Posts Tagged ‘Love’

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.

 


Instructions to Believers: Part One

Instructions to Believers: Part One

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

Hebrews 13:1-6

Introduction:

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

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

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

Love is the Foundation

 1Let brotherly love continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Results of the Promise of God

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

#1 – No Fear of Loss

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

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

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

#2 — No Fear of Abandonment

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

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

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

#3 — No Self-Dependency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


What Child is This?

What Child is This?

© C. O. Bishop, 12/22/2017 THCF 12/24/2017

(Comparing the lyrics of the hymn to the scriptural promises from which it sprang.)

Introduction:

One of the reason I really love the Christmas hymns is that they so frequently carry a pretty faithful representation of the facts of the Gospel, along with a fairly faithful representation of the facts of Christmas. Certainly, one may protest that there are facts overlaid by legend and mythology. That is true. We go to God’s Word to sort out the truth, and frequently still can see that the intent of the author was to honor God, and to reflect the truth of His Word. And, of course, there are glaring exceptions…but those are not the ones I am drawn to. A year or so ago, we took “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an example and found that, actually, the original words were quite accurate, and that the only questionable line in the lyrics was changed by a later hand (and, ironically, became the title of the hymn.)

This Christmas I would like to examine some of the core questions posed in a different Hymn: Today people try to recreate and re-invent The Jesus of the Bible. Even in his day, people denied that He was who He said he was, and within the first century, unbelievers were trying to change the Gospel to something more comfortable. It is not comfortable! The uncomfortable portions of the “Good News” of the Gospel are that way because of the unthinkable wickedness of the Human Race…because of our sin.

Today, as then, the appropriate question is “Who is this Jesus?” Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “who he was”.  Jesus, himself, asked “but who do you say that I am?”

A Little History: In 1865, in Bristol, England, an insurance company employee named William Chatterton Dix fell ill, and became extremely sick. He gradually recovered, and during that period of convalescence he went through some pretty deep depression, during which time, he read his Bible a great deal, possibly for the first time with comprehension. The result was that he went through what he called a “spiritual renewal.” I can’t say whether that was when he first received the Lord Jesus as his personal sacrifice for sins, or whether this is just the time when it deeply impressed him. He wrote a poem during that time, called “the Manger Throne”, from which three stanzas were later lifted when he wrote the Christmas Hymn, “What Child is This?

“Who do the People say that I am?”

Jesus asked the disciples this question, before asking them about their own answer to that question: They said “Some say that you are John the Baptist, and some Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” We can see that there was great controversy, even at that time, as to who Jesus really was. Each person was to be held accountable for their own answer to the question. Pilate later posed a similar, essential question: “What then shall I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” We are each held accountable to the answer to that question, as well.

Every year, for the last several decades, people have gathered for the “Jesus Symposium” or some similar name, where they essentially “reinvent” Jesus, according to their own tastes. But the Jesus of the Bible was a historical person, and is easily proven to have been so. What becomes more difficult is the fact that only the Bible gives us an accurate view of who He really is, because the whole rest of the world has “an axe to grind,” in that, the entire human race is antagonistic toward the holy God of the Bible. We want a God who is more to our taste…so we re-create God in our image, according to Romans 1:21-23.

When William Dix confronted this question from his sick bed, he asked

What Child is This?

We need to address the same question: Who is He really? So let’s look at William Dix’s approach:

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Where was He to be born? In Bethlehem…fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. (read it!)

Where was he to be found by the Shepherds? In a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, fulfilling the word of the Angelic messenger to the shepherds as a group. And who were those shepherds told that the baby really was? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” They were not told that he was the king, in that particular context, but, if they knew the Old Testament prophecies (such as the one in Micah 5:2), they would have known that the Messiah (Christ) was to be the Eternal King, as well. So they left their flocks and they hurried into Bethlehem; they made haste, the scriptures say, to go see the newborn king. And they found him just as the Angel had said, along with Joseph and Mary. They went back to their flocks with Great Joy. Did they understand it all? I doubt it…but, then, I don’t really claim to “understand it all,” either.

But, why was he in a manger, and not in some hospital ward or maybe in a palace? Philippians 2:5-8 sheds some light on this: “…he humbled himself.” He not only became part of His own creation, but he became a man, not an angel. He not only became a man, he became a poor man, in a nation that was already a slave-state to Rome, a cruel, ungodly, polytheistic nation. A place where life was cheap, and righteousness was foreign.

He came, not as a conquering hero, but as a tiny, helpless infant, enduring all the hardships of life with the people he had called his own. Did they bring him honor? Not so you’d notice. The shepherds were the only witnesses. But, in that manger bed, all the Promises of the Ages were being fulfilled. He came to save sinners…and his entire life was poured out to that single end.

Take it Personally!

The hymnist recognized what was happening, there, and it shook Him. He was moved to a Godly fear, and he became a true believer, if he had not been one before then. He pondered the fact that those tiny, curled-up baby hands would be the same ones later pierced by spikes, as he was tortured on the Cross. That this tiny, helpless body, when full grown, was the same one which would be pierced through by the Roman spear, as his blood was poured out at the Cross. And he knew it was for himself, personally. “Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through…His blood be shed for me, for you!” Take it personally!

He also realized that this was the fulfillment of John 1:14, where it said that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory…)” We, too, can either embrace that truth, knowing that the Word, which was God, is also the Word which became flesh…and thus we can see His glory…or we can go back to seeing Jesus the way the World sees him: just another dead Jew…or perhaps a tragic martyr…or, even just a myth.

He winds up his hymn, encouraging the listener to join in worshipping the God-in-flesh Savior. To say “bring Him incense” is a call for worship. The incense burned in the temple was only used for that purpose…it was not used to make the home smell nice, or any other common purpose. It was a picture of the prayers, and praises, and worship being offered by believers. How do I know? God says so! Revelation 5:8 says that the incense (odours, KJV) in the vials of the elders (the church) were “the prayers of saints”; saints are the “holy ones of God”: believers! If you are a child of God, God says you are a saint! You may not feel that way (nor do I), but our feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. It is a fact. But he says “Bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” Who did that? It was the wise men. Why did they do it? Remember, they weren’t even there, that first night.

Later, within a year or two, the wise men came from the East, and sought “him who is born King of the Jews”. These wise men were not Jews—these were from the area we now call Iraq, most likely, near what was once ancient Babylon, and may possibly have been some of the last surviving disciples of Daniel, the prophet. He had become one of the head wise men (later called Zoroastrian seers) in Babylon, some 500 years earlier, and he had prophesied of the coming Messiah (Daniel 9:26). They did bring him honor, but later…not at his birth. And the things they brought were appropriate: they brought gold, which was an appropriate gift for a king (and which would be needed for their escape into Egypt); they brought frankincense, which was appropriate to a priest and a sacrifice. They brought myrrh, which was a costly resin, used in medicine and in embalming…appropriate to His death. They recognized him for who He was. We need to do the same thing, and not take lightly the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The hymn-writer says that the way is clear, now, for the lowliest of human slaves, to claim the Savior, as well as for any nobleman willing to humble his or her heart. Queen Victoria was one of those monarchs who humbled her heart and by her own testimony, she was saved. Jesus echoes this, and says, “Whosoever will may come!”

The issue, then, becomes “What will I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” That is what Pilate asked, in Matthew 27:22…but then he went on to condemn Jesus to death. He claimed to be innocent, himself, but he was not. He had the authority to do right, and did not do it. God says that is sin (James 4:17). “Therefore, if a man knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Pilate was guilty. We have to choose, as well, what to do with Jesus, the Messiah.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Jesus directed this question to His disciples. Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for that answer. But later, as you remember, Peter denied Jesus…and later still, he went back to commercial fishing…Jesus had to call him again. But God didn’t give up on Peter; He had a use for Peter’s life. And He has a use for yours and for mine.

So… just like Peter, I know who He really is, too …but what am I going to do about it?

The hymn-writer said, “The King of Kings Salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him!” Is that what I will do? Allow him to reign in my heart? Or will I just live life as usual, and let one day follow another for whatever is left of my life, not honoring The King much more than does the World: (“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!”) But no real thought given to the reason we celebrate. Every day of my life, I wake up with one more chance to serve: one more chance to work with Jesus, offering my body a living sacrifice to His glory. Every day I have to choose how to spend my time, how to spend my money…and whether to serve Him, the King of Kings, or to just go ahead and serve my flesh, just doing what I want, to bring honor to myself. And, too frequently, I choose badly.

