Posts Tagged ‘cleansing’

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

The prophetic books are usually listed in two divisions; Major and Minor—this has nothing to do with importance or authority, but only volume. Also, the prophets are not in chronological order. So, Isaiah is not the first (Jonah is), nor is it necessarily the most important. (In terms of how it ties the whole Bible timeline together, it might be argued that Daniel is possibly most important.) But in terms of the frequency with which it is quoted by New Testament writers, as well as sheer volume, and how thoroughly it points to the person of Christ and the coming kingdom age, and warns of coming judgment, Isaiah is foremost, in every sense.

Further, remember that, in all ages, a prophet was/is a mouthpiece for God…a spokesman for God. In the Old Testament he was also (frequently) a “seer” or a teller of what was to come. God claims this as His own peculiar credential as bona fide Deity: He is the only one who can tell us precisely how things will turn out. No educated guesses, or vague, smoke-and-mirrors type “prophecies.” He called by name, people who were not to be born for decades to come (Cyrus, in Isaiah 44:28; Josiah in 1st Kings 13:2); and He told in exquisite detail, things that would happen in hours, in a day, or a month, a year, or even thousands of years in the future. (Isaiah 48:5)

A Look at Isaiah

Isaiah was one of the most important prophets, in that: he was quoted by most of the New Testament writers, he was the writer of the most lengthy of the prophetic books, and he ministered to Judah under four kings (though only briefly under Uzziah, also known as Azariah.) The first five chapters are a rather lengthy introduction to the themes of the book, as his apparent call from God occurred in chapter six—at least that is the way it looks…he does not specifically say that this was his first call—he only says what happened—and also says that he served under four kings (verse 1).

Isaiah gives us a great deal of information about the coming Messiah: his virgin birth, his suffering, his resurrection, his return in judgment, his earthly kingdom, and his eternal reign. Another important theme is the remnant of Israel, preserved by God. Yet another is the eventual blessing of the gentile nations (predicted earlier, by Moses, in Genesis 22:18).

As we read the book, it is very important to remember that this book of prophecy is to Israel and Judah (the divided Kingdom), though mostly (verse 1) to Judah (southern portion) and her capital city, Jerusalem; and NOT to us, as Christians, or as Americans (or whomever else). It is for us all, but not to us all…this is an important distinction, in that when God says “Israel”, He means Israel, not the United States, Britain, or some other gentile nation. We are to learn from their experience, and be warned by the consequences of their behavior. But the book is definitely concerning Israel and Judah, not (primarily) any other nation, except as named in the text.

When reading this book, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to try to apply the condemnations and warnings directly to our country(s), because they seem so applicable;  but that is the key—remember that they were directly, literally to Israel; usually Judah in particular, and only by application…careful application…is it for us. The same goes double for the promises: unless it is part of the promised blessings to the gentiles, don’t try to apply any of the promises as a blanket promise to all who believe—it might be (and most probably is) specific to Jerusalem in particular, Judah, Israel, or the combined reunified tribes as a nation.

The book begins with a solemn warning to Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1

1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

After addressing the book (verse 1) to Judah and Jerusalem, God begins by calling the whole creation to bear witness (verse 2): He has reared up a people, a privileged people, whom He has nourished and cared for, as if He were rearing children; but that nation has rebelled against Him. He compares them unfavorably (verse 3) to barnyard animals: oxen and asses…pointing out that even lowly, relatively unintelligent animals recognize the one who feeds them (verse 3)…but that Judah has forgotten her God, and deliberately turned her back on Him (verse 4.)

I have observed this behavior among even the lower animals, as well; birds, for example. A flock of chickens will quickly learn to recognize the one who feeds them, and will come running when that person calls. Even fish (sea bass) are currently being experimentally trained to come to a particular sonic signal, in hopes that fish farming and harvesting will become simpler.

But: we humans have a distressing tendency to forget who our sustainer has been. We do this both in human relationships and in our relationship to God. Ingratitude, and a short memory of the benefits we have received, seem to be ingrained into our fallen nature: Even though we usually find it personally offensive if another human fails to recognize a service we have done toward them, we constantly do the same thing, particularly in our relationship with God. And it costs us dearly: In the case of Judah, it brought national chastisement from God.

