Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Thirteen Reasons for Believers’ Suffering

Thirteen Reasons for Believers’ Suffering

© C.O. Bishop 02/2018

 

Thirteen Biblical reasons for suffering (there may be more):

In the first place, let’s remember that God is Sovereign… He does not require our approval. His ways are just, even when we don’t like them. He defines righteousness. The evil that is in the world came there as a result of Human sin, not Divine caprice.

So, We Can Begin With “Consequences” (The first four points):

  • Consequences of Original Sin. There are bad things happening in the world, and the world got that way when Adam sinned. Romans 5:12—“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
  • Consequences of Personal (past) Sin (or simply error, etc).—there can be (and usually are) consequences for sin, folly or error. This is not punishment per se, but simple consequences. Sometimes the natural consequences for an error are seen as punishment—but punishment implies wrongdoing, and some error is not wrongdoing, but just bad judgment, or clumsiness, or ignorance—all can have terrible consequences.
    I have a cousin who is missing an arm. He lost it because he fell out of a tree and broke it…and the attending physician did not realize the bone had pierced the skin, and plunged into the soil before pulling back into the flesh—thus infecting the flesh with bacteria that nearly killed him. They had to amputate the arm to save his life, and even so, they nearly lost him. Punishment? No—partly original sin—there are terrible bacteria out there; infections can kill. Partly error on my cousin’s part—he fell out of a tree. Partly error on the physician’s part—he was not careful enough in his diagnosis. But possibly, even had they known exactly what they were up against, they may have lost the arm anyway. No matter how you look at it, it is not punishment.
  • Consequences of Personal Sin. (current) In a believer’s life, God may institute chastening to turn us away from error. It is still not the same as punishment. God says the wages of sin is death—eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. That is punishment. Jesus said (John 3:18) “He that believeth in Him is not condemned; He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” We who are believers have placed our trust in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross—where is our Judgment? At the Cross. Where is our sin? At the Cross. Where is our punishment, our condemnation? At the Cross. But God DOES chasten believers, to straighten them out. Do you think Jonah’s trip back to the beach was fun?
  • Consequences of Personal Righteousness. This is an odd one—we think that if we are doing right, everything ought to go well…and sometimes it does.
    There is a verse, (Proverbs 16:7) that states, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”. That is a general truth—in general, that is something we can expect. But if our enemies are God’s enemies, then at some point, we will be attacked for being good. 1st Peter 2:19 “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”
  • Training, or testing, in the sense of an athlete, or soldier, or student. God still refers to this as “chastening,”  (Hebrews 12:3-15) but it is not punishment, nor even as a result of wrongdoing. It is a “workout” given so that we may profit thereby. Sometimes God allows us to go through hard times to develop our faith. See James 1:2-4 “Count it all Joy, my beloved Brethren when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” God loves us and subjects us to stresses to make us better able to serve, and better able to stand against the evil of the world.
    Another way to look at the same concept is “pruning”. John 15:2(b) states that a genuine, healthy, live, fruit-bearing branch of a vine may still be pruned to make it more fruitful.
  • Because it is simply God’s will for us at the time. Job did NOT know what was going on in his life, nor why he suffered the loss of all his possessions, and all his children in a single day. We were given a little peek into what was going on. God did have a purpose, and it had nothing to do with any error on Job’s part, nor, apparently, any need for correction, testing or training (though perhaps we could read that into the result.) God had his own purpose in Job’s life, and was not required to explain it all to Job. (And he didn’t, as far as we know, unless Job was the author of the book (it doesn’t say), and God gave him the revelation to know what all had happened behind the scenes.)
  • Suffering for Faith. Being subjected to threat from around us, and suffering rather than renouncing faith (this is closely related to #4: consequences of personal righteousness, but is a little different.) Under genuine persecution, a believer may be offered a chance to recant his faith in order to escape persecution. Refusing to recant, and accepting the suffering, is part of the believer’s lot. During the early days of the church, many lost their lives for that very cause. Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake”
  • So that we may be a comfort to others. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (read it) Verse 4. That we may comfort others with the same comfort wherewith we were comforted by God.
  • So that our consolation in Christ may abound. Verse 5. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so may the consolation of Christ abound. We are called to join Him in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we are to experience the reality of His consolation, as well. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  • So that others’ consolation may abound through us. Verses 6-7. We can learn from the experiences of those around us. We will not experience everything ourselves.
  • So that we will learn to trust God, and not ourselves (could be tied to #5). Verse 9. This is an important one.
  • So that we as Christians may learn to pray for each other. Verse 11.
  • So that Thanksgiving may be offered on our behalf. Verse 11.

