Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

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.

 

 


The Behavior of Faith

The Behavior of Faith

© C. O. Bishop 10/12/17; THCF 10/15/17

Hebrews 11:11-16

Introduction:

Last time we talked about “what Faith is”, (and what it is not): The eleventh chapter of Hebrews goes on to speak more about what Faith does, than what Faith is. Faith is believing; that’s all. But Godly Faith is “believing God more than I believe Me.” It means taking God’s Word as being infinitely more dependable than my own thoughts, feelings, and reasoning. I am actually commanded to think, to reason, and to respond with my heart. But I am warned that my old sin nature is so devious as to be the single most likely source of my downfall. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. So, I need to learn to believe God first, and then to reason within that framework.

I am not told to come up with my own ideas, stamp “God’s Will” on my own presumption, and then expect God to honor it. There have been a few (very few) cases in Biblical history where it seems as though something like that may have happened: places where a passionate servant of God called out some impossible thing, and God pulled it off for him. Now—did God inspire that prayer, or declaration, or prophecy—whatever it was? I don’t know for sure in every case. But I also do not know that He didn’t. The times when God clearly did NOT authorize such a prophecy or whatever the statement was, then it simply didn’t happen. I have known people, personally, who said they “believed God” that they were sent to accomplish some special thing, but when it didn’t materialize, they either made excuses or blamed God, or blamed those around them. That is not faith; it is presumption. So, how does faith behave? What does it look like?

The Response of Faith

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sara judged God to be faithful. That is a good response. I would not have seen that from the exchange in Genesis 18, but I have God’s Word, here in Hebrews Eleven, to inform me of what Sara’s inner thoughts were. She believed God because she considered His character to be reliable: she judged Him to be faithful. Abraham had already decided the same thing, and now the two of them were in agreement that this unsolicited promise of God (a promised child—an heir to the promise of the land and the eternal blessing) was before them, and they believed His spoken Word. Notice that this was not a “feeling,” nor a vision. In this particular case (Genesis 18—read it!) God showed up in person, in the form of a man, and only later in the conversation revealed His identity. He spoke with them both, in person, and He made a verbal, solid promise. There was no presumption on their part. Consider, too, the fact that earlier, when Abram had changed his name to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”), it was because God told him to do so. It was an obedient response to a revealed truth: in other words, faith; not presumption. And what was the result of this sort of response?

The Result of Faith

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

The Birth of Isaac was by Promise. It was a miraculous event, even by God’s reckoning. We tend to yell “miracle” when anything unusual happens; but God does not. This was not a case of a “surprise baby” of which we have all seen examples. This was a case of a miraculous rejuvenation of two very elderly human bodies, resulting in an otherwise normal conception, pregnancy and birth. And God says that it was supernatural, not just unusual. Bear in mind that God made the promise first; Abraham and Sara simply believed the promise. They did not conceive the idea on their own and then try to stamp “God’s Will” on it. It was God’s plan and God’s Promise. All they did is believe it.

By the way, consider the contrast regarding the birth of Ishmael: A few years earlier, they had come up with their own idea as to how to bring about the promise of God that had been given years before, and Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was the result. The entire Arab world calls Ishmael their forefather today. This was not the result of faith, but a result of unbelief (a lack of faith) and presumption. And the warfare and hatred that has resulted will haunt Israel until the day the Lord returns.

We see all these events through the eyes of Moses, as an accomplished feat, but Abraham saw it through the eyes of faith, and had believed the promise for years, even changing his name in accord with God’s command, as an outward statement of faith. We can read about it as a historical fact, but Abraham had to face it as a present reality. So did Sara. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt, emotionally, to watch their own bodies being restored to functionality, and a normal pregnancy and birth resulting.

And yet, God says in the following verses, “these died in faith, not having received the promises!” What promises was he talking about, then? I thought they just received the promise! Isaac was the promised Son, wasn’t he?

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

This word “persuaded”, here, is important: The Greek root peitho means “to be persuaded”…and it is from this root that both the Greek words “pisteuo” (to believe) and “pistis” (faith) arise. We need to become persuaded in our own hearts that God is good: that He is faithful. That His character is, beyond question, excellent and Gracious. From that foundation, we can believe that His Word is trustworthy and true…and that we can trust in it, implicitly. We are not to be crippled by unbelief, unable to respond in faith, through obedience; nor are we to run ahead of the Great Shepherd with our own presumptuous plans. We need to open the eyes of faith, and, day by day, look to Him for guidance. Look to His written Word for principles by which to live, and pray for direction by His Holy Spirit, for the particulars of life.

When we begin to walk with God in obedience, regarding His Word as true, we find ourselves estranged from the World around us. We no longer fit in. Eventually, we accept the fact that we truly have changed citizenship, and that we now belong to God’s kingdom. With that realization, and having embraced that truth, we begin to release our grip on this World, and we begin to look beyond it.  The Old Testament believers were also looking beyond this world with the eyes of faith: Evidently the promised Son (Isaac) was not where they had their hopes set. (Abraham and Sara did receive him.) Nor, even, was the physical land of Israel their real hope. They were looking to an eternal fulfillment, through a supernatural relationship with the supernatural, eternal, invisible, omnipresent God who created the universe. They looked with the eyes of faith.

The Eyes of Faith

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

These folks were looking beyond this world, just as we are! But in their case, they had a physical place to which they could have returned…their hometown, in most cases, was still there, and their extended families, in some cases, were all there, as well. But when they had abandoned their old life to follow the God who had called them, they had also abandoned the gods of their old lives, and the values they once held dear…and their extended families and friends had not followed their example. So a huge barrier was there, against a return. They really couldn’t go back comfortably, even though the physical places still existed. So that is not what they did: they kept looking forward, and did not go back.

Remember, in the previous chapters, that the writer had cited some who “fell away because of unbelief.” We can read in the book of Exodus that the people of Israel were frequently guilty of “wanting to return to Egypt.” I have to shake my head over that one, and wonder what in the world they were thinking: they could not go back!  Even had God permitted it, they seem to have forgotten that Egypt had been literally destroyed on their account, and the Pharaoh and his entire army had died in the Red Sea because of them. What kind of welcome would they have found, if they had returned? It was simply an impossibility, even for those who wanted to return.

But God commends those who did not want to return, who wanted to press on to receive the promise. Abraham was one of those, over 400 years before the Exodus. Even in his later life, when he sent his servant back to Haran, to find a wife for Isaac, he warned him that he was absolutely not to take Isaac back there. He stayed committed to the promise. God commended people throughout the Bible, who clung to Him against all odds, and chose Him over all else.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

I have no idea what the eternal state will be like beyond the tiny amount of information we are given in scripture. And, beyond that, He clearly says that none of us have seen it, none of us have even heard a reliable account of it, except the little bit God has told us, and He further says that none of us have correctly imagined it. (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what the Father has in store for them that love Him.”) But I believe in His character, and I trust that what He has prepared will turn out to be something unimaginably good, and that He will change my heart from what I now consider good so that I will see it through His eyes, and recognize that Eternal Goodness and Blessing. 