Notice, too, that he says they are loaded down with sins, and that they are a brood (seed) of evildoers. This is who they are by nature. They did not just “somehow become that way.” Jesus addressed this idea in John 8:44, where he said that the Jews to whom He spoke were the children of the devil…He said “ye are of your father, the devil, and his works will ye do….” It was natural for the people to respond the way they did, because of their pedigree. Judah, in Isaiah’s day, was no different: God said they were not only corrupt, but they were “corrupters.” They influenced others to corruption, as well. Sin is always contagious. When we rebel against God, we influence others to do the same.

As a nation, Judah had forsaken the LORD, and turned away completely. There were still believers around: under Hezekiah there was a great revival, and Judah turned back to God, in a great way. (Read 2nd Chronicles 29-32) But there had already been a terrible apostasy in Judah, which had begun much earlier in Israel, the Northern ten tribes. As a nation, they were in sin; and, God states (in verses 5-8,) that He has punished Judah until there is nothing left to punish.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

And the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

The custom in that day was to erect a small shelter for a night watchman in vineyards and gardens, to keep marauding animals away. But when the season was over, and harvest was past, the shelter was left to fall apart, as it was only a temporary shelter anyway. Far from being the prosperous nation they had once been, Judah was in poverty, now, and Jerusalem was in ruins.

They were a destroyed, desolate nation, cast down by the God they had once claimed to serve. He was now offering to try something else in order to reach Judah. He offered to reason with them. Incidentally, this is nothing new—He has attempted to reason with Man since the very beginning (Genesis 3:9-13, 4:6, 7, etc.). But He is once more attempting to reason with a fallen people. God extends reason to us, as well, via the Gospel. We always consider ourselves to be “reasonable” people, but the historical facts do not support that claim. We rebel as a matter of principle, as if it is somehow a noble cause, and a right thing to do. We forget that a puppet who “cuts his strings” is completely helpless. The strings were what made him seem to be alive and functioning. We are not puppets, in the strictest sense, but we are utterly dependent upon the God who created us and who sustains and defends us…and, whether we believe it or not.

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Hypocrisy Stinks

Judah was still practicing “religion,” but their hearts have long ago abandoned His worship. (Careful, now…this is Judah, not the USA, or any other modern, post-Christian nation.) He compares them to Sodom, and to Gomorrah (verses 9 and 10.) So, knowing that their hearts are far from Him, he tells them (v. 11-15) to take away their sacrifices, services, incense and prayers. He wants nothing to do with their pretense.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

God could no longer stand the sight and smell of their offerings: he wanted to hear no more of their prayers. He states that when they lifted their hands to Him in prayer, what He saw was that their hands were red with the blood of the innocents they had killed as a nation.

I don’t know whether He meant criminal attacks, or gross governmental negligence which has cost people their lives, or something else entirely. In our nation, the United States, it might well apply to the huge numbers of abortions every year, or, possibly to our having sold weapons of war all over the planet, or simply to the many who lose their lives every year, to crime in our streets and homes, while our governments are filled with people who claim to be good, and “Champions of Justice,” but adamantly refuse to put away the evil from among us. We parole violent criminals, and allow them to go back and repeat their crimes and worse. We promote the lottery, and then decry the gambling addictions that ruin our people. We glorify violence and immorality in television shows and movies, and then wonder why our people continue to slide into more and more violent crime, and gross immorality. We are reaping what we have sown.

Judah had done the same sorts of things, and was coming to the end of their cycle. Notice that God is not saying that the religion itself had anything wrong with it—the problem was the people. Judaism and the Temple services associated with it, was ordained by God: but, the people repeatedly allowed themselves to first become perfunctory, and then lax, and finally completely false in their response toward God. Their religion had become irrelevant to them, and repugnant to God. What does God say they needed? Repentance and cleansing.

Repentance and Cleansing

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Verse 16 and 17 describe repentance—the kind of repentance God wants: first, a turning from evil (which first requires recognizing it,) and then a turning to good. Repentance does not simply mean halting—it means reversing direction. They had to return to their relationship to God being central to who they were as a nation, not just a peripheral point of interest, or a national peculiarity, and “trademark” of sorts. It had to be the core of their thinking, not a “veneer” pasted to the outer shell: it must be the structure, not the “paint.”

Social justice was to be the fruit of that change, not the change itself. Attempting to change the results without changing the core issue is akin to hanging fruit on a dead tree. It will only be a temporary change, and impossible to maintain; while a genuine revival of the tree would produce life, and fruit in its season. So, God calls to them to restore their relationship with Himself. The proof of that restoration would be the fruit He describes.

