Posts Tagged ‘fellowship’

Paul’s Prayer for Believers: Part 1

Paul’s Prayer for the Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 9/19/17 Cornell Estates 9/24/17

Philippians 1:3-8; Acts 16:12-40

Introduction:

These opening verses are further evidence of the tender love Paul felt for the believers at Philippi: He begins the epistle by spelling out his relationship with them, and their responsiveness to both himself and God, as evidenced by their voluntary, earnest involvement in Paul’s ministry, right from the beginning.

Some History

If you recall, from Acts 16:12-40, when Paul and his entourage had first entered Philippi, unlike many cities, there was apparently no synagogue there, as, instead of gathering at the local synagogue, with the Jews first, and sharing with them the news that the Messiah had come, he went outside the city walls with Silas and the others (Luke was with them by this point), because he had reason to believe that there was some sort of worship being carried on, down there by the river. This was evidently not an idolatrous worship but a group of people who believed in the God of Israel, mostly Jews, though at least some of them seem to have Gentile proselytes. There were a group of women there who met together for prayer. At least a few of them believed the Good News that Paul and Silas brought, and one of these, Lydia, was baptized, along with her family who evidently also believed. She begged them to stay in her home, as her guests, and they did so, while they expanded their ministry in Philippi.

The trouble started some time later, when a young demon-possessed woman followed them around, shouting that they (Paul and Silas) were servants of the Most High God, and were there to tell everyone a way of salvation. Paul finally decided that enough was enough, and he turned around and ordered the demon out of her. Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, perhaps, but the woman was a slave, and her owners had been making money off of her affliction, by selling her talents as a fortune-teller. It seems sad, but that was how they saw things. They were not one bit concerned about her welfare; only their profit margin…and Paul and Silas had just ruined it. So they dragged them in to the courts and accused them of spreading false doctrine and “anti-Roman” behavior.

Paul and Silas were savagely beaten, without benefit of trial, and left in the inner prison cell, bleeding, in stocks and manacles. But, at midnight they were praying, and singing psalms, and an earthquake occurred: a very odd earthquake—it shook everything, destroyed nothing, but made everyone’s manacles fall off. Very odd!

The jailer was ready to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped, because he knew he would be tortured, but Paul called to him, saying, “Don’t hurt yourself! We are all here!” That whole experience convinced the jailer that the message they were preaching was worth hearing, and he asked what he had to do to be saved. They told him “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” So, he and his household believed the Gospel, and he took Paul and Silas into his home (probably attached to the jail), and washed their wounds, and treated them well. The next day, the magistrates, realizing that they had committed a serious error of judgement, in flogging un-convicted Roman citizens, apologized for their error, and begged them to leave town.

So, the small group of believers from the riverside gathering, and the Jailer’s family were the core group of believers that Paul left behind when he and his entourage left for Thessalonica, via Annapolis. That leaves me with the question: “Where did the elders and deacons come from?” Paul had only been there for a few weeks at most, as far as we can tell, and one does not ordain as an elder or deacon people who are novices in the faith (Paul says so…). So where did these leaders come from?

I have to assume that there were at least some Jews among the group of believers, as Paul always sought out the Jews first to offer them the Gospel of Christ (see Romans 1:16). If that is so, then it all makes sense: the Jewish men all had good training in the Scriptures, and, as it seems that some there were already believers, in the Old Testament sense, then they would make the “shift” to being quite mature Christian believers pretty rapidly. The Gentile believers would take some time to catch up, since they had no such training.

This explains why it was possible for Paul to preach in a town for just a few weeks, and leave behind a functioning New Testament Church that was complete with qualified elders and deacons, and fully equipped to continue as a church without “outside help”. The Church at Philippi was one of these examples. The Church at Thessalonica was another.

Paul quite reasonably might have felt a good deal of concern about these “baby Christians” he was leaving behind. He didn’t leave them after such a short time by choice: he did so for their safety, when riots began among the unbelievers. He left, but he actively prayed for them. So, how did he pray for them? We will examine this in two segments, the first being “thanksgiving.”

How Paul Prays for the Believers (1:3-8): Thanksgiving!

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

It is interesting to me, and a little intriguing, that Paul refers to God not simply as “God”, but as “my God”. Why the possessive article?  We need to remember that these people were living in a land where polytheism was the norm. In fact, everywhere Paul went, he had to deal with idolaters of various stripes, some quite hostile to the Good News of Christ. These believers already knew the Lord, so perhaps Paul is only underscoring the fact that both his relationships with them and his relationship with the One God of the Bible, were personal, not theoretical or academic in nature.

Paul thinks of them a lot, and gives thanks every time he thinks of them. He felt this way even toward believers he had never met, as seen in Romans 1:8. But especially for the believers whom he knew personally (1st Corinthians 1:4, etc.), and, these at Philippi were especially dear to him, as he explains in the next few verses:

4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,
5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

It is heart-warming to see that the veteran missionary, Paul the Apostle, was genuinely thankful for the believers at Philippi. (v. 3, 4) I would think for a man with as vital and important a ministry as Paul had…(and he knew it; in spite of the rough service, he knew he was “the apostle to the Gentiles”—he says so in Romans 11:13)…it seems to me it would have been easy to become a little proud, and feel that everyone else should be grateful for him. But Paul had a truly humble spirit, which we can see over and over in the scriptures. He was grateful to God every time he thought of these believers, and joyfully prayed on their behalf, not just once in a while, or when he remembered to do so, or when he looked at his “prayer-list”. He says he prayed for them continually, and rejoiced every time he thought about them.

Thanksgiving for Fellowship

But why did Paul feel so grateful for them (v. 5)? The first thing he mentions is their “fellowship in the Gospel”. Now, we tend to think of fellowship as “standing around drinking coffee and eating finger food”, or maybe sitting around a table at a potluck, and talking about whatever we feel like discussing, from golf scores, to weather, to politics, to gossip…but that is not fellowship. The New Testament sees fellowship in a very functional light—fellowship means “having in common”—“partnership”.

In fact, the NASB translates this word “participation”. That works well, and it is accurate enough, but: as long as we can see that the word “fellowship” always means partnership, participation, etc., then I prefer the word fellowship, because it also implies “unity”. When I am in fellowship with God and other believers, I am in partnership with them and in unity with them. (No coffee or doughnuts required.) I could be in a “partnership” at a business level, with people for whom I had long since lost all respect, or whom I did not trust at all, anymore. The partnership would be real, and legally binding, but unity would be non-existent, and fellowship would be unthinkable as a word to describe our relationship.

The Philippian church had served as Paul’s fellow-workers in Christ, from the beginning. That’s the kind of thing to make any veteran missionary grateful. We fellowship in the person of Christ, when we talk of things that pertain to His glory, when we worship together, sing praises together, witness together, study together, and/or serve together, in sharing the Gospel with those around us. Even when we are apart, working at our assigned tasks, we are partners in the Gospel: we have in common the Love of Christ, and we are in unity regarding our priorities and worship. That’s real fellowship: the kind Paul is talking about, here. What would have to change in our churches to make this kind of fellowship a living reality? (There’s something to ponder….) And they had evidently born fruit, as we will see later. What kind of fruit?