“Raise, raise, the Song on High!” When we sing together, do you really hear the words? Do you consider the importance of those teachings? Do you sing the words as a song from your own heart? If you do, then the last line says what should be the result:

“Joy! Joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!” We can see Him as the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and all of His promises to Israel and the World! We can see that the perilous times coming are not directed at us, but at the unbelieving world. We can see that our Savior is coming to take us home, to safety and eternal joy! We can experience, every day, the joy of knowing that He is truly in control, and that, regardless of how bad things look, we are headed for a good conclusion.

Lord Jesus, draw us along into Your Joy. Mature us through the teaching of Your Word, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, re-shaping us into Your own likeness, that we can be able ambassadors of Your Grace and Love to a dying world. Please lift us up, as Your tools, Your hands and Your feet, and use us to Your glory.


The True Mount Zion

The True Mount Zion

© C. O. Bishop 12/08/2017; THCF 12/10/2017

Hebrews 12:18-29

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Hebrews, and have most recently seen God’s exhortation to not allow ourselves to become bitter or discouraged, nor to allow those around us to fall into despair, as it will affect others as well. I take this one pretty personally, as I have suffered from chronic depression for over 45 years. This is one of the pitfalls that Christians can fall prey to, and which can destroy an otherwise productive life.

He further pointed out that there are errors we can make and sins we can fall into—decisions we can make—that we can’t fix: The results will be permanent. He gave the example of Esau, who made a bad decision, and later wanted to repent, but he could not do so; the damage was done.

The writer goes on to point out that the God we are dealing with is not a human authority, but is far beyond all human thought. Far beyond even Mount Sinai, though Mt. Sinai had held the awe of believers for 1500 years at that point, already (and it still does.) We are not dealing with the temporal, but with the eternal.

The True Mount Zion

Mount Zion is beyond Mount Sinai, to begin with. The True Mount Zion reaches beyond this world.

18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

The writer correctly assessed the impression it had made upon the people then, by quoting what Moses said about it…but then he says that the reality we face is far greater. At least what they faced could be physically touched, and seen, and heard, etc.: it could be experienced with the senses. They knew the reality of what they saw, and knew the penalty for disobedience to the God who commanded them. Though it was a physical reality (as were all the other things with which Jesus has been compared in the book of Hebrews), it was only a foreshadowing of the real thing; the true mount Zion.

What we are now involved with is the real thing. Each believer has become part of the Bride of Christ, and, though our sins have been washed from us, so that God will never again condemn us, we still are completely accountable to him, and there is no part of our lives that is exempt from his call. He calls us to respond to him with our whole lives, recognizing that we are His.

22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

Here is a side note: When this passage refers to “God, the Judge of all,” is it referring to God the Father, God, the Son, or God the Holy Spirit? Abraham saw Him (Genesis 18), and addressed Him as the “Judge of all the Earth.” We don’t often consider this, because we only tend to see Jesus, as Jesus: the God-Man, who walked among us. But John 1:18 makes it clear that no one has ever seen God the Father, except in the person of the Son; and, as far as we know, the Spirit has only been seen in visions (Ezekiel), and, at the baptism of Jesus, where He appeared as a Dove…once!  So, Abraham had to be talking to the pre-incarnate Christ: God the Son. If we still have any doubt about the matter, we must consider what Jesus himself said, in John 5:22 “…the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son.” All right, then! That pretty much answers our question: The passage where he says, “God, the judge of all” is still referring to God the Son, and Jesus, our redeemer, is mentioned separately, only because of the Earthly nature of his specific ministry. He still has His resurrected human body. That same Jesus is the One we serve and the One we look to for salvation. He is the mediator of the New Covenant.

The True Sacrifice

24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

This could seem to either refer to the sacrifice Abel brought (Jesus is better) or to the blood of Abel, personally, which was shed by Cain. Both are true, of course, but Abel’s personal blood was not a part of the Old Covenant. Abel’s personal blood cannot be reasonably compared to that of Jesus. Jesus was not a victim, but a willing substitute. The sacrifice Abel brought, though, was the first voluntary substitutionary sacrifice recorded, and it predicted the whole sacrificial system to come. (That is why Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet.) The blood Abel brought was looking forward to the Cross, as did all other Old Testament sacrifices: and, as such, it was only a foreshadowing of the blood of Jesus at the Cross. Therefore, using Abel’s prophetic offering as representative of the entire Old Covenant, the Writer states that Jesus’s blood is better!

The blood of the Old Covenant was temporary, and was offered repeatedly, reminding us of our guilt before God. The blood of the New Covenant is permanent and was only offered once, for all time. The blood of the Old Covenant sacrifices was always that of animals, and could only cover sins. The Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away Sins. (John 1:29)

We know all these things, but we frequently forget the incredible spectacle of the Eternal God, the Creator of all things, deliberately becoming part of His own creation, taking on the form of a man; not one of the “demi-god heroes” of Greek, Roman, and other mythologies, but as a true, relatively ordinary man, and born of a poor family, not that of a king: doing no “heroic deeds,” but only acts of compassion, kindness and mercy. His power and authority was demonstrated, but not exploited. No one was ever harmed by his power while he walked this earth.

He stopped the storm, demonstrating His power over nature. He healed innumerable people of diseases, some of which were at that time incurable (some probably so, even today), and thus proved His power over physical illness. He cast out demons, proving His power over the forces of spiritual darkness and evil in general. Then, just before his crucifixion, He knocked down 200 Roman soldiers (thus showing his power over human governments and enemies), by simply saying His name. And then He invited those same soldiers to take him away, and meekly submitted Himself to their hands, knowing what was to come.

The True Judge

Consider the one with whom we have to do: His was the eternal authority of Heaven. He is still, eternally—past, present and future—the “Judge of all the Earth”. When we look forward to the coming judgement, and fearfully hope that we will be saved by his blood (and we will), we trust in Him as our advocate for the defense. But we easily forget that he is also the Judge! His is the only authority we need to consider, ultimately. Everything He does is under the authority of the Father, and in complete agreement with the Father, but it behooves us to remember that the same Jesus we saw walking into Jerusalem, and feeding the crowds, etc., is the inescapable Judge who will sit upon the Great White Throne of Revelation 20…and exercise that eternal power and authority to finally condemn the sins of the whole human race.

He condemned all of our sins, already, in eternity past, and already made eternal provision for a substitute for us. We see in Revelation 13:8 that He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.”  He also condemned our sins while he was on earth (John 3:18, 19) “he that believeth in Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Those who place their trust in His shed blood will no longer face His righteous judgement at the Great White Throne. But we still are dealing with an Eternally Righteous God who hates sin. Let’s take that seriously!

25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.

This is the seventh (and final) warning to those who were “dabbling” in Christ, but still were rooted in Judaism. The God of Judaism is the same as the God of Christianity. In fact, ironically enough, the Jesus Christ whom Israel had rejected was the Jehovah (Yahweh/YHWH) of the Old Testament, whom they also rejected, time after time.

That is one reason that this epistle begins with the words “God, who at sundry times and in divers manner spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son

The Prophets were fairly uniformly rejected…in fact, many lost their lives for speaking for God. John the Baptist was the final Old Testament prophet, and was also martyred. Jesus, the only begotten son (meaning the heir to the throne), was rejected and killed as well.

But Jesus is the Judge! (John 5:22) Jesus himself is the one they will have to face if they reject him. They will see Him face to face, no longer offering salvation, but only judgment…only His final condemnation for all those who spurned his offer of Grace.

The Jews looked back at the experiences of Israel in the Exodus, as well as the various wars, captivities and famines, and they piously shuddered, thinking “Well, I wouldn’t have failed God in that way!” But they were doing it at that very moment, by rejecting the Son as their Messiah.

The True Savior

Mercy is the only thing that stands between us and the consuming fire of God’s judgment. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercy that we are not consumed.”  Grace is God giving us something we do not deserve (Salvation, for example), while Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve (eternal judgment). Mercy and Grace go hand in hand. Though I still deserve the judgment of God for my sins, I will never be judged for my sins, because of God’s Mercy and Grace. Grace is God, in the person of Jesus Christ, giving himself as the sacrifice for my sins. Mercy is His not holding that sin against me, ever again, though I continue to fail Him daily.

