Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

The Believer’s Security (Part 2)

Introduction to Peter’s Epistles:

Security of the Believer (Part 2)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:2-5

Introduction:

Last week we began a study of Peter’s first Epistle. We didn’t even complete the second verse, because there was so much information packed into the words themselves. Today we will continue and attempt to finish the first five verses, as Peter continues his greeting to the recipients of the letter. Remember that you are among the intended readers.

Security of the Believer, (continued)

As you recall, we had underscored about thirty key words in the first five verses:

Chapter One

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.


The Terminology:

We only got through the first thirteen of those key ideas, last week. Let’s read on! We saw that, in the first two verses we have the security of the believer introduced. And we were only halfway into verse two! The next concept is “Grace:” so we will start there, and continue.

“Grace:” this word can be easily misused, so we want to think carefully about it. It means “unmerited favor.” We might use it in a variety of ways, but the key word, there, is unmerited favor. Unearned favor. One might do something special for one’s employer and be rewarded by the bestowment of honor, or by particular privileges…but in those cases, the honor was earned.

I did not and cannot earn the honor that God has bestowed upon me; to be made an ambassador of Christ…to be made a real child of God. To be seated with Christ in the Heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6 says if you are a believer, you are already there!) and so much more…I haven’t earned any of those. That is why it is called “Grace.” Keep that in mind, when you see that word in scripture. It is not a “feeling” type word, as in “that was so gracious!” It is a fact! It means “I did not earn this, but it was given to me anyway, in spite of my not deserving it!”

“Peace:” There are several kinds of Peace in the believer’s life: the initial one is the fact that you are no longer “at war with God.” You may think that you never were at odds with Him, but Romans 5:10 says that all of us were initially the “enemies of God.” But, the day you trusted Jesus as your Savior, that “Peace” became a permanent reality. You have Peace with God, because you have been justified (declared righteous) by faith. (Romans 5:1 is a positional truth.) We are encouraged to seek the Peace of God in our daily lives. (Philippians 4:6, 7 is a conditional truth.) We are to seek to make peace with other people and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers…” which is probably that same kind of peace.) But please notice that all peace is dependent upon prior Grace. The Biblical order is always Grace and then Peace, as a result of Grace..

“Blessed:” The Greek word here is “eulogetos” meaning “to speak good words”…this particular aspect of “blessing” is the voice of worship, giving blessing back to God, not a “conferred blessing.” When He blesses us, we benefit. When we bless Him, we also benefit, and draw closer to Him in worship and praise. This idea can also be used to bless other humans, in which case it is not worship, but genuinely wishing good for them. We are commanded to bless them that curse us. That is this word. (There is another Greek word, makarioi, which means “happy, because of God’s approval.” When Jesus preached the Beatitudes: that was the word He used, there. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” etc. That is a different concept.)

“Lord:” The Greek word “kurios” is translated “Lord,” virtually every time it is used. It literally means “Master,” and “Lord,” but was often used casually, in about the same way as we say “Mister, or Sir.” Both of those English words came from English and French words, meaning “Master, or Lord.” Regarding Jesus, it is not a casual term of reference: We are not simply politely saying “Mister Jesus.” He is literally our master, our creator, our owner… our Lord: the One to whom we owe honor and obedience and loyalty and Love. It is the exact same meaning as the Hebrew word “Adonai.” It has nothing to do with deity; it means “master.”

“Mercy:” This is the “reverse” of Grace. Grace was “God giving me what I don’t deserve.” Mercy is “God not giving me what I do deserve.” I have earned the full wages for my sins! That is what I deserve! Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death:” meaning, “that is what I have earned and deserve.” Not giving us those “wages” is Mercy. It goes on to say, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have not earned that! That is Grace! I need both the Mercy and the Grace of God. Without both of those, I would have no hope.

“Begotten Again:” This is a key issue. The idea, here, is not just a “trendy thing to say,” as it has become over the last fifty years, but a reality! You were born again the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, whether you knew it or not. You became God’s real child, through that new birth. The word “begotten” is the same idea as the word “sired”…in that He not only “claims” you as His own, but, as he says in 1st John 3:9, “His seed remains in you.” At a spiritual level, you are His child, genetically. The New Man, your new nature, is literally the child of God. Your old nature could never approach God, even if it wanted to. Now you can approach Him in confidence as His true child, because you have been “begotten again.”

“A Living Hope:” The word translated Hope, here is “elpida” and it just means “hope.” The word translated “lively” in the KJV (or “living,” in most of the newer translations) is “zosan.” (“Zoē” means “Life,” in Greek.) So what is our ‘hope”, and why is it a living hope?

Hope has essentially a three-part definition, in scripture, as well as in “just plain English:”

  1. The happy confidence of good, for our future. (This is how God wants us to feel and think toward our future: not the hopeless, despairing, defeated thoughts of unbelief.
  2. The ground, or evidence on which that confidence rests, (our hope rests in the character of God and the truth of His Word.) and finally,
  3. The Object of our confidence (in our case, it is Jesus. He is the one toward who we direct all our hopes. He is our only Hope.)

And it is a living hope: it is to be realized in our lives, now, not sometime after we die. In John 17:3 Jesus says, “…this is eternal life; that they may know Thee (present tense), the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”  We are to be “knowing Jesus” on an experiential basis all the time, not “just hanging on and waiting to die,” to get out of our distress. In John 5:24, Jesus says we have eternal life now! Present tense! 1st John 5:11-13 says that God wants you to know that you have eternal life…again, present tense. It is a living Hope! And the Person who is our hope lives in us; and that miracle is called the “hope of Glory!” (Colossians 1:27.)

How did we enter into that Living Hope? By faith! How do we maintain that hope? Also by faith. Faith is not a “force,” nor is it a “feeling.” It is something you choose to do. Faith is believing God enough to act on that belief.  The root word in Greek is “peitho” which means “being persuaded.” But “peitho” can also be translated “obey” as it means “persuaded to the point of action.” Faith is not just mental assent, but “an obedient response to a revealed truth.”

“Resurrection:” Greek “anastasis.” This literally means “a rising up from” or “a standing up out of” death. An argument frequently brought up by unbelievers is that “Jesus wasn’t really dead…just passed out.” Or, on the other hand, claiming that the many medical revivals of “those who otherwise surely would have died, but who rose up to once again enjoy good health” are the same as what Jesus did. Jesus was dead…not in a coma. His body cells were dead. The reason for the three day “limit” was that at four days, he would have begun to decompose, and the prophecy of Psalm 16:10 stated clearly that he would not experience corruption (decay.) Lazarus was in the grave four days: and the bystanders warned Jesus that he would be stinking by this time. God says he can easily bring a truly dead body back to life. Don’t mistake “revival” for resurrection. Revival is only a renewal of life: resurrection is a restoration of a truly lost life.

“Dead:” One thing to keep in mind when reading scripture is that there are three kinds of “death” called out in the Bible:

  1. Spiritual Death (first recorded in Genesis 2:17 compared to Genesis 3:7-12. The sinning couple were separated from God the moment Adam ate that fruit.)
  2. Physical Death (Adam died physically, 930 years later. (Genesis 5:5) His spirit and soul were separated from his body.)
  3. The Second Death. (Eternal punishment, separated eternally from God, in the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14)

Do you see what all three have in common? All have to do with some sort of “separation.” Physical death requires that the spirit and soul (the non-material parts of the human) are separated from the physical body. It is not just “flat-lining” on a heart-monitor. We all start off “spiritually dead,” separated from God. There is a “modified form” of this death, which can be experienced by believers: when we are in sin, we are separated from fellowship with God, although we can never again be separated from either His presence or His love, forever. But when we are in sin, we are no longer pleasantly aware of either His presence or His love, and are effectively living as if we were spiritually dead. Resurrection, for us, will mean a permanent, conscious reconnection with a body that can never die, a Savior who will be visibly, physically with us, and the permanent escape from sin and destruction. In Jesus’s case, it was a permanently resurrected body, and a never-again-to-be-separated connection with the Father. It is utter mystery to us that the Immortal One died at all! It is utter mystery that the eternal Unity of the Godhead was temporarily separated, for our sake. But it is a fact. And it will never be repeated.

The Inheritance

“Inheritance:” We are not told a lot about the inheritance, but the following points are important to remember:

  • We have this inheritance in Christ, because we are joined to Him eternally, and are part of His family. (see verse 3)
  • The Inheritance itself is eternal (1st Peter 1:4; Hebrews 9:15)
  • The Holy Spirit is the “earnest” (down-payment) of that inheritance (Ephesians 1:14)

Notice that the next four descriptive words or phrases are all in reference to the inheritance. It is:

“Incorruptible:” We usually associate this idea with an absence of moral corruption, but the idea here is that our inheritance cannot rot, mold, or by any other means, deteriorate. This is about our inheritance. It has nothing to do with “reward,” to be discussed later.