I really don’t spend a lot of time “daydreaming about heaven:” I know that I have no idea what it will be like. So I have abandoned the fruitless behavior of imagination, and am embracing the stance of faith…waiting on God for that unseen future, and confessing that I have no real idea what it will be. That is a choice I make. I choose Faith. I choose to believe God.

The Choices of Faith

In the meantime, Faith has some things for me to do…to choose to do:

  • Trust the Lord!
  • Obey God’s Word!
  • Love my neighbor!
  • Love my wife!
  • Study the scriptures,
  • Feed on the Word,
  • Feed the Flock!
  • Serve with Joy!
  • Rejoice always!
  • Pray without ceasing!
  • In everything, give thanks!

Do any of these sound familiar to you? They ought to! They are all general commands given to all believers. And what Jesus said about that, in John 14:21, is that the one who has those commandments and keeps them, is demonstrating love for Jesus, personally. And those who fall into that category will find that God is loving them back! Jesus went on to say that he would “manifest himself”, or “make himself known” to that sort of individual.

If you want to see Jesus at work in your life, try walking in obedience, by faith. This is not a way to “earn God’s Favor.” If you have placed your trust in Him as your savior, then you already have His favor, in Christ. You are already His Child. If you have not placed your trust in His blood at the Cross for your salvation, then all the works in the world will do no good. Only the blood of Jesus will suffice.

This message is an invitation to believers to join with Jesus in the Service of God, and be blessed with supernatural Joy. The invitation to all others remains the same: “Look, and Live! Turn to Jesus personally for eternal life, and receive it from Him as a free gift!” In both cases, however, the choice is personal. An unbeliever can choose to reject God’s offer. And a believer can choose to stay on the fringes of God’s blessing, and not serve with Jesus. But, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me….” We are invited to join Him in the work.

All of the behaviors of Faith are a matter of choice. Faith is a choice! Either choose to believe God and do as He asks, or choose not to do so. The choice is yours!

Lord Jesus, awaken our hearts to serve you and to obey by faith the rudimentary things of the Christian life, so that you can draw us along into deeper things as we draw close to you. Help us to see life as you see it, and to make our choices as you direct us to choose.

 

 

 

 


What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

© C. O. Bishop 9/30/17 THCF and Cornell 10/1/17

Hebrews 11:1-10

Introduction:

At the end of the tenth chapter of Hebrews, we saw the warning to not fall back into formalism or legalism, but rather to step forward into faith. The writer stated that “we” (the believers) are not those who “draw back unto perdition”, but rather, we are to be “them that believe, unto the saving of the soul.” This contrast is set up for us to clearly see, that, regardless of the question at hand, or the challenge before us, the choice is the same—will we believe God, or not?

Human reasoning is very attractive, and, under submission to the Word of God, it actually can result in good decision-making. The problem is that we do not tend to submit our thought processes to the light of God’s Word, so we are easily snared by the World’s way of thinking, because our own hearts are also extremely deceitful.

Secular Humanism demands that we deliberately cast off any reference to the Light of God’s Word, and look at the World exclusively from the perspective of Human reasoning. The results are consistently disastrous, as History has shown us by countless examples. But, as a race, we humans persist in believing that “We have the answers to all problems, and that given just a little more time, we will fix everything”! Now there is a statement of Faith! In spite of all evidence to the contrary, and the observable decline of human behavior, we still think that we humans can produce righteousness, and truth, and peace. Does that sound…reasonable? Given the thousands of years of failure, and given that our most impressive “advances” have been in technology, which, invariably, are soon turned to weapons of one sort or another, by which to rob or kill or spy upon each other, do you really think that we will escape our human predisposal to sin? Our predisposal to lust, and violence, and deceit, and theft?

The World demands that we place our faith in a wholly unreliable demi-god, Man! (Or in any number of false Gods, who all deny Christ.) And those who refuse to believe in Human Sovereignty or in one of the various World Religions, are routinely cast aside, ridiculed, abused, and often killed. Jesus says for us to turn our faith to Him, and be saved from our sin, thus addressing the root problem that all the other deny. So, perhaps the question we ought to be asking, is “What is Faith?” And then: “How do I place my faith where it will do the most good?”

What is Faith?

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This verse is frequently quoted as a “definition of faith.” This is not a definition of faith, any more than “God is Love” is a definition of God…this is a statement of the value of Faith, to the believer: the effect it has on the believer’s life. If I say “my car is how I get to work every morning,” you would correctly understand that I use my car to get to work. But that does not define an automobile; it only describes a particular effect it has in my life.

Faith is believing: simply put, that is all faith is. Godly Faith is believing God. Godly Faith is believing God enough that it changes something in our behavior. Godly Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. That definition is borne out is every single statement in the following verses. (“By faith, so-and-so did such-and-such…”)

Faith is not a “force”, or a “power” (though it may free the power of God to work in our lives….) It is not a “muscle” that needs exercise, as some have taught. When we “exercise faith,” it simply means we consistently apply it, just as, when we say that someone needs to “exercise good judgment,” we mean that they need to apply wisdom.

The Greek word for “faith” is the noun “pistis”. The infinitive Greek verb “to believe” is “pisteuo”. Both pistis and pisteuo come from the Greek root “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded.” The people named in this chapter were persuaded that God had called them to do certain things, or to believe His Word regarding certain things; and they were persuaded enough that they did them! They believed God! It was always an action, motivated by belief.

We can believe wrong things, and the result will be wrong behavior. We can believe self-serving things because they are attractive to us, and then act on those beliefs because they serve our self-will. We are masters of self-justification, and self-deception. But, we have a choice as to where to place our faith. Placed properly, faith does have the described result in the believer’s life.

The Old Testament believers allowed faith to have a proper effect upon their lives, in that they believed God, because He was counted trustworthy. The result was that, for them, faith was “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”

God’s Testimony; Our “report card”

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

The eternal testimony of God regarding the men and women of faith, is that they believed God. That is a Good Report! That is the “report card” that God applied to their record. Regarding Abraham, God said, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) This passage is quoted and used in Romans chapter 4, to teach Salvation by Grace, through Faith. There are some things regarding which Faith only calls for believing God about something he says to be true. The creation is one of those things. See the next verse:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Here the writer give a single example that shows how faith might not only be evidenced by an outward action: The writer says that they chose by faith to believe in the creation account, as revealed by God in the book of Genesis. We can (and do) still make that choice today, but it will become increasingly difficult to do, as the World has made that particular belief the special target for ridicule, and verbal attacks.

