Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

We have been studying through Genesis with the specific goal of seeing Jesus there. Today we have a fairly special view, as we will see the particular passage that is cited in the New Testament as proof of how God saves sinners. There are some other things here for us to see as well, and some that are difficult to understand. But, as I see it, there are at least three things here we really ought to try to grasp:

  1. God Himself is the reward of the believer.
  2. God offers a righteous standing on the basis of faith alone.
  3. God’s Promise is entirely unilateral. There is nothing more for the believer to do, in order to make the promise sure. It is not a conditional promise, beyond faith.

Abram Met With God

After Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, in chapter 14, God came to Abram again, and told him that He himself was Abram’s shield and “exceeding great reward”. Keep in mind that this was Jesus, the only Savior, who kept appearing to Abram. And here is an interesting thought: Are you satisfied, if God is your reward? Is Jesus alone enough for me? Or do I really say, “Well that’s fine, but, here’s what I want.”, and then list all the things I think ought to be in the mix?

Abram replied, “What will you give me?” Not, “Wow! YOU are my reward? That is really mind-boggling!” He missed the statement that GOD was to be the reward of Abram. It is hard for me to imagine the whole exchange, even though it is spelled out for us.

God: “I AM your faithful protector, and your eternal, super-abundant reward!”

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

Amazingly, God is not offended by Abram’s blindness and ignorance. He understood that Abram had no concept of the eternal glory of God, which was being promised to him. He could only see the temporal condition: He had no offspring.

So God listened to Abram’s complaint that he had no children, and that a servant of his was about to become his heir, but then God corrected his thinking. Evidently it was at night…God first said, “No, that person will not be your heir: your own son, begotten by you, will be your heir. And, by the way; let’s step outside and look at the stars. Try counting them…it will be just as hard to count those who will eventually be your offspring!”

And the surprising thing (when you consider all the other problems displayed by Abram) was that Abram simply believed God. Remember he was around 85 years old, and childless. But God promised him a son, and Abram believed him. (Incidentally, the name “Abram” means “high father”. I wonder how Abram had felt about the irony of his own name up ‘til now?) But this faith, expressed so simply, is the eternal example of faith by which we are instructed, still today. “Abram believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” This is God’s means of imputing righteousness to sinners. (Keep that in mind when we look at Lot, later.) (See Romans 4:1-8) This is the only means by which God declares a sinner to be righteous: through faith.

And yet, Abram had his doubts…When God continued, and said that Abram would inherit the land, he said, “How can I know I will inherit it?”

A Contract with God

Elsewhere in scripture (Jeremiah 34:18-20) we find that when two individuals had to make a binding contract, they made a sacrifice, and split the sacrifice in two pieces, then, together, they walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, thus binding both of them, with the authority of God behind the oath, to the terms of what was in the contract. And God held them to that covenant.

God commanded Abram to prepare just such a sacrifice. Abram prepared the sacrifice, and then he waited. He waited all day, and kept the birds off the carcasses. After the sun went down, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Abram, and a horror of great darkness (must have seemed to be a nightmare), and then God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice: All Abram saw was a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. But God walked between the pieces by himself. He bound Himself to His promise with an oath, and there was nothing for Abram to do but watch. In this, also, Abram is an excellent picture of the believer: God offers grace—we receive it by faith, and there is nothing we can do to add to God’s promise. We will not make His promise more or less sure by our interaction. But we will affect the relationship for better or worse.

Give it some thought: Who was dealing with Abram? And, who do the sacrifices actually represent? When two men called one another into account on the basis of a sacrifice before God, it was binding…not to be broken…because of that sacrifice! Now Abram has prepared a sacrifice, and God bound himself alone to the promise, on the basis of that sacrifice.

We Meet With God

To what is this picture alluding? If we read Genesis 22, we see Abraham obediently moving to attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac. This story is an echo of the promise made in the Garden of Eden, regarding the Seed of Woman, and it will be echoed even more specifically at the Passover, five hundred years later, with the blood of the Lamb saving the believers through faith. But in this specific case, in Genesis 22:16-18, God again swears by himself, on the basis of the sacrifice. All these are looking forward to the Cross! Jesus, God in the flesh, offered Himself as a sacrifice, and God the Father bound Himself to an eternal promise on the basis of that sacrifice.

When we compare Abram and Lot, in scripture, we find that Lot was declared righteous too: evidently through faith, as that is the only means by which a sinner is declared righteous; but how did his life turn out? He did not go on to interact with God on a personal basis, and his life turned out to be quite a wreck. But God later reminds us (2nd Peter 2:7, 8) that Lot was a righteous man. We see that, while God kept His promise to both Abram and Lot, so that they were equally saved, their rewards were quite different. Because of disobedience, unbelief and neglect, Lot lost everything. Abram had some failures, as well, it is true, but he had a general pattern of faith and obedience, and he reaped a great reward.

So, in the New Testament, we can also see that a believer is saved by Grace through Faith, just as Abram and Lot were saved: but rewards are a separate issue. We can live lives that are barely different than that of an unbeliever, and our every thought and ambition may be the same as the world around us (similar to Lot), and the wreckage that he reaped can be our own, as well. Lot was a saved man who lost everything, because of unbelief, neglect, and disobedience. Abram was a saved man who earned rewards through a life of faith and obedience, though he had some serious flaws as well. Those patterns hold true today.

Abram kept building altars, wherever he went. A pattern of worship and sacrifice was established, early, and even after his failures, he kept coming back to God. When God met him in the person of Melchisedec, he responded in worship and thanksgiving. When God met him that historic night in Genesis 15 and promised a great number of offspring, he believed God, in spite of the fact that he was a very old man already (mid-eighties, at least), and God declared him righteous, on the basis of that faith.

When God promised the land, Abram initially had doubts about it; but he then acted in obedience and brought the sacrifices as commanded. Much later, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, the Son of the Promise, he did not waver, nor even ask questions, but simply moved to obey, and God had to stop him. In Hebrews 11:17-19, God explains that Abraham (his name had changed) believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. But God had a substitute for Isaac. A ram was there, prepared as a substitutionary sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice died in Isaac’s place.

God had a substitute for you and for me as well. In fact, He had a substitute for the entire human race. Jesus is the chosen sacrifice: the One who died in our place. He is the substitute for us…and there is no substitute for Jesus.

So; What About The Promised Land?

It is important to see, here in Genesis 15, that God not only labeled the boundaries of the Promised Land, but identified the time involved. Fourth generation…four hundred years in Egypt…sins of the Amorites is not yet full, etc. I don’t understand the “fourth generation” statement. C. I. Scofield points out that there have been three dispersions, and that the fourth time they come back into the land will be in the Millennial Kingdom, but I am not really sure that has anything to do with this. But it cannot be simply the fourth generation from Abraham, as that would be Joseph’s and his brother’s children, and they did NOT go into the land—in fact, the four hundred years of affliction began just as that generation came to adulthood. So, I am not sure about that verse. Incidentally, they were in Egypt for 430 years, to the day. But the affliction evidently began thirty years into their time there. Maybe there is something else here that I am missing. That could easily be the case. But Abram was clearly given to understand that the fulfillment of the promise of the land was far in the future. He embraced it by Faith.

The physical boundaries of the land were given as the Nile River on the West and the Euphrates River on the East. Evidently the northern and southern boundaries were known to them by the tribal names, but they seem to include Syria in the North, and well into Arabia in the South. Only once, during the reign of King David, Israel held nearly all that land: and even then, they only had military garrisons along all those borders. They had not actually inhabited the land.

These boundaries are called out again in Joshua 1:4, so there is no question that it was specifically to the Jews, and not to “all the sons of Abraham.” He had seven other sons by two other wives: one by Hagar, Sarai’s slave, and six by Keturah, a woman he married after Sarah died. But he had only one by Sarah. And, it bears repeating: all the natural sons regarding whom we have any further information turned out to be bitter enemies of the Sons of Promise. The nation of Israel, today, is completely surrounded by those natural sons of both Abraham and Lot. And all of them are adamant that Israel has no right to exist, nor the Jews any right to live.