“Undefiled:” There is nothing negative about your inheritance: there is no “seamy side,” unlike our present lives and experience. It is untouched by any sort of destructive or polluting influence. Again, this has to do with your eternal inheritance…not your current condition, nor your eventual reward.

“Fadeth not away:” Your inheritance will not be affected by time. It does not wither, or oxidize, or die on the vine. It is eternal, just like Jesus. He is the heir: we are joint-heirs with Him, and the inheritance we have is ours through Him.

“Reserved in Heaven for you!” The inheritance is yours and it is reserved for you! This is not like an earthly hotel or airline “reservation” which may be accidentally “double-booked,” or “sold out from under you,” leaving you with nowhere to go. God’s “reservation” of your inheritance in Christ is for you eternally. By the way, I have been using the word “eternal”, a lot: the Greek word for eternal is “aeoneon” and literally means “to the ages of the ages.” Some unbelievers have claimed that it therefore does not really mean “forever,” but rather only “a very long time.” The problem with this idea is that the exact same word is used to describe the eternality of God! So, we (and our inheritance) are “only” going to last as long as God does! And, I think that will be sufficient!

Finally, the last phrase I want to address in these five verses, is about the believers, not the inheritance:

The Believers

As believers, we are:

“Kept by the power of God!” Why is this so important?  Because there are those who claim that “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!” Let me share with you: if at any point, my salvation is dependent upon my works, then, ultimately, it is entirely dependent upon my works, because, I can guarantee you, “My works are definitely the weak link!” But, if, on the other hand, I am “kept by the power of God unto salvation,” as this verse clearly says, then how much more secure can I feel in my position in Christ?  How much more confidence should that give me regarding my future and my current service, knowing that I literally cannot lose, and I absolutely cannot be lost? It is hard to even grasp the concept, because, from human perspective it seems not only illogical but impossible. But that is also true regarding the rest of the Gospel! The entire plan of salvation is unthinkable from human perspective: How can God become a man? How can there be a virgin birth? How can the blood of His sacrifice have any effect on a sinner like me? How can I have the righteousness of Christ applied to my account, through His blood? And, because of the human “disconnect” from the truth of God, we must enter in by faith: But we are kept by the power of God!

“Through Faith:” This was and is the avenue of approach. God’s Grace is what saved us, and His Power is what keeps us (Compare Ephesians 2:8, 9) Faith is simply the avenue by which we are required to approach Him. (Hebrews 11:6Without Faith it is impossible to please God.”)

“Unto Salvation:”   We are kept “unto salvation.” Our inheritance is reserved in Heaven for us, and secure, because we have been declared to be the children of God, through the new birth, and we are also eternally placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit. (1st Corinthians 12:13) The end result of all that we experience, all that we hope, all that is promised, is Eternal Salvation. We have it now, but we don’t feel it, necessarily. It is ours now, but we don’t see it. The day is coming when it will be visible and tangible, and, in every way a part of our permanent awareness. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish!” (John 10:27, 28)

Conclusion: The “Helmet” of Salvation

In case it had not occurred to you, the security of the believer is the “Helmet of Salvation” described in Ephesians 6:17. This Knowledge and Faith that we are Eternally Secure in Christ, is what gives us the confidence to walk with Him and to serve Him, knowing we cannot fail. The Helmet of Salvation protects your mind from the attacks of Satan.

Spend some time mulling this over: Consider how it affects your relationship with God and with the World around you, knowing that you are eternally secure in Christ, and that He is eternally your Lord and Savior…the Master of all things.

Lord Jesus, we are so limited in our understanding of who you are! Please open our eyes to the spiritual realities surrounding us and allow us to see the world through your eyes. Raise us up to serve you in faith and confidence.


Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 (Oath-taking, Prayer and Singing)

Introduction

The remaining verses in James are difficult for me: Quite honestly, I am not entirely sure how to teach them. I know what they say, and I know what the words mean, but I do not know how to apply them all, especially the verses about healing.

Even verse 12, many (including myself, in the past) have taken to be a prohibition against oath-taking of any sort. (And, perhaps it is: I can’t rule that out completely.) But, when a public official (even a police officer) in our country takes office, they are required to take oath to uphold the law, to uphold the constitution, to protect and to serve, etc. Is that a bad thing? I really don’t think it is! They are being required to state, for the record, that they are bound by this oath to actually do the things in that oath. The same goes for marriage vows. So we need to talk about this verse and what implications it might hold for us.

Oath-taking

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

(Remember that in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus taught the same concept, nearly word for word.)

I have known of people who habitually used the name of God in everything they did, not even disrespectfully, but perhaps too casually, as if it were a charm, or a magic phrase to make things come out right. Perhaps they knew the verse that said to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” so they simply “said those words” with everything they did. A Latino friend told me how his father did that: throwing a bag of seed into the back of a truck, he would say En el nombre de Dios!” He told me that his father did everything that way! I can’t speak to that, because I can’t see the man’s heart. Perhaps it was an honest effort to “do everything in the name of God.” But saying those words does not make it actually be in the name of God: it strikes me that this is very likely to become “taking the name of God in vain,” even if the intentions may have been good.

I have frequently heard unbelievers say something like “Jeeezus help me!” in a frustrating, but somehow humorous situation. All of us have heard unbelievers cry out “God help me!” in a bad situation…an emergency, of some sort. (That is where the aphorism comes from, saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes!”) This takes the form of profanity, though, in many cases, to the extent that people only use the name of Jesus or of God, as a curse. That is not what this verse is referring to, but there are plenty of other passages that address that idea and the “cursing” aspect is also supposed to be “left behind” in the darkness of our old life.

This passage, however, is about taking oaths. Cursing is a separate issue. Remember, when Peter was confronted by the Jews at the crucifixion, (Matthew 26:74) “…he began to curse, and to swear, saying I know not the man!” The cursing was one word…the swearing (oath-taking) was another. He was terrified that they were going to crucify him along with the Lord, and felt helpless to change the course of events. Perhaps he was even angry at Jesus for allowing it to happen? I don’t know. But, in that circumstance he was both cursing and making a false oath. And both things are clearly forbidden.

Butt seems to me that taking true oaths should not be a light thing, either. I don’t really think this verse (nor the passage in Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus said nearly exactly the same thing) is a prohibition against all oath-taking, since God demonstrated in Genesis 15 that an oath can be appropriate. (The passage in Genesis 15 predates the practice laid out in Jeremiah 34:18 wherein two people walked between the pieces of a sacrifice, confirming an oath before God. In Genesis, God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice. He alone bore the oath.)

Some believe that this passage in James really is a prohibition against all oath-taking, and will refuse to take oath in court, for instance. (I used to think that!) Our laws make room for that specific belief, allowing a witness to simply affirm that their statements will be entirely true.

But there are sufficient righteous oaths taken in scripture to make me believe that this verse is more likely a prohibition against “casual” oath-taking. (Abraham required an oath of his servant in Genesis 24, for example.)

“Swearing on a stack of bibles” that something is true, is pointless, when simply stating that “you are convinced of” something is more honest. There is no need to invoke some “higher authority” to validate your given word. It seems that the Jews had become habitual “oath-takers,” and needed to go back to just giving their word, as a general practice. (Which may explain the Matthew 5 passage as well.)

But I think this verse would also preclude any of the ugly, pagan oaths take by people who join secret societies, or certain cults. I have read some of them, and they are truly gory, ungodly oaths. Why are they requiring such oaths, in order to join their organization?

You did not “take an oath” in order to become part of the Body of Christ: you simply placed your faith in His Word, and in His blood. God made the promise: He promised to save you and to keep you, forever. He required no oath from you! Remember, in Genesis 15, He made the oath; He required nothing of Abraham! He also requires no oath from you.

As a member of the Body of Christ, you are expected to find a group of like-minded believers and attach yourself to that assembly, and then faithfully function there as all believers are called to function:

  1. You are a priest before God, and you are expected to pray and offer praise and thanksgiving to the Savior, both for yourself and for others.
  2. You are an ambassador for Christ, and are expected to reach out to the lost as well as to the saved, to offer the Grace of God to the lives around you.
  3. Finally, there are specific gifts you have been given as a believer, that are to be used to bless the assembly, and to serve, and to build up that assembly.