Certain Christian leaders have attempted to “water down” the Creation account, to make it compatible with evolution. Whole books have been written to try to reconcile the incompatibility between what the World insists is true, and what the Bible claims to be true. I actually have one or more of those books, given to me by well-meaning friends or family.

It is always an error to try to make God’s Word more “palatable,” or more “accessible,” by changing what it says. Evolution and creation are simply not compatible. And, that’s OK! Light and darkness are mutually exclusive. In this regard (and others) we are called to believe. In much of life, our belief calls us to change what we do; to take action of some sort. The rest of the examples in Hebrews 11 are of that sort, but before we address them I would like to present one more example of the call to simply believe:

In John 6:28, 29  The people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” and, instead of listing the ten commandments or anything else that people think they can do to make themselves acceptable to God, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

Please don’t add to that verse! Just accept it as it stands!

We can believe it or reject it, but that is the standard of faith, as spoken by Jesus. This is the Testimony of God the Son, regarding Faith.

Now let’s look at some of the other type of examples of faith…the ones that call for action. These also constitute the Testimony of God, regarding Faith:

Old Testament Examples of Godly Faith

Abel

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

There are several valuable gems, here:

  • By faith, Abel did …what? A better job of offering a similar sacrifice? No! It says that the sacrifice is what was different! The sacrifice was more excellent! Why? Because he was being obedient to a revealed truth, and bringing a blood That truth had been revealed in practice, by the object lesson of Genesis 3:21, when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood of the first sacrifice.
  • The writer further states that by that sacrifice, he “obtained witness that he was righteous”…that he possessed a right standing before God. That blood sacrifice made all the difference, then, and it still does. That is how we gain a right standing before God, today, as well: Through Jesus’ blood, applied to our own lives, by faith!
  • Notice, too that it says “God testified of his gifts”…not his “heart attitude” or how he genuflected, or anything else: it was the gift that was in question. God told Cain that if he did right, he, too would be received. But what did Abel do that was “right,” in comparison to which, Cain evidently did wrong? He brought the blood sacrifice, while Cain brought the non-blood sacrifice. God testified of his gifts! It was the sacrifice that was different!
  • Finally, back in Luke 11:50, 51, Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet! What prophecy did Abel make? Here in Hebrews 11:4, it says “by it (that sacrifice) he, being dead, is still speaking.” All the Old Testament blood sacrifices pointed to the coming Messiah. Abel, the prophet, spoke by his sacrifice, and is still speaking today. He points to the Cross!

Enoch

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

And how does one please God? We are told very little about Enoch’s life. There is a tiny reference to a prophecy by him, in Jude 14, and the account in Genesis regarding God taking him off the Earth, so that he did not die. But that is all! The Writer goes on to say,

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

There it is! That is the definition of Faith! Faith is believing. Saving faith places the believer’s hope in the person of Christ and His completed work at the Cross. So (though we really aren’t told very much), at some level, Enoch was a man of Godly faith, and walked very consistently in the light that he had. That is all we know about him. The result was a tremendous thing: God took him out of the world without dying.

Noah

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

“Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” In Noah’s case it meant he went and got a whole lot of timber, and built a monstrous wooden box—a barge, effectively. I have helped build a number of steel barges about that size, and I have helped build a number of barns, houses, etc. out of wood and other materials. I am grateful that I am not faced with the task Noah was assigned. It was an enormous job, and it is no wonder that it took 120 years to complete it.

Notice, too, that it says he was motivated by fear. The Greek word here is “eulabe-theis”, meaning a devout fear. This is not a common word in the New Testament. Usually, the writers use the far more common, simple word for fear: “phobos, or phobeo”. One is a noun and the other a verb…but you can probably see that this is the root for the English word “Phobia”—and it means “fear”. There is nothing wrong with fear being a motivator. Psalm 19:9 says that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.” If fear of the coming judgment moves a sinner to repent and be saved, that is a good thing! If the fear of displeasing ones Savior moves a believer to abandon some pet sin, and serve more faithfully, that is a good thing.

Ann Landers once said, in her column, that she was not a “God-fearing “woman, but a “God-loving” woman. Let me tell you: If you don’t fear the judgment of the Holy God you claim to love, then you don’t know Him well enough to love Him either. The disciples were afraid of drowning, during the storm, but they were exceedingly afraid after Jesus calmed the Storm. That is a Godly fear. (Mark 4:35-41) I’d rather take their example than that of Ann Landers.

Noah was called to build that Ark. I am called to believe God’s Word regarding that flood, the building of that Ark, and the results of the flood, in the world today. I see the geologic evidence in the landforms around me, and I realize that the evidence for a worldwide flood is simply overwhelming: it is all around us. But the World ridicules the idea and it rejects the Author as well as the Message.

Abraham

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Notice all the action words! Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in actions. He:

  • Obeyed,
  • Went out
  • Sojourned,
  • Dwelling

He did things because of his faith: He was called, so he had a specific thing to do. But he did not just sit back and claim to believe. He obeyed! And why? He was looking for the reward. Hope for reward is an acceptable motivator, too! He looked for “a city built by God.” Here on Earth? No, he apparently knew of the coming resurrection, and expected a new body, and looked forward to that redemption. Amazing! And he didn’t even have a Bible to read! Not even a part of one.

Next week we will examine some of the things Abraham accomplished by his faith. But, in the meantime:

What is Our Problem?

Why is it, that with far more revelation available to us, and all the advantages of various translations, and electronic Bibles, and home-study courses, and commentaries, and radio preachers, we still end up being less responsive to God’s Word, not more?

I’m not really sure I can answer that. But it may be worth remembering that, in Luke 18:8, Jesus said “When the son of man cometh, shall He find faith?” (The implication being negative.) Apparently true faith is going to become more and more rare. I don’t know why. But I do know that we are called to believe God, both for salvation, and for our daily walk with Him. Apart from believing God (a.k.a. “faith”), God says it is impossible to please Him. We need to confess our unbelief, and then change the way we think, and learn to Believe God more than we believe our own lying hearts…and to serve Him as those who have been released from bondage.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts. Teach us to believe You and Your Word above all other words and feelings. We realize that our feelings are not an accurate measure of reality. Teach us to trust Your Word implicitly.


Entering into God’s Rest

Entering into God’s Rest

© C. O. Bishop 3/13/2017 THCF 3/19/17

Hebrews 3:14-4:11

Introduction:

Last week we talked about the rest God offers to his people, and the fact that there are at least seven different kinds of “rest” spoken of in His Word:

  1. The rest of God himself after the Creation,
  2. The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
    • The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
  3. The rest demanded for the Land
  4. The rest offered to Ruth (and provided to her) in the book of Ruth,
  5. The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
  6. The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
    • The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and His rest,
  7. Eternal rest in Heaven.

