Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

The Day of the LORD (1)

The Day of the LORD, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 3/30/2019

Isaiah 2:6-22

Introduction:

We have been studying through Isaiah, and are already up against some of the central themes of the book: the awful Judgment and Holiness of God, as well as the Grace of God, and His desire to reason with fallen Man.

Isaiah is distraught at the wickedness of Israel, and begs God to not forgive them, as he sees that all the coming Judgment is fully deserved.

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

The remainder of the chapter promises the coming judgment on Judah, reminding all readers that it was specifically because she has forsaken her God, and sought her sustenance from everyone and everything except Him. In verses 6-9, Isaiah is speaking to God, commenting on the spiritual condition of the nation, and the reasons for the coming judgment. He specifically lists all the things upon which they have depended instead of God—and the things in which they have found pleasure instead of God’s values. He complains that from the least to the greatest, they have all bowed themselves to idols, as a nation (not excluding the possibility of a righteous remnant, which God says will always be there.) So, Isaiah begs that God not forgive them. This is an interesting insight into how a man of God may see the holiness of God, and demand retribution for sin.

In Luke 9:54, 55 (Read it), two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, wanted permission to call down fire out of heaven to burn up some people (Samaritans) who rejected Jesus. But Jesus rebuked the two disciples for the idea, saying that they were wrong, and that He had not come to destroy lives but to save them. So, I need to recognize that even wicked, self-centered enemies of God (whomever they are) are still folks for whom Jesus died.

In the Psalms, there are many examples of “imprecatory prayers”, where the Psalmist called for judgment on sinners. Yes, Judgment is coming, but it will be in God’s timing, and under His righteousness, not our self-righteous indignation. The coming Judgment has a name, in fact: it is called “The Day of the LORD”, and it is first mentioned here in Isaiah 2:12.

The Name of the Coming Judgment

The Day of the Lord becomes a powerful theme in all the prophets, as we begin to see the various parts of it, and how widespread its effects will be.

10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.

11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

13 And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

In verses 10-22, he speaks to the people, outlining the coming judgment. He says that all the things they have depended upon will become worthless. Looking at verses 11, 12 and 17-21 we see that the Judgment in question is the culmination of the Great Tribulation. Three is no other time when all the earth shall be judged in that fashion, and in the Revelation, he describes just such fear and trembling, and attempts to hide in the rocks.

What is the Day of the Lord?

The Day of the Lord, mentioned here, and many other places, begins with the removal of the Church-age believers from the earth, as seen in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Read it). But then (1st Thessalonians 5:1-3 (Read it)) it immediately transitions into the tribulation; next, the second coming (Zechariah 12:1-10; 14:1-15), the Kingdom age (Zechariah 14:16-21) and finally the ultimate destruction of planet earth (2nd Peter 3:10-12). All five aspects are clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments. The immediate judgment coming upon Judah is very minor, compared to the ultimate judgment described here, though I am sure that they saw it as pretty major.

God says Judgment is coming (both immediate and ultimate), and that it will affect absolutely everyone (not just the Jews), and remove from them all the things they have depended upon and found foolish pleasure in. Verse 22 says that above all, they need to quit relying upon humans…which would include dependence upon themselves. (Cp. Proverbs 3:5-7) Part of our sin nature, our incurable arrogance, is that we continually trust ourselves over God, even though we have proven untrustworthy time and time again. Now: Am I advocating piously “trusting God” as opposed to going to a doctor? No! I trust that God will guide the doctor, and, unless I know a solid reason to do otherwise, I usually take the doctor’s advice. Do I mean, when I am forced to respond to a legal summons, that I should “just trust the Lord” and not get the best lawyer I can afford? No… I am to pray for God’s guidance, and look for the most honest and competent, intelligent legal counsel I can find. But my dependence is to be upon God.

The story has been told (countless times, I guess) about a man who was trapped by rising floodwaters. He sat on his front porch roof, and a boat came by, with a man offering to take him to higher ground. He piously replied, “No; I am trusting God. He will help me!”

The water rose higher, until he was on the peak of his upper roof, when a larger power boat came up, and the pilot offered to take him to high ground. He was frightened, but clung to his “faith” and said, “No, I am waiting on God!” Finally, when he was clinging to his chimney, and about to drown, a helicopter hovered overhead, dangling a ladder, and offering help. He made his final choice, to depend on God, and finally was swept away by the flood.

He appeared before God, and asked, “Why did you not save me? I trusted in you!” God replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What did you want??”

I do NOT think that the command to not place our trust in Man is an order to abandon sensible behavior, but rather to allow God to define what sensible behavior is. A hospital employee may say, “This child will never have a normal life, you need to have an abortion.”—and we should feel quite secure in saying, based our understanding of God’s principles, “No, I will not kill my child…I will give him the best life I can, and, though it may not be much, I will not deny him the right to live!”

Someone else may say, “Well, I would never stay married to a person like that…” and it may be that we feel the same way. But, we must have the conviction to do as God leads, not man. Marriage is sacred, and not to be lightly disposed of, though God does recognize both divorce and remarriage, according to John chapter 4.

The same things are true in Business, Politics, and Church Government. The “bottom line” must not be “Does it work?” or “Is it profitable?”, but, “Does it Honor God? Is it obedient to His revealed Word?”

As far as we know, the only two times Joshua got into any trouble were the two times when he simply forgot to ask God what to do. He thought he knew the answer, and went off to battle at Ai, when, in fact, there was sin in the camp, and God would not have allowed them to go to battle at all, without having dealt with the sin. So, 36 men lost their lives in a fiasco at a very small city. (Joshua 7)

The other time, he was fooled by the Gibeonites, because he trusted his eyes, and did not seek God’s counsel. (Joshua 9)

Joshua was a good leader and a good soldier. He made decisions on a daily basis that affected the entire country, but he also kept very close accounts with God, and, as a rule, he was always where he was supposed to be, and doing what he was supposed to be doing, because he walked closely with God and had His constant guidance.

That is what we need, too, as we approach the end times: we need to keep close accounts with God, and seek God’s constant guidance. We cannot see our deadly enemies, in the spiritual battle around us, but we are given some things we can do to be on guard. The first, is: follow Jesus! (The closer the better!) The second is that we are to arm ourselves as He directs us, and learn His wisdom from His Word, as part of that armament.

The battle is not ours, but we are in it, nevertheless. We need to take the coming judgment seriously, and live as those who have been freed from a death-sentence.

Lord, help us to see the coming judgment, as you have described it, and live to free others from the destruction to come.


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

We have begun walking through the book of Isaiah, and we have seen the Righteousness of God and the coming Judgment on Sin. We have seen that the book is primarily directed to Jerusalem and Judah, though there is later mention of all of Israel, as well as a number of named Gentile nations, and even the whole world as it will be affected by God.

It is difficult to keep things separate, and to see that the warnings and the promises, here, are not to the Christians in the United States, but to God’s chosen people, the Jews. However, as we read carefully, we can at least see which portions should apply to us, in such a way that we can use God’s written Word to change our lives.

The following three points, though directed to Jerusalem, can be applied to our individual lives, in a limited sense.

  1. The Coming Judgment,
  2. Our Ultimate Exaltation, and
  3. God’s Invitation to Practical Holiness.

Coming Judgment

27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Zion (God’s spiritual name for Jerusalem) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness. This may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation. But it could also be a prophecy concerning the Cross: It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that we have been redeemed. And, due to His righteousness being imputed to us by faith (just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6) we believers now have a right standing before God. That is good news for believers. But He goes on to say what will happen to the wicked, in verse 28.

28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

This could have referred either to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, under Nebuchadnezzar, or to the ultimate destruction of the lost at the Great White throne Judgment. In the immediate context, verses 29-31 are definitely addressing the specific sins of Judah, in their idolatry;

29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

It specifically refers to being ashamed of oak trees in verse 29. The oak groves in Europe were often places of heathen worship in many cultures; and, in the Middle East, the groves were specifically shrines to the goddess Asherah. So the reference is again to their idolatry; the groves and gardens of their shrines… And God says their judgment is definitely coming (verses 30, 31.)

It is interesting, too, to see the change in pronouns, here, where it says that “they” (3rd person plural) will be ashamed of the oaks which “ye” (2nd person plural) have desired. Usually, that is an important thing to notice, as it may indicate to whom a promise or warning is being delivered. If this refers back to the context of verses 27 and 28, then possibly it means that the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 will be ashamed of the idolatry of the “transgressors and sinners, and they that forsake the LORD” of verse 28.

I suspect that is the case, here, as the ones against whom he is leveling the charge of idolatry, in this passage, are the ones upon whom the judgment is falling, while the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 are evidently a different group, possibly far in the future, as Judah is reclaimed by God. He switches the pronoun back to “ye”, in verses 30 and 31, as he issues a final judgment against the idolaters:

30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

He uses the image of their idolatrous objects of worship (the oaks and the garden shrines) to predict their demise: he says they will end up like a dead tree, and a dry, shriveled garden. He goes on to say that the best among them will be as weak and combustible as tow—the loose fiber from which cheap rope is made—and that they will burn together with a fire which no one will quench. This does sound more like the Great White Throne judgment, because it ends in unquenchable fire…but the immediate fulfillment was coming soon, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been destroyed many times in history, but God keeps bringing the city back to life. As we get to the latter part of the Book of Isaiah, we will see just how thoroughly God will ultimately restore Jerusalem.

