Posts Tagged ‘Evangelism’

The Power of the Gospel

The Power of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/23/15 THCF 7/26/15

Romans 1:16, 17

Introduction:

When I meditate on the two verses of Scripture we are about to read, and consider their meaning, I try to think them through one word at a time: I …am not…I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ…and so forth. Every word needs to be considered:

In the very first words, I have to ask: is this true of me? Or is it just a letter from Paul? Can I say this with Paul? I count on the rest of the passage as being true for me; how about the first phrase?

Ultimately, these two verses introduce the topic and theme of the entire book. This Gospel of Christ is precisely what (and who) the letter to the Romans is about. In verse 16, Paul begins to lay out the facts about the Gospel. He first states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the Power of God unto Salvation to everyone who believes it, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

Let’s break that into bite-size chunks:

  1. I am not ashamed
  2. Of the Gospel of Christ,
  3. Because it is :
    1. The Power of God unto Salvation
      1. To those who believe it
        1. Jews first
        2. Also the Gentiles.

Am I Ashamed?

Perhaps I should save the “personal questions” for last, but Paul addressed it up front, so I think I need to do so, as well: Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Does it embarrass me to tell another person about Jesus? Do I really believe it is what God wants? And, is it important enough to me, personally, that I will take the implicit risk, and at least give others the opportunity to personally reject the Lord, instead of just going along with a whole society that mocks Him? Better yet, am I anxious to give them a chance to change direction before it is too late?

If the truth is that I am uneasy about explaining to a friend or acquaintance how they can have eternal life, perhaps I need to ask myself why: Do I really understand the Gospel myself? And, do I really believe it, myself? Do I really understand and believe that I was on death row for years, with nothing to look forward to except eternal judgment, and not even the sense to know it was coming? Do I really believe that the Holy God whose Law I deliberately broke, deliberately took my deserved judgment on himself, being executed in my place, by people just like me? Do I really believe that the God who created the people who sinned, and the tree of which the cross was made, and the iron from which the nails were forged…allowed those sinners to nail him to the cross specifically to provide salvation for the very sinners who called for His death? If I really understand that and believe it, then I need to see how vitally important it is that they hear that message. And that He has entrusted that job to me. Why was Paul not ashamed? Because of all that we just mentioned and one more thing: It is the Power of God unto salvation.

The Gospel …of Christ

Paul doesn’t give much detail here—he feeds us the facts in order, and in bite-sized pieces. But the first thing of which we should take note is that it is not just any “Gospel” or “good news”, but specifically the Gospel of Christ: the good news about Jesus.

I am going to jump over to another passage, to compare references: 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 tells me the bare-bones facts of that good news. There, Paul said “I delivered unto you as of first importance what was delivered to me:

  1. That Christ died for our sins in agreement with the Scriptures (fulfilling Prophecy)
  2. He was buried (also according to the prophecy)
  3. And that he was raised again the third day (still fulfilling prophecy).

Why am I underscoring the fact that Jesus fulfilled prophecy at every step of the way? Because the fact that God can accurately tell the future, (he who tells the end from the beginning) is the pedigree of God’s word and His authority and His reliability.

That little outline Paul gave is the core of the Gospel: it assumes the bad news is understood—we need a savior because…we are lost sinners. Paul is about to give us all the bad news we can stand…and more, probably; but he is stating the good news first: Jesus saves! And the Gospel is how He does it!

On several occasions I have heard a preacher say that he was going to “really give them the Gospel!”, and then I listened very carefully, and was dismayed to find that they not only failed to “really give ‘em the Gospel”, but they did not even mention any portion of it.

  • No mention of the Holiness of God,
  • No personal guilt for sin,
  • No coming judgment,
  • No need for a personal Savior,
  • No Cross,
  • No Grave,
  • No Resurrection!

What Gospel? It was certainly not the Gospel of Christ!

When I share with someone, I try to remember to explain all three points of the good news, as well as at least the core of the bad news…We need a Savior because we are Lost! And, quite honestly, sometimes I look back and realize that I left out one or more points of the Good News, and maybe all the “Bad News.”

I need to bear in mind that the message we are called to carry is specifically the Gospel of Christ; not “an enhanced life”, “great inner peace”, or any of the other social gospel “motivators” we try to share with others. If I am not telling people the bad news of coming judgment for personal sin, and the specific points of God’s power to save through Christ, then I am not “giving them the Gospel”. And I may even be causing such confusion that they will be driven away from Christ. It is a very simple message: I need to learn it, memorize it, and simply recite it if necessary…explain it if I am allowed to do so.

The Power of God:

Why would Paul say that the Gospel is the “Power of God unto Salvation”?  How can that be? Why can’t He just “reach out and save people”? In Genesis 18:14, God even poses the rhetorical question “Is anything too hard for Me? (The implied answer being “No!”)

So what is the limiting factor, here? Is it our sin? Nope! There is no sin too bad for God to overcome and forgive, and heal. The limiting factor is the Righteousness of God, himself, which demands Judgment for sin; and the Holiness of God which says that God cannot compromise Himself. He cannot “wink” and look the other way. He is Holy! He cannot have partnership—fellowship—with Sin at any level. So, how can the Gospel give Him the power to reach past His own Holiness and Righteousness, and save a lost Sinner? Why is it called “the Power of God unto Salvation?”

The Greek word here is dunamis—it is the “can-do” power of God: God’s ability to accomplish a task. We use that word as the root-word for “dynamic”, “dynamo”, and other words regarding “power to accomplish something.” But there is another word, too, that is also frequently translated “power”; it is the Greek word exousia. Exousia is the authority to do something. When Jesus said “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth…”, He used the word “exousia”—all authority is given unto him in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18-20) So what did he say on the basis of that authority? “Bow down and worship me? Bring me all your money? Go attack my enemies?”

Nope, He said “Go ye therefore (because I have all authority in Heaven and in Earth) and teach all nations…” He used his infinite authority to tell us to take his “ability to save” (the Gospel) to the whole human race. Did you know that the Gospel of Christ is the only thing described in the Bible as being “the power of God to save” those who believe it? That is what Paul says, right here. He does not say it is “a” power of God, but the Power of God. This is it! This is Plan A, and… there is no Plan B.

To Save Those Who Believe:

It is interesting, too, that God did not direct his offer to those who could do something for Him, or who would swear loyalty to his cause, or who were specially deserving, or some such thing: He offered it to anyone who would take his offer…those who will take Him at His Word. When people asked Jesus (John 6:28, 29) “what must we do to work the work of God?” he said “this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Again, this is it! This is Plan A—and there is no Plan B!

So what does that plan entail? Jesus promised (John 5:24)”He that hears My Word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life (Now! Not “someday when you die!”), and shall not come into condemnation (Ever!) but has passed over (Permanently!) from death into Life!” No works are involved. In another passage (Ephesians 2:8, 9) He says we are saved by Grace, through Faith. Grace means it cannot be earned…at all. If you think you have earned it, it isn’t Grace and it isn’t from God.