If we can accept the suffering in our lives, and respond in faith, it will glorify God, and bring eternal blessing to us. 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10


Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 Cornell Estates 8/26/18

Colossians 2:1-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly studying through the book of Colossians, and have finally begun chapter two: In it we begin to see some of the pitfalls for faith, and the concerns that Paul held for the infant churches. He addressed the church at Colosse, and the church at Laodicea as examples. We tend to think of the church at Laodicea only in terms of their eventual failure, as recorded in Revelation chapter 3, but the fact is, they began as a vibrant, healthy church, just as did the churches at Colosse, Philippi, and other cities. His concern for all the infant churches was that they grow strong and stable in Christ, and that they be the testimony of the Living Christ to the World around them, rather than being dragged down by that World. Paul gave us, in his prayer, a “prescription” to protect us from the design of the Enemy against our souls.

The Prescription of Prayer

1For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

There is an interesting word used, here: The Greek word “agona” is almost always translated “fight, or conflict” but frequently in the context of prayer, not a physical battle. We are told to labor fervently” in prayer, and this is the word used. In this context, I believe that is the intended application. Paul has not met some of the churches face-to-face, but has the same concerns for them that he has for the churches he actually planted. He is “fervently laboring” for them in prayer, for what things?

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

Paul lists at least three things, here: (again, it is instructive to see the things on Paul’s prayer-list.)

  1. That their hearts might be comforted.
  2. That they would experience true unity, brought about through Agape love, and,
  3. That they would collectively experience all the riches in a full assurance of understanding, through the knowledge (Greek epignosin) of the Trinity:
    • The mystery of God
    • Of the Father, and
    • Of Christ.

 

These are not light, casual things: Paul is not just praying that they “have a nice day.” He is praying that they will be comforted by the Word of God, through the experiential knowledge of the Savior. The word “epignosin” has to do with a complete, full, experiential knowledge of a person, place, thing, or condition. It is not just being able to recite some facts about a person, a place, a thing, or a condition. It requires personal experiential knowledge.

The more we experience God’s Grace and Love in our lives, on a day by day basis, the better-equipped we are to deal with the hard times and the trials and temptations in life. Remember, back in Proverbs 2, we saw the source of wisdom and understanding to be the LORD (God’s personal name in the Old Testament.) And, through our study of the Old and New Testaments, we can see that the particular person of the Godhead who showed up in human form, to give personal attention to believers was none other than God the Son. (W will see more about His Deity, in the verses to come.) So it is literally true that the knowledge of the mystery of the Father and the Son, along with the indwelling Holy Spirit, is going to be the source of comfort, and unity, and wisdom, and understanding. Paul confirms this, in the next verse:

In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Jesus is the one we need to cling to, and to learn from, in order to have the comfort, unity, and understanding that we so badly need in life. Isaiah 40:11 says, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd! He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead them that are with young!He is the one to do all these things! There is a reason Jesus declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd, in John 10:11.

I find comfort, seeing the Shepherd in the Old Testament; how he dealt with those who trusted in Him. I find great joy in the figure of Christ, in the book of Ruth: Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth, reached out to Ruth in grace, going beyond the scope of the Law, in directing his workers to “drop extra handfuls” of grain, when she was near. He spoke to her personally, inviting her to come and eat with his workers. She was overwhelmed by his grace, but accepted the invitation. And, as she sat to eat with the workers, it turned out that Boaz himself was there among them, and that he, himself, personally passed her the food. Ultimately, he turned out to be the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. (He and Ruth produced a son, the grandfather of King David, and the great-g-g-g-grandfather of the Lord Jesus, who is our Kinsman-Redeemer!)

Do you see the pattern there? Jesus reached out to us, as poor, lost sinners, in Grace, paying the price of our sins, by His own blood. He invites us, as believers, to come and be fed by his Word. And then, “Where two or three gather in His name, He himself is in the midst of us,” and He himself feeds us on His Word, and by His Spirit.

We need the knowledge of the Holy God on an experiential basis, not “just the facts”. The facts have to lead us to the Person. When I read the Scriptures, I could be looking for just the facts, and, sometimes I am. But, in reality, I am always trying to reach beyond the printed page, to see the Living Word, beyond the Written Word. How we respond to the Written Word, is usually a good indicator of how we are responding to the Living Word, Jesus. If we are not actively pursuing the relationship with the Living Word, then we can easily be swayed by the enemy.