A nation can produce righteous legislation, but it is impossible to “legislate righteousness.” You cannot produce righteousness by laws, or even by external obedience to righteous laws: Paul emphasized this in Galatians 2:21; “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” David recognized this truth in Psalm 51:17, where he recognized that a broken and contrite heart would not be rejected by God.

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

This is God’s offer to “settle out of court”, so to speak—a plea for them to be reasonable—to be entreated, and to accept good counsel. Notice the phrase “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is offering cleansing. His command that they wash themselves has become an invitation to be washed. The self-cleansed man is no cleaner than when he began to wash…God points this out in another passage: Jeremiah 2:22 and 4:14 tell the other side of that challenge. (“Though thou wash thee with nitre (washing soda), and take the much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD”, and “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved”.) One could find a parallel with John 13:8, where Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” God has to do the cleansing, or the sinner can never be clean.

Judgment is Coming

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

This is his warning to Judah of coming Judgment. The whole world has also been warned of coming Judgment. We know that God is righteous, and that He judges sin. How we respond to that knowledge reveals who we are. If we are grieved by our own sins, and throw ourselves on His Mercy, as offered in the person of Christ, then He offers to permanently set our sins aside. But if we ignore His warning, then we stand condemned because of our unbelief. There is no middle ground. Jesus said those who put their faith in Him are not condemned, but that those who reject Him are condemned already, because they do not trust in Him. (John 3:18)

We need to keep these things in mind as we study through the book of Isaiah.

Lord Jesus, help us to look into your Word and see your face as the King of Kings, the immortal eternal and sovereign God of all time and space—and our Savior! Make us able ministers of your Grace to the dying world around us.


There is a River!

There is a River!

A study and application of Psalm 46:1-11, Ezekiel 47:1-12 and John 7:37-39

© C. O. Bishop 2/18/17 THCF 2/19/17

There is a River

(Max and David Sapp 1969)

There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.
Come to these waters, there is a vast supply.
There is a river that never shall run dry.

Introduction:

The song, “There is a River”, written in 1969 by Max and David Sapp, takes its title from Psalm 46, verse 4… “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” The song writers used that verse as a springboard to John 7:37-39, wherein Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as a spring flowing from within the believer, and changing his life. (Read it aloud.)

The problem with Psalm 46:4 is that there never has been a river in “Jerusalem proper”, and certainly not flowing from the temple. There is one outside of Jerusalem, that heads south, and then east, but it is not the kind of creek to make anybody glad…it drains the city dump, and ultimately is swallowed by the Dead Sea. (This is the Brook Kidron, which is a study unto itself.)

So, when we read this Psalm, we have to either “spiritualize” the passage, as the writers of the song did, and compare it to the passages about the Holy Spirit (which is OK, by the way), or, we are left with a problem…unless we can find another passage that explains it. And that is the first thing we should do…let God explain His Word, if He will.

What River? Let Scripture Explain Scripture!

Let’s turn to Ezekiel 47. The context, beginning in Chapter 40, verse one, and running all the way to the end of the book, is a very detailed vision of the City and the Temple as it will occur during the Millennial Kingdom (also known as the Messianic Kingdom, or, the Kingdom of Heaven). In chapter 47 he describes a literal spring of water flowing from under the literal altar, in the literal temple in the literal Jerusalem, growing deeper all the way, and ultimately, flowing into what HAD been the Dead Sea, but, because of the abundance of healing water flowing into it, it will no longer be dead: it will evidently be connected with the Mediterranean Sea, because it will swarm with fish, specifically the same kind as are in the “Great Sea” which is what we call the Mediterranean. (Read it aloud…)

Now—since we know that there will be a literal river flowing out of the temple in Jerusalem, and we have been told the effect it will bring on the land and the people, let’s go back, and read Psalm 46: (Read it aloud…).

Verse one; the Psalmist says that God is “present”, which we know is true in the global, or even universal sense, but it seems, here, it is meant in a more literal sense. The Old Testament believers were quite aware of God’s omnipresence, and were specifying that He was literally there in Jerusalem, as we can see a few verses later.

Verses two and three describe some natural or supernatural cataclysms through which he states that they will place their trust in God. Zechariah 14 tells of the momentous return of the Lord to Earth, and how the ground will split under his feet at the Mount of Olives, one side moving toward the north, the other toward the south, so that a chasm is opened from Jerusalem, eastward, under his presence.