“Faith” means being persuaded… believing… trusting. When you make the decision to believe the “Good News” regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and you trust His blood as full payment for your sins, then according to His promise, you are eternally saved from that moment forward. That is the Power of God to Save! And it is only effective for those who believe.

To the Jews First?

Well, what’s that about? I thought we were all equal in Christ! Well, we are… but, in fairness to those who had already waited for 1500 years to receive the promise of the Messiah, it was offered to the Jews first, wherever Paul went. He first located the local Synagogue, and he sat down with the elders, sharing with them from the Old Testament the prophecies they already knew, then showing how Jesus completely fulfilled all of them, including the death and burial and resurrection, as promised in the Prophets and writings. When they rejected the fulfilled promise (as they did for the most part), Paul immediately moved to the Gentiles and shared the same message with them.

As a rule, though, some of the Jews responded in faith, and some Gentiles did as well, collectively forming the nucleus of the infant local church. He spent as much time as he could with them, teaching and preaching. In some cases the local resistance was so violent that he had to leave before his presence became dangerous to the believers. (Thessalonica is a prime example—Acts 17:1-10) But that is how the local churches were founded, in virtually every case: Jews first, then Gentiles. It was the only fair way to approach the issue, at the time. And as a matter of practicality, the Jews who believed had already mastered the scriptures to some extent, and could rapidly grow, as believers, to a level of maturity enabling them to function as leaders and shepherds to the poor, ignorant Gentile believers. This was an ideal “soil” into which to plant the “seed” of the Gospel. To be sure, most of the Jews were hardened against the truth. But those who actually believed, and received the truth, immediately took hold and began to grow. So the Good News came “to the Jew First, and also to the Greeks.” He wasn’t holding out on the Gentiles. He was only doing things in proper order.

The Righteousness of God Revealed “From faith to faith

Further, Paul states that the Righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. Our understanding of his righteousness begins as we place our faith in his character, but our understanding continues to grow as our faith grows. He says that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel from faith to faith…as our faith increases, so will our recognition of and our understanding of His righteousness.

Conclusion

Paul sums up the concept by stating that “The just shall live by faith.” This is actually a quote from Habakkuk 2:4, in the context of judgment coming on Israel, and stating that the righteous people would “live” (that is, survive) on the basis of faith. And, in truth, that is an eternal reality. Habakkuk was facing the physical destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. Those who believed God (and were thereby declared “just” or “righteous” by God) would physically survive (though not necessarily thrive…it was rough all the way around!)

Throughout the history of the Human race, it has been the same: the whole human race having died with Adam, those who believed God, survived the Fall of Man, and rejoined fellowship with God. Those who did not, since they were already dead in Adam, simply passed into a Christless Eternity and were lost. And that is what happens today as well.

Before I was a believer, I was already dead in Adam…already condemned, because I had not believed in Jesus. I was on “death row”, awaiting execution. Jesus had already taken my punishment at the Cross, but I was 18 years old before I placed my trust in His finished Work. Now I am safe in Him. I no longer face God’s Judgment. I already have eternal life. So I now have something truly precious to share with others, and a responsibility to do so.

If they refuse to hear, I am not accountable for their rejection, unless I caused it by my sin. But I am truly a debtor to all around me. I owe them the Gospel, and I owe it to Jesus to pay that debt.

There is no other way…this is plan A, and there is no plan B. And God says He will save all those who believe. We have to try, folks! This is all we can do.

God help us to be the faithful witnesses you have called us to be, praying for the lost, loving one another, loving the lost, and sharing with them in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Amen!


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is one of the most eminently practical books in the New Testament. It is also among the most foundational books in the New Testament, meaning that the truths it teaches are foundational to understanding the rest of the New Testament, as well as to living the Christian life. The Book of Romans, as it is commonly called, has sometimes been referred to as “the Gospel of God’s Grace” because that is the theme of the book, and that theme is woven throughout the entire epistle.

In this Book:

  • The Gospel is clearly defined and explored.
  • The effect of the Gospel is examined and expounded upon.
  • The built-in responsibilities of the recipients thereof are outlined, as well.

Even in the beginning lines, we can see these interwoven ideas begin to unfold. Paul identifies himself in terms of the Gospel, and, in the same breath, defines the source and key subject of the Gospel; the person of Christ. He goes on to state the effect of the Gospel in his own life and that of the recipient believers. Finally, he begins to state his own responsibilities, in regard to the Gospel.

This is the “burden of the Gospel”. I use the word “burden” in the same sense as Paul did over in Galatians 6:5for every man shall bear his own burden.” The Greek word there is “phortion”, meaning an assigned task. This is in contrast to the word in Galatians 6:2 where we are admonished to “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There, the Greek word is “baré”, meaning a crushing, unbearable load. The Gospel is not a crushing burden, but it is an assigned task, and should become a governing passion in each of our lives.

The Person of the Gospel

 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Paul introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ; an Apostle (“sent one”), but immediately shifts the focus to the Gospel itself, which is what his apostleship is all about. I am reminded of a sheriff’s deputy, who, after briefly identifying himself as a minion of the court, immediately goes about the business upon which he has been sent: he is there neither to boast of his prowess as a lawman, nor to simply pass the time of day. He is there on business, and he immediately gets to the point. The “point” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Paul immediately says that he is “separated unto the Gospel of God”— set apart for the work of the Gospel; the Good News of God.

Having thereby stated his business, in verse one, Paul begins to expand upon that theme in the verses that follow: explaining the character of the Gospel, and what it concerns, and so forth. He says first that it was promised from time past, through God’s prophets. (A prophet is a speaker for God—a mouthpiece; a spokesman for God. God promised the Gospel through the prophets.)

Further, it concerns Jesus Christ—it’s about Jesus—who is God’s Son, and who is our Lord (Greek kurios—“master”), and who, in terms of human origin, is of the seed of David. This was in accordance with the prophets who unanimously said he would be of the lineage of David.

He points out that God placed His own authoritative “stamp of approval” on Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God with power, by the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead. (Yes, that ought to show his authority: only one person has the authority and power to raise the dead, immortal.)

In verse 5, Paul continues talking about the person of the Gospel, Jesus himself. He states that it is from Jesus Christ that he (and others) had received “Grace and Apostleship.” Now, Grace has two aspects…he was given Grace as the gift of eternal life (as we also have been), but he further received the grace (Greek “charis” also translated “gift”) of being an apostle.