The Purpose of Knowledge

And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

The World around us is one of the three enemies named in scripture. And the World produces countless sources of “enticing words”, through advertising, through false teachers, through political speakers, and, especially through the various mass-communication media. Television, radio, and the internet could be wonderful tools for Good, but, they have become terrible tools of Evil, as they have largely been taken over by those who are enemies of the Gospel.

How did the Serpent beguile Eve? Through enticing words! And we are still susceptible to the same temptations, today. We are easily confused, and easily persuaded to follow bad leaders. We desperately need to know the Savior, well enough to recognize when the “voice” calling us is not that of Christ.

It is interesting to me (and I have confirmed this with bank tellers) that bank employees are trained to recognize counterfeits, not by looking at the various counterfeits, but by being trained so thoroughly in the recognition of the genuine currency (or real identification cards) that a false bill, or fake I.D. card is immediately seen as false. I knew a young woman who worked as a bank-teller, and she excitedly told me, one day, how she had “caught” a bank-fraud in progress. She noticed that an identification card simply “looked wrong”, and she excused herself while she took it to her supervisor. The supervisor also spotted it as false, and she had her keep the “customer” busy while she called the police. The police arrived in a few minutes, and blocked the thief’s car from front and back, and made the arrest. (Good catch!)

We are supposed to be growing in our understanding of God’s Word, too, so that a false teacher will stand out immediately, as being suspect, and we will listen carefully to see where the doctrine is leading. We then compare scripture to scripture, to check our intuition.

The Progress of Faith

Paul was impressed with all he had heard about this church, and prayed that they would continue to learn to walk by faith.

For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

How did you receive Christ? Through works? Through intensive study and learning? Or was it by faith, because you heard the Gospel and chose to place your trust in Jesus as your Savior? Of course, each of us, as believers, share that testimony in common: regardless of how we arrived at that point of decision, each of us eventually had to make a choice by faith.

Having made that choice, and having received the Savior by faith, we are now exhorted to learn to walk by faith. Growing in Christ does require learning and growing and being built up in our faith, through the continual application of God’s Word to our lives. Psalm 119:9-11 says, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto, according to thy Word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy precepts! Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee!

Nothing has changed, regarding God’s Word, and the feeding of God’s Flock. We are strengthened and stabilized by applying God’s Word to our own lives, personally. This is something I have to do myself: no one else can do it for me. They may help me along, through good teaching, or by sharing with me, personally, but I do have to respond, personally, in faith.

The Product of Faith

Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

We are called to be rooted and built up in Christ. We are called to be established (stabilized, and solid) in the faith as we have been taught, abounding in the faith with thanksgiving.  We build on the foundation of scripture. Once in a while, especially when we are new believers, we may have a misconception, and, if we are committed to the truth of God’s Word, then He, by the Holy Spirit, will quickly correct the error, and help us to see how things “fit together”.

A sister recently shared with me how she felt that she was like a child, trying to put a puzzle together, under the supervision of her Father: once in a while, she tries to force a piece into place, where it does not belong. He quickly lets her see that it is not a good fit, but that does not mean that she immediately can see where it does fit. So she is learning to trust God to show her in His time, how things really do fit together, within the framework of sound teaching.

I have had to do the same thing, as, occasionally, there were passages by which I was so frustrated, that I had to stop reading them; confessing that I could not understand, them, and waiting on God to bring me to a point of maturity wherein they were understandable to me. Had I tried to force the issue, I likely would have come up with some wrong conclusions. And, sometimes those wrong conclusions are the deliberate work of an enemy:

The Pedigree of “Wisdom”

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Notice that the three-fold attack of the Enemy here, is through

  1. Philosophy and vain deceit (Who is the Deceiver?)
  2. After the traditions of men (Human reasoning)
  3. After the Rudiments of the World (elementary concepts, not embracing spiritual realities)

And he says that, collectively, these three are not “after Christ.” They are not from God.

We tend to like “philosophy”…in fact, the word means “loving wisdom”. But the problem is that there are multiple sources of such “wisdom,” and not all of it is from God. Remember that one of the things that attracted Eve to eat the Fruit, was the fact that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But that “wisdom” was not being offered by God, and it was a deadly trap!

James 3:13-18 points out the three other sources, all of which are in opposition to God. He lists the “works” that are associated with such “Earthly, Sensual, or Devilish wisdom”, and then contrasts it with the “fruit” of Godly Wisdom.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

So, the wisdom we are looking for must come from the only good source: God says that His Word is the proper source. Do we have a teacher we like to hear? We still need to read on our own, and measure his words against God’s Word.