But part of the promise (Genesis 12:3) was that those who bless the seed of Abraham will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. So Israel has literally been under the protection of God for 4000 years. The nations who choose to be allies to Israel join in the blessing of God. Those who count Israel as an enemy fall under the curse of God. And, God further promised that, through Abram, all the families of the earth would be blessed.

If nothing else, the Lord Jesus came through the stock of Abraham: He has blessed the entire earth with the hope of eternal life. But there is also the overall testimony of the history of Israel, and the treasure of the Word of God, as well.

Pastor Pat James told me that his mother, an avowed atheist all her life, became a believer in her last few years of life, specifically because she saw the survival of Israel as a miraculous intervention by God. As she considered all the enemies that had attempted to destroy the Jews over the last four thousand years, and whom, each time, had failed to do so, she concluded that there must have been Divine protection: she believed that the only plausible explanation for their survival was Divine intervention. That small, initial step of faith led to more inquiry, and more faith, and she ended up believing in the Savior of Israel as her own Savior as well.

Thus, the promise to Abraham continues to find fruition today. People are still hearing the history, hearing the promises, and joining in the faith of Abraham, by simply believing God.

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

This is something to seriously consider: what do you really want in your relationship with Christ? Jesus himself said, in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work!” Do you share that passion for the lost, and for the service of God? I don’t think I really do: I am more like Abram, saying, “Yeah? What’s in it for me?” That is a sad truth, and one would think that, after 45 years of service, I would be better focused on God’s will for my life. I think I am growing in that area, but I certainly do not claim to have arrived.

What about the next point of God’s lesson to Abram?

Do you really believe that the righteous standing God offers is entirely His own work, and is offered on the basis of faith alone?

Or are you trying to “improve upon” Jesus’s finished work at the Cross, fearing perhaps, that if your works are “not good enough,” then God eventually will reject you? This is an area in which you will have to examine your own heart. Each of us has an inborn tendency to think that we are somehow “earning God’s favor.” His favor was freely bestowed upon us in the person of Christ. That is what Grace means: “un-earned favor!” As born-again believers, we serve out of love, and in the confidence that He will reward our faithfulness. We cannot add to the work Jesus finished at Calvary, on the behalf of sinners.

Finally,

Do you really understand that the Promise of God is unconditional?

There is no part of the “contract” waiting to be fulfilled by humans. Jesus poured Himself out as an offering for sin, on behalf of a race which was, at that very moment, rejecting His Grace, spitting on His Holiness, mocking His Majesty, and condemning His Righteousness to death, as if He, and not they were the criminals. We have completely deserved the condemnation of God, and, instead, He has offered us Mercy, Grace, and Blessing, on the basis of Faith alone!

As Gentile believers, we have no inheritance in the physical land promised to the physical offspring of Abraham. But we have a greater inheritance in the Person of Christ, as we, along with all Church-age believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are the Bride of Christ! The whole Earth is ours, along with all that is His. And, yes, it is worth waiting for it. As Abraham waited for the land, we wait for our eternity with Christ. As Abraham lived in the land, knowing it would all be His, we are to live in our relationship with Christ, experiencing now the spiritual life that is ours eternally. It isn’t always easy, but it is already ours! We embrace it by Faith.

Lord Jesus, feed your Flock on your Word: draw us along beside you by your Holy Spirit, and let us serve you in Joy. Use us to reach the people around us, and draw others into your Grace.


Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

© C. O. Bishop 5/25/2018 Cornell Estates 5/27/2018

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

The epistle to the church at Colosse is written by the Apostle Paul, as were more than half the books of the New Testament. It was written about the same time as the epistles to Philemon and to the church at Ephesus, evidently, as it was carried by the same messenger(s). We must bear in mind, though, that, while the human writer is Paul, the true Author is the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. So, this is the Written Word of God, and we will approach it with that in mind. All scripture must agree with the rest of scripture. Whenever we think we may have found a contradiction, we can rest assured that, with more careful study, we will confirm that the discrepancy was just due to our own misunderstanding.

Are there different styles of writing from one human writer to another? Certainly, there are, just as the marks left on wood by my hand-plane are different than those left by a drawknife or a scraper…or a saw, for example. But my hand was the one guiding each tool, and I can accurately claim to have “handcrafted” the resulting project, regardless of what it is. I’m the maker!

God’s Word bears the stylistic and vocabulary-related marks of his various chosen tools, the writers of the Bible. But it is truly all “One Book, by One Author.” And it has one central theme, the Person and Work of Christ. In fact, the entire Bible is structured around God’s redemptive plan for the fallen human race: and Jesus is that plan.

This epistle is not nearly so personal as the one written to the church at Philippi, as Paul did not know the people in this church as intimately as he did those at Philippi. He knew them mainly by reputation, evidently, through Epaphras, who, it seems, may have planted that church. The result then, can be seen even in the opening greeting: it is not nearly so tenderly, and passionately worded as is the letter to the believers at Philippi. The people at Philippi were his intimate friends and fellow-laborers. That church was his only regularly supporting church, even though, ironically, it was not his “home-church” He was initially sent out from Antioch, but his relationship with Philippi seems to be the closest he had with any individual church.

So, while the greeting to the church at Colosse is not “cold,” or impersonal: it is simply to a group with whom he had less close ties, so it is a little more reserved. Paul begins by introducing himself and Timothy to the believers at Colosse:

Sent From God –To You!

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul introduced himself simply as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ (a “sent one”) by the will of God (not self-appointed), and Timothy, our brother. No special accolades, no boasting about his great education, or his other credentials, nor even a list of all the churches he had personally planted (and there were many): He was “sent by God”…and that was it. The same was true for Timothy: He was just a faithful brother. Do you see the simplicity of service, here? It is a privilege to serve: just do it!

I think it is noteworthy that the letter is not addressed to the “Pastor”, nor to the “Deacons and Elders”, nor yet to the “Church Board of Trustees”, or any such thing. It is to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” It is to the Church, proper. All the church epistles are addressed to the churches, not to the leaders, nor any sort of authority figures. By the way, the Bible knows nothing of friars, abbots, sextons, monks, cardinals and popes, etc. They are entirely invented by humans.

Position and Condition

The letter was to the “saints” (the word “saints” means “holy ones”…they were made holy by their position in Christ) and the faithful (believing) brethren “in Christ.” That is a key phrase: our position in Christ along with His indwelling Holy Spirit in us, is all that sets us apart from the World around us; just as Noah’s position inside the Ark was all that set him apart from his neighbors who were outside. Consider the end result of our position, and that of Noah. All in the Ark lived because of their position inside the Ark. All in Christ live (eternally) because of our position in Christ.

What does it mean, to say that the believers, the saints, the “holy ones”, are “holy” before God? It literally means that we are “set apart” for God’s service. It means that we are His private, personal property, and that we are for His service and His pleasure. We often forget this truth, and think that we are here to please ourselves. We forget that we are called to “be holy as He is Holy.” It does not mean we wander around with a halo over us, and our palms pressed together, or any such silliness: it means that we belong to Jesus Christ; and it makes perfect sense that we should actively seek to serve Him, as His chosen vessels for the Gospel; His ambassadors to the lost World around us.

Paul focused on that one positional attribute that all believers share: We are in Christ. And, as we can observe in Colossians 4:16, this epistle was intended to be a “circular letter:” It was to be read in other churches as well. It is to us, as believers in Christ. We are in Christ, by the new Birth, through Faith, so this letter is addressed to us, personally. As we study, try to keep in mind that this is literally God’s letter to you! Take it personally!

Also, consider this: Paul’s position in Christ was more important than his specific task, as an Apostle. And, an Apostle was not more “in Christ” than any other believer. The first concern is our position. But once that position is secured (and it is a permanent change), our condition before the Lord becomes our first concern. Am I walking with Him? And, finally, am I exercising my gifts? Am I doing what He has called me to do? Part of being “faithful” is being committed, and reliable. Yes, the word “faithful” means “the believers”, but the kind of faith God calls us to exercise is also intended to produce “faithfulness”, in the sense of reliability. Can God count on you to obey Him on a daily basis? Can others count on you to be the man or woman of God you are called to be? Can they trust you to live a Godly example for them, both in words and actions?