Paul evidently had a multitude of spiritual gifts, which apparently went along with being an Apostle. I personally believe that Paul is the twelfth of the twelve Apostles, and that Matthias, through no fault of his own, was mistakenly chosen by lot (drawing straws, or whatever), and appointed to be the replacement for Judas Iscariot, in Acts chapter one. All the apostles (including Paul) were chosen by Jesus, personally, except Matthias. If I am mistaken, so be it, but it seems to me as though Jesus chose his own replacement apostle in the person of Paul, and that Peter may simply have spoken out of turn. However, all the eleven were involved, and God did not correct or rebuke them, so I will not state that they were wrong. It just seems that way to me. I may be mistaken. Matthias may have been God’s choice as well. In that case, I do not know for whom will be the “twelve thrones for the twelve apostles.” But it doesn’t matter: God knows. (By the way, there are other people spoken of as apostles, too, in scripture, so this is not at all a “cut and dried” issue.)

There is no question, however, as to the apostleship of Paul. He was chosen personally, by Jesus, and given a specific task— he was made the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). The word “apostle” means “sent one”. Paul was sent to take the Gospel to all nations, which was to result in the obedience of faith…or obedience to the faith…among all nations. Paul literally became the founder of the Gentile church. The Jewish church had begun under the ministry of Peter. But the Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ; and that was revealed first to Paul, though Jesus himself had hinted to that effect, saying “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) (The Mormons attempt to use this passage to justify some of their doctrines, but the Bible makes it absolutely clear that what Jesus was predicting was the joining of Jew and Gentile in one Body of Christ. There is no other Biblical interpretation.)

Paul states (verse 6) that the believers in Rome were also among the “called” of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you believe the Gospel, you are one of the “called” of Jesus Christ as well. You are definitely called to serve God with your life. You can do some thinking about what that might entail, but this is a Biblical imperative: If you belong to Jesus, you are to serve Him.

The Effect of the Gospel

Next, in verse seven, Paul addresses the recipients of the letter:

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that the words “to be” are in italics, meaning that they were not in the original manuscripts… it means that the believers are called saints: “holy ones” (that’s what “saint” means.) It implies that being one of the holy ones of God is predicated upon being a believer in Jesus Christ, not having the approval of the Pope, or some other human. We are not made saints by people, but by God. And we are not called “to be” saints, as if it is to be at some time in the future, but now: from the moment we receive Him as our savior. Perhaps the translators only meant to imply that we are called to “be saints…and had no intent of putting it into a future view at all. We are called to be saints. That is what is supposed to be happening…we are to behave as the holy ones of God, because we are the holy ones of God. We are set aside for His purposes, and His alone. We will discuss that more at a later date.

We can further see that the gift of God is in the following order: “Grace, then Peace.” This is consistent in all the epistles to the church, throughout the New Testament. If one feels they are not dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, then they cannot have Peace with God, let alone experience the peace of God, after conversion. There are those who reject God’s Grace, hoping to “earn” their own salvation. I have had people actually tell me this. They don’t understand that such earning is utterly impossible. Just as it was impossible for Cain to please God with the fruit of the cursed ground, in Genesis 4:3, it is impossible for any human to please God with the fruit of a life already cursed through original Sin. We have nothing to offer—it is ALL tainted by sin.

A person who claims that he is dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, but who subsequently supposes that he must work to “stay saved”, is still not understanding the point of “Grace”. What does the word “grace” mean, but “un-earned favor”? If you are trying to earn it, it is not Grace, but wages. We will address this idea later on, but for the moment, please see that if you want peace with God, you receive it by Grace. If you want the peace of God, you also receive it by Grace. There are things we are called to do in response to God’s Grace, to allow his Peace to flow unhindered (see Philippians 4:6-9), but those still have nothing to do with earning Grace.

In verses 8-12, Paul expresses his own longing, to go and see the Roman believers face to face.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

He evidently knew at least some of them, as he calls them by name, in the final chapter. But many he apparently had never met. He knew of their faith, and was thrilled to know of the fruit it was having in their lives. As a result of the testimony of the Roman believers, which he had heard everywhere he went, Paul prayed for them continually, especially longing to go visit them, and add to their joy by imparting “some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established”, or strengthened in their walk with God.

I don’t know what it was he hoped to do, beyond further teaching. Perhaps he actually intended to impart a “gift of the Spirit” as listed in 1st Corinthians 12, or Romans 12, but I really doubt it. From what we can see in the scripture, the gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit, at His discretion, and apparently at the moment of salvation, though such gifts may not come to light for some time, in many cases.

There is one passage that refers to a gift being in someone “by the laying on of hands of the presbytery”, but I wonder whether that may simply be the recognition of the gift (as that is universally what the “laying on of hands” refers to. When the elders laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 13, for example, they were simply acknowledging that God had called Paul and Barnabas to the work they were going to do. The Holy Spirit had spoken (evidently audibly) to the group, telling them that He was going to send Paul and Barnabas out for a special job. All they did was to agree with God. I suspect that was also the case with Timothy (1st Timothy 4:14), and the gift of Evangelism that apparently was assigned to him by God.

Paul further expanded on the idea of a spiritual gift by saying, “that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” What he evidently hoped to do is to enjoy fellowship with them. The word fellowship is an old English idea which only means the “status of being a fellow (something)”. The word “fellowship” has nothing to do with “two fellows in a ship” as so many modern preachers are fond of saying. Fellows can be in a ship and despise one another. (Anyone ever hear of a ship called the “HMS Bounty”? Captain Bligh, and all those jolly good fellows?) In England they have what is called the “Royal Society.” It is considered a great honor to be called an “FRS”—a “Fellow of the Royal Society”… a fellow-member of that elite group. We have fellowship because we are fellow-Christians… we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. It implies “partnership”—having in common—sharing something…participating together in something. Paul commended the Philippian believers for their “fellowship in the Gospel”…they were participating with him as partners in the work of evangelism. Paul knew that these believers were his brothers and sisters, and he longed to go spend some time with them. I can only wish that Christians felt this way about one another today, but they seldom do. We are exhorted to grow in grace and brotherly Love, increasing more and more. But it seems the Church today has gone the other direction. God help us to love one another with the Agapé love, as well as learning the brotherly love that God commands.

The Burden of the Gospel

13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Notice that in verse 13, Paul begins to explain his motivation in his travels: he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren…” (I want you to know…) that I often intended to come visit you, but was restrained, until now. I wanted to come there, in order to have fruit there, as I have everywhere else. He wanted to lead others to Christ in Rome, and to impart wisdom and maturity to the believers there. He wanted to build up the Church, there.

What had originally been an assignment from Jesus had become a personal passion to Paul. This was not a simple statement of duty, but a personal burden for the souls of those for whom Jesus died. He was determined to preach the Gospel to those in Rome just as he had everywhere else. (He hadn’t been there, yet.) He considered himself to have a debt to pay in Rome and elsewhere. Notice too, that he did not limit his ministry to “the elect”: in verse 14 and 15, he states categorically that he considered himself a debtor to all: Greeks, Barbarians, wise and foolish. He clearly understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the whole world, as did the Apostle John. John states that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:2) Paul echoes that conviction, stating that he himself was a debtor to the people around him, wherever he went: He owed them the Gospel.

