Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

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.

 

 


Philippians: A Personal Note

Philippians: A Personal Letter from Paul

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

Philippians 1:1, 2 

Introduction:

When we read the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the church at Philippi, we can sense the relationship he had with the believers in that church:  This is a very personal letter. It is written to people who knew and loved Paul, and were loved by him in return. They were his friends! I believe it was also intended to be a “circular” letter, as all his epistles have been regarded, but the primary recipients were the believers; the church, at Philippi.

The apparent date is around A.D. 64, and it was evidently written from prison. There has been some controversy as to which prison, and even which time he was in prison, but the references to “the palace” in 1:13, and the greeting from “…they of Caesar’s household…”, in 4:22 seem to make it clear that his incarceration was in Rome, which would also agree with Acts 28. Undoubtedly there were other imprisonments, as we know from Paul’s own testimony, and, in fact, one was actually in the city of Philippi (which we can read in Acts 16). But this specific imprisonment was evidently in Rome.

One of the most impressive things about this letter is the lack of correction—these Christians were already living their faith, and Paul had no word of rebuke for them; only words of encouragement. The letters to the church at Corinth were loaded with corrective teaching, as was the letter to the churches of Galatia. But Philippi was a church whose faith had been strengthened by persecution, and which had joined with Paul in the work of evangelism, supporting him, as best they could, as he went from town to town.

Greetings:

1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the things we can notice immediately in the opening lines of the letter to the Philippians is that it is not the same opening greeting that he uses elsewhere. In other epistles he begins by identifying his office (“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God…” or something similar). In this book, he just introduces himself and Timothy as fellow-servants: this church already knew who he was; they did not need his credentials.

As we read on in this book, and compare with the other epistles that refer to this church, as well as in the book of Acts (chapter 16), we can perhaps see why this is so. Paul has had a warm relationship with these folks from the very beginning. He had personally led many of them to Christ. They had given regularly, to support his ministry, when he, himself, was far away (Philippians 4:10-18)—evidently not because he asked them to, but simply because they loved him and wanted to share in his work.

So, since they knew Paul and Timothy, and were his partners in the work, he only identified himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, and he addressed himself “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi,” as well as to the “bishops and deacons.”

It is important to notice that the letter was to the church, along with the leadership, not the other way around. Jesus is still talking to His Flock: He does not require us to go through the hierarchy of a priesthood, or any sort of ecclesiastical “chain of command” to reach the throne of God.

We approach God through the Person of Jesus Christ alone. God approaches us in the same way. We are invited to personally read and study and understand His Word… ourselves! We are not told to submit all thought and understanding to some higher-ranking church authority. We are each called, individually, to do three things, revealed later in this book:

  1. Know the Shepherd, personally
  2. Learn His Word, carefully and thoroughly
  3. Join Him in His Work, joyfully and faithfully.

Note that all three of these things are only done through the power of the Holy Spirit… they cannot be done through self-effort or Human reasoning.

To All the Saints:

Something else to bear in mind is that the word “saint” does not mean “pious” or “goody-goody”, or “self-righteous”. Nor is it in reference to people who have been “beatified” by the pope, or some other religious leader. The word “saint” simply means “holy”, or “set apart for a special purpose”. In adjectival form, “holy” can refer to a person, a place, a building, or an object. But in this case, it points out the fact that God is calling out a people for His name, and that those people, who have responded in faith, belong to Him. They are unchangeably set apart for His purpose.

Any object in the temple was holy because it was set apart for a prescribed use in the temple. If someone misused it, it did not change the fact that it belonged to the temple, and was holy. It simply had to be cleansed before resuming temple use. (There is a good lesson there, for us: how do we apply it to the individual believer? When we sin, we need cleansing, but we have already been permanently set apart for God’s service.)

If you have heard of God’s judgment and Grace, and have recognized that you are a helpless, guilty sinner, and have placed your faith in Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross as full payment for your sin, then God has made you a saint.

You still sin, because He has not taken away your will, nor your sin nature, but: you already belong to Him, and He sees you in Christ, for eternity. He will never fail to see you as holy—a saint, belong to His family and to His service. When you have sinned, He will simply have to cleanse you before using you again in His service. But your position in His family has not changed…and never will! 

