Posts Tagged ‘Testimony’

The Chastening of Sons

The Chastening of Sons

© C. O. Bishop 11/13/2017 THCF 11/26/2017

Hebrews 12:5-17

Introduction:

Last time, we talked about our need to recognize Jesus, not only as our Savior, but as our Example for living. We explored the command, “Looking unto Jesus”, and how it applies to our lives; and what it means to “lay aside every weight,” and every entanglement, the baggage from our past lives and the sins that so easily ensnare us.

We briefly began to consider the concept of the chastening of God, and how it relates to us as believers. But we didn’t go very far along that line of thought, and we need to pick it up where we left off, and give it a more full examination. The writer begins with an admonition that we remember whose sons we have become, and enter into the full relationship with Him, including the “chastening of sons”.

The Chastening of Sons

The Chastening of Sons is training…it is God shaping our lives so that we can enjoy a more productive life with him. It is “pruning” in some cases, to use a botanical reference, and “training up” in others. There are some branches that need to be trimmed back, or even removed, in order to maintain health in a fruit tree, while there are others that are healthy, but need to be re-directed —trained up—staked up, perhaps, so as to point them away from the ground, or away from another branch, so that they are not competing for light. We need to keep that in mind, as we see God changing the course of our lives.

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

The chastening which God brings in a believer’s life is not “punishment.” The punishment for sin—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (remember: this is only for believers) is the “chastening of sons (huios–heirs).” When life is getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation. The chastening of sons is only for sons, so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the very same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the same things that unbelievers experience, or sometimes even worse, from our point of view (Think of Job’s experience!) But the issue is that we are in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

The Rewards of Chastening

We discussed training, last time, as it applies to an athlete, and the discipline required to succeed: Let’s take this a step further, though: At the end of a sports season, when they hold an awards ceremony, the “Most Valuable Player” award, “Most Points Scored”; Most Improved Player” etc. are not given to everyone…they are awarded to the ones who earned that distinction in the mind of the judge—the coach. Do you see the parallel? The Judgment Seat of Christ is an awards ceremony. Our works will be judged, and rewards given according to our works. But the key issue will still be, “did they originate in Him?” Were they carried out by the Holy Spirit through us, or were they things we just did on our own? Not everyone will receive the same rewards, since not everyone chooses to submit themselves to God for his service. It has nothing to do with the greatness of the results.

Let’s compare two of God’s known servants:

  • Jeremiah preached faithfully, even choosing to go into captivity with the Jews who had rejected his words, so that he could continue ministering to them, though he personally was offered freedom by the Babylonian conquerors. During his entire ministry, so far as we know, only two people really believed him: Baruch, his assistant, and Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch who rescued him from the pit. I assume there were probably others, as well, but apparently very few.
  • Jonah, on the other hand, preached one sermon (evidently repeating the message over and over for three days) and roughly 120,000 people were saved…probably more. And he was angry with God at those results! He didn’t want them saved! They were his enemies, and he wanted them destroyed!

Now: which of those two had the better ministry? From the world’s perspective, Jeremiah was a loser from the beginning, and should perhaps have found something else to do. His “numbers” told a dismal tale, for sure. But he was chosen by God, and he was utterly faithful, while Jonah was disobedient: he wouldn’t preach at all until God forced him into submission, and he was still in rebellion even after the amazing results of his preaching.

The results in both cases were from God: He knew who would respond, and to what message. So, which do you think, by now, has received a better reward? When I read the parable of the talents, and see how the Lord said “well done, thou good and faithful servant”, I would have to conclude that Jeremiah was probably richly rewarded, while Jonah may not have had such a good reward. Of course, I don’t know anything about the rest of Jonah’s life, except that he was from Galilee, and that he was known as a prophet, not only in the situation with Nineveh. So perhaps he had a great reward as well. It is not mine to say…but from the only information we are given, Jonah was certainly not a good example of how to respond to God’s leading.

The Motive of Chastening

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Most of us were trained by parents, who, to whatever degree, tried to mold our lives, so that we would grow up to be beneficial members of society, successful in business, or whatever their goals may have been. We may not have enjoyed what we learned, but most of us can look back and see that it was valuable in at least some ways. Most of us can at least respect what our parents tried to do, even if we feel they did not do a good job as a parent. There are counter examples, I know, and I have heard some of those stories. But as a general rule, most parents, whether godly or not, at least desire that their children grow to be productive, well-adjusted adults. And, ultimately, most people do, to one degree or another.

