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Problem Passages in James (Part 1

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 (Oath-taking, Prayer and Singing)

Introduction

The remaining verses in James are difficult for me: Quite honestly, I am not entirely sure how to teach them. I know what they say, and I know what the words mean, but I do not know how to apply them all, especially the verses about healing.

Even verse 12, many (including myself, in the past) have taken to be a prohibition against oath-taking of any sort. (And, perhaps it is: I can’t rule that out completely.) But, when a public official (even a police officer) in our country takes office, they are required to take oath to uphold the law, to uphold the constitution, to protect and to serve, etc. Is that a bad thing? I really don’t think it is! They are being required to state, for the record, that they are bound by this oath to actually do the things in that oath. The same goes for marriage vows. So we need to talk about this verse and what implications it might hold for us.

Oath-taking

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

(Remember that in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus taught the same concept, nearly word for word.)

I have known of people who habitually used the name of God in everything they did, not even disrespectfully, but perhaps too casually, as if it were a charm, or a magic phrase to make things come out right. Perhaps they knew the verse that said to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” so they simply “said those words” with everything they did. A Latino friend told me how his father did that: throwing a bag of seed into the back of a truck, he would say En el nombre de Dios!” He told me that his father did everything that way! I can’t speak to that, because I can’t see the man’s heart. Perhaps it was an honest effort to “do everything in the name of God.” But saying those words does not make it actually be in the name of God: it strikes me that this is very likely to become “taking the name of God in vain,” even if the intentions may have been good.

I have frequently heard unbelievers say something like “Jeeezus help me!” in a frustrating, but somehow humorous situation. All of us have heard unbelievers cry out “God help me!” in a bad situation…an emergency, of some sort. (That is where the aphorism comes from, saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes!”) This takes the form of profanity, though, in many cases, to the extent that people only use the name of Jesus or of God, as a curse. That is not what this verse is referring to, but there are plenty of other passages that address that idea and the “cursing” aspect is also supposed to be “left behind” in the darkness of our old life.

This passage, however, is about taking oaths. Cursing is a separate issue. Remember, when Peter was confronted by the Jews at the crucifixion, (Matthew 26:74) “…he began to curse, and to swear, saying I know not the man!” The cursing was one word…the swearing (oath-taking) was another. He was terrified that they were going to crucify him along with the Lord, and felt helpless to change the course of events. Perhaps he was even angry at Jesus for allowing it to happen? I don’t know. But, in that circumstance he was both cursing and making a false oath. And both things are clearly forbidden.

Butt seems to me that taking true oaths should not be a light thing, either. I don’t really think this verse (nor the passage in Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus said nearly exactly the same thing) is a prohibition against all oath-taking, since God demonstrated in Genesis 15 that an oath can be appropriate. (The passage in Genesis 15 predates the practice laid out in Jeremiah 34:18 wherein two people walked between the pieces of a sacrifice, confirming an oath before God. In Genesis, God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice. He alone bore the oath.)

Some believe that this passage in James really is a prohibition against all oath-taking, and will refuse to take oath in court, for instance. (I used to think that!) Our laws make room for that specific belief, allowing a witness to simply affirm that their statements will be entirely true.

But there are sufficient righteous oaths taken in scripture to make me believe that this verse is more likely a prohibition against “casual” oath-taking. (Abraham required an oath of his servant in Genesis 24, for example.)

“Swearing on a stack of bibles” that something is true, is pointless, when simply stating that “you are convinced of” something is more honest. There is no need to invoke some “higher authority” to validate your given word. It seems that the Jews had become habitual “oath-takers,” and needed to go back to just giving their word, as a general practice. (Which may explain the Matthew 5 passage as well.)

But I think this verse would also preclude any of the ugly, pagan oaths take by people who join secret societies, or certain cults. I have read some of them, and they are truly gory, ungodly oaths. Why are they requiring such oaths, in order to join their organization?

You did not “take an oath” in order to become part of the Body of Christ: you simply placed your faith in His Word, and in His blood. God made the promise: He promised to save you and to keep you, forever. He required no oath from you! Remember, in Genesis 15, He made the oath; He required nothing of Abraham! He also requires no oath from you.

As a member of the Body of Christ, you are expected to find a group of like-minded believers and attach yourself to that assembly, and then faithfully function there as all believers are called to function:

  1. You are a priest before God, and you are expected to pray and offer praise and thanksgiving to the Savior, both for yourself and for others.
  2. You are an ambassador for Christ, and are expected to reach out to the lost as well as to the saved, to offer the Grace of God to the lives around you.
  3. Finally, there are specific gifts you have been given as a believer, that are to be used to bless the assembly, and to serve, and to build up that assembly.

We hope that everyone who attends this assembly will take all these things seriously. But no “oaths” are needed! This is simply what God expects of all believers, in every assembly!

Prayer and Singing

Here is where things begin to be a little more difficult, though they ought to be easy:
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

This seems pretty straightforward. I can easily teach the practice of praying, as it is taught everywhere in the scriptures; We are commanded, in Philippians 4:6, 7, to “be anxious for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

So the part about being afflicted, and praying, I can teach, for sure. Affliction could be physical, mental, emotional, or financial (or maybe something else.) But we are told to give ourselves to prayer, both here and elsewhere. This is to be prayer from the heart, by the way, not reciting written prayers from a book of prayers, but actually talking to God about what is on your heart.

But there are people who say that “Prayer doesn’t change anything: God is just going to do His will anyway!” This passage teaches us otherwise! In verse 16 we are told it can accomplish a great deal. But most roads have two ditches, and this is no exception:

The other extreme is people who think that we can literally “order God around,” telling him what to do…specifically not “asking,” as (they say) that displays a lack of faith. But we are absolutely told to ask. We are absolutely told that, at least sometimes, we “have not because we ask not.” (James 4:2) And we are absolutely told that the reply depends on several things:

  • Our relationship with God at that time, (1st John 3:21-24)
  • The faith with which we ask, (James 1:6, 7) and
  • Whether, in fact, the thing we ask is within God’s will. (1st John 5:14, 15)

God always reserves the right to reply “Yes, No, or Wait.” The Lord is very definitely in control as God…He is not a “celestial vending machine:” (where you just put in your prayer, pull the appropriate lever, and automatically get your wish!) He is God! Yes we are to pray, and freely come to His throne to receive help in time of need, but do remember who it is you’re talking to! He is the Authority! He is God!

