Posts Tagged ‘the World’

More Thieves!

More Thieves!

© C. O. Bishop 9/29/18 Cornell Estates 9/30/18

Colossians 2:16-23

Introduction:

Last time, we saw that we can be robbed of our Joy, Peace and Security, by those who want us to return to legalism, rather than resting in the Grace of God, poured out upon us through Jesus, at the Cross. We were warned against conformity to Man-made “rules for piety,” when what we are called to do is allow God to change us from the inside. In verse 16, Paul specifically addressed the issues of dietary laws, the keeping of the Jewish feasts, and the Sabbath.

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Romans 10:4 says: “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.) The result, then, of the final setting aside of the Law, for righteousness, is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. There are people who do place themselves back under the Law, though God warns to not do it, right here in this passage.

And the troubling thing is that we humans tend to condemn anyone who isn’t “like us.” Paul warns us to not allow others to “guilt” us into going back into that slavery. We are easily fooled, and easily coerced through shaming. We are social creatures, by nature, and society around us commonly uses the fear of rejection to make us “conform to the group.” Children learn early, to make the threat, “I won’t be your friend!” in order to coerce another child to do their bidding. When people try to shame you into conformity, away from the freedom in Christ, they aren’t your friend, anyway!

Remember that all the things of the Law were only to “point us to Christ.” Don’t allow them to be used to turn you away from Him.

Remember that the Reality is Christ

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Paul points out that the things of the Law were only a shadow, or a “picture,” at best, of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! Since Jesus is the reality, turning to anything else, no matter how pleasing, or solemn, or awe-inspiring—whatever it is that attracts us—is ultimately turning away from Christ.

I do not mean this in the sense of “falling away to perdition,” necessarily: for example, I may have a photograph of my wife, which I especially like, perhaps from when we were first married, and when she was perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two years of age. Her hair was thick, dark and glossy, and she was filled with the vitality of youth. But the woman I love today is not a photograph. She is the real person, and lovelier in person than ever before, though no longer as young. If I were to dote upon that photograph, to the neglect of the real person, can there be any doubt that she would be hurt? It would be turning away from the real woman who is my favorite person and the joy of my life, to gaze at a paper representation of someone I knew nearly forty years ago. I would be turning away from my beautiful wife and attaching myself to a dead image. Our relationship, obviously, would be severely damaged.

All the regulations and rituals of the Old Testament Law, were a picture, or a foreshadowing of the reality to come. Jesus is the reality. If we insist on turning back to the Law, we need to realize that, in so doing, we are turning our hearts away from Christ, with all He has done, and concentrating on the things that we can do.

More Thieves!

There are all sorts of ways through which we can damage our freedom in Christ, and thus, our walk with him. Rituals, self-flagellations, self-humiliation, and over-emphasis of angelic intervention in human experience, along with self-conceived visions (as God called the visions of the false prophets in Jeremiah’s time) all tend to lead us away from a simple, day-by-day walk with Christ. The whole point of our life in Christ is that it is to be Christ-centered.

I have read that there was a teaching at the time this was written, which denied the deity of Christ, and relegated him to the status of an exalted spirit, but claimed that angels had somehow brought us salvation. They denied the value of the blood of Jesus at the Cross, and substituted their own ideas for the Truth of the Gospel. They drew people away from the Gospel and in so doing, destroyed their walk with Christ. Paul warns that such false teachers can ultimately trick us out of the reward that is offered to us for simply walking with Him.

18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

To “beguile” means to “trick.” You remember that Eve’s only defense, in the Garden, was that the Serpent had tricked her—beguiled her. Don’t let people trick you into giving up your reward. (Remember: Salvation is a gift: rewards are earned!)

People may claim to have seen visions of some sort (and I do not deny the possibility): but the visions have to be in agreement with the Written Word of God, or I am deeply suspicious of their source. There is something in the human psyche that demands self-aggrandizement, even if it is some sort of “I am more humble than you are!” type of boasting. God told the false prophets who were Jeremiah’s contemporaries that they had caused their “visions” or dreams, themselves, and that the visions were not from God. (Jeremiah 29:8) Believers easily get drawn into a mystical “experience-driven” faith, as opposed to simply believing God. I remember a fellow-pastor relating to me how he had attempted to share scripture with a woman, who responded angrily, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Our experiences may or may not be interpreted rightly, and may or may not be “messages from God.” While it certainly is possible to misinterpret God’s Word, at least it is there to be re-read and understood by anyone who cares. Our experiences are not so secure. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:15-21) The Word is our Light.

The Body needs the Head

All of our rituals and pious grandstanding do not impress the Lord. Most of them are weak attempts to emulate parts of the Jewish experience: the feasts, the dietary laws, the Sabbaths, etc., even to the extent of attempting to re-create some of the temple vestments and furniture. There was a man, for a while, who had made a copy of the altar of incense, and who had a religious television show of praying before the “Golden Altar of Incense Prayer!” That is blasphemous, as his work was certainly not the altar of incense. It was false teaching, too, as in the New Testament there is no such altar, and no directive to pray in a particular place, posture, or manner. Such things look attractive, and sound pious, but they do not draw us closer to God. They only result in a return to legalism, not a free, wholesome walk with the Savior.