At the moment the Lord returns there will be a siege in progress, and an assault by the Gentiles against the city of Jerusalem, so that they will have been in terror up until that time, but the passage in Zechariah states that the remnant in Jerusalem will recognize the chasm as being their refuge, and will run into it…and God will fight for them, delivering them from their enemies. I don’t know if this event is specifically what is referred to in the 46th Psalm, but it is at least one example of the kind of thing that will happen at the beginning of the Kingdom age…literally. It is not a case of the Psalmist making grand statements about how much they love and trust the Lord—it is a straightforward statement about something that will literally happen in the future…just like the river.

We already read verse four, but now let’s read it again, keeping in mind the nature of the river that Ezekiel described in the Kingdom age. Now both the river and the fact that it emanates from the Holy Place seem quite literal—as well as the fact that it says the Most High dwells there. (KJV v.4 “… tabernacles of the Most High”, NIV “…where the Most High dwells”) God literally lives there.

This is the long-awaited “Kingdom of Heaven” which Jesus preached for most of His ministry on earth, and of which the Old Testament prophets spoke in many places, including the Psalms. Jesus Christ will be ruling and reigning from Jerusalem. God the Son will be literally, visibly, physically dwelling there. Anyone will be able to go and see Him. This is described in many other places as well, including much of the book of Isaiah.

Verses 5 through 11 describe a collection of things that will occur literally, before, during, or at the end of the Millennial Kingdom…the abiding themes being that:

  • God is in control,
  • His people have nothing to fear, and that
  • Those who despise Him should tremble, as He is no longer holding back His judgment.

So—is that the end of the story? It is all literal—all physical? So that there’s nothing to apply to our lives? Well, of course that’s not so…but I think it is wise to know what the scripture is actually talking about before we try to apply it. “First interpretation, then application.

What about the River Jesus Offered? Is it different?

Jesus did talk about a river, flowing in an individual’s life…he did say that it would change our life, and transform it, and quench our eternal thirst for God as we abide in its flow. He said “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Let’s go back and look at Ezekiel 47, in light of the John 7:38 passage.

  • The river is flowing out from the holy place—God is the source, as opposed to nature. The Kidron has a new headwater.
    • Every born-again believer has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. He is the source of life, as opposed to self. You have a new Head!
  • The waters bring about healing, even in areas long dead…deserts, even the Dead Sea.
    • Death itself is no longer a permanent thing for the believer…it is literally the valley (not the Pit) of the shadow (not the substance) of death, that we walk through, not into. Regardless of how we get there, we no longer have to fear death, as He is with us forever.
  • The salt marshes, where the water does not have freedom to flow, remain salt.
    • We still have a sin nature, and wherever we do not allow God to change us, we remain the same. That’s something to think about….

But what about all that stuff with “measuring,” and the ankles, knees, etc?

When a person becomes a believer they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a positional matter—the believer is immediately and permanently in Christ, and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is immediately and permanently in the believer. The believer will never be more indwelt by Him…but the level of effect can and will vary. So this is all about the experience of those who have been re-born.

What about the Ankles?

When he begins his new life, a new Christian is just getting his feet wet, as it were—he is learning to walk, as a child of God. Thus, the waters are to the ankles. The Holy Spirit has not gained full control of his life, but the transformation has begun. Notice that the distances are not great—each increment is only about five hundred yards—a little over a quarter mile. Growth is supposed to begin immediately, and continue to increase.

What about the Knees?

Next, it says that the waters are to the knees…it isn’t too long before the new believer is learning the demands of God upon his life, and is realizing more fully how deeply contaminated his whole life has been. The increasing weight of conviction begins to drive him to prayer more often and more fervently, as he seeks to be cleansed, and desires to serve. Perhaps he makes commitments he can’t keep (“I’ll never sin again!”), or asks for things for which he really has no concept of the results, or whether it is God’s will, or anything. But at least he is praying…and beginning to pray with others as well. He is also learning to submit himself to God’s Will…to bow his knee to God, willingly.

What about the Loins?

Next it says that the waters are to the loins (KJV says loins—NIV says “waist”, but the Hebrew word is “Mothnayim”; it’s plural, and it means “loins”, though it could include the waist).

