Posts Tagged ‘Unity’

Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

© C. O. Bishop 11/14/2017 Cornell Estates 11/19/2017

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

In chapter one, we saw that Paul had hoped to travel to Philippi, and to see the believers there once more. We also found that one of the reasons he loved them is that they had shared in his danger, in his privations, and in his sufferings. They were partners with him in the work of world evangelization. His last words were to the effect that they were experiencing the same conflict and warfare as he was experiencing…and they knew it, but they pressed on anyway. On the basis of this fellowship and Love, he exhorted them to continue in unity, humility and love.

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

It does not seem that Paul is questioning whether, in fact, Jesus could or would produce consolation, etc. in a believer’s life, but rather was saying if you are experiencing these things (and it is understood that you ought to be) then let them result in unity and humilty.

Unity:

2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

  • Likeminded—in agreement with the person of Christ
  • Having the same (mutual) love (agape) for one another that Jesus commanded
  • Being of one accord (in harmony with one another), and
  • Of one mind: doctrinally in unity

Humility

3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

There was not to be any self-centeredness. They were not to be vying for prestige, but rather “stepping back” to allow one another to take precedence. We are not to seek the limelight, so to speak. We are not in competition against one another. (The disciples had a problem with that: “Who shall be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”)

It is important that we see each other as family, or, at the very least, team-mates. I remember being on a wrestling team, and really wanting all my team-mates to win. I wanted to win, too, but every individual win increased our chances of winning as a team. So, even if I did not like a particular person on our team, I wanted that person to win, for the sake of the team. And, whatever I could do to support them in that regard, I did.

We are on a “wrestling team,” of sorts, as well: Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” Those evil forces against whom we are at war will grab any advantage against us, so that a wounded brother or sister can be used against us. It is our responsibility to extend the genuine agape love of Christ, and His commitment and care to all the believers around us. Otherwise we are leaving the church open to attacks from the enemy.

How many terrible church fights and ugly church splits could have been avoided through obedience to these four verses? Probably every single one, if we are honest with ourselves.

Humility is not self-degradation: it is a “deliberate step back”, to allow someone else to be important; to allow someone else to be at peace. In the long run, it results from sobriety: if we see ourselves clearly, in the light of God’s Word, there is no place for pride. We haven’t a single thing of value except the gifts He has given, and those gifts…are just that: gifts! We did nothing to earn them or deserve them.  Jesus demonstrated this supernatural humility when he came into this world. Paul exhorts us to follow His example. Let’s examine it in detail:

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Jesus was really and truly God in the Flesh: but he didn’t strut around making sure everyone knew he was God. He simply walked around doing what His Father sent him to do, without calling undue attention to himself. This passage is sometimes called the “Kenosis” passage: the “self-emptying” of Christ.

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

We can see a seven-fold self-emptying, here:

  1. He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped at—or clung to;
  2. He set aside the honor and prerogatives of deity (making himself of no reputation) and literally became a “nobody”. He was never honored as an important member of society
  3. He took on a much lower form—that of a created being, though he was the Creator; that of a servant, though He was the ultimate Lord and Master.
  4. He was made in the form of a man—in fact, arriving as men arrive—a naked, helpless baby; completely dependent upon others for food and care.
  5. He humbled There was no hint of pride in anything Jesus did on earth: no “Look at me now!” moments.
  6. He was obedient in all things, big and little, convenient and inconvenient.
  7. He was obedient even though it cost him his life. We see this as a fairly noble idea, because we associate it with heroism, and with personal honor; but: He was obedient even though it demanded total degradation as he became sin for us; the shame as he was stripped and scourged, the devastatingly cruel pain in crucifixion, and the crushing soul-agony of desertion, as his own Father rejected Him as the embodiment of Sin. This is not to be compared to “a brave soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades,” though that is noble and praiseworthy. Every single one of those soldiers/teammates deeply appreciates his sacrifice, and will never forget it. But very few of those for whom Jesus died even respect Him for it. They sneer at him and use His name for a curse. He died for the Sins of the whole World.

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s count the seven ways God rewarded His faithfulness:

  1. The Father has Highly Exalted Him:
  2. Has given Him a Name which is above every name
  3. That at the name of Jesus, Every knee shall bow
  4. Of things in Heaven (the holy Angels, the righteous resurrected dead, and the raptured church)
  5. And things in Earth (whoever is living on the restored Earth…in the Millennial Kingdom, apparently), and
  6. Things under the Earth (I assume he means the inhabitants of Sheol), and
  7. That every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. (This does not save anyone, by the way…the lost will confess it, too, but in defeat, not in joy. It is simply a fact.)

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

On the basis of Jesus’ example the believers are encouraged to allow God to continue his work in them, so that the “outworking” of our salvation will be behavior in keeping with God’s presence and will. There are many who attempt to use this sentence-fragment “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, divorced from the context of the rest of the scripture, to claim that one has to earn his salvation through works, or that one has to “work out a way to find salvation”, or some such thing. That is not at all what is being taught here, as the next verse makes it clear that GOD is the one doing all the work, both giving us the will to obey and the wherewithal to follow through.

Other passages, in very definite language, made it clear that “by Grace ye ARE saved, through Faith…not of works….” It does not take much study to discover that for every “doubtful” passage, there are several very clear passages. Part of the problem may be that people do not make a distinction between several critical differences:

  • Salvation vs. practical sanctification—holiness
  • Salvation vs. service—works
  • Law vs. Grace, etc.

A failure to recognize those differences will certainly result in bad teaching.

The people to whom Paul was talking were already believers, already saved. Paul had already stated that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” How, then, would he suggest that they needed to “work to be saved”, if that is indeed what he is saying? He has already told them a lot of things that are only true of saved people.

Either:

  • They are already saved, and they are expected to rest in that truth, or
  • Salvation is a slippery goal, and one can never be sure of it.

But over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.”

Here is 1st John 5:11-13, broken down point by point:

The Fact: This is the Record:

  1. God had given unto us eternal life, and
  2. This life is in His Son.
  3. He that hath the Son, hath life, and
  4. He that hath not the Son of God, hath not

The Purpose: These things are written unto who believe on the Name of the Son of God, that

  1. You may KNOW that you have eternal life, and
  2. That you may (continue to) believe on the name of the Son of God.

Conclusion:

Every one of us is constantly faced with the question “Will I trust God, or not?” God wants us to learn to trust him, moment by moment, for all things, so that we can enjoy His continuing peace. That requires a habitual choice on our parts. If we are not experiencing His peace, this is the probable cause. Let’s consciously work on learning to trust the Lord, and, together, in true unity, to follow Jesus’ example in Faith, Humility and Love.

Lord Jesus, take away our doubts and fears, and self-centeredness, and teach us to follow your example in all things. Make us the ambassadors of your Grace to all people.

 

 


Church Unity

Unity in the Church

© C. O. Bishop 10/31/16 THCF 11/6/16

Romans 15:8-13: The Gentiles in Prophecy; Unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
 

Introduction:

The Old Testament is full of promises; mostly (but not all) directed specifically to Israel. In the verses we just read, the Apostle Paul states that Jesus came to serve Israel with regard to the truth of God; in confirmation of the promises made to the patriarchs; but also so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his Mercy.