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

1The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse one reminds us (again) who these prophecies are about: Judah and Jerusalem…not the gentile nations.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

Verse 2 begins with a prophecy of the Last Days. Notice that it speaks of the exaltation of Zion (v.2)—this will only happen during the Millennial kingdom…so when we back up and look again at chapter one, I would say that at least some of the previous verses must be a long-range look at Armageddon, and the whole tribulation, not just the (much sooner) Babylonian captivity which was also coming. The Temple mount, itself, will go through some physical changes, as we shall see, further on. All the nations of the world will come there, in peace. Jerusalem will be literally the capital city of the whole earth.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Further, then, we see an international desire to walk with God (verse 3), and God (in the person of the Messiah) will be ruling personally from Jerusalem. The result (verse 4), will be genuine world peace, for the only time in the planet’s history.

There is no question as to when these particular things will happen, given the rest of what God has revealed it the whole of Scripture. Throughout the book of Isaiah, however, there will be short-range and long-range prophecies, intermingled. So we need to keep our eyes open, so to speak, as to when they are to be fulfilled. This one is definitely an end-time prophecy.

We look forward to that time, as well, as the Church, knowing that Israel will be reinstated as the recipients of God’s blessing, and that Jesus, the Messiah, will reign over the Earth, from Jerusalem.

We know that we are not Israel, but rather, are the Church, the Bride of Christ. We do not know what is in store for us; as He said, “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” So, we wait in hope, knowing our bridegroom is coming soon.

We know that the world faces judgment for sin for rebellion, for cruelty, for hatred…but we also know that our judgment for the same sins was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross. We do not look down our noses at lost sinners, because we know that except for God’s Grace at Calvary, we would be there, too…headed for hell.

So, since we see the coming judgment, and know, at least a little, of our coming exaltation with Christ as His Bride, perhaps we ought to take seriously the invitation which the LORD next offers to Judah: He makes an invitation to Practical Holiness…to walk with God.

Invitation to Practical Holiness

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

On the basis of this prophecy, (verse 5) the house of Jacob is being invited to join the Lord in His light (cp. 1 John 1:7, Amos 3:3), and to walk with Him. When we read a parallel passage in Amos 3:3, we see that fellowship between any two individuals is only possible through agreement. (“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”) When there is a disagreement between me and God, the fault lies with me, not God. For us to agree, I have to change my mind (Greek, metanoia—change of mind—repentance.) I have to confess, and I have to walk in HIS light…not the other way around. (Notice, again, the change of pronouns: “come ye, and let us walk” the one issuing the invitation intends to walk beside the ones invited.

1st John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (ALL sin.) What does it mean, then, to “Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light?” Jesus may have given us a hint, in John 14:21He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

What is the prime commandment from Jesus? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)  So, what might be a good litmus test, for believers? The Agape love is the main test we are given. In fact, it is the test by which the world is to judge us.

Over in Romans 13: 8-10, the apostle Paul confirms this, saying, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

That is a pretty firm, clear statement! The problem we have as modern Christians, is that we have no idea what that Love entails. We think it has to do with an emotional response, when it is nothing of the kind. When we read 1st Corinthians 13, where the Agape love is defined, we see that every single one of the descriptors has to do with actions…not feelings. It is doing, for the other person, what is truly in their best interest, and the things that most honor God.

The things we read just now in Romans 13 are all things to not do, because they would not be agape love. They all also happened to be things from the Mosaic Law, which Paul chose to illustrate his point that the fulfillment of the commandments is to be carried out by “walking in the light”, and “loving one another.”

This is not a return to legalism, as some would portray holiness: it is an invitation to a life overflowing with the goodness of God. God said “Be ye holy as I am Holy.” If that is a command to be as free from sin as He is, then the only way it could happen was that my sins were purged at the Cross. But if it is a reminder that, when He bought us with His own blood, he bought our entire lives, and that we are now set aside for His purpose and His pleasure, then it stands as a constant call to be alert to God’s direction in our lives, and to respond to Him in Joyful obedience.

I want my life to have eternal value. I am aware that Jesus said “…apart from me ye can do nothing.” So, unless I respond to Him in such a way that He is free to use my life as He wishes, then my efforts will essentially be wasted. Remember, He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much…” He said, “…apart from me ye can do nothing!”

The invitation was to all of Israel, in verse 5, here—that’s who the “house of Jacob includes. But Jesus said “come unto me, ALL ye that are heavily laden.” And the implication, there, is the same as here: we, too, are loaded down with our individual propensities for sin, whether overt or covert, and we also utterly fail to approach the holiness of God. That is why Romans 3:23 says “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is also why Jesus said “and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL men unto me.” (John 12:32) And the invitation He gives is to “Whosoever will.” “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely…” (Revelation 22:17)

Are you willing to take God up on that offer? Do you see the coming judgment and desire to be sheltered in the Grace of God? Then the invitation is to you, just as it was to Israel. We are not promised the land, but, even better: we are promised a place with Jesus, wherever He is.

All He asks us to do, is to confess our sins to Him, and then accept His free forgiveness: then we can choose, moment by moment, to walk with Him. When we fall, we confess, we rise up, and we walk again. He has called us to walk together with Him in the light.

Let’s strive to choose daily to walk in that freedom and holiness.

Lord Jesus, free us from the bondage of our sin and our fleshly desires. Raise us up to walk with you in the light of your Word, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us the reflected lights in the World around us, as you have called us to be.


Judgment and Righteousness

Judgment and Righteousness

© C. O. Bishop 2/27/2019

Isaiah 1:20-28; Ezekiel 34:1-17;

Introduction:

We are beginning to study through the book of Isaiah. Last time we saw the opening charges of God against Judah and Jerusalem. That is who the book is to, though it will eventually address itself to several other nations and peoples as well. We are wise to remember to whom the book is addressed, and not to attempt to co-opt all the promises and judgments for other use, even when they seem so appropriate to us. On the other hand, the fact that they seem so appropriate to us, is due to the fact that they can indeed apply to us, though they were not directed to us.

Judgment is truly coming for sin: all sin! How that judgment comes may vary a great deal, but God’s Righteousness will not be denied, and Judgment must come.

The Coming Judgment  

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

Beginning in verse 20, God begins the warnings to, and His view of, Judah. He says that if they continue to rebel it will cost them their lives. Judgment is definitely coming. God has given “fair warning,” and Judah has been notified, that if she refuses to be reasonable and accept His offer of Grace, then destruction will be the result. God has given His Word regarding the coming Judgment, and it is going to happen. It is imminent. For the Jews, it was coming in the form of invasion by their enemies, and for the whole world, it is coming in the form of the Great Tribulation. The only escape is through the person of Christ.

Consider the Judgment of the Flood, in Noah’s day. God announced the coming Judgment; Noah apparently preached it as a fact, durimg all the time the Ark was being built (he is called a preacher of righteousness), and, when the judgment finally came, the only lives that escaped the destruction were those people and animals who had sought safety in the Ark…those who had placed their faith in God’s Word, and entered into that Ark by faith. They chose to follow God’s Word, and trust in His promise.

We have had nearly 3,000 years of warning of the coming Tribulation, if one counts the veiled warnings in the early prophets; more than 2,500 years of very explicit warning, from the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament, and 2,000 years of rather graphic, explicit warning, as portrayed in the Revelation, and the other New Testament writings. There is no question that more than half the world’s population will be destroyed in the Great Tribulation, and that most of those left will still be judged for their wickedness, as Jesus returns to halt the tribulation. We read that one quarter of the world’s people will die in the wars beginning the tribulation, and that one third of those left will die of famine and disease, thereafter. But in Matthew 25:31, ff, we see that the Judgment of the living nations, by Jesus Himself, will immediately follow his return, and that those who treated Israel and the believers well will enter the Kingdom-age alive. Those who mistreated Israel and the believers will enter eternal Judgment immediately. The judgment of the living nations is still not the final judgment. The Kingdom of Heaven, wherein Jesus reigns here on earth, from Jerusalem, will last 1,000 years, and will also end in Judgment, as the secret rebellion on earth becomes outright revolt under Satan’s influence. Those rebels will be destroyed, but immediately thereafter comes the final Judgment, at the Great White Throne.

Keep in mind, as we read, who the Judge actually is: Jesus said “The Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son.” (John 5:22) So, the Judge in all this terrible, coming destruction, is God the Son! Our Savior is also the Judge of all the Earth! He gives us warning, so that humans may escape the coming destruction, if they are willing, and be saved.

The Basis for Judgment

21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.

He goes on to decry their moral decay, and their apostasy, saying, “How the faithful city (Jerusalem) has become a harlot (a prostitute, an adulteress, a slut.) This is using an object lesson—he has referred to Israel, elsewhere, as the wife of God, but here, He compares Jerusalem to a wanton, sexually unfaithful wife; the people are spiritually unfaithful, rebellious against God, and continually seeking out idolatry of one sort or another.

