses the whole book, just as he did in the introductory passage (1:3), where he established the blessing of God to all who read (or hear) and respond in faith (faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth). He makes a present day invitation to all hearers to “come”—this is the invitation of the Lamb and the Bride (the present day church) to unbelievers, to come to Christ, in repentance and faith. It is not the same as verse 20 where Jesus says “Surely I come quickly”. This is an invitation to “whosoever will”. Notice, too that the hearers are ordered to continue to repeat that invitation: “Let him that heareth say ‘come.’” (That’s us! This is the final command to be a witness!) The Bride can only say “Come!” while she is still on earth. This is our day to serve. This is our opportunity to work with Jesus in “holding forth the Word of Life”.

The Warning:

Then comes the warning: The contrast to the blessing of 1:3, and the invitation of 22:17, here in 22:18, 19,  is the consequence for those who do the opposite; those who do not come, who do not believe, and who do not obey by faith.

No believer would deliberately add to the scriptures, I think (hope): especially these tribulation saints who are already risking dying for their faith. And that brings us to an important point. Part of the curse is one that can only occur during the tribulation. How can the plagues of the tribulation (those written in Revelation) occur at any time other than during the tribulation? They are all specific to that seven-year period.  That makes me think that the warning is specific to that time, as well. Another part of the curse could happen at any time: we will address that next:

We want to consider what the “Book of Life” is: I am not assuming that it is the same as the “Book of Life” in 13:8—that one is called the “Lamb’s Book of Life”, and contains the names of all the saved. The one at the Great White Throne judgment, on the other hand, in 20:12-15, seems to be the same book as this one in 22:19. I believe that book to be simply the “book of the living.” I may be mistaken, but consider this: At the Great White Throne, who is there?

Only the lost and only the dead are present to be judged (20:12). Death and Hades gave up their dead; the sea gave up its dead. Which dead? The unrighteous dead…the resurrection of the righteous had already happened, and the living wicked had just been destroyed (20:9). This is the final sentencing for the unrighteous dead, from all generations, all the way back to Cain. So, all of the righteous are alive and eternally saved, while all of the lost are dead, and awaiting eternal judgment. This is the final cleansing, in chapter 20.

The Conclusion:

After the Great White Throne, we saw the Holy City, and the eternal state of the righteous, with God. After the vision of the Holy City, the narration returns to Christ. No more future vision, but a present invitation, and a warning.

The warning is evidently primarily to unbelievers, particularly to false teachers. The threat is not that “a believer may be removed from the Lamb’s Book of life”, but that “a person who tries to alter the content of God’s Word may lose his physical life” as a result…be “removed from the book of life”, as in Chapter 20.

If it is a believer (I suppose it is possible) then they are simply taken home. Remember Balaam: he was a genuine prophet, but he went after the money, and helped the Moabites and Midianites corrupt Israel—so when Israel destroyed their enemies, he died with the enemies. But that did not change his position. The saddest thing, to me, is that the only legacy Balaam is remembered for is the evil he did. Virtually no one remembers that he was a genuine prophet, and a man of God. This is a heavy warning for pastors today, too. If we fall into sin, then that is what will be remembered by the World. Is repentance possible? Sure…but the consequences are permanent.

The evidence is strong that the only ones to whom the rest of this curse will actually happen are the unbelievers of the time when the plagues occur…the tribulation years. Otherwise it would be difficult for any of those plagues to be inflicted on them; as they are mostly world-wide plagues.

My conclusion: believers are safe in Christ, and unbelievers are already condemned. (John 3:18; 1st Corinthians 15:22) That is how I see the passage. The invitation is to unbelievers to repent and escape that judgment. The warning is stern, but does not threaten a believer.