Grace and Peace

In verse two, as in virtually every Pauline epistle, is Paul’s opening blessing, praying for God’s sustaining Grace in the lives of the believers, resulting in His abiding Peace. These two ideas always come in that order: Grace, then Peace. In Salvation, we received saving Grace, through faith, and it resulted in Peace with God. On a daily, living basis, we receive God’s sustaining Grace, again through daily renewed faith, and it results in the Peace of God. Both flow from the Father and the Son, to us. “Grace be to you, and Peace.” Always in that order!

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

Paul may not actually have known these people, personally: but he said that he and Timothy had been praying for them, and giving thanks for their walk with God ever since they had heard of their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and their love for the believers around them.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

This is how we are supposed to respond to other believers, based on our faith in Christ, and our position in Him. Jesus gave us the commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us. These believers were doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and Paul and Timothy were overjoyed to hear of it. Keep in mind, too, that Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Faith in the Gospel brings Salvation, which gives us Hope. Obedience brings reward.

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

Paul and Timothy gave thanks especially because of the Hope that was secured for these believers, including the reward that was in store for them in Heaven. Paul reminds them that they (the believers) already knew about this, too.

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

What is the “Hope that is laid up for us in Heaven?” Our hope is eternal life with Christ; being finally separated from our sins, and the trials of this life. We hope for a new body, free from the ravages of age and disease, and for the literal, physical presence of the Lord Himself, the fulfillment of all the promises of God. We look for a new heaven and a new earth, where the damage done by man is all in the forgotten past, and Joy surrounds us like the air and the sunlight.

All this and more is “laid up for us”…it is on deposit, credited to our account, since the moment we each trusted Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for our sins. Eternal Life is already ours. Reward is accumulated as we allow God the freedom to use our lives.

I remember, when I had first trusted Jesus as my Savior, but still knew almost nothing about the rest of the Bible, a friend, who knew I was just recently saved, asked “Are you looking forward to going to heaven?” I replied honestly that I wasn’t even sure whether I believed in a heaven or hell; I only knew that I needed Jesus now! But as I began to read His Word, I soon came to see The Bible as “first and final authority,” in all things, so that I eventually saw that, “if God says it; that settles it,” whether I personally believe it or not. And, as it happened, it turns out that the Bible does have a fair amount to say about both heaven and hell, so that I gradually came to understand a few things about eternity. And, yes, I eventually understood that my “hope” had been “laid up for me in heaven,” immediately, when I first believed, though I knew nothing about it. Later, I learned that there was a reward involved, too, though I still don’t really feel I know much about that part.

The Gospel and the World

Paul also says that that Gospel had been going out to the whole world just as it had come to Colosse. The Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone has heard it.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

What is the “Gospel”? We hear the word used in a lot of ways, including the idea that “gospel” must mean “truth,” because people say, “No, really, that is the gospel truth!” when talking about things that have nothing to do with the Bible, but which they believe to be absolutely true. The Greek word translated “Gospel” is “euaggelion”, which means “Glad tidings”—good news. The Gospel of Christ, as it is presented in the Bible, has to include at least the following things:

  • The fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in fulfillment of scripture (fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.)
  • The fact that he was buriedreally dead, pierced through by the Roman spear, after dying on the Cross. Dead and buried, wrapped up like a mummy, and interred in a rock tomb with a heavy stone for a seal. This also fulfilled prophecy.
  • The fact that He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb, also in direct fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, and the fact that he was seen alive by many witnesses, over a period of forty days after his resurrection.

Why do I list these three things? Because, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul listed them in that order, as being the core truths of the Gospel of Christ: the “Good News” which, being believed in, has the power to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) When I review, in my own mind, any recent conversation in which I attempted to share the Gospel with an acquaintance, I’m questioning whether I really offered that person “the Gospel:” Did I really include the death, and burial and resurrection of Christ, or did I just tell them “how wonderful the Christian life is?” (Sorry, that is not the Gospel…and not really even true, in many respects: Paul says, over in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on his name, but also to suffer for His sake.” That doesn’t sound very “wonderful” to most people.)

The Gospel is the Good News of Eternal life in Christ, and how it was purchased for us by the death, and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. And, being believed in, it is the Power of God to save sinners…and it is the only thing so described in the scriptures. If I leave out the necessary ingredients, is it still the “Gospel?” Can I still expect it to work to change lives, if I leave out those key points? The answer to both questions, is “NO!”

Faith and Responsibility

So, why did I mention that “not everyone has heard the gospel? Because Paul pointed that out, too, over in 1st Corinthians 15:34, saying “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Our faith brings responsibility.

Paul is only reminding these believers, at Colosse, of things they had already been taught: He says that Epaphras taught them these doctrines, earlier. And that he (Epaphras) was also the one who told Paul and Timothy about their vibrant faith:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

So, evidently Epaphras is the one who led them to Christ, and who planted that church, and who had continued to serve them, teaching and encouraging and helping them mature in their faith…and the church was doing well. Notice that Paul uses Epaphras as an example: he calls him a “dear fellow servant” and reminds them that Epaphras has been a “faithful minister of Christ” to them. He was a faithful servant of Christ, bringing them the message of salvation, and training them up as men and women of God. The word “minister” means “servant.” It is not a special “religious” term. It was and still is used in many walks of life to mean a servant. Epaphras served Christ by serving them with the Word of God.

Now, he had the opportunity to report to Paul and Timothy what GOD had been doing in Colosse. He was not claiming personal credit for the changes in their lives. Only the Holy Spirit could make those changes happen. And Paul and Timothy were rejoicing with Him for God’s victory at Colosse.

Paul was very encouraged to hear of the inroad of the Gospel in that town. He wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them to become more established in their faith. He goes on to say that, ever since he heard of their new-found faith, he had been praying for them: Next time, we will see what sorts of things Paul prayed for, in the lives of these believers.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your word. Fill us with your Spirit, and let us grow in faith, as these believers were growing in faith. Teach us the meaning of practical holiness, and remake us all into your image. Allow us to serve as your ministers, bringing your Grace to those around us.

 


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

The Parenthesis: Who Not to Follow

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

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

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

Unbelievers

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

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

False Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolves Among the Sheep

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

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

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

Our New Citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

 


What Examples do We Follow?

What Examples do We Follow?

© C. o. Bishop, 2/9/2018 THCF 2/11/2018

Hebrews 13:7-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly working our way through the Epistle to the Hebrews. We have finally reached the last chapter, and we are reading the writer’s instructions to the Hebrew believers. The epistle has presented a series of comparisons, where Jesus is compared to the Old Testament figures of the Messiah—foreshadowings of the real person who was to come. There were the Prophets who spoke the living Word to the people…and were usually ignored, and eventually killed. There was the Temple and the tabernacle, each of which was loaded with pre-figures of the redemption that the coming Messiah would deliver to the World. There were Angels, revered as the messengers of God, above whom the Messiah is recognized to be not only their Commanding officer, but their actual creator…God himself!

A total of seven such comparisons were made, and, in every case, Jesus was shown to be infinitely superior to the Old Testament pictures, just as virtually anything we can see is far superior to a grainy, scratched, black and white photograph, from an old-time “Brownie” camera.

But the writer in making no more comparisons.

A total of seven warnings were also given, evidently to those unsettled in their faith… specifically, to those dabbling in faith, but convinced in their own minds, that, “If things don’t work out”, they could still go back to the Jewish religion of the Law. The writer makes it clear that, if they reject the real Lamb of God…the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, then there was no animal sacrifice they could turn to, for redemption.

They must either make a clear “step” from believing in the old sacrifices as being God-ordained (and they were!) to placing their faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and pictures, or…they would have nowhere to turn. Seven such warnings were given, becoming more stern and serious as they progressed.

But the writer is offering no more warnings.

He is only offering instructions for real believers, now: He began in Hebrews 12:1, and continues to the end of the epistle. We are in Hebrews chapter 13, now, and considering just three verses, today; Hebrews 13:7-9.