We hope that everyone who attends this assembly will take all these things seriously. But no “oaths” are needed! This is simply what God expects of all believers, in every assembly!

Prayer and Singing

Here is where things begin to be a little more difficult, though they ought to be easy:
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

This seems pretty straightforward. I can easily teach the practice of praying, as it is taught everywhere in the scriptures; We are commanded, in Philippians 4:6, 7, to “be anxious for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

So the part about being afflicted, and praying, I can teach, for sure. Affliction could be physical, mental, emotional, or financial (or maybe something else.) But we are told to give ourselves to prayer, both here and elsewhere. This is to be prayer from the heart, by the way, not reciting written prayers from a book of prayers, but actually talking to God about what is on your heart.

But there are people who say that “Prayer doesn’t change anything: God is just going to do His will anyway!” This passage teaches us otherwise! In verse 16 we are told it can accomplish a great deal. But most roads have two ditches, and this is no exception:

The other extreme is people who think that we can literally “order God around,” telling him what to do…specifically not “asking,” as (they say) that displays a lack of faith. But we are absolutely told to ask. We are absolutely told that, at least sometimes, we “have not because we ask not.” (James 4:2) And we are absolutely told that the reply depends on several things:

  • Our relationship with God at that time, (1st John 3:21-24)
  • The faith with which we ask, (James 1:6, 7) and
  • Whether, in fact, the thing we ask is within God’s will. (1st John 5:14, 15)

God always reserves the right to reply “Yes, No, or Wait.” The Lord is very definitely in control as God…He is not a “celestial vending machine:” (where you just put in your prayer, pull the appropriate lever, and automatically get your wish!) He is God! Yes we are to pray, and freely come to His throne to receive help in time of need, but do remember who it is you’re talking to! He is the Authority! He is God!

So both of the above ideas about prayer are mistaken: yes, “most roads have two ditches,” but the idea is to stay out of the ditches, and preferably in your own lane! Prayer definitely will at least change your relationship to the One you serve, and may change the world around you, as well. But remember that the Lord is sovereign: He always has the final say!

Something I frequently do, in prayer, because of 1st Peter 5:7, where we are told to “CAST” all our cares on God, is to use that word as an acronym, to remind me to begin with

  • Confession of my sins, and my frequent unbelief, then moving on to
  • Adoration and Worship, Praising God for who He is, then making requests, in
  • Supplication (praying for my needs and those of others,) and not forgetting
  • Thanksgiving for answered prayers and the constant faithfulness of God.

So, What about Music?

The singing of hymns (or specifically psalms as some churches insist on doing) to express joy, worship, praise, thanksgiving, fellowship and faith is clearly taught as well. I think it is well to remember the rest of what the scriptures say about singing, too: Jesus and the disciples “…sang a hymn, and went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30)

The scriptures encourage us to “sing unto the Lord a new song”, in several places. And some of us may feel encouraged that the psalmist also says “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” There is no restriction as to our innate gifts in music, or our skill as musicians. There also does not seem to be a restriction as to what sort of music, as it varies wildly from culture to culture, nor is there a restriction as to what kinds of instruments, as far as I can see. But it seems clear that the lyrics must honor the Lord. (It would seem reasonable, as well, that the music should be of a sort that draws a person into a serene, joyful worship of Christ, not stirring them to a frenzy of emotions, though perhaps that is also a matter of perspective: we will discuss particulars later.)

There are churches which completely forbid the use of any musical instruments in the church, just because there is no mention of them in the New Testament. But the Old Testament has many references to musical instruments: some were used for the glory of God, some were not: but the difference was in who was using them, and for what purpose. There is no mention of them in the New Testament, except in the Revelation; but there is no prohibition against them, either.

The three types of music mentioned in the New Testament are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and they are grouped together as “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19) All these are commanded and encouraged.

The problem with “trying to decide what kind of music is permitted” is that in other cultures, when the believers “sing unto the Lord a new song,” it does not sound like western hymns at all! And, as cultures change, the style of music frequently shifts along with the changing culture. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The “old” hymns we love were once “new songs.” And not everyone approved of them! The churches which demand that we only sing psalms forbid making new lyrics. And the really old churches did not approve of what we now consider the great hymns of the faith. But one thing that stays consistent, throughout the centuries, is that the Holy Spirit always speaks to glorify Jesus. So, if the “new songs,” and the “spiritual songs” are actually coming from Him, then the lyrics have to clearly honor the Lord.

My youngest son sadly, quietly told me once, of being condemned by the pastor of his church (in the presence of his friends) for listening to “rock” music. The man said “I’m a man of God! You are a man of the World!” I felt especially bad about it, because my son was a very young believer, and such harsh condemnation is hurtful in any case, but especially in the case of a young believer, and doubly so, in front of a group of friends. (I still grieve for the damage done by this pastor: the entire exchange was wrong!)

But a few days later, I was accompanying my son somewhere in his car, and he started a song on his music system, that was unquestionably “rock” music. I had a little trouble understanding the words, and really wasn’t listening too carefully, until my son asked “What do you think of the song?” I answered honestly, “Good music!” as there was nothing inherently wrong with it, though it was not what I might choose. Then he said, “That’s the song I was listening to when the pastor chewed me out.” So I “perked up my ears,” so to speak, and listened more intently. I found that I actually could understand the words if I listened carefully. Do you want to know what they said?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me…cast me not away from thy presence…restore unto me the joy of your salvation….” Do you recognize those words? Yes! It was the 51st Psalm put to music! That is what he had been listening to, and that is what was condemned by his pastor.

I’m not sure those wounds ever really healed. And they were inflicted by someone who, I am sure, thought he was doing something “righteous.” But James 3:18 says, “…the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That encounter did nothing to create or maintain peace, and the fruit it bore was not righteousness, but bitterness. We need to think carefully about how we use God’s Word, and how we treat the people around us.

Now, in another case, when I was in welding school, I myself was singing or humming the tune (not the lyrics, because it was in Latin, and I didn’t know the words) to Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” A younger friend, a brand-new believer to whom I had been teaching the Bible, heard me, and confronted me, in shock, demanding “Why are you singing that song!?” I was astonished, and said, “It’s a beautiful song! I like it!” He asked again, “Do you know what that song is?” I said, “Yes, it’s Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria.’”

He persisted, though, saying, “But don’t you know what that is??” I said, “I guess I must not!” He said “That is the ‘Ave Maria!’ The ‘Hail Mary’ put to music! It is a worship song to Mary!

I simply had never thought of “what the song was about.” I certainly did not intend to sing a worship song to Mary, even if the music was beautiful! And this young man was a recent believer, who had been saved out of Roman Catholicism, so he was very sensitive to this particular thing. I answered on the spot, “I just never thought of that! I won’t sing it anymore!”

You see, the “beautiful, worshipful music” of that song was specifically written to worship a human being, as if she were deity. Mary herself confessed that she needed a Savior. She is not to be worshipped. And in my friend’s mind, I was singing worship to Mary! I was literally causing him to stumble, and I didn’t even know it. The “beautiful music” did not make it acceptable, nor did the “rock music” in the previous case make it wrong. The lyrics, in both cases, made the song what it really was.

So these two concepts of prayer and singing ought to be a total blessing to us, but they can be problematic as well. We need to think about them and what they really mean, and how we are to use them to honor the Lord.

Is there a Conclusion?

If nothing else, I hope that we can come away with a commitment to “Love one another,” and not to condemn each other for innocent differences of opinion regarding God’s Word.

But the remaining verses in James are about “healing,” and something called “Converting a sinner” and “saving a soul from death.” All of these ideas can be easily misunderstood, and are controversial enough that many commentators sharply disagree over them. I’m not certain I have all the answers, but we will address that passage next week, as these also are subjects people may struggle over.

Lord Jesus, please give us light to read your Word in the teaching of your Holy Spirit, so that we are not confused, but rather drawn closer to yourself. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness.


Looking for the Lord’s Return

Looking for the Lord’s Return

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 3:12 “Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God”

Introduction:

From what we see in God’s Word, we can easily see that, literally from the beginning of the Church Age, nearly 2000 years ago, the Church has been under spiritual (and sometimes physical) attack from the enemy. And yet it has grown under those conditions. I just read a very interesting comment, supposedly made on National Public Radio, to the effect that things are changing in Communist China, in part because the younger generation is turning to Christ! This is not good news to NPR, but it is good news to me! The Church has always grown under persecution! We are not warned to flee persecution, but rather, to endure it!

