Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

Feeding the Whole Person At Easter

Feeding the Whole Person on Easter

© C. O. Bishop 4/13/17 THCF 4/16/17

1st Thessalonians 5:23, and others

Introduction:

One of the interesting things we learn in the Bible is that the human being consists of three parts…one could say we are a triune being, as is God…but it is not quite true. My body is not the real me…and, even my soul is only part of me. And my spirit is not intended to exist separate from a body and soul.

God says that He knows the difference (completely) between the soul and the spirit of Man. He says that we believers are to be preserved complete—body, soul, and spirit—until the coming of the Lord. (1st Thessalonians 5:23   And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)

So, though we have some confusion about the differences, God does not. He will give us new, immortal bodies, and our spirits and souls will be eternally in tune with His Spirit. We look forward to the fulfillment of these promises.

We show our confusion about the invisible portions of a human in that we tell people to follow their heart, when God says our heart (soul) is deceitful…that it is not to be trusted. In fact, over in James, where God gives us some New Testament truth about wisdom, he specifically says that the soul is not a good source for wisdom.

James 3:13-15

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

The word translated “sensual” in that verse, is the Greek word “psuchikos”—meaning “soulish”: coming from the soul. We can easily be deceived by our own souls, even as believers. I have heard people say things like “Eat chocolate! It’s good for the soul!” when evidently they only mean “it makes you feel good about life.” After I had heart-surgery, they gave me oxycodone—that made me feel good about life, too…but it was deceitful, and potentially addictive. I needed genuine healing, not just medicine that made me feel great for a while! As soon as I could, I got off that medicine, but it was hard, because, just like everyone else, I like to feel good. I needed physical nourishment and healing. But I am not just a body: I am also a soul, and a spirit.

So, how do we feed the whole person: body, soul and spirit…especially at Easter?

Feeding the Body

Feeding the body is no great trick, but it can be done well, or it can be done badly. There are tribal people in South America (Venezuela– the Yanoamo people) who chew certain leaves because they stave off hunger and thirst, and make them have a lot of energy. I’ll bet you can guess what those leaves are: Yep, they are coca leaves. They know they need food, water and rest, but on a long hike through the jungle, they take those leaves along, knowing that they will “feel better” as they travel. It is a pretty mild dose of cocaine, but still not a healthy choice.

So, we make healthy choices in food as best we can, in varying degrees. Some people are simply thinking basic food groups, and some not even that. Some folks, if you aren’t a trained dietician, you will not even understand what they are doing when they plan a meal. And some folks just eat whatever they like, whenever they are hungry. We vary all over the board on that, but we all feed our bodies. We get hungry, and we seek nourishment. This morning, for instance, we began with a fellowship breakfast downstairs, and everyone fed their bodies, and felt satisfied. But what about our souls? Perhaps our souls were being fed, as well, if we engaged in fellowship.

Feeding the Soul

How do you feed a soul? Our souls look for peace, and happiness, and feelings of fulfillment. Fellowship can provide that. Some folks enjoy the catharsis of a good cry, and they watch a tear-jerker movie. Some people thrive on adrenalin, so they either take risks themselves, or watch videos of those who take such risks… they watch action movies, or horror movies, thrillers, chillers, or something. They like the feeling of drama, so they read books or watch plays or movies that fill them with the sensations they crave.

Are these healthy diets for a soul? Well…depending on the subject matter or the activity, actually, yes, they could be. Engaging in competitive sports, running, whitewater rafting, or skiing could be quite healthy. Making things that require skill and patience, whether in stitchery or carpentry, can “feed the soul” on the satisfaction of a job well done. Enduring the daily drama of rearing children, and seeing those children grow to be productive members of society, and then feeling the satisfaction and relief of their maturation process, is a healthy sort of drama.

But there are unhealthy dramas, too, and some people feed their desire for drama on social conflicts, politicking, and gossip, or bullying and manipulating those around them. That is pretty bad food for the soul, and addictive, as well, as it feeds our sin nature’s desire for power.

Can we have unhealthy food for the soul in church? Some people would say we had an unhealthy physical meal this morning, because it wasn’t tofu and greens…but that meal was a special treat, and one we don’t engage in every day.

We could have an especially heart-rending story in a sermon or a testimony that wrings us out emotionally, and moves us at a soul-level. That can be perfectly healthy…or not.