The Example of the Church Leaders and Teachers.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

This in an admonition to look to the local church leaders and teachers—the elders, or overseers—the shepherds or pastors—as examples of how to live our lives. We are to learn from them a living faith, not just a head-knowledge of appropriate doctrine. The writer says to consider the results of how they live. I take this as a warning, personally, that I am to live in a way that will not lead someone else astray. Peter also said that the elders were to live as examples for the flock. (1st Peter 5:1-3) Quite honestly, I find that command very intimidating. I don’t know whether I can fulfil that command. All I can do, again, is to throw myself on the mercy of God, and seek his guidance daily.

Have there been shepherds who did a good job? Certainly, there have been. Moses was an excellent example. Was he perfect? Nope. God never said he was. But he did say that, among all the people of God, “Moses was faithful!” That is quite a testimony, coming from God.

Joshua, whom Moses trained, was also an excellent example. There were only two times when he should have asked God’s direction and failed to do so. The first was disastrous, the second only a continuing burden for Israel. But there was not a single recorded instance of his disobedience to God. Joshua was the first (and best) of the Judges.

Samuel was the last of the Judges, and was right up there with Joshua. There is no record of any disobedience on his part…only that he failed to raise his sons in a godly manner. (Actually, only that they turned out rather badly. God does not say, (as He did in the case of Eli) that Samuel had done a bad job. Most of the Judges had some personal problems, in spite of their faith and service.

Moses followed God. Joshua followed Moses’s example, and learned, in his own life, to follow God. That is the kind of example God calls the elders to provide. In fact, he gives a peculiar assignment, to the elders, to go along with the command to live as examples for the flock: he tells then to find reliable men and deliberately disciple them, training them to follow along and feed the flock as well. (2nd Timothy 2:2) The elders are to produce other elders, as well as shepherding the flock.

Leaders are not “made by” seminaries and Bible colleges, though such institutions can help with schooling. Many men and women, however, who completed theological training subsequently have fallen prey to the enemy, through temptation of one sort or another, and become shipwrecked…a castaway: still part of God’s flock, but no longer able to serve. Church leadership is trained up within the church. Human credentials are neither part of the qualifications nor part of the responsibilities.

He says we are to consider the “end” of the lifestyle of the elders: does it honor God, as a general result? Then it is a good thing to emulate. Does it consistently point you to the Bible for authority, rather than itself? Does it always point you to a better walk with Christ? Then it is a good example to follow.

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 

I’m not completely sure why this verse is here…the only thing I know to do is to connect it with the previous command, “…consider the end of their conversation”. The result of a consistent walk with God should be that an observer sees the person of Christ in the believer’s life. And Jesus has not changed, throughout the ages. The character of the believers’ lives in the time of Abraham was the same as it is supposed to be, today. Godliness is not just a matter of piety, but rather the Agapé love of God, along with His righteousness, and holiness, flowing through a believer into the World around them. He hasn’t changed.

Once, when I was in Bible School, I was struggling with the concept of having a love for God. He still seemed too abstract for me to love, not to mention the fact that I still had no concept of what the Agape love really was. I was looking for a feeling of “loving God.” As I was pondering this lack in my life, I was praying while I studied the scriptures, and it occurred to me to say, “I have a hard time loving what I can’t see!”  (Actually, that is quite Biblical, though I didn’t know it!)  But as I prayed, it suddenly occurred to me that I could see Jesus in a somewhat older fellow student who had kindly taken me under his wing, and was lovingly drawing me along to a more stable walk with God. He offered no condemnation for my worldly, foolish former life, but just encouraged me to move forward. The man’s name was Bob Mulloy, and he has served for nearly 40 years now in Indonesia, as a missionary. That memory is still precious to me, because I am now aware that his loving example was what drew me along, specifically because I could see in him the living Christ.

On a personal level, I think it is important to constantly self-examine: 1st John 1:5, 6 says, “this, then, is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” If I am not walking in the light, then I am not in fellowship with God. He goes on to say, in verse seven, “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is something to strive for and to maintain.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 

This is a warning, peculiar to believers; there will always be those who teach “strange doctrines”. They come up with odd, obscure references and interpret them in such a way as to bring believers into bondage regarding food, clothing, and rituals of various sorts. None of those things have any real effect on the believer’s life. Grace, not external trivia, is to be the core issue for us. The writer points out, in passing, that the Jews had the dietary laws, and kept them, but it did not profit them. That is important to see: it did not profit them! None of their self-efforts were profitable. Maybe the Jews didn’t do a great job of obeying God’s Laws, but they surely did it better than I do: And it did NOT have a good result! It was NOT profitable!

Most frequently, when a cult adds legalism to the Grace of God, it draws its treasured trinkets from a limited understanding of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple rituals. Remember, those were only a foreshadowing of the reality to come, which is Christ. We have the reality, now and forever; why do we need a grainy, limited-quality photograph, when we have the living Christ?

Think for a moment about who the people were who gave Jesus the worst trouble during His earthly ministry: It was not the common people, with their goofy, misguided thinking about things in general. It was not the Gentiles, as a rule, though they got involved at the end. It was not even the blatantly ungodly sinners among the people who gave him the fierce, consistent resistance: It was the religious leaders! Specifically, it was the religious leaders within Judaism, which was truly ordained by God.  They had all of God’s Word at the time: the whole Old Testament. They had the Temple, and the memory of the tabernacle. They were conscious of the miraculous history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. They knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah…but had locked in on one aspect of His coming that they really liked, and were ignoring all the rest.

Their doctrine had begun correctly, but had become nothing but legalism. And it was not profitable, either for individuals who attempted to live it, or for the nation. It resulted in their utterly rejecting the Messiah when he finally came.

Later on, both Peter and James (see Acts 15), when confronted with the demand from the Judaizers, that the Gentile believers should be forced to become Jews, responded by saying “Neither we nor our forefathers were ever able to carry that burden: why do you suppose the Gentiles would ever be able to do so?”

Jesus has not changed, and humans have not changed. He is still holy, and pure, and is still holding out the gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. We, as humans, still want to add to it, take away from it, twist it and deny it. So, how can we avoid the traps of false teaching?

The Example of God’s Word:

Avoiding the Snares of False Doctrine

There are a couple of keys, here: One is the command, back in verse seven: “Consider them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” What kind of doctrine are they teaching? As we asked before, “Are they turning your eyes to the Bible for answers?” That is a good place to start.

Within that answer, though, is a caveat, a “beware sign”. The writer says your heart should be strengthened by Grace, not what you eat. He used “diet” as a single example of the kinds of wrong focus that bad teaching produces. Jewish dietary laws are one of the things that many cults latch onto, because they think they can do it! “Here is something I can do to make God approve of me: I don’t eat this, I do eat that!” But that is characteristic of all legalism, not just the dietary law of Judaism, which was specifically for them, no one else.

Any teaching which tends to point me away from God’s Grace (even when it seems to be coming from God’s Word), and which makes my relationship with Him dependent upon outward “trappings of faith,” or “acts of piety” instead of an actual, active, living Faith in the Grace of an actual, active, living God, is likely to provide a snare for my soul. Such teachings turn us away from the actual source of living water, the Person of Christ, and encourage us to “dig out cisterns” (our own works) in which to store our own supply of “water.”

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah 2:12, 13

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Two Evils!

  1. They forsook the LORD—the God of Israel—who alone is the source of righteousness, and eternal life…and
  2. They turned to their own works, as a replacement.

The Lord calls Himself the fountain of living waters. Compare this to John 7:37-39 where Jesus said that those who came to him in thirst would receive an indwelling fountain of living waters…and it goes on to say that he referred to the Holy Spirit, which at that time was not yet given. The Holy Spirit is God! And, God is the one who offers the living water! In the desert, Moses was told to command the rock, and it would bring forth water for the nation. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4 that “…that Rock was Christ.” (Wow!)

So, in Jeremiah, we see Jehovah God as the source of living waters. In John, we see the Holy Spirit as the indwelling source of living waters. And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even back in the desert, 1500 years before the first advent, the Rock—the source of the water—was Christ!

So: humans ignoring God’s command to allow him to provide, and to guide, and to bless, is a pretty major abdication, to begin with. But having the total audacity, and arrogance to suggest that “…my water is better, anyway”, when we can’t even produce water, let alone store it, is beyond imagination. It is utter insanity! And yet we do it! We choose to look away from God and His Spirit, and His Written Word, and His final eternal payment for sin, at the Cross…and look to our own works, our own philosophies, and smugly say, “I have my own way!”