19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

Notice that the Head is Christ…and the Body is the Church, proper. The Head is to be the only source of nourishment and guidance for the Body. And the Body is to respond to the Head, not to all the misdirection of the World. Give this some thought: we are dependent upon the Head for all things, whether we know it or not, and whether we choose to do so or not. He still is the ultimate source of all our sustenance, and care. But he asks that we choose to depend upon Him; and, that we choose willingly, not by default. Choose to respond to the Person of Christ, and not to the temptations and pressures of the World, and your perspectives will begin to change.

We are to abound in the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the Law: the result is that the Church flourishes, and the increase is from God, not human effort. A friend of mine visited a number of churches, not because he was looking for another church, but because he had been grieving a loss, and was deliberately “going where no one knew him”, so as to avoid the sympathy and comments that sharpened his grief. He returned, later, and said how relieved he felt to be in a church without the distracting, rock-and-roll music, light-shows, etc. and with a calm, Christ-centered service, where the teaching was plain, Bible-centered, wholesome “sheep-food.”

I recall a church, years ago, which boasted a huge “youth-group”…but it was because they had a rock-and-roll band, basket-ball games, and free pizza, every week. It was a party! And, lest you think I am condemning some particular style of music (I am not) or (heaven forbid!) condemning basketball or pizza; the warning in Ezekiel 33:30-33 is clear, that even when you are preaching the “straight word of God,” there will be those who only came for the entertainment value, with no intent to draw near to God, nor any desire to see their lives transformed. We can’t fix that, but we can try to make sure that we only offer the Word…clean “sheep-food,” as it were, along with simple worship, prayer, and fellowship, so that if people are coming, and staying, it is because that is what they want, rather than some sort of emotional boost, or social “buzz.”

So, Why are you Doing This?

Paul’s conclusion of this topic is a very logical, pointed question: “Why are you doing this?”

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

Paul reminds his readers that they are dead with Christ (Specifically, dead to those “rudiments of the World”), and complete in Him (without those things), and that they have been permanently separated from the World. So, then, he asks, “Why are you subjecting yourselves to legalism?” He used ceremonial “cleanness vs. uncleanness” for examples: “don’t touch this, don’t taste that, and don’t handle this other thing.” He points out that ALL those “things” (clean or unclean) are temporal, and are, by their nature, destroyed in the very using of them. He also says that such rules are according to the teachings and commandments of men (as opposed to being from God.)

23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

In the Old English, this sounds strange: But, the Living Bible paraphrase renders this verse: These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

A “show of wisdom” is not the same as real wisdom: people who practice ritualistic religion, and solemn observance of feasts and pageantry, or who practice strict self-denial, fasting, vows of poverty, etc., all tend to look quite holy and righteous. But, as we saw in the previous verses, these practices do not come from God, and also fail to change the heart, with its sinful desires, so that the person is neither satisfied, nor transformed.

God’s Answer

Over in Romans 12:2 Paul says that we are to not be conformed to (or, “pressed into a mold by”) the World, but rather we are to be transformed…how? By all sorts of self-works, and ritualistic maneuvering? No! We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds! And how can that be accomplished? I very seldom refer to the Living Bible paraphrase, but this, too, is a good rendering, and quite appropriate:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

We are constantly pressed to be “more like those around us”, for a variety of reasons; some good, some bad. God does not address all the individual reasons the world claims to be worthy. He gives us a different directive: Allow God to change you from the inside, by changing your thought patterns. The only way I know to do that is through the direct application of God’s Word, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and walking in constant fellowship with Him. (Psalm 119:9-11; 2nd Peter 1:4)

Lord Jesus, draw us along, by your Holy Spirit, to walk with you, in obedience to your written Word. Teach us to love You, above all others, and to choose to believe you above all others, even our own hearts. Allow us to serve with you, and to be empowered by you as we go.


Watch out for Robbers!

Watch out for Robbers!

Complete in Christ

© C. O. Bishop 9/14/18 Cornell Estates 9/16/18

Colossians 2:8-17

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Colossians, and have read of Paul’s concern for the churches to whom he was writing, and, by extension, his concerns for us, as believers. One of the things that he warns against is those who would rob us of our liberty in Christ: those who will try to convince us that God has not given us the whole truth, and that there is something else we need, in order to be in good standing with God.

Guard against Robbers

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

Notice the three-fold attack of the Enemy here, in verse eight:

  1. Through philosophy and vain deceit (Who is the deceiver? The “Liar and Father of lies”.)
  2. After the traditions of men (Human reasoning…appealing to my old nature, the “flesh”)
  3. After the rudiments of the world (elementary concepts, not embracing spiritual realities)

We are warned that, collectively, these three are not “after Christ.” Remember who our three enemies are? The World, the Flesh, and the Devil! And here they are again!

The fact is, we tend to like “philosophy;” in fact, the word “philosophy” means “love of wisdom”. But the problem is that there are many sources of such “wisdom,” and not all are from God. One of the three things that attracted Eve to eat the Fruit, was the fact that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But that “wisdom” was not from God: it was a deadly trap!

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

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

(There are those three enemies again: The world, the flesh, and the Devil!)