Notice that some of these are gifts, given to all who become believers. Jesus said “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” That is a gift given on the sole condition of placing your trust in Him for your salvation. But others are based on some further conditions. For example, Israel had to actually enter into the land to experience the rest God offered there.

Conditional Rest

In the same manner, the rest in question here, in Hebrews 3 and 4, is the rest offered to believers, conditional upon their faith and obedience. You have to enter in to the rest, by choice, by faith.

14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;

In a very practical sense, we only “partake” in the person of Christ by a continuing relationship with him, which extends beyond initial faith. There is a wide variety of possible responses to God’s Grace, beyond initial saving faith. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that there were four different kinds of “soil” into which the “seed” of God’s Word could fall:

  • The first group completely ignored the Word, and were called “the pathway”, or, “the wayside”…and the birds of the air came and removed the seed. These are not those to whom this warning applies. There had been zero response to the Gospel. There was no pretense…they simply were not interested. The Word made no impression upon them.
  • The second group were called “stony ground”: there was an initial response to the Gospel, even a joyous response; but there was no depth, and they fell away at the first difficulty. This may be those to whom this warning applies; I can’t be sure. Remember that among those who escaped Egypt, there were always those who strongly advocated a return to Egypt. It is entirely possible that this group were never believers, so they desired to “return to their father’s house.” This may parallel those who made an initial response but were never committed to the truth of the Word. They heard it all, but apparently never really believed: Judas, among others, fell into this category. He was never born again.
  • There was a third group who had genuine root, and were a genuine plant, but in thorny ground, where it could not become fruitful. These were evidently real believers, but ones for whom it never became a high enough priority to change their life. The cares of this world choked the seed so that it did not become fruitful. That does not mean they were not genuine…it means they never bore fruit. Are they saved? I think they are, though many disagree.
  • The fourth group, of course, are those called “good soil,” and whose lives bore fruit for God, in varying quantity.

Fruit-bearing is subsequent to salvation, and is not a guaranteed result, as far as I can see—it is a normal result, a desirable result, and an expected result; but not guaranteed. And, even within that group in the parable, there was a wide variance in the amount of fruit borne. Believers are constantly exhorted to lay aside the sins that so easily beset them, and focus on the task at hand. (Why? Because, typically, we don’t!) In fact, if the “normal Christian life” were the only possibility, most of the New Testament would be unnecessary, as Christians would just automatically do the right things. But we don’t: we have to be constantly reminded.

It is interesting, though, that, in the few places where we are told to watch (or examine) the “fruit” of other people, it was false teachers against whom the warning was being made, and the fruit was their teaching. When he said “by their fruits ye shall know them”, the issue was false teaching, not the way they lived.

Is there another kind of fruit? Yes, we are told that our lives are to bear fruit, and that the fruit is to remain. There is an aspect of fruit-bearing that is specifically referring to spiritual progeny, as a result of a Godly life, and faithful testimony. The Fruit of the Spirit is supposed to be there at all times in a believer’s life, but it should result in others being drawn to Christ, as well. We are to be witnesses for Him. We will talk more about fruit at another time.

Entering by Faith—or Not

15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.

16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.

So, we see that there was a mixture of folk who came out of Egypt. in fact, it is apparent that there were some who may not have even been Jews, as well: they were referred to as the “mixed multitude” and they were a source of trouble. They were frequently the source of grumblings and rebellion. They may or may not have even been believers, though all had at least gone through the motions of a professed faith, to the extent that they survived the judgment on Egypt.

Unbelievers in the local church are commonplace. They don’t actually belong to the body of Christ, but they are still people for whom Christ died, and as such, they are precious souls, not a foreign body to be rejected, unless they force it. We are to recognize that there may be those among us who have never truly believed. Jesus knew Judas’ heart, and his final warning (if you can call it that) was given in John 13:10, 11. Judas had come along for the ride, had seen the miracles, and partaken of the spiritual experience…but was not made clean through faith in the Word, as were the others (compare John 15:3.)

These are those to whom the sternest warnings are extended, so far as I can tell. They are in deadly danger, having become inoculated against faith by constant exposure to the truth, and the gradual hardening of their own hearts. It has been noted that while exposure to warm sunlight softens wax, the same exposure will harden clay. The difference is in the heart of the hearer. We reveal who we really are by our response to God’s Word. By the way, I think it is appropriate to point out that Jesus is several times identified as being “The Word”, or even the “WORD OF GOD” (all caps), in the scripture. I think it is safe to say that how we respond to the written Word is indicative of our real response to the Living Word, Jesus himself.

17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

The warning stands, as it is written, for all to read. All I can say, is “let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith.” A person has to check one’s own heart and ask where he or she really stands.

Vernon McGee told how, when he was young, he was sent to the barn to tend the animals at night. He carried a lantern, and, as he entered the dark barn, two things happened: the rats that crept through the barn at night would scurry for cover, fleeing the light. But the birds in the rafters, thinking the lantern light was sunrise, began to sing. Why the difference? The difference was in the character of the individual. Jesus said “And this is the judgment; that light has come into the World, and men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Jesus is Better than the Sabbath day: (He is the real Sabbath.)

Hebrews Chapter Four

1Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Here is a very plain explanation of that difference. Judas heard all the same words as the other disciples, but chose to disbelieve. Therefore, when he was still present, Jesus said “…ye are not all clean.” But after Judas had left, he reiterated the earlier statement of cleanliness, saying to the remaining eleven,  “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference was faith.

In the case of Israel in the wilderness, they had really intended to enter the land. They were directed to send the twelve spies into the land, one from each tribe, to discern the best way to enternot to decide whether to enter. When the spies returned, they showed the fruit of the land, and confirmed that everything God had promised about the land was completely true, but they had seen giants there. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, confirmed all of the above, and said, “Let’s go get ‘em!” The other ten said, “Forget it! They will eat us alive! Let’s go back to Egypt!” The people wept all night because of the evil report of the ten spies, and, in the morning, when Joshua and Caleb reiterated their call to action, the people wanted to stone them, and were ready to appoint new leaders to take them back to Egypt. That is when God stepped in and forbade that generation to go in, and a lot of them died of the ensuing plague—the ten spies died on the spot, punished by God.

What about the believers who also failed to enter in? They could not go back and “un-apply” the blood of the Passover, or “un-pass” through the Red Sea. Those things were done…they had believed God, at that point, but had failed at the point of entering the land. If, like them, I am “failing, through unbelief”, I can’t go back and “un-apply” Jesus’ blood to my sin, nor “un-impute” his righteousness to my account (both of which were done by God, not me.) All I am doing is failing to receive the blessing and security and rest that he still offers to believers.