So, since we don’t know when He is coming back, only knowing that the Rapture of the Church is the “next major event” in His plan, what are we to do while we wait, and how are we to respond to the threats against the Church, and the many hoaxes against our peace of mind?

Should we hunker down and hide? Should we become militant and try to fight back, physically? Should we waste what little time we have, trying to argue against the endless array of accusations against God’s Word and the Lord Himself? Or do we have a definite assignment?

The problem is that, in our flesh, we all fear persecution! We want to escape it entirely! But part of the message of the New Testament is the admonition to “take up thy Cross!” Embrace the Cross! Philippians 1:29 says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;” The fact is, we don’t like that part of the Gospel! And we are not alone in this tendency:

The Disciples wanted the Kingdom!

As Jesus prepared to leave this world, and was saying His final goodbyes, so to speak, the disciples (evidently all of them) were still stuck on their own agenda: Acts 1:6 says, “When they were therefore come together, they asked of Him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?”

Somehow, in my imagination, I see Jesus heaving a sigh, and once more, explaining to them the priorities of God!  But all it actually says it that Jesus clearly stated that we will not know the time of His return, thus, we will not be told, ahead of time, when the Rapture of the Church (which they knew nothing about), the Tribulation, and the Lord’s physical return, would occur: (nor, therefore, His coming Kingdom, which is what they wanted first; though, as we have seen from the scripture, the other things had to happen first! Jesus spent all of Mathew chapter 24 explaining the tribulation, and then capped it with the Matthew 25 statements as to His imminent physical return, after the great tribulation, and showed the Kingdom coming after that!

There on the Mount of Olives, in Acts 1:8, He gave the disciples their final “marching orders:” They were to be His witnesses, to the uttermost parts of the Earth!

Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God

We do have an assignment! The great commission, (Matthew 28:19-20)which was given to the eleven disciples, includes the words, “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations,” and ends with the words, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age).”

So…what had he just commanded them to do, and, more specifically, is that part of our marching orders as well? Yes, it is! The Great Commission is directed to us, simply because we are among those taught. Thus, part of how we are to respond to the sure knowledge that His return is imminent (meaning that it could happen at any time) is that we are to be doing what He asked us to do.

When we know that “company is coming” we run around, getting ready, making everything “just so,” until we know they are about to arrive. Then we try to just relax and wait to hear them in the entryway, so to speak. But that is when we know they are coming, and we know the appointed time!

In this case, it is not just “company:” it is the Master! And we only know that He is coming: we do not know when, and He clearly stated that we will not know the time of His coming! So all we can do is to faithfully be doing what He assigned, all the time, so as to not be ashamed at His arrival. There is no time when we can say, “OK, He should be here in the next ten minutes! Let’s sit down and wait!” We are to “look for and haste unto” the coming of the Day of God! We are to anticipate His imminent return and act accordingly, getting on with the job: specifically evangelism and discipleship.

So What about all the rumors and attacks?

I have had several people send me literature about “current bills in Congress” or secret agendas, conspiracies, etc. The first thing we want to remember is that our enemy is not flesh and blood. It is Satan and his emissaries. The second thing would be to look back in the Bible, and see that this sort of attack has been his “modus operandi” since the beginning: what was the first thing he did, in order to misdirect Eve in the Garden? First, he twisted God’s Word, then he flat out denied its truth, and finally, he said the words we so often hear today:  “thou shalt not surely die! For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (This is “Stuff God doesn’t want you to know.”) We are constantly presented with “things the government doesn’t want you to know,” or “things your church doesn’t want you to know,” or similar offerings. These are the root of “conspiracy theory.” These ideas are very tempting to us, just as Satan’s ploy was to Eve. It works!

So, skip forward about 4,000 years: When Paul had gone through Thessalonica and preached the Gospel of the Cross, there was immediately an uprising of people fighting against that Good News: And, their weapon? Making false accusations against Paul and his entourage, as well as against those who received them. There was very nearly a riot: the local government stepped in, and demanded a peace-bond of the believers, and that night, the believers had to smuggle Paul out of town under cover of darkness, to keep him safe. One would think that this would be the end of the Gospel in Thessalonica, but the seed had taken root! The letters to the church at Thessalonica were to that core group of believers and those whom they had subsequently led to the Lord. So…how long had Paul been teaching there? Less than three weeks, apparently. It says he taught there for three Sabbath days. So, at least two weeks, but less than four.

And what form did the subsequent attack against them (the believers) take? 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 says they were told by “someone” that they had somehow missed the Lord’s return. We have multiple cults today that tell us similar things. Well, this was one of the very first, and it began happening before the Church-age was 20 years along. Today, it is nearly 2000 years later, and the Enemy is up to the same tricks! And it is getting much easier! He no longer has to depend upon some misguided person to go out of his or her way to spread lies personally: we have the internet, and anyone who thinks it is great fun to watch Christians run for cover has only to fire up Facebook and spin a tale of conspiracy! And it works every time!

Also, for some reason, some well-meaning believers (even those well-taught in the Word) suddenly get the idea that they can “ferret out the truth” about “what God doesn’t want us to know” and figure out the date of the Lord’s return.

I remember the evening I left the missionary training camp in Baker, Oregon, in 1980. I stopped in the tiny town of Union, Oregon, to say goodbye to the little Baptist church I had attended there for two years. There was a meeting in progress, and the place was packed. So, I sat in the back and listened, waiting to say my goodbyes. The guest speaker was a well-known local preacher: the subject was “When the Lord is returning?” (Yep! That will draw a crowd all right! You see, we don’t really believe Jesus when He says we will not know.) Everyone was listening earnestly, and taking notes, writing down all he had to say: he had found a “way around” Jesus’s statement. He said “The Lord said you won’t know the day or the hour! He didn’t say you can’t know the month and the year!” (Do you see a problem with that? If we knew the month and the year, we’d only have to worry about His return for the last thirty days or so, right? That means, ultimately, we would know the day and the hour, as well, within a 30-day bracket.)

So…when was the Lord’s Return “supposed” to occur? It was “scheduled” for March of 1982! (Guess I must have missed it, huh?) It was false teaching, regardless of his honest effort to teach good doctrine. He was a good man, and a faithful man of God, but the study was doomed from the beginning, because he had taken the bait of “things God doesn’t want you to know!”

Other “Conspiracy theories”

There are other such examples: people claiming to have portions of scripture that were “left out” of the Bible, so that we Christians “aren’t playing with a full deck,” so to speak. You can look these things up, and read them: Usually, a careful reading, even in English, makes it obvious why it was left out. It simply is not authored by God, and it is obvious: it teaches contrary to the rest of the scriptures. There are many such attacks, and I don’t propose to attempt to answer them all. Look up “pseudepigraphal writings,” and you can see a long list. “Pseudepigraphal writings” means “false writings.” They were recognized as bogus epistles (or whatever they claimed to be) at the time they were first presented. It did not take the Council of Trent to disclose them for what they were. The original recipients had recognized them as false, years before.

So what about today? What is the latest buzz, today? I remember when I first became a believer, the rumor was running around that Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist. There are several problems with that sort of rumor. One, is that he does not fit the description in scripture. The biggest, however, is the fact that scripture makes it clear that we will not see the Antichrist, because he will be revealed after we are removed from the earth! The primary passage is found in 2nd Thessalonians 2…but even if we didn’t have that passage, we can see in the Revelation that the church is to be removed from the Earth in Revelation chapter four, while the Antichrist is to be revealed in chapter thirteen! This is pretty hard to get around! The same goes for the “Mark of the Beast,” which Christians have been fearing for years. “What is it?! How do I avoid it?! How can I recognize it?!) That mark shows up in Revelation 13, long after the Church is to be evacuated in chapter 4.

What about the Mark of the Beast?

Recently, more than one person sent me “documented” evidence that “the government is conspiring against us” to force us to receive an imbedded computer chip (similar to those implanted in pets, for identification purposes) and that they are “gonna do it by means of a vaccination!” (This time, it’s the COVID virus vaccine.)

I’m going to pass up the temptation to argue the obvious physical and technological objections inherent in this hoax. (And, yes, it is yet another hoax, meant to terrify the people of God and keep them from doing their assigned task.) The physical size of an implantable chip is far larger than the interior of a vaccination needle. But let’s set that objection aside, and just stick to scriptural reasoning: What three things from scripture would tell me that this is a hoax?