Whenever God opened the door for him to go to Rome, he was ready to go. We know he eventually got there, but as far as we know he only went there in chains, as a prisoner. He was in prison there for at least a few years, and we know that he led many to Christ from that prison cell. The location had changed, but the burden was still the same.

Conclusion:

As we read through the rest of the Book of Romans, We will see that the Lord Jesus is the central figure in all of the Bible, and that he has called us to be set aside for His service. We will also see the lostness of the human race. We can see here in Romans 1:14 that Paul considered himself to owe the Gospel to everyone around him.

Do we take that assignment seriously? Has it become a guiding passion, for you, to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, and then use them as they arise? To pray for wisdom as to when to not offer the Gospel, and when to speak boldly?

Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish his work.” The job had never been just a task to Jesus: it was his burning passion from the beginning. Apparently it had quickly become the same for Paul. Where is your passion? There are multiple assignments that we all have as believers: we are to pull our own weight in every area—taking care of our needs and those of our families, making good use of our time, loving the brethren, etc. But where does the Gospel fit into the equation? Is that the passion of your life or just something you think about once in a while? Give that some thought: What is the primary “burden” in your life?

Lord Jesus, help us to share your compassion for the Lost, and to willingly take up and bear the Burden of the Gospel, for the sake of your Glory.

Amen.


No Longer of this World

No Longer of This World

© C. O. Bishop, 6/19/2015; THCF 6/28

Galatians 6:11-18

Introduction

Paul is concluding his letter to the churches of the Galatian province. He has compared his own ministry (source, content and result) to that of the legalizers, and has given clear direction as how to live by Grace and walk in the Spirit. He begins his closing with an odd statement: He says, ‘ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” What was the meaning? This was in effect, a wry “signature”: he is saying, “Look, the letter was written by me—in crayon!”

Paul evidently had severe eye problems, either caused by disease or by the stoning he received at Lystra…we can’t be sure. We do know that the people he served knew of his eye troubles…he said that they would have given their own eyes to him if they could have done so. We conclude that probably the “thorn in the flesh” of 2nd Corinthians 12 may be this partial blindness and ocular distress from which he constantly suffered. Further, in Acts 23:2-5, he evidently could not clearly see the person (the High priest as it turned out) who ordered that he be punched in the mouth. The result of this partial blindness, in most cases, was that he had to have someone else write for him, as he could scarcely see. But this time he had no such scribe available, so he had to make the letters large enough that he could see what he was writing…thus the “large letter.”

But Paul prefaced his closing remarks with the admonition to take every opportunity to “do good” to anyone with whom we have contact…and especially to watch for opportunities to bless believers. This is not an incitement to monasticism, where the believers cloister themselves off away from the world…he just encourages us to love one another in practical ways.

Make Use of the Time

10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

In Ephesians 5:16, he says we are to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. This life is the only opportunity we have to do good. We may think we will “just hang on and wait for Jesus to return”, but that is not at all what he commanded: we are to work while we have the opportunity to serve with Him. We already have eternal life; that is not the issue. We are serving out of love, and sowing in hope of eternal reward. We love one another because we want to, and because it is the best advertisement of the truth of the Gospel.

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Paul usually used a scribe to write his letters. Sometimes we actually were given the names of the persons who wrote his words…usually not. But one of the reasons he generally used a scribe, was apparently that his eyes were bad. This particular letter was written by his own hand, evidently in the absence of a scribe. The result was a bit of a mess: he had to make huge letters in order to see what he was writing. He took note of that, possibly to let them know that the letter had not been an easy thing for him, or possibly just a self-effacing joke, in a way, letting them know that he had personally penned the words. It was not an easy task to write such a long letter when he was nearly blind, but he considered it a good investment. He set the example of “redeeming the time”. There is no time like the present to obey God’s leading. Paul could have thought, “Well, sometime soon a scribe will come along, and I can get him to write this letter.” But he didn’t—he wrote it himself.

They already knew that his eyes were bad (compare verse 4:15), so this is just a reminder that he was their faithful teacher and mentor, not one of the elite scribes or pharisaical teachers who plagued them. He refers to those people, next, in contrast: He has spoken at length regarding the motives of the legalizers, and this is his final comment.

Bad Teachers Have Bad Motives

12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

He says that those teachers were not (and are not) willing to suffer the unpopularity (and the inherent risk of persecution) for having preached the cross. They preach legalism (circumcision, in this particular case) because that gains them glory in this life. They can point to “converts”, and lay claim to all that they have “done for God.”.

I remember listening to a missionary who very seldom spoke of his work in the Gospel, but went on and on about all the lovely church-buildings he had helped build. Were they good buildings? Probably so: but that is not what we are sent to do. Buildings do not save souls, nor do they edify the saints. Even baptism is made a distant second-place to the preaching of the Gospel.

The preaching of the Cross saves those who believe. The consistent preaching of the rest of the Word edifies believers. “Feeding the sheep” requires the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  These false teachers were advocating works of the Law, not only because within their culture that was completely safe to them, but it was a “number” they could claim, to gain honor among their own kind. They could hold up a list of “converts”, and crow about how God was using them. There are those today to whom numbers are very important, as well. It is an easy trap to fall into.

If a mega-church today is truly edifying the saints and preaching the Gospel of Christ to unbelievers, I guess I have no problem with the size of the outfit, except that it seems a bit unwieldy at that point, and more likely that certain believers may tend to not be served well, (see Acts 6; it was a problem in Jerusalem, too) Some people will just disappear in the crowd, and become anonymous.  But there is no proof of blessing in size alone. Many such churches are definitely not staying true to the Word of God, but are very popular because of a charismatic preacher, an exciting show, a well-choreographed presentation, a band, or other attractions. Sometimes they have lots of other activities that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and those activities are what are drawing the crowds—pizza, basketball, games, movies, etc. One has to remember that “what a person is drawn by is what they are drawn to.” If you want them to be drawn to Christ, then you had better be using Him alone as your main attraction.

The fact is, Paul actually had to state (1st Corinthians 1:17) that he had not been sent to baptize—it simply wasn’t much of an issue. And the issue of “who led you to the Lord” was unimportant, too. He said that he (among others) had sown the seed of the Gospel, and that Apollos (among others) had “watered” that seed, by further preaching and exhortation, but that God alone saved souls…God gave the increase…period. Why did he say such a thing? Because the people were dividing over whose disciples they were—who had taught them, who their mentor had been, etc. And Paul told them to knock it off. He said their divisions were wrong. Paul also knew there were such things as false brethren…there were those who pretended to be believers, to be accepted by the group, but were not born again. He was not a “numbers” kind of guy.  He knew he no longer fit in, and was satisfied with that.