So both of the above ideas about prayer are mistaken: yes, “most roads have two ditches,” but the idea is to stay out of the ditches, and preferably in your own lane! Prayer definitely will at least change your relationship to the One you serve, and may change the world around you, as well. But remember that the Lord is sovereign: He always has the final say!

Something I frequently do, in prayer, because of 1st Peter 5:7, where we are told to “CAST” all our cares on God, is to use that word as an acronym, to remind me to begin with

  • Confession of my sins, and my frequent unbelief, then moving on to
  • Adoration and Worship, Praising God for who He is, then making requests, in
  • Supplication (praying for my needs and those of others,) and not forgetting
  • Thanksgiving for answered prayers and the constant faithfulness of God.

So, What about Music?

The singing of hymns (or specifically psalms as some churches insist on doing) to express joy, worship, praise, thanksgiving, fellowship and faith is clearly taught as well. I think it is well to remember the rest of what the scriptures say about singing, too: Jesus and the disciples “…sang a hymn, and went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30)

The scriptures encourage us to “sing unto the Lord a new song”, in several places. And some of us may feel encouraged that the psalmist also says “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” There is no restriction as to our innate gifts in music, or our skill as musicians. There also does not seem to be a restriction as to what sort of music, as it varies wildly from culture to culture, nor is there a restriction as to what kinds of instruments, as far as I can see. But it seems clear that the lyrics must honor the Lord. (It would seem reasonable, as well, that the music should be of a sort that draws a person into a serene, joyful worship of Christ, not stirring them to a frenzy of emotions, though perhaps that is also a matter of perspective: we will discuss particulars later.)

There are churches which completely forbid the use of any musical instruments in the church, just because there is no mention of them in the New Testament. But the Old Testament has many references to musical instruments: some were used for the glory of God, some were not: but the difference was in who was using them, and for what purpose. There is no mention of them in the New Testament, except in the Revelation; but there is no prohibition against them, either.

The three types of music mentioned in the New Testament are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and they are grouped together as “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19) All these are commanded and encouraged.

The problem with “trying to decide what kind of music is permitted” is that in other cultures, when the believers “sing unto the Lord a new song,” it does not sound like western hymns at all! And, as cultures change, the style of music frequently shifts along with the changing culture. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The “old” hymns we love were once “new songs.” And not everyone approved of them! The churches which demand that we only sing psalms forbid making new lyrics. And the really old churches did not approve of what we now consider the great hymns of the faith. But one thing that stays consistent, throughout the centuries, is that the Holy Spirit always speaks to glorify Jesus. So, if the “new songs,” and the “spiritual songs” are actually coming from Him, then the lyrics have to clearly honor the Lord.

My youngest son sadly, quietly told me once, of being condemned by the pastor of his church (in the presence of his friends) for listening to “rock” music. The man said “I’m a man of God! You are a man of the World!” I felt especially bad about it, because my son was a very young believer, and such harsh condemnation is hurtful in any case, but especially in the case of a young believer, and doubly so, in front of a group of friends. (I still grieve for the damage done by this pastor: the entire exchange was wrong!)

But a few days later, I was accompanying my son somewhere in his car, and he started a song on his music system, that was unquestionably “rock” music. I had a little trouble understanding the words, and really wasn’t listening too carefully, until my son asked “What do you think of the song?” I answered honestly, “Good music!” as there was nothing inherently wrong with it, though it was not what I might choose. Then he said, “That’s the song I was listening to when the pastor chewed me out.” So I “perked up my ears,” so to speak, and listened more intently. I found that I actually could understand the words if I listened carefully. Do you want to know what they said?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me…cast me not away from thy presence…restore unto me the joy of your salvation….” Do you recognize those words? Yes! It was the 51st Psalm put to music! That is what he had been listening to, and that is what was condemned by his pastor.

I’m not sure those wounds ever really healed. And they were inflicted by someone who, I am sure, thought he was doing something “righteous.” But James 3:18 says, “…the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That encounter did nothing to create or maintain peace, and the fruit it bore was not righteousness, but bitterness. We need to think carefully about how we use God’s Word, and how we treat the people around us.

Now, in another case, when I was in welding school, I myself was singing or humming the tune (not the lyrics, because it was in Latin, and I didn’t know the words) to Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” A younger friend, a brand-new believer to whom I had been teaching the Bible, heard me, and confronted me, in shock, demanding “Why are you singing that song!?” I was astonished, and said, “It’s a beautiful song! I like it!” He asked again, “Do you know what that song is?” I said, “Yes, it’s Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria.’”

He persisted, though, saying, “But don’t you know what that is??” I said, “I guess I must not!” He said “That is the ‘Ave Maria!’ The ‘Hail Mary’ put to music! It is a worship song to Mary!

I simply had never thought of “what the song was about.” I certainly did not intend to sing a worship song to Mary, even if the music was beautiful! And this young man was a recent believer, who had been saved out of Roman Catholicism, so he was very sensitive to this particular thing. I answered on the spot, “I just never thought of that! I won’t sing it anymore!”

You see, the “beautiful, worshipful music” of that song was specifically written to worship a human being, as if she were deity. Mary herself confessed that she needed a Savior. She is not to be worshipped. And in my friend’s mind, I was singing worship to Mary! I was literally causing him to stumble, and I didn’t even know it. The “beautiful music” did not make it acceptable, nor did the “rock music” in the previous case make it wrong. The lyrics, in both cases, made the song what it really was.

So these two concepts of prayer and singing ought to be a total blessing to us, but they can be problematic as well. We need to think about them and what they really mean, and how we are to use them to honor the Lord.

