Posts Tagged ‘training’

Different Kinds of Trials

Different Kinds of Trials

© C. O. Bishop, January 2020

James 1:1-4, 12-16

Introduction:

There are two large groupings in scripture, under the heading of “Temptation.” We need to see the differences between them and how to respond to each.

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.


James addresses himself (primarily) to the Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution, as well as those who had been scattered by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. He makes no further explanation, but plunges right into the purpose of the letter: He knew they had been through a great deal of hardship: first, by persecution from Gentile nations for being Jews; and now, from other Jews, as well as from the Gentile nations, for being followers of Christ. The first three centuries of the Church age were riddled with horrendous persecution against believers…and the Church grew stronger under that load.

In modern English, James calls it “testing”. KJV says “temptation”. The old English word “temptation” did mean testing. But the nature of the test depended upon the source of the testing. I wish there were two different Greek words for the two types of trials, but there are not: the Greek word is exactly the same for both: “peirazo”…”to try, prove, or test.”

So, we will come to see two general categories of trials: one meaning “hard experiences,” the sort experienced by all humans: (1st Corinthians 10:13 “…such as is common to man”,) or possibly harsh treatment from others because of our position in Christ.(1st Peter 4:12-14) The other is a specific “luring away to do evil:” it is temptation to sin. James says God is never the source of this sort.

When I read verses 2-4, I see one kind of testing, which will:

  • Make me strong,
  • Develop endurance (KJV “patience”) and
  • Help me mature as a believer.

But, when I read verses 13-16, I see that God is not the author of testing that “lures us away to do evil,” though, ultimately, He is the One who allows it to happen. When I consider the trials and testing of Job, for example, it is clear that God allowed Job to undergo terrible trials; but God was not the one saying “Curse God and Die!” We need to consider the type of trial, as well as the source. Consider the two categories as either “trials for training,” or “temptation to sin.”

Trials for Training


My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

So, under what circumstances should I consider trials to be a joy? “When” I fall into various trials. (Always.) This is in reference to the “hard times”. Sometimes they are literally from God, as a training discipline, just as an athletics coach prescribes calisthenics or weight-training, or roadwork, to toughen an athletic contestant against a coming trial—the next wrestling match, perhaps, or even the Olympic games. Such training is never easy; it is not intended to be easy. It is intended to produce strength and stamina, and increased skill, in some cases.

Sometimes they are just the normal “hard times” of life…which we endure as an honor to our Lord who endured far more than we ever will.

It is important for us, as believers, to grasp the idea that the way in which God chooses to strengthen us against hardship and to prepare us for coming spiritual battles, is through teaching, then testing, more teaching, more testing, etc. If we truly accept this concept, then the trials do become a source of joy, as we know that we are being strengthened for God’s Glory. We learn endurance by enduring. It is interesting to me that athletes know this, and accept it; and good athletes do not find a hard, grueling practice to be frustrating, but rather exhilarating. They know that they are getting strong, and the way they endured that testing has proved it!

So the admonition is to find joy in hard times, knowing that we are gaining endurance, and that we are to allow endurance to complete its work, and not short-circuit the process by fighting against God. Once in a while a member of a sports team will forget that the rigorous training is for his betterment, and will begin accusing the coach, saying that the workout is unreasonable, or misguided. In the case of a human coach, such an accusation could possibly be true, though as a general rule it is not. But in the case of God, the ultimate source of all true wisdom, the omniscient source of all our sustenance and hope, such an accusation is clearly unfounded. We can always be confident that His will for us is perfect…even when it is painful or even fatal. We don’t like that idea, but Job 13:15 says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” 

Many believers have been brought back into a right relationship with God through a deadly disease. They were forced to look at life differently: no longer carelessly; and the result was that they repented of their wandering, and they walked with God for the time they had remaining. Was that fun? Absolutely not! Did they recognize God’s Grace, in bringing them back into a walk of faith, with Him? Apparently they did.