This was God’s final warning, in this epistle, against an uncommitted faith…an impersonal faith. I have asked people on various occasions, “Did Jesus die for your sins?” They replied “He died for everyone’s sins!” I reiterated, “But did he die for your sins, personally?” They invariably insisted that “He died for everyone’s sins!” I could not get them to commit to the statement that his blood was the payment for their personal guilt. Does that mean that they were not believers? I don’t know! I can’t see their hearts…but it makes me fear that they are giving mental and vocal assent to the claims of Christ, but that they do not see themselves as a sinner in need of a savior. If that is actually the case, then, no; of course, they are not believers.

Cain saw himself as having no need of a blood sacrifice for his sins. He brought a vegetable offering. Abel brought a blood sacrifice, thus prophesying the coming Messiah. The folks to whom this warning was directed had undoubtedly brought blood sacrifices, themselves, many times in the past—they were Jews! But they did not do it because they saw their need for a savior. They did it because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do, (“…and besides, who knows? Maybe it will keep me out of trouble with God!”) But they were no more convinced of their own need for a savior than Cain had been, as they were secretly rejecting the blood of Jesus which would eclipse all previous sacrifices, and fulfill the prophesy implied in Abel’s sacrifice.

That is the reason why each of the seven warnings throughout this epistle is given. There are about forty exhortations to the believers as to how to respond to God; how to respond to one another; how to respond to the leadership in the church, etc. But those seven warnings all seem to be directed to those who are dabbling in the faith, and are still uncommitted. Judas fell into that category, too, but he eventually took it a step further, and not only was lost, but was eternally guilty of the betrayal of Jesus. (Compare John 13:10, 11 with John 15:3. The other apostles were saved by faith, the same as everyone else. The Eleven had believed Jesus’s words; Judas had not. The Eleven were clean through Jesus’s words, Judas remained unwashed, uncleansed, unsaved. A person who hears the Gospel and does not make it personal can still fall into this trap today. This is the warning repeated throughout this epistle; seven times, in all.

The writer mentions that God will once more shake the Heavens and the Earth. He goes on to explain that it signifies the utter removal of the created, temporary things, and their replacement with eternal things. We will see the promised “new Heaven and new Earth” when that time comes. Those who ultimately reject the Lord will be judged before the new Heaven and earth are revealed, so it seems that they will never see it at all, unless it is visible from the lake of fire.

I hope the two are to be completely separate. The eternal judgment of the lost is not something I like to think about. I teach it, and I warn of that coming judgment, but I really don’t like to dwell on the topic. All of the trials we experience in this life have an ending: as believers, we always entertain the hope of a coming release and deliverance. For those who ignore the call of God to repentance and salvation, there can be no such hope. He will no longer be offering His Grace and Mercy, but only the eternal consequences of unbelief, and of having rejected His Grace.

Our Response, as True Believers

These are painful things to talk about. This is the last of the seven warnings to the uncommitted hearers of the Gospel who have not claimed Jesus as their Savior. From this point on, the writer gives instructions to believers, only.

If you understand the warning we just read and discussed, I hope it will make you more serious about reaching out to the lost ones in your circle of friends and acquaintances. We see the world spinning rapidly toward the final culmination of history in the Rapture of the Church and the Great Tribulation. Perhaps it will not happen in our time, but I believe it probably will.

How we each respond to the Authority and Love of the Savior is a personal choice, and the results of those choices are inevitably chosen with our responses. We are told by the Apostle Paul, over in 1st Corinthians 3, that it is possible for us to “build upon the foundation of Christ” with gold, silver, and precious Stones, or with wood, hay and stubble. The character of our works, as believers, is to be tested by fire. I’m afraid there have been many sections of my work that were claptrap structures of scrap-wood, bound together with binder twine. It was utterly combustible, and eternally wasted, from God’s perspective. God is faithful and just. He does not forget the worthy things we have done, in faith. But He is imminently fair, and just, as well: He does not reward excursions into self-motivated “projects” which may have seemed good, but were really only our own doings.

He wants our works to originate with Him, and to be carried out by the Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness: change our hearts so that we respond to your Love and Authority with Gratitude and Obedience. Take away our selfish hearts of unbelief, and motivate us to serve from a pure heart. Make us true ambassadors of your Grace.


Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

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

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

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

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

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

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

Unity:

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

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

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either:

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

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

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

The Fact: This is the Record:

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

 

 


Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

© C. O. Bishop 9/27/17 Cornell Estates 10/15/17

Philippians 1:9-11

Introduction:

Last time we were together, we began looking at the kind of prayer Paul offered for his fellow believers: and the very first thing we saw, was his heartfelt thanksgiving, partly that they had been the recipients of God’s Grace, and partly that they had been participants in the work of evangelism and discipleship with Paul. He went on to say how much he missed them, and recognized that it was God’s love that stirred his heart toward them. They were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and, on top of that, they were his dear friends.

So, when he prayed for them, his prayers were in earnest, and they were aimed at God’s very best blessing appearing in their lives. He did not pray for their physical or financial well-being at all, it seems, which is interesting, because they had all the same needs that we have today. We can learn from this passage, and others like it, what our priorities in prayer ought to be.

Priorities in Prayer

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

It is important, throughout the epistles, to see what the “prayer-list” of the various Apostles contained. It does not seem to bear much resemblance to ours, usually. Paul does not pray for us to get a raise, or get over the flu, or anything like that. There is nothing wrong with either of those, by the way, but in terms of priorities, I think we should see what is on the collective “list” of the apostles.  On this particular “short-list”, the Apostle Paul prays:

  1. That our Love may abound more and more,
  2. In Knowledge (Greek, epiginosko), and
  3. in all Judgment (Greek aesthesis),
  4. That we may approve things that are excellent;
  5. That we may be Sincere (from “eilikrinea”—“clarity, purity, sincerity”) and
  6. without offence until the Day of Christ,
  7. That we may be to the Glory and Praise of God.

Seven little items…all of them having to do with personal and corporate growth in the Grace and Knowledge of God. Notice that the first three on the list are the foundation for growth, while the remaining four are the result of the first three.

Foundation for Growth

I like the fact that the very first thing on Paul’s “list” is the same as the first thing on Jesus’ list (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another…”). Over in Galatians, Paul confirmed the point Jesus had made in the Gospels, that Obedience to that “Law” would cover every other law.

It is also interesting to see that he points out the need for increase—for growth—Yes, we are perfect in Christ, but as a practical matter, there is a need for us to grow in that relationship. When a new mother declares her newborn baby “perfect”, she is not saying that she does not expect that child to grow…only that this is her perfect child and that she is eagerly anticipating watching that growth. God has declared your new nature to be perfect, (Ephesians 4:24 says it is created after God (in His likeness) in righteousness and true holiness.), but He urges us to grow in our relationship with Him, and, thereby, in our relationships with those around us, whether believers or unbelievers.

Three key elements needed for that growth include:

  • Love (Agapé,) as an over-arching life principle,
  • Knowledge: our personal knowledge of God and knowledge of his written Word, and
  • Judgment (Wisdom): Godly discernment and good decision-making.

The Agape Love is the motivation to do what is most profitable for the other person, the recipient of that Love, regardless of how it affects oneself. Jesus demonstrated this Love, by enduring the Cross for the Human race.

Knowledge and Wisdom are closely linked, but are not the same: One can know God’s written word intimately (even as an unbeliever) but be utterly lacking in the wisdom required to correctly interpret and apply it in one’s life. It is just a “piece of literature” at that level, and unlikely to bear fruit. But in fact, this “knowledge is not even a matter of just knowing facts, but rather, the “epiginosko” knowledge, which means an experiential, ongoing relational knowledge, as in, knowing a person completely, because of a long-term committed relationship.

On the other hand, given some knowledge, God can bring conviction, and turn knowledge into wisdom; thus, over a period of time, producing genuine discernment and good judgment.

Evidence of Change

The result should be that our beliefs begin to change in other areas as well. Beginning with the change of belief, by choice, to trust the shed Blood of Jesus as my only hope for salvation, and having placed my dependency therein, I am free to see the whole world differently, as well.