God considers idolatry to be spiritual adultery. Both Israel and Judah were unfaithful to God through idolatry, with Israel being first and worst, but Judah following hard after. It is instructive to note that after the Babylonian captivity, you do not see much about physical idolatry in Judah. They at least seem to have learned that lesson. God addresses another kind of idolatry as well, later on. And, in the New Testament, He identifies covetousness as being a form of idolatry.

He does say, however, that she had started out differently—under David, Jerusalem had been the city of the king, and the city where the original temple of God was to be built, under Solomon, (before he, himself, began his own slide into self-indulgent sin.)

By the time of Isaiah, the descent into sin had grown into a national epidemic of idols and immorality. In fact, before Hezekiah ascended to the throne, the temple had completely fallen into disuse; it was full of filth (unspecified, but one can imagine) and had ultimately been boarded up, while outside of it, there were literally idolatrous shrines on every street corner, being used daily in the worship of a variety of heathen gods and goddesses. Under Hezekiah, the last King under whom Isaiah served, we saw a national revival, and the blessing of God, once again protecting Judah. But it did not last long.

We, today, have filled our lives with any number of things that we hold to be more interesting, more valuable, and more important in our lives than a right relationship with the God who created us. God calls that idolatry. In our hearts, we begin to “board up” our hearts against God, as we spend most of our time and money on other pursuits. Though many of those pursuits are innocent in themselves, the fact that they ultimately supplant God, and render us deaf to His voice, eventually makes them a trap, and a hazard to our spiritual lives. We are very easily distracted by the World, and the results can be disastrous.

22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:

In verse 22, God compares Judah to a precious metal whose purity has been impaired to the point that Judah is now the dross that should be scraped off the surface of the molten silver in a refiner’s fire—not the silver itself, which He is trying to purify. Silver is a good metal to use for such a comparison, because, though it does have intrinsic value, and is sought after as a precious metal, unlike gold, it also combines rather easily with other elements (including other metals, such as tin) and tarnishes badly, even after purification.

Aluminum is another such example: metallic aluminum did not exist until the early 1800’s, and, as a result, aluminum was once considered the most precious metal, as it is very difficult to purify. What miners are digging up when it is mined, is Aluminum oxide ore, called “bauxite.” It can be purified into metallic aluminum, by application of enormous amounts of electricity. It takes great power to purify the metal…but it can easily return to nonmetallic form in a corrosive environment.

Does that sound familiar? It took miraculous power to purify our lives, at salvation: we were resurrected with Christ, and are eternally linked to Him. But, we believers live in a corrosive environment. The World around us draws us away from the purity of a relationship with Christ, and, in doing so, corrodes all areas of our lives. We lose the strength and beauty provided by God, and become contaminated with the dross that was once destined to be thrown away.

God further compares Jerusalem to “watered-down” wine. How often I have heard the accusation against some pastor or teacher, saying “He waters down the Word of God!” Personally I don’t like wine, so the metaphor is somewhat lost on me, but a person who waters down wine (or any other expensive beverage) is ruining the whole jug. How interesting, that Jesus’ first miracle, at the wedding feast of Cana, was to turn water into wine. Only God can do this.

Anyone can extract the alcohol from wine, through distillation, but only God can make it back into wine, when once it has been diluted with water. Alcohol is easy to remove: water is less easy. Getting the water out without losing the alcohol is very difficult…and to restore it to being a quality beverage, approved by those who judge wine by taste, was a genuine miracle. But I doubt that anyone at that wedding feast made the connection with the accusation here in Isaiah.

Deserved Judgment

I think sometimes, we “judge God”, as we think that He is “too harsh” toward sin. But, in this passage, he points out that the culmination of sin is not just the general immorality and deadness toward God: it always results in predatory behavior toward other people, especially the defenseless. So, the widows and orphans in Jerusalem were being preyed upon by evil people, especially by rulers who had the authority and the responsibility to defend them, but instead, as Jesus said, they “devoured the homes of widows.” There are people today who specialize in attending sheriff’s auctions, buying up items confiscated by the courts (ostensibly to satisfy debts or court judgments) at such cheap prices that the debt is not cancelled, and the person whose property was seized is still in debt. There is no defense against such practices, and, when judgment falls, there will be no defense for those who practiced such evil.

23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

In verse 23, God says their leaders had become corrupt; companions of thieves (bad company, even for politicians), and were accepting, even loving, bribes. They perverted justice for the sake of money (is this sounding familiar again?), and did not render justice for the poor, specifically orphans and widows.

In the news today, we constantly hear of justice being perverted in favor of the rich and famous, with little defense for the poor. Jerusalem had gone down that same path, and they were facing the Judgment of God as a result. We shake our heads over such injustice, and say “they deserve judgment.” But we forget that God sees all sin as having the same source: He does not judge only the sins that are obvious. He judges all sin. It all resulted in Jesus’s death at the Cross. All of it was paid for by Jesus’s blood at the Cross. And all sinners, including us, are deserving of God’s judgment…though we don’t like to think such things. But this is why Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 says that “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.”

Yes, we deserve judgment! But God has provided Redemption.

Redemption through Judgment

Remember that the means of our redemption was through Jesus fulfilling the demands of the Law on our behalf. The Law requires the death of the sinner. Jesus died in the place of all sinners, as a substitutionary sacrifice, just as the Ram in the thicket died in place of Isaac, as a substitute for him.  We are redeemed through Judgment, in such a way as to not be destroyed by judgment. (Galatians 2:19 “I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.”)

24 Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:

25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:

26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.

God says that He will rid himself of this repulsive group, thus easing himself of his adversaries, and taking vengeance on His enemies. Does that sound harsh? Does it seem judgmental? Call it “tough-love” if you want, but God calls it right judgment. God says we are not to coddle sin. Both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that we ARE to judge sin…the Old Testament calls for it in both civil government and the Jewish religion. The New Testament addresses it in the Church. In no place does God suggest that sin is to be winked at, nor, especially, that fame or riches should pervert judgment.

God, in this case, states that He himself will purge away the “dross” in His people, the Jews. (Remember that “dross” is the contaminants mixed with a precious metal, which can usually be removed through great heat.) He repeatedly used their pagan enemies as His “refiner’s fire”, and purged the idolatry out of the nation through defeat as a nation. The (future) result will be that Jerusalem will once again be called the city of righteousness (verse 26), and the faithful city. This has never yet happened, and will only occur during the Millennial Kingdom, also called the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth. Jesus spoke much about this coming time period.

27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Zion (Jerusalem, that is) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness.

I’m not sure what this may have meant to the people of that day: it may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation: that would certainly fit. Or it could be a prophecy concerning the Cross. It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that I have been redeemed. And, only due to His righteousness being imputed to me by faith, just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6, I now have a right standing before God. This is the only way God offers eternal redemption to anyone. In fact, it is the only way He has ever saved anyone in history: by Grace, through Faith; not through works. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

But God goes on to say what will happen to the wicked:

28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

Jesus himself warned that “…they who believe not are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) And, finally, at the Great White Throne Judgment, we see the eternal loss of all the rebels of history, who defied God, and rejected His offer of redemption. The “consuming” fire will be the Lake of fire. John the Baptist gave that warning, before Jesus made his appearance; that, “…he (Jesus) will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)

Conclusion: Escape from Judgment

Judgment is truly coming. And, we deserve it. But the Judgment for all sin was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross, so that through His being judged, we could be redeemed. Those who understand that a righteous God must judge sin, and who wish to escape that judgement, have the offer of Eternal Salvation through the Cross. There is no other approach to the Holy God, and no other escape from His Righteous Judgment. This is the “Bad News” and the “Good News:” this is the Gospel we have to offer to all around us. It is our privilege and responsibility to do so.

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to see the reality of sin, and the lostness of the people. Stir our hearts to care, and to care enough to speak, and to offer the same eternal life to them that you have given to us. Help us to speak wisely, and to see a harvest of souls. Make us able ambassadors of your Grace.


Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

People discuss the Genesis Flood in a variety of ways, divided into two main groups: those who believe it is a true account of a worldwide flood which actually occurred in human history, as a judgment upon human sin; and those who reject it as a myth, or a legend, or even a bald-faced lie. There are a few seeming discrepancies here, but I think they are easily reconciled. Some people will always reject anything from the Bible, without further thought, as they have already rejected the God of the Bible. I am not attempting to convince such persons of their error, so much as to confirm to believers that they have made a good choice; that the evidence is clear. But some do see discrepancies in the text.

Problem #1

Some time ago, I had made the statement that Noah entered the Ark a week before the rains came. I was remembering Genesis 7:1-10. The LORD commanded Noah to enter into the Ark, saying that there was only a week left until the flood would begin (1-4). It then says that Noah and his family went in as commanded, and that the animals followed him, and that the rain came seven days later (5-10).

This is the part which I had recalled, and commented on, but someone else pointed out that the passage clearly said the rain started the same day they went in, correctly quoting verses 12 and 13. So I recanted, not having the sense, at the moment, to look a little further back, to see why I had thought that they were in the Ark for a week, waiting for the rain. But now I see that both are clearly stated here: so how can I reconcile the two?