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

The wisdom we need must come from the only good source: In Proverbs 2:1-7, God says that His Word is the only reliable source. Do we have a teacher we especially like to hear? That is good; but we still need to read the scriptures on our own, as well, and measure his words against God’s Word. As did the Berean believers, we need to “Search the scriptures daily to see if these things are so.” (Acts 17:11)

Things that sound good, are not necessarily good teaching. Compare scripture with scripture. All scripture has to agree with all other scripture. If we are taught something that seems to contradict the rest of the Word of God, we need to stop and read carefully: something is definitely wrong.

Don’t underestimate Christ

Verse 9 is an important truth regarding the Deity of Christ. This is a crystal-clear statement that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” We have a very human desire to “reduce” God to a humanly understandable level. That is not a good thing to do: He is not a human, except as He has chosen to appear, in the person of Christ. He is the immortal, immutable, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator, and the God of all time and eternity! Why should I expect him to be something I can casually read about, consider for a moment, and grasp completely? There are so many comparatively small things within His creation, which we can study all our lives and still not understand: why would we expect the Creator to be simpler than His creation? Entomologists may give their whole lives to understanding a particular type of insect: Isn’t it obvious that the Creator of all things, including that insect, is more complex and harder to grasp than the insect, let alone the rest of creation, from silkworms to supernovas?

I can’t even grasp all the things that humans create: I use computers and cell-phones on a daily basis, but, when experts try to explain to me how they work, I only understand them in general terms. Regarding the specifics of why something doesn’t work, I have no idea what’s wrong.

Jesus encompasses all of who God is: He is God; and the entirety of the fullness of the Godhead was and is present in Him, in His human body. And, He says that we are complete in Christ!

You are complete in Christ!

10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

This is an important truth, all in itself: You are complete in Christ! He is the head of all things, above all authority and angelic beings, whether holy or fallen, and He says we are complete, in Him!

So, what should I do when someone comes along to tell me, “No! You are not complete! You are missing this one little thing about which God didn’t bother to tell you!” What then? Doesn’t that comment sound remarkably similar to the Serpent’s temptation of Eve, in the Garden? “You shall not surely die! (Hisssss) God doth know that in the day that ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil!” (Hisssss)  (Genesis 3:4, 5)

Learn to recognize Robbers

Beware the voice of the Serpent in all such appeals! At minimum, this sort of suggestion calls into question the character of God! Any teaching that diminishes the deity of Christ, or questions the holiness or wisdom of God Himself, is ultimately from the pit. This is not meant as some sort of “knee-jerk, reactionary name-calling.” We simply need to be realistic about God’s Word: there is an Enemy, and this is one of the ways we perceive his hand. We see his character in the teachings of his workers: they seek to make us doubt God’s written Word, and to not trust Him.

We also must look to see God’s character in the teachings of His servants. God’s faithful servants teach us to understand and trust in the written Word of God, which draws us closer to the Living Word, Jesus! They confirm that God’s Word is complete, and holy, and that His character is Holy and Righteous, and Good, and that He is entirely trustworthy. The Holy Spirit never teaches contrary to the Word of God, nor does He cause us to doubt the character of God.

I have had people tell me that “there were things left out of the Bible, you know;” and that I, as a Bible-believing Christian, am living in ignorance, because I “don’t know the whole story.” Now: who is most likely to bring me such an idea; trying to convince me that “God is not giving me the straight story?” Is this a true “servant of light,” or is it, more likely, a minion of Satan appearing as an angel of light? (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.)

We need to learn our wisdom from God, by becoming so familiar with His Word that every false doctrine “sticks out” as having “something amiss.” In every such case, so far, I have been able, through God’s Word, to satisfy myself that the person bringing the message was not a servant of God; their message was utterly contrary to God’s Word, and contrary to Grace, as well. We are complete in Him. We simply need to feed on His Word, and become strong.

What is the result of our Position in Christ?

Verses 11-15 tell us some precious truths that are entirely due to our position in Christ:

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

The “circumcision,” here, as well as the “baptism,” have nothing to do with our physical body. Jesus, by His death at the Cross, has “put off” the flesh, once for all. We are no longer slaves to our old sin nature. It is still present, but it has been “put off” at the Cross, and we can trust in that truth, on a daily basis. This is entirely a “positional” truth: it is true because we are in Christ.

The baptism in question, here, is also not the physical baptism with water, but the Holy Spirit baptism addressed over in 1st Corinthians 12:13. Every believer has been “baptized” into Christ, whether they know it or not. Because of that baptism by the Holy Spirit, into the Body of Christ, we have been identified with Him in His death, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension, with the result being that, from God’s perspective, we are already seated with Christ in Heaven.

Water baptism only reflects this “real” baptism. It is an outward symbol of a spiritual reality, just as circumcision was supposed to have been for the Jews. Again, these are true because we are in Christ. There is nothing for us to do, to obtain these things: they are already true of us, in Christ.

The next verse is in the same category: it is true for all believers, because they are in Christ.

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Notice that this is all past-tense: I was “dead in sin:” I have been “quickened” (made alive—resurrected) with Christ. My sins already have been completely forgiven: all our trespasses have been forgiven; past, present and future. Remember: when Jesus died for you, all your sins were in the future! He died for all your “future sins,” because all of them were in the future when He died. You have never “surprised God” by your sins. He knew them all, from eternity past. He chose to include them in His sacrifice at the Cross.