Paul alludes to Isaiah 42:6, 7, where it says that the Messiah would be a covenant (confirmation of the promises) to the people (Israel,) and a light to the Gentiles, providing healing to the nations. He then gives several examples (by no means exhaustive) of the prophecies specifically referring to the Gentiles. He quotes Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:1, 10. There are many other passages that make promises specifically directed to whole Gentile nations, or to all the Gentiles as a group. I suspect that, while the Jewish teachers were aware of the theory that the Gentiles would also inherit the mercy and blessing of God, they were, at best, less than enthusiastic about it. Thus, the seeds of division were still present in the early church, though the foundation for unity had been laid at the Cross.

 

How are the Gentiles to Fit In? And, how can the Jews be at Peace?

Paul’s conclusion regarding the Gentile believers (who were the recipients of this epistle) is, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” They are not to feel inferior to the Jewish believers in any way, nor, as we saw in Romans chapters 9-11, are they to feel superior in any way.

Both groups were condemned under sin, and guilty before God, according to Romans chapters 1-3, and both have been the recipients of God’s Grace through the person of Christ, according to Romans chapters 4-8. They are called to be a blessing to one another and live in unity even regarding things about which they traditionally are in disagreement. (See verse 10: they were to rejoice WITH God’s people the Jews.) Have you noticed that the Jewish believers (as a whole) were never told to drop their customs and start eating foods they considered unclean?

Peter was commanded (Acts 10) to graciously receive the Gentiles who had come to him in obedience to the angelic command given to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. And the means by which Peter was commanded was by a vision, wherein he was shown some unclean animals, and was told “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” Was God commanding him to eat unclean food? No; the three repetitions of the command in the vision were only to prepare him for the three Gentile men who were approaching the front door at that moment. God told him three times that if God had made something clean, he, Peter, had no authority to call it unclean. Peter responded correctly to the Gentiles because God correctly prepared him. Romans chapters 14 and 15 are the equivalent preparation for the whole church—the small differences we may have because of cultural backgrounds, diverging traditions within churches, etc. are not allowed to cause division. All believers share in the blessed hope of Christ. But the seeds of division are still there!

The Gentiles were frustrated by the Jews continual emphasis on the Law, and the feast days, and their dietary restrictions. The Jews were horrified that the Gentiles were not in compliance with all these things. Paul said that they were not to be divided over such things, but rather that they were to appreciate one another, and recognize that, just as each part of a human body has a different task (1st Corinthians 12), so we are to appreciate one another for how each fits into God’s Building, the Church.

 

What about Other differences?

Other potential areas of division (and just as inappropriate) would include styles of ministry, or individual gifting. One Elder may be specifically gifted as a preacher, and he may completely give himself to encouraging, edifying, and comforting the flock (1st Corinthians 14:3). He will be a blessing to all those in his care. People are moved by preaching, and blessed, and their hearts are warmed. They find reassurance, and a stronger faith thereby. All of which is good!

But: another elder in the same assembly may be specifically gifted as a teacher. He may spend countless hours ferreting out the most accurate interpretation for any given passage of scripture, so that he can teach others, also, to clearly understand God’s Word. To those hungering to understand, he, too will be a blessing, but in a different way. No one gets “warm fuzzy feelings” over a well-taught point of theology, though some may be thrilled to see how ALL of God’s Word holds together in full agreement. But the emotional content simply is not the same.

And yet, both gifts are valid, and need one another, as well as being needed by the assembly. Good application is built upon good interpretation. Good interpretation still requires appropriate application, as well. It is not a safe practice to simply “jump” to application in one’s life when reading a passage of scripture. One has to read carefully, and consider what is being said, by whom, to whom, and so forth, before deciding how to apply it. Neither is it appropriate to simply understand a passage. Understanding demands action. This is not just “fun stuff to know and tell.”  Knowledge is for the purpose of conduct. (Think that over.)

There are cultural divides within major cultures, as well. Music, aesthetics, clothing styles, dietary choices, public behavior, table manners…virtually anything can be a source of division, so long as we are willing to take occasion to do so. The key is to not be willing to break fellowship over such things.

 

Jew and Gentile issues, again

So, how does all this tie into the issues between the Jewish and the Gentile believers? Consider: How might it help for the Jewish believers to continue on with the Jewish feast days? How might it hurt? How would it help for the Gentile believers to cheerfully go on with their work, their clothing choices and their diets, without regard for the Old Testament Jewish laws? (This is not in reference to moral issues, or things condemned as sin in all dispensations.)

Paul had Timothy circumcised, as a Jew, because he was a Jew, though he had a Gentile father and was not raised as a practicing Jew. He made no attempt to have Titus become a Jewish proselyte, though he had a seemingly identical ministry. Why?  Because Timothy was better able to reach Jews with the Gospel, and minister to the needs of Jewish believers, if he fully embraced his Jewish heritage, and was someone they did not see as a renegade, or an apostate. Titus, on the other hand, was a full Gentile by birth, and it would have been detrimental to his testimony to become a Jewish proselyte, because it would add confusion to the message of the Gospel. It may have pacified the “Judaizers”, but it would also have strengthened their claim that one has to become a Jew to be saved, which is pure heresy, and which was exactly what Paul was fighting against from the beginning.

This is why it was so important for the believers at Rome to accept one another as they were, without criticism about things that had no bearing on one’s relationship with God. The enemy was already at work to divide the newborn church, to split it into warring factions, and to destroy the credibility of its testimony. They could either overcome the differences by obedience to God’s Word, or allow the Enemy to destroy the church.

What did the apostle James say about the matter? (Acts 15:19) That the Jewish believers were not to “trouble those who from among the Gentiles had turned to God”. The same could be said of the Gentile believers, that they were not to trouble the Jewish believers. The whole issue, here in Romans 14 and 15, is the matter of unity in spite of differences. They could either choose to appreciate one another for the unique ways that God had gifted them, or choose to destroy the work of God through self-centered arrogance.

 

So, What about Today?

Those are the choices today, as well. It is never a question of condoning sin, but rather of allowing and appreciating liberty within the holiness of God. A well-meaning pastor once accused my youngest son of being a “worldly man” while he himself claimed to be a “Godly man,” based entirely upon my son’s choice in music. I felt that it was a sad thing, to destroy fellowship over such a thing, and I privately wondered what the music had been that occasioned such an attack, but I didn’t ask. A week or so later, my son and I were driving somewhere, and he had some pretty rocky-sounding music playing on his car system; then he said “This is the song that the pastor was complaining about, when he called me a “worldly man.” So, I listened more closely to the lyrics, to see what the content of the song really was. This is what I heard: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me! Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…”

The song was the 51st Psalm, set to music. That is what he was being condemned for. Why? Because the human accuser did not like the music. But the Accuser of the Brethren is not human, and he doesn’t like the lyrics. He will use any means possible to cause division, and to diminish the effectiveness of the Church. Frequently the damage done is irreparable…the wounded brother quietly leaves, and the accuser feels justified, and grimly quotes, “They went out from among us because they were not of us!”