  • I can now approve things that are excellent. Paul points out to the Roman believers (Romans 1:32) that the unbelieving heart not only is itself given to sin of every kind, it gives its approval to those who also pursue the same sorts of sin. (Consider this: Why are the most popular movies always those centered upon themes of immorality, treachery, rebellion, self-will, violence, theft, etc.? )
    It is because all of us, by birth, are those who feed on sin, and that sort of story feeds our old sin nature. But according to this verse, with my new nature, and, by the Holy Spirit, I am capable of separating myself from my old “haunts”, as it were, and approving good things: righteous things, and things that are pleasing to God, as well as being a blessing to those around me. It will likely result in a change in my speech patterns, as well as my interests, and my desires, so that my new nature, more and more, is what makes itself evident in my life.In my flesh, this was not a real likelihood, because, though I might agree, academically, that such things were “good”, I would privately feel that they were “boring”, and I would yearn for the old “hog-wallow” of sin, because that was what I really approved of, regardless of what I might have said.

    My new nature feeds upon God’s Word and yearns for the presence of God, and the fellowship of other believers. So, the fact is, yes, I can now approve the things that are excellent.

  • I can be sincere. The old nature does not have the capacity for sincerity…only the appearance of it. Jeremiah 17:9 states that the heart (the unregenerate heart is implied) is “…deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Ephesians 4:22 states that the “old man…is corrupt (actually, ‘being corrupted’… the word is a present continuous verb) according to the deceitful lusts.”As an unbeliever, even when I intended to “do something good”, it was always for an ulterior motive—to be seen as a hero, or to gain some sort of social approval. It was never, ever, simply to be obedient to a Holy God. Such a thing never entered my mind, and if it had, I would have rebelled against the very idea. Submission to a Holy God was utterly repugnant to me. Self-centeredness was my only mode of operation, even if I tried to prove otherwise. I wanted to be seen as honest, unselfish, and “good”, but, in reality, I was completely the opposite. I was deceiving myself.

    But today, something has changed: I have a new Ephesians 4:24 says my new nature “…after God (in the likeness of God) is created in righteousness and true Holiness.” Notice that the new nature, or “new Man” as the KJV words it, is a created thing…this is not the Holy Spirit, but a new Creation: a new Me.

    The Holy Spirit is God…He is not a created being. But this new creation, the new Me, the new nature, the new man, is capable of genuine Christ-like motives and is, by nature, sincere: pure, transparent.

    There is sometimes a little confusion over this word—the Latin root for the English word “sincere” is “sin ceros”…”without wax”, and I remember being taught that the ancient potters would place their wares in the sun, to warm them, thus demonstrating that there were no wax-filled defects in the glaze. That is true, and all very fine, but the New Testament was not written in Latin: it was written in Greek. The word here means pretty much what we mean by the word sincere in English: “devoid of deception, pure, transparent, honest.” The Latin “sin ceros” was an entirely appropriate translation, as that glazed earthenware pottery, warmed by the Mediterranean sun, would certainly demonstrate the honesty of the potter or tradesman. It was a means of demonstrating honesty, purity, and transparency. That works for me. It’s just that for years I thought that the original word was “sin ceros”…and it is not: the root is “eilikrinea”—“pure, honest, clear”. And that pretty well describes the character of the new creation…the new nature of a born-again individual. Transparent: no hidden agenda; no “murky”, dark behavior.

  • I can be without offence. This sounds like a tall order, because there is always someone who is offended by some But the issue is that I personally am not to be the cause of someone else sinning. Particularly, that no one reject Christ because of me. If they are offended by the Gospel, then that is a different matter. Jesus warned us ahead of time that the Gospel would cause an offense. But we are not to cause the offense.Remember in Galatians we read that the nine-fold fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness Temperance. Those sorts of behaviors do not cause an offense against either the Law, or another individual. We question whether we can actually live that way: Paul makes it clear that we can…but that it takes practice to become consistent in it.

If even our enemies can find no real fault in us except that we are Christians, then probably we are “without offense”. But, if there are other things that are causing others to think evil of the Gospel because they see those things in our lives, then we need to repent, and change our ways.

Is self-righteousness an issue? Pride? Gossip? Complaining? What sorts of things might we be doing that make us a bad testimony of God’s Grace? Those things are what must be changed.

Repentance means “turning around”…going the other way…doing what ought to be done instead of the wrong we have been doing.

  • We begin the cleanup with confession: Admit to God that those things are sin.
  • Repair the damage in relationships by apology if called for—righting wrongs that can be righted…admitting to the wronged individual that we were wrong to have mistreated them.
  • Then we DO the things that God calls for, treating others kindly, not talking behind their backs, not secretly despising them, but praying for their salvation and blessing from God. Be a blessing to them.

This is how we learn to be “without offense.”

  • Finally, I can be to the Glory and Praise of God. The result of all of the above should be that our lives begin to bring honor to God. That people watching will have to conclude that something genuine is going on in our lives, and that either we are wonderful people (we are not, and honesty demands that we say so) or that we serve a wonderful God. The former is not true, the latter most certainly is.

We want to live in such a way as to be a blessing to all around us, not a cause for cursing. We hope that even those who are enemies of the Gospel know that we can be counted upon to tell the truth, to share, and to treat others well. Doesn’t this open us up to people taking advantage of us? Yes, of course, it does! So, we have to be wise, as well. We have to be discerning about how we share, and how we help. Do we always give freely? What about when we can see that the money will not go to the perceived need, but rather, to buy alcohol or drugs? Might we not be better to give food or clothing, in that case?

This is where Wisdom and Judgment come into play. We do not want to be enablers to those who are continually making destructive or self-destructive choices. We do not want to help others to sin. On the other hand, wisdom often tells us to keep our foolish mouths shut, sometimes, and allow God to teach a person, instead of injecting our own thoughts into the existing mess.

But, when a person seems to be open to the Gospel, wisdom tells us how to present the truth to them in a non-judgmental way, so that they can make a clear choice regarding God’s Grace. We are to be a light in the darkness of this world. That light is to be characterized by three things:

The Love of God, the Knowledge of God, and the Wisdom of God, all flowing through us to produce the Light of God…not our own light, but only His light reflected in our lives.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your Spirit, and change us into your likeness, so that we can reflect your Light and Love in the dark world around us.


What is Covered By The Mercy Seat?

What is Covered by the Mercy Seat?

© C. O. Bishop 7/18/17 THCF 7/30/17

Hebrews 9:1-10 Hebrews 4:16

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the Hebrews. Last time, in chapter eight, we saw Jesus revealed as our true High Priest, and as the mediator of the New Covenant, which was originally promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Now the writer is discussing, in more particular detail, the reality of Jesus in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He begins by discussing what was physically in the Tabernacle, and what was in the Ark of the Covenant, and the significance of the Mercy Seat. So we will discuss those things in that order:

What was in the Tabernacle?

1Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.

For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;

The Tabernacle, proper, also called the “tent of meeting”, included two compartments, both of which were closed to the public. The outer sanctuary, wherein were the golden lampstand (or candlestick, in this passage), and the table of showbread, which was changed daily, was open to the general priesthood, for their service. The inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only open to the High Priest, and that only once a year. He entered in once a year, with a blood sacrifice for the nation of Israel, and to offer prayer for the nation.

Inside the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, was only am incense altar, for burning incense…no other kind of sacrifice or offering…and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been an object of mystery for thousands of years, but, in the matter of physical reality, it was simply a wooden box, approximately 27” x 27” x 45” long, and it was plated over with gold, with a solid gold lid that had images of cherubim on top, and with golden rings in the sides of the box, through which poles could be inserted by which to carry the box. That was it!

You can read the full description in Exodus 25:10-22. There are people today, who falsely claim to have built according to these directions and it turned out to be a radio transmitter (Erich Von Daniken, in his book, Chariots of the Gods) and others who simply claim that it generated electricity. These are all patently false claims, but they can only deceive those who fail to go read the instructions to Moses and see what the Ark of the Covenant really was. It was a BOX! Yes, it was gold-plated, etc., but it was still just a box! There were no wires: nothing that could generate any sort of physical power. The God who ordained it was the only power associated with that Box. When Uzzah touched the box, 400 years later, and was struck dead, he was struck dead by God, not electrocuted! Further, when Moses communicated with God, he did not need a radio, as Von Daniken claimed; and neither do you! God can hear you today, if you will talk to Him, just as He heard Moses 3,500 years ago in Egypt!