I received a message, last year, about a young man (the son of a friend) who was diagnosed with leukemia. He was told he probably had a very short time to live. But they began chemotherapy, and six weeks later, he was in remission. Did he still have leukemia? Yes! Would he live, though? It was possible, but there were no promises.

But his comment was that, “I guess it took something like this to bring me back to the things that are important. But it may take some time, because I’d gotten so far away!” He saw life differently because of that trial, and chose to allow his disease to drive him closer to God, rather than railing against God, and becoming bitter. As a matter of fact, a few months later, the disease came back with a vengeance, and killed him. But, for the few months he had left, his life was transformed and both he and his family were at peace.

Sometimes hardships are just to equip us so that we can be a comfort to others who are in similar trials. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 gives a number of very positive reasons why we might endure hardships. Seven are easy to see, as they are spelled out for us:

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;

11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.


Thus, when the trial (whatever it is) is not a “luring away to do evil”, we are to accept it as a trial in which we can rejoice, because we are “on God’s team,” and He is giving us a workout.

Temptation to Sin

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

This is the other type of testing…and it is not from God. We are told that the believer has three great enemies in this life:

  1. The World (The system of government, business, values and thinking that is common to unbelievers.)
  2. The Flesh (The old sin nature…usually called “the flesh” in scripture, but not meaning the physical body.)
  3. The Devil (Yes, this is the person called Satan. He is not a mythological creature, but a real enemy, with deadly intent toward us.

Any of these three enemies can be the source of such “luring away to do evil.” Our old sin nature is in full agreement with the other enemies, and is the “enemy within the gate”, so to speak.

The World around us will offer us the fruits of immorality, or the immoral acts themselves, and the people act very friendly, accepting and accommodating when making the offer. Bear in mind that the specific plan by which the Moabites and the Midianites attempted to destroy Israel was to send their most beautiful women to invite the Israelite men to feasts…which turned out to be idolatrous worship-feasts to the heathen Gods of Moab and Midian. They hoped to corrupt Israel, and bring down the judgment of God upon them. And, in a way, it worked: thousands of Jews died in the resulting judgment from God, and the Moabites were cursed, as well. Balaam, the traitorous prophet, who had counseled them to corrupt Israel, was killed along with the Midianites who died in the fight. (Numbers 31:8, 16) People want you to join them in their sin. (“Come on! Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! Everybody does it!”) The World is not “a friend to Grace,” the old hymn reminds us. And joining them in their sin will still not earn their friendship.

The Flesh, Our old Sin Nature, often called “the old man”, or the “carnal mind,” and sometimes “the heart”, is in full agreement with the other two enemies. It joins in the attempt to deceive and corrupt us. The only way to be sure that we are not being deceived by our sinful heart, is to continually, daily, submit our thinking to God’s thoughts, as recorded in His Written Word, so that we can recognize falsehood, and reject it; recognize temptation to sin and reject it, recognize wrong patterns of thinking, and reject them..

The Devil, also calledSatan, is not omniscient, but he is well-versed and practiced in the art of deceit. He knows how to “get to us”, so that we will say “Oh, follow your heart! You deserve to be happy!” and so fall prey to his snares. What do we know, from God’s Word, about the heart? (Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”) God says that our heart is THE most likely thing to deceive us. So where will Satan most likely strike? He will offer us our “heart’s desire.”

This is why James begs his readers, “Do not err, my beloved brethren!” It is so easy to fall prey to such a deadly and invisible enemy. The only place a sheep can be safe is when it is close to the Shepherd. We need to learn to walk with Jesus, the Great Shepherd.

So, then, when the temptation is a “luring away to do evil”… when it is temptation to sin, how are we to respond?

Defense against Temptation

There are several layers of defense: The first is not one we would choose in the flesh: We find it in 1st Timothy 6:11 “But thou, O man of God, flee these things!” If there is a way to turn away from the temptation, and get away from the lure, then do so. We are not to dwell on the evil, longing after it. Jesus said if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart! So, the outward failing is not the only issue. Desiring it, and not fleeing the temptation is the key issue.