If you drive away another believer with your criticism, don’t accuse them of being unfaithful, or of being false brethren. It is your critical heart that is doing the damage. Ezekiel 34:15-22 says that God sees such doings, and will judge those doing the damage.

15I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. 16I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

17And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. 18Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? 19And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.

20Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. 21Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; 22Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

Those who are driving away the weaker believers will be judged by God. We need to develop a very tender heart toward such offences, and be very careful about our words and actions.

This is not just about what happens in church, by the way: it is a warning that touches on every human relationship. James says that we all tend to sin with our tongues. We tend to have big mouths, and we need to put a guard on them, so as not to injure others with thoughtless words. The root of the tongue, of course, is the heart. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

The self-will and self-centeredness that controls the heart of every unregenerate man is still there, in believers, but we are no longer its slaves. We no longer have to sin. (Romans 6:1-18) We are dead to sin, just as surely as we are dead to the Law. So, we need to set aside the critical spirit that wells up within us, and embrace the New Life in Christ, to the extent that we no longer reject one another based upon differences in tastes, mannerisms, styles, giftedness, or even minor doctrinal differences. It is simply not acceptable to reject one another over things that God accepts…to reject a person whom God says is “Accepted in the Beloved.”

 

The Result?

Paul says that the church is to be filled “with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”

We are to abound in hope through whose Power? That of the Holy Spirit. This is not a “do-it-yourself” project. We are told to endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” We don’t create that unity, and, as the Psalmist says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” But we are not to disrupt that unity for the sake of any of the types of things listed here: Not what we eat or drink (both strictly temporal, at worst); not what we wear, not our ministry style, or our taste in music; not what we believe about the end times (which are easily misunderstood at best, and not everyone who is “confused” is necessarily a false teacher.)

We are to be characterized by the Agapé love, not by our many divisions and schisms. Paul sternly warned the Corinthian church against such divisions. (1st Corinthians 1:10-16) They were divided over who their individual mentors had been. Some claimed that Paul was their leader. Others claimed to follow Apollos. Still others took the high road and said “Well I follow Jesus!” That one sounds good, maybe, but what they were actually accomplishing was more division, not corrective teaching. Had they said “Can’t we all just follow Jesus? I mean that’s who both Paul and Apollos follow, right?” Then, I would say they were part of the solution. But as it is, they were part of the problem of contention, self-will and sectarian pride.

That still happens today: There was a fellow with whom I attended high school, who was not a believer when we graduated. I was a brand new believer at that time. We met about eight or ten years later and he was a brand new, enthusiastic, and friendly, warm brother in the Lord. We had good fellowship! But I met him again, perhaps five years later, in a grocery store, and something had changed:

He asked me what church I attended. I had been attending a Baptist church, because it was local, and because, doctrinally speaking, it was the closest thing I could find, nearby. So that is what I told him: “We’ve been attending this Baptist Church, up the street.” He physically straightened up so that he could look down his nose at me, and in a sanctimonious, smug, self-satisfied tone, said, “Well, I’m still gathering to the name of Jesus!” I was so disappointed to have him respond that way. He had not asked me about my beliefs, nor my practices. The only thing that mattered to him was the fact that I fellowshipped with people who were “part of a denomination.” The group with whom he met for fellowship, claimed to have no denominational ties, but, in fact they do! In separating themselves from all other believers, they have become a very tight-knit, world-wide denomination (or at least association). They are tarred with the same brush!

 

Conclusion:

Division is serious business. We are to avoid it like a fatal disease…because it is one! If the Jewish believers were not to reject the Gentile believers because of their worldly habits, and the Gentile believers were not to reject the Jews because of their legalistic bent, and if Paul rebuked the early beginning of sectarianism based on personality cults, then how can we feel we have the right to break fellowship over anything that is not flagrant sin?

We are not to cause division, nor to allow it to continue, if it is possible to heal the rifts. We do not sacrifice sound doctrine to create a false unity…called Ecumenism; but we do seek to maintain unity with those who truly believe the Bible is God’s Word, and who see the Priorities of the Gospel as paramount. It is difficult to sort out, sometimes, but we must be committed to the unity of the true church while not abandoning the Holiness of God.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom through your Word, and by your Holy Spirit to discern good and evil, and renew in us a pure heart with which to offer the agapé love to those around us. Apart from your divine help and intervention and empowerment, the task is impossible. Arm us for the fight, and fill us with your Joy, for the sake of your honor and glory.


Unity Despite Differences

Responding to Differences with Unity

© C. O. Bishop 10/21/16 THCF 10/23/16

 Romans 15:1-7

Introduction:

1We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

Romans 15:1-7 concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 14:1-23. I have no idea why the translators (or Erasmus…whoever) chose to place the chapter division at Romans 14:23 instead of seven verses later. The second word, “then”, shows that it is definitely a continuation of the idea being taught all the way through chapter 14. It is actually the conclusion of the context, though the concept in verse 23 has such impact that possibly they chose to end the chapter on that note just to maintain the impact of that statement. I just don’t know.

But Paul says, in v.1-3, “We then who are strong ought to bear (endure) the infirmities of them that are weak, and not to please ourselves.” I wonder how far this can be taken. Doesn’t this ultimately pool infirmity and ignorance, so that the whole body grows weaker? Or is it really a matter of “bearing up under” their weakness, while they get stronger, and not causing them to stumble as they are trying to grow? That is what these two chapters are about.

Partnership and Fellowship

Imagine a team competing in an obstacle course. By the rules of the game, the whole team has to complete the course; so it would be of no use for the strongest to simply rush ahead, saying “See you at the finish line!”. On the other hand, the weakest member may not be able to complete the course at all, without significant help. And even if he can, the others are not promoting group success if all they do is stand around and criticize the weaker member. So, what is the solution? (It is interesting: in the context of sports, even amongst unbelievers, no one ever has a problem with this question.) Teamwork is the solution.

The weakest member in that team on the obstacle course is being helped along by all the others, and he in his turn is helping where he can, and willingly accepting help from the others because it helps the team effort by hastening his own success. His pride does not induce him to reject their help, because, if he did, they would all lose. Their pride does not induce them to say, “Well, you just need to work harder!” They all know that all of them are part of the team, and all have value. All have to succeed, or none will. They are all partners in this struggle. Incidentally, that is what the word “fellowship” means…”partnership;” having something in common.

So, in terms of the church: while we are each individually accountable to God, we are also collectively accountable. We are a single organism: our testimony and health as a local assembly is dependent upon how we deal with one another. What did Jesus say about that? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (Agapé) one for another.” It seems to me that there are two forces at work, here: the one says, don’t put a stumbling-block before your neighbor. The other is the need for edification…building up the brethren. We have to grow!