Thanksgiving for Fruitfulness

Every faithful man or woman of God is hoping to bear fruit that will bring eternal glory for God. The Fruit of the Spirit is certainly one sort of fruit-bearing, and we will discuss that subject more fully, later on; but the other kind of fruit-bearing is found in spiritual reproduction: leading others to Christ and then raising them up as genuine disciples. There are few greater joys than that of seeing one’s children in the Lord walking with the Lord, and leading others to Him. Evidently that is what the Philippian believers had been doing; and it brought constant joy to Paul.

Thanksgiving for Future Fulfillment

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Paul’s confidence, even in his absence, is that the Lord Jesus Himself would continue the work in their lives. This verse (Philippians 1:6) is frequently used as a verse to teach assurance of salvation…and it does teach that. But the primary teaching in this verse is that the Lord will continue His work in their lives, and continue to perfect it, or carry it to completion, until either they go home to be with Him, or He comes to get them.

In a broader context, it could be argued that since it says “until the day of Jesus Christ”, it could mean that the Lord will continue to complete the church until the rapture. That’s a possible understanding, and certainly true, but considering the rather personal tone of this book, it seems more likely that we are to gain confidence from this passage that God will not give up on us, personally, and that He will continue to patiently, individually, mold us into the likeness of Christ until the end. That is the way I take it, personally, and it is especially precious to me in that light, as I frequently have felt myself to be a failure, and have wanted to just give up.

I remember one particular time, driving home from work, in deep depression, and grieving over my inability to walk with the Lord in a stable manner, I said, “OK, then, I quit! I cannot do this!” This verse instantly came to mind, as God quietly assured me that He was not quitting. I confessed my lack of faith, thanked Him, and was strengthened to press on.

Thanksgiving for Shared Bonds

7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Paul feels extra confident about these particular saints, because he has seen how they have faithfully joined him in the work; not allowing themselves to be “put off” by his imprisonment, but taking full partnership in his ministry. He says, you were “partakers of my grace”—partners in Paul’s gift of apostleship. In light of this, He calls on God as his witness that he greatly longs after them, and specifically that this longing is fully in keeping with the heart of Christ—however Jesus feels toward his beloved flock, that’s how Paul is feeling toward them.

I wish I could consistently say that of myself. Unfortunately, I am all too human, and frequently forget that this is God’s beloved flock, and just grumble to myself about the behavioral problems of sheep in general, including myself. But what if we earnestly prayed for one another, and gave thanks regularly for the Grace of God in one another’s lives? Wouldn’t that tend to change our perspective? It is hard to grumble against someone for whom you are constantly in prayer. Thanksgiving is an important part of maintaining unity. This is something I want to see changed in my life as a believer.

Paul was genuinely thankful for the brethren. We need to be that way, too. How do I know?

God says it is His will for us!

Thanksgiving and the Will of God

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,

16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

God has clearly stated that our giving thanks is part of His will for us. Over in Romans 1:21, it says that the people, when they knew God, did not glorify him as God, and they were not thankful. And what was the result? The scripture says that “their foolish hearts were darkened, and they became vain in their imaginations”: they succumbed to idolatry, turning their backs on the reality of God.

Gratitude toward God keeps our attention pointed toward Him. We need to move back toward thankfulness, gratitude, and the common courtesy of giving God his due honor. We need to honor him with our lives as the Creator and Master and Sustainer of all things. And, since He commands us to give thanks in ALL things, perhaps the very best move we can make regarding “difficult” people is to pray for them and give thanks.

In the meantime, let’s at least take Paul’s example, and pray for the brothers and sisters around us, giving thanks for them, and rejoicing that God has made His Grace known to them as well as to us. We can rejoice in the fellowship and partnership we can have with them in God’s work.

Next time, we will continue and see the things Paul specifically prayed for in the believers’ lives.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts, and draw us along in your Love and Grace. Teach us a heart of gratitude for one another, and love for one another.

 


The Fellowship Imperative

The Fellowship Imperative

Fellowship with God and with Other Believers

© C. O. Bishop 9/8/17 THCF 9/10/17

Hebrews 10:19-25

Introduction:

As we completed the first half of Hebrews chapter ten, we saw that Jesus offered one sacrifice forever, obliterating our sin-debt, and imputing eternal righteousness to us, as believers. This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—obsolete—done. . And we cannot go back to it.

Now, I wonder how the Hebrew believers must have felt, with the temple service closing behind them, and no real understanding of what lay before them This is not a new thing, though: Remember that Abram was called out of the land of his upbringing, to go out to a new place, where God would bless him. But he was not given a road map. He was just told to go. He left, not knowing where he would end up.

When I first became a believer, the question arose, “What about all the other religions? How do you know this one is right?” My only answer, at that time, was, “I don’t know anything about all the other religions. I only know that this is my stop…this is where I get off the bus.” I knew I needed Jesus Christ, and I trusted in Him. Later on, I learned more, and came to realize that, indeed, there was no other way. He said so Himself.

Many years later, I was called to sing in a wedding, in Colorado. They sent me a bus ticket, and I took that Greyhound bus to a place I had never been, arriving far behind schedule, in a snowstorm at 1:00 AM, to a dark crossroad, where I had been told that I would be met. There was no one there…but I had a choice: Get off the bus, now, in faith, and wait in the dark, snowy night for my friends to arrive, or stay on the bus and get off at another stop which would look better, but not be where I was told to expect them, and I would have no way to contact them. (This was years before cell-phones became a reality.) As it turned out, after hours of waiting, they had finally gone home, briefly, and they were coming right back. I waited less than 30 minutes before they came swooping out of the dark to rescue me. The point is that sometimes we have had to take a step of faith, and trust that God knows what He is doing. At that point, frequently, we can’t go back…we have to look forward. But we can go forward, and we are called to do so.

The Call to Fellowship

We have already been transferred out of the darkness of the lost world, into the glorious kingdom of God’s light; we can now take the next step, and enter the holy of holies by his blood. We are not told to just “wait on God to come and fellowship with us.” We are commanded, and exhorted to deliberately seek out His company. We are free to enter His presence, now. There is no barrier, today, for believers. This is the state of affairs, today; He says:

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

We see four points, here:

  1. We have confidence to enter the holy place of God’s presence.
  2. We are entering confidently, solely because of the Blood of Jesus that stands between us and God’s judgment. 
  3. We enter by the avenue of the Cross, by faith…through the torn body of the Savior, represented by the veil that was torn, in the temple.
  4. We enter, knowing that our High Priest, Jesus, had already entered in and made the way for us…and that it is He who invites us to that Fellowship.

 With these truths as our basis for confidence, the writer urges us forward. It has taken him nine and one half chapters to “build his case” for the supremacy of Christ, and the efficacy of his blood sacrifice, but now, with that foundation laid, he urges us to take action.

He says for us to draw near to God. We could not do so before, because we were without access to God. Ephesians 2:11, 12 say that “in time past…” we were “…Gentiles according to the flesh…without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of Promise, having no hope, and without God, in the World.” We literally had no access to God. But now we have that access through Christ. Over in Romans 5:1, 2 Paul says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God.”