Just because things sound good, they are not necessarily good teaching. Compare scripture with scripture on a daily basis. All scripture has to agree with all other scripture. If we are being taught something that we think is in contradiction to the rest of the Word of God, it is time to stop and read carefully, as something is definitely wrong.

The Primacy of Christ

Verse 9 is an important truth regarding the Deity of Christ. This is a crystal-clear statement that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” We have a very human desire to “reduce God” to a humanly understandable level. That is not a good thing to do: He is not a human, except as He has chosen to appear in the person of Christ. He is the immortal, immutable, all-present, all-powerful Creator, and the God of all time and eternity! Why should I expect him to be someone I can casually read about, consider for a moment, and grasp completely? There are so many small things within the creation itself that we can study all our lives and still not understand; why would we expect the Creator to be simpler than His creation?

I can’t even grasp all the things that humans create: I use computers and cell-phones on a daily basis, but, when technicians have attempted to explain to me how they work, I can only understand in the most general terms. When it gets to the specifics of why something isn’t working, I have no idea what is wrong.

We have to recognize the Deity of Christ in our daily lives: He is not just our “Best Friend”…He is God! He is the Judge of all the Earth! We owe Him our Love, surely, for the relationship’s sake, but we owe our faith and obedience, because He is the Master…He is the Creator: He is God! We must turn to Him for all things, whether sustenance, wisdom, guidance or protection. Remember who Jesus really is, and respond to Him accordingly! Read His Word with that in mind, and treat His Word with the proper respect and reverence. Read for understanding, for comfort, and to experience true Worship and obedience.

Blessings upon you all as you seek to know the Lord better every day.

Lord Jesus, grant us your wisdom: we see you as the only sure source, and we desire to know you day by day, as our Master and our shepherd. Lead us to green pastures, and Still waters, and allow us to serve you faithfully as your ambassadors.


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!


Paul’s Prayer for Believers: Part 1

Paul’s Prayer for the Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 9/19/17 Cornell Estates 9/24/17

Philippians 1:3-8; Acts 16:12-40

Introduction:

These opening verses are further evidence of the tender love Paul felt for the believers at Philippi: He begins the epistle by spelling out his relationship with them, and their responsiveness to both himself and God, as evidenced by their voluntary, earnest involvement in Paul’s ministry, right from the beginning.

Some History

If you recall, from Acts 16:12-40, when Paul and his entourage had first entered Philippi, unlike many cities, there was apparently no synagogue there, as, instead of gathering at the local synagogue, with the Jews first, and sharing with them the news that the Messiah had come, he went outside the city walls with Silas and the others (Luke was with them by this point), because he had reason to believe that there was some sort of worship being carried on, down there by the river. This was evidently not an idolatrous worship but a group of people who believed in the God of Israel, mostly Jews, though at least some of them seem to have Gentile proselytes. There were a group of women there who met together for prayer. At least a few of them believed the Good News that Paul and Silas brought, and one of these, Lydia, was baptized, along with her family who evidently also believed. She begged them to stay in her home, as her guests, and they did so, while they expanded their ministry in Philippi.

The trouble started some time later, when a young demon-possessed woman followed them around, shouting that they (Paul and Silas) were servants of the Most High God, and were there to tell everyone a way of salvation. Paul finally decided that enough was enough, and he turned around and ordered the demon out of her. Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, perhaps, but the woman was a slave, and her owners had been making money off of her affliction, by selling her talents as a fortune-teller. It seems sad, but that was how they saw things. They were not one bit concerned about her welfare; only their profit margin…and Paul and Silas had just ruined it. So they dragged them in to the courts and accused them of spreading false doctrine and “anti-Roman” behavior.

Paul and Silas were savagely beaten, without benefit of trial, and left in the inner prison cell, bleeding, in stocks and manacles. But, at midnight they were praying, and singing psalms, and an earthquake occurred: a very odd earthquake—it shook everything, destroyed nothing, but made everyone’s manacles fall off. Very odd!

The jailer was ready to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped, because he knew he would be tortured, but Paul called to him, saying, “Don’t hurt yourself! We are all here!” That whole experience convinced the jailer that the message they were preaching was worth hearing, and he asked what he had to do to be saved. They told him “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” So, he and his household believed the Gospel, and he took Paul and Silas into his home (probably attached to the jail), and washed their wounds, and treated them well. The next day, the magistrates, realizing that they had committed a serious error of judgement, in flogging un-convicted Roman citizens, apologized for their error, and begged them to leave town.