The problem is: emotional drama is addictive, and we mistake it for spiritual food. On a once-in-a-while basis, there is nothing wrong with emotional drama, but as a matter of habit, it tends to take the place of healthy food, just as the coca leaves took the place of healthy food, water and rest, for the jungle tribesmen. But they knew not to do it all the time. We don’t seem to know the limit…we look for more and more emotional highs, and hope for more “signs” from God.

But God says that such things are not necessarily from Him. The false prophets in Jeremiah’s time had dreams and visions…but God says that they caused those dreams, themselves. They deceived themselves and others. He was not the source. (Jeremiah 23:25, 26)

We have read sensational books and watched movies about Jesus, which itemized every blow, every wound, and every drop of blood during the crucifixion, and stressed the emotional impact on the lives of the disciples, as well as upon Jesus himself. We agonize with Jesus at Gethsemane, and cringe at the deadly pain he endured for us. All of these things are true, and, to some extent, they are healthy soul-food, so long as you equally rejoice at the resurrection, and are galvanized to action by His ascension, His final commands, and His indwelling Holy Spirit.

But if all we want is the emotional drama, then, in the long run we are not much better off than the folks watching sad movies, and the like. I am covered by the blood of the cross…I don’t need to “have my nose rubbed in it” on a regular basis. I remember His sacrifice, and I am overwhelmed that He chose to die for me. I don’t see myself as someone that would even be attractive to God. But for some reason, “God so loved the World…”

I don’t have to understand it…I don’t even have to “feel” it. I only have to choose to believe it by faith, and receive His gift of eternal life. My soul will be fed as I walk with Jesus. I will experience all the reasonable, valid emotions just as He did, without any false drama, or self-induced emotional turmoil or ecstasy. But…How do we feed the Spirit?

Feeding the Spirit

When each of us who are believers placed our faith, individually, in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross, as being full payment for our sins, we were born again, as children of the living God. And He says, that, as babies, we need to develop an appetite…that we must sincerely desire… what? Not emotional upheavals and turmoil of the soul, but rather “the sincere milk of the Word” of God, “that we may grow thereby.” (1st Peter 2:2)

What part of us does God’s Word primarily “feed?” It primarily feeds the spirit. We are born again with a new nature, and our spirits are alive to God, and hungry for His presence. Can it also feed the soul? Absolutely! As we read His word, we can be thrilled by the exquisite joy of seeing God at work. We are grieved at the hardness of the hearts of humanity. We are fearful of the judgment of God, and desire to be freed from our sins and our guilt. All those feed the soul.

We feed our spirits by taking in God’s Word. So, when we consider the Crucifixion, and Resurrection, and Ascension, we need to apply our attention to what God actually says about it, so that our Spirits are fed: not just “how do we feel about it”, which excites the soul, but leaves the inner man un-nourished.

So, What Does the Scripture Say?

  • To begin with, it says that the entire human race fell into sin with Adam. He was our representative, and when he fell, we fell with him. (Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12)
  • Then it says that the result of sin is death: separation from God. That was our natural state…and, had we died in that position, we would have been eternally separated from Him. (Romans 6:23a)
  • It also says that God reached out in Love, to save the whole human race…he offered a free gift of salvation to anyone who trusts in Him. (Romans 6:23b)
  • That gift is offered in the person of His son. God says the eternal life he offers is in His son. Whoever has the Son has the life. Whoever does not have the son, does not have the life. (1st John 5:11, 12)
  • He says that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies, and that he came specifically to do that, in the course of offering us eternal life. (Luke 24:25-26)
  • God says the good news (the Gospel) of salvation is of first importance, and that it consists of the following truths:
    • Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.
    • He was buried in fulfilment of the scriptures.
    • He rose again the third day, also in order to fulfill scripture.

The Death and Burial and Resurrection of Jesus are the core issues of the Gospel, which, being believed in, is the power of God, to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16)

We understand the death of the savior, that it had to happen, or we would still be in our sins; unforgiven, and hopelessly lost. We see, too, how the burial at least gave testimony that Jesus really died—he was not just “playing possum”, or even in a faint. He was dead. And he spent three days and three nights in the place of the dead, fulfilling yet another prophecy, that he would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

But, what about the Resurrection?