  1. The Mark of the Beast is to be either in the forehead or the right hand; No vaccinations are given in either of those two places: they are simply not good places to administer medicine. This alone would make me believe that “it just isn’t so!” But that isn’t all!
  2. The Mark of the Beast is a voluntary compliance associated specifically with the choice to worship the image of the antichrist (this is spelled out in Revelation 13.) No one can “slip it to you unawares!” You can’t just innocently go to the doctor for a vaccination, and come home headed for hell.
  3. The bottom line still is the fact that the Church is leaving Planet Earth in Revelation chapter four, and the Antichrist and everything associated with him is not revealed until we are gone…specifically, in Revelation chapter thirteen!

What about the “One World Government?”

We hear a lot about this. It is good to remember two things:

  1. The way the people of Bible times saw “the world” implied “the civilized world,” which, in the time of Daniel, meant the Babylonian Empire. In the time of Alexander the Great, it meant the Grecian empire, and under Rome it meant the Roman Empire. (By the way, each of these was successively larger than the ones before. But Rome never went to Canada, or Australia, etc.)
  2. When Daniel gave the prophecy regarding the world’s governments to come, in Daniel 2, it gave the progression of Babylonian Empire, Medeo-Persian Empire, Grecian Empire, Roman Empire (though unnamed) and the revived Roman Empire (also unnamed). But it was all one image: not four images. The World system of government as a whole was to be smashed by the “Stone cut out without hands.” This is the Return of Jesus.

So, how does that tie into the idea of the One World Government? If we read carefully, in both Daniel and Revelation (which are closely-linked, and, ideally, should be taught together) we see that the antichrist is plagued by wars all around him, even though he has secured that “One World Government. So it isn’t as “monolithic” as we tend to make it out to be. Remember the Revived Roman Empire of the “ten toes” of Daniel chapter 2: that “empire” is comprised of parts of the old Roman Empire. Those parts have been trying to reassemble ever since the Roman Empire imploded. Remember, Rome was never conquered, so much as it fell apart through corruption and neglect and social disunity. (Sound familiar?)

When the Czars were in power in Russia, their very name gave us a clue as to their thoughts. The name “Czar” is the Russian word for Caesar. When Kaiser Wilhelm declared himself the Emperor of the German Empire, again, we can see his intent, as the German word for Caesar is “Kaiser.”

And, according to J. Vernon McGee, when the current European Union was first organized, the treaties were not signed in Brussels, Belgium as I would have expected: They were signed on Capitol Hill, in Rome! Is the EU the “revived Roman Empire” of Revelation? I don’t know! Could they at least be a predecessor to the coming political structure over which the Antichrist is destined to rule? Sure!

But, if it is, what should our response be? To tremble in terror and find a place to dig in, and hide? Nope…but that is what the disciples were doing after the crucifixion. And Jesus came and preached peace to them! He had said, earlier, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the World!” And that was before the Crucifixion! But now, afterward, he was speaking to them as the Resurrected Christ! And that is how he speaks to us as well! We are not to cower in fear: Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” That is not a recipe for helpless fear!

2nd Timothy 1:7 says “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of Love and of a sound mind.” And that is how we are to respond to the threats brought by the Enemy!

A Famous Historical Example of Satan’s Attack

Remember, back in the book of Nehemiah, the assignment was given to “rebuild Jerusalem.” In chapter four, the threat had come of an attack, specifically to prevent the people from carrying out God’s command. Their response was good. They were watchful, but they went on with the work. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side and so builded.” They were prepared for an attack, but their primary attention was given to the assigned task of building the wall. (The wall was specifically what their enemies did not want built, as it once again made Jerusalem a walled city, and very defensible.)

There were other such threats, some more subtle: in chapter six the enemies tried to draw away the leader of the assembly, Nehemiah, himself. But he knew their intent was to ambush him in some way, and he said, in effect, “Sorry, I’m too busy to meet with you!”

Later they threatened to accuse him to the Emperor, saying that he was trying to make himself a king.  He called them on it, saying that it was a lie, and that they were simply trying to put fear into the hearts of the people.

In another attempt, they claimed to be “prophetically” warning him of an attack on his person. Nehemiah 6:13 states that he recognized that the man was hired to bring a false message, in order to frighten Nehemiah into dropping the work he was commanded to accomplish. The rest of the passage (Nehemiah 6:15, 16) goes on to say that even their enemies could see that the work had been done through the power of God, as they had rebuilt the entire city wall in 52 days, even when under the constant threat of attack and various means of dissuasion by their enemies.

The testimony of God’s people when under persecution and attack is important, as our response will let the World know who is really in charge in our lives. If we are easily shut down, silenced, and turned away from our assigned task as the ambassadors of Christ, they will notice! If we continue to function regardless of circumstances, then they will notice that as well.

We have to choose which kind of behavior will go on record as our “normal.” Will we be “children, carried about by every wind of doctrine,” as Ephesians 4:14 warns us not to be? Or, as 1st Corinthians 15:58 encourages us to be, will we be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?”

Ultimately, the choice is ours! We cannot choose what events may happen in our lives, but we can choose our response! We can’t control the actions of the World, and we are not told to do so. We cannot “rewrite the book of Revelation!” Those things are going to happen! We can either:

  1. Rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s Word, and lift up our collective heads, knowing the Lord’s return is near, or we can
  2. Cower in fear, hoping to avoid things that may not be pointed at us in the first place.

Let’s choose faith, and rejoice before the Lord together, knowing that our release is near!

Lord Jesus, turn our collective and individual eyes upon you and let us leave our fears behind! Fill us with the joy of knowing that you are coming soon, and the courage born of knowing you are with us even now!


The Sources of Wisdom

The Sources of Wisdom

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:13-18

How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

The scripture says that we are to “show” or demonstrate by our lives, the result of the “wisdom” to which we claim to adhere. People need to:

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior; to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech;and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak, and the things we do, will accomplish either the one or the other.

Therefore, the results in our own lives (our lifestyle and works) are what will ultimately reveal the source of that “wisdom.” The old English word “conversation” never refers to “people chatting:” it either has to do with our way of life (as in this case: the Greek root is ‘tropos’) or, in a few cases, (Philippians 3:20, for example, where the Greek root is ‘polituema’) it means citizenship, or commonwealth.In no case it is referencingtwo people involved in verbal interaction. In this particular passage it specifically means “the way you live your life.” This reveals to those around you how they should regard your wisdom.

The Greek word (prauteti) translated “meekness” is sometimes translated “gentleness”, and it can mean just that, but it also carries the idea of “yieldedness;” being yielded to God, and being willing to yield to others, as a result. Not insisting on proving oneself right, but, having stated one’s case, willing to allow others to make up their minds about issues.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

So, then, even when there is someone who, by all accounts, is considered to be a real source of genuine “wisdom”, if any of the listed attributes are a consistent part of their life:

  • Bitterness
  • Strife
  • Envy

Then, we should not automatically consider the “wisdom” they have to offer to be “Godly Wisdom.” We should at least take it carefully, knowing that it has definitely been mingled with other sources. This begs the question, “what are the other sources?”

Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

James gives three other sources. He states that, when bitterness, strife or envy are present, such “wisdom” is:

  • Earthly, (from the Worlds way of thinking)
  • Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; soulish; from the Flesh) and/or
  • Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan.)

As a matter of fact, this is how we know that the Christian actually has three enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The World is the enemy “outside the gate”, so to speak. The Flesh is the enemy within the gate—residing within each individual. And the Devil, as always, will seek to strengthen the World and the Flesh against us, and use them to defeat us if possible. In fact, just as a military force, if unable to hold a bridge, or some other vital piece of territory, will seek to render it useless to the enemy…Blow up the bridge, fill up a well, burn down buildings, etc., our enemy, Satan wants to render you useless to God, destroy your joy, destroy your testimony, and, if possible, destroy you, physically, through slavery to sin. Take this seriously!

So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit:

  • Purity
  • Peaceable-ness
  • Gentleness
  • Approachable-ness
  • Mercifulness
  • Good fruits (fruit of the Spirit?)
  • Impartiality
  • Genuineness…no hypocrisy
  • Producing Peace, because it is given in peace.

If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.

Proverbs 2:6, 7 states that God himself is the only completely reliable source of wisdom, and that His wisdom specifically comes “from His mouth.” So, the Word of God should be our constant primary source, and the standard to which we compare whatever comes from human counselors. As long as the wisdom we receive from human counselors matches that of the Word of God, and we see a pattern of Godliness, then it is very likely sound teaching and counsel.

Further: Jesus Christ, as the Living Word, is identified as the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. (1st Corinthians 1:24)So, the more closely we can walk with Him, the more firm our grasp will be on the leading of the Lord. Without exception, His leading will always match His written Word, because He is the Living Word. (See John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13)

Some time ago, a young(er) friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs. The one couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry), and were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.