We have access by faith in Jesus, and we are invited to join Him there, at the Throne of Grace.

 

The Invitation to Fellowship with God

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

We are invited to enter in with full confidence. We are not entering as those who have “crashed the party”…we are entering as members of God’s household—His own offspring. We are not even entering as “guilty children” who have misbehaved and who are expecting punishment. The punishment was dealt out at the cross. We are entering, in good standing with the Holy God who created us, and redeemed us. We are entering as those who have been washed, and made holy like Jesus. Do I always “feel” this confidence? No, because my heart is deceitful (God says so), and I am always conscious of my failings. But God says that I have been washed, and made holy! (1st Corinthians 6:11 “But you are washed…sanctified…justified…”). You are arriving clean! All you need to do is clean your feet at the door!

A small child enters into his father’s house with utter confidence that he belongs there…because he does! And he enters in, knowing his father is not too busy to address his concerns and questions. He goes there expecting good things. He wipes his feet because he has been taught to do so, initially, but as he matures, he does it because he does not want to bring dirt into his father’s house.

We may practice confession initially because we have been taught to do so. As we mature, we do so because we do not want Sin to hamper our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Psalm 66:18 says that when I cling to sin in my heart, God closes his ears to me. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We learn to cherish that relationship with Him, and develop a hunger for his presence, so we are anxious to not allow sin to keep us from experiencing that fellowship with Him. But there is another aspect to fellowship: fellowship with other believers.

 

The Exhortation to Fellowship with the Church

He also tells us to hold fast to our faith-relationship with God, and to encourage one another to live the life Jesus died to provide.

23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 It is easy to allow ourselves to become sidetracked by the “cares of the world”, so to speak:

  • money issues,
  • health issues,
  • relational issues,
  • political issues,
  • employment issues, etc.

We are exhorted to keep the relationship with God in the forefront of our minds, and to cling to that relationship as being of primary importance. He says to “hold fast without wavering”. We are not to allow anything to come between us and Him. The basis for our faith is the character of the one who made the promises: He is faithful!

Then the writer says something really odd: he says we are to “provoke” one another…we usually think of “provocation” as having only negative connotations, but, in this case, it means to “stir up” one another. We are to consider the best ways to be an encouragement to one another, to stir one another up to Love, and to good works. You may have noticed that there is a whole lot of “one another” references in the church-related scriptures. Why is that so? Can’t we just go in, sit quietly on a pew, listen attentively, sing songs, give money and go home? Isn’t that what church is all about?

Well…no! Actually, it is not! Even the worship is not, in itself, “church.”

So what is “Church?”

Sometimes I hear people say “Well, my ‘church’ is when I am out in the woods” or “when I am out fishing, alone with God!”…or something similar. The poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote a whole poem dedicated to this idea: she considered the birds singing in her yard to be preferable to the presence of other people. On the other hand, she also claimed she knew the way to heaven instinctively, and could get there on her own. This is sad, but quite common. It is the proud, ignorant statement of independence, without the wherewithal to survive the consequences.

The fact is, people who say such things do not understand what the word “church” means: the English word “church” is usually translated from the Greek word “ecclesia”, which means an “assembly.” It literally means the “called out ones”. It requires being together with other believers. It is certainly not the building, nor is it even, specifically, the teaching or worship.

I can listen to the radio, if I know that a very good teacher or preacher is to be speaking. This is not “church.” I can be awestruck by the majesty of a storm, or the breathtaking beauty of the creation as a whole, and respond in genuine worship. But that is not “church”, either. “Church” means the “assembly” of likeminded believers. This does not negate the need for private prayer and worship being experienced by every individual believer: both of these are good and necessary; but we meet together for corporate prayer and worship …which cannot be done alone. We also meet for mutual encouragement, and teaching, and comfort. None of these things can be done alone.

Church is not a place, nor is it a building, nor even a religious experience. It is, literally, the assembly of likeminded believers for the specific purposes listed above. That is why we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. The word in this particular passage is the Greek “episunagogen”: which is where we get the word “synagogue,” that the Hebrews used to describe their own assemblies…the assembly—gathering together. The Hebrew Christians were still calling it the synagogue, which was fine—it simply means assembly. But it cannot possibly be “one person alone with God,” although that is also very desirable. In the Jewish culture, it is required that there be ten families, in order to have a “synagogue,” officially. But Jesus said “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Is that a church, then?

Well…perhaps it could serve the purpose, to some degree, but the “assembly,” proper, also has some organization to it: it is an intentional meeting together for corporate worship, prayer, teaching, preaching, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort. It would be hard to do all of that with just two or three people. You could encourage one another, pray together for each other’s needs and concerns…possibly even share some teaching. But I doubt you could call that a “church”, because it lacks the structure assigned by God. God says the church possesses elders (always plural) who serve as pastors, shepherds and overseers. It has deacons (again, always plural), who serve as caretakers of the flock at a physical level.

The Universal Church is strictly an organism, not an organization: it is the Body of Christ, and consists of all believers from the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, all down through time, until today, with all the believers today, whether alive or dead….and it will be completed at the Rapture. Most of its members, we can safely assume, are already with the Lord …and, until the Rapture, it can never “gather together in one place”…at least not one physical place. (It could be argued that we all meet together at the Throne of Grace…and that is true, but we are not conscious of each other’s presence and cannot function collectively as described in scripture. I can’t encourage Peter, for instance, though I am encouraged by his historical example.)

But every Local Church combines certain aspects of an organism with many aspects of an organization. It does have organization. Things are to be done “decently and in order”…in an orderly fashion. The local church gathers together in one place, wherever that place may be. There are possibly millions of local assemblies, all over the world, meeting at any given time.

We gather for the express purpose of mutual care, encouragement and blessing. We learn to “stir up” one another, to love and to good works. Notice the stark contrast, then, between “fellowship,” which we are commanded to embrace, and “forsaking” which we are commanded to avoid:

Fellowship” and “Forsaking” are Polar opposites!

We are not called to be solitary creatures, though some of us may feel that we would like to be. God created us to be social creatures. We do better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, in a corporate experience. Is it healthy to have the capacity to stand alone? Absolutely! God calls us to do so, in fact! All the Old Testament prophets stood alone. We have their example. But, on a lifestyle basis, we are called to be a blessing to others around us…and we can’t do that unless there are “others around us!” Even in the Old Testament, Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11) stated that “Two are better than one…and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Conclusion: The Fellowship Imperative

When we choose to exclude ourselves from the flock, we also estrange ourselves from the Shepherd. (Sorry…you may not like the “sheep” idea, but it comes from God, not from me, so please try to understand and appreciate the truth of it.) The more I learn about sheep, the more I see why God refers to people as sheep—and why people rebel against it and claim they are not like sheep. Isaiah said, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray…” Like it or not, that is what we are. We need the Shepherd, and we need the Flock!