Corrective teaching can be used to build up the believers, but it has to be done very gently. I know of a pastor who gave correct teaching (not even intended to be “corrective”) regarding the Bible’s stance on alcohol. He did not mean to cause division, nor to give any cause for offense, but a couple who held to total abstinence were so offended that they left the church. They were gone for over eight years, before finally returning, realizing that their response had been wrong.

He never condemned them at any level…but they condemned him. He had reached out to them, but they were adamant, and refused restoration. When they finally recognized that their bitter condemnation of another servant (the pastor) was sin, they repented, and apologized to him for their bitterness, and came back and reestablished fellowship with the other believers there.

We have vegetarian acquaintances who have frequently eaten at our house. When they eat with us, we serve them and ourselves food that does not contain meat. We have had vegetable soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, tea, coffee, etc. We have never placed anyone in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse the food we offer. On the other hand, they are fully aware that we habitually eat meat, when they are not there… and they are not offended by that. It is OK for them to choose vegetarianism. There is no call for corrective teaching: there is nothing to discuss. We simply serve a meatless meal when they visit. Now: some of these are not even believers…how much more should we be moved to accommodate our brothers and sisters? We are not to risk losing fellowship over things that God does not condemn. We are partners in much deeper matters than food.

No Meddling!

 Romans 14:1 through 15:5 make it pretty clear that neither those who are strong nor those who are weak are to try to “twist the other person around” and force the others to live as they themselves do. We are to love one another, and accept one another, appreciating our differences in gifts, and our variety in expression.

Let’s take another example: I personally have no desire to drink wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), but I do not condemn those who do. I do see it as a potential hazard, and in our culture especially, I see it as a possible snare and potentially destructive to our testimonies. But there are those who condemn the use of alcohol entirely, and they condemn anyone who believes otherwise, as well. How does that square with this passage? This is a good example of the need to compare scripture with scripture:

There is no question that the normal drink in the time of Christ was wine, not water, nor even grape-juice. Wine was the only means by which fruit juice could be preserved. It was seen as a normal beverage, but one that had to be taken in reasonable quantity…Drunkenness was spoken against as early as the time of Noah, and was warned against in the Proverbs, 1700 years later, as also in the epistles to the church, another 700 years after that. There is no question in any dispensation, that drunkenness is sin.

But: gluttony also seems to be sin, and no one condemns another person for “eating lunch.” Excess in eating may be sin; but food is necessary. Excess in wine is sin, but the use of wine is not only permitted, it is blessed by God, and even commanded by Him under certain circumstances. Some believers may feel uncomfortable with that statement, but God’s Word makes that completely clear. (Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:14, 15; Deuteronomy 14:26)

When Jesus turned water into wine (John 2), it was not only definitely an alcoholic wine, but apparently a supernaturally aged wine, so that it was seen as superior to what the householder had been able to offer on his own. (And, by the way, the exact same Greek word (oinoV) is used for that wine, as is used for the command not to be drunk with wine (Ephesians 5). Either Jesus created alcoholic wine for that wedding, or we are commanded to not get drunk on grape juice.) This should never be a source for contention!

But: we believers are continually seen by unbelievers as tearing each other up over peripheral issues like this, while absolutely wallowing in sin that is specifically forbidden. What do I mean?

What Really Bothers God?

Take a look at Proverbs 6:16-19…God says there are several things he really hates. Pride and haughtiness (arrogance) is one of them. Gossip is one of them. Spreading discord (stirring up trouble) among brethren is one of them. Lying is another. But all of these things are commonly seen in Christian circles among those who would be completely shocked to see one of their members buy a bottle of wine or smoke a cigar, or whatever thing they think “ought not to be done.” Some take it even further and condemn coffee, or even the use of anti-depressants, or other things about which the Bible is utterly silent.

Some churches establish dress-codes, including limits on hair-length for men, grooming codes (Trim that beard, mister!), or forbidding make-up on women, etc. This entire attitude is expressly forbidden by Romans 14 and 15.  Dr. McGee makes an interesting point: He says if you were at dinner at the home of someone who had household help (cooks, butlers, etc.), and if the cook were to serve you cold biscuits (his example), you would never consider criticizing the household staff (aloud, at least), because they don’t work for you!

But we seem to forget that the believers around us also do not work for us. We are each accountable to God. If the Scripture really is silent about an issue, or at least does not forbid it, we had better do the same. Don’t condemn what God doesn’t condemn. Do not deny someone else’s freedom, nor use your freedom in such a way as to damage another believer.

Isn’t it interesting:  In Genesis 18:25, Jesus is identified by Abraham as being “the Judge of all the Earth” (compare John 1:18, John 5:22); but, during his earthly ministry, he condemned very few: mainly just those who were busy condemning others. He endured the natural perversity of the human race in order to offer Himself for our sakes…and he did not endure the vicious, self-righteous condemnation that the Pharisees, Scribes, and Lawyers, along with the Priests and Temple Rulers pointed at everyone they didn’t like. Does that mean that the Judge of all the Earth doesn’t care about sin? Absolutely not! He cared about it enough to condemn the whole world for sin (Romans 3:19), and to substitute Himself for the whole world, so as to die in our place (1st Peter 3:18). So, what can we learn from this? Verse four begins to give the answer:

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

v.4: The Old Testament writings are for our learning, that we, through patience (endurance) and comfort of the (Old Testament) scriptures might have hope. I think (in context of the previous chapters) that Paul is pointing out that the Old Testament writings do NOT place us back under the Law. We are to learn from them, not be oppressed or enslaved through them. Remember what James and Peter said, in Acts 15:10, 19—Peter said that the Jews were “tempting God”, by placing a yoke (a burden) on the Gentile believers, which none of the Jews, either present day or at any time in history, had been able to bear. The Jews, born and raised under the Law, had uniformly failed to keep it. But now they were insisting that the Gentiles keep the Law to be saved. Peter pointed out the failure in logic, and James decreed that “…we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” (Wow! That is a really good thing to hear! A Comfort, in fact! It gives me Hope, so I can Endure!)

It is so easy to fall into a trap of “adding things to faith.” We are saved by Grace, through faith…plus nothing. The result is to be good works “…which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) This by no means disposes of the Law…we are to study it and learn from it. But we are not to use it as a weapon against one other, nor allow the enemy to use it to enslave us again. (Colossians 2:20-23 reiterates this message.) Our interaction with the Word of God should produce Endurance, Comfort and Hope, not guilt and hopelessness.

Conclusion: The Goal is Unity.

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

Paul says that we are to be like-minded toward one another “according to Christ Jesus”. We are to glorify God with full unity. That is tough to do when we are always sparring, jousting and bickering over petty doctrinal issues, or even behavioral issues.

Notice: Unity and conformity are not the same idea. Legalists preach conformity. Christ preaches unity, based upon the Agapé love.

Jesus endured our natural stubbornness, and wrong-headedness, loving us through the Cross. Shouldn’t we “Forbear one another in Love”, as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:2? We are to put up with each other’s quirks and habits, and value one another for who we are in Christ!