Another one, obviously, is to have already memorized enough scripture to do as Jesus did, and answer with Scripture. When Satan attempted (Matthew 4) to coerce Jesus to go outside God’s direction for his life, Jesus answered with the written Word, and defended himself in that way. The scripture is referred to as the “Sword of the Spirit”…and a sword can be both an offensive and defensive weapon.

We need to remember that when an enemy is attacking, we are to respond as befits soldiers, since God says that we are soldiers: He has given us armor, and tells us what it is for:

Ephesians 6:10-18 outlines the armor of the Christian, paralleling the physical armor of the Roman soldiers of that age. He first reminds us that the “enemy” is not other humans, but rather the forces of spiritual wickedness; then he lists the armor. The first five are entirely based on God’s Word, and His trustworthiness; the last two require some work on our part, in order to be useful, and readily available:

  • He begins with the Belt, possibly because the other items were hung from and depended upon that belt: He says we are to “stand fast”, having our loins girt about with truth. Everything depends upon the truth of God’s Word. If I am convinced of the truth of God’s Word, I have a good start toward a proper defense against the attack of the enemy. I need to believe God more than I believe anyone or anything else.

  • Next, the Breastplate of Righteousness, which is entirely dependent upon the truth of God’s Word…not our actions. The only righteousness, here, is the righteousness of Christ…not our own good works! (2nd Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9) His righteousness, not ours, guards our hearts and our lives.

  • The Shoes…the secure footing offered by the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. This is the only place this phrase is used. He did not say “the Gospel of Christ”, or any of the other phrases regarding the Gospel of Salvation. He means the “good news” that we have eternal peace with God (Romans 5:1), and the fact that God is eternally backing us. God is not angry at the church. Being confident in our relationship with God gives us the courage to face the enemy, and a solid footing from which to fight.

  • The Shield of Faith, with which we are to “quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” This is easy to forget: I can become solidly entrenched in good doctrine, know I’m saved, absolutely believe the Bible is God’s written Word, but completely forget the critical issue of a faith-based relationship with God. Don’t forget the shield! He says, “Above all, taking the shield of faith…” We walk by faith, not by sight! (2nd Corinthians 5:7)

  • The Helmet of Salvation protects your head; your mind: If you are not convinced, in your own mind, that God’s promise of eternal life is good, then you will spend all your energy worrying whether you are good enough, whether all your sins are really forgiven, etc., and you will become entangled in the notion that your salvation is ultimately secured by your good works, not God’s Eternal Grace, and His Eternal sacrifice for you at the Cross. This is critical to your thinking, your confidence and your joy. You need to know you are saved, by the promises of God, not just “hope so.”

  • The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This one takes some work: reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it, in order to have it within easy grasp, and ready to use as an offensive or defensive weapon. If you are not really familiar with God’s Word, then He cannot bring it to your mind to defend you against doctrinal attacks; nor can you use it effectively in evangelism. Sharpen your sword by improving your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word.

  • Finally, Prayer is our link to God himself: our line of communication. By it, we are commanded to call for help for one another as well as ourselves: Even the Apostle Paul asked for Prayer on his behalf. Notice that he prayed for boldness to preach…not comfort or safety. It is instructive, to take note of the things for which Jesus and the Apostles prayed. Somehow their prayer list looks quite different from ours, as a rule. Prayer also takes time and practice, in order to be confident and effective.

We are told to labor in prayer, and to labor in the Word and doctrine. Prayer and Bible Study are critical in Christian service, as without them we will not only be ineffectual, but misguided, as well.

Conclusion

We can see, then, that trials and temptations are of two different types:

  1. The kind that makes us strong, because it is from God, and
  2. The kind that seeks to corrupt or destroy us, because it is from the enemies of our soul.