So, what about the loins? I had a friend who thought it might mean how it begins to affect one’s pocketbook, but I don’t think so—in the first place, the practice of keeping one’s money in their hip pocket is a fairly modern one, and completely unknown to the writer, as well as to most cultures since then. In the second place, the pocketbook is frequently affected before the heart, so that even unbelievers frequently give in support of a church, thinking that they thereby gain God’s favor.

Again; “what about the loins?” I think it has to do with childbearing—spiritual reproduction—that is what we are born to do. We are to reproduce, spiritually. We are to lead others to the same relationship with Christ that we enjoy. (Incidentally, if you are not enjoying that life, living it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to change you… no one else is likely to want it either….) It is a normal part of God’s life in us, that it reproduces itself in others.

What about Swimming?

What’s left? It says that 500 yards later, we are swimming…the water is too deep for wading. You are no longer in the “kiddie-pool”. The friend who first shared this with me pointed out two things about swimming. One is that when a person swims, they are completely supported by the water. The other is that the only part of a swimmer that observers can see…is the Head.

Now, can we see a tie-in with John 7:37-39? I think so! The Holy Spirit, the Living presence of the Most High in your life, literally dwelling in your body since the moment you believed, desires to make all the changes listed above—he desires that you walk with Him; He desires that you pray continually, that you kneel to him, and yield your life to him. He desires that you bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain eternally. He desires that you continue to deepen your relationship and commitment to Him until you are completely immersed in Him, and the only thing people see in your life is the Risen Christ—your Head. The Head of the Church.

If that is what you desire, too, then how will you see it happen?

The 119th Psalm poses the same question, in the 9th verse: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” God’s Word—heard, read, studied, memorized, meditated upon, and applied to the life of the believer—is the only thing God says can change us. Interestingly enough, there are several places where His Word is also referred to as “water”…so perhaps the “River” has a double connotation. The Word and the Spirit work together, without exception, so perhaps we can conclude that the degree of our “immersion” in Christ, and the resulting transformation, will depend upon the degree of our immersion in the Written Word, and our submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit by His Word.

We have several services going, here at True Hope—at least three per week—more, if you want them.

  1. We have our Sunday morning Bible study, at 9:30, with a full hour of interactive Bible teaching, wide open to questions;
  2. our main service at 11:00 every Sunday morning, with a full hour of teaching, singing and prayer;
  3. We have an informal Bible-study on Wednesday afternoons, from 2:30 to 4:15. Refreshments are frequently served.
  4. We also have a Bible Study at Cornell Estates, in Hillsboro, every Sunday afternoon, from 2:30-3:30.

All of you have Bibles, and all of you know other believers around you. So, the food is on the table! If you are hungry, eat! If you are not, then all we can do is to offer the food continually, and pray that your appetite will grow.

Can you end up “back on the bank?”

Now, notice, finally, in verse 6, that Ezekiel was brought back to the brink of the river, and was looking out over it. In his experience it was simply because the angelic messenger still had other things to show him. But there may be a warning there for us—you can quench the Holy Spirit in your life, and end up standing at the very edge again, looking out over the river of God’s Love, Grace, and Power, and wondering why it is no longer drawing you along in its flow. That is a terrible, lonely place to stand—still connected irreversibly to God, but “set on the shelf”—“out of the water”, so to speak…no longer able to fellowship with God or his children. Jeremiah 17:13, 14 says that such a person has forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters…they will be ashamed, but they can be healed. That does not mean that He has forsaken you, but that you have broken fellowship with him, and that it is affecting your whole life…you have dried up, and you’re miserable.

If that is where you find yourself today, then I would invite you to come back to the table— back to the river— via 1st John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You can only begin your trip back to the center of God’s will with confession. Sin has to be addressed, before worship or fellowship is possible.

If there is anyone here who is in that condition, and is still unsure what to do about it, I, or any of the other leaders would like to talk with you about it. God is still in the business of transforming lives, and we are here to encourage the growth and blessing of God’s children.

Think about that River that God began in your life—where do you stand, in it? Are you wading? Are you swimming? Are your prayers flowing from that source? Are you leading others to Christ? Or have you returned to the bank of the river, and now are yearning to once again be borne along by the flow of God’s Love?

Hear the Invitation From God!

In Revelation 22:17, the invitation is made: “Whosoever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely!” You can move into deeper water, if that is what you desire, by walking with the Lord; by Bible study, by Faith, and prayer. If you have found yourself lacking, you can restore fellowship with God through confession, then feeding on the Word and seeking Him in prayer.