In v. 7, Paul concludes that we are to “receive one another” (present tense) as Christ received us (past tense) to the Glory of God. How can that include the rejection and condemnation that is so prevalent among churches? Do you see why the unbelievers might see us as hypocrites? And yet, there is a difference between hypocrisy and failure. A hypocrite is pretending to be something he is really not. So, a person who seems to be quite pious, and whose life may meet every outward requirement for holiness, may in fact be a counterfeit, and only doing all the things he does because it gains him a good standing with others like himself, and he may even be convinced that it gains him a good standing with God. But it does not. Jesus pretty harshly condemned that sort of “outward show” of religiosity.

On the other hand, a believer, who truly has been born of God, and who truly desires to serve God with his life and live a blameless, committed lifestyle, may fail frequently and be deeply grieved by his own failure. He is not pretending at all. He is a saved sinner, still struggling with the reality of his old sin nature. Paul went through this struggle also (Romans 7). Can’t we at least appreciate that a brother or sister is trying? That he or she has a love for God, and a hunger for God’s Word? Can’t you extend to him the same grace that God has extended to you, forgiving his failures, and bearing with him in his imperfection, as God bears with you in yours?

There is not a single one of us who was required to “clean up” before being saved. We do “wash up” before “coming to the table”—either the Lord’s Table or the Word of God. We call it “confession.” But confession is all the “washing up” required of us. 1st John 1:9 tells us that this is how we restore fellowship with God. Here are three things to remember:

  1. Faith in the shed blood of Jesus for our sins is how we were born into the family of God, establishing the basis for fellowship with God and with other believers. (John 5:24)
  2. Obedience (walking by faith) is how we keep peace in the family (1st John 1:7) and maintain fellowship with God and each other.
  3. Confession (again, by faith) is how we restore fellowship with God (and others) when we have sinned. (1st John 1:9)

If the issue in question is not actually spelled out in the Bible as sin, don’t add to another believer’s burden. We are already completely accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). So we must completely accept one another, particularly in the vast areas of liberty where God’s Word does not command the body of Christ in any specific way. And what will the result look like?

That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The result will be that the church (or the family, or whoever else is in view) will actually bring honor and glory to God, not cause offense and shame. Romans 2:24 tells us that the name of God is blasphemed among the people of the unbelieving world, specifically because of the inconsistencies that the world sees in the lives of believers. Paul’s conclusion?

Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

That is pretty clear: If you have any confidence at all that Jesus has received you, then you need to apply that same level of acceptance to the brothers and sisters around you, and receive them as well. We have the assignment (Ephesians 4:3) to “keep (maintain) the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”

That is an order, folks! And, it applies to every Christian relationship. Let’s take it seriously.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you would shine the light of your Word, administered by your indwelling Holy Spirit into each of our hearts, and allow us to see our own behavior and heart attitudes for what they are. Bring us to repentance for the hardness of our hearts, and teach us to love the brethren. Allow us to maintain the unity that your Spirit provides, so that unbelievers will be drawn to You and not be turned away.


Living with these “Saints below”

Living with the “Saints Below”

Mutual Service and Care: Galatians Chapter 6

© C. O. Bishop 5/22/15 THCF 5/31/15

Galatians 5:25-6:5

Introduction:

Paul has pretty much completed his defense of Grace as a life-principle, and his explanations of how to put Grace in the driver’s seat, so to speak. He completes the letter with a series of observations regarding how Christians are to get along with one another. He says:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Effectively, he says, “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and, in fact, you are already seated with Christ in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?” Then Paul begins to address the question of “what would that look like?”

He says we are not only to live by Grace, ourselves, but we are to extend God’s Grace to those around us, as well. (Remember Jesus’ command? “Love one another; as I have loved you, love one another”.) So, verse 26 says:

  • Don’t live for pride and self will…that is the source of envy and provocation.
  • Do practice Agapé Love and Unity. That will provide a lasting bond, and eradicate sinful relationships.

This is the only way we can present a testimony that unbelievers cannot condemn without clearly rejecting Christ as well. Remember that Jesus gave the World two ways to judge the church:

  • “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (agapé) one to another.” (John 13:35) and
  • “…that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21)

Love and Unity—those are the two criteria by which the World is to judge us. Without the first, they will not believe we are his disciples; without the second, they will not believe that He is the Messiah. Is either of those results acceptable to us? If not, then perhaps we need to take seriously the command to Love one another and pursue Unity.

So, what does it look like when we “get along” the way God says we should? We proactively take care of one another’s needs, but also work to carry out our own responsibilities.

Cleansing and Restoring One Another

1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

This is what we might call a “packed” verse: It is loaded with meaning.

Who are the recipients—those expected to respond? “Brethren”—believers—you and I, as well as all believers who have ever read the scriptures, are addressed by this command one way or another. But he specifically addresses the believers “which are spiritual”; so not all of them are qualified to respond. Remember that it is entirely possible for a believer to be carnal (1st Corinthians 3:1-3). We are not to shun such a person, or gossip about him, but to “Restore such a one”. And being “spiritual” does not mean “pious”…it means that the Holy Spirit is currently presiding in your life. If you yourself are out of fellowship, then you need to address your own sin before trying to “straighten out” someone else. The Holy Spirit is residing in every believer…the question is, “Will you let Him do more than just ‘reside’?” If He is allowed to preside…to rule in our hearts—then He will over-rule the sin-nature and we will not only bear the “fruit” of the Spirit, listed in chapter 5, but, when we are called upon to help another brother or sister, we will do so without a critical spirit, and without judgment.

“If a man be overtaken in a fault”—this is talking about someone who has fallen into sin of some sort. It could be anything…the point is that they have been “overtaken”—they have stumbled, and have fallen. Christians, unfortunately, have the reputation of “shooting their wounded”—far from restoring them, we tend to abhor them. But here we are clearly told that the object of the correction—always—is restoration. If you are coming down on them as a judge, you are not the “spiritual” one that you think you are.

I remember a church where the young pastor fell into sin (petty theft, of all things), and was reproached by a coldly angry (and much older) deacon, with: “We don’t need your kind, here!” Somehow I doubt that this response helped much toward restoration. The younger man was promptly and permanently out of the ministry. No restoration, no forgiveness, no counseling—nothing. The last I heard, he was driving a truck, somewhere, and lucky to have a job at all.

Consider further: if you see a person physically sick or in pain, for example, you try to find out what is wrong before jumping to conclusions. They may have something wrong that will require medical care—or perhaps they just stubbed their toe. There may be a need that you can meet, or perhaps you may simply offer comfort. It pays to find out for sure what is going on before you jump in to straighten someone out.

However, emotional and relational things are not quite so easy to pin down, and frequently cause a rift, if left untouched. Let’s say someone has acted “snappish” toward you…and you are offended. Then probably you are not “spiritual” at that point…you are miffed, or hurt, and seeking self-satisfaction. So you have to deal with your own response first.