14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

The Law, which spoke against me, in my condemned state as a lost sinner, has been blotted out: erased, as it were, where it once condemned me. The condemnation of the Law was nailed to the Cross along with our sins. Is the Law still God’s Word? Absolutely! But it no longer condemns me: because I died with Christ, the Law has been fulfilled, as it applies to me. It condemned me to die, and I died: “End of story!” So, all of its judgment against me has been nullified, in death.

15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The word “spoiled” here, means “looted,” or “robbed.” In what way did Jesus “loot” or “rob” the demonic hosts at the cross? He took back the souls of all believers from the one who had long enslaved them! He purchased us, actually, with His blood, and through His death. But the key, here, is that Jesus triumphed over Satan at the Cross. This was the fulfillment of the “Seed of the Woman” prophecy in Genesis 3:15. This is where the “Serpent’s head” was “crushed.” What was expected to be a victory for Satan, and an ignominious death for the Son of God, turned out to be the Absolute Triumph of God, in Christ, and the crushing defeat of the Evil One.

How should we respond to this truth?

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

The result, then, of the final “setting aside of the Law, for righteousness,” is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. (See Romans 10:4—“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”) There are still people today who want to place themselves back under these Laws, though God tells them to not do so, right here in this passage.

What is worse, is that, they usually want to place others under that condemnation, as well. They are not satisfied to be a slave themselves: they want you to be one, too. The cults all fall into this category, as they all (either explicitly or, by implication) deny the efficacy of the blood of Jesus, saying that we must work to earn salvation, or work to maintain a right standing before God.

They go out of their way to convince us, because they themselves have been convinced that, in order for them to be saved, or to receive reward, they have to draw others into the same bondage. The cults are not doing it out of concern for your soul, but for their own. A Christian may share his or her belief, too, but he or she has no obligation to do so, and, as a rule, nothing to gain by it. They seek to free others from bondage, not enslave them. They are not concerned, as a rule, with what church you attend, but, whether you receive the free gift of God: eternal life in Christ. They may also invite you to their church, of course; but, if they are faithful servants of God, the real issue is the salvation and freedom of your soul.

Is there anything “wrong” with keeping the feasts, or observing the Sabbath? No, there isn’t! If you enjoy the celebrations, that is fine, but we are under no obligation to such things. We are not to be placed under further bondage: instead, the Holy Spirit sets us free from the bondage of sin, and does not place us in bondage to the Law. He truly sets us free to live for God.

Finally, Paul points out that all the things of the Law (the feast-days, the dietary laws, etc.) were, collectively, at best, only a picture of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! He asks that we not allow ourselves to be robbed of our freedom in Christ by others, who, themselves, have rejected it.

This is, unfortunately, an extremely common trait among humans: we don’t want others to enjoy something that we, ourselves, don’t have. So we judge one another, and try to make each other feel less content with God’s supply. Paul warns us to not allow this to happen to us, and (by application), we are not to do it to others, either! You are complete, in Christ. Rejoice in that truth, and don’t allow anyone to steal your joy, by causing you to doubt it.

Lord Jesus, please allow us to meditate upon the truth that we are complete in You, and help us to grasp the importance of clinging to that truth. Help us to learn contentment without falling into complacency. We do want to grow, but we do not want to be tormented by vain ambitions. Glorify yourself in us, in Jesus name.


A General Warning and a Personal Example

A General Warning and a Personal Example

© C. O. Bishop, 2/9/2018 Cornell Estates 2/11/2018

Philippians 3:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Philippians, for several months, and have seen that it is a very personal letter to a group of people in Philippi, with whom Paul shared a close relationship. They had served with him, and suffered with him, and they had supported him in his work. The epistle is noteworthy because it does not have any “corrective” teaching, and certainly no rebuke. There is encouragement, and thanksgiving, and teaching, some of which they may have heard before. We teachers do tend to repeat ourselves, because we are forever teaching the same concepts, sometimes to different pupils, sometimes a mixture of old and new. The teaching has not changed, and sometimes we hear a concept more than once.

Paul was aware that they had heard at least some of these things before. He begins by encouraging the believers to continue rejoicing “in the Lord.” He absolutely does not say that all our circumstances will be happy ones: he says, rather, that we can rejoice in the person of Christ.

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

Saying “finally,” Paul seems to begin a conclusion, but, in reality, he is just turning to a final set of exhortations. It seems significant to me, that he prefaces a series of warnings with an exhortation to rejoice in the Lord. He goes on to suggest that what he was about to say was probably nothing new to his readers, but that it did not bother him to repeat himself, and that it provided a margin of safety for them, much like a warning sign on a road. It doesn’t hurt to hear it again.