Here’s what the Apostle Paul said about it:

1st Corinthians 15: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

So, the resurrection had to happen too, or we would still be in our sins, just as surely as if he had never died for us. But he’s Alive! He is Risen! Not only He is alive, but He has ascended to the throne beside God the Father, and eternally represents us there, as our advocate.

Folks, these are facts!  I honestly don’t care whether you are “moved”, or stirred by these words: what is important is that you believe them! That you choose to place your dependence on Jesus’s shed blood at the cross as full payment for your sins, personally!

Sometimes I ask people, “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” and they reply, “Oh, I believe He died for the sins of the whole world!” So, I ask again, “But did He die for your sins, personally?” And they repeat their creed that he died for the sins of the world. Do you see the problem? They know the facts, but they are not willing to apply those facts to their own specific case. Perhaps they don’t believe they need a savior. Perhaps they feel that they don’t understand it all. (Well guess what! I don’t either!) We are not required to understand it all. We are required to accept it by faith, apply it to our own personal case, and receive the gift of eternal life. It is just that simple.

The Resurrection is God the Father’s “stamp of approval”, showing us that Jesus was really who He said he was, and that His death and burial really accomplished all that He intended. And we are resurrected with Him, to live our lives for God! Let’s embrace the resurrection in our daily lives, and live because He lives!

Lord Jesus, strengthen us to do your will, and to follow you in our daily lives. Help us to embrace the full value of the Resurrection!


Paul’s Ministry and Motivation

The Mission and Ministry of the Apostle Paul

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/16 THCF 11/20/16

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Romans, and for the last several weeks, the topic had to do with church unity, and how to deal with the normal, healthy diversity in the church. The point was that the diversity is a good thing, designed by God, but that all of it had to fit within the holiness of God. God makes no provision for sin, beyond the Cross. Paul rebuked virtually every church he wrote to, in one area or another; not harshly, but in corrective teaching, designed to help them walk with God. The only church letter (epistle) in which there was no corrective teaching is the book of Philippians. The two epistles to Corinth are virtually all corrective teaching. So some of the things that were wrong in Corinth had nothing to do with “diversity”, or being “seeker-friendly”, or “relevant to the World.” Some of the issues were simply sin, and Paul addressed those things directly, and unapologetically.

The diversity had to do with different cultures, and different gifting; not morals, or idolatry, or any form of unrighteousness. We would be wise to frequently review Romans 14 and 15 to remind ourselves how to get along with those we find uncomfortable, as well as how we are to become less uncomfortable for others.

Romans is a very well-balanced book, as Paul lays the foundation for faith, and for a stable walk with God. Having done so, Paul goes on to begin to share his own heart; his own way of thinking regarding the gospel, the work of the ministry, the Gentiles, the church, etc.

Paul Shares His Own Heart

14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

In verses 14-16, Paul expresses his confidence that the goodness of God was already having victory in the lives of the Gentile believers in Rome. He acknowledges that they were completely capable of teaching or correcting one another, as needed. Why?

How could he be so sure that they were able to continue the Christian life without his assistance? What two things did they have that assured them of it?

They had the same two things we have—the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the written Word of God. Did they have the New Testament? No, it wasn’t completed, yet, though it is possible they had seen portions of it. Romans is evidently the sixth of Paul’s epistles, and the book of Matthew was almost certainly completed and circulating. Possibly the book of Mark had begun circulating, as well. (Remember that there were no printing presses, so copies were written out by hand, and passed around to other believers.)

They had all of the Old Testament, and, as we have seen in our previous studies, it is completely in agreement with the New Testament, where they overlap. The Old Testament laid a firm foundation for the New Testament, so that the believers who were well-taught in the Old Testament were easily able to grasp the teachings in the New Testament, because the two dovetailed perfectly together. The prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled in the New Testament, and the New Testament gave clear explanation to the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit was perfectly capable of teaching them from the Old Testament Scripture, and, if necessary, by additional revelation. But, in this case, Paul was that additional revelation. He was sent to do a particular job, and this letter is part of it. He was used to write at least 13 of the New Testament books…probably 14, though we have no proof regarding the writer of Hebrews.