The other couple, whom she met in her home church, seemed determined to “take her under their wing”. They were somewhat dominating, and directive, and stated that she needed to get more education, so as to gain “educational credibility”, etc. They did seem concerned about her well-being, but when she mentioned the offer the first couple had made, they were quite dismissive, even suggesting that the first couple were trying to cheat her, and take her money (from support). They said all this, knowing nothing about those people, and never having met them. They did not consider her 25 years of full-time ministerial experience (specifically in linguistics, Bible translation expertise, literacy-teaching, Bible-teaching, and cross-cultural communication) to have “educational credibility”. And they seemed very sure that she was not making good decisions, though they gave no scriptural reasons.

Since both couples seemed “caring”, and both seemed “wise”, she felt torn, since she could not respond favorably to both. But hidden in the behavior of both there were clues as to where the “wisdom” originated. She called me, asking for my counsel, and we had a long phone conversation.

The exchange with my friend triggered more pondering, in my own mind, regarding wisdom: What is the ultimate origin of real wisdom? What does the whole counsel of the Bible have to say about it? What is the character and source of “false wisdom?” What is the motive? Why would someone bother to try to coerce another person with bad advice? What could they hope to gain by it?

Genesis 1:1 begins with four “packed” words, which are easy to miss, because we tend to focus on the last six words of that sentence. We are so familiar with the “Created the Heavens and the Earth” portion, and argue endlessly about the meaning, truth (or untruth) and limitations (if any) of that portion that we ignore the first four words: In the beginning, GOD! He is the origin of all things—He existed before all things; the causeless cause, the ultimate fount of literally all things. He exists outside of time and space, without limits except those imposed by His perfect character and wisdom. Nothing is too hard for him, yet there are things He says He cannot do, because of His perfect character.

So, if He is the ultimate source, but, as we see in our own experience, and read in the Scriptures, there is also “false wisdom” out there, waiting to trip us up, we need a pattern of thinking or a litmus test or something, by which to determine which is which.

James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next chapter (skipping ahead) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

What was there in the behavior of the friends from her church that might give us a clue as to the source of their wisdom?

They were somewhat domineering, and were not open to her thoughts: they dismissed her training as not having been worthwhile, though it had definitely been from God, and had been used in service already for 25 years. They were suspicious of the motives of a godly couple whom they had never met, suggesting that they were somehow trying to rob my friend. (The support-structure of that mission was actually set up in such a way that no one but the intended recipient of the funds could touch it.) Their behavior was neither producing good fruits, nor acting in a loving manner. They were not “easy to be intreated,” as James said. So…we had to conclude that their counsel was at least “not necessarily from the Lord.” No accusations were leveled at them, or anything. She simply thanked them for their concern and went on to make a decision based on God’s Word.

I had a Bible-teacher, more than 40 years ago, who had more of the scriptures memorized than anyone else I have ever known. More than that, he had a better understanding of how it all fit together than anyone else I have known. During a Bible-study, one evening, there was a man who had an argument. The teacher answered his questions with scripture, but that was not enough. The man kept insisting and arguing. Rather than asserting his superior knowledge and considerable pedigree in any way, the teacher began answering with a simple “OK…” to every accusation and argument. Finally the dissenter quieted down and the study could continue. This teacher had a gentle spirit, and was “easily intreated.”

I was in a different meeting once, when a much younger person raised their hand and questioned something that same teacher had just said, bringing up a scripture to back their question. He immediately answered, “You are right! I was wrong, and the change will be in the next revision of my book!” Now, that is being approachable! His wisdom was from God’s Word, and he proved it by his responses. There was no “vying for position,” no envy, no strife, and he was a man of impeccable purity, and proven integrity. I wish he were still alive and teaching today, as we certainly need such teachers.

What about those other Sources?

The World

Frequently the argument is offered, “Well, look! This is what all the scholars agree to be true!” Hmmm… So there has never been a case where “everybody” was wrong, and one person, the dissenter, was right? Even in secular history, there are countless times when a researcher or an inventor proved that “everyone” was, in fact, full of baloney, and that (for instance) the earth really does orbit the sun rather than the other way around; or that, in fact, it is possible to achieve true flight by means of a machine, or that it is possible to travel faster than sound…etc.

John 7:40-53 tells of a time when people were beginning to draw conclusions about Jesus. Some were convinced that He was the Messiah. The argument of the Pharisees was that “Nobody who knows anything would believe that! These people who obviously don’t know God’s Word are under a curse! The Messiah isn’t going to come from Galilee, nor does any prophet!”

Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least…the prophet Jonah was from Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and stalked off, feeling triumphant.

In some circles, this is known as “argumentation by sneer!” If you don’t have a rational answer, then you try to intimidate the other person by shaming them or by pointing out that they are alone in their belief. Neither is a valid argument.

We are to find our truth in God’s Word. If someone has a clear argument from God’s Word, then we are to carefully consider it, as it might very well change our outlook. The people in Berea (Acts 17:10, 11) responded correctly, in that they listened to what the Apostles had to say, and then went and “searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And they were commended by God for so doing.

The Flesh

There have certainly been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!

The Devil

2nd Chronicles 18 tells us the story of a wicked king (Ahab) who was planning to go into battle, and had convinced a good king (Jehoshaphat) to join forces with him. Ahab had a multitude of “prophets” who all unanimously told him he would be victorious in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not so sure, and he wanted counsel from God. So, they called in Micaiah, a prophet of God, and he told them in effect, that this was from God, for the express purpose of bringing about Ahab’s death!  Verses 18-24 tell how God chose a “lying spirit” to speak through Ahab’s “prophets,” to convince him to go into battle! (This is Ahab’s final warning to repent!) And what was the response of the false prophets? One of them walked over and punched Micaiah in the face! (Real “spiritual response,” there, bud! No envy, bitterness or strife there!)

But Ahab went on into battle, and died, as Micaiah had prophesied. Jehoshaphat survived, but on the way back home, another prophet of God met him on the road, and Jehoshaphat got a scolding from God for joining forces with someone who was an enemy of God. (2nd Chronicles 19:1-3)

The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

Ahab listened to a lying spirit, just as Eve did, in the Garden of Eden, and it cost him his life. When Adam went along with Eve, and fell into sin, it cost us ALL our lives! (Romans 5:12)

Whenever we choose to follow some other counsel, rather than that of God’s Word, we are, at the very least, “straying from the Shepherd,” and we are in danger of attack from the enemy of our souls. It could seem a minor issue, and we may excuse the wandering astray in our own minds. But if we persist in such folly, it will destroy our walk with God, it will produce irreversible results in our lives, and ultimately, it will render us fruitless in God’s Service.

I pray that we will all repent of our frequent folly, and look to God for our leading, so that we may be the men and women of God whom He has chosen us to be.


What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/25/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016 Revised 12/19

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I took some time off from work, to spend Christmas with my family. When I get back to work, people will greet me in friendly fashion, and several are sure to ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” It is almost a rhetorical question, since the expected answer is always “Yes”, though qualifiers are acceptable. Expansion on what was good or not so good are also acceptable. But we are expected to, at most, tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who were present the Night of the Lord’s birth. What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain!” Were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings, etc.” and we usually forget that they were possibly as much as two years away on Christmas morning…not part of the show at all. We say “Shepherds quaked at the sight”, and sing all manner of songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and Mary and Joseph, and…most of it is very pleasant fiction. Let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?”

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!) Let’s read and see: Luke 2:9-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a bit of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the LORD? In the Old Testament, it was the preincarnate Christ!) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds. The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them good news (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?”), of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people. (The Gospel)” He went on to announce the birth of the Savior; Christ the Lord. He told the shepherds to go and find the baby (Not Mary; not Joseph: the baby!) and told them where to look, and how to recognize Him.

Immediately there appeared with him a multitude of other angelic beings (the heavenly host—heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!”

And then they were gone! Just disappeared into the sky!

But what were they doing, by God’s command? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6; “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the baby!)”

The Angels were worshipping the baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, or anyone else.) Now: who is the only one (according to God) who can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So this is part of the recognition of, and part of the teaching of the deity of Christ.

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger. They knew Him for who he was.

They were not distracted by His infancy, or his appearance of helplessness. They knew who he was, and worshipped Him as their own Creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) They were not impressed for better or worse, by the surroundings, nor the other people present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

What was Mary doing?