If (rather than being offended) you have concluded that something is wrong, and that they may need help, then possibly you are on the right track. Your desire, at least, is to restore or to help. So you go to them (privately) and ask whether everything is OK. Perhaps you are convinced that they are at odds with you, and you don’t know why, so you ask “Have I offended you in some way? You seem uncomfortable around me, and that worries me.” If they continue to insist that all is well, then you have to back off and let them deal with it, but you can pray for their deliverance. (And it is completely possible that they are telling the truth; that there is nothing wrong, and they are simply tired or not feeling well. I used to keep after my wife when she was just not feeling very good, asking her what was wrong, until I angered her, and then there really was something wrong… it was me. I was a slow learner, I guess.) My motive was restoration, but I was not applying the portion about a “spirit of meekness.” Meekness means “yieldedness”; it is sometimes translated gentleness, but I think it goes further than that. If they say, “nothing is wrong” then I need to back off…or maybe explain why I asked, what I thought I observed…but if they say that I am mistaken, “but thanks anyhow”, then it is time to stop asking.

So, what about a situation where sin is definitely involved; and you are trying to restore a fallen brother to fellowship? Then gentleness and yieldedness are critically important.  Further, the enemy can use a wounded soldier as bait to wound or destroy others. So we are admonished to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.  Can he drag you into his sin? Maybe…or perhaps he can aggravate you to the point that you are in sin yourself—a different one, but just as fatal to fellowship.

I have read that in a jungle tribe in Indonesia, when a man goes to the forest to cut wood, he takes a live rooster along, and tethers it to a stake, with string, then sprinkles seed on the ground, and sets snares  in a broader circle all around him. As soon as the rooster decides that he is not hurt, and sees that there is seed to eat, he begins scratching the dirt, and calling his hens. Of course, his hens are miles away, but other wild roosters hear him calling, and come to fight him, thinking they are driving off an interloper. When they get there, and start strutting around trying to pick a fight with the captive rooster, it is only a matter of time before they find themselves snagged in one or more snares. So, when the wood-cutter is ready to go home, he carries several roosters home to eat, but his captive rooster lives to strut another day.

When a Christian is in bondage to sin, we need to be vigilant, knowing that while they themselves may not intend to snare us, the Enemy surely may be looking to trip us up. We are called to offer restoration, but God warns that it may be hazardous duty. Along this line, I think it is fair to offer this warning: Men: as a rule, help men! Let a Godly woman deal with the sisters, as a usual matter of course. More men have fallen prey to sexual sin than any other thing, I think, and it is easy to confuse the tender Love of Christ with other feelings, and get confused about why you are there. Stay far back from the edge, and you won’t have to worry about losing your balance. I have read that the most common “last words” of people who die at the Grand Canyon are “Hey, look at me!” and “Hey, watch this!” People get too close to the edge, and a single mistake becomes fatal. Just a word to the wise….

Supporting One Another

2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This is a command, too, and it is a little confusing in English, because we tend to compare it with verse 5, below, and say, “Well, that seems to be a contradiction!” But it is a pretty easy study, if you want to look up the Greek words used—they are not even similar words. The one here in verse 2 is “baré” meaning a crushing weight, or an oppressive load. It is used figuratively to speak of life’s hard experiences and pressures. The word in verse 5 is “phortion”, meaning an assigned load—a ship’s cargo—a backpack, etc. It is also used figuratively to speak of life’s responsibilities. There are things that are our own burdens that no one but Jesus can share, and there are others that are crushing loads that can be a catastrophe if we are alone, or a bearable burden with the fellowship of a friend. This word in verse two actually derives from a verb (bareo) meaning to oppress, or to weigh down. This is not a normal load of life, but an overload.

When a person simply has a job to do, and is able to do it, we may leave them alone to do their work…or share it, if it something that can be shared. But if a catastrophe has overwhelmed them, as a good neighbor, we are to lend a hand. This is true for spiritual things as well. There have been many times that I have been able to help a person think through a situation, and overcome what seemed an insurmountable obstacle at the time. But some of those same people, at other times, have done the same for me, encouraging me when I was discouraged or depressed, without a trace of condemnation…just the Love of Christ.

Bear in mind, however, that we are working for Jesus, not for the other people. So if they do not respond in kind, we need to remember that He is the one to whom we look for reward. There was a time when I worked on a crew where each welder had a certain span he or she had to weld, and most felt that when their section was done they had no further responsibility, so they walked off. I felt that we were a team, and if my partners had trouble with their machines, or something, I stayed, and welded as far into their area as I could reach. But eventually there were times when my machine was the one with problems, and they just stood back and watched me struggle. Once someone even threw stuff at me while I worked. My first response was anger: I thought, “OK, that is the last time I will lift a hand to help those miserable wretches!” But right away, God reminded me that they owed me nothing…they were lost sinners, and I worked for Him, not them. If I would only offer grace to those who would respond in kind, then that was my reward—their response. But if I offered grace when there was no hope of reward, God would provide the reward. So, I repented, and renewed my commitment to serve those around me.

Serving One Another

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

This is not a change of subject: The subject here, beginning all the way back in Galatians 5:16 is “what does it look like when believers walk in fellowship with God?”  And the immediate context is the service of “washing the feet” of a sinning brother or sister…restoring them to fellowship, not just letting them stew. If you think you are above that, then you have a problem; you are deceiving yourself.

Look back to John 13, and see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, which was a job reserved for slaves, in a rich house, and relegated to the individual in houses without slaves. Jesus, the real master, was deliberately giving an object lesson to proud men who would not have stooped to serve in that way; and in Peter’s case a man too proud to permit it, as well, since he considered it inappropriate for the Lord to wash his feet. The issue was not “whether” their feet were dirty—they were dirty! They had no plumbing or sewers or street-cleaners (or even sidewalks) in those days, so wherever you walked you were probably treading in some serious filth. And, as it was a semi-desert area, they wore sandals—not gumboots. The picture for us to see is that every believer needs his or her “feet cleaned” every so often, whether by personal confession, because we can see for ourselves that we have “stepped in something”, or by someone coming to us to let us know that we have gotten dirty…again.

All of us were cleaned by Jesus when we believed the Gospel…but we still live and walk in a dirty world. He said we will need cleansing, and that we are to perform that service to one another just as he did for the disciples. He was not telling them anything they didn’t know, or condemning them for needing their feet washed. (In the physical sense, he got dirty too!) But he was setting up an object lesson about restoring a sinning believer. Paul reiterates it here in Galatians 6, and lets us know that if we think we are too good for that service, then we have a real problem, and have deceived ourselves. He goes on to say that our work will demonstrate who we really are.

4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

We need to examine our own hearts and see what the character of our own work really is: I am deeply impressed by a man or woman with a servant’s heart, for whom no act of service is too lowly or menial. The man or woman who quietly steps in to serve, not seeking recognition, and does not shun the dirty jobs, is pretty impressive, in my mind. Please bear in mind that the word “Menial”, comes from the same root as “Minister!” Funny how we don’t like “menial” but we do like “ministry”. Seeing the kinds of service one chooses tells me a lot about a person’s character.