1st John 1:7-9 says, “When we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(John 13:8-11, and 15:3—notice the context of 13:30—Judas was no longer there.)

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was demonstrating this principle. He told Peter that anyone who was “washed”, was clean all over, and needed only to wash his feet, because of the dirty environment they walked through. He said that not all of them had been washed (referring to Judas Iscariot,) and later, after Judas had left, he reiterated that the other disciples were already clean through the Word they received from Him…they had become believers. Judas had not. They were already saints; Judas was not.

All a believer needs is confession, and fellowship is restored.

What about the Bishops and Deacons?

I find it heart-warming, somehow, to see that the Bishops and Deacons are part of the Church; not the other way around. The only reason shepherds exist is because there is a flock…and, the flock belongs to God, not to the shepherds. The shepherds belong to God as well. They are part of the flock they feed and care for.

It is also interesting to note that the bishops and deacons were always plural. A careful reader will see that this is the normal case throughout the entire New Testament. Paul sent Timothy and Titus, for example, with instructions to ordain elders (plural) in every church (singular). That is a subject for a different sermon. We will not address the relative merits of differing church structures and systems, beyond recognizing that this is definitely the Biblical case.

Grace and Peace

As in all Paul’s epistles, Grace and Peace are offered in that order—Grace, and Peace. It is impossible to experience the Peace of God, or even Peace with God, without first receiving the Grace of God. Both come from the source–God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is one more evidence that this book is strictly to believers: In John 8:44, Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your Father the Devil…” (So much for the “universal Fatherhood of God!”).  In all his epistles Paul only addressed believers as his brothers. (There was at least one occasion in the book of Acts where he did address his fellow Jews as “brethren.”) But he only refers to God as being the “Father” of believers: he makes no exceptions!

God does not claim the whole human race as his children, though He is certainly their Creator. It is only by birth that we enter into a human family as offspring. And it is only by the second birth that we became the offspring of God—his children. Jesus told Nicodemus that only via the second birth could he enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, ff) In John 1:12, we are told that to those who received Him (specifically, those who believed in His name) was given the right to become (genesthai—be generated as) children (tekna, meaning, literally, “born ones”—offspring) of God.

So, it is not a light thing that Paul refers to God as “our Father”—nor is it simply a title, or a term of convenience. It is a fact: he has become our real Father. And so is the fact that he calls Jesus “Lord”—it is a fact, that every child of God is under the lordship of Jesus Christ…owing Him full obedience, loyalty and love. (Do we consistently live that way? Hardly….)

The names here, too, are loaded with meaning: “Jesus” means, “Jehovah saves”—God said in Isaiah 43:11 that beside himself there is no savior, and confirms it in the name of His son. When the angel Gabriel spoke with Joseph, in Mathew 1:21, he said “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins.” Do you see the implication? God said, that other than himself there was no savior. Then he said “call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins…” Jesus is the savior, and his name means “Jehovah is savior.” The deity of Jesus Christ is in view, here. Jesus truly is God in the Flesh.

By the way, the name “Christ” is not Jesus’s “last name”…it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”—meaning “the Anointed One”.  So, we are greeted in the name of the Lord (master, owner, leader and teacher) Jesus (Jehovah, the savior) Christ (the anointed one). It would be a serious mistake to simply “brush over” these words of the first two verses as if they were only a polite greeting. The longer I study God’s Word, the more convinced I become that there is nothing accidental or casual about it. We need to read carefully, and consider what He is telling us, in every passage.

Conclusion:

We have been addressed as the holy ones (the saints) of God, in the name of our real Father, the Creator God, and specifically, the Name of our Master and Savior, The Anointed one, Jesus, the Messiah. In the coming weeks we will go on to read what the Lord has to say to us.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves as you see us, holy and blameless before you. Help us to learn to walk in that reality, and to be the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


What Were They Doing on Christmas?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

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

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. 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 of Orient, etc.” and we usually forget that they were 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?) 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 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!

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) that can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So this is part of the recognition of, and 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 host 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, at 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 was the One with whom they were primarily concerned.