What should she be doing? She was a young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby. She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, and was probably pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told that she even saw or heard the angelic army worshipping her baby. She evidently heard about the events through the shepherds, as we see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

How did she feel about the surroundings? We aren’t told…but even in that culture, a woman wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, in that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal.

How do we know the manger bed and all the rest were not normal? The Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherd as being the signs by which they would recognize the baby. Why would he give the shepherds things that were completely common, as signs by which to recognize the Savior? The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the Savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told.

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her baby. And the visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group; figure out what they were going to do next, when these grubby shepherds burst in the door, looking for a baby dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And there he was! Did they give Mary special attention? Probably so. Most people give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the baby was who they had been sent to find, and He was the One with whom they were primarily concerned.

What was Joseph doing?

We really are not told, but, consider this: He was evidently an older man, as we see him apparently gone, well before Jesus began His ministry. Joseph was freshly out of work, as he had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, in Galilee, which is where he had lived and worked, because of the new rule from Caesar. He was eighty miles from home, and a very poor man.

Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work. He may have also been thinking back to the visit he had had from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior. That has to have been a hard time, as the neighbors were looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant…or worse, that she herself was immoral and he was just choosing to cover for her. The stigma was there, and would not go away. Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but there was no one to whom he could turn for a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even ostracized him. We really don’t know. All we know for sure are the facts, as revealed in scripture.

What were the Shepherds doing?

That is one about which we are told a fair amount: They were minding their own business, caring for flocks at night, in the open field. Possibly having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or walking around the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit. When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate in all the hymns about the birth of Christ. They were scared to death! Isn’t it interesting that all the people who really saw angels or met the pre-incarnate Christ, or saw the Lord in his glory, were not “feeling all happy and blessed:” they were afraid! Why is it that today all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a wonderful, peaceful experience it was, just flooding their souls with Joy? My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they say they experienced. The ones who really did were terrified, pretty much without exception.

The disciples in the boat, when Jesus calmed the storm, didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! We didn’t know you could do that!” They had been afraid they were all going to drown. These were seasoned commercial fishermen, who were masters at small boat handling, and had been in storms before… and they were seriously expecting to die, in this storm! But when they woke up the Lord, and asked Him to take a hand, he calmed the storm; and far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said, “what manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the very presence of God than they were of death itself.

So, when the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night all their lives (How would you feel dealing with wild predators at night, with only a stick or a sling, or a sword, maybe, or some other rather primitive weapon to protect yourself and the flock?) But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel. His first words were to set aside their fear so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the person of Jesus.

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! (If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd!) But they were commanded to do so, and they did. Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock.

They went to Bethlehem, and hunted through stables until they found the Lord and Joseph and Mary. They told others around the area what had happened, about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally went back to the flock, leaving an amazed village behind them, and having great Joy in themselves, at the privilege they had shared.

They were glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and the fact that all had been just as they had been told to expect. They thanked him for fulfilled prophecy, in other words. I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Micah 5:2 comes to mind, though: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise, and others. If they had expanded from that beginning and considered who that was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, either, really.

What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a time of joy and peace…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded his people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating…they didn’t forget why they were there.

I think it is important that we give some time to considering who Jesus really is, and the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, he was the Creator … He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know,” I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We are looking back from the vantage point (and the safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it. If she had seen him as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby? She couldn’t have seen Him that way! But I feel it is imperative that we do! It is vital that we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and be blessed by the Grace which God has extended to us. We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. We are not dragged in as an orphaned waif, and simply “called” his child: we are born into His family by the new birth, and live eternally as his child…his real child, born of His Grace.

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene”, and look far enough ahead to see the Cross, and the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign. We need to look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was really going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels…and they knew that better than anyone: They worshipped the newborn king! They guarded his humanity (though He certainly needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God.

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our Savior; God in the flesh, our only advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. In our case, relationally, the fact that He is our Savior takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace. This is not a “seasonal” thing. His Grace has been conferred as a permanent gift, in Eternal life.

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too, especially because we know who He really is, whereas they only knew a little. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas. And we can be a part of extending that joy to the rest of the world around us. If we really know Him for who He is, and really believe the true Christmas story, then sharing it with others should be the most natural thing in the world.

Also, none of the people in the story just “went back to normal” after that night. It was not a “seasonal thing.” It changed their lives forever, and they shared it with others, just as we are called to do. We need to rise above the pattern of just “putting the decorations away, and getting on with life.” He is the Life! We are not supposed to “get over” what He is doing in our lives, but rather we are to grow deeper into that relationship, and allow it to bear fruit.

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see you in your Glory, and to worship you as God. Allow us to love you in your humanity, but to look beyond your humanity and to worship and love you as the faithful Creator. Allow us to serve as witnesses to your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts.


The Day of the LORD (1)

The Day of the LORD, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 3/30/2019

Isaiah 2:6-22

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Name of the Coming Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Day of the Lord?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

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

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Sent From God –To You!

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

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

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

Position and Condition

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

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

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

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

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel and the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith and Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 5/16/2018

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

The Supporting Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship in Giving

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

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

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

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

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

The Sustaining God

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 3

The Coming Redeemer

© C. O. Bishop 2012, (revisited and revised 2018)

Genesis 3-9

Introduction:

The Bible is not “the history of God.” The “history of God” would be impossible to encapsulate in a book, or even millions of books, as He is Eternal.

It is not the history of Man, as it leaves out the vast majority of human history. It is historical, but in a very limited sense. In Genesis we can see one aspect of the beginning of earth’s history: specifically, it is the history of God’s redemptive work toward the fallen human race. It tells us how we began, how we became sinners, and what God has chosen to do about it. We will discover, as we read the Old Testament, that Jesus is “Plan A”, and there is no “Plan B”. We can see God’s wisdom and his saving Grace, from the very beginning.

The Fall and the Promise

When Man fell into sin, in Genesis, chapter three, we see the first prediction of the Person who would be the Savior. In this passage he is referred to as the “Seed of Woman”. The masculine gender is applied, and the singular personal pronoun is applied—it is not a group of people that are called the Seed of Woman, but one male Child. And only one such child in history could accurately claim that title, because all the rest had a human father—they were NOT the Seed of Woman, but the seed of a man and a woman. This is the first Prophecy of the Christ, and it predicted the destruction of Satan, and the reinstatement of fallen man. The prophecy was given as part of the curse on the Serpent (and Satan), but God continued on, to lay out the consequences of sin for both the Man and the Woman, as well. The only Good News in this passage is the Seed of the Woman. And Adam believed that “Good News” (the Gospel, in its earliest form.)

The Sacrifice and the Safeguard

Adam placed his trust in that promise (Genesis 3:20, 21), in that he named his wife “Eve”, which means “mother of all the living”…and, on the basis of that Faith, God clothed him and his wife in the skins of slain animals: this was the first blood sacrifice, and it signified the covering of sin by means of that sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament was invariably blood, and it resulted in the “atonement” (Heb. “Kophar”, or covering) for sins. Every single one of the God ordained blood sacrifices in the Old Testament looked forward, by faith, to the one sacrifice that would be offered at the Cross. Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world…and, indeed, the Apostle saw him on the throne (Revelation 5:6) as a Lamb, having been slain. We look back to that one sacrifice, when we take communion. We are not asking that he die again, nor does that wine become blood. His sacrifice was once for all time, to take away sin, but his death was pre-figured, or pictured, countless times throughout the Old Testament, in animal sacrifices that could only cover sin.

Finally, God moved Adam and Eve out of the Garden…not as punishment, or banishment, but as protection, so that they would not eat of the tree of life, and gain eternal life in their fallen state, thus becoming like the demons; unsalvageable, and lost forever, soaked in evil. This was Mercy, pure and simple. It was a safeguard for the human race.

Consider this, as well: Who was it that came walking in the Garden, in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)? Who was the judge that listened quietly to the plea of each of his guilty human subjects, then dispensed Justice and Mercy and Grace? Who is the “Judge of all the earth?” These are just some things to consider. I hope we will find answers as we move through Genesis.

In Genesis 4, we see that Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock”…a blood sacrifice, and he was accepted by God. How did he know to do that? Possibly Adam told him…possibly God told him, because we see that God himself reasoned with Cain regarding his rejected sacrifice, saying “if you do right, you will also be accepted.” Evidently Cain knew what was required, and refused to comply. Hebrews 11:4 recalls this passage, and specifies that it was the sacrifice that was the issue, not just the heart-attitude. Cain brought a vegetable offering, which would have been fine as a worship offering, after the sin issue had been dealt with. But God called for a blood sacrifice for sin, before worship could be accepted. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” We can’t approach God in our sins. Abel brought a sin-offering. Cain did not.