Well, to begin with, there is no evidence, once the procession of the animals had begun, that the people might not have moved in and out of the Ark, as they felt the need. (Or, they may have stayed there nearly exclusively.) And we don’t know how long it took to get the many thousands of animals aboard, and situated in their places, though it does say that the animals went in to Noah in the ark—he did not have to drive them in, lead them in, nor bring them in cages, or whatever. Apparently the LORD brought them to him, and He caused them to enter the Ark. (Getting them there was no big problem, either, as there was only one land mass at the time, according to Genesis 1:9.) Perhaps the humans did not even have to arrange for the other creatures’ places. It very much looks as though God was completely in command, here. (Now, there’s a revolutionary concept!)

But I can easily believe it may have taken a week to get them all aboard, at which time Noah and his family may have hopped down for a last look around, to make sure nothing was forgotten, or something. At any rate, apparently, the day the rain began was the day the procession into the Ark was complete. And God closed the door. And then the flood began to rise: not before.) Keep in mind that the Ark is a fairly detailed picture of our salvation in Christ. The general Judgment which will fall upon the earth, in the coming Tribulation, will not begin until the entire Body of Christ is saved, and taken off the Earth. This is a pre-figuring of the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church!)

Problem #2

Now. Here’s another problem. The earth had only one land-mass, as we said earlier, but that is still a lot of land. And the water had to rise enough to cover all of it. Many people deny the possibility of such a result, “just from 40 days of rain.” And they are right!

Look at Genesis 7:11, 12. The rain was certainly not the only place from which the waters emanated. It calls out three places. The first is that the fountains of the great deep were broken up—I don’t know if that means that water was coming from under the ground, as some teach, or if the ocean itself simply broke out, and overflowed its bounds in a great “tsunami” of sorts. That would certainly be a possibility, as we will see that unimaginably huge forces were about to break the super-continent into various pieces. Either way, it is not talking about rain, but evidently a subterranean or submarine source.

The second source is that the windows of heaven were opened. Now, I’ll admit that this could have been simply be a metaphor for the rain, except for the fact that, in Genesis 1:6, 7, God described two bodies of water: one below the sky, the other above it. Rain is never “above the sky”: in fact, it only exists in the lower strata of the atmosphere. The water “above the sky” had to be in what we would now call “outer space,” and it could only be in the form of ice crystals. The water from above the atmosphere had apparently been suspended there since the creation, and it now was being released to come down.

In recent years, scientists have verified that, to this day, great balls of ice-crystals are entering our atmosphere from space every day—snow-balls the size of a two-story house, thousands of times per day: they are immediately evaporated, due to atmospheric friction, and they add to Earth’s supply of water. So apparently these snow-balls are still left from the water canopy that surrounded us before the flood. It is possible, in fact, that the protection from harmful radiation, originally afforded by that canopy, is partially the reason why the people lived so long up to that time, and began to die sooner and sooner, immediately thereafter. But that is only speculation: we can’t prove it.

Then in verse 12, he says “…AND the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.”  The rain was a third source of water. It is instructive to note that, back in Genesis 2:5, 6, it states that no rain had been there, originally, but that God had caused a mist to come up and water the face of the ground. So, the rain was a new thing. This first rain came as judgment, and a worldwide monsoon. A true, torrential, monsoon downpour is a terrifying thing, even today, as the air is so completely filled with huge raindrops and (usually) a driving wind, so that the drops are hitting with painful force, not a gentle sprinkling of water. If they had never seen rain before, and the first rain was of this sort, it would be devastatingly frightening.

Genesis 7 and 8

Now: notice some other things: the rain was on the earth forty days and nights, and it was possibly toward the end of that time that the Ark was afloat (Genesis 7:17).  But, the waters continued to rise, after the rain had ceased, or at least after that first monsoon had ended. (Genesis 8:2 suggests that more rain came later.) Genesis 7:18-24 say that the waters continued to rise for 150 days—about five months. And at the end of that time, (Genesis 8:2) it says three things stopped:

  1. the fountains of the deep were stopped,
  2. the windows of heaven were stopped, and
  3. the rain from heaven was restrained (not after just 40 days), and

Then the waters began to recede. The abatement of the flood took even longer than the rising of the waters: the waters continued to recede for the rest of the year. After seven months, the Ark came to rest on the mountains (plural) of Ararat (whose elevation, today, is between 12,000 and 16,900 feet: the land was rising, not just the water “drying out.”)

After ten months, the tops of the mountains had become visible (8:5); in the middle of the eleventh month, Noah sent out the raven, which flew around for the remainder of the time. He sent out a dove, too, which is a bird with somewhat cleaner habits than the raven, and, as she could find no suitable roost, or a place to land, she simply came back to the Ark, and Noah took her back in. A week later, he tried it again, and she came back in the evening, with an olive leaf in her beak, which has become a traditional symbol of peace, because of this little piece of history. (Both the dove and the olive branch are used in that way, either separately or together.) A week later, he tried it one more time, and the dove stayed gone, evidently feeling that there was no point in returning.

Look at Genesis 8:13—it gives us the “date” when the waters were sufficiently gone, so that Noah started opening things up: the surface was dry—perhaps it was still hazardous, though, because of mud-holes, quicksand, and the like. According to verse 14, it was still another eight or nine weeks before the Lord told them they could come out. Why would such a “date” be important? Because, if you didn’t notice it when we read it the first time, it was one year and ten days earlier that the flood itself had begun, and they had apparently been aboard the Ark for seven days already. So, either one year and ten days aboard the Ark, or one year and seventeen days…take your pick. It was NOT a “forty day flood”—the heavy rains lasted “only” forty days, and evidently continued intermittently after that. The door to the ark opened over a year later, no matter how you read it.

Problem #3

Let’s notice some other little things—people frequently question the truth of this account, saying “there is simply not enough water in the world, to cover the high mountains.” They are forgetting two things: one is that there are incredibly deep trenches and “deeps” in the oceans of the earth: far deeper than the tallest mountains: If the ground were level, there is more than enough water! The other thing is that those very mountains, the ones they think could not be covered, virtually all have fossil seashells at or near their peaks. (How’d they get up there, hmmm?) We know that today, we can dig fossil seashells near the peak of Mt. McKinley (now called “Denali”), and upon most other such peaks. The forces which heaved those mountains up from the ancient sea-bottoms, or from the plains which had once been inundated by a worldwide flood, are the same forces that eventually tore apart the old “super-continent”, and left the pieces remaining today, as “continents.”

Let’s look back at Genesis 6:19, 20: it says, “…the waters prevailed greatly upon the earth, and the high hills were covered.” That’s pretty impressive sounding, by itself, from my perspective: I live on a 750-foot hill, and it is a very small one compared to the real hills nearby. But read verse 20: it says that the waters prevailed (rose up) fifteen more cubits (that’s less than 30 feet!) and the mountains were covered, and everything died.

So, then… if the difference, at that time, between a “mountain” and a “high hill” was only 30 feet, or so, what does that tell us? That they didn’t know what a mountain was? Or that the mountains they were referring to were just not very big? Or, that what passed for a mountain before the cataclysm that tore apart the antediluvian world, was far different than what we know today? We know there was only one land mass (compare 1:9 with 10:25—the Hebrew word (erets) translated “earth”, in Genesis 10:25, specifically means the ground, not the people.) By the way, modern science has finally conceded that this concept of “one supercontinent” is correct: in fact, they believe they “discovered it,” though ancient man actually watched it happening!

There was one land mass, with no “real mountains,” by today’s standards. The waters of the flood truly covered the entire earth. The earth was completely under water for at least five months; probably more like eight. Then a tiny part was dry, and finally it emerged with all the ground usable. But huge things were still happening—the land did not finish breaking up into separate masses until several generations later, about the time of the Tower of Babel. So when the people dispersed at the time of the Tower of Babel (in Genesis 11), it was easy for them to do so: they just walked away from each other.  And the ground continued to move, and pull, and shake, and tear apart, until the various family groups actually found themselves on diverse bodies of land, rapidly rising, and departing one another. It was rapid enough for Peleg to be named after the event, in commemoration of what happened (Genesis 10:25). In fact, it is still breaking up, today, but at a slower and slower rate of change…inches per year, instead of miles.

The Great Rift Valley, in Africa, is splitting apart the African continent, today, in a slow, but spectacular fashion. Victoria Falls is the result of the entire Zambezi River (over a mile wide) falling off the edge of that chasm, to the rocks, 340 feet below. People come from all over the world to see the spectacle of that waterfall, and that awesome chasm. Furthermore, I have read, this year, that oceanographers have discovered that there are stone ruins of towns beneath the North Sea, in an area which, if it were still above the sea, would connect the British Isles with the mainland of Europe. In other words, Britain was once a peninsula, connected to the mainland…and people lived on all of that land. (I guess “Brexit” really occurred thousands of years before recorded history!)

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

  1. God doesn’t exaggerate, and
  2. God keeps his Word.

Incidentally, the fact that He doesn’t exaggerate can also be applied to what He said, back in Genesis 6:5, saying that “the wickedness of Man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That was not an exaggeration, either. Which would be easier to exaggerate? The flood, or the condition of the heart of Man? You could say “the whole earth was flooded,” and only mean the part inhabited by man, or most of it, perhaps: many people refuse to believe the account, at all, because of just these sorts of assumptions.  But God did not exaggerate. He meant what He said, and He fulfilled His promise of coming Judgment. The same is true today.