A Strange Warning

2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

This is a strange comment: who are the “dogs”; who are the “evil-workers,” and who are the “concision”?  I would have jumped to the conclusion that the “dogs” were simply heathen, who could not be trusted entirely, simply because their agenda is completely different, and their values are co9mpletely different, than that of a believer. I still suspect that this may be the best understanding. Dr. McGee states that the “dogs” are false prophets, citing Isaiah, where God described the false prophets as “dumb” (speechless) dogs…watchdogs who don’t keep watch, and don’t sound the alarm when there is certainly cause to do so. Possibly he is right…but it doesn’t seem to fit this context. John Walvoord thinks it was the Judaizers against whom he raised the warning. But it seems likely to me that the “concision” were the Judaizers, who were physically “mutilated” as if they were believing Jews, but whose hearts were at odds with the Gospel. Evil workers would seem to be a catch-all term, at first glance, as there are evil workers everywhere. C. I. Scofield seems to think that all three were in reference to the Judaizers. But let’s take a look at all three in order:

  1. Dogs: If this is the heathen, simply unbelievers (and this is a term the Jews used to use, referring to heathen—gentiles—us), then they (unbelievers) are simply to be viewed with some caution at all times, knowing that their goals are completely different than those of the church, as are their values. This is still in keeping with the sure knowledge that these are souls for whom Christ died. We do not condemn them: we reach out to them. But we maintain an awareness that they are “not on our team.”
    An example, at a national level, can be seen in the history of our business dealings in Asia. Westerners frequently find that they have been “cheated”, when the reality is that the Asians are simply playing by a different set of rules, and cheerfully take advantage of our naiveté.
    Churches are frequently duped by unbelievers who seem to be “offering the church a special deal”, but in reality, are cheating churches. Does that mean we shouldn’t have any dealings with unbelievers? No! It is simply a warning to be careful.
    A church with which I was vaguely familiar told how a local businessman began attending their church. They were glad to have him, and when he said that he needed cash, and change for his businesses, and offered to give them a check each week, to the exact amount of all the loose change and bills in their offering, they saw no harm in it, and, yes, the check cleared, every week. But, early the next year, they got a letter from the IRS asking whether this individual had really been giving them all these donations! He had been claiming those checks as charitable giving! From his perspective, he was being clever. But it was a scam, pure and simple!
  2. Evil workers: This could refer to people who claim to be believers but whose lives demonstrate the opposite. I am not suggesting that because a believer has a sin nature and occasionally proves it, he or she is not really a believer. I am referring to those who can recite a believable testimony, but their whole pattern of life outside of church meetings is blatantly ungodly. We have probably all known individuals like this. They are perplexing, because we want to accept them as a brother or sister in Christ, but all their behavior suggests they may not be one. We just have to be careful. I have known several people like this at work. Some, as far as I can tell, were probably believers. Some turned out to definitely be “false brethren.”
  3. The Concision: (The Greek word, here, literally means “mutilation.”) If this term is in reference to the Judaizers, then the whole trio fits together as living examples of the three enemies of the Christian: “the World, the Flesh and the Devil”, as
    1. “The World” is certainly represented in unbelievers as a whole;
    2. “The Flesh” is the old sin-nature, which every believer still does have. And “evil-workers” are those who habitually obey their sin-nature, whether believers or unbelievers; and, finally,
    3. Satan does his most dangerous work through false religion. (This was true in the time of Christ, through the Pharisees and scribes and the corrupt priesthood, but today is perhaps best exemplified in various world religions and cults, and even in good churches that have gone bad. (It happens!)

There is a fair amount of controversy over these three, but this interpretation seems to resonate well with the rest of Scripture. I do not claim it to be the only way to understand the passage.

What is the True Circumcision?

3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Paul mentioned this concept in Romans and in Galatians: the “circumcision” that God approves is the setting aside of the “flesh”—the old sin-nature. We can’t “get rid of it,” completely, but we have turned away from it, the day we chose to believe in Jesus as our savior, and we continually choose to “set aside the flesh” when we worship and serve God in the person of Christ.

We find our Joy in Him, and have ceased to have confidence in our own ability to understand, our own capability to will or to do, apart from His direction. We think more, and scheme less, as a result. We are willing to follow His lead, and we do not demand that he explain every part of his every decision, as if His will must have our approval before it can proceed.

Do we still complain and act out in unbelief sometimes? Certainly, we do, which is simply a demonstration that we still have our old sin nature. The sin nature cannot be corrected, or improved upon. It feeds upon sin, and Ephesians 4:22 states that it is actively corrupt by nature. It is not subject to God, and cannot be, according to Romans 8:7.

This “flesh”, not our physical body, is what must be set aside, if we are to walk with God. We set it aside once for all, when we first trusted Christ as our redeeming sacrifice. We continually “set it aside” when we choose to ignore its prompting, and obey Jesus instead.

What about Human Credentials?