What was Joseph doing?

We really are not told, but, consider: He was evidently an older man, as we see him apparently gone before Jesus began His ministry. He 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.

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 got 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 he could turn to 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 don’t know. All we know are the facts.

What were the Shepherds doing?

That is one we are told a fair amount about: 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 stories. 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 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 said 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! I 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. But 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.

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 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 that all had been as they were 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. 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, 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.

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 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! That we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and be blessed by the Grace 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 a 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 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 should 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 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…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. 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.

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too. But especially because we know who He really is. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas.

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.

 


Who is the Weak Believer?

Who Is The Weak Believer?

© 10/6/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 10/9/2016

Romans 14:1-23

Introduction:

Weak believers—“Who is who?”

As we read Romans chapter 14 there are three main questions to ask:

  1. What constitutes a “weak” believer, versus a “strong” believer?
  2. How is each to treat the other?
  3. What are we going to do about it?

1Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

Him that is ‘weak in the faith’, receive ye.” The writer assumes that the reader is not the one who is weak, but specifies that the reader is to be receptive toward those who are. We all want to think that “We are the strong believers!” That is because we are vain, self-centered people. We all want to think that we are right. But how can we tell “who is who?” Everyone has a right to their own opinion, right? But, maybe we need to find out what God says about the matter.

What Constitutes a “Weak” Believer?

Paul then goes on to say that the one who is unnecessarily limited in his choices because of his poor understanding of scripture is the weak one, while the one who is liberated by his faith is the strong one, but that neither has the right to disrespect or condemn the other. This presupposes that the things in question are not elsewhere forbidden. For example, Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Lying, and Adultery are always condemned. Such things are not a part of this discussion. This is about things not condemned by God, but which are frequently condemned by humans. The first thing he addresses is vegetarianism.

For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. (Vegetables.)

The strong one believes he is free to eat any food…the restricted one, who thinks somehow he is forbidden to eat meat, is weak in his faith (probably untaught, thereby ill-equipped), and would be guilty (at least in his own mind) if he violated his understanding of God’s Word by eating meat (mistaken though he is.)

How is Each to Treat the Other?

For God hath Received Him

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

The one who is free in his faith is not to look down his nose at the one who is limited…on the other hand, the one who is limited must realize that he himself is not the judge, and that he must not condemn the one who is enjoying his freedom in Christ. One’s position in Christ is what makes one acceptable to God…not what one eats or doesn’t eat.

But, how is one “received by God?” Ephesians 1:6 states that we have been “…made accepted in the Beloved.” The key, there, is that I am accepted in Him! I was placed in Him by the Holy Spirit at the moment I trusted Jesus as my Savior (1st Corinthians 12:13); the moment I believed that His blood at the Cross was the sacrifice for my sins. I have no other standing before God. I am either accepted in the Beloved, or not at all. And, if I am accepted in the Beloved, and in fellowship with Him, then nothing else really matters, does it? And yet, we tend to reject one another over some pretty petty stuff. Perhaps we need to ask some questions of ourselves:

Who is the Master, here, anyway?

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

So, while he is on the subject of judgment, Paul points out that each believer is personally accountable to God. We are not to judge God’s servants…God can handle them. If it is not something expressly forbidden by scripture, then we have no authority to criticize, let alone condemn or attempt to control other believers.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Paul raises another example—he refers to the keeping of holy days: probably specifically the Sabbath was in mind, but, obviously, it could include all the Jewish feast days. And, again, he states that the one who observes a holy day before the Lord has not done wrong…and the one who sees all days as holy to God, and treats them all pretty much the same, is well within his rights as well. In both examples, both believers are fully able to enjoy their fellowship with God, and give thanks…and other believers are not to interfere with them.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Verses 7-12 reiterate that we believers are not “free moral agents,” so to speak…we are each accountable to God. Our life and death are all under his authority, and in everything we give account to Him….So Paul asks the question, again,  “Why do you feel free to judge a brother?” (With the context making it clear that this is concerning things NOT forbidden by God….) We will all give account to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ…not for sins, but for works.