His estimate of the heart of man is entirely accurate: it is not a “metaphor,” or any sort of “philosophical statement;” it is just the fact of the matter. We are a corrupted race, and all of us, to one degree or another, carry the mark of that degeneration in our character. We are taught by secular humanism (and by other religions) that “Man is fundamentally good.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Man is fundamentally flawed, and corrupt, and all one has to do to demonstrate that truth is to read the news on any given day: Read the political news, the crime rates, the various tragic realities in our cities, and those across the world. The whole human race is infected with a fatal disease called “Sin,” and we are getting worse, not better. The only “cure” is the Blood of Jesus!

In Ephesians 2:2, 3 (please read it!) Paul says (speaking to believers) that we (believers) all once walked according to the course of this World, according to the Prince of the Power of the Air (also known as Satan), the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience (meaning all unregenerate humans), among whom, also, we all had our conversation (“way of life, or behavior”: Greek anastrophemen) in times past, in the lusts of the flesh, and of the mind (notice that sin starts in the mind); and that we were by nature (by birth—by genetic predisposition) the children of wrath, even as others. (Just like everyone else.)

The fact is, that, when Adam fell into sin, back in Genesis 3:7, he took the entire race with him, as Paul points out in Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Verse 19 confirms this, saying that, “By one man’s sin, many were made sinners.” There is a universal contamination, here. All of us need a Savior: each individually, because we all continue in sin, individually. The Ark provided salvation for those within the Ark. But every single individual in the Ark went in voluntarily, in obedience to the call of God, and in faith, believing the Word of God.

That Ark was a great picture of the Person of Christ, in many ways: all inside the Ark survived the Judgment; all outside perished! The Ark bore the brunt of the judgment, but rose above it, carrying all within it to safety. Jesus bore the judgment for our sin, and died in our place, but rose to eternal life; all who believe in Him, entering in by faith, are born again, sharing in His death, His resurrection and His eternal life.

But, every individual human has to make this choice: will you confess that you are a sinner, in need of a Savior, and recognize Jesus as your personal blood-sacrifice for sin? (In which case He will permanently place you in the Body of Christ.) Or will you deny it all, and remain outside? This is the choice we present to the world around us. We pray for their salvation, praying for open doors before us, and willing hearts, but every single one has to make a personal decision. Our job, as the Ambassadors of Christ, is to persuade them, and to light the way for them.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” He also called us to be His witnesses in the World, as lights in a dark place. Let’s not fail at the task He has given us.

Lord Jesus, convict each of our hearts of the enormity of our sin, and the incredible Grace that you offer through the Cross. Help us to take hold of that Grace daily, and to offer it to those around us, as we live in the light of the Cross.


Putting on Christ

Putting on Christ

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/18

Colossians 3:10-16; Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27 Ephesians 4:24

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Colossians; these last chapters are very practical, direct commands, but they are based on the premise that the recipients of the letter are believers: people who have deliberately placed their trust in Jesus as their savior, and, as a result, have been placed into Christ. We are now “in Christ.”

In verse eleven, in confirmation of what was taught in Colossians 2:10 (“…ye are complete in him…”) Paul confirms that such people have been unified in Him, that their old differences are of no further importance. Their new position in Christ supersedes all other issues.

A New Position: in Christ

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Whatever you were before you were born again is of zero importance, now. In Christ, the old divisions no longer exist. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross. Where the Jews were once completely separated from the Gentiles, and slaves were once shunned by free men, and commoners shunned by noblemen, as a rule, they all have been leveled by the Cross. None of those “differences” are of any significance when compared to the Majesty of the Messiah, nor do any of those “differences” alleviate to any degree the total lostness of the human race, apart from the Cross.

He commands us, on the basis of our new position in Christ, to “put on” certain things. The “putting on” is a deliberate choice to behave in a manner in keeping with my position in Christ. In Ephesians 4:24, He said something similar: that we are to “put on” the new man…the new nature which we received the moment we trusted Christ as our savior. He says that the new nature is already there, created, in the likeness of God, in righteousness and true holiness. But he says we are to “put it on”, as an act of the will

Galatians 3:27 addresses the “positional” truth that, as believers, we have put on Christ: (“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”) When you first trusted Jesus as your Savior, the Holy Spirit baptized you into the body of Christ…at that very moment. And God says that you have put on Christ. That is simply a fact, reflecting your new position in Him.

But Romans 13:14 addresses the “conditional” truth that, as believers, we are commanded to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” That either will be done or will not be done, as we either obey or disobey.

This passage in Colossians is addressing the latter idea; that, as believers, we are to live in accordance with our new position, in Christ. It is a moment-by-moment act of the will, to either obey or not obey.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

We are to choose to live as the chosen ones of God, who are set aside for his service, and beloved of God. There has been a question raised at times as to how one can know that they are one of the “chosen ones” of God. It is a fair question, but notice that Paul addresses the believers, all the way through this epistle, and addresses them as “holy”, as “Saints” (which means the same thing), as “the faithful” (believers), and now as “the elect of God.” The “elect” means the “chosen” of God.

God’s Choice

An older teacher once painted a “word-picture” for me, saying that (as he imagined it); We find in our lives a wall, which separates us from God. The wall is made of our Sin, and God’s Righteousness. We cannot approach Him, though He calls us to do so. Eventually we are told that there is a gate, or a Door: One Way through which we can enter, piercing that wall. We find the door, above which the sign says “Whosoever Will May Come”. The door is fairly narrow, and there is no glamor to the appearance of it. But the invitation is there, for anyone who will believe. We see our sin, and the judgment of God: We hear the good news of the full payment Jesus made for our sake, in His blood at the Cross, and we enter in, through that narrow door, by faith, because the invitation clearly says “Whosoever will may come.” God receives us on the basis of that faith, and we enter in of our own free will.

But, from the inside of the gate, or the door, we begin to look around and learn, and understand a little more. We begin to see the “edges” of the glory of God, and wonder how anyone could miss all this. We hear that, actually, God chose us! Finally, we look back at the door through which we entered, and we see that on the inside of the door, there is another sign, which simply states, “Chosen in Him, Before the Foundation of the Earth!” Both are true: God chose in Christ (there’s that issue of position again) those who would believe in Him. We chose to believe.

Our Choice

We have chosen to believe God. Now we are told to choose to have a heart of mercy toward those around us, filled with kindness, as opposed to judgment, and humility of mind, rather than the secret opinion that we are somehow “superior to the wretches we have to put up with.” (Jesus said that “an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” If you are hiding arrogance in your heart, it will eventually show itself, revealing your true heart. Don’t think that “as long as I don’t do or say anything bad, it isn’t sin!” God says it always starts in the heart…in the mind. That is why he said that the Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs, looking great on the outside, but full of dead things inside. I really do not want to be like that. I’m sure that you don’t either.

Further, we are to be gentle, and yielded to God: flexible in His hands, so that He can mold us into His likeness. We are to choose to lovingly endure one another’s irritating idiosyncrasies, rather than secretly despising them. “Forbearing” means “putting up with” one another, not allowing ourselves to become exasperated.

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Remember what sort of things Jesus has forgiven you—the enormous debt He cancelled on your behalf: is it too much for Him to ask, for us to “cancel one another’s debts” as well?

14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

As the capstone to all he has already listed, he says to “put on” Charity. This is the Old English word the translators chose to express the Greek noun “agapé”…the love that Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. True, unadulterated altruism. Being committed to the good of those around us, without regard to how it affects us personally. Remember that this is specifically what Jesus gave as His “New Commandment”: that we are to love one another (agapé, again), as He has loved us. To “put on” this sort of Love, is to choose to act in a manner carrying out that Love. Go back and read 1st Corinthians 13. It is the most complete description of that Love, and every single attribute has to do with actions, not feelings. No exceptions.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

I have been told that the particular word for “rule,” here (Greek brabeuete) carries the idea of “presiding,” as, perhaps, an umpire, rather than a king or a judge. The word is only used here, in this one place, in scripture, so there is little to which we may compare it. If the meaning is to “act as a leader, or president,” then an umpire is not far off the mark. Let’s say, for example, I am desiring to change jobs, because I am frustrated with my situation at work (a common problem), but I do not have peace about just quitting, unless I have a firm directive from God, and a place to which I plan to transfer. Do I heed the clamoring of my never-satisfied flesh, or do I wait on God?

Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”…and verse 7 says, “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” So I think maybe it would pay off to wait for clear direction, and learn to be patient, rather than responding in anger. (Verse 8 says “Cease from Anger, forsake Wrath, fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.”)

Conclusion:

So, how do we make such choices? We allow God’s Word to begin changing us from the inside out. We allow it to “dwell” in us…live in us, and work in our hearts. Psalm 91:1 states that “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The only way we can expect God’s Word to “dwell richly” in us, is for us to dwell in the Word.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

The results should be, that as a group, we encourage and teach one another, and that our hearts will lean toward singing songs of praise and love for God. We have a mutual bond in Christ, and a shared task, as ambassadors of Christ. We are not only to share the work of the Gospel, but to encourage one another as we pursue our common goals. As God’s Word “dwells richly” in us, “in all wisdom”, it should affect us in ways that draw us closer to Him, and closer to one another, as well as making us more effective in evangelism, and discipleship. The burdens should become joyful, rather than grievous, as we share the heart of Jesus, when he said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!”