No Longer of This World

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Paul could clearly see the danger of pride in the ministry. He stayed back from that “edge” by maintaining that the Cross of Christ was his only message. In 1st Corinthians 2:2 he said that he had determined when he first came to Corinth that his only message would be the Cross. In fact he said that he was determined to not know anything beside the Cross. He had had opportunity to observe that too much “human reasoning” would detract from the message of Christ, so he was determined to stay far away from that trap. If anyone described his ministry, they would have to say, “He preaches the Cross!” He recognized that he was eternally separated from the world by that Cross, and that the World was eternally out of reach to him, as well. He could never hope to “fit in” again…and he was satisfied with that arrangement.

My father once warned me, saying “The world is passing you by!” (I was in ministry training at the time, at one stage or another.) I replied that as far as I could tell, the World was “headed for Hell in a hand-basket”, and that it was just fine if they passed me by; I wanted nothing to do with their direction, let alone their destination. I think that sometimes, since then, I have forgotten that resolve, for a time, and have tried to “fit in” at one level or another. The results have never been as good as I wanted. I cannot fit in. I am forever separated from the World by the Cross. The World knows I no longer belong, and will not receive me as its own. And God says that I am no longer of this world…I cannot have partnership with it anymore, though I am required to live within it and function as a light in the darkness. Paul says, over in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, 15, “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And, what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord (agreement—common ground) hath Christ with Belial? Or, what part hath he that believeth, with an infidel?”

Those are pretty strong words: Paul said in Philippians 2:15, 16, “that ye may be blameless, and harmless, the Sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the Word of Life:” How can we shine as lights in the World if we are not in it? But, just as surely, how can we shine if, effectively, we join with the darkness, so that they see us as self-righteous hypocrites, and pretenders, with nothing real to offer.

Some of you have probably been grieved to see the recent changes in our national laws. This admonition seems particularly apt, today, in light of those changes. We are to continue to shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation”. We are not allowed to draw off and hold ourselves away from them—but we also do not belong to them and cannot join them in their perversion and rebellion. Ephesians 5:11, 12 says for us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them, for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” And, make no mistake: the result will likely be increasing persecution. Philippians 1:29 says “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” Paul knew that his future held such persecution, and did not turn away from it: He said (Philippians 3:10) “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…being made conformable unto His death…” He knew the cost of the ministry. Do we?

The fact is that we are just as “separated from the World” by the Cross as the Apostle Paul was…but it has not had the same effect in our lives, as yet. That time may be coming soon.

Our nation has finally turned its back on God at every level, and people are gloating over the collective shame and sin and debauchery of the nation. The unbelieving world rejoices to see the fall of our once-Christian nation. In the previous verses we saw the warning, “Be not deceived, for God is not mocked: whatsoever a man sows; that shall he also reap.” Judgment is definitely coming: I have no idea what form it will take.

Inward Change is What God Wants.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Paul says that the outward actions don’t accomplish much of anything; that the key issue is being born again. After that point, God is free to rear up a believer in the nurture of His Word, and produce the inward and outward changes that show the reality of the new birth. The chains and restraints of religious formalism and the trappings of formal piety are essentially useless. The results of the Holy Spirit working through a born-again believer have eternal value. Not only that, but, as we saw in the previous chapter, “against such things there is no law”. There may come a time when we will be condemned for our faith…but the good works of faith are not what they are rejecting: it is the “bad news” of the Gospel…the three-fold bad news that “Sin is black, Hell is hot, and Judgment is coming!” But the Gospel also concludes with the Good News; “Jesus Saves!” They don’t like that part either, so we stand condemned for the whole message of the Gospel. We have to accept the fact that we are cast aside by the World because they also cast aside the Christ who saved us. Jesus said, “Marvel not if the World hate thee; they hated Me first!” We are finally beginning to see that reality in the world around us. We must prepare our hearts to accept it as our cross, joining Jesus in the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

Peace in Persecution

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Paul concludes by praying for peace upon those who live by faith, and obey by faith. He also prays for peace upon the “Israel of God”. (This is not saying that believers have become Jews, though he has already pointed out that they have become part of the fulfilled promise to Abraham. I believe he may be addressing the Jewish believers who have embraced Jesus as their Messiah… but I can’t prove it.) At any rate, Jesus agreed, saying “In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the World.

I think it is probably important to point out that the trap of legalism is still there: James 3:18 says “the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in Peace by those who make peace.” This whole passage is exhorting us to walk in the light and to shine in a dark world…but it requires that the Peace of God “leak out through us” in every relationship. We cannot preach righteousness in anger and expect good results. James says if we want to reap righteousness we have to sow that seed in peace, as peacemakers.

Philippians 4:6, 7 states that we can experience that peace at all times. We are to avoid anxiety and stress by laying our burden on Jesus…and leaving it there. We are not to just be confident in our own goodness and rightness, and think that that is the “light” we are to shine. The Love of God and the Gospel of His Grace is the light we are to shine.

Paul’s Conclusion

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Paul once may have taken some sort of pride in his being a Jew, and bearing the “marks” of Judaism: physical circumcision, peculiar clothing, peculiar haircut, etc. Now the only marks he points to are the physical scars that he received as a result of preaching the Gospel. He pointed to them as the proof of his ministry. Not numbers, not buildings, not money or fame. He pointed to his suffering which had been the direct result of the preaching of the Cross. And his conclusion was that any accusations against his ministry will have to face the reality of his track-record.

18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (To the Galatians written from Rome.)

As we mentioned in the beginning of this epistle, Grace is not only for salvation, but for daily life. How fitting that the Epistle should begin and end with Grace, as that is the key theme of the book. Paul’s purpose is to point people away from Law, with its outward works, and to anchor the believers firmly in Grace. If we take his message to heart, then his purpose is fulfilled in us.

If we walk in the Spirit, we can expect the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with our spirits.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts by your Grace. Re-mold us into your likeness and lead us in the path of righteousness. Teach us to sow the Gospel of Grace and Peace and to demonstrate the Love of God in our lives, while maintaining a clean walk before you. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be.


Christmas Carol

The Christmas Carol

(Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!)

© C. O. Bishop 12/17/14

Introduction:

275 years ago, this month (in 1739), a new Hymn appeared in English publishing houses: Charles Wesley, by that time 32 years of age, had produced yet another hymn honoring the God of the Bible, and carefully teaching the doctrines of Christ. During his 81 years he wrote and published in excess of 6,000 hymns…some sources say 7,000.