But, what was in the Ark of the Covenant?

Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

The things in the ark, again, do not lend themselves to anything except symbolism. These three things were in the Ark of the Covenant, eventually:

  • A golden jar of Manna (reminding them of God’s faithful supply),
  • Aaron’s Rod that budded (reminding them of His promise of the resurrection), and
  • The two stone tables of God’s Law (declaring His Holiness, Righteousness and Justice.)

The recipients of all three (the Nation of Israel) had rejected all three in unbelief.

  • They had despised the Manna, saying they missed the leeks, onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons of Egypt, and they wanted meat, besides. They rejected the sustenance offered by God in every way, and they only desired to return to Egypt.
  • They had disregarded the promise of the resurrection, living for the pleasure of this world only (Just as Esau had done, 500 years earlier, and finally,
  • They had constantly disobeyed, defied and broken God’s Law; or at least only obeyed it at a surface level, and concerning matters in which obedience was relatively convenient. God’s Holiness was never central to their thinking, nor His Law central to their lives.

And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

I really can’t tell you very much about the Cherubim…I have never seen a cherub, and the scriptures give no clear description. All I know is that they were the highest order among the angelic creation, and seem to have been “palace-guards,” of a sort. A cherub was placed to guard the way back to Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return there. Lucifer was originally a cherub, and was evidently the head of that group. We don’t know a great deal more about them.

The pure gold Mercy seat, itself, on the other hand, was both the “lid” to the box—the covering for all that was within—and, it was God’s throne on earth. Give this some thought: Why would God seat himself upon His Mercy, covering the things within the Ark of the Covenant? There is something truly significant about this: He was Seated (enthroned), upon Mercy, Covering the things pertaining to His relationship with Sinful Mankind. So, let’s talk about that:

God’s Mercy and the New Covenant

God’s rule on earth has to be based upon His Mercy. Lamentations 3:22 says, “It is of His mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

And, His Mercy is what is needed to cover the ungodliness recorded by the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, itself. Remember: everything in the Ark, though they were emblems of God’s goodness, because they had been rejected by Man, were also emblems of our sin and perdition.

By the way, it is not only the Jews who have rejected God’s rule, his promise, and His supply. We Gentiles routinely spurn everything of God as well. We mock him in our literature and our movies and our jokes. We claim to be our own source of authority, the “captains of our own souls,” the directors of our own futures, and the guarantors of our own sustenance.

Meanwhile we face world famines, a diminishing fresh water supply, drug-resistant diseases, and the inability to cure our own lawless social ills; yet we boast that we will emigrate to the stars. Really!? We can’t solve our problems here, so we think we can travel hundreds of millions of light-years away, and start over elsewhere? How sad and foolish it all must look from God’s perspective. How desperately we need His Mercy!

Only God’s Mercy can cover our rebellion, our pride and our disrespect. But, the Ark of the Covenant is long gone…so, where can we find the Mercy of God today? Let’s see whether the Scriptures can tell us:

Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

Only the priests (plural) could go into the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle, and only the High Priest into the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, with a blood sacrifice for sin. This is just historical fact. The recipients of the letter were primarily Jews, and they knew all of this. But the Writer goes on to teach them what they did not know regarding that history.

The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;

10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

Notice that verses 8, 9 and 10 give the “expiration date”, effectively, for the old covenant. It was only good “While as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. It was only a “figure for the time then present”, and was imposed upon them “until the time of reformation”. The obsolescence was actually “built-in” in several ways: Every priest eventually died, thus requiring a new priest; the buildings fell into disrepair, or were destroyed, etc.; and the sacrifices had to be repeated, day after day and year by year.

But Jesus is not bound by any of these imperfections, nor can his ministry become obsolete: He made one perfect sacrifice which provides the believer with a perfect standing before God, and, to top it off, unlike either the priests or the tabernacle within which they served, He himself lives eternally to intercede for us.

Notice verse nine, which says that the gifts and sacrifices the priests offered at that time could not even make the priests perfect, let alone those whom they represented. All the sacrifices accomplished was to temporarily “cover” the sins of the people, including those of the priests. The word translated “atonement”, in the KJV translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, is the word “kaphar.” It means a “covering.” Fittingly, that is also the name of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant…the “kaphar.”  And, what was it covering? Just the box? No, it covered what was in the box:

  • The despised supply of God,
  • The disregarded promise of God, and
  • The disobeyed, defied and broken Law of God.

These emblems of our Stubbornness, our Unbelief, our pride and lawlessness were what was really in that box, though ironically represented by the very emblems of God’s Sustenance, Promise and Justice. So, it required God’s Mercy to cover it all.

That is why the lid was also called the “Mercy Seat”, and it was a pre-figuring of the Mercy-seat before which we now freely appear before God. Under the Old Covenant, God’s Mercy, through the blood sacrifices, covered our sins. But under the New Covenant, in the person of Christ, our sins are taken away. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, clearly declared Jesus to be the one to fulfill all those prophecies. (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.”)

So, in light of all that history; applying it to our lives, today; for us, who have never seen the temple…What does it mean today? We have never seen the Cross, either; but we have placed our faith in the Blood of that Cross. And, the Blood of that Sacrifice is what stands between us and the Judgment of God, today. His Justice and Righteousness were satisfied by that sacrifice. His Mercy and Love were satisfied there, as well.

The scriptures say that Jesus completed his sacrificial work, and then sat down…where? The only place He could sit down was in the throne with God, the Father. So that is where He is today, still on the job, interceding for us. Jesus is our Mercy Seat—our atonement—our covering. More than that, He has taken our sins away!

So…going back to our original question:

What is covered by the Mercy Seat?

The short answer: Everything!

All of our rebellion is covered by the Cross, all of our mistaken pride, and our stubborn self-will. All of our lies, by which we deceive ourselves and others. All our cruel unkindness by which we mistreat others. All our lack of forgiveness and our implacable hearts. All of our self-pity and narcissism, our lusts, our unholiness, our arrogance, and our fears. Calvary covers it all.

And, what is really important, here, is to see that His sacrifice at the Cross was a one-time sacrifice to “Take away the sins of the World”. That is what John the Baptist meant in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God (the sacrificial Lamb) which taketh away the sins of the World.”

So…did that include the sins of, say, Adam? Or Abraham? Yes! Their sacrifices looked forward, in faith, to HIS sacrifice. And, if the cross took away the sins of Adam, it also took away the sins of the sons of Adam. If it took away the sins of Abraham, it also took away the sins of those who are Abraham’s heirs by faith.

Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already because they do not believe. The penalty of their sins was actually paid at the Cross. But, in choosing to reject that fact, they remain under the judgment of God. They can still change their mind, if they are willing to do so.

When you chose to place your trust in the completed work of Jesus—in His blood sacrifice for your sins—from God’s perspective, your sins were permanently removed from you. You are still living out the physical reality of your life, with all its trials: but in God’s economy, you have been permanently placed into Christ, so that where He is, you are! Read Ephesians 2:4-6…read it slowly, and think about what it actually says! You have already been resurrected with Jesus, and have already ascended… and are NOW sitting with Him in heaven! Where He is, you are!

I have always had a hard time with that concept…But God says that it is important for us to grasp that truth, and for us to rest in what it implies. The work is done!  We are not to slave away, fearfully trying to “do enough Good” in the world, so that God will accept us: He has already accepted us! I am already forgiven! I am already accepted in the Beloved!

John 5:24 says that my Past is covered: He says that I have crossed over from Death into life. Incidentally, that is actually not a simple past-tense, but a perfect tense: a completed action in the past, which has continuing effect for the future. “It is finished!

My Present is covered: He says that I have Eternal Life, now! I don’t have to wait until I die to find out whether I “graduated” or just “flunked out.” This is a very precious promise to me, because if I had to wait, knowing my failures and sin, I would be without hope.

My Future is covered: He says that I will not (ever) come into condemnation. I will never be condemned for my sins. I do not have to live in fear of the righteous judgment of a Holy God, because that righteous judgment was poured out on Jesus, at the Cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin, for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Conclusion:

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain Mercy, and find Grace to help in time of need.” This is where we find Mercy today. The Ark of the Covenant (as well as the whole temple on earth) was lost almost two thousand years ago. But the real Mercy seat still awaits our response of faith. Jesus sits enthroned, and His throne is the throne of Grace. We are to approach Him in full confidence, knowing that His work is complete, and that we are fully accepted in Him.