I remember a young woman many years ago sharing how she had gone to a women’s retreat, somewhere, and as it turned out, the women were asked to take turns serving in the kitchen, as that was part of why the price was low. Her first thought was “I didn’t come here to serve! I came here to be served!” But the Lord caught her attention with that rather blatantly selfish thought, and she immediately realized that her attitude was precisely the opposite of Jesus, who said “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many!” (Matthew 20:28) She changed her attitude, served with grace, and was blessed by the experience.

Pulling Our Own Weight

5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

Remember, this is the Greek word “phortion”, and means our personal responsibilities. Whatever burden God has assigned as your portion in life, is yours. You bear up under it, and you do it in such a way as to honor Him. That is simply being a good and faithful servant. He gives each of us work to do…and it is ours to do, not something we shuck off to someone else. We are to bear our own burden in this way. The crushing load of verse 2 is a whole different matter. When someone is so sick they can’t take care of themselves we may organize a list of families to take meals to them…but when they are well, we stop. Why? Because the issue was the crushing load of the sickness…we helped bear that burden, but when they are well, they take care of their own needs. We each have responsibilities of our own, and God says we are to discharge those responsibilities faithfully.

Conclusion:

Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is “Yes!” We are to watch over one another for the mutual good of all…not meddling in one another’s affairs, but being sensitive to one another’s needs and situation, so that no one is left to flounder under a load they can’t carry; no one is abandoned to the enemy when wounded by sin, and no one feels they are too busy or too holy to help a fallen brother or sister. This is where the agapé love can get very practical, very personal, and not always very comfortable.

If you can commit yourself to this lifestyle, then God can use your life to His glory. If not, then you will be the one people are trying to restore, not the one doing the restoration: the one who needs help, instead of the one helping.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to serve. Allow us to see ourselves through your eyes, and become the selfless servants you have called us to be, fellowshipping with you in the joy of service.

Amen.


To Whom Was the Law Given?

To Whom Was the Law Given…and Why?

© C. O. Bishop 3/3/15 THCF 3/15/15

Galatians 3:19-29

Introduction:

I remember hearing a story, years ago, about a young man whose wife was sick, so he called a doctor for a house-call (yes, they used to have those.) The doctor arrived, and the husband was sitting nearby while the doctor was asking the young woman a series of questions. The man was something of a hypochondriac, and for every symptom the doctor asked her about, the man would say, “Well, I’ve been having that!” Finally, the doctor was exasperated: he turned around and said, “Do you mind, sir? I am trying to determine whether your wife is pregnant!”

So the twin issues of “to whom was the doctor talking”, and “why was he saying the words he said” had both been overlooked by the man in the story.

We chuckle over such stories, but we fail to see that we have done the same thing—we are trying to claim or apply promises that were not made to us, and trying to obey a law, that in any case was not for us, and in every case, was not within our capacity to obey.

Things that share similarities are still not necessarily the same. It is the differences that matter, not the similarities. When I read the book of Isaiah, for example, it sounds very much as though he is talking about our country today, but, over and over, he clearly states that he is talking about Israel, before the Babylonian captivity. The similarities are definitely there, but there is no question he is speaking to his own people, the Jews, not our country.

So, as we study the differences between Law and Grace, we need to bear in mind the following question: to whom was the Law was given…and why? But Paul addresses the “why” first, so that is what we will do, as well.

Why was the Law given?

19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

Interesting! The Law was given because of sin…until the “seed” (singular—Christ!) arrived, to whom the promise was made. The Law was given through a mediator (Moses) who acted as a go-between from God to Man. Jesus is a Mediator, too, but of a different sort: he brought Grace and Truth; Moses brought Law—and the attendant curse on sin.

20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

Mediators necessarily have to go between two otherwise separated parties. Moses was one such mediator, and Jesus was another—a fulfillment of the picture that Moses made, in fact. But there was only one God involved; and only one human race (despite the many divisions, languages, nations, etc., with billions of individuals.) So, what changed between the ministry of Moses and that of Jesus? God did not change—and Man did not change either.

The two mediators work together to accomplish the will of the One God. Man had no say in the matter. Usually a mediator is requiring or at least recommending compromise from both sides in a conflict. In this case it was all about God’s will, delivered to humans by means of a mediator; two different mediators with two different tasks. In the one case, the bad news was delivered: “Man is lost and cannot save himself.” In the other case, the good news was delivered, along with a stark reminder of the bad news: “Jesus is God’s anointed sacrifice—crucified for us—by which we must be saved: and we lay hands on him, and appropriate that sacrifice by faith.

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

Paul concludes, then, that the Law was not contrary to the promise. It condemned the sin, but looked forward to the fulfilling of the Promise in Christ. Paul does not mention it here, but in other places it is made clear that every blood sacrifice of the Old Testament, prescribed under the Law, was a foreshadowing of Christ. The Law was a “placeholder”: it maintained the holiness of God while demonstrating the utter sinfulness of Man and providing a blood-sacrifice as a substitute for the sinner (only a temporary covering) to be entered into by faith. But the result of the Law was that all became sinners:

22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

This is confirmed in Romans 3:23, 24: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God… being justified freely by his Grace…” That passage is clear: it says “all” and it means “ALL”. But as we read this passage, it is important that we pay attention to the pronouns, “we”, “us”, and “you”. They are not all in reference to the same group of people.

“We, Our, Us, and You”

23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

Who is the “we” in this passage? If it is in reference to the whole human race, we have a problem: the vast majority of the human race has never heard any of the Mosaic Law. How could the Gentiles have been said to be “under the Law? The Law was given to Moses, specifically to be delivered to a people called out from among the human race…they were specifically separated from the rest of the human race and called to be holy. The law was not given to everyonejust Israel. And the Law, far from providing a way to become a holy people, only condemned them for their unholiness.

The only solution ever offered by the Law was a continual flow of blood at the altar, recognizing the eternal need for cleansing. But Job, speaking centuries before the giving of the Law, knew that his Redeemer lived! He knew that the “goel”—the “kinsman-redeemer”, later described under the Law, was already alive—and he predicted the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the righteous dead which will come at the very beginning of the millennial kingdom here on earth.

Therefore, since Job, speaking before the Law, knew that the security of his own salvation rested in his Redeemer, we can conclude that the salvation that was offered under the Law, by faith, through the sacrifices, was also just as secure and just as effective as the salvation we experience. Why? He made sacrifices to God, but did so without the guideline of the Law. He did so by faith.  Under the Law, the true believers followed the guideline of the Law, and brought their sacrifice, but still did so by faith. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.

They were all looking forward to the Cross by faith, and we look back to the Cross by faith. One other difference, of course, is that very few believers in those times were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Today, everyone who trusts in Jesus’ full payment at the Cross for salvation receives the Holy Spirit the moment he or she believes…and whether he or she knows it or not. In the transition period chronicled in the book of Acts, there were frequently signs accompanying salvation—but they seemed to taper off toward the end of the apostolic age, and some think they have completely ceased. (There is a good deal of controversy around that point, so I am not going to address it here, since that argument has no pertinence to the passage we are examining.)