Jesus said that He himself was the only approach to the Father, and that He himself was the only sacrifice for our sins.

So…any teaching that wanders away from those central ideas, and turns us away from Grace, to legalism, is something to be avoided. Any teaching that turns us away from God’s written Word, which he says we are to focus on, as unto a light in a dark place…is to be avoided. Any teaching that tends to marginalize or minimize the preaching of the Cross, is to be avoided. These things are all central to a relationship with God. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says for us not to be “…carried about with strange doctrines.” We can only obey that teaching by deliberately choosing to follow the teaching of God’s Word…learning from the examples of our teachers, and remembering that Jesus himself has never changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Lord Jesus, we are utterly dependent upon your immutability—your unchanging goodness. We know that you have never changed, and we ask that you teach us to follow your Word, so that we are not drawn away by false teaching, or odd practices. Teach us to rely upon your Grace.


Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

How can we be saved?

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

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

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

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

Can I Know that I Have Eternal Life?

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

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

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

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

The Conditions

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

The Clauses

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

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

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

A Parallel Promise

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Hesitate

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

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

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

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

The Invitation of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Instructions to Believers: Part One

Instructions to Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 1/10/2018 THCF 1/14/2018

Hebrews 13:1-6

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews for many months, now: there have been seven comparisons made, comparing Jesus to all of the important facets of Judaism, with the constant conclusion that “Jesus is better”, because He is the fulfillment of all the promises, the real sacrifice, the real temple, the real Sabbath. Indeed, the central theme of the whole book has been that “Jesus is better.”

There have also been seven warnings, in increasingly stark terms of judgment to come, for those who have pretended faith, but never have made Jesus their Savior on a personal basis. Those who have “gone along for the ride”, giving lip-service to belief, but who have never seen themselves as guilty sinners, needing a Savior, and who have never claimed Jesus’s blood as the full payment for their own sins, are facing eternal loss. We are warned to examine ourselves to be sure that our faith is personal: that we have seen ourselves as guilty sinners before a Holy God, and that we have placed our dependence on Jesus as our only hope for redemption.

The writer (Paul, we think) addresses several seemingly unrelated issues, in closing. He raises no more points demonstrating the superiority of Christ, now, nor any further warnings against false or partial faith. He simply addresses the believers and the need for practical holiness in their lives, as well as the practical outworking of the Love of Christ.

Love is the Foundation

 1Let brotherly love continue.

The phrase “brotherly love” in this verse is actually the Greek word “philadelphia”. Contrary to popular wisdom, the word “Philadelphia” does not mean “The city of brotherly love.” It just means the “love of the brethren”. The city in Pennsylvania is simply named “brotherly love”, though the reality, there, as is true in most cities, pretty much makes a travesty of the concept.

The believers are to love one another as family. This is one of the only two places where “love” is used as a command, and it is not the Agape love in question. Every other place where love is commanded, it is the fully committed, altruistic Agape Love that God demonstrated at the Cross. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…” it does not mean “God loved the world SO MUCH…”, but “In this manner God loved the World: that He gave His only Begotten Son.”

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

It is interesting to me that the very next idea mentioned is the strangers…the word usually translated “hospitality” is “philoxenia”, meaning the “love of the stranger”. It means taking care of the needs of those with whom you have no natural bond of friendship, doing so simply because of your relationship with Christ. Here the word for hospitality has been spelled out, as a phrase: “entertain strangers”—love those, care for those to whom no such favor is due from a natural viewpoint, as there is no relationship. They are a stranger to you.

The only two examples I can think of when humans actually fed or cared for angels were Abraham and Lot. And in those cases, it was the same two angels. (Abraham had three, but one was the “Angel of the LORD”—actually the pre-incarnate Christ. The other two left Abraham and went to find Lot.) It’s possible that there are other examples, but those two stand out in Biblical history. Sampson’s parents could be another, I suppose, but that was a little different.

Quite honestly, I have never practiced hospitality with this in mind; I have never “hoped to see an angel.” I have simply met the need because there was a need to be met. As far as I know they were all bona fide humans. I do not think, either, that there is any doctrine here that “angels are all around us, masquerading as humans,” though many popular Christian books hint at that idea. Is it possible? Certainly…but, in general, what would be the point?

The word for “angels” (Greek “aggelous”) just means “messengers.” In Hebrews chapter one, they are described as spirits, specifically ministering (serving) spirits, sent out “…to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.” I do not think I understand much about angelic beings, mainly because the Scripture does not tell us very much. I also do not trust extra-biblical sources about such subjects, simply because there has been so much folklore about angels and the spirit world, from the beginning of time, which is virtually all false. I prefer to take God’s Word alone on such subjects, and leave the speculation to others. God tells us to cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. (2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5)

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

The Writer brings up some specific needs, here. Persecution had already begun against the Church. The believers were already being arrested and imprisoned for their faith. God reminds the Hebrew believers that the Body of Christ is one Body. (Compare 1st Corinthians 12:12, 20-22) We need to see one another’s needs as being our own needs. We should be as fervent in prayer for another brother or sister as if we ourselves were the one experiencing the adversity.

What about Marriage?

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

God has always rejected Promiscuity. Marriage, although it has been the center of much debate in recent years, was the only relational gift God gave to the human race before sin entered into the world. It was, and is, literally, undefiled. It is not a human invention or tradition, though it has been overlaid with thousands of years of human traditions, differing wildly from culture to culture. It was not inaugurated by humans at all, but only continued in one form or another, sometimes quite corrupted, sometimes not. We are to preserve it in an uncorrupted form.

I have had people tell me that if a man and woman cohabitate, then “they are married, in God’s eyes.” That is not true: remember what Jesus told the Woman at the Well: “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband:’ for thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that thou saidst truly.” (John 4:17, 18) There are several things we can get from that comment, beside the obvious fact of His supernatural knowledge (which in itself is not surprising when one considers that He is God, in the flesh.)

The first thing I can see is that Jesus recognized both divorce and remarriage: though he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and considers the whole practice of divorce and remarriage adulterous, he recognizes it. He did not say, “You have had one husband and have been committing adultery with five men since then.” He said “you have had five husbands.” Those were legitimate marriages. Jesus himself said so, though he did not approve of the divorces.

But the other side of that fact is that He definitely does not recognize “living together” as marriage. He said “…he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” So cohabitation is definitely not marriage. Then what is marriage?

Marriage is a social contract between one man and one woman. (Yes, God recognizes polygamy, too, but does not approve it as a practice. He said it was intended as one spouse, and is to be a lifelong commitment.) Marriage is that state in any given culture (not just a fringe sub-culture) within which a man and a woman can, because of that social contract, live together with the full approval of the whole culture.

In some cultures it is pretty simple. In others it is quite a complex problem. In Mexico, (I am told by friends who are Mexican citizens) the state does not recognize a marriage by the church, and the Church does not recognize a marriage by the state. You have to have both authorizations, in order to be recognized by both. (Something wrong with that picture, I think, but that is how it is.)

In at least some (of the many) tribes in New Guinea, if a woman leaves with a man, for the purpose of becoming his wife, she is married to him. For example, I was told of a situation where a young man crept out of the jungle near the sweet-potato field where his sweetheart was working with her mother. He managed to attract her attention, and persuaded her, through gestures, to run away with him. She left the field, and headed off with him. The mother realized what had happened, and chased after them with her digging stick, caught them, and beat them both quite savagely…but eventually she went back to her field alone. They were married. She absolutely did not approve, but she recognized that the commitment had been made.

In our culture (USA), one needs a “marriage license” in order to have a marriage that is recognized by (for example) the IRS, but I have never heard of a church not recognizing a civil wedding as being valid, though, as a culture, we may prefer church weddings.

In some cultures, a dowry is paid by the bride’s family to the groom. In other cultures that is reversed, and a bride-price is paid by the groom to the family of the bride. In our culture neither is practiced, but there are cultural norms as to “who pays for what.” (Weddings, Receptions, etc.)