Is there a Conclusion?

If nothing else, I hope that we can come away with a commitment to “Love one another,” and not to condemn each other for innocent differences of opinion regarding God’s Word.

But the remaining verses in James are about “healing,” and something called “Converting a sinner” and “saving a soul from death.” All of these ideas can be easily misunderstood, and are controversial enough that many commentators sharply disagree over them. I’m not certain I have all the answers, but we will address that passage next week, as these also are subjects people may struggle over.

Lord Jesus, please give us light to read your Word in the teaching of your Holy Spirit, so that we are not confused, but rather drawn closer to yourself. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness.


Waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord

© 2020 by C. O. Bishop

James 5:7-11; 2nd Timothy 3:1-17; Psalm 37:1-10; Psalm 139:23, 24

Introduction:

We are nearing the end of the Epistle of James. Last week we saw the only portion of the book which seems to be addressed to unbelievers (specifically wealthy unbelievers), and in the next few verses, James switches back to speaking to the believers, addressed as “Brethren.”

The believers in the first century were experiencing persecution, as well as the normal difficulties of life, and virtually all of the epistles teach us to “endure” such difficulties, and to honor the Lord by our responses to hard times. James emphasizes endurance and patience as being necessary for reward.

Patience as that of a Farmer

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Notice, here, that James definitely switches back to addressing the believers at verse seven. Only believers are called “brethren” in the epistles, although in the book of Acts, sometimes a Jewish apostle or other individual spoke to Jews at large, addressing them as “brethren,” because they, too, were sons of Abraham. James is primarily addressing Jewish believers, but he still only addresses the believers as brethren, and when he makes statements which may be to, or about unbelievers, he does not use the terms “brethren”, or “brother.”

We, as believers, are to wait for God’s timing in all things, knowing, especially, that His righteousness will not be thwarted, and that the wrongs against us will be recompensed in eternity. James gives the example of a wise farmer who knows the local weather patterns and how his crop is to mature, and when it will be the right time to reap a crop of grain, dig a crop of potatoes or onions, or whatever. He doesn’t run out and start pulling up onions as soon as he sees them sprouting…he knows that the large bulbs he is hoping to harvest will not be there until much later. Same for potatoes…there is a right time to harvest potatoes, though some people do enjoy a sample of “early potatoes,” deliberately harvested before full maturity, as a treat early in the season.

So when does God say the true final harvest is to occur, from our perspective? He says “be patient…unto the coming of the Lord.” In each of our individual lives, we may not know the results of ministry or endurance until we die, because we simply can’t see what is going on in other people’s hearts. But, over the whole of human experience, none will know the full effect of the plans of God, until the revelation of Jesus, at the second coming. Even the Rapture of the Church will only bring to a close the Church Age…the ones left behind will not know what is going on until it is too late, and, though millions will become believers during that tribulation period, they will not see the full deliverance of God until the end of that period. Many of the tribulation saints will die for their faith…and their only reward will come with the Lord’s return. So the harvest of souls that is in progress now, and has been since the Day of Pentecost, is one type of harvest. We are asked to be working in that harvest on a daily basis.

But the harvest of reward and ultimate triumph of God’s Righteousness is not going to happen until the Lord’s Return.

What does the Harvest Look like?

We know from the scripture that “evil men …shall wax worse and worse,” but we need to read the context of that verse:

2nd Timothy 3:13 “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”

That seems to stand alone; but if we back up and read the whole chapter (read it) we can see that Paul (speaking to Timothy) is letting us know the future, in general terms, and what to expect from the World…and how we are to respond to it.

2nd Timothy 3:1-17

1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Doesn’t that sound as though the apostle is describing today’s World? It should come as no surprise: that is the description of the general trend of sinners from the beginning, so it will fit the pattern all the way to the second coming. Paul goes on to point out the end results:

Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as their’s also was.

He predicts the ultimate uncovering of the folly of evil, and calls Timothy as a witness to the work God has done in his Paul’s own life…how Paul continued to teach sound doctrine, live in a manner consistent with the faith, filled with the purpose of God, and demonstrating faith, longsuffering, the Agapé love and endurance.

10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,

All these came in spite of tremendous persecution which Paul personally endured.

11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.

And Paul cautions Timothy to understand that those who live a godly life, honoring the Lord, “SHALL” suffer persecution.

12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

It might be very small things, such as always being on the “outside” looking in (regarding social functions and groups and outings.) But it can escalate into genuine attacks, whether verbal or physical.

And that is where the key verse comes in, about evil getting worse and worse: We are told that things will continue to get worse until the Lord’s return. There are teachers today who are publicly declaring the opposite: that “things are getting better and better!” I am absolutely baffled by that idea! I don’t know how they could think such things, if they believe the Bible at all, let alone believe the Bible and read the worldwide news. The things described by Jesus and all the New Testament writers do not add up to “things are getting better and better!” And things we see increasingly in the news also do not indicate that things are getting better. But I have heard this teaching from a variety of people, who vigorously argue that we live in the “safest time in history!” Here is what God says about it:

13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.

We are clearly told that the evil will grow, more or less continually, until the Lord’s return! Notice that it specifically calls out the deception that characterizes the Evil: it is not just evil behavior, but the teaching of a monstrous lie, along with it.

The Harvest, alluded to in James, and described in the Revelation, will not only include the “final harvest of souls,” but also the harvest of Evil, where God says “Enough!”, and where Jesus steps in personally to stop the downward spiral into destruction. In that harvest, the description includes that of an angel (Revelation 14:14-20) with a sharp sickle, reaping the earth, and pouring the harvest into the winepress of God’s Wrath. It also includes the personal return of Jesus, to a World that has nearly universally rejected Him, and in which the righteous remnant are being systematically hunted down, persecuted and murdered! God will finally take vengeance!

And how are believers told to respond to all this? How are we to live, in response to the sure knowledge of coming trouble?