For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Now we are entering a different issue: the rest offered to believers. All believers have entered into the “salvation rest” Jesus offered. (Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.) The writer confirms that all we who have believed DO enter into rest. But not all have further submitted themselves to His loving leadership and learned from Him; so, not all “find rest” unto their souls. This is a hard concept, though the application is simple.

For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

This, of course, refers back to Genesis 2:2. We see this as the beginning of the teaching regarding the Sabbath, and so we should. That is what it is. But we need to carefully consider the remainder of what the scripture teaches regarding the Sabbath.

And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

Here we see a warning regarding the rest he was offering Israel, in Canaan. It had nothing to do with the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath. It had to do with following through with the offer of God, and entering the land of Canaan.

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

This is from Psalm 95—many long years after Israel had not only entered the land but (especially under David, who wrote this psalm) had actually laid claim to nearly every bit of the promised territory. They were relatively secure in the land. They had “arrived!” And yet they were warned to “enter in” to God’s rest! The Land was not the rest. There had to be something else: something more!

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

(This is referring to Joshua, actually—the Old Testament name “Joshua” is the Hebrew name that Jesus actually bore, so the KJV translators correctly translated it from its Greek form, “Iesus”, into English, but it confuses us, who read it today.) The point was that Joshua DID bring them into the land. If that was the “rest” offered, and had already been received, then why did David describe such a “rest” as still being offered to believers, nearly 500 years later?

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath rest nor the Canaan rest were the actual fulfillment of the rest offered by Christ. Notice that he says that this specific rest remains “for the people of God”—believers. What is the “rest”, then? And why is it offered after faith has come? If salvation itself is not the “rest”, then what are we talking about?

Conclusion:

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

“Labor” to enter into “rest?” What rest? How do we labor to enter into rest? It is actually pretty difficult, in some ways, to accomplish what is being taught, here, because it goes against our flesh. We all want to believe that we can do something to earn a right standing with God. Even though we know we were saved by Grace through Faith, we still want to think that, at some level, we “deserve” God’s Grace. The word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages. “Grace” specifically means “unearned favor.”

So, he says that “he who has entered into rest has ceased from his own works.” It requires constant attention for us to break the cycle of legalism, by which we hope to impress God with our behavior. We have to learn to submit ourselves daily to God, to allow Him to live through us. The result is that we quit worrying about whether we are “doing enough”. We simply do what He calls us to do. And what He calls us to do is to share His yoke—share the job he was sent to do; share the concerns of His heart. He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me… and ye shall find rest to your souls.”

How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, since I am convinced that His blood was full payment for my sins, I have quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add to His work, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is!

So, we can stop “trying to be good enough” for God. Jesus is the only one who makes the grade at all, and, if you have been born again, you are in Him, and that is the only way God sees you! His work was completed at the Cross: Rest in Him!

Daily seek to maintain fellowship by trusting Him and obeying Him. Feed on His Word. Reach out to those around you with His Love and care and kindness. But rest in Him. The work is done! Even as we serve as ambassadors, we are only fulfilling the works God prepared for us in advance. According to Ephesians 2:10, all we are doing is “walking in them.” We don’t even generate the will to do so… Philippians 2:13 says that “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Rest in Him: let Him work through you.

 

Lord Jesus, teach us what it means to “rest”, and to “enter in to your rest.” Feed us on your Word, encourage us by your Holy Spirit, and enlighten our minds by your presence.


There is a River!

There is a River!

A study and application of Psalm 46:1-11, Ezekiel 47:1-12 and John 7:37-39

© C. O. Bishop 2/18/17 THCF 2/19/17

There is a River

(Max and David Sapp 1969)

There is a river that flows from deep within.
There is a fountain that frees the soul from sin.
Come to these waters, there is a vast supply.
There is a river that never shall run dry.

Introduction:

The song, “There is a River”, written in 1969 by Max and David Sapp, takes its title from Psalm 46, verse 4… “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” The song writers used that verse as a springboard to John 7:37-39, wherein Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as a spring flowing from within the believer, and changing his life. (Read it aloud.)

The problem with Psalm 46:4 is that there never has been a river in “Jerusalem proper”, and certainly not flowing from the temple. There is one outside of Jerusalem, that heads south, and then east, but it is not the kind of creek to make anybody glad…it drains the city dump, and ultimately is swallowed by the Dead Sea. (This is the Brook Kidron, which is a study unto itself.)

So, when we read this Psalm, we have to either “spiritualize” the passage, as the writers of the song did, and compare it to the passages about the Holy Spirit (which is OK, by the way), or, we are left with a problem…unless we can find another passage that explains it. And that is the first thing we should do…let God explain His Word, if He will.

What River? Let Scripture Explain Scripture!

Let’s turn to Ezekiel 47. The context, beginning in Chapter 40, verse one, and running all the way to the end of the book, is a very detailed vision of the City and the Temple as it will occur during the Millennial Kingdom (also known as the Messianic Kingdom, or, the Kingdom of Heaven). In chapter 47 he describes a literal spring of water flowing from under the literal altar, in the literal temple in the literal Jerusalem, growing deeper all the way, and ultimately, flowing into what HAD been the Dead Sea, but, because of the abundance of healing water flowing into it, it will no longer be dead: it will evidently be connected with the Mediterranean Sea, because it will swarm with fish, specifically the same kind as are in the “Great Sea” which is what we call the Mediterranean. (Read it aloud…)

Now—since we know that there will be a literal river flowing out of the temple in Jerusalem, and we have been told the effect it will bring on the land and the people, let’s go back, and read Psalm 46: (Read it aloud…).

Verse one; the Psalmist says that God is “present”, which we know is true in the global, or even universal sense, but it seems, here, it is meant in a more literal sense. The Old Testament believers were quite aware of God’s omnipresence, and were specifying that He was literally there in Jerusalem, as we can see a few verses later.

Verses two and three describe some natural or supernatural cataclysms through which he states that they will place their trust in God. Zechariah 14 tells of the momentous return of the Lord to Earth, and how the ground will split under his feet at the Mount of Olives, one side moving toward the north, the other toward the south, so that a chasm is opened from Jerusalem, eastward, under his presence.

At the moment the Lord returns there will be a siege in progress, and an assault by the Gentiles against the city of Jerusalem, so that they will have been in terror up until that time, but the passage in Zechariah states that the remnant in Jerusalem will recognize the chasm as being their refuge, and will run into it…and God will fight for them, delivering them from their enemies. I don’t know if this event is specifically what is referred to in the 46th Psalm, but it is at least one example of the kind of thing that will happen at the beginning of the Kingdom age…literally. It is not a case of the Psalmist making grand statements about how much they love and trust the Lord—it is a straightforward statement about something that will literally happen in the future…just like the river.