Paul concludes that rather than judge each other for things in which we have freedom, we should take care that we do not use our freedom carelessly, in such a way as to cause another believer to sin. Yes, the truth is, they have the same freedom we have, but if they are not convinced of that and simply “go along” with our freedom when they still think it is wrong, then we have caused them to sin. They have violated their own conscience, but at our insistence.

What about Conscience? Is it Infallible?

My father, in his junior year in college, had his chemistry book stolen from him. He had left it on the porch, outside the cafeteria, and someone took it during lunch. He hadn’t any extra money, so, for the rest of the term, he was forced to borrow other students’ textbooks, in order to complete his homework. They kept urging him to “just steal someone else’s book”; but he knew it was wrong, and refused to do it.

The problem came to a head, though, near the end of the semester: he still could not afford a new book, and as final exams drew near, his friends could no longer lend him a book, because they needed the book themselves. So, unable to replace the book, and desperately needing one, he finally succumbed to the peer pressure: when he saw a chemistry book just like his, sitting outside the cafeteria, he grabbed it, shoved it under his sweater, and hurried home, feeling exceedingly guilty; like a criminal, in fact, because he had violated his conscience. He had stolen a book!

And, he was guilty—that is why he “felt guilty”—he had violated his conscience! But when he got back to his room, he discovered that he had stolen back his own book; the original thief had finally gotten careless and left the book on the cafeteria porch, just as Dad had done. Was Dad any less guilty? Nope. He truly had violated his conscience. He was very angry, then, and wanted to go back and find out who the thief had been. But it was too late. He rationalized his own theft, and was relieved that it turned out to be his own book…but he was still wrong.

Now: Were his fellow-students right, in urging him to steal? Of course they were not! They were clearly encouraging wrong behavior; urging him to sin. Was he wrong to retrieve his own book? Nope! That was not the issue! He thought he was stealing someone else’s book: that is why he was guilty.

So, let’s take that principle a step further: Paul says that if a person thinks it is wrong to eat meat, then, until God enlightens them further, it is wrong for them. But you have no right to criticize them for that position, though you know they are mistaken.

A Word to the Weak:

Let me “put the shoe on the other foot,” for a moment: let’s say you are the one who thinks it is wrong to eat meat…or something else that God does not condemn. Is it OK for you to use this passage to bully your meat-eating brother and say that he has to not eat meat, because it offends you? I don’t think so! You are clearly commanded in verses 3, 4 and 10 to leave each other alone in such matters. Allow God to work in the other fellow’s heart, as well as in your own. On the contrary, we each need to consciously look for ways to not cause another believer grief in their relationship with God. So, how do we deal with such differences? That is our final question:

What Are We Going to Do About It?

No More Judging: and No More Pressure.

Paul recognized that such behavior is common. He told them to knock it off!

13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

This issue of “stumbling” means to “cause someone else to sin”: it does not mean that I can bash someone else because I don’t care for their taste in shoes, or the way they part their hair. So, while we are to look for ways to not cause others to “fall”, we are also not to go around trying to control other believers by saying “Your hair-do offends me!” (Or something equally foolish)… there is no way that someone else’s hair-do is “causing you to sin!”

I had a fellow take me aside when I was in Bible school and tell me that my shoes offended him. They were odd-looking, oversized shoes, (though brand new) and happened to be literally all I had to wear. I had found them on a clearance table in a mall for $7, and I was grateful to have them. Were my shoes causing him to sin? No! He was just condemning me for wearing them.

14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

If we convince someone else to do something because we know it is right, when the reason they are resisting is because they think it is wrong, then we cause them to sin. Don’t make a big deal out of peripheral things that have nothing to do with Christ; Paul says that the kingdom of God is not about food and drink, but about Righteousness and Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit. These are the key issues we should be looking for in our own lives.