14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

We are told to continue in the scripture, responding in faith and wisdom to the revelation God has given. He says that the scriptures (all of them!) are given for the perfection and maturation of the child of God, so that the man of God…the mature believer…is completely furnished with what is needed to live a godly life in all circumstances. He says that, collectively, all the scriptures are profitable for teaching (that is what “doctrine” means), for reproof (sometimes we need to be reproved!), for correction (this could apply to simple misunderstandings in how we are seeing the scripture, or to behavioral issues), and for instruction in righteousness.

Bear in mind that “righteousness” means a “right standing before God.” I have the righteousness of Christ applied to my account, so that God sees me as eternally righteous. But that was true of both Abraham and Lot, as well, and their lives were utterly different in terms of content, immediate, and long term results! Lot’s sin is still having terrible results today. His sons (by drunken incest with his daughters,) were named Ammon and Moab. The Moabites and Ammonites have been bitter enemies of Israel ever since…and today, those specific people are the Palestinians, and the population of Jordan. The capitol of Jordan is Amman. Ironically, the Greek name for that city in the Bible is “Philadelphia!” How ironic, that the nation who most hates the Jew is comprised of those who are closely related to the Jews (Lot was Abraham’s nephew) and the city is named “Brotherly Love!” What a nasty joke!

So, if Lot had the imputed righteousness of God, as a gift, as did Abraham, why is his life so drastically different than that of Abraham? Our lives as believers could go either way, as well: God says that the scripture gives us “Instruction in Righteousness.” You see, Abraham was constantly going back to God, receiving instruction from Him, and obeying those instructions.

We go to God’s Word for instruction. As we obey those instructions, we find the likeness of Christ developing in our lives. We want to be re-made in His image, and this is how it happens!

Psalm 37:1-10 cautions us to wait on God, and not give in to the temptation to “fight fire with fire”, by doing something on our own that may be unrighteous, dishonest, or wicked in any way, in an attempt to bring about the “comeuppance” of these wicked. He says for us to allow God to deal with them.

Who is the Judge?

(Back to James)

James continues, and says that we are not to hold these things against those who have hurt us, even when they are other believers.

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

The “condemnation” here can only refer to the judgment of our works. Our sins were judged at the Cross: Jesus himself promised that we will never again face condemnation from God. (John 5:24) But we still face the Judgment seat of Christ, and our works very definitely will be judged.

Bitterness and the desire for revenge, along with all other evil motives are completely condemned by God as unworthy attributes for believers. Give that some thought: Who has wronged you? And how do you feel toward them? What thoughts do you entertain when you remember them? It is easy to grumble inwardly, thinking of all the things I “should have said” or “ought to do!” But God says “Knock it off!

This is in agreement with Romans 12:17-21. We are warned to not attempt to avenge ourselves for wrongs committed against us, but to allow God to deal with them. He says we are to treat people well, regardless of how we have been treated, as opposed to responding in kind when we are mistreated. If I respond in kind, then my behavior is just as condemned as theirs is. And, from the perspective of the unbelieving world around us, that brings us and all believers under the condemnation of our fellow men. Remember that the general context of the book of James is: “How can humans see the reality of your faith?”

10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

Their example is nearly universal: the prophets were virtually all under a threat of violence and death, and most (if not all) of the ones actually sent to the Jews, died a violent death for doing exactly what they were called to do. Ironically, the few who were treated rather well were the ones sent to heathen (gentile) kings and peoples. (What a sad, puzzling thought!)

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

Remember that “patience” here, has to do with endurance, not just “waiting for something to happen.” Job endured terrific testing, and never knew the reason why. Mostly he endured it in a godly manner. And God was pleased with him in general, though he did get somewhat of a “talking-to,” at the end of the account. But remember that God said Job was right, and his “friends,” who criticized him, were wrong. Job was reproved, but the “friends” were under God’s wrath, until they repented and Job prayed for them.

I would hope to be in that same boat, with Job: I want to be in agreement with God, which means, I have to change!  Each of us can open our hearts in confession and prayer, and ask what the Master would have us to change. Psalm 139:23, 24 says, “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I think that’s what we want, here! We need the Lord to search our hearts and to lead us in the way everlasting! And it can only happen on a one-by-one basis. Jesus meets us each individually, and deals with each of us as individuals.

Lord Jesus, help us to take personally the admonitions given through James. Draw us into a closer relationship with yourself.


A Warning to the Wealthy

A Warning to the Wealthy

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:1-6; Psalm 73:1-12; Psalm 37:1, 2, 16

Introduction:

We have been working through the book of James for quite some time, taking excursions to address other matters from time to time, but in general, pressing on with James. James has proven to be a very practical book, and in chapter five it becomes quite “pointed” for the first six verses. In keeping with the topic of the last month, the next few verses give us some insight into our response to the world around us.

It is easy for us to become disgruntled or envious as we see others prosper, especially if we know that the persons in question are living in such a way as to dishonor God, so that they are prospering in spite of their ungodliness, or possibly because of it. What we are going to read today is God’s response, both to them and to us.

Interpreting James Chapter 5

1Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

There are several questions we should be asking, as we consider this passage:

  • Who is speaking?
  • To whom is this passage speaking?
    • Is this a general condemnation of wealthy people?
      • How much do I have to have, to be “wealthy?”
    • Is this passage speaking to believers or to unbelievers?
  • What does it say?
    • Is this a statement that wealth itself is evil?
    • If not, then what is the issue?

Obviously, this is a good time to be very careful to “compare scripture with scripture,” in order to ascertain what God is saying, and to whom, as well as what effect it should have upon believers as a whole; and, finally, “how does this affect me?”

Let’s take the above questions one at a time:

Who is speaking? To us, as believers, and specifically as those who believe the Bible is literally the Word of God, the answer is simple: God is speaking. There are believers who begin to sort out the scriptures “by writer,” as if one writer had more authority than another, or more credibility. If that is the case, then the Bible is a bewildering mixture of authoritative and non-authoritative writings, and we are effectively declaring ourselves to be the “authority” who determines which is which. I hope you can see the problems inherent in that approach to the Bible. I choose to place my confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. Yes, there are human writers, but the result is God speaking through them.