But God says that His discipline is intended to mold us into His likeness so that we can be partakers of His Holiness. Over in 2nd Peter 1:4, we are told that we can expect to be made partakers of His Divine Nature, through the “exceeding great and precious promises” that He has given us. So, between the Word of God, where those promises are, and the Spirit of God who motivates us and guides us, we are being trained to become more and more like our Savior. That is God’s goal. He gives us instruction as to how to respond to His training.

The Goal of Chastening

12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

God wants us to willingly submit ourselves to His will now, so that we benefit sooner, and can knowingly engage with his plan for our lives. He says for us not to be discouraged by hard times, but to eagerly look to see what He may be doing to train us for further service. Rather than being crushed by adversity, we can be strengthened by it. We are to choose paths that honor God, so that we can see His hand of blessing, even in hard times.

14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

On a daily basis, we will either see the hand of God in our lives or we will not. If we feel that we are not seeing God’s presence in our daily lives, we may need to examine our walk, and “sharpen our gaze”, so to speak. But…that is not the way the phrase “see the Lord” is used here.

What holiness can any man or woman produce in their lives that will match the holiness of God? Why are we told in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?” Why does James say that “in many things we all offend”? It is because we are all sinners, saved by Grace! So, what “holiness” is God calling the prerequisite for seeing Jesus at all for eternity?

In Ephesians 4:24 we get a hint: He says “and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (emphasis mine.) The only human holiness that God can call “holiness” is his own Holiness, reflected in us. Jesus told Nicodemus that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The holiness has to be born in us at the re-birth Jesus required of Nicodemus… it is a new creation. Apart from that, we will not see the Lord. But on an on-going basis, holiness must be pursued, in order to experience it as a daily, ongoing reality. It is not something we just “strap on and forget it.” It is to be cultivated and fed, as we learn to walk with God. We feed the new nature, and pursue the holiness of God.

Consequences of Rejecting Chastening

The following verses warn of the danger in not learning to walk with God: we can become embittered, and as a result, become a casualty in the army of God. Can we lose our place in his family? NO! But we can lose our place of service, and blessing, and become a liability to others.

15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

We need God’s Grace by which to live, day by day. Failing to avail ourselves of His Grace will make us susceptible to bitterness. We are wounded by the enemy…a casualty in the battle. Such a casualty will always affect others. Others will be defiled as well, as they are either drawn into sin, themselves, or repulsed by the sin of the failed Christian testimony. Many new believers (and unbelievers) have been permanently driven away from churches, by what they have experienced in some particular church, long ago. And some never recover. Bitterness is only one source:

16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

Esau is held up as an example of one who “sold out”. Was he a saved man? I have no way to know for sure, but it would seem he was not. He counted one meal to be of greater value than a relationship with God, knowing that the “birthright” included being the family priest, at that time.

17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

This is not a warning that “one can lose his salvation, and will never be able to regain it.” It is simply a solemn warning that it is not always possible to “go back and change things.” Some bad decisions have permanent results…there will be consequences, regardless of our remorse.

Years ago, there was a Republican senatorial bid by a young Southern Baptist pastor whom I actually met, and with whom I was favorably impressed. But, before the primary campaign had really gotten going, he (quite publicly) ran away with his secretary. His friends frantically pleaded with him to give up his folly and come back, and he finally did so. But it was too late: his wife wanted no part of it, and she divorced him. That ended his campaign, his ministry and his reputation. All was ruined, with no hope of recovery. There was no place of repentance. His name was used for years thereafter, to viciously mock Christians, Republicans, Southern Baptists, and Pastors. He was a permanent blot to everyone with whom he had ever been associated.