We already read verse four, but now let’s read it again, keeping in mind the nature of the river that Ezekiel described in the Kingdom age. Now both the river and the fact that it emanates from the Holy Place seem quite literal—as well as the fact that it says the Most High dwells there. (KJV v.4 “… tabernacles of the Most High”, NIV “…where the Most High dwells”) God literally lives there.

This is the long-awaited “Kingdom of Heaven” which Jesus preached for most of His ministry on earth, and of which the Old Testament prophets spoke in many places, including the Psalms. Jesus Christ will be ruling and reigning from Jerusalem. God the Son will be literally, visibly, physically dwelling there. Anyone will be able to go and see Him. This is described in many other places as well, including much of the book of Isaiah.

Verses 5 through 11 describe a collection of things that will occur literally, before, during, or at the end of the Millennial Kingdom…the abiding themes being that:

  • God is in control,
  • His people have nothing to fear, and that
  • Those who despise Him should tremble, as He is no longer holding back His judgment.

So—is that the end of the story? It is all literal—all physical? So that there’s nothing to apply to our lives? Well, of course that’s not so…but I think it is wise to know what the scripture is actually talking about before we try to apply it. “First interpretation, then application.

What about the River Jesus Offered? Is it different?

Jesus did talk about a river, flowing in an individual’s life…he did say that it would change our life, and transform it, and quench our eternal thirst for God as we abide in its flow. He said “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Let’s go back and look at Ezekiel 47, in light of the John 7:38 passage.

  • The river is flowing out from the holy place—God is the source, as opposed to nature. The Kidron has a new headwater.
    • Every born-again believer has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives in you. He is the source of life, as opposed to self. You have a new Head!
  • The waters bring about healing, even in areas long dead…deserts, even the Dead Sea.
    • Death itself is no longer a permanent thing for the believer…it is literally the valley (not the Pit) of the shadow (not the substance) of death, that we walk through, not into. Regardless of how we get there, we no longer have to fear death, as He is with us forever.
  • The salt marshes, where the water does not have freedom to flow, remain salt.
    • We still have a sin nature, and wherever we do not allow God to change us, we remain the same. That’s something to think about….

But what about all that stuff with “measuring,” and the ankles, knees, etc?

When a person becomes a believer they are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a positional matter—the believer is immediately and permanently in Christ, and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is immediately and permanently in the believer. The believer will never be more indwelt by Him…but the level of effect can and will vary. So this is all about the experience of those who have been re-born.

What about the Ankles?

When he begins his new life, a new Christian is just getting his feet wet, as it were—he is learning to walk, as a child of God. Thus, the waters are to the ankles. The Holy Spirit has not gained full control of his life, but the transformation has begun. Notice that the distances are not great—each increment is only about five hundred yards—a little over a quarter mile. Growth is supposed to begin immediately, and continue to increase.

What about the Knees?

Next, it says that the waters are to the knees…it isn’t too long before the new believer is learning the demands of God upon his life, and is realizing more fully how deeply contaminated his whole life has been. The increasing weight of conviction begins to drive him to prayer more often and more fervently, as he seeks to be cleansed, and desires to serve. Perhaps he makes commitments he can’t keep (“I’ll never sin again!”), or asks for things for which he really has no concept of the results, or whether it is God’s will, or anything. But at least he is praying…and beginning to pray with others as well. He is also learning to submit himself to God’s Will…to bow his knee to God, willingly.

What about the Loins?

Next it says that the waters are to the loins (KJV says loins—NIV says “waist”, but the Hebrew word is “Mothnayim”; it’s plural, and it means “loins”, though it could include the waist).

So, what about the loins? I had a friend who thought it might mean how it begins to affect one’s pocketbook, but I don’t think so—in the first place, the practice of keeping one’s money in their hip pocket is a fairly modern one, and completely unknown to the writer, as well as to most cultures since then. In the second place, the pocketbook is frequently affected before the heart, so that even unbelievers frequently give in support of a church, thinking that they thereby gain God’s favor.

Again; “what about the loins?” I think it has to do with childbearing—spiritual reproduction—that is what we are born to do. We are to reproduce, spiritually. We are to lead others to the same relationship with Christ that we enjoy. (Incidentally, if you are not enjoying that life, living it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to change you… no one else is likely to want it either….) It is a normal part of God’s life in us, that it reproduces itself in others.

What about Swimming?

What’s left? It says that 500 yards later, we are swimming…the water is too deep for wading. You are no longer in the “kiddie-pool”. The friend who first shared this with me pointed out two things about swimming. One is that when a person swims, they are completely supported by the water. The other is that the only part of a swimmer that observers can see…is the Head.

Now, can we see a tie-in with John 7:37-39? I think so! The Holy Spirit, the Living presence of the Most High in your life, literally dwelling in your body since the moment you believed, desires to make all the changes listed above—he desires that you walk with Him; He desires that you pray continually, that you kneel to him, and yield your life to him. He desires that you bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain eternally. He desires that you continue to deepen your relationship and commitment to Him until you are completely immersed in Him, and the only thing people see in your life is the Risen Christ—your Head. The Head of the Church.

If that is what you desire, too, then how will you see it happen?

The 119th Psalm poses the same question, in the 9th verse: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” God’s Word—heard, read, studied, memorized, meditated upon, and applied to the life of the believer—is the only thing God says can change us. Interestingly enough, there are several places where His Word is also referred to as “water”…so perhaps the “River” has a double connotation. The Word and the Spirit work together, without exception, so perhaps we can conclude that the degree of our “immersion” in Christ, and the resulting transformation, will depend upon the degree of our immersion in the Written Word, and our submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit by His Word.

We have several services going, here at True Hope—at least three per week—more, if you want them.

  1. We have our Sunday morning Bible study, at 9:30, with a full hour of interactive Bible teaching, wide open to questions;
  2. our main service at 11:00 every Sunday morning, with a full hour of teaching, singing and prayer;
  3. We have an informal Bible-study on Wednesday afternoons, from 2:30 to 4:15. Refreshments are frequently served.
  4. We also have a Bible Study at Cornell Estates, in Hillsboro, every Sunday afternoon, from 2:30-3:30.

All of you have Bibles, and all of you know other believers around you. So, the food is on the table! If you are hungry, eat! If you are not, then all we can do is to offer the food continually, and pray that your appetite will grow.

Can you end up “back on the bank?”