The fact is, if a believer chooses to forsake the assembling of himself together with other believers, knowing that he is commanded not to do so, then, because it is deliberate disobedience, we can safely say that it is sin, and it will definitely limit one’s walk with God. There are many who will disagree, saying “I don’t need other people, in order to walk with God.” I can sympathize with them, because there is an antisocial side to my character as well. But, ask yourself this: of ALL the things God calls us to do, as New Testament believers, what percentage have something to do with other people? The answer is, “virtually all of them”, at one level or another.

We cannot “work with God”, without working with people, because all of the work he has called us to do has to do with the flock at large…other people!

We have to choose to submit ourselves to God’s assignment: go where He sends us, stay where He plants us, and do what He commands. It may not be fun: but the reward comes later. Jeremiah had one of the roughest service assignments of any of the prophets. It looked as though there was no fruit and no reward. But he was faithful, and he is enjoying his reward today. Furthermore, there was fruit, eventually. Millions of people have read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and have believed God’s Word, though virtually none of the immediate recipients responded in faith.

We must look to God for direction, but we must meet with others to carry out those directions.

Lord Jesus, encourage our hearts to walk with you and to fellowship with you at the throne of Grace, and to draw near to the brothers and sisters by your Holy Spirit.


Unity Despite Differences

Responding to Differences with Unity

© C. O. Bishop 10/21/16 THCF 10/23/16

 Romans 15:1-7

Introduction:

1We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

Romans 15:1-7 concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 14:1-23. I have no idea why the translators (or Erasmus…whoever) chose to place the chapter division at Romans 14:23 instead of seven verses later. The second word, “then”, shows that it is definitely a continuation of the idea being taught all the way through chapter 14. It is actually the conclusion of the context, though the concept in verse 23 has such impact that possibly they chose to end the chapter on that note just to maintain the impact of that statement. I just don’t know.

But Paul says, in v.1-3, “We then who are strong ought to bear (endure) the infirmities of them that are weak, and not to please ourselves.” I wonder how far this can be taken. Doesn’t this ultimately pool infirmity and ignorance, so that the whole body grows weaker? Or is it really a matter of “bearing up under” their weakness, while they get stronger, and not causing them to stumble as they are trying to grow? That is what these two chapters are about.

Partnership and Fellowship

Imagine a team competing in an obstacle course. By the rules of the game, the whole team has to complete the course; so it would be of no use for the strongest to simply rush ahead, saying “See you at the finish line!”. On the other hand, the weakest member may not be able to complete the course at all, without significant help. And even if he can, the others are not promoting group success if all they do is stand around and criticize the weaker member. So, what is the solution? (It is interesting: in the context of sports, even amongst unbelievers, no one ever has a problem with this question.) Teamwork is the solution.

The weakest member in that team on the obstacle course is being helped along by all the others, and he in his turn is helping where he can, and willingly accepting help from the others because it helps the team effort by hastening his own success. His pride does not induce him to reject their help, because, if he did, they would all lose. Their pride does not induce them to say, “Well, you just need to work harder!” They all know that all of them are part of the team, and all have value. All have to succeed, or none will. They are all partners in this struggle. Incidentally, that is what the word “fellowship” means…”partnership;” having something in common.

So, in terms of the church: while we are each individually accountable to God, we are also collectively accountable. We are a single organism: our testimony and health as a local assembly is dependent upon how we deal with one another. What did Jesus say about that? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (Agapé) one for another.” It seems to me that there are two forces at work, here: the one says, don’t put a stumbling-block before your neighbor. The other is the need for edification…building up the brethren. We have to grow!

Corrective teaching can be used to build up the believers, but it has to be done very gently. I know of a pastor who gave correct teaching (not even intended to be “corrective”) regarding the Bible’s stance on alcohol. He did not mean to cause division, nor to give any cause for offense, but a couple who held to total abstinence were so offended that they left the church. They were gone for over eight years, before finally returning, realizing that their response had been wrong.

He never condemned them at any level…but they condemned him. He had reached out to them, but they were adamant, and refused restoration. When they finally recognized that their bitter condemnation of another servant (the pastor) was sin, they repented, and apologized to him for their bitterness, and came back and reestablished fellowship with the other believers there.

We have vegetarian acquaintances who have frequently eaten at our house. When they eat with us, we serve them and ourselves food that does not contain meat. We have had vegetable soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, tea, coffee, etc. We have never placed anyone in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse the food we offer. On the other hand, they are fully aware that we habitually eat meat, when they are not there… and they are not offended by that. It is OK for them to choose vegetarianism. There is no call for corrective teaching: there is nothing to discuss. We simply serve a meatless meal when they visit. Now: some of these are not even believers…how much more should we be moved to accommodate our brothers and sisters? We are not to risk losing fellowship over things that God does not condemn. We are partners in much deeper matters than food.

No Meddling!

 Romans 14:1 through 15:5 make it pretty clear that neither those who are strong nor those who are weak are to try to “twist the other person around” and force the others to live as they themselves do. We are to love one another, and accept one another, appreciating our differences in gifts, and our variety in expression.

Let’s take another example: I personally have no desire to drink wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), but I do not condemn those who do. I do see it as a potential hazard, and in our culture especially, I see it as a possible snare and potentially destructive to our testimonies. But there are those who condemn the use of alcohol entirely, and they condemn anyone who believes otherwise, as well. How does that square with this passage? This is a good example of the need to compare scripture with scripture:

There is no question that the normal drink in the time of Christ was wine, not water, nor even grape-juice. Wine was the only means by which fruit juice could be preserved. It was seen as a normal beverage, but one that had to be taken in reasonable quantity…Drunkenness was spoken against as early as the time of Noah, and was warned against in the Proverbs, 1700 years later, as also in the epistles to the church, another 700 years after that. There is no question in any dispensation, that drunkenness is sin.

But: gluttony also seems to be sin, and no one condemns another person for “eating lunch.” Excess in eating may be sin; but food is necessary. Excess in wine is sin, but the use of wine is not only permitted, it is blessed by God, and even commanded by Him under certain circumstances. Some believers may feel uncomfortable with that statement, but God’s Word makes that completely clear. (Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:14, 15; Deuteronomy 14:26)

When Jesus turned water into wine (John 2), it was not only definitely an alcoholic wine, but apparently a supernaturally aged wine, so that it was seen as superior to what the householder had been able to offer on his own. (And, by the way, the exact same Greek word (oinoV) is used for that wine, as is used for the command not to be drunk with wine (Ephesians 5). Either Jesus created alcoholic wine for that wedding, or we are commanded to not get drunk on grape juice.) This should never be a source for contention!

But: we believers are continually seen by unbelievers as tearing each other up over peripheral issues like this, while absolutely wallowing in sin that is specifically forbidden. What do I mean?

What Really Bothers God?

Take a look at Proverbs 6:16-19…God says there are several things he really hates. Pride and haughtiness (arrogance) is one of them. Gossip is one of them. Spreading discord (stirring up trouble) among brethren is one of them. Lying is another. But all of these things are commonly seen in Christian circles among those who would be completely shocked to see one of their members buy a bottle of wine or smoke a cigar, or whatever thing they think “ought not to be done.” Some take it even further and condemn coffee, or even the use of anti-depressants, or other things about which the Bible is utterly silent.