It was pretty sad, and shameful, at the time, but it stood as a lesson for the rest of us, too. There are some mistakes that you just can’t go back and undo. Did he lose his position in the family of God? No! But he did lose his position of service, and blessing. We can be disqualified for ministry through our sin, whether it is anger, pride, lust, or any other sin. When we look at the qualifications for an elder, for instance, it specifies a “one-woman-man” (Yes, I am aware that it is usually translated: husband of one wifeand I believe that is correct, but this is what it literally says, in Greek.) Had this pastor in the political race repented and gone back to his wife (and had she not divorced him) and had he just tried to go on with his church ministry, would he have been qualified to serve? I think not! He had already proven that he was not a “one-woman-man”.  Divorce is not the issue, there in 1st Timothy 3:2. Character is… it always is!

I have known a few (not many) who have been divorced through no fault of their own. One such man was forced into it by the state of California, because his wife needed institutional mental-health care, and they would not accept her, to give her the care she needed, unless he divorced her. He did not want to do it, but was given no choice. She died there, in that hospital, still loved by her husband, but separated from him by a government regulation. Was he a one-woman man? Yes: he eventually remarried, and has been completely faithful to that wife as well, through years of ministry and declining health. He was a qualified elder/pastor, and served faithfully for years.

But the young pastor who aspired to government, and who deserted his wife for another woman? He had proven himself unqualified as a pastor. There was nothing he could do to recover his lost position of service. There was no place for repentance. This is something to remember.

It is important to realize, too, that there is no such thing as a “secret” from God. Our thoughts are not “hidden” in our own hearts. I’m sure that the pastor in the above example had “toyed with” the sin of adultery for years, before he finally succumbed to it. He had already been in trouble with God! The sin of his heart was only made public through his actions.

I knew another young pastor who succumbed to covetousness: he lost his ministry and his reputation through theft: shoplifting, specifically. He lost his job, his life-calling, and the respect of his wife, family, and friends, all through the avarice that led him to steal what were ultimately just “toys”. He didn’t steal because of “need.” It was simple greed that cast him down. Again, this is something to remember: You don’t have to fall into the same sorts of sin in order to know that they are a bad choice. These fellows proved it for you. They have “done your homework” for you. Learn from their mistakes, and don’t make the same mistakes yourself.

Conclusion

Since we know that the chastening, discipline, and “child training” that God uses to direct our lives is all for our good, and that He is molding us into His likeness, we need to respond accordingly, and be thankful for His guidance, and His provision, even when life is not going the way we want it to go. We can be thankful for prayers that were answered “No!” We can be thankful for stressful situations that He uses to build stamina and endurance in our lives.

By learning to endure patiently, graciously (and even joyfully) the trials we face, we become a much better testimony to the unbelieving world, and a much greater encouragement to our fellow believers. Is it easy? No! Is it worth the trouble? Yes! Jesus says (John 14:21) that if we love Him, and obey Him, then He will make Himself known to us. And experientially knowing the presence and blessing of Christ in our lives on a daily basis, is the most precious thing we can have, in this world.

Lord Jesus, help us to see Your handiwork in our circumstances, and to learn to see Your Grace at work. Help us to give thanks in all circumstances, and to respond in faith, obedience, and love.


Looking Unto Jesus

Looking Unto Jesus

© C. O. Bishop 11/10/2017 THCF 11/12/2017

Hebrews 12:1-8

Introduction:

Last time, we finished up our study of Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and reduced to just trying to survive. Still others were arrested, tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths. The very last phrase stated that we are part of that same group of people…the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another.

Remember, as we are studying the Bible, that the various chapter divisions, in most cases, and especially the verse divisions, were not part of the original manuscripts, but were added in the sixteenth century to make study easier, just as adding street names and house numbers makes a city easier to navigate. The point is, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

 

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers take this verse to mean that “we have a great cloud of people watching us.” That is not the point of this passage at all. When Jesus said “ye shall be my witnesses unto Jerusalem, and all Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth” what did he mean, in that context, by the word “witnesses”? That we were to watch him? Or did He mean that we are we to testify of Him? To bear witness on his account? Of course, we are called to testify! That is what witnesses do: they bear testimony. That is why we look for eye-witnesses when something such as an accident has occurred. We want them to tell what they saw. God doesn’t need us in order to “find out what happened”…He sees everything, and He knows everything. But He has chosen us to testify on His behalf, and for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony on His behalf is a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we need witnesses to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across the ages, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have nothing better to do than to “sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at an obedient life? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of effort.

Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth…some of the martyrs may still be looking to God for justice to be done (see Revelation 6:9-11), but even that will only be temporary: they are with God! They are not watching the struggles of us who are still on Earth. In fact, so far as I know, that passage (along with a few others, also in regard to the time of the great tribulation) is the only one that suggests they even know what is happening on earth. They have other things to do!

So who are the witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, and they are testifying to us, by their own lives (already completed) that the Christian life can be done! (There is a old joke that goes “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!” I’m sure that in other parts of the world there are other animals who seem unable to successfully cross a road.) Those saints who have gone before us all testify eternally, through God’s written Word, to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means.

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we, by our life-styles have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide the joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter of the self-directed life so much that I would rather keep that wreckage than to lay it aside in order to gain the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage; the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the (long-distance, cross-country) race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony:

But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

 

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “the author and finisher of our faith”. What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith?

Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully soon enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life, and growth. God, the Son is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus.

And, what was the “Joy” set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back out of the market-place of sin, and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would “redeem” us (Greek verb lutrothete—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood. Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28 “…the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride. Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand, because we are frankly not that attractive, as sinners. We have all been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agape love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best, stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. Yep…it fits! 

And one last point: He finished His race perfectly, and is seated in the Throne with The Father. Guess what: He says over in Ephesians 2:6 that we, too, are already seated there with Him! So it is entirely fitting that we should strive to imitate His walk, His motives, and His faithfulness. We can be encouraged by His example:

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I have felt a need to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: prove by my credential that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it (one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant”), but He also endured the abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor him (His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and, as Elijah did, call down fire from heaven to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, as Elisha did, could He have cursed the people so that bears came out and tore them up? Of course he could have. Actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and who was the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured for the sake of the Gospel, and for the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! So I can learn to love the person, in the name of Jesus, and not feel the need to defend my status, my reputation, or my expertise. I can find freedom from my pride, in Him!

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning me, which is probably a good thing…but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the Judge, and He will make things right in His time. So I am to endure, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that submission and obedience to be precious in His sight.

 

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific folk to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There were certainly those in the early church who already had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these people simply had not. (Neither have I!) There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to the countless scars from beatings, stonings, and scourgings, and more. He was aware that, like me, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did, later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and realize that I have had a pretty easy time, and really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway. He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. So do we, I think: part of our whining happens simply because we really don’t understand the purpose God is working out in our lives. He is building up His church!

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

People’s parents nowadays vary a great deal in how they raise their kids, so perhaps that example will not resonate with people today. But let’s consider a successful athletic coach: When he sends his team running laps around the playing field, they may feel that it is punishment, but it is not: it is fitness training. It builds stamina for the contest of their sport (whatever it is,) and is a form of discipline—training. But, successful athletes employ self-discipline, and no one considers it punishment, though it serves the same purpose: They push themselves to become stronger and to have greater endurance. We are called to do the same, in the spiritual realm.

One other aspect of discipline, or training: No athletic coach ever turned to the sidelines and called to someone who was not on the team, demanding that they run laps, or get down on the ground for calisthenics. He is not interested in their improvement. If they interfered with the training in progress, he might order them off the field: but he has no interest in their personal betterment. Any person who is on the team, however, naturally expects to engage in the discipline and training coming from that coach. If they are not on the team, they are not under his discipline, nor are they participating in the game, nor will they be entitled to any reward for winning. Their behavior is immaterial to the coach. Can you see the parallel?

The chastening or training God brings in a believer’s life is not punishment. The punishment for our sins—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (and this is only for believers) is called the “chastening of sons.” When things are getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation.

The “chastening of sons” is only for “sons” (the joint-heirs of God, whether male or female, with Jesus, the Son.), so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the very same things that unbelievers experience, or we may feel it is sometimes even worse. But the difference is that we are now in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

We serve with Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith, and even if it doesn’t look particularly impressive, He rewards our faithfulness, diligence, and obedience. We just need to maintain fellowship so that the Holy Spirit is the one producing the obedience. Otherwise we are only “obedient” in the same sense that Jonah was obedient. He preached, all right, and even had impressive results, but his heart was wrong. We want to avoid the trap of self-powered works.