He says that he was “bold” in writing to them because of the peculiar gift of God with which he himself had been entrusted—that he was the servant of Jesus Christ, sent specifically to the Gentiles. (The word “Apostle” means “sent one”.) In another passage (Romans 11:13) Paul says that he is “the Apostle to the Gentiles,” and that he takes it seriously; he “magnifies” his office. He says that his specific job was to ensure that the “offering up of the Gentiles” would be acceptable before God, being sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit.

When I first read this particular passage (v. 16), regarding the “offering up of the Gentiles”, I assumed that he meant that the offerings the Gentiles made would be acceptable; but it turns out that it means that the Gentiles themselves are the offering—a worship offering—and that he wanted them to be an acceptable “worship offering” to God. I like the mental image this evokes…that the lives of the Gentile believers were to be an acceptable, pleasing act of worship to God. I’m a Gentile believer, too…can this apply to me? Yes! We can take this promise and apply it to ourselves. This is a Church Epistle, and it is “To Us.”

Paul says that the result of applying these truths (the whole book of Romans) to our lives is that our lives will be an acceptable worship offering to God, made holy (sanctified) by the Holy Spirit. That makes the Book of Romans a pretty important passage to learn to apply. Possibly a place to start for serious personal study…meditation…memorization.

Paul’s Motivation: To be Used by God

Paul goes on to explain “what makes him tick”— what his motive in life has become. (Not surprisingly, it matches what Jesus said, in John 4:34—“My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”)

17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,

Paul says that this is his only boast: the effect the Gospel has had in the lives of those to whom he preached. Not in the work of others; just his own. And even this “boast” is only the satisfaction of knowing that his life has been used by God to achieve something of eternal worth. He says that he can boast “through Jesus Christ, in those things that pertain to God.” And that he will not boast of anything that “Christ did not do through him.” This gives us a clue as to what sort of things are reward-worthy, to God. The things Christ does in and through his people are the things he will reward as being of eternal value. Paul hungered for that reward, and the continuing experience of knowing his life was useful, as a tool in the hand of the Savior. God help us all to hunger toward that end, that we may be useful as tools in His Hand.

We often tell people, “Well, God needs (insert professions here; hair-stylists, shoemakers, welders, truck-drivers, laborers, etc.) too!” The fact is, that is not true! God doesn’t “need” anything! We need Him. We need to be in His will. Now, does his will have a place for all of those seemingly “common” professions? Yes! It does!

Tentmakers were nothing dramatic or glorious, in the time of Christ, but God certainly had a use for a couple of them in Acts chapter 18. The tent-making couple, Priscilla and Aquila, had Paul work with them for a while. Later, they took aside the “powerhouse evangelist,” Apollos, and “straightened him out!” It seems he only knew what John the Baptist had taught, plus the Old Testament. They filled him in on the “rest of the story,” as they had been taught by both Paul and the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, Apollos not only received it, he put it to use in his public ministry, and was mightily used by God, to refute the false teachers in that area. How frequently a powerful teacher, who has been used by God in great ways, is too arrogant to listen to the quieter, simpler folk through whom God may choose to speak. (It is well to remember that, on the occasion when He chose to do so, God was able to use a donkey to straighten out a prophet. It is not too much to ask, to listen to the voice of the less prominent. In the case of Aquila and Priscilla, it made a huge difference. They were used by God, and it made a difference!

Pauls’ Pattern of Evangelism

19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
22 
For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.

Verses 19 and 20 are interesting and educational passages: Verse 19 says that he, Paul, “through mighty signs and wonders by the Power of the Spirit of God,” had “fully preached the Gospel” from Jerusalem to Illyricum. What does that mean? Does it mean that he tracked down and preached to every single human in that area?

You can look at the maps of the Mediterranean area, and find all the towns in which he preached, and you can see that what he was describing was a pretty large chunk of territory. But we can read the account in Acts and see that he went from town to town, and preached in civic and religious centers, including market-places and synagogues, so that the news went out from those centers. Once he had believers in an area, he left it to them to find those who had not heard the Gospel and to share it with them. But Paul moved on to an area where the Gospel had never gone. “V. 20 “Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” That was Paul’s three-point mission plan:

  1. Preach in centers from which the message could spread and continue to grow after he left.
  2. Try to concentrate on taking the Gospel to places where it had never been before.
  3. Feed those that are hungry, and don’t waste time on those who are not. (See Acts 17)