Throughout the Bible, we see faith being demonstrated as “an obedient response to a revealed truth”. Faith is not a feeling, or a power, or a gift, in general, (though there does seem to be a special gift of faith.) Faith is simply taking God at His Word. Faith believes God enough to do something about it. Sometimes that “something” is just to believe God. (John 6:28, 29) Sometimes it requires some real shoe-leather. In Cain’s case it simply meant that he had to recognize himself as a guilty sinner, and accept GOD’S remedy for sin…not his own. God’s remedy involves the shedding of blood, whether we like it or not. And Cain rebelled. He “had his own religion”. That is a common problem today, isn’t it? We think our way is better than God’s way, and we can’t understand why it isn’t.

The Flood

In the following chapters we read about the decline of the human race into violence and wickedness—we aren’t told much about the specifics, only that the whole human race was corrupt. (Whoa! That’s news, huh!? We must have a good dose of that left around today!)

In Genesis 6:8, God says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” It does not say that he was not a sinner—in fact, the use of the word Grace necessitates that he was a sinner. Grace is unmerited favor—unearned favor. And, sure enough, after the flood, Noah proved he was a sinner, by getting drunk.

But, what about the flood? Was that a picture of Christ, too? No, it was a demonstration of God’s judgment on all sin…and the Ark was the picture of Christ—God’s grace to mankind; God’s power to save those who believe him. (Read Genesis 6:5-22)

Please remember that Jesus treated this as history, not legend: this is fact, not fiction. In the account of Noah’s Ark we see that, ultimately, there are only two places one can be in relation to God; in the ark or outside it. One can be in Christ, or in Adam. (1st Corinthians 15:22)

Similarities between Jesus and the Ark:

  1. Everyone started off outside the Ark…including Noah and his family. (We all start off in Adam…outside Christ…we are born that way.)
  2. Only Noah and his family looked forward to the completion of the Ark. (Only believers looked forward to the coming Messiah)
  3. Only Noah and his family saw the Ark as God’s means of deliverance. (Only believers see Jesus as their hope for salvation.)
  4. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to repentance. (Only believers respond to the Gospel call.)
  5. Only Noah and his family responded to the call to enter the Ark. (Only believers heed the call to enter into Christ.)
  6. Noah and his family entered by faith—God revealed that they were to get on board, and they believed, and entered by faith. (We do too!)
  7. I think it is interesting that (in KJV) God said “Come into the Ark”, not “Go into the Ark”.
    1. We see that God was there among them! His hand guided that craft, as it had no sails, no oars, no rudder…He controlled its destiny from beginning to end. (This is also, even more, true for the believer. Jesus said “Come unto me”, and God controls our destiny in Christ—and, beyond our imagination, we are already seated with Him in the Heavenlies.)
  8. Everyone who was aboard the Ark was safe with God. All outside were lost without him. (All in Christ have been made alive…all still in Adam are lost…though in our case, the door is still open for them to enter.)
  9. The Ark was sufficient to save all who trusted in it. (Jesus saves all who call upon His name.)
  10. The Ark was built according to the Word of God. (Jesus came in full accord with the Prophecies, fulfilling them all to the letter.)
  11. The Ark took the brunt of the judgment that fell on the earth (the water of the Flood) but rose above it. (At the Cross, Jesus took upon himself the full weight of the wrath of God for the sin of the World, but He rose from the dead, in triumph over the grave.
  12. The Ark was coated with pitch, outside, to make it immune to the judgment without, and coated with pitch inside, to make it immune to the contamination within. (Well? What would you expect to happen in a 450-foot floating barn full of animals, on a year-long cruise, with no way to clean the stalls?) (Jesus’ righteousness made him ultimately immune to the judgment for sin, and makes Him completely immune to our continuing sin as well…we cannot “torpedo the Ark” through our unworthiness… we were unworthy before He saved us, and guess what? We still are! Our sins were all paid for in full at the Cross…the fact that ALL of them were still in the future when he died should tell us something about the completeness of his redemption.)
  13. The one window of the Ark, possibly for ventilation, either looked upward, or was positioned in such a way that Noah could not really see out—he could not see the destruction that was all around him, nor could he tell when it was time to get back out onto the land. He could only look up and wait on God. (Does that sound familiar? “Look up, and wait on God.”)
  14. All those aboard the Ark were there for the duration. Nobody got off before the Ark was safely aground and the earth was dry enough to be safe and habitable. (No one gets out of Christ, either.) In some ways this could seem to be a parallel to the Tribulation as well, though not a very tight parallel…Only Noah and his family survived the flood, but there will be many who survive the Tribulation, who are saved during the Tribulation, and live through its horror. BUT—it does seem to me that the Church, having been taken away for the duration of the Tribulation, will come back to a cleansed world, just as Noah and his family emerged from the Ark to enter a cleansed world.
  15. Finally, after the only ones left alive were Noah and his family, God said “the imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth”. (Don’t get the idea that Christians are not sinners. We are sinners, who admit it and want to do something about it. Christians are saved sinners. We are beggars, who have been fed, and who have been reborn as children of the King. We are the recipients of Grace, and Grace cannot be earned.)
  16. Grace was the thing that saved Noah—and it is what has saved every person who was ever saved in the history of this planet. God offers Grace—we respond by faith. From Genesis to Revelation, that is the message. Notice, too, that when Noah was on dry land again, he offered that seventh animal of every clean variety, as a sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice is always blood, for a sin offering. We come by the Blood of Jesus. In reality, so did Noah, Abel and Adam.
  17. To stretch things, just a bit: when God gave the rainbow as a sign, it was a promise that He would not again destroy the world by flood. We look back to the Cross as God’s promise that he will no longer condemn us for our sins. Romans 8 states that “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And it is because of the Cross. I do not think the rainbow is a picture of the cross, but I do think the promise is a picture of the security of the believer today.
  18. One final note: The Ark was God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from destruction in the Flood. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Jesus is God’s only provision for the salvation of the human race from eternal damnation.

Lessons from the Ark

We should also remember that the experience of the Ark was not a “pleasant cruise on a calm sea.” It was a violent ride on tumultuous seas, with swells and breakers, raging uncontrolled, over the surface of the whole earth. The Christian life is not easy, for most believers. It is a tumultuous ride through a World that is violently opposed to the message of the Cross, and the raging surges of human sin that cover the whole earth. There is no “safe haven,” except in the person of Christ.

The Ark was the only safe place, but it was not comfortable. There was the overwhelming smell of thousands of animals, unless God miraculously cleared the air (which He may have done.) There was the darkness of an entirely enclosed wooden ship, or barge, unless God supernaturally provided light (which He may have done.)  There was the rolling and pitching, and the groaning of the ships timbers, as the storm raged. They were in that Ark for a year and seventeen days; seven days before the flood began, and a year and ten days from the beginning of the flood until they disembarked.

Sometimes we may feel that we are enduring hard times, and we are doubtful about our future. How doubtful must Noah and his family have felt, during that experience? But consider this: if they were doubtful, did it take them out of the Ark? If they were afraid? If they were angry, and resentful? If they were seasick, and despairing of ever seeing the light of day again? No, the fact is, regardless of their condition, their position was perfect! They were safe in the Ark. In fact, the only thing that made a difference between those inside, who may have been uncomfortable and frightened, and those outside, who were dead, and eternally lost, was their position inside the Ark.

I am not necessarily a better person than any particular unbeliever. In fact, I suspect that the reverse is likely true. The only thing that makes me different than those in the World, is the person of Christ, and my position in Him: and He is the only Hope we have, to offer to the World.

We offer the only provision God has ever made for the salvation of sinners: If they are hungry, we offer the Bread of Life. If they are thirsty, we offer the Living Water. If they see that they are in darkness, we offer the Light of the World. If they are open at all to the Person of Christ, then He is all those things to them. We hold out Jesus, the Living Word of God, to those around us.

We need to live in such a way as to not diminish the light of the Gospel. God needs clean vessels through which to pour His Grace. He asks that we present our bodies, daily, as living sacrifices, so that He can offer His Grace to the World around us. Each of us has that responsibility before God, and He points out that it is our “reasonable service.” And it really is, isn’t it? After what He has done for us, how can we offer less?

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your face in the scriptures, as well as in the world around us. Help us to see the people of this world as precious souls for whom you died, and to count them as priceless in our eyes. Enable us to reach them with the good news of eternal life.


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.