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Notice again the pronouns—“our, us, we”: The same individuals who received the Law and were under the Law were the recipients of the ministry of the Law.

The word translated “schoolmaster”, here, is “paidagogon”—pedagogue. (Pais = “boy”; agogos = guide) In the prevailing culture of the time, a rich father would assign an adult male slave to bring up his son—to tutor him, and bring him up to be a responsible adult. The result was to be a young man of whom the father could be proud. The pedagogue did not make him a child of his father—he only made him a respectable, responsible young man. Paul says that the Law was meant to bring “us” up to faith. Over in Romans 7:13, it clearly states that the Law was given to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Incidentally, from the moment that child was born, positionally he was a “son”—but until maturity came he would not be recognized as such, and had no inherited authority as yet.

Stop and think: over whose child did the pedagogue exercise His ministry? Was it to every kid in town, or just the son of the Father? Of course, his ministry was limited to the children of the covenant…the children of that Father. And when the time came to relinquish that responsibility, the pedagogue did so completely. The children were to approach the Father directly, and the Father could deal with the children as responsible heirs.

25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Who is the “we” in this passage? The same as the “us” to whom the Law was delivered! The Jews are no longer supposed to be under the Mosaic Law, if they have received their Messiah by faith. Paul, effectively, had “graduated” and had told it to the Jews…and they rejected the message. So, what about the Gentiles? Do they have to become Jews in order to share in the blessing? Do they have to bear the burden of the Law with its curse for failure, in order to inherit the blessing of Abraham?

So, What about the Gentiles? What about You?

26 For ye are all the children (huioi…sons) of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Ah! There is a change in pronouns! Now he is no longer saying “we”—not first person plural, but second person plural! (That’s what “ye” is, in Old English.) He says “You are sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ.” That is addressed to all believers!

I  have never been under the Mosaic Law…but I have been “concluded under Sin”, according to verse 22 of this chapter, and also according to Romans 3:23—“ALL have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (There’s that word “all” again….)

Once a pedagogue had succeeded in bringing a son up to the satisfaction of the Father, his job was done—and he was just a slave. Once the Law has completed the task of bringing a man to faith, its job is done…that man is no longer under the Law. In our culture we have no slaves and no pedagogues so it is a hard analogy for us to follow. In addition, as Gentiles, we have never been under the Mosaic Law.

The “bad news” of our sin was made clear to us by the preaching of some small portion of the Law, or possibly simply by hearing the New Testament statements of our sin. The Good News (Gospel) of Christ came in the same message, usually. But the point is clear: we are no longer under the Law, once we have come to faith in Christ. I am no longer to dread the curse of God. God no longer sees me as a sinner, in spite of the fact that I still have my old sin nature.

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

This statement is also addressed to “you”—all believers. But, the baptism here is not water—it is the Holy Spirit. 1st Corinthians 12:13 states that the Holy Spirit has baptized (past tense) all believers into one body…that of Christ. That baptism is also referenced in Romans 6—no water is in any of these passages. It is the Holy Spirit in view, here…not water.

Water baptism is only an outward demonstration, symbolic of an inward reality, just as communion is a commemorative feast, declaring what Jesus has done for us. Because water baptism is something that we can do, it is also something that can be faked by an unbeliever, just as an unbeliever can take communion. But there is no faking the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We can’t see it, and there are no outward signs, necessarily. Either you are or you are not in the body of Christ—and if you are, you got there by faith, and by the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is no “litmus test”: I can’t prove that someone is, or is not, a believer. We hear the testimony of faith, and see the testimony of obedience. A serious shortfall in either one may be cause to doubt the truth of the testimony, or the source of the obedience. When we fellowship with real believers, enthusiastic about God’s Word, and earnestly seeking to obey God’s Word, then the result is genuine unity, made by God, not man. All the ecumenical “unity” that we see today, built upon compromise and humanism, has nothing to do with the Unity of the Spirit.

People who set aside the written Word of God, trying to dissolve doctrinal disunity and create artificial unity are completely ignorant of the unity that Christ, the Living Word, produces. Lives changed by the Holy Spirit grow closer together, not further apart. Consider an old-fashioned wooden wheel. If Christ is the center of each of our lives— the hub, so to speak— then as we (as “spokes”) draw closer to Him we cannot help drawing closer to one another as well. On a wooden wheel the spokes converge until at the center they are joined…actually touching one another all the way around the hub. There is coming a day when all believers will be in full unity at the Throne of Grace, and there will be no division between us.

We have unity now—we need to maintain it.

Unity in Christ

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Notice the pronoun “ye”, again: this is still addressed to all believers. He says that we are (present tense) all one in Christ. This is genuine unity. It is made by God, not Man: we are only told to maintain it, not create it. (Ephesians 4:3 says we are to endeavor “…to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”)

There are certainly differences from one person to another, by human standards, in terms of ability, social status, age, etc. Even under God, there are differences of gifts, and differences of maturity, along with different responsibilities and authority. But in terms of value, especially before God, the ground is absolutely level at the foot of the Cross. We need to see, here, that the differences do not in any way affect the value of the individual, nor our responsibility to maintain unity and fellowship with them.

29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Notice the continuing use of the plural pronoun, “ye”. If you are a member of the body of Christ, having been born again by Grace, through faith, and placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, then the promise that the nations would be blessed through Abraham has been partially fulfilled in you, and, more to the point, because you are in Christ, you are literally part of that promised seednot a part of Israel, or Judaism, but a living part of the Messiah, himself: a part of the Body of Christ! He is the one Seed of Abraham…and we are part of Him forever.

But, as long as we are here in Galatians 3, look back at verse 26: please don’t fail to see how one becomes a Son of God. It is “by faith in Christ Jesus”: there is no other way. Faith is the only approach to God. I cannot get to God by church attendance, by Law-keeping, or by reciting a creed, however sincerely I may do all these things. If I am not placing my conscious trust in the fact of the Cross, then I am still seeking to achieve a “do-it-yourself” relationship with God, and it simply cannot be done.

Folks say “But all people are God’s children!” We see from the scriptures that Jesus disagreed with them; he stated that “…ye are of your father the Devil, and his works will ye do!” (John 8:44). So, not all people are children of God. In fact, in Ephesians 2:3, we see that none of us start out that way, and here, in Galatians 3:26, God says we can only become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

Over in John 1:12 John states that “as many as received him, to them gave he power (exousia—authority—the right) to become (the Greek means “be born; generated”—genesthai) the children (teknaborn-ones) of God. That is the only way it can happen. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that “You must be born again!”

If you have heard the bad news of your sin, and confess that you cannot save yourself, and have placed your trust in the Good News of the Person and Work of Christ, then you are permanently a child of God, and He will continue to correct you and draw you to Himself.

Trust Him, and give Him time to work!

Lord Jesus, focus the eyes of our hearts upon you. Draw us to walk together with you in faith, love and obedience. We confess that we cannot save ourselves, nor even see how to walk with you: We need the light of your Word, and the guidance of your Spirit. Give us Grace to live for you, by your Name and by your Spirit.