Pretty simple, isn’t it? And yet we have huge organizations today, some doing great work, but “over-organized” to the hilt. Every believer can take this attitude toward the Gospel. Evangelism is really pretty simple—it is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food. And Paul had been so busy doing just that, that he had never been free to visit the believers in Rome

By the way, the above pattern is what Jim and Judy Burdett, with New Tribes Mission, have been doing for the last 32 years, while translating the scripture into Dom. They established three small churches, which are mostly self-sustaining, now, from which Bible-teachers are going out into neighboring villages and clans, sharing the Gospel, and teaching the Bible. Jim and Judy can only do so much. But they have taught in those three areas, and the ones they taught have the freedom to go wherever they will be received. They can go to places Jim and Judy could not go.

Paul’s Personal Plans

23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.
29 And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Paul begins his closing remarks, here, with his personal desire to visit Rome. He says “I have no more place in these parts…” Why? Not welcome there? He was never completely welcome, anywhere he went—he had a ministry that was sometimes very uncomfortable. He preached the Cross; Jesus Christ and Him Crucified: and, while it resulted in salvation for many, there were far more who totally rejected the message, and frequently were violently opposed to it and him.

But that is not what is in the context, here. In light of verse 20, what does “I have no more place, here…” mean? He was simply stating that there were no more untouched areas around him, and he was looking as far away as Spain, in order to fulfill his prime objective—take the Gospel where it had never been before. He had already done so where he was (see verse 19).

I knew a retired missionary couple, Roy and Linda Milton, who had worked in Indonesia. There is an area of Irian Jaya (the other half of the Island of New Guinea) called “The Bird’s Head”, because of its shape, that had never been opened to missions. I remember the way Linda’s eyes glowed, when she stated positively, “If they open up the Bird’s Head, we’ll go back!” Their health is no longer good enough to permit such a thing, and I am not sure whether that area was ever opened, but that was her heart’s desire, to take the Gospel where it had never gone.

Does this mean that we should never tell someone the gospel twice? Of course not! But it does mean that we have a greater debt to those who have never heard than to those who have already heard and rejected the Lord. If people aren’t hungry, move on and find someone who is hungry. It is impossible to feed those who are not hungry. Back in Romans 1:16, Paul stated that he was a debtor to both Jews and Gentiles, because of the Gospel. In Romans 13:8 we are told to not be in debt to anyone except for this abiding debt of Love. I was not immediately receptive to the Gospel, so if I had only heard it once, I would have been lost. I remember the first time I heard it and understood that all the necessary work was completed at the Cross; that all God was asking me to do was to place my faith in that single completed work of Jesus…His shed blood for my sins. It still took about six months for me to come around. I was eighteen, and I know I must have heard the Gospel many times before that and simply ignored it. God was gracious and patient toward me. But there does come a time when the evangelist must kindly say, “Well…I hope you will think it over and change your mind!” and then… close your mouth! There are others who will respond. You need to pray for their soul, continue to love them, and pray for guidance to find someone else with whom to share the Hope of Eternal Life.

Paul planned to go to Spain, but he had to make a trip to Jerusalem first. He asked for prayer, as the people to who he would go were not at all friendly toward the Gospel, nor, especially, to him. But he promised that en route to Spain, he would stop over in Rome and be a blessing to them, as well. We do not know whether he ever made it to Spain…we have no record of it if he did. And the only recorded time that he went to Rome, he went as a prisoner. V. 29 seems to make it clear that he fully expected to go to Rome as a visitor. If there was another visit, outside of the time he went there in chains, we are not told of it. We simply don’t know.

Conclusion: Paul’s Prayer Requests and Benediction

30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Paul begged the Roman believers to “strive together”, in prayer for him. The Greek word is “agonizo –the word from which we derive “agonize”. Paul asked that they pour themselves out for him in prayer, so that he would be delivered from the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem (who desired to silence him), and that his service toward the church in Jerusalem would be well-received. He asked for these things so that, when he came to Rome they could be a blessing to one another, and be refreshed by mutual fellowship.

Paul prayed for them that the God of Peace would be with them all.