Some churches establish dress-codes, including limits on hair-length for men, grooming codes (Trim that beard, mister!), or forbidding make-up on women, etc. This entire attitude is expressly forbidden by Romans 14 and 15.  Dr. McGee makes an interesting point: He says if you were at dinner at the home of someone who had household help (cooks, butlers, etc.), and if the cook were to serve you cold biscuits (his example), you would never consider criticizing the household staff (aloud, at least), because they don’t work for you!

But we seem to forget that the believers around us also do not work for us. We are each accountable to God. If the Scripture really is silent about an issue, or at least does not forbid it, we had better do the same. Don’t condemn what God doesn’t condemn. Do not deny someone else’s freedom, nor use your freedom in such a way as to damage another believer.

Isn’t it interesting:  In Genesis 18:25, Jesus is identified by Abraham as being “the Judge of all the Earth” (compare John 1:18, John 5:22); but, during his earthly ministry, he condemned very few: mainly just those who were busy condemning others. He endured the natural perversity of the human race in order to offer Himself for our sakes…and he did not endure the vicious, self-righteous condemnation that the Pharisees, Scribes, and Lawyers, along with the Priests and Temple Rulers pointed at everyone they didn’t like. Does that mean that the Judge of all the Earth doesn’t care about sin? Absolutely not! He cared about it enough to condemn the whole world for sin (Romans 3:19), and to substitute Himself for the whole world, so as to die in our place (1st Peter 3:18). So, what can we learn from this? Verse four begins to give the answer:

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

v.4: The Old Testament writings are for our learning, that we, through patience (endurance) and comfort of the (Old Testament) scriptures might have hope. I think (in context of the previous chapters) that Paul is pointing out that the Old Testament writings do NOT place us back under the Law. We are to learn from them, not be oppressed or enslaved through them. Remember what James and Peter said, in Acts 15:10, 19—Peter said that the Jews were “tempting God”, by placing a yoke (a burden) on the Gentile believers, which none of the Jews, either present day or at any time in history, had been able to bear. The Jews, born and raised under the Law, had uniformly failed to keep it. But now they were insisting that the Gentiles keep the Law to be saved. Peter pointed out the failure in logic, and James decreed that “…we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” (Wow! That is a really good thing to hear! A Comfort, in fact! It gives me Hope, so I can Endure!)

It is so easy to fall into a trap of “adding things to faith.” We are saved by Grace, through faith…plus nothing. The result is to be good works “…which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) This by no means disposes of the Law…we are to study it and learn from it. But we are not to use it as a weapon against one other, nor allow the enemy to use it to enslave us again. (Colossians 2:20-23 reiterates this message.) Our interaction with the Word of God should produce Endurance, Comfort and Hope, not guilt and hopelessness.

Conclusion: The Goal is Unity.

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

Paul says that we are to be like-minded toward one another “according to Christ Jesus”. We are to glorify God with full unity. That is tough to do when we are always sparring, jousting and bickering over petty doctrinal issues, or even behavioral issues.

Notice: Unity and conformity are not the same idea. Legalists preach conformity. Christ preaches unity, based upon the Agapé love.

Jesus endured our natural stubbornness, and wrong-headedness, loving us through the Cross. Shouldn’t we “Forbear one another in Love”, as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:2? We are to put up with each other’s quirks and habits, and value one another for who we are in Christ!

In v. 7, Paul concludes that we are to “receive one another” (present tense) as Christ received us (past tense) to the Glory of God. How can that include the rejection and condemnation that is so prevalent among churches? Do you see why the unbelievers might see us as hypocrites? And yet, there is a difference between hypocrisy and failure. A hypocrite is pretending to be something he is really not. So, a person who seems to be quite pious, and whose life may meet every outward requirement for holiness, may in fact be a counterfeit, and only doing all the things he does because it gains him a good standing with others like himself, and he may even be convinced that it gains him a good standing with God. But it does not. Jesus pretty harshly condemned that sort of “outward show” of religiosity.

On the other hand, a believer, who truly has been born of God, and who truly desires to serve God with his life and live a blameless, committed lifestyle, may fail frequently and be deeply grieved by his own failure. He is not pretending at all. He is a saved sinner, still struggling with the reality of his old sin nature. Paul went through this struggle also (Romans 7). Can’t we at least appreciate that a brother or sister is trying? That he or she has a love for God, and a hunger for God’s Word? Can’t you extend to him the same grace that God has extended to you, forgiving his failures, and bearing with him in his imperfection, as God bears with you in yours?

There is not a single one of us who was required to “clean up” before being saved. We do “wash up” before “coming to the table”—either the Lord’s Table or the Word of God. We call it “confession.” But confession is all the “washing up” required of us. 1st John 1:9 tells us that this is how we restore fellowship with God. Here are three things to remember:

  1. Faith in the shed blood of Jesus for our sins is how we were born into the family of God, establishing the basis for fellowship with God and with other believers. (John 5:24)
  2. Obedience (walking by faith) is how we keep peace in the family (1st John 1:7) and maintain fellowship with God and each other.
  3. Confession (again, by faith) is how we restore fellowship with God (and others) when we have sinned. (1st John 1:9)

If the issue in question is not actually spelled out in the Bible as sin, don’t add to another believer’s burden. We are already completely accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). So we must completely accept one another, particularly in the vast areas of liberty where God’s Word does not command the body of Christ in any specific way. And what will the result look like?

That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The result will be that the church (or the family, or whoever else is in view) will actually bring honor and glory to God, not cause offense and shame. Romans 2:24 tells us that the name of God is blasphemed among the people of the unbelieving world, specifically because of the inconsistencies that the world sees in the lives of believers. Paul’s conclusion?

Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

That is pretty clear: If you have any confidence at all that Jesus has received you, then you need to apply that same level of acceptance to the brothers and sisters around you, and receive them as well. We have the assignment (Ephesians 4:3) to “keep (maintain) the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”

That is an order, folks! And, it applies to every Christian relationship. Let’s take it seriously.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you would shine the light of your Word, administered by your indwelling Holy Spirit into each of our hearts, and allow us to see our own behavior and heart attitudes for what they are. Bring us to repentance for the hardness of our hearts, and teach us to love the brethren. Allow us to maintain the unity that your Spirit provides, so that unbelievers will be drawn to You and not be turned away.


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

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

In this Book:

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

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

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

The Person of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Effect of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burden of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Amen.


Living with these “Saints below”

Living with the “Saints Below”

Mutual Service and Care: Galatians Chapter 6

© C. O. Bishop 5/22/15 THCF 5/31/15

Galatians 5:25-6:5

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleansing and Restoring One Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting One Another

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

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

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

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

Serving One Another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulling Our Own Weight

5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Amen.


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

Galatians 3:15-18; compare Genesis 13:15-16

Introduction:

We have talked about the Promise of the Spirit, and our need to embrace that Promise. One thing that has always bothered me, in the following few verses, is that, from my human perspective, it always seemed that Paul was playing a little “fast and loose” with the grammar of the promise of God to Abraham, in Genesis. But I know that this is God’s inspired Word…Paul was doing exactly as he was directed. I also know that God is God, and He certainly has the right to comment on His own Word. So how can I resolve the question?