So, the small group of believers from the riverside gathering, and the Jailer’s family were the core group of believers that Paul left behind when he and his entourage left for Thessalonica, via Annapolis. That leaves me with the question: “Where did the elders and deacons come from?” Paul had only been there for a few weeks at most, as far as we can tell, and one does not ordain as an elder or deacon people who are novices in the faith (Paul says so…). So where did these leaders come from?

I have to assume that there were at least some Jews among the group of believers, as Paul always sought out the Jews first to offer them the Gospel of Christ (see Romans 1:16). If that is so, then it all makes sense: the Jewish men all had good training in the Scriptures, and, as it seems that some there were already believers, in the Old Testament sense, then they would make the “shift” to being quite mature Christian believers pretty rapidly. The Gentile believers would take some time to catch up, since they had no such training.

This explains why it was possible for Paul to preach in a town for just a few weeks, and leave behind a functioning New Testament Church that was complete with qualified elders and deacons, and fully equipped to continue as a church without “outside help”. The Church at Philippi was one of these examples. The Church at Thessalonica was another.

Paul quite reasonably might have felt a good deal of concern about these “baby Christians” he was leaving behind. He didn’t leave them after such a short time by choice: he did so for their safety, when riots began among the unbelievers. He left, but he actively prayed for them. So, how did he pray for them? We will examine this in two segments, the first being “thanksgiving.”

How Paul Prays for the Believers (1:3-8): Thanksgiving!

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

It is interesting to me, and a little intriguing, that Paul refers to God not simply as “God”, but as “my God”. Why the possessive article?  We need to remember that these people were living in a land where polytheism was the norm. In fact, everywhere Paul went, he had to deal with idolaters of various stripes, some quite hostile to the Good News of Christ. These believers already knew the Lord, so perhaps Paul is only underscoring the fact that both his relationships with them and his relationship with the One God of the Bible, were personal, not theoretical or academic in nature.

Paul thinks of them a lot, and gives thanks every time he thinks of them. He felt this way even toward believers he had never met, as seen in Romans 1:8. But especially for the believers whom he knew personally (1st Corinthians 1:4, etc.), and, these at Philippi were especially dear to him, as he explains in the next few verses:

4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,
5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

It is heart-warming to see that the veteran missionary, Paul the Apostle, was genuinely thankful for the believers at Philippi. (v. 3, 4) I would think for a man with as vital and important a ministry as Paul had…(and he knew it; in spite of the rough service, he knew he was “the apostle to the Gentiles”—he says so in Romans 11:13)…it seems to me it would have been easy to become a little proud, and feel that everyone else should be grateful for him. But Paul had a truly humble spirit, which we can see over and over in the scriptures. He was grateful to God every time he thought of these believers, and joyfully prayed on their behalf, not just once in a while, or when he remembered to do so, or when he looked at his “prayer-list”. He says he prayed for them continually, and rejoiced every time he thought about them.

Thanksgiving for Fellowship

But why did Paul feel so grateful for them (v. 5)? The first thing he mentions is their “fellowship in the Gospel”. Now, we tend to think of fellowship as “standing around drinking coffee and eating finger food”, or maybe sitting around a table at a potluck, and talking about whatever we feel like discussing, from golf scores, to weather, to politics, to gossip…but that is not fellowship. The New Testament sees fellowship in a very functional light—fellowship means “having in common”—“partnership”.

In fact, the NASB translates this word “participation”. That works well, and it is accurate enough, but: as long as we can see that the word “fellowship” always means partnership, participation, etc., then I prefer the word fellowship, because it also implies “unity”. When I am in fellowship with God and other believers, I am in partnership with them and in unity with them. (No coffee or doughnuts required.) I could be in a “partnership” at a business level, with people for whom I had long since lost all respect, or whom I did not trust at all, anymore. The partnership would be real, and legally binding, but unity would be non-existent, and fellowship would be unthinkable as a word to describe our relationship.

The Philippian church had served as Paul’s fellow-workers in Christ, from the beginning. That’s the kind of thing to make any veteran missionary grateful. We fellowship in the person of Christ, when we talk of things that pertain to His glory, when we worship together, sing praises together, witness together, study together, and/or serve together, in sharing the Gospel with those around us. Even when we are apart, working at our assigned tasks, we are partners in the Gospel: we have in common the Love of Christ, and we are in unity regarding our priorities and worship. That’s real fellowship: the kind Paul is talking about, here. What would have to change in our churches to make this kind of fellowship a living reality? (There’s something to ponder….) And they had evidently born fruit, as we will see later. What kind of fruit?

