Posts Tagged ‘leaders’

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

The Parenthesis: Who Not to Follow

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

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

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

Unbelievers

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

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

False Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolves Among the Sheep

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

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

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

Our New Citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

 


Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.