Lord Jesus, help us all to progress deeper into Your love, and be suspended more fully in Your Grace. When the World looks at us, Your people, may they see only You. Amen!

 

 

 


Living with these “Saints below”

Living with the “Saints Below”

Mutual Service and Care: Galatians Chapter 6

© C. O. Bishop 5/22/15 THCF 5/31/15

Galatians 5:25-6:5

Introduction:

Paul has pretty much completed his defense of Grace as a life-principle, and his explanations of how to put Grace in the driver’s seat, so to speak. He completes the letter with a series of observations regarding how Christians are to get along with one another. He says:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Effectively, he says, “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and, in fact, you are already seated with Christ in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?” Then Paul begins to address the question of “what would that look like?”

He says we are not only to live by Grace, ourselves, but we are to extend God’s Grace to those around us, as well. (Remember Jesus’ command? “Love one another; as I have loved you, love one another”.) So, verse 26 says:

  • Don’t live for pride and self will…that is the source of envy and provocation.
  • Do practice Agapé Love and Unity. That will provide a lasting bond, and eradicate sinful relationships.

This is the only way we can present a testimony that unbelievers cannot condemn without clearly rejecting Christ as well. Remember that Jesus gave the World two ways to judge the church:

  • “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (agapé) one to another.” (John 13:35) and
  • “…that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21)

Love and Unity—those are the two criteria by which the World is to judge us. Without the first, they will not believe we are his disciples; without the second, they will not believe that He is the Messiah. Is either of those results acceptable to us? If not, then perhaps we need to take seriously the command to Love one another and pursue Unity.

So, what does it look like when we “get along” the way God says we should? We proactively take care of one another’s needs, but also work to carry out our own responsibilities.

Cleansing and Restoring One Another

1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

This is what we might call a “packed” verse: It is loaded with meaning.

Who are the recipients—those expected to respond? “Brethren”—believers—you and I, as well as all believers who have ever read the scriptures, are addressed by this command one way or another. But he specifically addresses the believers “which are spiritual”; so not all of them are qualified to respond. Remember that it is entirely possible for a believer to be carnal (1st Corinthians 3:1-3). We are not to shun such a person, or gossip about him, but to “Restore such a one”. And being “spiritual” does not mean “pious”…it means that the Holy Spirit is currently presiding in your life. If you yourself are out of fellowship, then you need to address your own sin before trying to “straighten out” someone else. The Holy Spirit is residing in every believer…the question is, “Will you let Him do more than just ‘reside’?” If He is allowed to preside…to rule in our hearts—then He will over-rule the sin-nature and we will not only bear the “fruit” of the Spirit, listed in chapter 5, but, when we are called upon to help another brother or sister, we will do so without a critical spirit, and without judgment.

“If a man be overtaken in a fault”—this is talking about someone who has fallen into sin of some sort. It could be anything…the point is that they have been “overtaken”—they have stumbled, and have fallen. Christians, unfortunately, have the reputation of “shooting their wounded”—far from restoring them, we tend to abhor them. But here we are clearly told that the object of the correction—always—is restoration. If you are coming down on them as a judge, you are not the “spiritual” one that you think you are.

I remember a church where the young pastor fell into sin (petty theft, of all things), and was reproached by a coldly angry (and much older) deacon, with: “We don’t need your kind, here!” Somehow I doubt that this response helped much toward restoration. The younger man was promptly and permanently out of the ministry. No restoration, no forgiveness, no counseling—nothing. The last I heard, he was driving a truck, somewhere, and lucky to have a job at all.

Consider further: if you see a person physically sick or in pain, for example, you try to find out what is wrong before jumping to conclusions. They may have something wrong that will require medical care—or perhaps they just stubbed their toe. There may be a need that you can meet, or perhaps you may simply offer comfort. It pays to find out for sure what is going on before you jump in to straighten someone out.

However, emotional and relational things are not quite so easy to pin down, and frequently cause a rift, if left untouched. Let’s say someone has acted “snappish” toward you…and you are offended. Then probably you are not “spiritual” at that point…you are miffed, or hurt, and seeking self-satisfaction. So you have to deal with your own response first.