Paul certainly had great credentials to which he could point, if he chose to do so, He says:

4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

If there was anyone who would have had the “right” to trust in his own natural ability, education or birthright, it was Paul. He “had a lot going for him”, as the saying goes today. He lists a few of these things, here:

5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

But when he trusted Christ as his savior, all the things he had once trusted in became a potential liability, rather than an asset. In fact, he considers the whole world a potential snare, rather than a gain. It is all on the “wrong side of the ledger,” now—debit, rather than credit. These credentials are what the World approves, and, while they may have some value, the only real and eternal value is in our relationship with Christ. The World is temporary,

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

It must be pointed out, here, that Paul is not suggesting that the way to “win Christ” is to “suffer the loss of all things”. One does not “buy” a relationship with Christ. Paul’s relationship with Christ had cost him all of the things he held dear, including his social standing. He had been “climbing” a social “ladder”, for most of his life, if we can read between the lines a bit. A Jewish student shared with me that the seats in the ancient schools (that of Gamaliel, for example, whom Paul claimed as his mentor), were arranged in tiers, radiating from the teacher’s position outward toward the door. Those “sitting at the feet” were the choice students who had “arrived”, so to speak. Newer students or those less approved sat at the back, or stood beyond the furthest seat. So Paul had “arrived” socially. Still today, Jewish students read the teaching of Gamaliel, whom Paul claimed. But he lost that status, and was considered a “reject”, a failure, because of his relationship with, and his service toward Jesus. And he counted it a cheap price to pay…but that is still not how he gained Christ. The losses were a result of the relationship, not the other way around.

Don’t Attempt a “Do-it-yourseff” Righteousness

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

This is a key point: In Romans 10:3, 4, Paul points out that the Jews were “ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness”. He evidently included himself in that indictment, and he was grateful to find that he had lost his own false, contrived, self-made righteousness, and gained the real, imputed righteousness of Christ.

I think it is a common failing among both believers and unbelievers, that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we still think we can “make ourselves better.” Self-help books, and self-improvement books are among the best sellers in the supposedly “non-fiction” market.  And yet, ultimately, they tend to be “fiction” anyway, as the truth is, we cannot help ourselves, or improve ourselves in the arena of sin and righteousness.

When Isaiah said “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” he wasn’t exaggerating. He was simply stating a fact; that “we are as an unclean thing.” Once, as a small child, I read a story about some children finding a rusty iron pot, at the beach, and cleaning it with sand. I didn’t understand that the “cleansing” they accomplished was only to remove the worst of the rust…that the sand was only an abrasive, and accomplished nothing in terms of hygiene. But it stuck in my young mind that “sand equals soap”. So, a few days later, when my mother told me to wash my hands for supper, I happily walked outside and decided that, in the absence of sand, dirt would surely suffice, and I washed my hands in mud, rinsed them in water from the garden hose, and walked back in feeling very clever. Mom asked me if I had washed my hands, and I cheerfully told her, yes, that I had washed them in the dirt, in the garden! Understandably, she sent me off to the bathroom for a “soap and water” scrub…up to the elbows.

The point of that story was that I did not understand that dirt could not make me clean, physically—dirt was what we wanted to remove, along with the bacteria that are in the dirt. (Years later, I met a cousin of mine who had actually lost an arm to an infection originating in the soil of his back yard…and nearly lost his life in the ordeal.)

Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering to God. The problem was not the vegetables; the problem was sin. The ground had been cursed because of sin, so, despite the healthful character of the vegetables, fruit, or whatever it was, it was unacceptable as a sin offering, and, without a prior sin offering of blood, it was not even acceptable as a worship offering, though after a blood sacrifice for sin it would have been completely acceptable in worship.

Cain was “ignorant of the righteousness of God”, and was “going about to establish his own righteousness.” Even believers can easily lose sight of the cross, and begin to believe that because they adhere to certain practices, (whether church attendance, reciting prayers, a catechism, a creed, giving, or some other activity) that they have by those actions become acceptable to God. The fact is that I am only acceptable to God “in the beloved” (in ChristEphesians 1:6). We cannot cleanse ourselves. God has to do it.

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. Being found “in Him,” his standing with God was forever made secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin.

What can I learn by his example? That I need to stay near the Cross, mentally. I need to remember daily that I am saved from sin…I did not climb out of that pit on my own, nor can I claim any credit for my perseverance. God is the one who keeps me. My own works, tainted by my ever-present old nature, can never improve my standing with God. Only Jesus’s blood at the cross has that capacity. I can’t hope to improve by “washing with dirt.”

Lord Jesus, fix our eyes upon your Cross, and help us to trust in the completion of your work there. Turn our eyes away from our own efforts, and help us to rest in your finished work. Raise us up as an army of men and women freed by your hand, and living to serve you from that perfect position in You.

 


No Longer of this World

No Longer of This World

© C. O. Bishop, 6/19/2015; THCF 6/28

Galatians 6:11-18

Introduction

Paul is concluding his letter to the churches of the Galatian province. He has compared his own ministry (source, content and result) to that of the legalizers, and has given clear direction as how to live by Grace and walk in the Spirit. He begins his closing with an odd statement: He says, ‘ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” What was the meaning? This was in effect, a wry “signature”: he is saying, “Look, the letter was written by me—in crayon!”

Paul evidently had severe eye problems, either caused by disease or by the stoning he received at Lystra…we can’t be sure. We do know that the people he served knew of his eye troubles…he said that they would have given their own eyes to him if they could have done so. We conclude that probably the “thorn in the flesh” of 2nd Corinthians 12 may be this partial blindness and ocular distress from which he constantly suffered. Further, in Acts 23:2-5, he evidently could not clearly see the person (the High priest as it turned out) who ordered that he be punched in the mouth. The result of this partial blindness, in most cases, was that he had to have someone else write for him, as he could scarcely see. But this time he had no such scribe available, so he had to make the letters large enough that he could see what he was writing…thus the “large letter.”