To whom is the writer speaking? It is important to ask this question, too, because, while all of the Bible is for us as believers, not all of it is “to” us. There are portions which are pronouncements of judgment on enemies of God, and are not to us at all.

As we read through the book of James, we can see that up to this point (and beginning again in verse seven), James has clearly addressed the “brethren;” specifically speaking to the needs of believers. Here, he seems to change audiences for a moment, and speaks briefly to a different group. How can we tell? Back in chapter one, verses nine and ten, he addressed the poor and rich “brothers”, and rather than condemning the rich, he asks that they rejoice in being “brought low.” Also, comparing the many references to kings and wealthy men in the Old Testament, there is not a condemnation of wealth, nor the wealthy, but a recognition that, as a rule, God has blessed them (the Godly, wealthy men, such as Abraham.)

So, the question we finally have to answer is whether the passage speaks to believers or to unbelievers: unregenerate men whose wealth was not from God.

I read, not long ago, that, because open land is scarce in Japan, and golfing is extremely popular, golf-courses were becoming crowded to the point of being unusable, until the owners raised the fees high enough to “thin the ranks” and make the courses less crowded. Their shameless intent was to make golf completely inaccessible to people of modest income, thus making it a “privilege of the rich”, while making themselves very wealthy as well, through the green fees. But there was an embarrassing, unintended result: Only very wealthy people could play, certainly, but that meant that, very publicly, now, the politicians, industry potentates, and the organized crime leaders together, shared the clubhouses: Everyone could see the “connections.” They all seemed to be “together,” as…they were “together.”

I don’t know what eventually became of that; I am not a golfer, but if I had been, and if I had found myself in such a situation, I would have abandoned the game. Actually, there was a similar situation at work years ago, wherein it became common knowledge that “the way to get promoted was to join the golf league, and schmooze with the bigwigs.” I would not have believed such a story, except that I saw it in action numerous times, and some of the “beneficiaries” of this “insider” gamesmanship bragged about having “golfed their way” into their current jobs. I found such goings-on deeply repugnant, and, when invited to join, I was glad I could honestly say, “I don’t play golf.”

Since God does not condemn people for how much they have, nor how little, and He warns believers not to give special attention to believers who are wealthy, I think it is correct to conclude that the “rich,” here in James 5:1-6 are unbelievers, who are literally guilty of the crimes he lists. What is coming for these “rich,” then? And why? Why is it worthy of “weeping and howling?” Let’s compare Psalm 73:1-12 (read it.)

The Unbelieving Rich

The Psalmist says (Psalm 73:3-12) that, in their lifetimes, these wicked rich prospered; and they did not even seem to suffer in death, but were strong all their lives. He says that this bolstered their personal pride, and gave them confidence that they could do whatever they wanted, including violence and greed, and exalting themselves against God. We have “celebrities” today who speak boldly against the God of Heaven as the psalmist describes in verse nine, and wealthy politicians who oppress the very people they claim to represent. I recall various celebrities even claiming to be God, while others claimed themselves to be more popular than Christ, and still others insist that God does not exist, and they “re-invent Jesus” in various vile forms, far removed from His holy, omnipotent reality, as both the “Judge of all the Earth,” and the Savior.

Does this behavior of the wicked, who rant against God, go unnoticed? It surely seems to do so, from our perspective, doesn’t it? And it did from the psalmist’s point of view, too! He said that his own attention to the ways of God had been for nothing (Psalm 73:13-16): “I have cleansed my heart in vain…I have been plagued…and chastened every morning.” He was becoming bitter, and frustrated, but when he entered the temple, (Psalm 73:17-23) God gave him something to change his mind. He allowed the psalmist to see the “end” of the wicked. He saw that they had been lulled into complacency by their own sin, and were trapped in their wickedness, and despised by God: and that their final destination was an eternity in Hell. The psalmist then repented of his own bitterness and resentment, as he realized that, while things had not been “comfortable” from his own perspective, he, in fact, had continually been with God.

That is a good thing for us to keep in mind, as well, when we see the wicked flourishing. They always have done so: this is nothing new. They open their mouths against God, and league themselves with the enemies of God. So, the enemies of God reward them, and they flourish. But the final result is the total disaster of eternal damnation. So there is a warning, here, in James, to exactly that sort of person: “Repent, because judgment is coming!”

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

We make jokes about this sort of thing, saying, “You can’t take it with you!” But the fact is, you not only will not prosper by it, eternally, but, if you fall into this category of ungodly “prosperity”, the very riches themselves will stand in the judgment, as testimony against you.

When the “books are opened”, as in Revelation 20, these things will testify against you, not for you. We tend to see the rich as having been “blessed by God,” but it entirely depends upon two things: How did they get the wealth, and what did they do with it? There have been wealthy individuals who inherited wealth, and regardless of how it was originally amassed, they used it faithfully, once it was under their control

We can read the account of Hezekiah, in 2nd Chronicles 29. It says that, when Hezekiah became king, he immediately used his inherited authority to open the doors to the Temple, which had been closed up by his ungodly father, and to exhort the Priests and Levites to use their divinely-appointed authority to go in and clean out the interior of the Temple (where he had no authority.) He then saw to it that the idols were dragged out, broken up and thrown into the muddy creek east of Jerusalem—the Kidron. The ultimate result of his inherited wealth and authority was a full-scale revival in Judah. (Read chapters 29-32.)

There have also been wealthy industrialists, (R.G. Letourneau, for example) who started out with nothing, who earned the money through inventions and entrepreneurship, and who not only did not mistreat their employees on their way to such wealth, they gave heavily to support missions or other humanitarian works. I do not believe that such persons fall under this condemnation. But to those who cruelly exploited their workers, and ignored the plight of the poor, and ignored the call of God, all these things will testify against them. Judgment is coming!

Notice, too, that it specifically warns that the treasure is being heaped up for the “last days”…the tribulation, or the judgment day. This is not addressed to a believer. We will not be involved in those things.