If (rather than being offended) you have concluded that something is wrong, and that they may need help, then possibly you are on the right track. Your desire, at least, is to restore or to help. So you go to them (privately) and ask whether everything is OK. Perhaps you are convinced that they are at odds with you, and you don’t know why, so you ask “Have I offended you in some way? You seem uncomfortable around me, and that worries me.” If they continue to insist that all is well, then you have to back off and let them deal with it, but you can pray for their deliverance. (And it is completely possible that they are telling the truth; that there is nothing wrong, and they are simply tired or not feeling well. I used to keep after my wife when she was just not feeling very good, asking her what was wrong, until I angered her, and then there really was something wrong… it was me. I was a slow learner, I guess.) My motive was restoration, but I was not applying the portion about a “spirit of meekness.” Meekness means “yieldedness”; it is sometimes translated gentleness, but I think it goes further than that. If they say, “nothing is wrong” then I need to back off…or maybe explain why I asked, what I thought I observed…but if they say that I am mistaken, “but thanks anyhow”, then it is time to stop asking.

So, what about a situation where sin is definitely involved; and you are trying to restore a fallen brother to fellowship? Then gentleness and yieldedness are critically important.  Further, the enemy can use a wounded soldier as bait to wound or destroy others. So we are admonished to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.  Can he drag you into his sin? Maybe…or perhaps he can aggravate you to the point that you are in sin yourself—a different one, but just as fatal to fellowship.

I have read that in a jungle tribe in Indonesia, when a man goes to the forest to cut wood, he takes a live rooster along, and tethers it to a stake, with string, then sprinkles seed on the ground, and sets snares  in a broader circle all around him. As soon as the rooster decides that he is not hurt, and sees that there is seed to eat, he begins scratching the dirt, and calling his hens. Of course, his hens are miles away, but other wild roosters hear him calling, and come to fight him, thinking they are driving off an interloper. When they get there, and start strutting around trying to pick a fight with the captive rooster, it is only a matter of time before they find themselves snagged in one or more snares. So, when the wood-cutter is ready to go home, he carries several roosters home to eat, but his captive rooster lives to strut another day.

When a Christian is in bondage to sin, we need to be vigilant, knowing that while they themselves may not intend to snare us, the Enemy surely may be looking to trip us up. We are called to offer restoration, but God warns that it may be hazardous duty. Along this line, I think it is fair to offer this warning: Men: as a rule, help men! Let a Godly woman deal with the sisters, as a usual matter of course. More men have fallen prey to sexual sin than any other thing, I think, and it is easy to confuse the tender Love of Christ with other feelings, and get confused about why you are there. Stay far back from the edge, and you won’t have to worry about losing your balance. I have read that the most common “last words” of people who die at the Grand Canyon are “Hey, look at me!” and “Hey, watch this!” People get too close to the edge, and a single mistake becomes fatal. Just a word to the wise….

Supporting One Another

2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This is a command, too, and it is a little confusing in English, because we tend to compare it with verse 5, below, and say, “Well, that seems to be a contradiction!” But it is a pretty easy study, if you want to look up the Greek words used—they are not even similar words. The one here in verse 2 is “baré” meaning a crushing weight, or an oppressive load. It is used figuratively to speak of life’s hard experiences and pressures. The word in verse 5 is “phortion”, meaning an assigned load—a ship’s cargo—a backpack, etc. It is also used figuratively to speak of life’s responsibilities. There are things that are our own burdens that no one but Jesus can share, and there are others that are crushing loads that can be a catastrophe if we are alone, or a bearable burden with the fellowship of a friend. This word in verse two actually derives from a verb (bareo) meaning to oppress, or to weigh down. This is not a normal load of life, but an overload.

When a person simply has a job to do, and is able to do it, we may leave them alone to do their work…or share it, if it something that can be shared. But if a catastrophe has overwhelmed them, as a good neighbor, we are to lend a hand. This is true for spiritual things as well. There have been many times that I have been able to help a person think through a situation, and overcome what seemed an insurmountable obstacle at the time. But some of those same people, at other times, have done the same for me, encouraging me when I was discouraged or depressed, without a trace of condemnation…just the Love of Christ.

Bear in mind, however, that we are working for Jesus, not for the other people. So if they do not respond in kind, we need to remember that He is the one to whom we look for reward. There was a time when I worked on a crew where each welder had a certain span he or she had to weld, and most felt that when their section was done they had no further responsibility, so they walked off. I felt that we were a team, and if my partners had trouble with their machines, or something, I stayed, and welded as far into their area as I could reach. But eventually there were times when my machine was the one with problems, and they just stood back and watched me struggle. Once someone even threw stuff at me while I worked. My first response was anger: I thought, “OK, that is the last time I will lift a hand to help those miserable wretches!” But right away, God reminded me that they owed me nothing…they were lost sinners, and I worked for Him, not them. If I would only offer grace to those who would respond in kind, then that was my reward—their response. But if I offered grace when there was no hope of reward, God would provide the reward. So, I repented, and renewed my commitment to serve those around me.