Each of these has two aspects: the one God provides (imputed to us by Grace), and the one with which we respond (and demonstrate and experience), via the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

  • Righteousness:
    • Imputed: (Romans 4:3) “…Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him as Righteousness.” That is how we receive Righteousness, too! When you place your faith in the shed blood of Jesus, His righteousness is applied to your account, and you eternally stand before God in the Righteousness of Christ.
    • Demonstrated: (Hebrews 11:8-10) Abraham believed God, and it caused him to live a life of obedience to God. He had his failures, but God holds him up as an example of faith-driven righteousness.
  • Peace:
    • Imputed: (Romans 5:1) “Being therefore Justified (declared Righteous) by faith, we have Peace with God.” We are to first find peace with God, through faith in Jesus’ blood, and then, daily seek the Peace of God.
    • Demonstrated: (Philippians 4:6, 7) “ 6 Be careful 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 passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  We choose the Peace of God by faith. We obey by faith, and leave our griefs with Him. (See also, 1st Peter 5:7)
  • Joy in the Holy Ghost:
    • Imputed: (Galatians 5:22, 23) “…the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace…” The Holy Spirit is the source of all Joy in a believer’s life. Joy has been conferred upon us by God, in the person of the Holy Spirit. He indwells us and will never leave. (John 14:16)
    • Demonstrated: (same passage) The Holy Spirit is the source of the Joy of God, in all cases. We demonstrate, experience, and display Joy in our lives only when we are in fellowship with God and walking in obedience with Him. (1st John 1:7) In fact, a lack of joy and peace is an important clue that we are not walking with Him.
      • Please do not confuse Joy with Happiness. They are not the same. The circumstances may be severe enough to preclude happiness (the cross for instance) but Joy is still possible (“…Jesus…who, for the Joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross…” Hebrews 12:2)

If we possess (and experience, and display) those three things, we are in fellowship with God, and will be (usually) accepted by those around us, as they see the reality of Christ in us. So, that is where we need to put our priorities…not on the outward things that are of no eternal value, but on the inward things that make for peace, and by which we can build up one another in the faith.

20 For meat (food) destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.

v.20-22. Paul reiterates that we do have freedom, but that we are not to use our freedom in such a way as to cause our brothers or sisters to sin. We can exercise our freedom privately, and not cause someone else to stumble.

When a vegetarian friend or relative comes to our home for a visit, we simply have vegetarian meals, so that they are not forced to “choose”. Sometimes people have medically-mandated dietary restrictions that are so limiting that they simply cannot eat what everyone else does. (We have a niece who has to completely avoid gluten, for example.) But they have no thought or feeling that this is a moral issue; it is simply a practical necessity. In that case we try to prepare a separate, attractive, and tasty meal for that individual as well, so they can eat with everyone else, and be included, but not be affected badly by eating something they can’t handle. We seek to be a blessing, not a stumbling block to those around us.

23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

v. 23 is the key verse to the whole subject—he says that one who partakes in an activity that is not forbidden by God when he thinks that it is forbidden, is condemned by his own conscience, because he did not act according to faith. (John 5:24 says we are not condemned by God…and never will be.)

The Conclusion:

“Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (This is one of the four definitions of sin, given in the epistles: the others are 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law”; 1st John 5:17 “all unrighteousness is sin…” and James 4:17 “…to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is Sin”) Romans 14:23 wraps it all up: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin!”

Don’t attempt to “bully” others into your own way of thinking, when there is no clear mandate, and especially, if it is a peripheral issue; not a cardinal doctrine. Learn to appreciate your fellow believers for their position in Christ, and not condemn them because they aren’t “just like you!”

Receive the three cardinal values of the kingdom of God (Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit), and practice reflecting those three in your life. That will go far toward building good relations with those around you.

Learn to Love the brethren; Learn to walk with God.

Lord Jesus, we are accepted before God because of your sacrifice at the Cross. Cleanse our hearts and help us to love one another as you have loved us, and accept one another as you have accepted us. Fill us with your Righteousness, your Peace, and your Joy, as we learn to walk daily with you.


Christmas Carol

The Christmas Carol

(Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!)

© C. O. Bishop 12/17/14

Introduction:

275 years ago, this month (in 1739), a new Hymn appeared in English publishing houses: Charles Wesley, by that time 32 years of age, had produced yet another hymn honoring the God of the Bible, and carefully teaching the doctrines of Christ. During his 81 years he wrote and published in excess of 6,000 hymns…some sources say 7,000.