Next week we will continue the subject of the Chastening that God extends to His children.

Lord Jesus, free us from our selves, and teach us to follow in your footsteps. Teach us to recognize temptation for what it is, and to look for opportunities to exercise faith in your Goodness, your Sustenance, and your Power.

 

 


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.


Christian Living and Relationships; Part 4

Christian Living and Relationships; Part Four

Dealing with Human Adversaries

© C. O. Bishop, 6/7/16 THCF 7/3/16

Romans 12:14-21

Introduction:

Dealing with human adversaries is an unpleasant reality, but a reality, nonetheless. Believe it or not, there will be folk who don’t like you, and the reverse is true as well. It is dishonest to ourselves and to God, to pretend that it never happens, though some personalities seem to have an easier time dealing with unpleasant people than do others. Those people are a blessing.

I read about a man who always had something nice to say about people. It was habitual, though sometimes just a matter of personal discipline. He and a friend were driving cross-country on business, when they saw a hitch-hiker. They stopped and gave the man a ride, but soon regretted that decision: the fellow smelled bad, he cursed constantly, as he complained non-stop about life in general: local politics, the weather, and everything else that came to mind. Finally they dropped him off near his home, and he grunted some sort of insincere thanks, and was gone.

The driver, less inclined to say pleasant things, turned to his friend, and said, “OK, brother! What can you say nice about that guy?” The “man of blessing” thought for a moment, then looked out the window and said, “He surely lives in a pretty part of the country!” That sort of person is a blessing to be around. But there is more to it than just saying mice things: Let’s see what Paul says.

Dealing with Human Enemies…with Love

Paul gives good instructions, here, as to how to deal with human enemies. Over in Ephesians 6, Paul points out that our real enemies are not flesh and blood people, but satanic forces that motivate the world around us. He gives us weaponry and armor to deal with those enemies. But here, he gives instructions as to how to deal with the human adversaries in life.

The underlying principle is Love, whether with believers or unbelievers: just human adversaries in general. It is unfortunately not unusual to find two Christians who behave like adversaries toward one another. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. So, in that case, even more emphatically, the underlying principle is to be Love…the Agapé Love. Jesus says so, too! (Matthew 5:44)

Blessing

14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

This is where it begins. You are to be a blessing to the people around you, regardless of who they are. Bless your enemies as well as your friends. Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” It begins with you committing yourself to being a blessing to those around you, even if they are a curse to you. That is a loose definition of Agapé love, actually: “Committing oneself to the good of another, without regard to how it affects oneself.” Keep in mind that this is exactly what Jesus did at the Cross. John 13:1 concludes, “…having loved His own which were in the World, He loved them to the end.” How? The word used here is agapao: He committed himself to the Cross for their sake, but kept teaching and encouraging them all the way there. And, in the midst of that course, he said “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)

Empathy and Compassion

15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

We tend to think of this only as “how we deal with other believers”…but what better way to deal in Love with an enemy, than to be genuinely glad when things go well for them, and genuinely distressed for them when things do not go well. This behavior builds bridges, not walls.

There was a young man, years ago at work, who was bitterly opposed to the Gospel, and hated Christians. I don’t know why he felt that way, and I was never privileged to discuss it with him. But one day, I chatted with him about some other subject, and he told me he was about to get married. I burst out “Good for you! Congratulations!” I was genuinely happy for him; thrilled for him, and he could tell it was genuine. A shy smile spread over his face… and that was the only “breakthrough” I ever had with him. The last I heard, he had moved to Indonesia, and now bitterly hates the United States. So…did it do any good? Who knows? But it was genuine, and if he ever thinks back on that, I think he knows that I rejoiced with him.

Compassion for the lost is another critical application of agapé love. Compassion for other believers is relatively easy, by comparison, but if we consider the bleak, hopeless future awaiting those who have spurned the grace of God, shouldn’t we feel even more compassion for those lost souls? Remember that God says we were all enemies of God before He saved us. If it were not for Him loving the unlovely, we would all still be lost.