When is the “Time of Need?” It is now! Daily! Moment by Moment! All of our life is a crisis, apart from Christ. As an unbeliever, had I died at any time prior to coming to faith, I would have been eternally lost. I literally had no hope. Even as a believer, today, when I am out of fellowship with God, I am reduced to living by my own strength and wisdom, and, for all practical purposes, I am again without Hope.

Our “Time of Need” is a moment-by-moment dependency upon the Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness of God, as well as His Supply and Sustenance. We find all of these in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus teach us to believe your promise, and to trust your Word. Draw us along into a full relationship with you by faith and teach us the gentle life of obedience to your Spirit. Fill us with your Mercy and Grace.


The Fatherhood of God

The Fatherhood of God

© C. O. Bishop 6/6/17; THCF 6/18/17

John 8:44; Psalm 103:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

Much has been said about the “Fatherhood of God”, especially by those who attempt to extend the concept and call it the “Universal Fatherhood of God.” The fact is, God flatly denies that He is the father of everyone, and Jesus pointed out that being the offspring of some person would cause that offspring to bear some resemblance to the parent, one way or another…specifically, He said “if God were your Father, you would love me.”

So, we have a problem: These two ideas are sharply opposed, and one is called out by the Savior as being false, yet that one is, by far, the more popular of the two notions. They cannot both be true. Jesus said to those same people (John 8:44), “Ye are of your father the devil, and his works will ye do!” He went on to explain what kind of works he meant; in this particular case, lying and murder. And, as a race, we humans do seem to excel at both. The market for nonfiction is huge, but we are less interested in it than we are in fiction. The movie industry is completely given over to fiction, both for entertainment and for politically inspired social engineering. And the most popular fiction includes violence, immorality and, frequently Spiritism of some sort.

From God’s Perspective:

When God refers to Himself as a Father, what does he mean? Who does he claim as his offspring? Does it mean something different, for example, when he refers to someone as his “son” than when he call them His children, or “infants”—little children?

To begin with, it is probably important for us to see that there is one word in the Old Testament, which is translated “father”: the Hebrew word “ab”. And, in the New Testament, there is only one main word, too: the Greek word “pater,” which is where we get our English words, patriarch, paternity and paternal. Both the Hebrew word and the Greek word can mean either one’s literal paternal parent, or simply a forefather.

In some cases, both the Old Testament and the New Testament use the words to mean the “originator” or Creator of something or someone, while not indicating a paternal relationship. In at least one case, Jesus used the Greek word “pater” in exactly that way, saying that Satan “is a liar and the father of it”…He does not mean that Satan has a “paternal relationship” with lies: only that he is the originator of deception. In this sense only, one could say that God is the Father of all, meaning only that He is the Creator. But in terms of relationship, He does not claim all his creation as His children, or His offspring, let alone, his heirs.

In our own lives, of course, we have that dichotomy of meaning, too. It is possible for someone to have an absent father, with whom they have never had a relationship. He was their originator, but never filled the role of protector, teacher, and provider in their life. In fact, most human parents fail at one level or another. None are perfect, no matter how we may desire to be. But God is! So we need to look to Him, and be blessed and encouraged by His role as our heavenly Father. How does He fulfill that role?

In the Old Testament there are a few references to God as a “Father”: some in reference to His relationship with Israel as a nation, and at least one (Psalm 89:26) in reference to his relationship with a human…King Solomon, specifically; but, ultimately, that one actually turns out to be describing His relationship with The Messiah, God the Son (see Hebrews 1:5). It found its short-term fulfillment in His relationship with Solomon, but the final fulfillment was in Jesus Christ. It is interesting, that of the hundreds of uses of the word “father”, in the Old Testament, virtually all of them are strictly in regard to human fathers, or ancestors, not God. But in the New Testament, that pattern is nearly completely reversed. Virtually all New Testament references to “Father” are specifically in reference to God the Father, as opposed to a human father, and (sometimes), in comparison or contrast to God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

In Psalm 103:13, 14, it says “…as a father pities (or, ‘has compassion for’) his children, so God pities those that fear him”…describing His response to believers in general…He is compassionate toward us. The next verse continues, “…for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust.” He is not expecting us to do anything outside our capability, unless we do it with His ability. Jesus confirmed this idea in John 15:5, saying “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” If an ordinary human being said such a thing, it would be the grossest arrogance: when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. We are not capable, on our own, of doing anything that has eternal value. Our core characteristic, as natural people, is to be contrary to God. He says that our sin nature not only is not subject to God, but cannot be subject to Him. In our natural ability, we cannot offer anything clean, or holy, to God, because we are contaminated with Sin. God knows that, and He loves us anyway, and He offers to replace our strength with His. He then works through us to make something of eternal value, and rewards us as if we had done it…just for allowing Him to work through us.

From Jesus’s Perspective:

Bearing in mind that Jesus is God—God the Son—it is still instructive to see how Jesus responded to God the Father. We see the following:

  • Love
  • Admiration
  • Respect
  • Imitation
  • Faith
  • Submission
  • Obedience
  • Fellowship

Jesus made a point of the fact that he was obedient to the Father, but that it was an obedience based upon admiration, and respect, not fear of punishment. He said repeatedly that what He Himself did was in direct imitation of His Father. At Gethsemane, he submitted Himself to His Father, in faith, knowing that His Father would do what was perfect.

We see an Old Testament portrait of this relationship in Abraham and Isaac, as they walked up into the mountains of Moriah. They walked together in fellowship. Isaac carrying the wood for his own destruction, while his father carried the knife and the fire-pot. Isaac could see what was coming, and definitely had the strength to refuse, and could easily have outrun his father…but chose to maintain faith and fellowship. Just as Jesus did, at Gethsemane, Isaac, by his actions, said, “…not my will but thine be done.”

Jesus said that our Heavenly Father knows our needs and provides for us. Are there exceptions? Yes, Hebrews 11 states that the “best of the best”…of whom the World is not worthy, were those who had everything taken from them, and lived completely destitute lives, fleeing for their lives, and looking to God for their future. He said these died in faith, not having received the promise. Did that mean that God has failed them? No, it means that He has something better for them. He says so. (Hebrews 11:30)

From Our Perspective:

We must choose to look at Him through the eyes of Scripture: What characteristics of God, what attributes of His nature, do we think of when we consider Him as our Father? Here is a short list:

  • Omniscience
  • Omnisapience
  • Omnipotence
  • Immutability
  • Authority
  • Faithfulness
  • Steadfastness
  • Righteousness
  • Mercy
  • Love
  • Goodness
  • Grace

How might each of these attributes affect our relationship with Him, and our response to Him?

Omniscience…and Goodness:

Being confident that our Father is literally all-knowing, and that along with being all-knowing, He is completely Good, can give me confidence in His choosing my place in life, and providing opportunities in that place for me to “blossom where I am planted,” rather than constantly fretting against His will for me.

Omnisapience…and Love

Knowing that my heavenly Father is all-wise is comforting, because it means that He will guide me and care for me in appropriate ways. His Love will be extended to me, not in mushy, “that’s OK, Sweetie-pie, Daddy loves you” ways, but in Divine wisdom, doing what is actually best for me. Jesus went to the Cross, as an active outworking of the Love of God…and Divine wisdom.

Omnipotence…and Authority:

I can be confident that the absolute power of God the Father is not limited, because He also possesses the absolute authority to speak, and carry out His will. These two ideas are not exactly the same. A strong man may have the physical ability to bend others to his will through force, or through threat of force…but may act far beyond any authority he has been allotted. We call such people overbearing bullies, or abusers, or, in some cases, criminals. But God has the authority, and uses it wisely. He certainly can stop the storm, but sometimes, instead, He shelters His children from the storm.

Immutability…and Grace

In most cases, when a person says they “never change,” that is a bad thing…most people need to change, either because there are bad things about them that require repentance—which means “a change of mind”—or because they are needing to grow, and learn from experience.