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

It recently occurred to me that, in modern times, we have always only had two real sources for the Old Testament scriptures: The Masoretic text (which is Hebrew and Aramaic, and the most recent example at about AD 200)— and the Septuagint (a Greek translation from about 140 BC.)

We might think, “Well…maybe a lot was lost in the Translation!” (as is frequently the case in translations), but this question was checked by hundreds of scholars over the last several hundred years, translating (again) the Hebrew into Greek to see if their translation matched the Septuagint; and, the reverse: translating the Greek Septuagint back into Hebrew, to see if it came close to the original language. All these exercises were done for two reasons:

  1. Believers earnestly want to know what God’s Word really says, and because
  2. Attacks are frequently made by the enemy and we feel forced to defend the Word of God.

Yes, the translation exercises showed the reliability of the two texts. And, in 1948, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves at Qumran, the scholarly elite were filled with Joy; some because they were sure that these texts (including most of the Old Testament, in Hebrew and Aramaic,) would prove the unreliable character of the Bible, and others—believers— because they hoped exactly the opposite. As it turned out, over the years, as these scrolls were painstakingly opened and preserved for posterity, but carefully studied, as well, the scrolls strongly supported the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

So, What Did Jesus Read? What Did He Quote?

Perhaps the strongest support for the Septuagint is the fact that virtually every single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament, whether quoted by an Apostle or by Jesus Himself, is quoted from the Septuagint… word for word. That is the reason the New Testament (for example) says “a virgin shall be with Child”, when they could have translated the Hebrew to mean “a young girl”. The Hebrew word (“alma”) does mean, “young girl”, but is usually used to mean a young girl who is not married and not sexually active. The translators of the Septuagint understood this, and chose to use the Greek word “parthenon”, which specifically means “virgin”, when they could have used the word “korasion” which simply means a “young girl”.

In light of that, one could either say, from the perspective of an unbeliever, that the translators (all 70 of them) had made a serious error, trying to prove the virgin birth (this was completed 140 years before Jesus was born: the translators had never heard of Jesus), or, still as an unbeliever, that Jesus and all his disciples deliberately chose to use a flawed translation, trying to prove it. Either response relegates the entire New Testament to the trash-heap, as one has to prejudge the translation to be false and prejudge Jesus to be a deceiver.

To a believer, though, this is powerful evidence that Jesus fully approved the Greek translation of His own Word…He quoted it! And so did Paul.  If Paul was the only one who used the Septuagint text, we might be tempted to think he was manipulating the meaning, here. But Jesus was very consistent in its use as well, and with similar results. My conclusion is that there are doctrinal points that were not specific enough in Hebrew, and God has made it clear in Greek. It might, in fact, be evidence that the Septuagint is an “inspired translation”. But all we know for sure is that Jesus used it constantly, as did his Apostles.

So, what is the difference? Does it matter which “Bible” Jesus quoted? I think it probably does! Let’s see what Paul had to say:

The Covenant—the Promise

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

Paul is appealing to human law: he says, if a contract has been signed—an agreement made—you can’t start “adding things later”, or changing the terms of the agreement. Much more so, the covenant of God: God will not change it, because He is Holy and Righteous, and because it is His Word. We cannot change it because we have no authority to do so. Paul points out that it would violate both the principle of Law and of Promise, to alter a covenant after the fact.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

To whom was the initial promise made, in Genesis 13:15? It was made to Abraham, regarding the land. And, in response to Abraham’s faith, it was extended to a lot of people. But the first giving of that promise was made to Abraham “and his seed”. In normal English, I would have interpreted that to mean his offspring, however few or numerous they may have proven to be. In Hebrew that would seem to be true as well—the words in Genesis 13:15 and 13:16 in Hebrew are identical (“zera”…seed.) As far as I can determine, the Hebrew word for “seed” is used the same as the English word—it could be singular or plural, depending upon the context. But in Greek, there are at least three different forms, and just as Jesus did, Paul was quoting the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

But:  in the Septuagint, the word for “seed” in verse 15 is specifically singular! I looked up the Greek word used in Genesis 13:15 in the Septuagint, and, as a matter of fact, it is the exact same word that Paul used in Galatians 3:16 (“spermati”). I never would have understood this point without God bringing it to light: in English, the plural for seed is not always “seeds”—we say “I set aside 100 pounds of wheat for seed.” And we would mean that this wheat was being saved for planting, not eating. But Paul points out that, at least in this case, God meant the singular—the promised “seed”—the person of Christ.

But the word used in Genesis 13:16 is a different form of the same word, and is commonly used as a plural or substantive, meaning a large quantity (“sperma”), meaning “seed—and lots of it”. The particular promise of the land and blessing, then, was not initially to the whole family of Israel, but to one single offspring: Christ. The specific promise regarding Abraham’s offspring being so numerous uses a different word form.

There is a third form of the Greek word for seed (“spermasin”) that is specifically plural, referring to a numeric plural. That is the one Paul pointed out that God had NOT used. There is no question that Paul was making a valid point; again, because he quoted the Septuagint.

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

The initial promise, of course, was to Abraham. But the portion that said, “…and thy seed…” used the specifically singular word for “seed”, and, as we see in Galatians, that particular seed was not in reference to Isaac (who wasn’t born yet), but to Christ.

Since I do not easily read Greek, but rather have to look up every word, as a rule, I would not have caught this detail. And since I don’t even own a copy of the Septuagint, but had to find a copy on the internet that I could read and compare to the Greek New Testament (which I do own), I definitely never would have known that there was a detail I was missing without God commenting on His own Word and showing us something special.

So why is that so special? Because, if the Jews had been correct in assuming that all of the promises were to them because they were Abraham’s offspring, then those promises could not be applied to me unless I became a Jew. In fact, even then they would not apply, because I am not his offspring at all, by nature, and becoming a Jew would not change that. But…if, as Paul states, the promises were to Christ, then they can be applied to me, if I am in Christ.

The promise is both narrowed and broadened in that one explanation: it is narrowed from “all the Jews” to “just the Messiah”. It is broadened from “only the Jews” to “anyone and everyone who places his or her trust in the living Christ.” Paul underscores this “positional truth” in another passage; 1st Corinthians 15:22—“all in Christ shall be made alive”. If you are “in Christ” then the promises will be to you.

Are there specific promises given only to the Jews? Yes, I believe there are. I do not believe that the Church has “replaced” the Jews in the plan of God. Their promises are virtually all physical, earthly blessings. Ours are, without exception, spiritual, heavenly blessings. And a Jew who embraces Christ steps into a new relationship. Just as the Levite, who had no inheritance in the land, but whose inheritance was the person of God and the priesthood of God, the person whose life is hidden in Christ trades the earthly and temporary for the heavenly and eternal.

So; the question Paul is exploring here continues to be the relationship of Law to Promise—Law to Grace—Law to faith. His answer comes in the form of a question: “Which came first?” The answer is that the Promise came 430 years before the Law. His conclusion is that the Law could not change the Promise. By choosing to trust in Christ and his finished work at the Cross, we sidestep the curse of the Law, and embrace the eternal Promise of God. Paul goes on:

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul argues that, if the Law changed the promise in any way, then the promise is broken. But God does not break his promises, and the Law, coming far later, has no authority to change or set aside the promise.