God’s Word, rightly applied to our lives, is the only thing that God says He can use to transform our lives. As we feed upon it, we give the Holy Spirit a “toolbox” to work with. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “…shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) If you don’t actively allow the Lord to speak to you by being in the Word, the Holy Spirit hasn’t much to bring to your remembrance, has He? Load up the “toolbox” with the written Word, and allow the Living Word to dwell richly in your heart.

Lord Jesus, draw us into a love relationship with yourself, through your Word, through your Spirit, and by a daily consciousness of your presence. Teach us to love one another, and to bless those around us with your overflowing grace.


Thirteen Reasons for Believers’ Suffering

Thirteen Reasons for Believers’ Suffering

© C.O. Bishop 02/2018

 

Thirteen Biblical reasons for suffering (there may be more):

In the first place, let’s remember that God is Sovereign… He does not require our approval. His ways are just, even when we don’t like them. He defines righteousness. The evil that is in the world came there as a result of Human sin, not Divine caprice.

So, We Can Begin With “Consequences” (The first four points):

  • Consequences of Original Sin. There are bad things happening in the world, and the world got that way when Adam sinned. Romans 5:12—“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
  • Consequences of Personal (past) Sin (or simply error, etc).—there can be (and usually are) consequences for sin, folly or error. This is not punishment per se, but simple consequences. Sometimes the natural consequences for an error are seen as punishment—but punishment implies wrongdoing, and some error is not wrongdoing, but just bad judgment, or clumsiness, or ignorance—all can have terrible consequences.
    I have a cousin who is missing an arm. He lost it because he fell out of a tree and broke it…and the attending physician did not realize the bone had pierced the skin, and plunged into the soil before pulling back into the flesh—thus infecting the flesh with bacteria that nearly killed him. They had to amputate the arm to save his life, and even so, they nearly lost him. Punishment? No—partly original sin—there are terrible bacteria out there; infections can kill. Partly error on my cousin’s part—he fell out of a tree. Partly error on the physician’s part—he was not careful enough in his diagnosis. But possibly, even had they known exactly what they were up against, they may have lost the arm anyway. No matter how you look at it, it is not punishment.
  • Consequences of Personal Sin. (current) In a believer’s life, God may institute chastening to turn us away from error. It is still not the same as punishment. God says the wages of sin is death—eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. That is punishment. Jesus said (John 3:18) “He that believeth in Him is not condemned; He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” We who are believers have placed our trust in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross—where is our Judgment? At the Cross. Where is our sin? At the Cross. Where is our punishment, our condemnation? At the Cross. But God DOES chasten believers, to straighten them out. Do you think Jonah’s trip back to the beach was fun?
  • Consequences of Personal Righteousness. This is an odd one—we think that if we are doing right, everything ought to go well…and sometimes it does.
    There is a verse, (Proverbs 16:7) that states, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”. That is a general truth—in general, that is something we can expect. But if our enemies are God’s enemies, then at some point, we will be attacked for being good. 1st Peter 2:19 “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”
  • Training, or testing, in the sense of an athlete, or soldier, or student. God still refers to this as “chastening,”  (Hebrews 12:3-15) but it is not punishment, nor even as a result of wrongdoing. It is a “workout” given so that we may profit thereby. Sometimes God allows us to go through hard times to develop our faith. See James 1:2-4 “Count it all Joy, my beloved Brethren when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” God loves us and subjects us to stresses to make us better able to serve, and better able to stand against the evil of the world.
    Another way to look at the same concept is “pruning”. John 15:2(b) states that a genuine, healthy, live, fruit-bearing branch of a vine may still be pruned to make it more fruitful.
  • Because it is simply God’s will for us at the time. Job did NOT know what was going on in his life, nor why he suffered the loss of all his possessions, and all his children in a single day. We were given a little peek into what was going on. God did have a purpose, and it had nothing to do with any error on Job’s part, nor, apparently, any need for correction, testing or training (though perhaps we could read that into the result.) God had his own purpose in Job’s life, and was not required to explain it all to Job. (And he didn’t, as far as we know, unless Job was the author of the book (it doesn’t say), and God gave him the revelation to know what all had happened behind the scenes.)
  • Suffering for Faith. Being subjected to threat from around us, and suffering rather than renouncing faith (this is closely related to #4: consequences of personal righteousness, but is a little different.) Under genuine persecution, a believer may be offered a chance to recant his faith in order to escape persecution. Refusing to recant, and accepting the suffering, is part of the believer’s lot. During the early days of the church, many lost their lives for that very cause. Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake”
  • So that we may be a comfort to others. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (read it) Verse 4. That we may comfort others with the same comfort wherewith we were comforted by God.
  • So that our consolation in Christ may abound. Verse 5. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so may the consolation of Christ abound. We are called to join Him in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we are to experience the reality of His consolation, as well. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  • So that others’ consolation may abound through us. Verses 6-7. We can learn from the experiences of those around us. We will not experience everything ourselves.
  • So that we will learn to trust God, and not ourselves (could be tied to #5). Verse 9. This is an important one.
  • So that we as Christians may learn to pray for each other. Verse 11.
  • So that Thanksgiving may be offered on our behalf. Verse 11.

If we can accept the suffering in our lives, and respond in faith, it will glorify God, and bring eternal blessing to us. 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 10

The Judge of All the Earth

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 THCF 8/26/18

Genesis 18: 16-33; 19:1-38

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Book of Genesis, with the specific intent of observing Jesus as the Creator, in the Old Testament, as well as seeing who He is, and what He is like, beyond what we can see in the Gospels. Last time, we saw God talking with Abraham, and promising a son, through Sarah. We read how both Abraham and Sarah responded with a chuckle, because of the apparent impossibility of the fulfillment. We saw how God named the unborn son “Isaac,” meaning “he laughs”, because of Abraham’s laughter. That was the good news of chapter 18, but there was bad news, as well.

Bad News

In this next passage, God tells Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for their extreme sin. To me, this is a very sobering passage, as I see that our nation (indeed, our whole modern world) is sliding deeper and deeper into the very kinds of sin that Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for, as well as the violence that covered the earth before the flood. How much longer can we expect the judgment of God to tarry? It may be instructive to compare the old judgment with what is to come (as both are in the scriptures: we are not assuming we have figured out the future of our country or any such thing) and see whether there are other parallels.

To begin with, it is good to see that Abraham, rather than saying, “Well, good! It’s about time you burned those nasty sinners out!” was immediately concerned for any righteous who might still be living there. We assume he was primarily concerned for his kinsman, Lot, but he started with the premise that there might be fifty righteous there. Apparently he had a pretty good idea what the city was like, if he thought fifty might be the maximum. He also recognized that God has the right to judge sin, and he did not complain that God was being “too harsh” on sin, but was simply fearful that those who were believers might be destroyed with those who rejected the authority of God. He addressed this visible, personal God as the “Judge of all the Earth.”

Bear in mind, through this entire exchange, that it was the Lord Jesus who was speaking with Abram. In John 5:22, Jesus confirms that He himself is, in fact, the Judge of all the Earth, so Abram was correctly addressing Him, and begging him to save the righteous. This was God the Son, receiving the prayer of Abraham. God (the Son) said “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the whole place.”

Now, that is an astonishing thing, in itself! It would seem more efficient to “weed out” the unrighteous, and leave the righteous to start over with a good community.  But, as far as I can see in scripture, it is usually the other way around. The flood covered the whole earth, after God removed those he chose to save. Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed, after God removed Lot and his family.  Jericho was completely destroyed after God had salvaged Rahab and her family. Give that some thought: how might that pattern apply, today?

But Abraham kept dickering, and whittling the number down, and even at ten, God said he would spare the whole place for the sake of ten righteous. But, at that point, God broke off the conversation, and left. God already knew how many were there who would respond to Him at all. That is why he sent two angels, rather than only one…one could easily destroy the condemned cities, but he needed to drag four people out, to salvage them from the destruction. (Two angels, four hands.)

We believers pray for our nation, our leaders, the various peoples of the World, and for Israel, knowing that judgment is coming. The fact that we know judgment is coming does not render our prayers ineffectual or hopeless. Abraham prayed for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. We can do the same. 2nd Peter 3:9 says that the reason God is taking his time about judging this world is that He is being very patient, and giving people the opportunity to repent. Sodom and Gomorrah apparently had run out of time, and judgment finally fell.

Judgment is coming in our world as well: we are supposed to be acting as God’s ambassadors, attempting to offer reconciliation and salvation to any who will accept God’s terms. We know judgment is coming, but we do not know when. We reach out to those around us, trying to offer them God’s chosen way to escape the coming judgment, but not many believe us. Sometimes that is an indictment against us, for not having a sufficiently stable and consistent walk with God that our testimony would be believable. Overall, however, it is an indictment against the World, as they have consistently rejected God, no matter who He sent to speak to them: even when He came Himself, in human form, as Jesus, the Messiah.

Genesis 19

At the beginning of this terrible passage, we see the two angels arriving in Sodom, at evening. Lot was sitting in the gate of the city. We think nothing of this statement, but the city gates were where the elders of a city, and the judges of a city would position themselves. It was not only a place of honor, but a place of responsibility. How was it that Lot had been put in such a position? He must have “fit in” somehow, in order to be recognized as a judge of any kind, it would seem.