But Paul prefaced his closing remarks with the admonition to take every opportunity to “do good” to anyone with whom we have contact…and especially to watch for opportunities to bless believers. This is not an incitement to monasticism, where the believers cloister themselves off away from the world…he just encourages us to love one another in practical ways.

Make Use of the Time

10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

In Ephesians 5:16, he says we are to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. This life is the only opportunity we have to do good. We may think we will “just hang on and wait for Jesus to return”, but that is not at all what he commanded: we are to work while we have the opportunity to serve with Him. We already have eternal life; that is not the issue. We are serving out of love, and sowing in hope of eternal reward. We love one another because we want to, and because it is the best advertisement of the truth of the Gospel.

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Paul usually used a scribe to write his letters. Sometimes we actually were given the names of the persons who wrote his words…usually not. But one of the reasons he generally used a scribe, was apparently that his eyes were bad. This particular letter was written by his own hand, evidently in the absence of a scribe. The result was a bit of a mess: he had to make huge letters in order to see what he was writing. He took note of that, possibly to let them know that the letter had not been an easy thing for him, or possibly just a self-effacing joke, in a way, letting them know that he had personally penned the words. It was not an easy task to write such a long letter when he was nearly blind, but he considered it a good investment. He set the example of “redeeming the time”. There is no time like the present to obey God’s leading. Paul could have thought, “Well, sometime soon a scribe will come along, and I can get him to write this letter.” But he didn’t—he wrote it himself.

They already knew that his eyes were bad (compare verse 4:15), so this is just a reminder that he was their faithful teacher and mentor, not one of the elite scribes or pharisaical teachers who plagued them. He refers to those people, next, in contrast: He has spoken at length regarding the motives of the legalizers, and this is his final comment.

Bad Teachers Have Bad Motives

12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

He says that those teachers were not (and are not) willing to suffer the unpopularity (and the inherent risk of persecution) for having preached the cross. They preach legalism (circumcision, in this particular case) because that gains them glory in this life. They can point to “converts”, and lay claim to all that they have “done for God.”.

I remember listening to a missionary who very seldom spoke of his work in the Gospel, but went on and on about all the lovely church-buildings he had helped build. Were they good buildings? Probably so: but that is not what we are sent to do. Buildings do not save souls, nor do they edify the saints. Even baptism is made a distant second-place to the preaching of the Gospel.

The preaching of the Cross saves those who believe. The consistent preaching of the rest of the Word edifies believers. “Feeding the sheep” requires the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  These false teachers were advocating works of the Law, not only because within their culture that was completely safe to them, but it was a “number” they could claim, to gain honor among their own kind. They could hold up a list of “converts”, and crow about how God was using them. There are those today to whom numbers are very important, as well. It is an easy trap to fall into.

If a mega-church today is truly edifying the saints and preaching the Gospel of Christ to unbelievers, I guess I have no problem with the size of the outfit, except that it seems a bit unwieldy at that point, and more likely that certain believers may tend to not be served well, (see Acts 6; it was a problem in Jerusalem, too) Some people will just disappear in the crowd, and become anonymous.  But there is no proof of blessing in size alone. Many such churches are definitely not staying true to the Word of God, but are very popular because of a charismatic preacher, an exciting show, a well-choreographed presentation, a band, or other attractions. Sometimes they have lots of other activities that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and those activities are what are drawing the crowds—pizza, basketball, games, movies, etc. One has to remember that “what a person is drawn by is what they are drawn to.” If you want them to be drawn to Christ, then you had better be using Him alone as your main attraction.

The fact is, Paul actually had to state (1st Corinthians 1:17) that he had not been sent to baptize—it simply wasn’t much of an issue. And the issue of “who led you to the Lord” was unimportant, too. He said that he (among others) had sown the seed of the Gospel, and that Apollos (among others) had “watered” that seed, by further preaching and exhortation, but that God alone saved souls…God gave the increase…period. Why did he say such a thing? Because the people were dividing over whose disciples they were—who had taught them, who their mentor had been, etc. And Paul told them to knock it off. He said their divisions were wrong. Paul also knew there were such things as false brethren…there were those who pretended to be believers, to be accepted by the group, but were not born again. He was not a “numbers” kind of guy.  He knew he no longer fit in, and was satisfied with that.

No Longer of This World

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Paul could clearly see the danger of pride in the ministry. He stayed back from that “edge” by maintaining that the Cross of Christ was his only message. In 1st Corinthians 2:2 he said that he had determined when he first came to Corinth that his only message would be the Cross. In fact he said that he was determined to not know anything beside the Cross. He had had opportunity to observe that too much “human reasoning” would detract from the message of Christ, so he was determined to stay far away from that trap. If anyone described his ministry, they would have to say, “He preaches the Cross!” He recognized that he was eternally separated from the world by that Cross, and that the World was eternally out of reach to him, as well. He could never hope to “fit in” again…and he was satisfied with that arrangement.