Now, notice, finally, in verse 6, that Ezekiel was brought back to the brink of the river, and was looking out over it. In his experience it was simply because the angelic messenger still had other things to show him. But there may be a warning there for us—you can quench the Holy Spirit in your life, and end up standing at the very edge again, looking out over the river of God’s Love, Grace, and Power, and wondering why it is no longer drawing you along in its flow. That is a terrible, lonely place to stand—still connected irreversibly to God, but “set on the shelf”—“out of the water”, so to speak…no longer able to fellowship with God or his children. Jeremiah 17:13, 14 says that such a person has forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters…they will be ashamed, but they can be healed. That does not mean that He has forsaken you, but that you have broken fellowship with him, and that it is affecting your whole life…you have dried up, and you’re miserable.

If that is where you find yourself today, then I would invite you to come back to the table— back to the river— via 1st John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You can only begin your trip back to the center of God’s will with confession. Sin has to be addressed, before worship or fellowship is possible.

If there is anyone here who is in that condition, and is still unsure what to do about it, I, or any of the other leaders would like to talk with you about it. God is still in the business of transforming lives, and we are here to encourage the growth and blessing of God’s children.

Think about that River that God began in your life—where do you stand, in it? Are you wading? Are you swimming? Are your prayers flowing from that source? Are you leading others to Christ? Or have you returned to the bank of the river, and now are yearning to once again be borne along by the flow of God’s Love?

Hear the Invitation From God!

In Revelation 22:17, the invitation is made: “Whosoever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely!” You can move into deeper water, if that is what you desire, by walking with the Lord; by Bible study, by Faith, and prayer. If you have found yourself lacking, you can restore fellowship with God through confession, then feeding on the Word and seeking Him in prayer.

Lord Jesus, help us all to progress deeper into Your love, and be suspended more fully in Your Grace. When the World looks at us, Your people, may they see only You. Amen!

 

 

 


Unity Despite Differences

Responding to Differences with Unity

© C. O. Bishop 10/21/16 THCF 10/23/16

 Romans 15:1-7

Introduction:

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

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

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

Partnership and Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Meddling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Really Bothers God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: The Goal is Unity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Christian and Civil Authority

The Christian and Civil Authority

© C. O. Bishop, 9/21/2016 THCF 9/25/2016

Romans 13:1-14

Introduction:

We have discussed Christian Living and Relationships. This is an important one: Civil Authority.

Obedience to Civil Authority is Ordained by God

1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. Authority is what is in question, here. Does the government have the authority to rule? The answer is “Yes!” God ordained Human government directly after the flood. That rule has never been rescinded.

God says that if you resist constituted civil authority, simply because you don’t like being told what to do, or because you disagree with what they tell you to do, then you are ultimately resisting God, as well, as He truly is the one who instituted human government as a principle.

Has God occasionally overthrown a government because of its ingrown evil? Yep. He surely has. On many occasions it was done through the intervention of an outside force—another government or nation, taking over the country in question. Occasionally it has been through a military coup, or something similar—one branch of the government assuming all power, so as to eradicate the evil in the whole structure. The odd thing is that, in Biblical history, he often used a more evil nation to chastise his own people. They were more evil because of their morals, etc. but frequently the enemy soldiers knew that they were succeeding in conquering Israel because Israel had abandoned her God. Sometimes the overthrow has come through revolution, but very seldom. Virtually all revolutions are disastrous to the nation, and fatal to the revolutionaries.

Rebellions Usually Come to a Bad End

Let’s compare two revolutions: the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789-1799. The American Colonies’ conflict was forced upon them by George III. They had submitted what was called the “Olive Branch Petition” nearly a year before. It was not only rejected, but the king refused to even read it. He declared them to be rebels, and not his subjects, and invited their enemies to attack them, by withdrawing his naval protection from their shipping. They were left with no choice but to take up arms and defend against all comers.

The American generals, as a rule, showed considerable restraint in their dealings with the British troops. The American Revolution was primarily by believers, and was steeped in prayer, through all the bloodshed of the war.

The French revolution, on the other hand, was a very bloody affair, lasting years, and costing the lives of many thousands of French citizens. The revolutionaries killed anyone accused of being counterrevolutionary, including anyone who was wealthy, part of the church, part of the government at any level including schools. But the revolutionaries were themselves executed later on. They abolished slavery, but as their other excesses became intolerable, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup, and set himself up as “First Consul”; later to become Emperor; and, he reinstated slavery. So, in almost exactly ten years, they went from a bloody revolt, storming the Bastille, and setting a new constitution with high ideals, to having a new, more powerful and efficient emperor, and the original revolutionaries all deposed and dead. Not exactly what they had planned. Incidentally, one of the things they also demanded as part of the new constitution was the eradication of Christianity. Is it any surprise that they did not succeed?

They violently rebelled, killing their old masters and anyone associated with them…and simply gained a new master. Yes, the old regime was corrupt, but those who rebelled were godless, power-maddened, self-serving, murderous men and women.  So, Napoleon simply executed them all, and went on to conquer a great deal of Europe…but that is another story.

The point of all this is that God does ordain human government…and we are not authorized to rebel against it unless (and this is rarely the case)… unless the civil law definitely demands that we disobey God. And, even then, we are not given liberty to stage a revolt, but are commanded to simply stand for God, knowing it will cost us dearly…possibly even our lives.

In general, civil governments are for the benefit of society, and protection of rights to one degree or another, and the promotion of peace. Therefore, in general, they are no threat to godly, orderly people. I have a friend who grew up in the Philippines, under Marcos. The dictator frequently declared martial law, and there were harsh penalties for infractions, and a general curfew to keep people from roaming the streets at night. My friend said the only change it made for him was that he was completely safe wherever he went. The criminal element was suppressed, and lying low. There were soldiers everywhere, and as a result, virtually zero crime. The curfew did not affect him badly, either, as he was going to be home at night anyway.

I noticed in Mexico that, in spite of the incredibly corrupt government, the federal police were quite prompt about arresting thieves or violent criminals. They did not mess around. There were usually three or four in a pick-up truck, all armed with M-16 rifles or something similar. They arrested the perpetrator, tossed him in the back of the pickup, guarded by two policemen with automatic rifles, and took off. It was quite impressive. One could easily see that these were not men to be trifled with. Were they corrupt, too? Probably… but at least on that score they were functioning.

So, in verse 5, Paul says that we are to be obedient to the civil government not only because we are afraid of their authority and the penalties for disobedience, but also as a constant testimony to the righteous character of God, so that, if nothing else, we are left with a clean conscience.

Verse 6 concludes that we are also to pay taxes, even though we do not approve of the government to whom we pay them. Jesus paid taxes, too, and he advised his disciples to do the same. Remember that the two governments to whom Jesus (the Creator and our savior) paid taxes, were both incredibly corrupt, oppressive and evil regimes. We really have no right to complain; but I have known believers who ruined their testimony through tax evasion. If there is a legal exemption available, by all means take it, but don’t try to avoid paying your taxes.