Keep in mind that this epistle is to the Church as a whole. God wants his Peace to reign in our lives as well. As we study His Word, and align ourselves with His Will, we find that we are increasingly filled with His Peace. And, honestly, that is about the best thing we can experience in this life: His Peace, and His Joy, and His personal presence as we walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, teach us to align ourselves with your stated will so as to discover your specific will, operative in our lives, and to be filled with your Peace and your Joy. Teach us to practice evangelism the way Paul taught it, and to leave the result to you. Make us continually aware of your presence with us, as we seek to serve you.


How Important is the Resurrection?

How Important Is the Resurrection?

© 3/26/2016 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 15:13-19

Introduction:

Frequently we avoid an argument by “agreeing to disagree”, and there is perhaps nothing wrong with that practice, in principle. But we have been trained to avoid conflict, and to compromise, hoping for a peaceful resolution of any difference, to the extent that we don’t know where the limits are. We don’t know where to draw a line and say, “Here I stand; I can do no other!”

The Apostle Paul was savagely beaten on many occasions, left for dead after being stoned, imprisoned several times and finally executed for his faith. We fidget uncomfortably, and say, “Well, yes, that is wonderful, how he lived for Christ, preached his faith, and died for it, but we live in a safer world today, don’t we?” Well, I wonder: do we?

We have the same three enemies today: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil: Which of those three do you imagine to have changed? Satan certainly has not changed in the least. The Bible tells me that the flesh also has not changed—and in fact, if anything, it can only get worse. Has the World changed for the better? While it is true that for the first three centuries the Church existed, the Roman government viciously persecuted it, mercilessly torturing and murdering those who clung to the Name of Jesus, there are many nations today in which it is either illegal to be a Christian, or illegal to talk about it, or both. And in several of those nations it is quite common for a Christian to be either murdered for his or her faith or persecuted by the governments of those countries to the extent of confiscation of property, imprisonment, torture and even execution. We have been lulled to sleep by the relative peace and safety that we have enjoyed in this country for the last 200 years, so that when someone says something like “All religions serve the same God, and it doesn’t really matter what you call Him, or what you believe about Him”, we are only a little uncomfortable, because we have been taught that “Our way isn’t necessarily the only way…how can a billion Muslims all be wrong? Or, how can a billion Buddhists all be wrong?”

How Do We Know Our Way is Right? Isn’t that “Narrow-minded?”

In the first place, it isn’t “our way.” We are just following the instructions given and responding to the invitation given by Jesus Himself. Part of the answer to the implied question was given by Jesus, when he taught in Matthew 7:13, 14— He said, “Enter ye in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: Because narrow is the gate, and narrow the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.”  If there seem to be relatively few who respond to the invitation of Christ, and believe His Words, it actually proves Him correct. He told us ahead of time that this would be the case.

In the second place, the way is not “narrow” because of the caprice of an angry God, or bigoted people, but because of the simple fact that, throughout History (beginning before the Creation) God has provided only one means by which sinners may approach a Holy God without fear of condemnation. We see the first promise in Genesis 3:15, the first book of the Bible, and can trace both the promises and the growing clarity of doctrine regarding the death and burial and resurrection of Christ all the way through the Old Testament. We finally see the fulfillment of all those promises, prophecies, and teachings, in the person of Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. But in the Book of the Revelation, the last book of the Bible, (Revelation 13:8) we find that Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth.”  So we see that the provision for our salvation was actually made before the first human was even created.

This “Way” that has been alternately blessed and cursed by humans for the entire history of the Human race, is, in fact, the Way laid down by God before the creation. Jesus identified Himself as being that “Way”: In John 14:6, Jesus stated, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” (That sounds narrow!) As modern Christians we are uncomfortable with things that are “narrow”. We are afraid of public opinion that labels us as “narrow-minded.” We are taught to think that the number of our choices dictates the quality of our life. And yet, I cannot remember ever hearing anyone complain about the “narrow” choices afforded by the reality of our dependence upon oxygen.

No one rebels against reality and declares himself free from the tyranny of breathing, unless he intends suicide. Why? Because it is simply a fact of life that mammals all have lungs and breathe air, while fish all have gills of one sort or another, and get their oxygen through water. We accept that fact, and no one says how “unfair” it is that we cannot choose to live in a pure nitrogen atmosphere, or to breathe water, as do the fish. We embrace the reality of our dependence upon oxygen, and no one complains about it. Why? Because it does not require conscious submission to an external authority. We are built to crave air, and cannot do otherwise. But we do rebel against the fact that we need a Savior!