Good News?

Lot saw the “men” as strangers, who needed to be protected from the men of the city. He met them courteously, and persuaded them (over their protests that they intended to spend the night on the street) to spend the night in his home, instead, and to plan to leave early the next day. This attempt is about the only thing recorded (along with his plea to the Sodomites to leave the men unmolested) where we can see that he may have been a believer. We are not told what he said to them, but he was very strongly pressing them to accept his hospitality and stay the night indoors. He knew they would be in danger at night on the streets in Sodom. Perhaps he warned them of the reason, perhaps not. We are not told what he said; just that he “pressed them greatly.” Apart from this, there is very little evidence that he was a righteous man, and without what we see in the New Testament about him, we could easily assume that he was a lost individual. However, he treated them with genuine hospitality, preparing a feast for them, which they ate.

But before any of them could head for bed, all the men of the city, young and old—all the people from every quarter—surrounded the house, demanding that Lot turn over to them the two “men” who had come under his roof; and they specifically stated their intent: homosexual rape. (The word “know” here was about carnal knowledge, not a formal introduction.)

Lot came out and argued with them, trying to dissuade them, stating that it was for this express purpose that he had brought them into his home; to avoid this crowd of rapists. He even offered his virgin daughters to the mob, as substitutes (what a horrible father he was!), but they insisted, saying that Lot did not belong there, anyway: that he had come there as a stranger; a sojourner, but now seemed to think himself to be a judge. They declared that they would treat him worse than the other two; then they moved to attack him, and to break down the door.

Apparently, up until this point, Lot had no idea who he was trying to shelter. But the two angels reached out and pulled Lot inside, and simultaneously struck blind the men of the city, young and old, so that they could not find the door. In fact, it says that they “wearied themselves trying to find the door.” What incredible single-mindedness! They only had one concern. The fact that they had been struck blind did not seem to bother them. They continued to search for the door!

Bad Testimony

The two angels instructed Lot to go and notify his entire extended family that the city was about to be destroyed. He did go out and tell his sons-in-law, who were evidently betrothed to his daughters (or, it is possible he had older daughters who were already married, but that would be guessing.) The sons-in-law did not take his warning seriously, and just thought he was joking.

When morning was beginning to dawn, the two angels told Lot that the time had run out, and that he had to leave. He protested, and lingered, and so they took him and his wife, and his two daughters by their hands and literally dragged them out of the city, then told them to get going, not to look back at all, but to flee to the mountains.

Lot was still protesting, and saying he couldn’t make it to the mountain. He begged to be allowed to flee to a small, nearby city, saying that he could get there, and live. They finally relented, and allowed him to flee to that location. The name of the city prior to this, was “Bela”. After this it was called “Zoar”, meaning “small.”

This whole account has a lot of things for us to learn: To begin with, we need to see that judgment is coming. There will come a time when the time has run out, and judgment has come. Even a believer can be affected by the coming judgment, even though we are eternally saved. Lot was a believer, according to God. But the judgment affected his life in terrible ways. It did not have to happen that way: He chose that outcome through unbelief, indecision, and inaction.

God knew how many he was going to save out of that city—there were not the fifty that Abraham hoped for, nor even the ten…there were four: they were dragged out of the city, unwilling to go, and even then, one of them was lost, by turning back. This story has often been held up as an example of someone “losing their salvation.” But: in the first place, we have no evidence of her salvation, in terms of belief, faith, repentance, etc. All we know is that she was dragged out of Sodom, along with Lot and their two daughters. Perhaps she was not a believer at all…and even if she was, believers have many times lost their physical lives because of sin…and it had no effect on their salvation. Consider Josiah, a righteous king, who for some idiotic reason (pride, perhaps?) decided to fight Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when Pharaoh was not even attacking him, but rather was attacking someone who was his enemy. What happened? Necho (the particular Pharaoh involved) warned him off, saying “Your God sent me to punish that king (of Assyria)…stay out of my way!” Josiah wouldn’t listen, and, sadly, uselessly, he died in the ensuing battle. It stands (or at least it should stand) as a lesson for us, today.

Lot’s life stands as a lesson, too. God says Lot was a righteous man (2nd Peter 2:6-8), but his life did not reflect it—he chose to be deeply associated with the wicked world—he was involved in their local politics, in fact, and his testimony was so shallow that when he tried to warn his prospective sons in law of the coming judgment, they thought he was kidding. He had a warning of sorts, a few years earlier, when Sodom was attacked, and he was captured: he probably witnessed the exchange with Melchisedec and Abram, as well as that between the king of Sodom and Abram. Abram set the example of the choice to follow God; but Lot returned to Sodom.

Bad Results

I could conjecture, perhaps, that he considered it a “mission field”…and so it may have been. But no one believed his message, if indeed he had one. And the long run result in his own family was that his daughters did not know God’s will, and he himself did not trust God for daily living, though he had evidently trusted him for salvation. In the face of judgment, he still chose the city of destruction (“Bela” means “destruction”), and then, when he saw the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he no longer believed God would keep his word concerning that “small” city and he fled to the mountains, where God had ordered him to go in the first place. Ironically, that city still exists today, though the name has changed a little. God kept his word through all the ages, though Lot had none of the benefits: Lot left a place that God saved for his sake—simply because he spoke up for it—and he went off and lived in a cave, where his daughters, assuming that he was the only man left in the world, decided they had to “save the human race” by getting themselves pregnant by their own father.

The two girls got him drunk and crawled into bed with him while he didn’t know what he was doing. Each deliberately became pregnant by their father, Lot. Their two sons, born of that union, were named Moab and Ben-Ammi. Their descendants, called the Moabites and the Ammonites, are still with us today, and have been enemies of Israel from the beginning until now. Today we call them “Jordanians,” and the capital of Jordan is Amman, even today. They are still the enemies of Israel. The Palestinians themselves are actually Jordanians, too. The sons of Lot have been a source of grief to Israel for nearly five thousand years, now. They are still people for whom Jesus shed his blood, and we desire to see them saved…but what a mess!

Most ironic of all, I suppose, is the fact that, had Abraham simply left Lot back in Ur of the Chaldees, as he was told to do, or even in Haran, years later, then none of this would have ever happened. But God has used it to his glory, and He will continue to do so. Remember that Ruth was a Moabite woman, and she became the Great-g-g-g grandmother of Jesus!

Conclusion:

One thing I want to point out, here, is that ALL the men from every quarter, young and old, etc. surrounded the house with one intent: to gang-rape the two “men” who had come to Lot’s house. They did not know they were angels. They simply saw them as “fresh meat”. The immorality of that area had reached “critical mass.” They were unsalvageable. We look at our society today and think “Oh, it’s just like Sodom!” but we are far from 100% immoral, though it may seem we are fast headed that way. God grant us the wisdom and courage to turn the tide, if possible.

Oh: and, about that repeating pattern? The one where God removed the righteous (declared righteous because of Faith), and then destroyed the city? Can you think of a coming event in prophecy which may have been prefigured by those Old Testament patterns?

How about the fact that there is a day coming when the Church will be removed, and the entire World judged, in the Great Tribulation? Yes, I think that is the picture in the case of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. And, more specifically, Lot is also a picture of believers who are saved by faith, but live their lives in sin. When the judgment seat of Christ comes, and our works are judged, they will still be saved, yet so as by fire…they have escaped judgment but lost most (or perhaps all) of their chances for reward. Lot was literally dragged out of Sodom, and most (or perhaps all) the wealth he had gained was lost in the destruction of the city. What a sad, shabby story of ruin and waste! And it was all so avoidable, too.

But where does Jesus fit into this story? Keep in mind that He is the Eternal Judge of all the Earth! Remember, too, that He is the one who authoritatively declared Lot to be righteous by faith, and who sent the angels to rescue him. He is the Savior of the World and the Judge of all the Earth. We need to see Him that way, and worship Him as God.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to your true identity, and teach us to walk with you, serving willingly as your ambassadors to a lost World.


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

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

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

Abram Met With God

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

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

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

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

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

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

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

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

A Contract with God

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

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

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

We Meet With God

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

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

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

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

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

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

So; What About The Promised Land?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

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

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

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

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

Finally,

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

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

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

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


Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

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

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Sent From God –To You!

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

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

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

Position and Condition

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

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

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

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

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel and the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith and Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 5/16/2018

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction:

We have been studying through Paul’s epistle to the believers at Philippi: We have witnessed the close relationship between the Apostle Paul and this particular assembly of believers.

We have seen that, in spite of the epistle being quite a personal and tender letter to Paul’s dear friends, and fellow-laborers, it is also addressed to the believers in all ages: to us!

Paul has just concluded some pretty important directives as to how to experience the Peace of God (as opposed to Peace with God), and has concluded in Philippians 4:9 that if the believers would put into practice all that they had learned from Paul, and had witnessed in his living example, then the God of Peace would “be with” them. That he would sustain and uphold them through the hard experiences of life, and that they would live lives saturated with the Peace of God. They already had, permanently conferred upon them, Peace with God. They were learning to experience the Peace of God.

Now Paul changes the subject and blesses them for their recent gift.