Thanksgiving for Fruitfulness

Every faithful man or woman of God is hoping to bear fruit that will bring eternal glory for God. The Fruit of the Spirit is certainly one sort of fruit-bearing, and we will discuss that subject more fully, later on; but the other kind of fruit-bearing is found in spiritual reproduction: leading others to Christ and then raising them up as genuine disciples. There are few greater joys than that of seeing one’s children in the Lord walking with the Lord, and leading others to Him. Evidently that is what the Philippian believers had been doing; and it brought constant joy to Paul.

Thanksgiving for Future Fulfillment

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Paul’s confidence, even in his absence, is that the Lord Jesus Himself would continue the work in their lives. This verse (Philippians 1:6) is frequently used as a verse to teach assurance of salvation…and it does teach that. But the primary teaching in this verse is that the Lord will continue His work in their lives, and continue to perfect it, or carry it to completion, until either they go home to be with Him, or He comes to get them.

In a broader context, it could be argued that since it says “until the day of Jesus Christ”, it could mean that the Lord will continue to complete the church until the rapture. That’s a possible understanding, and certainly true, but considering the rather personal tone of this book, it seems more likely that we are to gain confidence from this passage that God will not give up on us, personally, and that He will continue to patiently, individually, mold us into the likeness of Christ until the end. That is the way I take it, personally, and it is especially precious to me in that light, as I frequently have felt myself to be a failure, and have wanted to just give up.

I remember one particular time, driving home from work, in deep depression, and grieving over my inability to walk with the Lord in a stable manner, I said, “OK, then, I quit! I cannot do this!” This verse instantly came to mind, as God quietly assured me that He was not quitting. I confessed my lack of faith, thanked Him, and was strengthened to press on.

Thanksgiving for Shared Bonds

7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Paul feels extra confident about these particular saints, because he has seen how they have faithfully joined him in the work; not allowing themselves to be “put off” by his imprisonment, but taking full partnership in his ministry. He says, you were “partakers of my grace”—partners in Paul’s gift of apostleship. In light of this, He calls on God as his witness that he greatly longs after them, and specifically that this longing is fully in keeping with the heart of Christ—however Jesus feels toward his beloved flock, that’s how Paul is feeling toward them.

I wish I could consistently say that of myself. Unfortunately, I am all too human, and frequently forget that this is God’s beloved flock, and just grumble to myself about the behavioral problems of sheep in general, including myself. But what if we earnestly prayed for one another, and gave thanks regularly for the Grace of God in one another’s lives? Wouldn’t that tend to change our perspective? It is hard to grumble against someone for whom you are constantly in prayer. Thanksgiving is an important part of maintaining unity. This is something I want to see changed in my life as a believer.

Paul was genuinely thankful for the brethren. We need to be that way, too. How do I know?

God says it is His will for us!

Thanksgiving and the Will of God

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,

16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

God has clearly stated that our giving thanks is part of His will for us. Over in Romans 1:21, it says that the people, when they knew God, did not glorify him as God, and they were not thankful. And what was the result? The scripture says that “their foolish hearts were darkened, and they became vain in their imaginations”: they succumbed to idolatry, turning their backs on the reality of God.

Gratitude toward God keeps our attention pointed toward Him. We need to move back toward thankfulness, gratitude, and the common courtesy of giving God his due honor. We need to honor him with our lives as the Creator and Master and Sustainer of all things. And, since He commands us to give thanks in ALL things, perhaps the very best move we can make regarding “difficult” people is to pray for them and give thanks.

In the meantime, let’s at least take Paul’s example, and pray for the brothers and sisters around us, giving thanks for them, and rejoicing that God has made His Grace known to them as well as to us. We can rejoice in the fellowship and partnership we can have with them in God’s work.

Next time, we will continue and see the things Paul specifically prayed for in the believers’ lives.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts, and draw us along in your Love and Grace. Teach us a heart of gratitude for one another, and love for one another.

 


Our High Priest (Part 2)

Our High Priest (Part 2)

© C. O. Bishop 3/25/17 THCF 4/16/17

Hebrews 5:1-10; Psalm 110:4; John 17:1-26

Introduction:

Last time we introduced the subject of Jesus as our High Priest. The Jewish Christians who received and read this epistle probably were at least a little put off by the idea of anyone except the heirs of Aaron becoming a high priest at all, let alone being labeled as THE High Priest for eternity. The writer is taking care to establish the credentials and qualifications of Jesus, as well as to demonstrate that this was actually predicted in the Psalms…that a different priesthood was ordained by God: one that both predated Aaron and supplanted the priesthood associated with Aaron and the Levites. In Psalm 110:4, God said “…thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” You may recall that Melchisedec was a mysterious priest-king who showed up in Genesis chapter 14, blessed Abram as he returned from the battle of the five kings, fed him with bread and wine (odd…why that specific meal?) and received a tithe of the spoils from Abram.