Neighborliness

16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

It is easy to take the “high road” and hold yourself separate from those you think are enemies. But, again, we are to be building bridges, not walls. Look for opportunities to be a blessing to those individuals. Look for things you can do that make for open doors. It is far too easy to respond with the same unfriendly behavior they offer us, and that just confirms to them that we are the problem. It may seem unfair or unreasonable, but we are called to be peacemakers. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.”

So, we must avoid anything that could be seen as conceit, or standoffishness. Everyone is sensitive to that sort of thing. Try not to be too impressed with your own righteousness and piety and wisdom. When we deliberately take a “learner’s stance,” allowing others the honor of explaining their work, their expertise, their knowledge; and are appropriately impressed with the things they have to say, it puts others at ease, as they don’t see us as a rival. We need to listen as though the other person and their thoughts are important…because they are! If, instead, we feel that we have to “top” their stories, and tell a better joke, or in some way show ourselves smarter, more knowledgeable, more pious, etc. then it not only dishonors our neighbor, but it dishonors God (see Proverbs 6:16-19.)

Testimony: Goodness and Honesty

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

“Payback” is a prevalent concept, worldwide. In some places it has been refined to a point that, whether good or evil, you must pay back your neighbor. Grace and forgiveness are no longer concepts in their culture. In some cultures, such as the Dom tribe of New Guinea, where Jim and Judy Burdett have served for the last 35 years, it has gone so far that there were no longer even words for Grace, Forgiveness, Love, etc. It was very difficult to translate the New Testament, because the very concepts of the New Covenant were missing from their culture…and so were the concepts of honesty and peace. Everyone was an enemy, and everyone was a thief and a liar.

How could you teach a person to live peacefully in such a culture? Every neighboring tribe was a blood-enemy: every stranger an enemy to be killed. And yet, 40 years after first contact was made with the Gospel, things have changed: Not only has a written form been created for the Dom language, and the New Testament translated into that language, but the people have learned to read and to write in their own language, and churches have sprung up, as people placed their faith in the risen Christ.

We recently received photos of a team of these believers, now well-grounded Bible-teachers, returning from a mission into what was once enemy territory. They had gone, by invitation, to a neighboring tribe with similar enough language to allow conversation, and had taught the foundations to faith. They call it “the God-talk”. And the people, long saturated with the violence and deceit of their own making, are yearning for something better. Peace is beginning to result. Is it still a dangerous place with violent people? Absolutely. But it was once a universally dangerous place, completely filled with violent people. Where the Gospel has penetrated hearts, life is beginning to change. A work of the Holy Spirit has begun there, however small.

Is it always possible to live peacefully with others? Nope. It takes two. But God says that as much as lies with us, we are to commit ourselves to living in peace with others.

No Vengeance

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

So, the rules have been tightened, for believers. We frequently think of the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” standard of punishment from the Old Testament, as the minimum, and appropriate. But it was actually established as a maximum, to limit the natural human desire for revenge. In Genesis 4:23, 24 we hear the voice of Lamech (a fifth generation grandson of Cain), boasting to his two wives that had killed a young man for having hurt him. He concluded, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Lamech shall be avenged seventy-sevenfold.”

How interesting that he should choose that particular number to which to compare his revenge. Remember, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive an offending brother: Peter asked whether “seven times” was as far as he had to go, putting up with someone else’s wrongdoing, and forgiving them… provided they even repented and asked for forgiveness. Jesus said, no, that seventy times seven was correct (490 times.) So our whole natural bent toward “don’t get mad, get even” –or even “don’t get even, get ahead!” is not from God at all. It is strictly a product of the flesh.

God says that vengeance is His business, not ours. Paul says here, that we have to leave room for God to work. If we try to take vengeance ourselves we are muddying the water, so to speak, and limiting what God can do. He says “leave room for wrath”. The Greek literally just says “give place to wrath”, which is how KJV translates the passage…but the word used for wrath (Greek orgé) is almost exclusively used to refer to God’s wrath, not human anger. The NASB translators translated the passage “leave room for the wrath of God” if you have the NASB, notice that the “of God” is in italics—that is to say, it is not in the Greek text. However, I think they are probably correct that this is what is in view.  Otherwise, it might have been encouraging us to “let them have room for their anger.” But that is not what is in view, here. We are being asked to “get out of God’s way, and let Him deal with them.”