How Can Jesus Be the Only Savior?

Interestingly, the book of Job was evidently written before the books of Moses, the Pentateuch. And, in his book, in the middle of a frustrating, tangled, verbose argument with his three friends, Job made a fascinating statement: (Job 19:25-27). He stated that his redeemer already lived (give that some thought!), and that he (the Redeemer) would stand upon the earth at the latter day. He definitely declared the eternality of the Messiah, and that he is coming…but the following statement is really astonishing: he says, “…though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet, in my flesh, shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another”. Job predicted his own resurrection, based on the Eternal life of His Redeemer. And, in so doing, he established which “coming of Christ” he was addressing. It was not the earthly ministry of Jesus, but the second coming: Job’s resurrection is still yet to come, but: when Jesus stands upon the Earth at the latter day, Job will be in his resurrected body, and his prophecy will be literally fulfilled. He will see God, face to face, with his own eyes.

Jesus was the Redeemer for whom Job was waiting, and he was the promised Seed of Woman in whom Adam trusted. He was the Judge of all the Earth with whom Abraham pleaded for the life of Lot. He was the literal Rock of Ages that was Cleft to bring forth the water for the two and one half million Children of Israel, and all their livestock in the desert. He was the Passover Lamb, under whose blood those same children of Israel had huddled, to escape the judgment on Egypt. He is the only Savior because He has always existed as the Savior of the human race.

How Important Is the Resurrection in the Bible?

The fact is; if Jesus was not resurrected, then He was not any of those things. The person in whom Job trusted had to die. Isaiah 53 predicts the suffering of the Savior, and clearly states that it is for our sins that He was killed. Psalm 22 describes the crucifixion in stark terms and it is clearly a prophecy of the Christ, as nothing even remotely similar ever had happened to David, the human writer of that psalm. But Isaiah 53 also claims that this suffering savior would not remain dead, because it says that after his death; after he “made his soul an offering for sin”, he would see his offspring (us!) and prolong his days.

Psalm 16:10 is also prophetic of the Messiah: Peter alludes to it in Acts 2:27 and points out that it is definitely not regarding David, the human writer of that psalm. You see, it stated that the person involved, though he would die, would not be allowed to decompose, and that his soul would not be left in Sheol, the place of the Dead. David died, and had been in the grave for over one thousand years when Peter was preaching there in Jerusalem. His body was thoroughly decomposed, and mummified, and his soul was still in Sheol, to that day. Peter declared that this psalm was specifically in reference to the resurrection of the Messiah, and testified that he and the other (hundreds of) disciples were all eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. He concluded that this was final proof that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Redeemer.

Paul wrote, in Romans 1:4, that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God, with Power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead.” The Resurrection was God’s stamp of approval, showing that Jesus was really who He claimed to be. Without it, he was just another one of the victims of the Jewish leaders, and the iron fist of the Roman law. He would have just been a poor, deluded, poverty-stricken, pathetic Jewish carpenter who had overstepped the bounds of the society in which he lived, and it had cost him his life.

You see, those are the choices: either he was who he said he was, or he wasn’t. There is no real middle ground. If he was not the Messiah, then he was either crazy enough to think he was, or he was an incredible liar who ensnared millions of people with his false teachings, and who died the death a false prophet can expect, and his followers have simply duplicated his folly. But, there are a couple of problems with both of those scenarios:

In the first place, he didn’t act like or talk like a crazy man. He used very clear logic, analogy, and the authority of God’s Word to teach the people. And even His enemies recognized the power of His words. He was by no means incoherent, or illogical, nor did he teach anything that was in conflict with the existing scripture. He did teach things that contradicted the traditions of the Jews, and that is partly what caused the trouble. They hated Him for that.

In the second place, false teachers virtually always have an agenda: They are the “hallelujah hijackers”, and religious charlatans of history, who made grandiose claims and seized honor and/or wealth for themselves, availing themselves of privilege by one means or another. They usually eventually showed their true colors by vile immorality or treachery and violence, too, though there have been exceptions.

Jesus did none of these things: He sought no audience with the kings of the earth, nor with the rulers of the temple. He taught the poor, and healed the sick. When he worked miracles, both his friends and his enemies were conspicuously present. He seldom, if ever, did things in secret.