In nearly the middle of his life, at 31 years of age, on May 21st, 1738, he experienced what evangelical Christians call “conversion”. His elder brother, John Wesley, had the same experience a few days later.  It is also interesting to note that Charles was the one who originally began a methodical Bible study at the college they both attended, and John joined it (and ultimately took it over) about two years later. They went on to minister together, though they did not agree on all things…for example, John left the Anglican Church; Charles stayed with it all his life. But when John preached, Charles wrote Hymns to teach the same doctrines. I have no idea what John Wesley’s Christmas sermon was, a year and a half after his conversion, but I do have the following hymn, written by Charles Wesley, 18 months after his conversion: The Hymn we call “Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Except for the fact that there is no Biblical record of the angels “singing” at the birth of Christ, this hymn is one of the most doctrinally pure songs in existence, and is rich with meaning. Ironically, though the title and first line as we know it are now permanently a part of that song, those are not the words that Charles Wesley wrote—he had written, “Hark how all the Welkins Ring!” (“welkin” being an old English word for heaven) So even that line could originally have been called more or less accurate, as at least the angelic host said from the sky “Glory to God in the Highest!” And: who knows? Maybe they sang, too. We know they sang at the creation. God says so in the book of Job.

At any rate: if I may be so bold as to try some “reverse engineering,” let me attempt to reconstruct what John Wesley may have taught, which prompted such a Hymn from brother Charles.

He began with the Christmas story itself, and worked outward from there, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and promises of God throughout History.  Though the song is written in such an order as to rhyme and be memorable, I would think that John may have begun at the beginning…so that is where I will begin.

In the Beginning:

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting lord

Psalm 90:2 states “From Everlasting to Everlasting, thou art God.”  Psalm 41:13 agrees, saying “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, from everlasting (eternity past) and to everlasting.“ Micah 5:2 gives us a hint as to whom it might refer: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Isaiah 9:6 says, “Unto us a Son is given…and His name shall be called (among other precious names) The Everlasting Father!” And in Hebrews 1:6, God the Father, referring to God the Son, commanded his angelic hosts, saying, “Let all the angels of God worship Him!” and again, in Hebrews 1:10, Still referring to the Son,  “…Thou Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands!”

He is the Creator, the eternal God, and the Judge of all the earth. Yes! He is the everlasting Lord…in fact, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who appeared to Israel and to the world, is the Jesus of the New Testament. I do not pretend to understand this truth, but the scripture is absolutely clear about it, and all I can do is preach it faithfully. He was (and is) worshipped by the angels in heaven…and there will come a day when every knee shall bow—even of those who are his enemies.

Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.

You remember how, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam sinned, God’s curse fell on the serpent, the woman, and all the earth for the Man’s sake. We fell with Adam—all of us were born in his image. But the promise of God (Jesus, as we now know; Genesis 3:15) was that the “Seed of the Woman” would eventually “bruise” (or, in our language, “crush”) the Serpent’s head—He was to undo the fatal work that Satan had accomplished in causing the spiritual death of the entire human race. This was the only promise of hope in the judgment that came because of sin. Adam believed that promise, and God clothed him in the skin of a slain animal—the first blood sacrifice—a substitute for the sinner, looking forward to the Cross. The promise was made then and there. The promise was believed then and there. Atonement was made—the sins of Adam and Eve were covered by the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice. Jesus is the only person in History who can be accurately called the “Seed of Woman”…everyone else has a human father. Jesus did not. He alone has the capacity to undo the evil work of Satan in each of us. Incidentally, as we have stressed before, the old sacrifices could only cover sin. The blood of Jesus removes it—takes it away.

Looking Forward, in Faith

Come, Desire of nations come,

Not all people have looked forward in faith to the coming of Christ. Job knew what was coming, though he had no Bible to read: he said “I know that my Redeemer lives!” He understood that he had been bought out of the marketplace of Sin, and had been set free. Among the people of Israel, not everyone was looking for the Savior, either, but some were: Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as soon as he saw him: he took Jesus in his arms and blessed God, saying that this child was to be a Light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius, was living in Caesarea and was a believing Gentile; he was longing for the God of Israel. The Apostle Peter was sent to Him with the Gospel of Christ. Cornelius eagerly received the Promise of God, and was gloriously born again. Jesus has been the hope of those few that believe, in every nation throughout all ages.

The believers who were in Israel (and any believer who joined himself or herself to Israel) placed their hope in the Passover Lamb. And that Lamb was a pre-figuring of Jesus. Boaz blessed Ruth, saying “A full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Boaz knew what it took to be saved.

The Fulfillment of Promise

Late in time behold Him come, Off-spring of the Virgin’s womb

From our perspective it was a long time coming…but God says it was “at the right time”—in due time. He says it was “in the fullness of time”—when the time was ripe. He wasn’t early—and he wasn’t late.

And, while a lot of people balk at the virgin birth, if you study your Bible you’ll find that, if He was to be the savior, the virgin birth was absolutely necessary. It was not just extra proof, or anything like that. If He had a human father, he was not the Seed of Woman. And if Joseph was his father, then he was banned from being king of the Jews, because Joseph was a distant descendant of a cursed king. Only God could bring about the virgin birth, and it had to be done.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail, the incarnate deity

Colossians 2:9 states that “in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.”  John 1:1 says,“ in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 says, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.” We are expected to see the eternal God, walking in human flesh, and recognize that seeming impossibility as the eternal Hope of the Human race. We are not expected to understand it—just to accept it by faith.

Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.

One of the prophecies called His name Emmanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). And that is exactly who he was, but he came and lived as a man: not a “super-man” or a demigod; just a man. He was specifically assigned to live in humility and poverty, and to suffer all the normal vicissitudes of life at that time. How do I know he was poor? The sacrifice his parents brought—the two doves—were a substitute for the Lamb that was ordinarily brought, and was specifically called out as the correct sacrifice for a son born into a family that was “very poor”. Another interesting idea, to me, is that he did not have a Lamb that redeemed him, personally. He celebrated the Passover, but, in my mind, it is somehow fitting that since He was the Lamb of God, no four-legged lamb should be his substitute. Perhaps a minor point, and possibly even mistaken, but it caught my attention. He lived a holy life—entirely without sin, though in all other respects, completely normal to the time and place. He lived as a man.

Receiving the Promise

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace,

That line is a command, actually: We are called upon to receive this emissary of God; Hail him! Greet him as a king! Greet him as God!  Believe His Word. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to them he gave power (authority) to become (Greek, “gennesthe”—to be born) sons (children—teknon) of God.

Isaiah 9:7 states that he shall be called the “Prince of Peace”. He is the author of our Peace with God—truly the Prince of Peace. We can either receive him as he is presented by God, or we can “re-invent” him (as many do) and only serve our imagination. The Biblical Jesus is the God of the Universe—not just an exalted man or a powerful spirit being. If he is not God, he is not the Savior, because Isaiah 43:11 states that apart from the LORD (Jehovah) there is no Savior! Jesus stated the other half of that equation: John 14:6 “I am the Way, the truth and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!”