Now, 500 years later, King David refers to that obscure person, and says that someone is declared to be ordained an eternal priest after the order of Melchisedec.

The Jews had probably simply read over the verse in Psalm 110, every time they came to it, and found it mildly puzzling; but so obscure as to be dismissed without a great deal more thought. So the writer builds his case, moving from the known to the unknown, as any good proof will do: He discusses the Aaronic priesthood, and then compares it to Christ, reflecting on that passage in Psalms. The verdict? Jesus is better! He is the Great High Priest!

So, What does the Great High Priest Do?

5: 1For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:

A priest represents Man before God, as his primary occupation. He brings sacrifices for sins, and brings worship offerings, and makes intercessory prayer for the people he represents. He is a spokesman for Man before God. A prophet, in contrast, is a spokesman for God before Man: Jesus was both.

Perhaps it is not terribly important in this context, but: the “gifts” mentioned here are worship offerings. They are not to be confused with the “sacrifices for sins.” That was part of the error of Cain, if you remember that account. Cain insisted on bringing a worship offering when he had not yet dealt with his sin. Abel brought a blood sacrifice for sin. Cain thought he should be able to bring a non-blood offering. And he could have, provided his sin was already atoned by blood. Abel was accepted by God, under the blood of his sacrifice. Cain was rejected because he ignored the sin issue. The fact is, we cannot approach God at all, except under the blood of Christ. But from that position, we can offer worship and prayer, and seek His Mercy and Grace.

Jesus could bring clean worship because he was never a sinner. But he offered His own blood to provide both salvation and sanctification for us. We are not only not going to be condemned for our sins (because we are saved); we are free to approach the throne of God, in Christ (because we have been made holy in Him…sanctified…set apart for God’s service.)

When we humans ignore this difference between sin-offerings (blood sacrifice) and worship offerings (everything else), we are attempting to bypass the Cross, approaching God with worship while ignoring the issue of our own guilt. When people do that, they are guilty of the same sin as Cain, and, frequently react with similar indignation when confronted with their error. They say, “I don’t need that! I’m a Sunday School Teacher! (Or whatever they think makes them acceptable to God.)”  I had a very elderly woman angrily pound the armrest of her wheelchair and repeat that claim, when offered the Gospel: “I’m a Sunday School Teacher!” It was a pretty sad encounter, for me, because she was very near the end of her life, and was completely untouchable where the Gospel was concerned. The fact is, it doesn’t matter one bit what you have done, if you are rejecting what Jesus has done! This is the core issue in the error of Cain.

So, then: still speaking of the Aaronic priesthood, the writer declares how the high priest is supposed to feel toward people…how He is to respond:

How does The Great High Priest respond to the People?

Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.

Even the high priests of history had a responsibility to respond well to the people. There was never to be any arrogance or judgmental attitude toward the ignorant masses, or for the rank and file among sinners, the “losers” of society. The high priest was to recognize his own need for compassion from God, because he himself was also a sinner, witnessed by the fact that, every time he approached the holy place, his first act was to bring a sacrifice for his own sins, and then he could offer sacrifices for the people.

Jesus lived as a man and could have compassion upon sinners, though He himself was not a sinner. He was called out from among men, though fore-ordained to the task, and he offered one sacrifice forever—himself. The Old Testament priests offered many sacrifices, continually, both for themselves and for those they served.

Jesus stands in contrast to those priests, in nearly every way except the compassion…and in that specific area, He exceeds them all. But He did not have to make offering for himself, in that he was not guilty of sin. He offered one perfect sacrifice forever, and, unlike the Aaronic priesthood, He lives forever to continue His ministry of intercession. Aaron and all his successors, whether good or bad, all died, so there was no lasting continuity.

The High Priest is ordained by God, not Men

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

It is true that Jesus came because he was sent…he did not move on his own initiative. But, when we compare this idea with the doctrine of the Trinity, it becomes complex to the point of being paradoxical. If I bear in mind that the Son, given in Isaiah 9:6, 7 is called the everlasting Father, and, thus, was also the one who sent Him, I simply get a headache. I have long recognized that, by human standards, that is an irreducible paradox.