When he raised the dead (John 11, 12), proving his authority over death and His authority to give life, his enemies were there, as well…and they plotted to kill both Jesus and the man he had raised from the dead. (What insanity! If someone has proven his ability to raise the dead, wouldn’t you want him on your side?)

Jesus simply didn’t act like either a false teacher or a pathological liar. Even his enemies, well-versed in scripture though they were, could not refute his teachings. They could make no real accusation against Him, though they desperately wanted to do so. The Roman Governor, Pilate, could find no fault in Jesus, and said so, publicly. He eventually agreed to have him put to death only because he was afraid of yet another Jewish revolt, for which he could be held responsible.

How Important Was the Resurrection to the Disciples?

Remember that the eleven apostles had all been hiding in a locked upstairs room when Jesus appeared to them, entering the locked room and appearing in their midst. They were terrified that the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers might not be satisfied to have murdered Jesus: they could decide to mop up His followers as well. That seems a reasonable response, to me. Since their leader claimed to be the Messiah, and they had fixed their hopes on Him, it follows that, when he failed to deliver the kingdom they thought he was to usher in, and was taken without a fight, given a mock trial, a savage beating and a criminal’s execution, they would feel completely devastated and hopeless, besides (possibly) feeling that they had been cruelly duped. They would certainly not feel like “telling people about Jesus”, if they were sure he was dead…and they were sure of that, because they saw it happen, though from a distance.

After He appeared to them (and continued to meet with them and the other 120 disciples and an extended group of 500 followers), they were filled with joy and relief, but were still pretty confused about what Jesus wanted them to do. They actually went back to their old jobs as commercial fishermen, and had to be called away from that error. They were completely convinced of his having been raised from the dead, but…how could they be used by God, as the timid, fearful men they had become?

Jesus’s last words before He ascended into Heaven were that they would be given power (“dunamis”, not “exousia”: ability, not just authority) when they received the Holy Spirit, and that they would be witnesses for him throughout Israel, and to the uttermost parts of the world. And that is just what happened.

Ten days later, at the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in Jerusalem, and the Church was born. The disciples were no longer in hiding. They were openly preaching, and willingly risked death to complete their assignment, the Great Commission. They had been transformed instantly from a terrified group of very confused men to bold, fearless apostles, whose thoughts were supernaturally clear, to the extent that their enemies were amazed that uneducated men could have such insight and wisdom. Apart from their being absolutely convinced, as eyewitnesses, that their Master was alive forever, and, of course apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, the transformation simply could not have happened.

How Important Is the Resurrection to Us?

Paul makes this one absolutely clear for us in 1st Corinthians 15:13-19

13But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

To summarize: If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then,

  1. All Christian preaching is futile and wrong.
  2. All Christian witnesses are found to be false
  3. All Christian faith is misplaced and hopelessly wrong.
  4. All of us are still condemned in our sins
  5. All the millions who have died in faith, trusting in Jesus as the Christ, are utterly lost.

Paul concludes that, if in this life only we have hope in Christ (and not in an eternally living Messiah), then we are of all humans most pitiable…most wretchedly misled, and most miserably lost. And all of that is completely true IF Jesus is not risen from the Dead.

But we have the authority of God’s Word, as well as the historical testimony of transformed lives, and that of all those who have joyfully faced death, knowing their resurrected Lord. We are witnesses of that fact, as well, because He has also changed our lives. With the prophet Job, we can confidently say, “I know that My Redeemer Lives!”

Those who believe in Him are simply embracing the reality that God has provided one way by which we can have eternal life with Him.

Jesus said, (John 5:24) “He that hears my words and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from Death unto Life.” We believe His promise, and are secure in Him.

Because…the truth is:

He Is Risen!


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

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

In this Book:

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

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

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

The Person of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Effect of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burden of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Amen.


No Longer of this World

No Longer of This World

© C. O. Bishop, 6/19/2015; THCF 6/28

Galatians 6:11-18

Introduction

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

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

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

Make Use of the Time

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Teachers Have Bad Motives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Longer of This World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inward Change is What God Wants.

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

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

Peace in Persecution

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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


Have we Circumvented the Cross?

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

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

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

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we reject the Cross?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we do with Sin?

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

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

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

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s message:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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