How you respond to any of these trials will determine the end result. You will either come out with joy, knowing that you have handled things well, or in shame, knowing you failed to respond appropriately. Neither result affects your standing with God. If you have been born anew as His child, God will never cast you away. But failing to walk with Him and to respond well to testing will definitely affect your happiness and peace.

Lord Jesus, help us to embrace the reality of our lives, knowing that the trials are part of your plan for our benefit. Help us to glorify you by our actions.


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.

 

 


Final Instructions and Benediction

Final Instructions and Benediction

© 11/30/16 C. O. Bishop; 12/4/16 THCF

Romans 16:1-27

Introduction:

We have been walking (working…studying) through the book of Romans for quite some time now: Today we will complete the journey. That doesn’t mean there will be no more sermons from the book of Romans; it simply means that we have travelled through the book once, at least, in order, and any further sermons will revisit passages we have already studied, either gleaning things we missed, or simply studying things we need to review. Paul is winding up his letter, now: he gives words of commendation regarding quite a number of believers:

Commendations for Servants

16 1I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

Phebe is listed first—he says that she is a servant (a deacon) of the church at Cenchrea, and a hard worker. It is interesting to see that the Greek word “diakonon” as used here, is identical in its usage to the passage applied to the Lord Jesus in Romans 15:8, where Paul referred to Jesus as a “minister”…a servant of the Jews, for the truth of God. It was not a “feminine form” of the word: there is not a special office of “Deaconess” in scripture. The office is “Deacon”, whether male or female, though they may serve in different ways. It simply means a servant, though it carries the idea of vigorous activity. One commentator suggested that it carries the idea of “kicking up dust by vigorous activity.” I don’t know if that is accurate, but there are a number of words that are translated “servant.” Some have different connotations. The Greek word “doulos”, for example, which Paul applied to himself, was specifically a bondman…a slave…possibly by choice, but still a slave. But diakonon is a different word, having to do with the character of service: the ministry, not so much the person.

He also says she has been a “succourer,” or helper, of many, including himself. This word (from the Greek word, “prostasis”) means more than the word diakonon, in that it carries the idea of standing between an afflicted person and the source of their torment. It is not just the busy character of the deacon, it is one who comes to the aid or rescue of another. It can be translated “helper”, but it means closer to a rescuer, or a deliverer. This is the only place in the scripture where this particular word is used. Phebe was evidently a passionate advocate and helper of those who needed it most, and Paul included himself as one to whom she had applied her gift.

Phebe was evidently there in Rome on church business, and there was a real possibility she would need help in completing her work. Paul asked the church there to respond in a Godly way, as the saints of God, to give her whatever assistance she might need. Remember that the word “saint” means “holy”—“separated unto God”; set aside for God’s service, and His agenda. That is what we are all called to be: we are “set aside” by God, for His service and His agenda.

Greetings and Blessings, to Fellow-laborers and Friends

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:
Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

Priscilla and Aquila, he considered to be his helpers (the Greek word here is sunergous: “fellow-workers”) in Christ, who had risked their lives for him, and for whom he and all the Gentile churches gave thanks. Paul had physically worked with them, making tents. But they had worked with him, as well; in the work of soul-winning, and edifying the saints for the work of the ministry: they later gave Apollos his training, which he then used powerfully for God.

The Church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is listed separately. We have no idea how many people were there, but it was definitely a church, meeting in a home…the home of tentmakers who had no seminary degrees, but who were used by God to help with the training up of Apollos. Priscilla and Aquila were seen as valuable laborers with Paul, and had risked their lives for the sake of the Gospel. There was a church meeting in their home: this is further evidence of their activity. And that Church was greeted separately as being also of great value to Paul.

Epaenetus was the first one who was led to Christ in Achaia. We don’t know much about him, but he held a special place in Paul’s heart, as being the “first fruit” in Asia Minor.

Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.