In nearly the middle of his life, at 31 years of age, on May 21st, 1738, he experienced what evangelical Christians call “conversion”. His elder brother, John Wesley, had the same experience a few days later.  It is also interesting to note that Charles was the one who originally began a methodical Bible study at the college they both attended, and John joined it (and ultimately took it over) about two years later. They went on to minister together, though they did not agree on all things…for example, John left the Anglican Church; Charles stayed with it all his life. But when John preached, Charles wrote Hymns to teach the same doctrines. I have no idea what John Wesley’s Christmas sermon was, a year and a half after his conversion, but I do have the following hymn, written by Charles Wesley, 18 months after his conversion: The Hymn we call “Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Except for the fact that there is no Biblical record of the angels “singing” at the birth of Christ, this hymn is one of the most doctrinally pure songs in existence, and is rich with meaning. Ironically, though the title and first line as we know it are now permanently a part of that song, those are not the words that Charles Wesley wrote—he had written, “Hark how all the Welkins Ring!” (“welkin” being an old English word for heaven) So even that line could originally have been called more or less accurate, as at least the angelic host said from the sky “Glory to God in the Highest!” And: who knows? Maybe they sang, too. We know they sang at the creation. God says so in the book of Job.

At any rate: if I may be so bold as to try some “reverse engineering,” let me attempt to reconstruct what John Wesley may have taught, which prompted such a Hymn from brother Charles.

He began with the Christmas story itself, and worked outward from there, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and promises of God throughout History.  Though the song is written in such an order as to rhyme and be memorable, I would think that John may have begun at the beginning…so that is where I will begin.

In the Beginning:

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting lord

Psalm 90:2 states “From Everlasting to Everlasting, thou art God.”  Psalm 41:13 agrees, saying “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, from everlasting (eternity past) and to everlasting.“ Micah 5:2 gives us a hint as to whom it might refer: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Isaiah 9:6 says, “Unto us a Son is given…and His name shall be called (among other precious names) The Everlasting Father!” And in Hebrews 1:6, God the Father, referring to God the Son, commanded his angelic hosts, saying, “Let all the angels of God worship Him!” and again, in Hebrews 1:10, Still referring to the Son,  “…Thou Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands!”

He is the Creator, the eternal God, and the Judge of all the earth. Yes! He is the everlasting Lord…in fact, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who appeared to Israel and to the world, is the Jesus of the New Testament. I do not pretend to understand this truth, but the scripture is absolutely clear about it, and all I can do is preach it faithfully. He was (and is) worshipped by the angels in heaven…and there will come a day when every knee shall bow—even of those who are his enemies.

Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.

You remember how, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam sinned, God’s curse fell on the serpent, the woman, and all the earth for the Man’s sake. We fell with Adam—all of us were born in his image. But the promise of God (Jesus, as we now know; Genesis 3:15) was that the “Seed of the Woman” would eventually “bruise” (or, in our language, “crush”) the Serpent’s head—He was to undo the fatal work that Satan had accomplished in causing the spiritual death of the entire human race. This was the only promise of hope in the judgment that came because of sin. Adam believed that promise, and God clothed him in the skin of a slain animal—the first blood sacrifice—a substitute for the sinner, looking forward to the Cross. The promise was made then and there. The promise was believed then and there. Atonement was made—the sins of Adam and Eve were covered by the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice. Jesus is the only person in History who can be accurately called the “Seed of Woman”…everyone else has a human father. Jesus did not. He alone has the capacity to undo the evil work of Satan in each of us. Incidentally, as we have stressed before, the old sacrifices could only cover sin. The blood of Jesus removes it—takes it away.

Looking Forward, in Faith

Come, Desire of nations come,

Not all people have looked forward in faith to the coming of Christ. Job knew what was coming, though he had no Bible to read: he said “I know that my Redeemer lives!” He understood that he had been bought out of the marketplace of Sin, and had been set free. Among the people of Israel, not everyone was looking for the Savior, either, but some were: Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as soon as he saw him: he took Jesus in his arms and blessed God, saying that this child was to be a Light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius, was living in Caesarea and was a believing Gentile; he was longing for the God of Israel. The Apostle Peter was sent to Him with the Gospel of Christ. Cornelius eagerly received the Promise of God, and was gloriously born again. Jesus has been the hope of those few that believe, in every nation throughout all ages.