Verse 7 wraps up by stating that there are various levels of government, and we may have to pay various taxes, and show proper respect as well. Respect the position of the Government, and the office of the governor, even when the person holding the office is contemptible. In Daniel 4:17, God says that He places the “basest of men” in positions of rule …which actually explains a lot.

The Supremacy of Agapé Love

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

v. 8-10: says, “No indebtedness except the constant debt of agapé love.” Agapé love fulfills all other law. Love does no ill to its neighbor—thus the law is fulfilled through agapé love.

Now,  I have taken this to be a general injunction against a pattern of indebtedness, as well. “Owe no man anything…” seems to indicate that idea. The question may arise, then; “What is debt?” I am of the opinion that, if the collateral is in hand, so that there is no danger of the lender losing his investment, but there is simply a contractual arrangement whereby an expensive item (a house or land as a good example) is being purchased over a period of time, then it is probably not “debt,” in the sense meant here. But a car loses its value rapidly, and the lender can easily find that a loan is about to be defaulted, when the collateral has depreciated to the point of being relatively worthless. Credit card debt is even worse—the thing purchased may have no collateral value whatsoever. The difference, in the case of a home, is that usually, if foreclosure becomes necessary, the borrower is more likely to suffer than is the lender.

However, Proverbs 22:6 warns that “the borrower becomes the lender’s slave”; so this is not the only warning against indebtedness. But the broader application is that we are not to act in a way that can damage someone else in any way. “Love works no ill to his neighbor…therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

Time to Wake Up!

11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light

v. 11-12 says to wake up and live the way God wants you to live. The time of Christ’s return draws nearer, and we need to make proper use of the time we have left. Live as men and women of God. Paul says that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand”…if he said that, 2000 years ago, then there are only so many possibilities:

  1. He was wrong and was simply way off on his time-frame (nope, that’s not it…), or
  2. He was right, and was referring to the rapture; in which case we are just that much closer to the second coming, today, and we should live accordingly, or
  3. He was right, and it applies to our end-of-life salvation from the effect and presence of sin. In every believer’s life, every day, we are closer to release—graduation— than we were the day before. We should be applying ourselves, knowing that our time is literally running short. The Game is almost over. Press on toward the goal!

He tells us how to do that, in a few words: cast off the works of darkness! (Repent of and renounce the sins that beset you!) Put on the armor of light. (Light dispels darkness…that is the character of light.) If your life is bathed in the light of God’s Word, it will go far toward preventing the works of darkness regaining a toehold in your life.

Make No Provision for the Flesh.

13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Live honestly, as though the light is always shining on what you are doing… because it is! Leave behind the loose behavior and wrong thinking of your past. You can’t get rid of your old sin nature, but you can deny the fulfillment of its desires, and essentially “starve” it. Don’t provide for it. That involves your thought-life, and everything that impinges on it: TV shows, books, movies, music, conversations. Anything that would lead your heart to wrong thinking (and thus lead you to wrong behavior) is an opportunity for the flesh. Sin always begins in the heart.

As a personal example: for me, because of depression, there are many books I will not read and movies I won’t watch, simply because I know what my heart would do with the negative content. Even historical things, sometimes, can be so tragic that I know I could crash into depression through them, so I simply forgo watching them, or reading them. Music that may seem hauntingly beautiful but whose words lend themselves to a feeling of despair, or terminal sadness, irreparable loss, I avoid, because I know my heart will go after the morbid sadness, and swear that “life is hopeless”. Even certain conversations, I have had to simply terminate and walk away, though the other person really meant no harm, because the morbid content was dragging me down. If it is something I can help, or about which I can pray, I can handle it, most of the time. But frequently it is a recounting of some tragedy they heard of, and they are relishing the drama and pathos of the details, but my old sin nature is using it as a weapon against me. So I politely stop the conversation, explaining that it is depressing me. I make no accusation that they are doing so on purpose, and make it clear that my fragility is in question, not their intent.

Each person has areas in which they have to be careful: for one person it may be gossip, for another, anger, especially the so-called “righteous indignation” of hearing about a wrong done to someone else. But God says we are to “make no provision for the flesh”.

Getting too clever with one’s taxes can be a temptation for some. I knew a Christian business man who went to jail for a time because he was convicted of tax evasion. That is a pretty bad testimony, and it lasts a long time. That happened well over thirty years ago, and I seriously doubt he is even still alive…but I would bet I am not the only one who remembers it and grieves over the damage it did to the name of Jesus, let alone what it did to his family.

I knew another Christian man, a pastor, in fact, who was arrested for theft—shoplifting. When asked how such a thing could even happen, he said, “Oh, stealing is easy! I stole the first sermon I ever preached in this church!” There seemed to be no real remorse, except for his having been caught, but he was permanently out of the ministry. He had built a pattern of dishonesty, and it eventually destroyed him. I never saw him again, but I have remembered him often.

All of us can recount stories of people whose lives were devastated by the Enemy, because they themselves made provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. Any foothold is enough for Satan to start his evil work, so we are told to abandon the works of darkness, cast them off wholesale… not just the obvious ones. Satan and his hosts do not care HOW they destroy the work of God. They only want to destroy it, and damage the reputation of God.

I remember hearing about two churches nearly identical in doctrine and practice, but on opposite sides of town, having a fairly public falling-out about “encroaching” on one another’s “territory;” jealously vying for proselytes: filling pews, but disgusting the world around them. All of which may seem justified, if you are the one doing it, but the world sees it as shameful hucksterism; and the competition makes the churches look like competing scams. (Guess what! They were!)

Conclusion:

The church is supposed to be a reflection of Christ. The ugly behavior of believers, especially lawlessness, greed and hypocrisy, can destroy the testimony of Christ in a city or a nation, to the point that the Gospel of Christ becomes a public joke. And the fault lies with the people of God.

Make no provision for the Flesh. It is too easy to accidentally end up blinded and working for the Enemy. Remember Samson? He was literally, physically blinded, and literally, physically working for the enemy. But believers today can become blind to the light of God’s Word, and enslaved to the evil desires of their own sin nature, all the while justifying themselves with the constant lies of their deceitful heart, and playing right into Satan’s hands, doing his work, instead of the work of Christ. We want to avoid that at all cost!

Lord Jesus, lead us in your paths of Righteousness! Teach us to respond correctly to the World around us for the sake of our testimony and your Honor and Glory.


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

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

In this Book:

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

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

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

The Person of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Effect of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burden of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Amen.


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

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

Introduction:

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

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant—the Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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