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

What a terrible indictment against these individuals, whoever they are/were. Obviously it is not an indictment against every rich person in history, but it seems that it could easily apply to many, whose lives actually have matched these accusations. There are counter-examples within the scriptures, and there are counter-examples alive today. But the fact is, the very wealthy of this world have frequently gotten there by “stepping on” the poor. Not always, of course, but it is certainly an observable phenomenon. And this warning is to those persons.

Consider the Book of Ruth, though: God does not condemn the wealthy Boaz, for instance, because he was definitely treating his workers well, and reached beyond the legal requirements, with Grace, in order to meet the needs of Ruth. It is also clear that he had no designs upon her, at the start: her mother-in-law, Naomi was the one who initiated the move to have Ruth approach Boaz as the “Kinsman-Redeemer”; Boaz had only given instructions to his workers to add Grace to her gleanings. (I love that book, by the way, as it is such a clear, tender picture of Christ.) But the workers blessed Boaz voluntarily, and He blessed them in return, as well as eating with them in the field: he did not see himself as “above them,” socially. He chose to eat with them in fellowship, as Jesus chooses fellowship with us.

Finally, the accusation is that they have condemned and killed the “just” (singular), and he (singular) has not resisted them. Who is that one Just man? I think the condemnation here is specifically against the ungodly of this world, who, collectively, down through the ages, have approved the crucifixion, through their own choices and actions. Our sins put Jesus on the Cross! All of us bear that burden. But whether you will meet Him as your Savior or as your Judge is up to you! If you meet Him as your Judge, remember what you have done to Him by your life! If you would rather meet Him as your Savior, then throw yourself upon His mercy, offered through the Cross!

If you know that you will meet Him as your Savior, then consider how you are responding to Him today as your Lord. He is the Judge of all the Earth, and that includes the Judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be judged. Nothing escapes His attention. Yes, my sins were judged at the Cross, but my works are still awaiting judgment and will either be eternally worthy of reward, or eternally worthless.

As I look back at my life, I can easily see that much of my effort has been directed at things which were ultimately a waste of time. That is pretty sad, but it is true. God sets the standard. We can either believe it or not believe it, but the standard remains the same.

So, how should we respond?

I can truthfully say that this verse is not speaking “to” me, as:

  1. I am not an unbeliever, and
  2. I have no employees, regardless of whether I could be accused of being “rich” in anyone else’s opinion. (We know that, to people in very poor nations, the poorest people in the United States would be considered very wealthy, by their standards. But that is not the issue, here.)

I also know that this passage is written “for” me: The whole Bible is! So how can I profit from this specific passage, and how should I respond to it?

If nothing else, it should alert me to the fact that while the possessions and actions of this life are passing and temporary in nature, our actions and attitudes are by no means unimportant, in light of eternity. God doesn’t miss anything at all! According to Jeremiah 17:10, He will render “…to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing.”

Further, Psalm 37:1-4 tells me how I am to respond to those around me: I am not to “fret” about them, nor to envy them, nor try to “right their wrongs” myself: I am to “trust in the Lord and do Good,” and to commit my way to Him and allow Him to take care of my needs.

I don’t know what the eternal rewards are, because we simply are not told. But I do know they are eternally worthwhile! So, since the rewards for proper response to God are eternally worth having, a proper response to God is also worth the effort. I can ask myself:

  • How do I use my time?
  • How do I use my belongings?
  • How do I use my money?
  • How do I handle relationships?
  • How do I treat people who have not treated me well?

Each of these is a part of how we can determine whether our lives are fitting the pattern set by The Lord as being “Lights in a dark world” and “ambassadors of Christ.”

Lord Jesus, allow us to see ourselves clearly in the light of your Word, and to see the World clearly, through the eyes of your Love. Help us to repent of the things that fall short of your honor, and to live as ambassadors of Christ.


Children of the Light

Children of the Light

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:4, 5; Ephesians 5:8

Introduction

We just completed a three-week survey of the doctrine of the end times and how the Church is to respond to the turmoil in the World today. But last week we touched on the concept, that we are “children of the light.” Paul said that the Day of the Lord would not catch us sleeping because we are not “of the darkness” but rather, we are “children of the light.”

1st Thessalonians 5:4-11

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

I want to return to that idea and explore it a little: What does it mean to be “children of the Light?” How should it affect our lives, knowing that we are “children of the Light?”

The Puzzle of being “Children of the Light”

Perhaps one thing to consider is the opposite concept:

What is “darkness?”

Ironically, Darkness has no substance. Light is both a wave and a particle. There is such a thing as a “photon.” There is no “dark matter” in our everyday lives, though science does describe such a thing. The reality is, I can go to any store and expect to find a flashlight for sale. There is no such thing as a “flashdark!” I can only make darkness by closing out light.

In Genesis, when God said “Let there be light…” the result, apparently, was that light permeated everything…no shadows anywhere! (We can see the return of that unrestricted light in the new heaven and new earth, where there will no longer be a need for “luminaries” (sun, moon, lamps, etc.) because the presence of the Lord will be everywhere, providing shadowless light. So, in the next verse, when it says, “God divided the light from the darkness,” it can only be that He limited His light…so that it was possible to have the absence of light…which we call darkness.

Darkness, in our lives, can only be described as “the absence of light.” On a practical level, it has no substance of its own. To whatever degree light is restricted or blocked, we will experience darkness. On the other hand, the tiniest source of light will dispel darkness within the sphere of its influence. A tiny flame, such as a match or a small candle allows us to see around us well enough to move safely in a dark place. And, when we have such a light-source, we focus our attention on the area it illuminates, rather than straining to see what the darkness may hold. Our eyes only respond to light. And light dispels darkness because it its nature to do so. Light makes things visible to us. Ephesians 5:13 says, “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” So light is defined as the means by which things are made manifest, or revealed: made visible. That includes physical light, of course, but in the context of the scriptures at hand, it is clear that something else is in view.

Our next question, then, obviously, should be:

What is Light?