I no longer make any attempt to “unravel the secrets of the Trinity.” God declares that it is an eternal fact. Either I can accept it, and move on to learn more, or I can stumble over it, insisting that I should be able to understand everything about God! (Really? I don’t even understand everything about humans, nor human inventions, such as cellular phones and televisions…nor most anything in the natural universe. How can I be so arrogant as to insist that I be given a full explanation of the nature of the Eternal God who created me and who rules that Universe?) And yet I have heard humans angrily insist that if “it doesn’t make sense” to them, then it must not be true. The fact is, God the Father sent God the Son, who is co-equally God, to live a human life on Earth, empowered by God the Holy Spirit, who is also co-equally God. And when God the Son died at Golgotha, God the Father separated Himself from God the Son, and turned away, so that God the Son said, “My God, My God…why hast thou forsaken me?”

Do I understand all of that? Nope! But I accept all of it, and believe in it. He is not only the High Priest, but my only hope.

And, interestingly, he is assigned a position in a priesthood that predates Judaism, and which was ordained by God before Abram ever had a son.

As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

We will speak more about Melchisedec later on…he is an important figure in history, and quite a mystery. I have my own opinions regarding Melchisedec, but not everyone agrees, so we will wait until chapter seven to discuss it. The writer continues speaking about the ministry of Jesus:

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

We have a small window into the soul of Jesus, here, at Gethsemane: we see that he really did not look forward to the experience of the cross. He dreaded the pain and the shame and the rejection, just the same as we would. He begged to be released from the responsibility, and was denied. He “learned obedience” through the things he endured. His ministry and office were thus made complete…his priesthood was perfected. He was already sinless (and perfect in that respect) from eternity past. But his office and credentials as High Priest were completed (made complete—made perfect) in his sufferings, as he had to also be the sacrifice.

I find the complexity of the ministry of Messiah just about as mind-boggling as that of the Trinity: when it says that he is “all in all”, it is really true. He is our prophet and priest and king…but in the role of priest, he is priest and God and sacrifice. He is the only actor in our salvation. We either lay hold of what He has done, by faith, or we reject it in unbelief….and the choice is ours to make.

The High Priest also intercedes on our behalf. What about intercession? Where did Jesus intercede for me? Turn to John 17:1-26.

The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus the Messiah

Let’s read it:

17 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.
Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.
For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.
13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
14 I have given them thy word; and the
world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
1Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one
; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these
have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Conclusion: Seven points from His Prayer:

  1. Jesus prayed for his own, not the World (verse 9.) He died for the World, but He prays for the believers…the Church.
  2. Jesus said that He was not of the world, and that we are not of the world, either. (Verse 16) He also said the world hates him and us, because we are not of the world. (verse 14)
  3. He prayed that we (believers) would be “sanctified (made holy) through the truth”, and He said that God’s Word is truth…the specific truth that can change our lives. (Verse 17)
  4. He prayed not only for the eleven disciples, but also for those who would believe through their word: us! You can be encouraged, knowing that Jesus prayed for you, personally, and is still doing so today! (Verse 20. Compare Hebrews 7:25)
  5. He prayed for the Unity of the Church; with the specific intent that the World would know that Jesus was sent by God. (Verse 21)
  6. Jesus has transferred something of His glory to us (verses 22, 23)…possibly the indwelling Holy Spirit? Whatever it is, the intent is that we are to have perfect unity. This may connect with Ephesians 4:3, where we are admonished to “…endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
  7. We who believe, have known that God sent Jesus, personally. He will continue to declare himself to us, so that we will be filled with His Love, and with Himself.

None of these things are matters of idle curiosity—fun things to know and tell: they are vital to our happiness and peace. We need to know these things, and be convinced of their truth. Our high priest prayed these things regarding each believer, personally. We can either say “Amen” to His prayer by entering in, and enjoying all he has to offer, or we can hang back in doubt and confusion, and constantly fall short of his intended grace and glory in our lives.

The choice is ours.

Lord Jesus, help us to make wise choices daily: to place our faith in your finished work at the Cross, and to look to you daily for direction. Help us to choose to love one another, and to choose unity as a way of life. Teach us to hunger for your written Word, so that our lives can be changed, and made over into your likeness. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


There is a River!

There is a River!

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

© C. O. Bishop 2/18/17 THCF 2/19/17

There is a River

(Max and David Sapp 1969)

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

What River? Let Scripture Explain Scripture!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the River Jesus Offered? Is it different?

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

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

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

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

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

What about the Ankles?

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

What about the Knees?

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

What about the Loins?

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

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

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

What about Swimming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you end up “back on the bank?”

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

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

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

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

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

Hear the Invitation From God!

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

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

 

 

 


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

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

Introduction:

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

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Covenant—the Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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