But God says that He is unchanging, and that is a Good Thing! His Grace is always applicable in our lives. His Love is unfailing. He never wakes up in a bad mood and acts out against his family, or says cruel things because he is frustrated. He is Unchanging…immutable. When we look back at how God saved sinners in the Old Testament, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we see that they were saved by Grace through Faith, just as we are today. Why? Because our Heavenly Father is unchanging. His Goodness, and His Love and His Grace never come and go like the tide… they are always the same. God, our Heavenly Father, is overwhelmingly Good all the time, whether we see it that way or not.

Righteousness…and Mercy

The Father is Righteouscompletely and unwaveringly righteous, like a blindingly white, powerful searchlight, that exposes everything. He is Holy, completely separate from, and completely opposed to sin. God says that He hates sin, just as a parent who has lost a child to a drug overdose would hate the illegal drug trade. God has lost every single one of his human creation to Sin, and is working to win them back…to save them from eternal destruction.

1st John 1:5 says that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. This refers to His eternal Holiness and Righteousness, but it poses a problem for those of us who seek to know Him, and to approach His throne. The problem is that we, as sinners, are not righteous, or holy. We are deficient in every way, when compared to Him. So, from our perspective, His Mercy becomes His most important attribute, along with His Love.

God’s Righteousness and Justice were satisfied at the Cross…and that is where His Mercy was extended to us, as well. He says that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Not those that just believe He exists, but rather those who trust in His Mercy and Grace through the Cross. The demons believe he exists: they have seen him face to face from the moment they were created…and they live in fearful knowledge of the coming judgment. Mercy was not extended to the angels who sinned. They knew Him face to face, and chose to rebel. None of us have ever seen God…thus we all sin in ignorance, to one degree or another. And God knows our limitations, and He extends His Mercy and Grace to us, as a loving Father makes allowance for the fragility and ignorance of his toddlers. He is compassionate toward us.

Steadfastness…and Faithfulness

These two sound as though they are the same, but Steadfastness could possibly only refer to a “stubborn refusal to give up”, whereas Faithfulness carries the idea of full commitment to a person or an ideal. So to say that my heavenly Father is steadfast in His faithfulness toward me is a matter of full confidence that God will not give up on me. In Philippians 1:6, it says “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Yes! That means God will stubbornly refuse to give up on me! It means He is completely committed to my well-being, and will never abandon me to my sin, or to Satan, the enemy of my soul. He will never forsake me and leave me to flounder alone. This is why the Psalmist could say, “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me!” He knew of the faithfulness and steadfastness of God! He knew that God would be with him through all of life and beyond, into eternity. He knew what it meant to have confidence in his Heavenly Father.

Conclusion:

We have all had human fathers: some wonderful in every way, some distressingly lacking, in one way or another, and some completely absent, as having abandoned their family to follow their own desires. (This is true of mothers as well, but there is no “Heavenly Mother”, to whom we can make a comparison, so we simply don’t go there. We are just grateful for who they are.)

But all of us, as believers, have a Heavenly Father, in whom we can have full confidence, and faith, and to whom we can, in full confidence, offer obedience and submission, love and admiration, and above all, respect. We can imitate Him, in full faith that he is worthy of our worship and, in doing all of the above, we can join in fellowship with Him, just as Jesus did.

To whatever degree it has been possible, given the relationship we have had with our human fathers, we have offered them the same sort of responses. And, to those of us whose human fathers are still alive, we still can offer that sort of respect and love, tempered by the awareness that they, like we, are sinners, and flawed from birth. We do not compare them to God (or anyone else), and shake our heads as though they are to be dismissed for malfeasance of duty. We treat them with respect, because God commands it. We love them for the things they have done right, and we extend God’s Mercy for their failures, knowing that we, too, are failures. (Remember? “…for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God?”) My children were astonished to discover that I didn’t know everything. I was astonished to find out that they had ever assumed I did. From that point forward, a balance had to be established. They learned to respect me in spite of the fact that I don’t know everything, and the fact that I make mistakes.

If you are a father, and can still actively emulate the character of God, in your continuing striving to be the man God has called you to be, then press on, in faith, knowing that God is with you and will work through you as you seek to imitate Him. Keep in mind the character of God, and strive to be like Him, in Love and Mercy, and kindness, maintaining a righteous, Godly example for your children to follow, as well.

If your father is still alive, please offer him the love and respect God says we are to offer to both our parents. I wish my parents were still alive, so that I could do that, but I am truly grateful that God gave me the parents he did, even with their shortcomings, as, overall, He used those influences to shape me and make me the man he has called me to be.

Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing the Father to your followers, and letting us see Him in you. Allow us to reflect your glory, as you reflected His glory. Pour your love and righteousness through us, and make us emissaries of your Grace.


Church Unity

Unity in the Church

© C. O. Bishop 10/31/16 THCF 11/6/16

Romans 15:8-13: The Gentiles in Prophecy; Unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
 

Introduction:

The Old Testament is full of promises; mostly (but not all) directed specifically to Israel. In the verses we just read, the Apostle Paul states that Jesus came to serve Israel with regard to the truth of God; in confirmation of the promises made to the patriarchs; but also so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his Mercy.

Paul alludes to Isaiah 42:6, 7, where it says that the Messiah would be a covenant (confirmation of the promises) to the people (Israel,) and a light to the Gentiles, providing healing to the nations. He then gives several examples (by no means exhaustive) of the prophecies specifically referring to the Gentiles. He quotes Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:1, 10. There are many other passages that make promises specifically directed to whole Gentile nations, or to all the Gentiles as a group. I suspect that, while the Jewish teachers were aware of the theory that the Gentiles would also inherit the mercy and blessing of God, they were, at best, less than enthusiastic about it. Thus, the seeds of division were still present in the early church, though the foundation for unity had been laid at the Cross.

 

How are the Gentiles to Fit In? And, how can the Jews be at Peace?

Paul’s conclusion regarding the Gentile believers (who were the recipients of this epistle) is, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” They are not to feel inferior to the Jewish believers in any way, nor, as we saw in Romans chapters 9-11, are they to feel superior in any way.

Both groups were condemned under sin, and guilty before God, according to Romans chapters 1-3, and both have been the recipients of God’s Grace through the person of Christ, according to Romans chapters 4-8. They are called to be a blessing to one another and live in unity even regarding things about which they traditionally are in disagreement. (See verse 10: they were to rejoice WITH God’s people the Jews.) Have you noticed that the Jewish believers (as a whole) were never told to drop their customs and start eating foods they considered unclean?

Peter was commanded (Acts 10) to graciously receive the Gentiles who had come to him in obedience to the angelic command given to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. And the means by which Peter was commanded was by a vision, wherein he was shown some unclean animals, and was told “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” Was God commanding him to eat unclean food? No; the three repetitions of the command in the vision were only to prepare him for the three Gentile men who were approaching the front door at that moment. God told him three times that if God had made something clean, he, Peter, had no authority to call it unclean. Peter responded correctly to the Gentiles because God correctly prepared him. Romans chapters 14 and 15 are the equivalent preparation for the whole church—the small differences we may have because of cultural backgrounds, diverging traditions within churches, etc. are not allowed to cause division. All believers share in the blessed hope of Christ. But the seeds of division are still there!

The Gentiles were frustrated by the Jews continual emphasis on the Law, and the feast days, and their dietary restrictions. The Jews were horrified that the Gentiles were not in compliance with all these things. Paul said that they were not to be divided over such things, but rather that they were to appreciate one another, and recognize that, just as each part of a human body has a different task (1st Corinthians 12), so we are to appreciate one another for how each fits into God’s Building, the Church.

 

What about Other differences?

Other potential areas of division (and just as inappropriate) would include styles of ministry, or individual gifting. One Elder may be specifically gifted as a preacher, and he may completely give himself to encouraging, edifying, and comforting the flock (1st Corinthians 14:3). He will be a blessing to all those in his care. People are moved by preaching, and blessed, and their hearts are warmed. They find reassurance, and a stronger faith thereby. All of which is good!

But: another elder in the same assembly may be specifically gifted as a teacher. He may spend countless hours ferreting out the most accurate interpretation for any given passage of scripture, so that he can teach others, also, to clearly understand God’s Word. To those hungering to understand, he, too will be a blessing, but in a different way. No one gets “warm fuzzy feelings” over a well-taught point of theology, though some may be thrilled to see how ALL of God’s Word holds together in full agreement. But the emotional content simply is not the same.