As we study the scriptures, we find that God defines this specific type of light for us: Psalm 119:105 says, Thy word is a light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet.”

2nd Peter 1:19 says, We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the Day dawn and the Daystar arise in your hearts.”

Remember that the light is what reveals or “makes visible” things that would otherwise be in darkness. It is instructive, I think, to remember the fact that Jesus is more than once identified as the Living Word, in Scripture, and along with that, He is identified as the True Light

John 1:1-5 says, 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John goes on to say, in verse 9, that Jesus is the true Light, and in verse 14, that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.” Later still, in John 8:12, Jesus said “I am the Light of the World…” And, in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the Light. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”


Children follow their Father

So, using this God-given “light-analogy;” the eyes of our hearts should respond to the light of God’s Word (they are called “the eyes of your understanding” in Ephesians 1:18): Our spiritual eyes should be specifically responding to Jesus, not to the words of the enemy.

I have been told by two different people how, when they were visiting in Israel they watched two flocks of sheep crossing paths there. In both cases, the watchers assumed there would be total chaos, as the two shepherds tried to sort out which sheep belonged to which shepherd. But the shepherds cheerfully greeted one another, and simply went on their respective ways, repeatedly calling their sheep. And the two flocks literally flowed through one another, and, as the shepherds got further apart, the two flocks once again were distinct, with no confusion whatsoever. Why? It was because the sheep in both flocks were following the voices of their respective shepherds, not just blindly following other sheep. There is a powerful lesson for us there! Jesus said, (John 10:27) “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

Following Jesus

Ephesians 5:1-14

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) 10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. 12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. 13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. 14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.

Paul explains quite a bit about the changed relationship between us and the World. He tells us a lot of things that should be “left behind” in the darkness. He tells us a number of things to be embraced as part of the Kingdom of light. Our lives are to be a reproof to the darkness, as Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and Glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”

But in what other ways should we respond to the darkness of the world around us? (Philippians 2:12-16) 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. 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Yes, our lives are a living testimony, but it goes a step further: we are “holding forth the Word of Life.” The Gospel is our reason to be in this world! The only thing that we can do for God, here on Earth, which we could not do better in heaven, is sharing the Gospel. We are shining as lights and holding forth the Word of Life, offering God’s Grace to sinners like ourselves.

What does Jesus say about the idea of our functioning as children of the light? Matthew 5:14-16

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

We get these instructions and this “Word of wisdom” from Jesus. Where else could we turn?

What is the Alternative?

What happens when someone seeks to fight darkness, without using the Light? (Would Saul qualify as an example, when he consulted the Witch of Endor? You may recall in 1st Samuel 28, that the LORD refused to speak to Saul, so Saul sought a necromancer to call Samuel up from the grave, so that he could ask Samuel what to do. Samuel shut him down, and informed him that he would be killed the next day! And he was!

If we seek “wisdom” from a source other than God, what are the other options? According to James, the other three sources are the World, the Flesh, and the Devil! Saul tried the latter option, not realizing what trouble he was asking for. God stopped him short and called him home. Saul had enjoyed the privilege of being a king, under God’s protection and blessing, but he used the privilege poorly. How are we using the privilege granted to us?

The Privilege of being a Child of the Light

We need to think about what a privilege it is to be the children of the light! We are no longer enslaved to the spiritual darkness that once held us. We have been forgiven permanently for all of our sins, past, present and future, and we are seen by God as His real children. This is an important idea, because this is the core issue: our position in Christ.

We are no longer part of the domain of Darkness. We have been transferred into the Kingdom of Jesus…the Light of the World. Colossians 1:13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

This is a permanent transfer: Jesus says so, over and over! I only want to highlight a couple of passages, but this is not by any means an “obscure” teaching.

Jesus made some personal promises to anyone who would place their faith in Him:

John 11:26 “He that believeth in me shall never die.”

John 10:27, 28 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me and I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish…”

John 5:24 “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that heareth my voice and believeth on Him who sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from death unto life.

You see, if all I had was the promise in John 11:26, someone might say, “Ah, but if you fall short and stop trusting in Him, you can’t hope that the promise would still apply to you!” (They would be wrong, by the way: “shall never die” rules out the possibility that my security depends on my steadfast faith!)

But what if all I had was John 10:27, 28? If I stop following Jesus and am drawn away to some sort of doctrinal silliness, or gross immorality, or even criminal sin…then do I lose out? What part of “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish” lends itself to God going back on His Word? Would I lose reward that way? Obviously, yes, I would! But David, guilty of both adultery and murder by proxy, was still a child of God, and though it cost him terribly, he was not lost. Jesus says he gives us eternal life. How long does “eternal life” last? When Jesus says “they shall never perish,” what do you suppose He meant? How long is “never?” Why do people feel free to twist Jesus’s words and add qualifiers to them, to negate their content? But people do just that! So what about that promise in John 5:24?

  • “Has everlasting life” is present tense! It means the very moment you placed your trust in Him, you were the possessor of eternal life, as a gift…you have it now!  You are not waiting until you die to find out whether you “made the cut!”
  • “Shall not come into condemnation” is future tense! It means that the God who knows the whole future, so that there will never be any surprises for Him, has declared that you are permanently free from the danger of condemnation from Him! You will never ever make Him change His mind about you! You are His, forever!
  • “Is passed from death unto life,” in the Greek, is perfect tense! That means it was a completed action in the past, having a permanent effect upon the future! It means you have crossed over and there is no crossing back!

So! How should those promises affect your ability and willingness to “be a light” in the dark world around you, given that you are literally invulnerable to your enemies, beyond what little they can do to you in this world?

How should we live?

You are going to be coming Home to Jesus, one way or another, and sooner or later. Some of us have graduated early, as did my cousin, last month. Some have lived a very long time, as did our brother, Richard.

What can change, though, is what kind of homecoming we can expect. Abraham and Lot were both believers: God says so! Which do you suppose had the better homecoming? I really want to hear “Well done thou good and faithful servant!”