So, do we just “back off” and watch, and wait, hoping to see the vengeance of God? That is what Jonah did, you may recall. He found a good place from which to watch, and was hoping to see the destruction of Nineveh. But God told him he was wrong. So, then, if we are wrong to just “hope to see the vengeance of God,” what are we to be doing?

Being a Blessing

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Paul says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him! If he is thirsty, give him something to drink!” If you really want “revenge”, overwhelm them with genuine kindness! Go out of your way to make sure they are comfortable, safe, and secure. Do it because God says to do so. He also notes that this will have a greater result: he says it will “heap burning coals upon their head.” I assume that it means they will be tormented inwardly by the fact that I am treating them well, and, perhaps be shamed into realizing that they themselves are behaving badly. But it is possible that it is still talking about the wrath of God, and that my treating them kindly will actually add to their eternal punishment. I hope that is not the meaning, but I am not sure.

One commentator (Alva J. McClain,) pointed out that you may drive the person to repentance, who has done you wrong, when they see that you consistently treat them as a friend, and that they will cease to be your enemy. I do not think that is necessarily true of the human heart at large. However, Proverbs 16:7 does say, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. I do think that, in the context of “giving room for the wrath of God”, it is possible that when we commit ourselves to kindness, it allows the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of wrongdoers.

There is an awareness of sin and guilt built into human hearts, though it can be choked and drowned out by a long-standing pattern of evil-doing. Don Richardson records in his book “The Peace Child”, that, in the degenerated cultures in Irian Jaya (same island as Papua New Guinea, but on the Indonesian side), treachery had become the very highest virtue. And, even there, they understood the concept of right and wrong, to a limited degree. But when he tried to teach the Gospel, they saw Judas as the hero of the story. They saw his treachery in “betraying Jesus with a kiss” as being the finest thing they had ever heard. Judas Iscariot was an instant hero to them. Don Richardson felt, at that point, that there was no way to break through the depravity of that culture, to touch their hearts with the real Gospel. But God had a plan already in place.

When Don and his wife had first moved there, they had established a pattern of doing good things, medical care, etc. The people saw that as something to be desired, and eventually it actually became a real problem: as the news got around, other villages wanted that sort of benefit as well, and the rival villagers were ready to kill one another for the privilege of having the Richardson family in their respective villages. Don intervened, and stated that he and his family would leave entirely; permanently, unless the warring factions made peace.

As it turned out, there was only one way to establish peace in that culture. It required that one man give his own child, a baby, to the enemy tribe, to raise as their own. All who accepted the Peace Child were bound by that social contract. Neither tribe could treat the other as an enemy, so long as the Peace Child lived. It was a very rare thing to happen at all, but it was the only lasting peace possible. And, as it happened, the people saw it as being utterly wrong, to kill the Peace Child. And God used that peculiarity to enter their culture with the Gospel, and save them.

Don and his team realized that the cultural analogy had been established by God as an opening for the Gospel. The real Peace Child was Christ himself. So, they re-taught the Gospel, this time explaining that God sent His Son, the Peace Child, in order to bring peace between God and Man. This time the people saw that Judas had betrayed the Peace Child. This time they saw Judas as the ultimate villain, not as a hero. They actually wept, and mourned, as they considered the facts: Peace with God was only possible so long as the Peace Child lived! Their only chance for peace with God had been destroyed by Judas. But when Don continued to teach, and they realized the fact of the Resurrection, they were filled with relief and joy, to know that their Peace with God not only could be established in the person of Christ, but that it was eternally so, as their Peace Child is eternally alive!

The salvation of those precious souls was entirely the work of the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit. But the foundation was laid by God’s people extending kindness to the enemies of God.

Paul’s Conclusion: Be Overcomers!

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus said, in John 16:33, “…In the World ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.” We are to follow His example in this regard, as well as others. We are to “overcome the world” by faith, through obedience to Christ, and kindness to others, coupled with the simple truth of the Gospel; that the Blood of Jesus is full payment for our sins, and his resurrection is full confirmation of that fact, from God the Father. In this way, win or lose, we win with God.

Lord Jesus, allow us to walk in your footsteps, and respond to the Evil people in the World with the Grace and Goodness of Almighty God. Make us the men and women of God you have called us to be.