By the way, remember that the Promise was an entirely one-sided covenant made by God…there was nothing for Abraham to do: no further conditions to meet. He had already been declared righteous by God. How? By Grace, through faith; and God made the unconditional covenant of the Promise, with no way for Abraham to fail.

Remember we have talked about how a serious, binding covenant between two Jews was made? The two parties brought a sacrifice, and split the pieces of that sacrifice, and together walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, calling God as their witness that they were bound by the terms of the contract.

But in Genesis 15, God did not allow Abraham to walk with him between the pieces of the sacrifice. He allowed Abraham to see, but not participate, as He himself walked alone through the sacrifices. Does that sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it strike you as significant that Jesus walked alone through all the trial of Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross? Alone, into the Grave, alone in the Resurrection and the Ascension…but invites us to join Him there, by faith? He has invited you to see, but not to participate, beyond faith. You do NOT earn your salvation in any way.

God bound Himself to the Covenant…there was nothing for Abraham to do, to fulfill “his part of the agreement”. It was entirely one-sided! There was no way that Abraham could fail, somehow negating the promise. The condition (Faith) had already been met. Abraham had already been declared righteous, and the Promise was secure. Does that sound familiar? We have already been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Peace with God has already been established (Romans 5:1) and the promise is eternally secure.

Paul’s Conclusion

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

If the inheritance was somehow switched over to being accessible through the Law (instead of promise) then the promise would have to be set aside…and it was not. The Law and the Promise are not working at cross-purposes. They are working together.

Paul first points out what is common knowledge—that the Promise was given apart from Law. He pointed out that Abraham had the promise nearly half a century before Law was introduced. Then he concludes that inheriting the promise is also not connected to Law, but to Grace and Faith, just as it was in Abraham’s case.

If you want the promise of God to be applied to your life, look to the one who inherited them all…Jesus! If you have received Him as your savior, then the Promises are already yours, because you are in Christ. But, how do we experience them?

On a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we experience the full blessing of God through faith and obedience. We regain fellowship through confession (1st John 1:9), and maintain it by simply walking by faith (1st John 1:7). As the Holy Spirit points out things in our lives that He wants to change or eliminate, we can say, “Amen, Lord”, and give those things to Him as an act of Worship, or we can scream, “NO! That’s my favorite!” and cling to our own way. As we give our lives over to Him, bit by bit, we grow closer to Him; we understand more of His perspective, and we learn to walk more consistently.

A baby learning to walk is very unstable. But eventually he or she learns to walk reliably, and seldom stumbles. This happens through practice, as the child grows stronger and gains a better sense of balance. We can do this, too! We can:

  • Practice confession and obedience—that is how we regain fellowship and walk with God. And it takes perseverance and practice.
  • Feed on the Word of God to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Pray for God’s leading, so that we will be sensitive to His Word.
  • Fellowship with other believers. This is how we learn the joy of walking with God.

Press on, my friends! It is worth it, every step of the way!

Lord Jesus, we ask that we may partake in the Divine Nature through the Promises available to us in You, as we fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We pray these things so that we might be to your honor and glory.


Curse, or Promise?

The Curse of the Law, or the Promise of the Spirit?

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/15 THCF 2/1/15

Galatians 3:10-14; John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

We recently saw how Paul challenged the thinking of the Galatian believers: he asked them if what had been begun by the Holy Spirit, through faith, was now to be improved upon by human effort. His conclusion was that faith alone was the response God wanted to his Grace, and that by faith alone He had saved everyone in history who had ever been redeemed.

He used Abraham as the prime example, partly because Abraham was the ultimate patriarch of the Jews, to whom they all referred as their forefather; and partly because he is also the one regarding whom God said, “Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.”

Paul concluded that if you want to be received on the same basis as Abraham, and truly be “his children”, then you need to respond to God as Abraham did: by faith. He demonstrates that this is how God’s promise to Abraham of an uncountable progeny would be fulfilled…through people of every nation believing the Gospel. Now he is ready to actively, sharply contrast law and faith, and thus, also, to contrast Law and Grace.

The Curse of the Law

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Wow! That is a pretty harsh thing to say! Virtually every reference to the Law in the Old Testament tells how wonderful it is! Psalm 119 spends 176 verses extolling the virtues of God’s Law, his Word, his Statutes, his precepts, his commandments, etc. How can Paul say that it is a curse?

Why would he say such a thing? Because it is the simple truth! The passage he quotes is Deuteronomy 27:26, and is the culmination of a dozen consecutive verses of specific curses on those who fail to obey God’s Law. The fact is that God’s Law is perfect, and has the capacity to cleanse the hearts of those who willingly subject themselves to it, but only when God has already purged their sins by way of His chosen blood sacrifice. The Law does not cleanse by obedience, but via the blood sacrifice for disobedience!

The reason Abel was accepted by God was because he recognized his own unacceptability and brought a blood sacrifice as a substitute for his own life. God accepted him on the basis of that blood sacrifice. He rejected Cain’s non-blood sacrifice, because a non-blood sacrifice demonstrates that the giver is already purged from the guilt of sin, and is free to worship. Cain chose to bypass that blood, and bring worship without atonement.

Abel could (and undoubtedly would) later have brought other offerings as worship offerings…but he first brought the blood as required by God. We are not told what he did later, beyond the fact that he was accepted by God, and later murdered by his elder brother.

In Hebrews 9:22 we see that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” So the way people were saved under the Law was to recognize their own condemned state, and, by faith, to bring the required blood sacrifice. We do the same thing: we hear of God’s righteous judgment, and are convinced of our own guilt. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God, through the shed blood of Jesus, and depend on that blood sacrifice as our only hope for salvation. God receives us as he did Abel, and we are declared righteous through faith, as was Abraham. Then we are free to come to Him in worship.

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Here we go again: the verse he is quoting is Habakkuk 2:4…and, by the way, he was not using that phrase lightly, as we sometimes do, saying, “Oh, they’ll just live by faith”. In Habakkuk, the idea was that the righteous ones would survive by their faith. He was predicting the destruction of the nation of Judah, under Babylon. He clearly stated that the righteous would “live”—as opposed to dying in the siege—“by his faith”. God knows our hearts—he knows who believes His Word. And their faith was the deciding factor as to whether they would live or die.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

The Law was strictly obedience: the sacrifices were Grace, by which God saved the disobedient sinners who confessed that they could not fully obey: That sacrificial animal died as a substitute for the guilty sinner. If a person wants to live by the Law, he/she must hear what Paul is saying: Law requires 100%, flawless, unfailing obedience. And no one but Jesus ever came close. So, without the Grace of God, the Law is strictly a curse.

The various cults who teach people to obey various segments of Law as a means to Godliness are ignoring this fundamental principal: if you choose Law over Grace, you are a debtor to obey the whole law—not just the parts that appeal to you. Sabbath and diet are not the whole law…sorry. And even those who think they keep the Ten Commandments are usually ignoring the last one—a matter of the heart. Covetousness is not something we do with our bodies but with our minds.