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness, Risen with healing in His Wings!

Malachi 4:2  says, “…but unto you who fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with Healing in His wings!” Light and life to all He brings, John 1:4 says “In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of Men.” These are direct quotes from the Word of God! This is not someone’s imagination running wild.

Mild, He lays His Glory by,

Philippians 2:5-8 says that He laid aside his position as deity, his prerogatives as God, and lived life as a man; even as a poor man, and a servant—not a royal hero, or a shining warrior-priest, or any of the things we might find attractive. And, in that same passage we are told to lay aside privilege and position, and emulate His humility, offering ourselves as servants.

Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Jesus said that he had come to give his life a ransom for many. He told Pilate, “…for this cause am I come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” He bore final witness to the truth of Man’s sin and God’s Judgment and Grace at the Cross, just hours later, dying to pay the price of the sins of the lost Human Race. He told Nicodemus “ye must be born again”, and that whoever believed in him would not perish. He told the Jews to whom he gave the bread and fish, “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, has everlasting Life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has crossed over from death into life.” In Ephesians 2:6 we find that those believers have already been “raised up”, and seated in Heaven with Christ.

Come, Desire of nations come, Fix in us Thy humble home;

Those who believe in the Jesus Christ of the Biblical record receive him as their savior…and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, comes and takes up residence in the body of each believer. We invite him to do so, by faith. We affirm our trust in Him, taking him at his Word…and He takes us at our Word and claims us as his own.

Adam’s likeness now efface: Stamp Thine image in its place;

Each of us has been born in the likeness of Adam; rebellious, doubting, self-centered…and lost. Each of us who has believed the good news of Jesus has been born again. Our old sin nature—the Adamic nature—has been defeated, dethroned, and deposed…and will eventually be deceased …and gone.

Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love.

Jesus is called the “second man”, “the last Adam”, in 1st Corinthians 15:45, 47.  Adam was the head of the natural race, and, as the head, when he fell into sin, he took the entire race with him. In the sense that he was the head of the race, he was a prefiguring of Christ: Jesus is the head of the new man, the Body of Christ… and as its head, when he walked in righteousness, died in obedience, and was bodily resurrected; he took with him all those whose faith is placed in Him. We have been redeemed by His blood, accepted in Him as the beloved of God, and completely enveloped in the Love of Christ.

So…What Now?

Joyful, all ye nations, rise. Join the triumph of the skies.

Now we are free to serve Him. How? A host of opportunities present themselves but the one task we are all assigned is representing Him and His love to the World around us. We are called to be his ambassadors. All the nations in history who rejoiced in the savior also rejoiced in missions, at least for a time. And that is how we join in the triumph of the skies—we proclaim his birth, and, more specifically, His death, burial, and resurrection to the dying world. We offer the hope and Joy of Christmas every day of the year.

With th’ Angelic Hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

That is our job, friends; and it is intended to be our passion and our Joy! Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work.” Do you remember that context?

John 4:34 Jesus was waiting outside Sychar, a city of Samaria, and could see the people flocking to see him, on the testimony of the woman at the well. The disciples knew he had not eaten for a long time, and were trying to persuade him to stop working and eat. He said, “This is my food!” In the context, he was talking about evangelism: the joy of bringing other people to saving faith.

Peace on earth, and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled!”

Heavenly peace and the reconciliation of God and Man were promised by angelic messengers, speaking from the sky on that night in Bethlehem. We know from our Bibles that the full promised peace will only come when Sin is finally gone. There will be great peace during the Millennial kingdom, but it will not be permanent. After the New Heaven and New Earth are introduced, there will be eternal peace and harmony between God and Man.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t say for sure whether the angelic host actually sang that night. But I know that they sang at the creation, and this event, the birth of the Savior, was greater than the creation. So perhaps they did sing. Either way, we are called to respond to the message:

Hark! (Listen!) The Herald Angels Sing: Glory to the Newborn King.

Glorify him in your life, by word and deed; by thought and attitude. Serve with Joy, not grudgingly, as if it were a chore. We have the very temporary privilege of serving with him, to spread the joy of Christ in the World in which we live.

This is our one opportunity to serve: Let’s do it!


According to the Truth of the Gospel

According to the Truth of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 11/2/2014 THCF 11/9/2014

Galatians 2:5-18

Introduction:

We spoke a couple of weeks ago regarding the pattern of false teaching called “legalism.” Legalism can seem fairly nebulous and ill-defined, but in fact, as we determined earlier, it can be identified as “any pattern of teaching that seeks to modify the means of salvation or sanctification to be accomplished by works instead of or in addition to Grace.”

In other words, if I teach that a person is either to be saved by works of the flesh, and outward compliance to rules, instead of or in addition to Jesus’ fully completed work at the Cross, then I am guilty of Legalism.  If I teach that one is to be made holy (sanctified) through good works instead of or in addition to the Holy Spirit’s perfect and continuing work, then I am guilty of Legalism.

The Legalizers desire to coerce others to conform to their own legalistic values, and further claim that those who do not conform to them are also rejected by God. God says that is not how we are saved…and not how we serve. Let’s move on to see Paul’s final comments on this subject.

The Meeting With all the Other Apostles:

6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:

7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

Remember that Paul had preached for three years before he met any of the earlier apostles (Peter and James), and when he did it was a very brief meeting, and only served to confirm in his own mind and theirs that he had indeed been chosen by and taught by Jesus Christ, personally, and was a full-fledged apostle. It was fourteen years later that Paul finally met all the rest of the apostles along with the Church at Jerusalem.

So, when Paul finally did get together with the whole group of apostles and elders of the Church at Jerusalem, they neither added to his message, nor changed any of it. Once they saw that the same Holy Spirit was at work in Paul as had been in Peter, they recognized full fellowship: partnership in the work of the Gospel.

What is Fellowship?

Perhaps it is not the main point here, but I think it is appropriate to point out that “giving the right hand of fellowship” does not simply mean they “shook hands”, nor, of course, does it mean they sat down to have doughnuts and coffee, while chatting about fishing, or golf, as it seems to mean in many churches today.

“Fellowship” means partnership—it means “having in common”. It means doing something—accomplishing something—in unity with another person. That is one of the reasons we are warned to not have fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness.” We are to have no partnership with evil. So, “…gave us the right hand of fellowship…” means that they recognized Paul and Barnabas as full-fledged apostles, and partners in the work of world evangelism. The Church has a job to do—one job, and one only—Evangelism. Peter and Paul and all the other Apostles and Elders knew that and embraced the job. Do you know it? Do you embrace it daily as the job we were left here to do? Give that some thought…. We are either in that same fellowship of the Gospel, or we are on the sidelines, watching.