The Supporting Church

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

Evidently the Church at Philippi had lost track of Paul for a while, and, though they had desired to support him, they couldn’t, simply because they didn’t know where he was. He acknowledged that, and graciously relieved them of any feelings they may have had, that they had somehow let him down.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Paul says that he was not hurt in their absence…he had matured to the point that he was satisfied with little or much, and neither would distract him from the job at hand. This is an important point. I have had people tell me that if God would not support them, they would not serve Him. To be fair, I think their logic was that “God’s blessing comes in the form of support”, therefore a lack of (financial) support would indicate a lack of his blessing, and that they would take that as a signal to stop whatever ministry they were involved in. That is still poor logic: Every single child of God is called to be an ambassador for Christ. You serve, regardless of circumstances, and regardless of reward. The privilege is to serve, and the blessing was the Great Commission.

So Paul had learned the lesson of true blessing, and knew it seldom is dependent upon finances. This seems perfectly logical to me, but, if you recall, the people of Israel had sought a very mercenary relationship with God, often. “You bless us, and we’ll serve you!” (Witness Jacob at Bethel: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, and I will bring you back a tithe!” Really? If God just wanted the money, why would he bother giving it to you? He could just keep it! Jacob seemed to have things rather backward…but God taught him differently over the ensuing years. Jacob learned what it meant to put God first.)

But this little church, out of their deep poverty, had regularly sought the privilege of supporting Paul in his work. They gave far beyond their means, counting it a privilege, and he received it as a blessing from God. But he was not dependent upon their gifts.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul says that he was completely satisfied to serve, regardless of the conditions, just as they evidently were pleased to serve. He had learned (been instructed) how to be full, and how to be hungry: to live with abundance and to live with poverty. And he was able to serve under either extreme:

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Notice how the context, here, changes the meaning of the verse? How many times have you heard someone “claim this verse” as their “promise” that they could do some hard task, or perhaps win a football game, or some similar application? This is a great case-in-point for learning to get the interpretation correct, and then look for application.

Do you see what the context is? It is the question of living with plenty or living with barely enough to survive: not “winning a game,” or lifting a load, or overcoming a trial, a disease, a court case, or whatever…it had to do with learning the peace of trusting God for everything….not worrying about where the next meal is coming from, etc., because Paul was doing what God sent him to do, and he was confident that God was meeting his needs according to His own plan. And Paul was satisfied with the plan!

There is no hint, here of “special empowering” for super-human tasks, though we know that Paul was used, on more than a few occasions, to bring about various miracles. I think it is really instructive to observe that, when Epaphroditus was sick (Philippians 2:25-30), and nearly died, Paul was not given authority for a miraculous healing, though God did eventually provide a rather ordinary kind of convalescence and healing. Further, when Paul himself was afflicted in some way (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10…I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it seems likely that it had to do with his failing sight) he pleaded with God for healing, and after three such prayers, God told him to drop it: that God’s Grace would be sufficient for him. So, it was Christ who strengthened him to endure hard times, not to do super-human stunts, nor even miraculous deliverances, as a rule.

But Paul wanted them to know that they had served well, in supporting him.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

Paul let the Philippian believers know that they had done well in sharing with him, and that he personally appreciated it…furthermore, that they were the only church supporting him. I’ll bet there was a great reward for them! They were literally part of the ministry of the Apostle Paul! And, over in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-5 we see that they were very poor. This was not a casual “giving of alms,” but a joining together in ministry. The churches in Macedonia gave to the believers in Jerusalem, and the Philippian believers (also one of the churches of Macedonia) supported Paul’s ministry.

Guess what! We do the same thing when we support missionaries who are taking the Gospel where it has not gone before, or who are part of a team doing so. Paul said, over in Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named….” I think that is (or should be) one of the highest priorities of the church. And this little church was right there in the thick of things, working with Paul to get the job done! What a blessing, to see how they were serving right along with the Apostles!

And notice that Paul himself was not so anxious to get the gift…he was grateful that it was given, but especially because he saw it adding to their reward. Money had never been an issue with Paul. He says:

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

Worship in Giving

Paul was not in the ministry for money. Usually he was completely self-supporting, though he acknowledged elsewhere that this was not the norm among the apostles. He simply chose to work that way, so that no one could falsely accuse him of mercenary motives, and also so that he would not be a financial burden to any of the churches he served. He worked as a tentmaker on at least one occasion, to provide travelling expenses for himself and his entourage.

He was pleased that the believers in the Philippian Church were sharing, because it did them good—it brought fruit that is to their credit. They are being rewarded, now (today, and forever) for helping on his job. We have the option to join in the work of world evangelism, too, by praying for missionaries, and by giving to support God’s work.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

Paul assures them that their gift delighted him, and it pleased God, as well. He recognized it for what it was—a worship offering to God, and their service to God. He assured them that he was personally blessed by their generosity, and he felt that he had more than enough of everything he needed. (Bear in mind that he said this from a Roman dungeon!)

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul begs the believers in Rome, on the basis of the Grace of God they had already received, to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God. And he called it their reasonable service of worship. So these Philippian believers were doing just that: they were in extreme poverty, but they scraped together enough to send a gift to him and make his ministry easier.

The Sustaining God

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

When we read this, we need to think carefully about the difference between “needs” and “wants”.  God does not say he will give us everything we want.

Recently I wasted a lot of time, idly thinking about buying a different (larger) vehicle, because certain items I thought Ineeded to transport would not fit in my small SUV. I have been very grateful to have this present car, and am very satisfied with it, but I was beginning to worry about “needing” a larger van, perhaps. After some time of thinking about it, I decided that I should not be worrying about that, yet, as the object I was concerned about transporting (a double bass) did not exist yet, and that, when it did materialize, God would see to it that our needs were met. At that moment it suddenly occurred to me that He had already done so!

A few years earlier, my wife’s uncle had died, and she really felt strongly about buying his old, but well-cared-for pick-up truck, with a canopy, so we bought it. We have hardly driven it since then, except to carry gardening things, or firewood, etc., so I really hadn’t given it a thought, but the fact is that it will serve perfectly for the things I want to carry (upright basses.) It is not what I had in mind, but my needs had already been met. When I set aside the “wants” I had been entertaining, the facts were made clear to me.

Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction

20 Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This seems to have been the underlying motive in Paul’s whole life. He wanted to bring glory to God. Like Jesus, he determined that “My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work!” Is that my motive in life? Is it yours? What is your core reason for what you do? How does it work out in what you do and say? Paul wanted to bring glory to his God. It seems to me that he lived up to that objective.

He made it inclusive, as well: he referred to God as “our Father”…he invited us to join in that purpose. We have been chosen to function as emissaries of God’s Grace, and ambassadors of Christ. As we step into the reality of those tasks, we find ourselves laboring along with Jesus Himself, and bringing eternal Glory to God by our service.

21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.

22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.

It is always somewhat heart-warming, to me, to see that Paul does not forget the believers around him. In some cases he calls them by name: for example, he names the one (Epaphroditus) who acted as scribe in writing this letter, in the next verse. Paul was nearly blind, and had to have someone else do his writing, as he dictated. In other epistles, he only names a group, but it is clear that he valued each of them as individuals, and fervently loved the church as a whole. He prayed for them continually, and sought to bless them and strengthen them in every way.

It is also encouraging, to see that his personal testimony had made inroads into the very household of Caesar: There were believers in Rome, by this time, feeding upon the same bread of life that had been offered at Philippi, through Paul. And they felt the kinship shared among believers; they extended their greeting to their brethren in Philippi. It is interesting to me, too, that the believers in the household of Caesar evidently did not see themselves as being anything special, because of their position in life, in the household of the emperor. They were anxious to join in fellowship with this tiny group of poor, but utterly faithful and valiant saints in Philippi.

Living Grace

23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (To the Philippians written from Rome, by Epaphroditus.)

Paul’s final word is virtually always to invoke God’s Grace for the lives of the believers to whom the letter is addressed. I believe it is in keeping with the tone of the rest of his letters to assume that God’s Grace is what we are to look for as well—that this prayer, in fact, addresses the needs in our own lives, not just those in a tiny church in a Macedonian city, 2000 years ago.

We need God’s grace for salvation, obviously, but we also need it daily, in order to serve, and to live healthy, happy lives. We are not born again just to be left to our own devices: we have a Heavenly Father who watches over His children.

Jesus promised that He would not leave his people comfortless. And he has come, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to indwell each of them. He guides us, teaches us, blesses us, and directs our lives, so far as we are willing to allow him preeminence.

If we are satisfied to just have him reside within us, then our lives will not be much more fruitful than they were as unbelievers. But if we daily invite him to preside…to take the throne and reign, in our lives…then His Grace will fill our lives, and, though things may be hard (as they certainly were in Paul’s life), we will be able to see His hand of provision, and know that we are in the center of His will.

The Lord bless you all as you put the practical truths of the Book of Philippians into practical use in your own lives.

Lord Jesus, take the words of this epistle, and graft them into our hearts, by your Holy Spirit. Allow the Word to take precedence over all the various voices with which we find ourselves bombarded. Help us to listen more and more attentively to your voice, and learn to walk with you as your children, serving as your ambassadors, joining in your work.

Amen!