The Results of the Promise of God

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

#1 – No Fear of Loss

There are some words in Old English which have pretty dramatically changed meaning: “Conversation” is one of them. The Old English word “conversation” invariably meant “way of life”, “lifestyle”, and “behavior”, or some related idea. In one instance it comes from a word meaning citizenship—where we live—but in all the others it means “how we live”. In this particular instance, alone, the Greek word is “tropos,” meaning “way, or manner, or lifestyle.” Several of the other occurrences are related words.

So the Writer warns, here, against avarice, or greed—specifically the “love of money.” The word for “covetousness”, here, is the Greek word “philargurion”; (literally, “the love of silver”). And on what basis does he say that we are to abandon our fixation on money? The fact that we have the promise of God that he will never abandon us, but will continually sustain and uphold us.

The love of (or obsession with) money is not limited to misers, greedy capitalists, or whomever: It is not limited to the wealthy. Once, early in our marriage, I was out of work because of huge layoffs, and my wife was newly pregnant with our first child. I was absolutely consumed with the fear of failing to provide for my little family. During that time, my very first waking thought, each morning, and my last waking thought at night was “What can I do to make some money?” I was not trusting God at all! When it comes to fixating on money, it does not have to be riches: it could only be the rent. The one, we condemn; but the other we commend as “being responsible as a Man,” etc. But when that passion for earning, saving or possessing is all-consuming, and it has turned your heart away from a steadfast faith in a faithful Creator, then it is sin, whether great or small. The amount of money is not the issue; the heart response is. The root is unbelief.

#2 — No Fear of Abandonment

“…for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

There is a very interesting translation “glitch” here in this passage. There is nothing at all wrong with the translation: just with the language. In English, if we use a “double negative,” technically speaking, it renders a positive. For example, if I said, I will not never leave you, and will not never no-how forsake you”, in English, it would be simply laughably poor grammar, and there would be real question as to whether I was promising not to leave, or promising to leave!

But in Greek, you can strengthen a negative by compounding negative prefixes…and that is what is done here, in Greek. The Writer does not employ separate words of negation, but rather he uses multiple prefixes which each further negate the verb, so that the literal translation would be something similar to, “Let your life be free from the love of money, for he himself has said (and it stands on record) ‘I will not, I will not ever leave you! I will not, I will not, I will NOT ever forsake you!” It is an emphatically strong statement of commitment!

#3 — No Self-Dependency

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

Because I had turned my heart away from God’s supply, and I saw my sustenance as being only my responsibility, and so I was far more concerned with earning money than pursuing the imperative of my dependence on the Grace of God, I could not confidently say, “The Lord is my helper”, and I very definitely feared the possibility of losing our little home (a single-wide mobile home.) Yes, there were extended family members who, undoubtedly, would have stepped in and rescued us (and in fact, did, at various times and to various degrees, during that year,) but I saw it as being entirely my responsibility, and I bitterly desired to carry that load myself.

But sometime during that time of near-poverty, I recognized the meaning and practical application of 1st Timothy 6:9, 10 “But they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown man in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil, which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” I saw myself as being in danger of doing just that. I saw other related verses, such as the passage here in Hebrews 13, and I recognized that, while I had always thought of “covetousness” as being primarily a “rich man’s disease,” it is, in truth, a human failing. I am guilty, simply because I do not trust God for my financial and physical well-being, nor for the well-being of my family. I want a “do-it-yourself” security. I have to confess it as sin.

The roots of this sin go deeper than just our human frailties: Isaiah 14:12-14 tells of Lucifer’s fall into sin, completely rooted in self-will, self-importance, self-expression, and self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we attempt to dethrone God, and declare ourselves to be the fountain of all we are and have. People boast of being a “self-made man”, and the like. There is even a poem, Invictus, whose closing lines declare “I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!” (What arrogant folly!) But am I not doing essentially the same thing when I turn away from an active dependence on the living God, and attempt to be self-sufficient? Yes, I am!

There is nothing wrong with working: we are commanded to do so. There is nothing wrong with seeking to care for our families: we are commanded to do so. But we are constantly warned to remember the True Source of all things. Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and He shall direct thy paths.” We glibly quote that passage, but don’t we consider the real implications.

This is something for us to think about! So, ponder it! Meditate upon this passage, and consider how it may apply to your own experience. Next time, we will expand further on this passage.

Lord Jesus, Free us from self-will, from self-sufficiency, and from self-reliance. Teach us to walk with you in faith, trusting you for all things.

 


So, What about Sin?

So, What about Sin?

© C. O. Bishop 1/5/2018 Cornell Estates 1/7/2018

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans, and the first three chapters are nearly entirely given over to explaining the bad news of the wreckage of the human race in Sin, thus making the “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ entirely appropriate for every human…real good news, in response to real bad news.

So, What is Sin, Anyway?

What is sin? Why is it even an issue? Is it strictly a matter of opinion, and interpretation, or are there some solid truths involved?

The New Testament Greek word “hamartia” reflected a “miss” in spear-throwing, specifically, and one of the primary Hebrew words for “sin” (the Hebrew word chattaah), reflected an archery term meaning to “miss the ‘gold’ (bulls-eye) with an arrow.” But the English word “sin” goes back to various Germanic roots all carrying the idea of “moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, a feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed, etc.”

The various words translated “sin” are used hundreds of times in the Bible, in varying forms, and always treated as something serious. The first warning as to the result of wrongdoing (simple disobedience, in this case, having to do with eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) is in Genesis 2:17, where the Creator warns Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  We find out later that spiritual death, separation from God, was the primary fulfillment, and it occurred the very moment Adam ate that fruit.

Three thousand years later, an important general comment is made regarding Sin: Ezekiel 18:4 states that “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This answer was given against the human charge that God is punishing children for what their parents did.

Romans 5:12 has another important idea: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Yes, sin entered by one man. Sin was introduced to the entire human race in its progenitor, Adam. Think of it as a “genetic code modification,” if that helps: we all became sinners, the moment Adam ate of that fruit. But, we all individually sin, and press home God’s point about the whole human race: Every single one of us, at one level or another…no one escapes that stigma, because we all prove it true on an individual basis. Romans 3:23 makes it abundantly clear: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” We all have missed the mark!

How Can We Identify Sin?

As New Testament believers, there is no need for us to go through lists of “Seven Deadly Sins,” “Five Felonious Foul-ups”, or “Nine Nasty No-nos,” or any such thing: we can learn principles by which we can examine our lives, and which cover all those “lists,” plus things we might not have thought of before, and can’t find on any lists. There are four such definitions in the New Testament:

#1 … Transgression of the Law

God gave the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20, and again in Deuteronomy 4. We will not reflect upon it today, because it was specifically given to the Jews, who were never able to keep it, by their own confession (Acts 15:10), and the New Testament specifically forbids placing that yoke on the necks of Gentiles, to whom it was never given in the first place. All that being said, the value of the Law remains unchanged: it is an eternal standard of righteousness. Romans 7:13 says that it “…makes Sin exceedingly sinful.” In light of that fact, over in 1st John 3:4, the apostle states that “…sin is the transgression of the Law.”

All right! There is one clear definition of sin, given in the New Testament, and specifically addressed to New Testament Believers, in spite of the fact that it reflects on Old Testament Law! “Sin is the Transgression of the Law!” Bear in mind that it is definitely talking about the Mosaic Law, not any particular civil law. It is possible (not at all common) for civil law to be contrary to God’s Law, but we will not address that today. How about another?

#2 … All Unrighteousness

In Romans 1:18-32, God addresses His revealed wrath against “…all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….” This is a good place to read carefully, because, though the list He proceeds to lay out sounds fairly exhaustive, it is not, and it leaves room for other items not specified. Verse 32 says …”they which do such things…”, not ”those things.” The list is not exhaustive. That is important, because He does say that His wrath is ”revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” So what can we say, when the condemnation is universal, but the list is not?

1st John 5:17 states that “all unrighteousness is sin….”  All unrighteousness is sin! So, everything on that list over in Romans 1 as well as everything in those categories, named or unnamed, is still sin. Galatians 5:19-21 gives a short list (not the same as the one in Romans, but similar), and the list ends with the phrase, “…and such like”. It means “things like these.” All unrighteousness is sin. It doesn’t have to be on anyone’s list, necessarily. How about another definition?