The Conflict with Peter and the Jewish Believers

Paul still had to make it clear that his apostleship was fully equal to that of any of the other apostles…in fact, Paul later got in a conflict with Peter—and Peter was wrong. That was not Paul’s point, here: he simply is pointing out that Peter, too, was fallible; and that when Paul reproached him in his fault, he was approachable because Paul was a representative of Christ.

11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

Peter had come to Antioch. A Gentile church was there: Paul and Barnabas had planted that church, and had treated the believers there as equal brothers in Christ—which they were. Peter joined them and he ate with the Gentiles as was correct. But inwardly, he must have felt that he was on shaky ground, because when other Jews showed up, who were intent on keeping themselves separate from heathens (that is what “Gentile” means) he quit eating with the Gentiles and ate with the Jews who were separate.  Bear in mind that Peter had been quite freely eating with the Gentiles, regardless of how he may have felt about it. Remember too, back in Acts 10, Jesus had spoken fairly sternly to Peter about “calling unclean that which the Lord has made clean”. This is nothing new for Peter, but old patterns are difficult to break. (Which, of course, is a good reason for us to be patient with one another, forbearing one another in Love.)

13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

The other Jewish believers who had been there at Antioch were swayed by Peter’s example, and joined him at the separatists’ table. Even Barnabas gave in and separated himself. Notice that Paul uses the word “dissembled”: dissembling means pretending. They were pretending that they were somehow superior, because of Judaism. This is really an easy trap to fall into. (“I’m really a better person today than before I attended church. Therefore, I should hold myself separate from these heathens around me, even if they are really new Christians and they just don’t act like me. Let them clean themselves up, and then I‘ll fellowship with them. Sadly, there are churches that relate this way, not just individuals.)

So, how should we respond?

 

 

According to the Truth of the Gospel

14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Paul got up and walked over, in the presence and hearing of all, and confronted Peter. He said that Peter was demonstrating by his actions that unless the Gentiles became Jewish proselytes, they were not really part of the Body of Christ…they were “second-class believers”.

He made public the fact that Peter had been freely eating with the Gentile believers up until now. (Yow!)  He pointed out that since Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, he had no right to suggest that they were now beneath him, and that they should become Jews, in order to enjoy fellowship with Jewish believers. And Peter accepted the rebuke as being from God! That was a pretty rough situation, emotionally, I’ll bet. Perhaps the tenderness of Christ was evident enough in Paul that Peter, rather than being hurt or offended, was relieved to have been stopped from making a really costly error. I suspect that is the case, in fact, because, it really was the Lord Jesus correcting him, through Paul. We see later in Peter’s writing that he saw Paul’s writings as being scripture…so he recognized Paul as an apostle and spokesman for God. (By the way, that is what a prophet is: a “spokesman for God”—a mouthpiece for God’s Word.)

Peter may not have thought through the implications of his actions. I am sure that Barnabas had not considered the possible implications, as he was always a good-hearted brother, but I have no idea about the rest of the Jews who were there: they were evidently believers, as they “came from James”, but James (Acts 15) is the one who said the Gentile believers were completely justified by faith, and full brothers in Christ…so, at the very least, they too, had not thought through what they were doing. Perhaps it was just a reflexive response, and they were simply reverting to how they had behaved toward Gentiles in the past. Paul does not address this: he only points out that there was a brief conflict between himself and Peter, and that Peter had been the one to repent.

Paul was not telling this to discredit Peter, but to point out that Peter held no special authority, and was quite fallible, and that when he was rebuked by Paul he took it as from a messenger of God, not as from an upstart “Junior Apostle” of some sort. This is Paul’s final evidence of his own apostolic position and authority. He was not claiming to be something special, but rather giving the necessary evidence that he was indeed an apostle, “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father”.

So, What’s the Problem With Legalism, Again?

Paul continues his argument, pointing out that the Jewish believers, who had all the advantage of the Law, by which they knew the holiness of God, still could not fulfill the Law by complete obedience, and, as believers, they knew that no man could be justified by works:

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

Paul seems to differentiate between the behavior of the believer, here, and the holiness of his God. In context, I think he is cautioning against a believer continuing in sin, but I think the deeper meaning is that the savior is not contaminated by the sin of those he saves, any more than a lifeguard is thought to be drunk, because he saves the life of a drunken swimmer.

Think back: the people and animals aboard the Ark that Noah built were all savednot because they were good…but because they were in the Ark, and, if they did wrong while they were there… (I don’t know… maybe they squabbled over some minor issue while cooped up together for over a year, say?) did that make God wrong, who saved them? Nope. Jesus is not contaminated by sinners. He saves them, he cleanses them, and they still get dirty, because they are saved sinners. But He, himself, is still utterly Holy, and untouched by the sin of those he saves.

The problem is that our sin affects others as well as ourselves. Peter’s sin could have caused the false teachings of the legalizers to be strengthened and corroborated, which would have  strengthened the hand of Satan, there in Antioch, had it not been corrected immediately.

My sin can cause other believers to stumble as well. (Give that some thought: how might your “small” sins, perhaps your language or your behavior, affect others in a “big” way?) We may leave a small obstruction in a walkway, but it can cause a terrible fall to someone who trips over it. A spilled handful of B-Bs on a stair-step, for example, could cause catastrophic damage to the person who steps on them.

The Jewish believers in this particular case, including Peter, Paul and Barnabas seem to be of good character and good intentions, but their error could have split the church, right there in its infancy. Proverbs 18:19 says “a brother offended is harder to be won over than a walled city, and his contentions are like castle bars.” They could have caused a permanent rift, there. In the intervening years, since then, many such rifts have happened.

18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

Paul’s final comment is that if he goes back to Judaism for any cause, then he demonstrates that, for all the time he seemed to exercise freedom from the Mosaic Law, he was really just a lawbreaker…a transgressor. But, the fact is; when a person is in Christ, they are no longer under the Law, period. Paul is about to expound on that theme.

Conclusion:

We need to avoid the trap of legalism, so as not to cause ourselves or others to fail to embrace God’s Grace, but we are also to guard against permissiveness in our own lives. Paul and Peter were not sinning at all by eating with the Gentile believers: they were doing right. But if a person who claims to be a believer is flagrantly sinning, we are to go to that person and correct them just as Paul corrected Peter…we are not being judgmental by doing so. We are protecting ourselves and the rest of the Body of Christ. These Gentile believers were not in sin—they simply were not Jews. They lived in ignorance of the Law that once condemned them, and probably were not even fully aware of exactly how they had been freed from that condemnation.

We will talk more about that the next time we meet, and see exactly what happened at the Cross.

 


Have we Circumvented the Cross?

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond theirs that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12) Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as a race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works to expiate all the bad works (penance, alms, service). God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; if you place your faith in a false God, or a false religion, or a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can choose. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same. Preach the cross of Christ. Do not make the Gospel more palatable by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The real Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross, even 1500 years before Christ, was the salvation God prescribed. Do we like that? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners. Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. Sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.