Mary is not an uncommon name. All we know about her is the fact that her faith had moved her to work. She was someone who worked hard to meet the needs of the apostles. It was a gift from her heart, and it was received as an offering to God. It says she bestowed much labor upon them. This was an act of worship to God. We are not told anything more about this person. No one could say that her Christianity was just a Sunday-morning phenomenon. She acted on her beliefs, for the benefit of others.

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Andronicus and Junia, Pauls’ kinsmen were “noteworthy among the apostles,” and were saved before Paul was. I am not sure whether he is saying that they were “noteworthy apostles”, or that the apostles took note of them. The Twelve were certainly not the only apostles: Barnabas was also called an apostle (Acts 14:14). Possibly these two were also apostles. That is the way it seems to read.

Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household.

Amplias, Urdane, Stachys, Apelles, and all those of Aristobulus’ household… All we know about them is that they were a blessing to Paul and he never forgot it.

Are you starting to see a pattern, here? Paul did not see people only as a “flock:” the individuals were important to him. From what we see in scripture, I have to conclude that The Lord sees his flock that way, too—as a group of individuals, each of whom is individually important to Him, and each of whom he knows completely. There is a video on the internet of a small boy in Afghanistan. The video is actually about his use of a sling, such as David used, but in the course of the conversation, the interviewer asked how many sheep he had. The child shrugged cheerfully that he did not know the number. So the interviewer asked (through a translator) how he would know if any were missing, since he did not know how many he had. The child looked a little incredulous at such a silly question, but answered that he would know immediately because he knew them all.

Jesus says that even the hairs of our heads are “numbered.” And in John 10:27, 28 he states that he knows his sheep. If he knows them so well and cares about the details of their lives to the extent that he knows each hair by location and number, how could he not also care about us as individuals? In this chapter, a whole bunch of individuals are called out, individually, by name for special attention…which was included in God’s eternal Word. This is not just a casual newsletter.

11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.

Herodian (a relative of Paul’s, evidently) and them who were saved of the household of Narcissus. He mentioned a few groups here without naming them individually, but recognizing that they as a group were important to him.

12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.

Tryphena, and Tryphosa, and Persis…all servants of God who served faithfully. Persis evidently even more than the others. It is interesting to see that God recognizes degrees of service, as well as the fact of faithful service. This should encourage our hearts, to know that if we serve more, God is not blind to it.

13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.

Rufus, and his mother (also Paul’s? If that is the case, this is all the information we have to that effect.) Perhaps he considered her his adopted mother. Jesus, from the cross, turned his mother over to John for care, and instructed her to see John as her son, and John to see her as his mother. I really don’t know what this means, in this passage.

14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.

Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes and the believers with them. Philologus, Julia, and Olympas and the believers with them (more house-churches?)

16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.

“Salute all these, and one another; the Churches of Christ greet you.” I am not certain what is meant by the “holy kiss”, but I do know that some churches practice this and other things mentioned in scripture, simply because it is mentioned, whether they understand it or not. There are churches that make an ordinance of physically washing one another’s feet. There are others that will not have musical instruments in their services, because “…there is no Biblical record of musical instruments in the New Testament Church.” (There isn’t any Biblical record of them having special church-buildings either, nor a host of other things that we count normal in our cultures…)

I think it is our responsibility to understand the scripture as best we can, and obey what we understand. It is not acceptable in American culture for men to kiss one another. The Old Russian Believers practice such a thing specifically because of this verse. That does not offend me. On the other hand, I think I am free to warmly greet believers as brothers and sisters in Christ in the manner dictated by our culture. I hope that does not offend them.

Final Warnings and Admonitions

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Paul says we are to take note of those who cause division (Greek dichostasias), and avoid them: they are not serving Christ, but self. They will deceive the hearts of the unlearned…that is who they target, and they do so successfully.