Serving One Another

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

This is not a change of subject: The subject here, beginning all the way back in Galatians 5:16 is “what does it look like when believers walk in fellowship with God?”  And the immediate context is the service of “washing the feet” of a sinning brother or sister…restoring them to fellowship, not just letting them stew. If you think you are above that, then you have a problem; you are deceiving yourself.

Look back to John 13, and see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, which was a job reserved for slaves, in a rich house, and relegated to the individual in houses without slaves. Jesus, the real master, was deliberately giving an object lesson to proud men who would not have stooped to serve in that way; and in Peter’s case a man too proud to permit it, as well, since he considered it inappropriate for the Lord to wash his feet. The issue was not “whether” their feet were dirty—they were dirty! They had no plumbing or sewers or street-cleaners (or even sidewalks) in those days, so wherever you walked you were probably treading in some serious filth. And, as it was a semi-desert area, they wore sandals—not gumboots. The picture for us to see is that every believer needs his or her “feet cleaned” every so often, whether by personal confession, because we can see for ourselves that we have “stepped in something”, or by someone coming to us to let us know that we have gotten dirty…again.

All of us were cleaned by Jesus when we believed the Gospel…but we still live and walk in a dirty world. He said we will need cleansing, and that we are to perform that service to one another just as he did for the disciples. He was not telling them anything they didn’t know, or condemning them for needing their feet washed. (In the physical sense, he got dirty too!) But he was setting up an object lesson about restoring a sinning believer. Paul reiterates it here in Galatians 6, and lets us know that if we think we are too good for that service, then we have a real problem, and have deceived ourselves. He goes on to say that our work will demonstrate who we really are.

4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

We need to examine our own hearts and see what the character of our own work really is: I am deeply impressed by a man or woman with a servant’s heart, for whom no act of service is too lowly or menial. The man or woman who quietly steps in to serve, not seeking recognition, and does not shun the dirty jobs, is pretty impressive, in my mind. Please bear in mind that the word “Menial”, comes from the same root as “Minister!” Funny how we don’t like “menial” but we do like “ministry”. Seeing the kinds of service one chooses tells me a lot about a person’s character.

I remember a young woman many years ago sharing how she had gone to a women’s retreat, somewhere, and as it turned out, the women were asked to take turns serving in the kitchen, as that was part of why the price was low. Her first thought was “I didn’t come here to serve! I came here to be served!” But the Lord caught her attention with that rather blatantly selfish thought, and she immediately realized that her attitude was precisely the opposite of Jesus, who said “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many!” (Matthew 20:28) She changed her attitude, served with grace, and was blessed by the experience.

Pulling Our Own Weight

5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

Remember, this is the Greek word “phortion”, and means our personal responsibilities. Whatever burden God has assigned as your portion in life, is yours. You bear up under it, and you do it in such a way as to honor Him. That is simply being a good and faithful servant. He gives each of us work to do…and it is ours to do, not something we shuck off to someone else. We are to bear our own burden in this way. The crushing load of verse 2 is a whole different matter. When someone is so sick they can’t take care of themselves we may organize a list of families to take meals to them…but when they are well, we stop. Why? Because the issue was the crushing load of the sickness…we helped bear that burden, but when they are well, they take care of their own needs. We each have responsibilities of our own, and God says we are to discharge those responsibilities faithfully.

Conclusion:

Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is “Yes!” We are to watch over one another for the mutual good of all…not meddling in one another’s affairs, but being sensitive to one another’s needs and situation, so that no one is left to flounder under a load they can’t carry; no one is abandoned to the enemy when wounded by sin, and no one feels they are too busy or too holy to help a fallen brother or sister. This is where the agapé love can get very practical, very personal, and not always very comfortable.

If you can commit yourself to this lifestyle, then God can use your life to His glory. If not, then you will be the one people are trying to restore, not the one doing the restoration: the one who needs help, instead of the one helping.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to serve. Allow us to see ourselves through your eyes, and become the selfless servants you have called us to be, fellowshipping with you in the joy of service.

Amen.