The believers who were in Israel (and any believer who joined himself or herself to Israel) placed their hope in the Passover Lamb. And that Lamb was a pre-figuring of Jesus. Boaz blessed Ruth, saying “A full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Boaz knew what it took to be saved.

The Fulfillment of Promise

Late in time behold Him come, Off-spring of the Virgin’s womb

From our perspective it was a long time coming…but God says it was “at the right time”—in due time. He says it was “in the fullness of time”—when the time was ripe. He wasn’t early—and he wasn’t late.

And, while a lot of people balk at the virgin birth, if you study your Bible you’ll find that, if He was to be the savior, the virgin birth was absolutely necessary. It was not just extra proof, or anything like that. If He had a human father, he was not the Seed of Woman. And if Joseph was his father, then he was banned from being king of the Jews, because Joseph was a distant descendant of a cursed king. Only God could bring about the virgin birth, and it had to be done.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail, the incarnate deity

Colossians 2:9 states that “in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.”  John 1:1 says,“ in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:14 says, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.” We are expected to see the eternal God, walking in human flesh, and recognize that seeming impossibility as the eternal Hope of the Human race. We are not expected to understand it—just to accept it by faith.

Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.

One of the prophecies called His name Emmanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). And that is exactly who he was, but he came and lived as a man: not a “super-man” or a demigod; just a man. He was specifically assigned to live in humility and poverty, and to suffer all the normal vicissitudes of life at that time. How do I know he was poor? The sacrifice his parents brought—the two doves—were a substitute for the Lamb that was ordinarily brought, and was specifically called out as the correct sacrifice for a son born into a family that was “very poor”. Another interesting idea, to me, is that he did not have a Lamb that redeemed him, personally. He celebrated the Passover, but, in my mind, it is somehow fitting that since He was the Lamb of God, no four-legged lamb should be his substitute. Perhaps a minor point, and possibly even mistaken, but it caught my attention. He lived a holy life—entirely without sin, though in all other respects, completely normal to the time and place. He lived as a man.

Receiving the Promise

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace,

That line is a command, actually: We are called upon to receive this emissary of God; Hail him! Greet him as a king! Greet him as God!  Believe His Word. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to them he gave power (authority) to become (Greek, “gennesthe”—to be born) sons (children—teknon) of God.

Isaiah 9:7 states that he shall be called the “Prince of Peace”. He is the author of our Peace with God—truly the Prince of Peace. We can either receive him as he is presented by God, or we can “re-invent” him (as many do) and only serve our imagination. The Biblical Jesus is the God of the Universe—not just an exalted man or a powerful spirit being. If he is not God, he is not the Savior, because Isaiah 43:11 states that apart from the LORD (Jehovah) there is no Savior! Jesus stated the other half of that equation: John 14:6 “I am the Way, the truth and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!”

Hail, the Sun of Righteousness, Risen with healing in His Wings!

Malachi 4:2  says, “…but unto you who fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with Healing in His wings!” Light and life to all He brings, John 1:4 says “In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of Men.” These are direct quotes from the Word of God! This is not someone’s imagination running wild.

Mild, He lays His Glory by,

Philippians 2:5-8 says that He laid aside his position as deity, his prerogatives as God, and lived life as a man; even as a poor man, and a servant—not a royal hero, or a shining warrior-priest, or any of the things we might find attractive. And, in that same passage we are told to lay aside privilege and position, and emulate His humility, offering ourselves as servants.

Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Jesus said that he had come to give his life a ransom for many. He told Pilate, “…for this cause am I come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” He bore final witness to the truth of Man’s sin and God’s Judgment and Grace at the Cross, just hours later, dying to pay the price of the sins of the lost Human Race. He told Nicodemus “ye must be born again”, and that whoever believed in him would not perish. He told the Jews to whom he gave the bread and fish, “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him who sent me, has everlasting Life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has crossed over from death into life.” In Ephesians 2:6 we find that those believers have already been “raised up”, and seated in Heaven with Christ.