19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil

Paul said that the obedience of this church (their faith and wise behavior) had been widely spoken of, which was good. But then he told them to “be wise in that which is good”, and “simple” in that which is evil. We tend to want to be “worldly-wise” as well as wise in Christ. We call it “sophistication.”  The problem with that is that the word “sophistication” comes from the same root as “sophistry.”  Sophistry is “reasoning that seems plausible on a superficial level but is actually unsound; or reasoning that is used to deceive,” according to Webster’s dictionary. People use this sort of reasoning and argument at virtually every level, from politics and religion down to sales literature and folk-medicine.

We are mocked by the world as “ignorant” if we don’t have extensive experience with evil behavior, and they shame us for it. People say “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!” They could be referring to any sort of bad decision-making. And yet Paul says that it would be better if we become experts in the Goodness of God, and in obedience to Him, but go right ahead and wear the label of “Ignoramus,” when it comes to sin. It is just fine to have no idea what people are talking about when they are bragging about the evil they have taken part in. God says “…it is a shame even to speak of the things they do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12)

It is patently ridiculous to suggest that we should have to “try everything” before we can make decisions in life. To begin with, God has given us some directions regarding life. There is nothing dull or “uncreative” about following His directions, since he is the author and designer of life. His instructions are right,  and good, and dependable!

When we see a badly-fitted, and crooked shelf or table, which we easily recognize as being bought from one of those stores where you “take your furniture home in a box, and assemble it yourself”, we may think, “That fool doesn’t know how to follow directions!” Or we may be more kindly in our thoughts; pitying one who has such minimal skills. But, we never think, “Oh, look! How creative! He ignored the directions and just went his own way!” As a rule, we don’t applaud bad decisions in the secular, material, natural world; so why should we applaud bad decisions in the spiritual realm? And yet we do! (Think about what sorts of things give movies better ratings.)

When you see a person suffering the consequences of their choices, please don’t judge or condemn them; but do thank God that they have effectively “done your homework for you!” You don’t have to try that particular type of foolishness. They have demonstrated for you that it is a bad idea. But we can read God’s directions and avoid a great deal of trouble to begin with.

20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

I don’t know in what way the God of Peace would crush Satan under the feet of the believers. Perhaps there is a clue in the phrase “God of Peace.” Perhaps walking with God and experiencing His ongoing peace is the key to seeing Satan defeated in our lives. If that is not it, then I simply don’t know.

Greetings From the “Scribe” and Others.

Paul usually had someone else do his writing for him. From what little scriptural evidence is given us, it is probable that he had some serious eye-trouble. The one epistle he penned on his own was written in large script, as he remarked in that epistle. (Galatians 6:11) Further, he commended the same church for their fervent love for him, saying that, had it been possible, they would have given him their eyes. Putting the two ideas together, along with the fact that, later, he could not see that the man who commanded someone else to strike him was the high priest, (Acts 23:1-5) we conclude that his eyes were probably pretty bad. Thus, someone else nearly always did his writing for him.

21 Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.

So, we see greetings from all the believers there, including Tertius, who did the writing for Paul of this letter, and who evidently obtained permission to add his greetings. Timothy, Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, along with Gaius (with whom Paul was staying,) Erasmus the city chamberlain, and Quartus, who is simply identified as “a brother,” also extended their greetings. (Note: “Tertius” and “Quartus” are possibly “slave names”: they just mean “#3 and #4.” On the other hand, there are some cultures today where people sometimes name their children that way, so perhaps not. But Rome had many thousands of slaves, so it is entirely possible. Some commentator pointed it out, but I don’t suppose it really matters.)

24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Notice that his first and last concern for all believers is that they continue to experience the daily Grace of God in their lives. He begins nearly all his epistles with this comment.

25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

He clearly states that it is God’s power to establish (strengthen and stabilize) us, by means of the gospel; the preaching of Jesus Christ, along with the rest of teh scriptures, and the revelation of the mystery of the Church.

He gives his final Benediction, “Glory to God through Jesus Christ. Amen!

Lord Jesus, establish and strengthen us through the preaching of your Word: implant it in our hearts. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.

Amen.