My father once warned me, saying “The world is passing you by!” (I was in ministry training at the time, at one stage or another.) I replied that as far as I could tell, the World was “headed for Hell in a hand-basket”, and that it was just fine if they passed me by; I wanted nothing to do with their direction, let alone their destination. I think that sometimes, since then, I have forgotten that resolve, for a time, and have tried to “fit in” at one level or another. The results have never been as good as I wanted. I cannot fit in. I am forever separated from the World by the Cross. The World knows I no longer belong, and will not receive me as its own. And God says that I am no longer of this world…I cannot have partnership with it anymore, though I am required to live within it and function as a light in the darkness. Paul says, over in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, 15, “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And, what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord (agreement—common ground) hath Christ with Belial? Or, what part hath he that believeth, with an infidel?”

Those are pretty strong words: Paul said in Philippians 2:15, 16, “that ye may be blameless, and harmless, the Sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the Word of Life:” How can we shine as lights in the World if we are not in it? But, just as surely, how can we shine if, effectively, we join with the darkness, so that they see us as self-righteous hypocrites, and pretenders, with nothing real to offer.

Some of you have probably been grieved to see the recent changes in our national laws. This admonition seems particularly apt, today, in light of those changes. We are to continue to shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation”. We are not allowed to draw off and hold ourselves away from them—but we also do not belong to them and cannot join them in their perversion and rebellion. Ephesians 5:11, 12 says for us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them, for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” And, make no mistake: the result will likely be increasing persecution. Philippians 1:29 says “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” Paul knew that his future held such persecution, and did not turn away from it: He said (Philippians 3:10) “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings…being made conformable unto His death…” He knew the cost of the ministry. Do we?

The fact is that we are just as “separated from the World” by the Cross as the Apostle Paul was…but it has not had the same effect in our lives, as yet. That time may be coming soon.

Our nation has finally turned its back on God at every level, and people are gloating over the collective shame and sin and debauchery of the nation. The unbelieving world rejoices to see the fall of our once-Christian nation. In the previous verses we saw the warning, “Be not deceived, for God is not mocked: whatsoever a man sows; that shall he also reap.” Judgment is definitely coming: I have no idea what form it will take.

Inward Change is What God Wants.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Paul says that the outward actions don’t accomplish much of anything; that the key issue is being born again. After that point, God is free to rear up a believer in the nurture of His Word, and produce the inward and outward changes that show the reality of the new birth. The chains and restraints of religious formalism and the trappings of formal piety are essentially useless. The results of the Holy Spirit working through a born-again believer have eternal value. Not only that, but, as we saw in the previous chapter, “against such things there is no law”. There may come a time when we will be condemned for our faith…but the good works of faith are not what they are rejecting: it is the “bad news” of the Gospel…the three-fold bad news that “Sin is black, Hell is hot, and Judgment is coming!” But the Gospel also concludes with the Good News; “Jesus Saves!” They don’t like that part either, so we stand condemned for the whole message of the Gospel. We have to accept the fact that we are cast aside by the World because they also cast aside the Christ who saved us. Jesus said, “Marvel not if the World hate thee; they hated Me first!” We are finally beginning to see that reality in the world around us. We must prepare our hearts to accept it as our cross, joining Jesus in the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

Peace in Persecution

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

Paul concludes by praying for peace upon those who live by faith, and obey by faith. He also prays for peace upon the “Israel of God”. (This is not saying that believers have become Jews, though he has already pointed out that they have become part of the fulfilled promise to Abraham. I believe he may be addressing the Jewish believers who have embraced Jesus as their Messiah… but I can’t prove it.) At any rate, Jesus agreed, saying “In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the World.

I think it is probably important to point out that the trap of legalism is still there: James 3:18 says “the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in Peace by those who make peace.” This whole passage is exhorting us to walk in the light and to shine in a dark world…but it requires that the Peace of God “leak out through us” in every relationship. We cannot preach righteousness in anger and expect good results. James says if we want to reap righteousness we have to sow that seed in peace, as peacemakers.

Philippians 4:6, 7 states that we can experience that peace at all times. We are to avoid anxiety and stress by laying our burden on Jesus…and leaving it there. We are not to just be confident in our own goodness and rightness, and think that that is the “light” we are to shine. The Love of God and the Gospel of His Grace is the light we are to shine.

Paul’s Conclusion

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Paul once may have taken some sort of pride in his being a Jew, and bearing the “marks” of Judaism: physical circumcision, peculiar clothing, peculiar haircut, etc. Now the only marks he points to are the physical scars that he received as a result of preaching the Gospel. He pointed to them as the proof of his ministry. Not numbers, not buildings, not money or fame. He pointed to his suffering which had been the direct result of the preaching of the Cross. And his conclusion was that any accusations against his ministry will have to face the reality of his track-record.

18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (To the Galatians written from Rome.)

As we mentioned in the beginning of this epistle, Grace is not only for salvation, but for daily life. How fitting that the Epistle should begin and end with Grace, as that is the key theme of the book. Paul’s purpose is to point people away from Law, with its outward works, and to anchor the believers firmly in Grace. If we take his message to heart, then his purpose is fulfilled in us.

If we walk in the Spirit, we can expect the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with our spirits.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts by your Grace. Re-mold us into your likeness and lead us in the path of righteousness. Teach us to sow the Gospel of Grace and Peace and to demonstrate the Love of God in our lives, while maintaining a clean walk before you. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be.