Come, Desire of nations come, Fix in us Thy humble home;

Those who believe in the Jesus Christ of the Biblical record receive him as their savior…and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, comes and takes up residence in the body of each believer. We invite him to do so, by faith. We affirm our trust in Him, taking him at his Word…and He takes us at our Word and claims us as his own.

Adam’s likeness now efface: Stamp Thine image in its place;

Each of us has been born in the likeness of Adam; rebellious, doubting, self-centered…and lost. Each of us who has believed the good news of Jesus has been born again. Our old sin nature—the Adamic nature—has been defeated, dethroned, and deposed…and will eventually be deceased …and gone.

Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love.

Jesus is called the “second man”, “the last Adam”, in 1st Corinthians 15:45, 47.  Adam was the head of the natural race, and, as the head, when he fell into sin, he took the entire race with him. In the sense that he was the head of the race, he was a prefiguring of Christ: Jesus is the head of the new man, the Body of Christ… and as its head, when he walked in righteousness, died in obedience, and was bodily resurrected; he took with him all those whose faith is placed in Him. We have been redeemed by His blood, accepted in Him as the beloved of God, and completely enveloped in the Love of Christ.

So…What Now?

Joyful, all ye nations, rise. Join the triumph of the skies.

Now we are free to serve Him. How? A host of opportunities present themselves but the one task we are all assigned is representing Him and His love to the World around us. We are called to be his ambassadors. All the nations in history who rejoiced in the savior also rejoiced in missions, at least for a time. And that is how we join in the triumph of the skies—we proclaim his birth, and, more specifically, His death, burial, and resurrection to the dying world. We offer the hope and Joy of Christmas every day of the year.

With th’ Angelic Hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

That is our job, friends; and it is intended to be our passion and our Joy! Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work.” Do you remember that context?

John 4:34 Jesus was waiting outside Sychar, a city of Samaria, and could see the people flocking to see him, on the testimony of the woman at the well. The disciples knew he had not eaten for a long time, and were trying to persuade him to stop working and eat. He said, “This is my food!” In the context, he was talking about evangelism: the joy of bringing other people to saving faith.

Peace on earth, and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled!”

Heavenly peace and the reconciliation of God and Man were promised by angelic messengers, speaking from the sky on that night in Bethlehem. We know from our Bibles that the full promised peace will only come when Sin is finally gone. There will be great peace during the Millennial kingdom, but it will not be permanent. After the New Heaven and New Earth are introduced, there will be eternal peace and harmony between God and Man.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t say for sure whether the angelic host actually sang that night. But I know that they sang at the creation, and this event, the birth of the Savior, was greater than the creation. So perhaps they did sing. Either way, we are called to respond to the message:

Hark! (Listen!) The Herald Angels Sing: Glory to the Newborn King.

Glorify him in your life, by word and deed; by thought and attitude. Serve with Joy, not grudgingly, as if it were a chore. We have the very temporary privilege of serving with him, to spread the joy of Christ in the World in which we live.

This is our one opportunity to serve: Let’s do it!


Comfort through Christmas–all Year

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop


To those of us who have lost loved ones, as well as those who suffer from depression, or the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that Santa Claus is coming

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those responsible meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today…

The First Christmas

Consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, actually. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. No tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed”…the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did, they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

Why The Joy?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of the first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? And the shepherds still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. No day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or ham, or whatever. Just… great joy.

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand it all? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (he was!). But they thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

Remember the Promise

We have forgotten what was really promised, and more specifically, how we are to take part in it. There is no promise that we will live lives free of pain. Quite the opposite…we are told that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) That’s not what we really wanted to hear, huh?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God provided a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given 400 years before his birth), when they pretty much knew all that was to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little Lambs were pointing forward to the True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

The Promises Were Fulfilled

When Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some people may have understood the intent; most folks probably did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and precious few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve”, Judas Iscariot, and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother.

He was lent a tomb by a rich man who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his disciples, on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily, and promised to return in the same manner: Physically…Bodily.

Believing the Promise

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised coming again.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father.

How can one take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

Finding Comfort in Christmas

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. Some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—not seasonal at all.

If you would like to know more about how to experience God’s joy, I’d be happy to chat with you.

To each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.