#3 … If a Man Knows to Do Right and Fails to Do So

James 4:17 really makes it personal: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” To him it is sin! We always say that ignorance of the Law is not an excuse for breaking it, but there is a law that reaches beyond that: knowing the GOOD thing to do, and failing to DO it, is just a wrong as knowing the law and breaking it.

And, quite frankly, even law-enforcement officers sometimes extend mercy to someone who is doing something that is perfectly legal in their home state, and which they had no way to know became illegal when they crossed the state line. I have had mercy extended to me in that specific instance on at least two occasions. One for a vehicle equipment deficiency, and another for hitchhiking in a state where it was illegal. (That is how I got into that state!) An unmarked car pulled up and the officer politely asked me whether I was aware that it was illegal to hitchhike in the state of Tennessee. My shoulders slumped, and I blurted, “No, I didn’t know that! That’s why everyone is staring at me, then!” He smiled and asked where I was headed. I said I was headed into Mississippi, to see my Grandparents for Christmas. He smiled again, and said, “Hop in! I’ll take you across the state line!” And he did! That was Grace and Mercy at work! He gave me what I had not earned, which is the very definition of Grace; and he did not give me the citation I had unwittingly earned. That is Mercy! He made a judgment based on my response. He was satisfied that I had no intent of breaking the law, and he extended both Mercy and Grace.

But God takes it a step further, and says that if I know the GOOD thing I should do, and decide not to do it, then I am guilty because of a sin of omission. That becomes pretty personal. We do not all have the same gifts or abilities, and God does not hold us equally accountable. A small child, for instance would not be held accountable for failing to render aid at an accident. But an adult very well may be. A non-swimmer may not be held accountable for failing to try to rescue someone struggling in the water…but a trained lifeguard, who simply decided his or her shift was ending, and couldn’t be bothered could very well be charged with criminal negligence. Good laws! That is how God sees those things, too! How about one more?

#4 … Whatsoever is Not of Faith

Romans 14:23 makes it not only personal but internal to the individual. It is checking the heart-motivation, not just what was done or not done. It says, in conclusion of a lengthy treatise, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That really caps all the others, in my opinion. There are no loopholes, no excuses…It is between you and God. In the context, the issue being discussed was open either direction: any believer was free to go either way. But! God says that if you are convinced in your own heart that something is wrong, and you go ahead and do it anyway, then it IS sin, for you , because you thought it was wrong and chose to rebel!

By the way, we can do right things for wrong reasons, too, and break this one just as fully. Jesus pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other places, saying “Don’t be like the scribes and the Pharisees,” …who make long prayers for show—who give very publicly, to gain social status, who want the robes and honors of ministry, but don’t have the heart for service. We can do what our conscience tells us not to do, or fail to do what our conscience tells we ought to do, and find that we have sinned, even though the thing in question was not a transgression of the law, nor unrighteousness (by human standards), nor, perhaps would we admit that we “really knew” what to do.

This one almost approaches the mystical, as it is harder to pin down. The only way I know to respond is to keep pretty short accounts with God, and never allow our soul to become calloused. A tender spirit goes a long way toward avoiding this sort of sin.

How do WE Deal with the Question of Sin?

As far as I can see, the religions of the world are divided into four clear groups by their answer to this question:

  1. Those who deny the existence of sin, saying there is nothing that is intrinsically right or wrong, but those concepts have been drummed into us by our respective societies, and that there simply is no such thing as sin, nor guilt for sin. There are not many churches which teach this, because there is an inborn sense of right and wrong, that virtually all people admit to, unless they are specifically taught otherwise. We certainly see things as wrong when someone does them to us! Maybe not so much when they happen to others.
  2. Those who admit there is such a thing as sin, but insist that “God is so loving that He (or she) would never punish a sinner! We are all children of that loving God, and we just need to get along as best we can, and we will all go to heaven eventually!” This isn’t really common either, because along with a sense of right and wrong, most people have a strong sense of retribution built into them. We believe that good people ought to get good things, and bad people ought to get bad things. Revenge is a very common drive in humans across the globe. Of course our ideas about who is good and who is bad are terribly skewed, in many cases, and our ideas about what the human race deserves, is usually pretty mild…at least toward ourselves and “our kind of folk”. (Funny how that works…)
  3. Those who not only admit there is such a thing as sin, but also agree that God hates sin! And then they say that “You need to do lots of good things to overbalance all the bad things you have already done.” And they will definitely tell you what all you need to do: There might be special prayers to recite, or penances of various types. Money gifts are always appreciated; burning incense, lighting candles, cutting your hair in a specific way, wearing certain special clothing…etc. Oddly enough, virtually all the world’s religions fall into this group: why? Because it appeals to our old sin nature! We want to believe that we can DO something to make God accept us! It makes us feel good about ourselves: “I must be good! Look at all the good stuff I do!” and finally,
  4. The ones that agree that sin exists, that God is Holy, and He hates sin, but then go on to admit that every single human is a sinner, and that there is NOTHING we can do to undo the bad things we have already done. That is what the Bible teaches, and, in this regard it stands alone! We are left guilty and with neither defense nor excuse.

    Jesus’s blood at the Cross is the only payment that God has ever accepted, and we can add nothing to that sacrifice!

Our choices, then become pretty clear: if I try to change the game, and redefine sin, I am in trouble with God. But, if I try to deal with sin in some other way than via the Cross, I add insult to injury, as He says in Hebrews 10:29 that I am treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace! Wow! Rough stuff!

Make it Personal…God takes it that way!

God has made it clear that Sin is a pervasive problem, and that it effectively permeates every facet of human existence. He has made it clear that He hates sin. And He has offered us a way to regain a right standing with Himself.

So, the question becomes, since I now know how God defines Sin, how will I deal with it?

  • Will I brush it away, denying it exists?
  • Will I say, “Oh, yeah, I know, but God will forgive me! He’s a great guy! He isn’t concerned about this sort of thing!”
  • Will I grovel in my guilt, and slavishly try to earn God’s favor through my own works?
  • Or will I accept the simple fact that, apart from God’s Grace, and His Mercy, I am completely helpless against the enemies of my soul, and that my only hope is through Jesus’s finished work at the Cross?

That is the choice each of us faces, when we first become believers, but it is also the choice we face as believers: I cannot go back to being lost, but I can act as if I did! I can still rebel, and deny that my behavior is sin. And it will be very costly!

When I do such things, I put myself beyond God’s reach for fellowship and blessing, and I open myself to the attack of the Evil one. Everything I do during that lapse will be worthless to God, even when I am “trying to do good things to get on God’s good side.” I can’t lose my salvation, but I can definitely waste my life, and lose the opportunity to serve with Jesus, and be rewarded with Him.

So what can I do? I can confess to God that my sin is exactly what God calls it: Sin. Not a “personality conflict” or a “genetic trait”, or “my Irish blood”, or whatever excuse I would like to use. I confess it as sin…and what does God do? 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How can you beat a deal like that?

Take that one to the bank! God already signed the check; all you have to do is endorse it by faith!

Lord Jesus, teach us Your Mercy and Your Grace. Teach us to rely upon your mercy and Grace, by faith, as you show us the sin in our lives. Let us repent of our sins, and confess them to you, so as to be fully restored to fellowship.

 

 

 


Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

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

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

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

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

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

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

Unity:

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either:

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

But over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.”

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

The Fact: This is the Record:

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

 

 


The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

© C. O. Bishop 10/12/17; THCF 10/15/17

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

Last time we talked about “what Faith is”, (and what it is not): The eleventh chapter of Hebrews goes on to speak more about what Faith does, than what Faith is. Faith is believing; that’s all. But Godly Faith is “believing God more than I believe Me.” It means taking God’s Word as being infinitely more dependable than my own thoughts, feelings, and reasoning. I am actually commanded to think, to reason, and to respond with my heart. But I am warned that my old sin nature is so devious as to be the single most likely source of my downfall. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. So, I need to learn to believe God first, and then to reason within that framework.