And yet, both gifts are valid, and need one another, as well as being needed by the assembly. Good application is built upon good interpretation. Good interpretation still requires appropriate application, as well. It is not a safe practice to simply “jump” to application in one’s life when reading a passage of scripture. One has to read carefully, and consider what is being said, by whom, to whom, and so forth, before deciding how to apply it. Neither is it appropriate to simply understand a passage. Understanding demands action. This is not just “fun stuff to know and tell.”  Knowledge is for the purpose of conduct. (Think that over.)

There are cultural divides within major cultures, as well. Music, aesthetics, clothing styles, dietary choices, public behavior, table manners…virtually anything can be a source of division, so long as we are willing to take occasion to do so. The key is to not be willing to break fellowship over such things.

 

Jew and Gentile issues, again

So, how does all this tie into the issues between the Jewish and the Gentile believers? Consider: How might it help for the Jewish believers to continue on with the Jewish feast days? How might it hurt? How would it help for the Gentile believers to cheerfully go on with their work, their clothing choices and their diets, without regard for the Old Testament Jewish laws? (This is not in reference to moral issues, or things condemned as sin in all dispensations.)

Paul had Timothy circumcised, as a Jew, because he was a Jew, though he had a Gentile father and was not raised as a practicing Jew. He made no attempt to have Titus become a Jewish proselyte, though he had a seemingly identical ministry. Why?  Because Timothy was better able to reach Jews with the Gospel, and minister to the needs of Jewish believers, if he fully embraced his Jewish heritage, and was someone they did not see as a renegade, or an apostate. Titus, on the other hand, was a full Gentile by birth, and it would have been detrimental to his testimony to become a Jewish proselyte, because it would add confusion to the message of the Gospel. It may have pacified the “Judaizers”, but it would also have strengthened their claim that one has to become a Jew to be saved, which is pure heresy, and which was exactly what Paul was fighting against from the beginning.

This is why it was so important for the believers at Rome to accept one another as they were, without criticism about things that had no bearing on one’s relationship with God. The enemy was already at work to divide the newborn church, to split it into warring factions, and to destroy the credibility of its testimony. They could either overcome the differences by obedience to God’s Word, or allow the Enemy to destroy the church.

What did the apostle James say about the matter? (Acts 15:19) That the Jewish believers were not to “trouble those who from among the Gentiles had turned to God”. The same could be said of the Gentile believers, that they were not to trouble the Jewish believers. The whole issue, here in Romans 14 and 15, is the matter of unity in spite of differences. They could either choose to appreciate one another for the unique ways that God had gifted them, or choose to destroy the work of God through self-centered arrogance.

 

So, What about Today?

Those are the choices today, as well. It is never a question of condoning sin, but rather of allowing and appreciating liberty within the holiness of God. A well-meaning pastor once accused my youngest son of being a “worldly man” while he himself claimed to be a “Godly man,” based entirely upon my son’s choice in music. I felt that it was a sad thing, to destroy fellowship over such a thing, and I privately wondered what the music had been that occasioned such an attack, but I didn’t ask. A week or so later, my son and I were driving somewhere, and he had some pretty rocky-sounding music playing on his car system; then he said “This is the song that the pastor was complaining about, when he called me a “worldly man.” So, I listened more closely to the lyrics, to see what the content of the song really was. This is what I heard: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me! Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…”

The song was the 51st Psalm, set to music. That is what he was being condemned for. Why? Because the human accuser did not like the music. But the Accuser of the Brethren is not human, and he doesn’t like the lyrics. He will use any means possible to cause division, and to diminish the effectiveness of the Church. Frequently the damage done is irreparable…the wounded brother quietly leaves, and the accuser feels justified, and grimly quotes, “They went out from among us because they were not of us!”

If you drive away another believer with your criticism, don’t accuse them of being unfaithful, or of being false brethren. It is your critical heart that is doing the damage. Ezekiel 34:15-22 says that God sees such doings, and will judge those doing the damage.

15I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. 16I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

17And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. 18Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? 19And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.

20Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. 21Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; 22Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

Those who are driving away the weaker believers will be judged by God. We need to develop a very tender heart toward such offences, and be very careful about our words and actions.

This is not just about what happens in church, by the way: it is a warning that touches on every human relationship. James says that we all tend to sin with our tongues. We tend to have big mouths, and we need to put a guard on them, so as not to injure others with thoughtless words. The root of the tongue, of course, is the heart. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

The self-will and self-centeredness that controls the heart of every unregenerate man is still there, in believers, but we are no longer its slaves. We no longer have to sin. (Romans 6:1-18) We are dead to sin, just as surely as we are dead to the Law. So, we need to set aside the critical spirit that wells up within us, and embrace the New Life in Christ, to the extent that we no longer reject one another based upon differences in tastes, mannerisms, styles, giftedness, or even minor doctrinal differences. It is simply not acceptable to reject one another over things that God accepts…to reject a person whom God says is “Accepted in the Beloved.”

 

The Result?

Paul says that the church is to be filled “with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

We are to abound in hope through whose Power? That of the Holy Spirit. This is not a “do-it-yourself” project. We are told to endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” We don’t create that unity, and, as the Psalmist says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” But we are not to disrupt that unity for the sake of any of the types of things listed here: Not what we eat or drink (both strictly temporal, at worst); not what we wear, not our ministry style, or our taste in music; not what we believe about the end times (which are easily misunderstood at best, and not everyone who is “confused” is necessarily a false teacher.)

We are to be characterized by the Agapé love, not by our many divisions and schisms. Paul sternly warned the Corinthian church against such divisions. (1st Corinthians 1:10-16) They were divided over who their individual mentors had been. Some claimed that Paul was their leader. Others claimed to follow Apollos. Still others took the high road and said “Well I follow Jesus!” That one sounds good, maybe, but what they were actually accomplishing was more division, not corrective teaching. Had they said “Can’t we all just follow Jesus? I mean that’s who both Paul and Apollos follow, right?” Then, I would say they were part of the solution. But as it is, they were part of the problem of contention, self-will and sectarian pride.

That still happens today: There was a fellow with whom I attended high school, who was not a believer when we graduated. I was a brand new believer at that time. We met about eight or ten years later and he was a brand new, enthusiastic, and friendly, warm brother in the Lord. We had good fellowship! But I met him again, perhaps five years later, in a grocery store, and something had changed:

He asked me what church I attended. I had been attending a Baptist church, because it was local, and because, doctrinally speaking, it was the closest thing I could find, nearby. So that is what I told him: “We’ve been attending this Baptist Church, up the street.” He physically straightened up so that he could look down his nose at me, and in a sanctimonious, smug, self-satisfied tone, said, “Well, I’m still gathering to the name of Jesus!” I was so disappointed to have him respond that way. He had not asked me about my beliefs, nor my practices. The only thing that mattered to him was the fact that I fellowshipped with people who were “part of a denomination.” The group with whom he met for fellowship, claimed to have no denominational ties, but, in fact they do! In separating themselves from all other believers, they have become a very tight-knit, world-wide denomination (or at least association). They are tarred with the same brush!

 

Conclusion:

Division is serious business. We are to avoid it like a fatal disease…because it is one! If the Jewish believers were not to reject the Gentile believers because of their worldly habits, and the Gentile believers were not to reject the Jews because of their legalistic bent, and if Paul rebuked the early beginning of sectarianism based on personality cults, then how can we feel we have the right to break fellowship over anything that is not flagrant sin?

We are not to cause division, nor to allow it to continue, if it is possible to heal the rifts. We do not sacrifice sound doctrine to create a false unity…called Ecumenism; but we do seek to maintain unity with those who truly believe the Bible is God’s Word, and who see the Priorities of the Gospel as paramount. It is difficult to sort out, sometimes, but we must be committed to the unity of the true church while not abandoning the Holiness of God.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom through your Word, and by your Holy Spirit to discern good and evil, and renew in us a pure heart with which to offer the agapé love to those around us. Apart from your divine help and intervention and empowerment, the task is impossible. Arm us for the fight, and fill us with your Joy, for the sake of your honor and glory.


Unity Despite Differences

Responding to Differences with Unity

© C. O. Bishop 10/21/16 THCF 10/23/16

 Romans 15:1-7

Introduction:

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

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

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

Partnership and Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Meddling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Really Bothers God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: The Goal is Unity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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