By the way, the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus(Mark 12:29-31), are not even in the Ten Commandments: He says that “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” are most important. The first one has to do with being committed to God above all things, and the second has to do with being as committed to your neighbor’s well-being as much as you are your own. Those two concepts don’t even come up on the horizon of people advocating salvation by works. Their concerns are primarily outward…God’s concerns are primarily inward!

Redeemed!

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (who is “us”?): for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we (who is “we”?) might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Redeemed means “bought back”: we have been bought back out of the marketplace of sin, for the purpose of being set free. Remember that the Gentiles had never been under the Mosaic Law (just as Abraham was never under the Law.) So the “us”, here, is primarily in reference to the Jews. The Law came after the promise, and confined the Jews to certain behavior. It showed them that, apart from God’s grace, they were lost. They brought the blood sacrifices; daily in some cases, and many times per year, at best. They could not be done with sacrifices for sin, because they kept on sinning. And, if Gentiles wanted to approach God through the temple in Jerusalem (remember, Abraham never saw the temple), then they had to subject themselves to that same Law. And, effectively, they were then under the same curse.

Jesus’ sacrifice made a complete and permanent solution to sin, and made it possible for Gentiles to approach the throne of Grace apart from the Law. Prior to that, though all through the Old Testament there were examples of Gentiles being saved by faith, if a Gentile wanted to enter into the covenant of Israel, he had to become a Jew, ritually, and by adherence to the Law. But remember: he could never become genetically Jewish!

A child of God can rightly claim God as his/her real father. The Apostle John states (1st John 3:9) that “his seed remains in you”. You are not just placed into his family, you are born into it. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “You must be born again.” Nicodemus, whom he addressed, was the consummate Jew—a child of Abraham by physical birth; a zealous, diligent adherent to the Law. But he had to be born again as a child of God, just like you and me.

Notice, here, that Paul has again pointed out the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death: He became a curse for us. He died in our place. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 states that “he became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He, who knew no sin, did not become a sinner—he became sin for us. He became a curse, and had the righteous wrath of God—all of it—poured out upon himself.

The passage Paul quotes is from Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; if a criminal was executed by stoning, and his body was hung up on a tree (or “timber, wood, or gallows” as the Hebrew word “ets” can be translated), as a lesson, a warning against further evildoing; then they were to take his body down before dark…hanging up the body was a statement that the man had been cursed by God. It had to be taken down by dark, so that the land would not be defiled. I don’t know if this was the physical defilement of a rotting corpse, or some sort of spiritual defilement. Either way, in Hebrew history, the executions were typically by stoning. The hanging up on a tree was a statement of their national rejection of sin. In Jesus’ case, he was executed by the Romans, at the urging of the Jewish priesthood. They were not allowed to execute criminals, under Roman law, so they incited the Romans to do their work for them. Crucifixion was a Roman invention.

That We might receive the Promise of the Spirit

The first-person plural “we” as used in these few verses seems to be primarily in reference to the Jews, who had been in bondage to the Law, and who were now set free by faith. The “we” in verse 14, the last half, includes all believers. All believers receive the promise of the Spirit through Faith alone. The Jews had known of the Promise of the Spirit for many years…say, 500 years at least. They had waited to receive the Promise, but they only connected it with the coming kingdom, and did not imagine that they themselves would be the recipients, in their lifetime. Further, though they knew that the Gentiles were promised to be “the inheritance” of the Messiah, and that God’s blessing would eventually come upon the Gentiles, they had not imagined it would come now, by faith alone; not by the Law.

The promise that Paul and Peter both mentioned is in Joel 2:28, 29, and refers to a time after the Lord’s physical return, and His restoration of Israel. The Jews knew this was coming. That promise is still awaiting the Messiah’s reign on Earth: it is a gift to the national and ethnic Jews. The whole nation of Israel, after the return of Christ, during the Kingdom age, will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There will be no need for evangelism anywhere on earth, because God says that “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

But for right now; the promise of God during the Church Age is that believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In fact, in Romans 8:9, Paul states that if you do not have the Spirit, you are not saved. That is pretty strong stuff!

Here in chapter three, Paul has pointed out that as they had received the Spirit by faith, it made no sense to hope to “improve” God’s work by human efforts.

So, how can we avoid Legalism? And how can we appropriate the promise of the Spirit?

When anything or anyone says, “Do this, or else!” I look carefully at the commands associated with it: Are they, in fact, directed at the church? Not every command in the Bible is to the church, proper, and not all of them are applicable under all circumstances. I like to use the rather ridiculous rhetorical question: “When Jesus said, ‘What thou doest, do quickly’ does it mean I should always be in a hurry?” Of course, we realize that he only said that to Judas Iscariot, telling him, “Now that you have made your decision to betray me, get moving! Do it!” It has no bearing at all on anything I do, but it was a command from Jesus. It just wasn’t directed to me. So, since the heart of the scripture says that I have been justified (declared righteous) by Grace through Faith, and that God is at peace with me, and that I should have no further fear of condemnation, I should be very suspicious when someone says “If you do not conform to this norm, you cannot know God!”

Review in your mind how Jesus said you could be saved: “He that hears my words, and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life…” He didn’t add anything to those two conditions. Neither did any of the Apostles. But: Is obedience necessary to a life of fellowship?

Ah! That is another matter! (1st John 1:7, 9) God says “If we walk in the Light (that’s obedience) as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” If we sin, he says confess it to restore fellowship—then obey and maintain fellowship. And, the commands he says to obey are to love; “Love God; Love one another”…pretty basic stuff.  Even the Old Testament (Micah 6:8) says “He has shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee but to do justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  That is fairly simple. It is difficult to consistently do, but, as a concept, it is simple.

In Galatians 5:16 a promise is made: “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” There is a lot of explanatory material offered, as well, which we will explore another day. We know that God’s Word tells us how God sees things: what His perspective is. He just wants us to see things His way, and walk with Him. Amos 3:3 poses the question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” It is a rhetorical question, with the implied answer being, “No!” That is why 1st John 1:7 says, “Walk in the light as He is in the Light”.

Learn to see the World, Righteousness and Sin from God’s point of view, by studying His Word, by prayer, and by meditation on his Word. Learn to literally walk with Him. It is just “day-by-day plodding along”—it is faithfulness—nothing flashy about it, nothing “glorious” from the World’s point of view. But God is building something glorious. We need to trust Him, and walk with Him, and allow him to continue his work.

Let’s learn to walk by faith, embracing the Promise of the Spirit, and avoiding the Curse of legalism. Let us not try to apply Law to ourselves nor to one another, but embrace the Grace of God as a principle for living. Apply His Grace to those around you: especially to those you find irritating, frustrating, or unpleasant: they need it the most. Apply it to yourself: believe God’s promise: the Holy Spirit will stay with you, guarding your heart until the day He comes for you.

Lord Jesus; fill us with your Love, and allow us to learn your Grace. Help us to avoid the trap of legalism, either as applied to ourselves or as applied to our brothers and sisters. Teach us to walk with you by faith. Amen!