I am not told to come up with my own ideas, stamp “God’s Will” on my own presumption, and then expect God to honor it. There have been a few (very few) cases in Biblical history where it seems as though something like that may have happened: places where a passionate servant of God called out some impossible thing, and God pulled it off for him. Now—did God inspire that prayer, or declaration, or prophecy—whatever it was? I don’t know for sure in every case. But I also do not know that He didn’t. The times when God clearly did NOT authorize such a prophecy or whatever the statement was, then it simply didn’t happen. I have known people, personally, who said they “believed God” that they were sent to accomplish some special thing, but when it didn’t materialize, they either made excuses or blamed God, or blamed those around them. That is not faith; it is presumption. So, how does faith behave? What does it look like?

The Response of Faith

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sara judged God to be faithful. That is a good response. I would not have seen that from the exchange in Genesis 18, but I have God’s Word, here in Hebrews Eleven, to inform me of what Sara’s inner thoughts were. She believed God because she considered His character to be reliable: she judged Him to be faithful. Abraham had already decided the same thing, and now the two of them were in agreement that this unsolicited promise of God (a promised child—an heir to the promise of the land and the eternal blessing) was before them, and they believed His spoken Word. Notice that this was not a “feeling,” nor a vision. In this particular case (Genesis 18—read it!) God showed up in person, in the form of a man, and only later in the conversation revealed His identity. He spoke with them both, in person, and He made a verbal, solid promise. There was no presumption on their part. Consider, too, the fact that earlier, when Abram had changed his name to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”), it was because God told him to do so. It was an obedient response to a revealed truth: in other words, faith; not presumption. And what was the result of this sort of response?

The Result of Faith

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

The Birth of Isaac was by Promise. It was a miraculous event, even by God’s reckoning. We tend to yell “miracle” when anything unusual happens; but God does not. This was not a case of a “surprise baby” of which we have all seen examples. This was a case of a miraculous rejuvenation of two very elderly human bodies, resulting in an otherwise normal conception, pregnancy and birth. And God says that it was supernatural, not just unusual. Bear in mind that God made the promise first; Abraham and Sara simply believed the promise. They did not conceive the idea on their own and then try to stamp “God’s Will” on it. It was God’s plan and God’s Promise. All they did is believe it.

By the way, consider the contrast regarding the birth of Ishmael: A few years earlier, they had come up with their own idea as to how to bring about the promise of God that had been given years before, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was the result. The entire Arab world calls Ishmael their forefather today. This was not the result of faith, but a result of unbelief (a lack of faith) and presumption. And the warfare and hatred that has resulted will haunt Israel until the day the Lord returns.

We see all these events through the eyes of Moses, as an accomplished feat, but Abraham saw it through the eyes of faith, and had believed the promise for years, even changing his name in accord with God’s command, as an outward statement of faith. We can read about it as a historical fact, but Abraham had to face it as a present reality. So did Sara. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt, emotionally, to watch their own bodies being restored to functionality, and a normal pregnancy and birth resulting.

And yet, God says in the following verses, “these died in faith, not having received the promises!” What promises was he talking about, then? I thought they just received the promise! Isaac was the promised Son, wasn’t he?

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

This word “persuaded”, here, is important: The Greek root peitho means “to be persuaded”…and it is from this root that both the Greek words “pisteuo” (to believe) and “pistis” (faith) arise. We need to become persuaded in our own hearts that God is good: that He is faithful. That His character is, beyond question, excellent and Gracious. From that foundation, we can believe that His Word is trustworthy and true…and that we can trust in it, implicitly. We are not to be crippled by unbelief, unable to respond in faith, through obedience; nor are we to run ahead of the Great Shepherd with our own presumptuous plans. We need to open the eyes of faith, and, day by day, look to Him for guidance. Look to His written Word for principles by which to live, and pray for direction by His Holy Spirit, for the particulars of life.

When we begin to walk with God in obedience, regarding His Word as true, we find ourselves estranged from the World around us. We no longer fit in. Eventually, we accept the fact that we truly have changed citizenship, and that we now belong to God’s kingdom. With that realization, and having embraced that truth, we begin to release our grip on this World, and we begin to look beyond it.  The Old Testament believers were also looking beyond this world with the eyes of faith: Evidently the promised Son (Isaac) was not where they had their hopes set. (Abraham and Sara did receive him.) Nor, even, was the physical land of Israel their real hope. They were looking to an eternal fulfillment, through a supernatural relationship with the supernatural, eternal, invisible, omnipresent God who created the universe. They looked with the eyes of faith.

The Eyes of Faith

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

These folks were looking beyond this world, just as we are! But in their case, they had a physical place to which they could have returned…their hometown, in most cases, was still there, and their extended families, in some cases, were all there, as well. But when they had abandoned their old life to follow the God who had called them, they had also abandoned the gods of their old lives, and the values they once held dear…and their extended families and friends had not followed their example. So a huge barrier was there, against a return. They really couldn’t go back comfortably, even though the physical places still existed. So that is not what they did: they kept looking forward, and did not go back.

Remember, in the previous chapters, that the writer had cited some who “fell away because of unbelief.” We can read in the book of Exodus that the people of Israel were frequently guilty of “wanting to return to Egypt.” I have to shake my head over that one, and wonder what in the world they were thinking: they could not go back!  Even had God permitted it, they seem to have forgotten that Egypt had been literally destroyed on their account, and the Pharaoh and his entire army had died in the Red Sea because of them. What kind of welcome would they have found, if they had returned? It was simply an impossibility, even for those who wanted to return.

But God commends those who did not want to return, who wanted to press on to receive the promise. Abraham was one of those, over 400 years before the Exodus. Even in his later life, when he sent his servant back to Haran, to find a wife for Isaac, he warned him that he was absolutely not to take Isaac back there. He stayed committed to the promise. God commended people throughout the Bible, who clung to Him against all odds, and chose Him over all else.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

I have no idea what the eternal state will be like beyond the tiny amount of information we are given in scripture. And, beyond that, He clearly says that none of us have seen it, none of us have even heard a reliable account of it, except the little bit God has told us, and He further says that none of us have correctly imagined it. (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what the Father has in store for them that love Him.”) But I believe in His character, and I trust that what He has prepared will turn out to be something unimaginably good, and that He will change my heart from what I now consider good so that I will see it through His eyes, and recognize that Eternal Goodness and Blessing. 

I really don’t spend a lot of time “daydreaming about heaven:” I know that I have no idea what it will be like. So I have abandoned the fruitless behavior of imagination, and am embracing the stance of faith…waiting on God for that unseen future, and confessing that I have no real idea what it will be. That is a choice I make. I choose Faith. I choose to believe God.

The Choices of Faith

In the meantime, Faith has some things for me to do…to choose to do:

  • Trust the Lord!
  • Obey God’s Word!
  • Love my neighbor!
  • Love my wife!
  • Study the scriptures,
  • Feed on the Word,
  • Feed the Flock!
  • Serve with Joy!
  • Rejoice always!
  • Pray without ceasing!
  • In everything, give thanks!

Do any of these sound familiar to you? They ought to! They are all general commands given to all believers. And what Jesus said about that, in John 14:21, is that the one who has those commandments and keeps them, is demonstrating love for Jesus, personally. And those who fall into that category will find that God is loving them back! Jesus went on to say that he would “manifest himself”, or “make himself known” to that sort of individual.

If you want to see Jesus at work in your life, try walking in obedience, by faith. This is not a way to “earn God’s Favor.” If you have placed your trust in Him as your savior, then you already have His favor, in Christ. You are already His Child. If you have not placed your trust in His blood at the Cross for your salvation, then all the works in the world will do no good. Only the blood of Jesus will suffice.

This message is an invitation to believers to join with Jesus in the Service of God, and be blessed with supernatural Joy. The invitation to all others remains the same: “Look, and Live! Turn to Jesus personally for eternal life, and receive it from Him as a free gift!” In both cases, however, the choice is personal. An unbeliever can choose to reject God’s offer. And a believer can choose to stay on the fringes of God’s blessing, and not serve with Jesus. But, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me….” We are invited to join Him in the work.

All of the behaviors of Faith are a matter of choice. Faith is a choice! Either choose to believe God and do as He asks, or choose not to do so. The choice is yours!

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to serve you and to obey by faith the rudimentary things of the Christian life, so that you can draw us along into deeper things as we draw close to you. Help us to see life as you see it, and to make our choices as you direct us to choose.