Posts Tagged ‘submission’

Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


The Christian and Civil Authority

The Christian and Civil Authority

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

Romans 13:1-14

Introduction:

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

Obedience to Civil Authority is Ordained by God

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

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

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

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

Rebellions Usually Come to a Bad End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supremacy of Agapé Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Wake Up!

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

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

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

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

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

Make No Provision for the Flesh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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