We still experience the “fear of the Lord,” but now it is based on our earnest desire to not displease the Father. All I want is to walk with Him. And that is pretty much all He requires. But things can get a little complicated sometimes, can’t they? So, He tells us to keep our focus on Him and allow Him to sort things out.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 says “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path!” Micah 6:8 says, “What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Honestly, that seems within reach, and quite reasonable. It goes right along with what Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in Heaven.”(Matthew 5:16)

As we consider the howling chaos and stormy darkness of the world around us, we need to remember that the reason we are here is to provide a lighthouse in that storm! We aren’t just here to watch. Let’s consider how to carry out the assignment we have been given!

Lord Jesus, enlighten our minds to see how we are to serve as lights and blessings, and a source of food and medicine to the lost world around us. Let us see them through your eyes, and reach out to them with your Grace.


Looking for the Lord’s Return

Looking for the Lord’s Return

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 3:12 “Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God”

Introduction:

From what we see in God’s Word, we can easily see that, literally from the beginning of the Church Age, nearly 2000 years ago, the Church has been under spiritual (and sometimes physical) attack from the enemy. And yet it has grown under those conditions. I just read a very interesting comment, supposedly made on National Public Radio, to the effect that things are changing in Communist China, in part because the younger generation is turning to Christ! This is not good news to NPR, but it is good news to me! The Church has always grown under persecution! We are not warned to flee persecution, but rather, to endure it!

So, since we don’t know when He is coming back, only knowing that the Rapture of the Church is the “next major event” in His plan, what are we to do while we wait, and how are we to respond to the threats against the Church, and the many hoaxes against our peace of mind?

Should we hunker down and hide? Should we become militant and try to fight back, physically? Should we waste what little time we have, trying to argue against the endless array of accusations against God’s Word and the Lord Himself? Or do we have a definite assignment?

The problem is that, in our flesh, we all fear persecution! We want to escape it entirely! But part of the message of the New Testament is the admonition to “take up thy Cross!” Embrace the Cross! Philippians 1:29 says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;” The fact is, we don’t like that part of the Gospel! And we are not alone in this tendency:

The Disciples wanted the Kingdom!

As Jesus prepared to leave this world, and was saying His final goodbyes, so to speak, the disciples (evidently all of them) were still stuck on their own agenda: Acts 1:6 says, “When they were therefore come together, they asked of Him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?”

Somehow, in my imagination, I see Jesus heaving a sigh, and once more, explaining to them the priorities of God!  But all it actually says it that Jesus clearly stated that we will not know the time of His return, thus, we will not be told, ahead of time, when the Rapture of the Church (which they knew nothing about), the Tribulation, and the Lord’s physical return, would occur: (nor, therefore, His coming Kingdom, which is what they wanted first; though, as we have seen from the scripture, the other things had to happen first! Jesus spent all of Mathew chapter 24 explaining the tribulation, and then capped it with the Matthew 25 statements as to His imminent physical return, after the great tribulation, and showed the Kingdom coming after that!

There on the Mount of Olives, in Acts 1:8, He gave the disciples their final “marching orders:” They were to be His witnesses, to the uttermost parts of the Earth!

Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God

We do have an assignment! The great commission, (Matthew 28:19-20)which was given to the eleven disciples, includes the words, “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations,” and ends with the words, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age).”

So…what had he just commanded them to do, and, more specifically, is that part of our marching orders as well? Yes, it is! The Great Commission is directed to us, simply because we are among those taught. Thus, part of how we are to respond to the sure knowledge that His return is imminent (meaning that it could happen at any time) is that we are to be doing what He asked us to do.

When we know that “company is coming” we run around, getting ready, making everything “just so,” until we know they are about to arrive. Then we try to just relax and wait to hear them in the entryway, so to speak. But that is when we know they are coming, and we know the appointed time!

In this case, it is not just “company:” it is the Master! And we only know that He is coming: we do not know when, and He clearly stated that we will not know the time of His coming! So all we can do is to faithfully be doing what He assigned, all the time, so as to not be ashamed at His arrival. There is no time when we can say, “OK, He should be here in the next ten minutes! Let’s sit down and wait!” We are to “look for and haste unto” the coming of the Day of God! We are to anticipate His imminent return and act accordingly, getting on with the job: specifically evangelism and discipleship.

So What about all the rumors and attacks?

I have had several people send me literature about “current bills in Congress” or secret agendas, conspiracies, etc. The first thing we want to remember is that our enemy is not flesh and blood. It is Satan and his emissaries. The second thing would be to look back in the Bible, and see that this sort of attack has been his “modus operandi” since the beginning: what was the first thing he did, in order to misdirect Eve in the Garden? First, he twisted God’s Word, then he flat out denied its truth, and finally, he said the words we so often hear today:  “thou shalt not surely die! For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (This is “Stuff God doesn’t want you to know.”) We are constantly presented with “things the government doesn’t want you to know,” or “things your church doesn’t want you to know,” or similar offerings. These are the root of “conspiracy theory.” These ideas are very tempting to us, just as Satan’s ploy was to Eve. It works!

So, skip forward about 4,000 years: When Paul had gone through Thessalonica and preached the Gospel of the Cross, there was immediately an uprising of people fighting against that Good News: And, their weapon? Making false accusations against Paul and his entourage, as well as against those who received them. There was very nearly a riot: the local government stepped in, and demanded a peace-bond of the believers, and that night, the believers had to smuggle Paul out of town under cover of darkness, to keep him safe. One would think that this would be the end of the Gospel in Thessalonica, but the seed had taken root! The letters to the church at Thessalonica were to that core group of believers and those whom they had subsequently led to the Lord. So…how long had Paul been teaching there? Less than three weeks, apparently. It says he taught there for three Sabbath days. So, at least two weeks, but less than four.

And what form did the subsequent attack against them (the believers) take? 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 says they were told by “someone” that they had somehow missed the Lord’s return. We have multiple cults today that tell us similar things. Well, this was one of the very first, and it began happening before the Church-age was 20 years along. Today, it is nearly 2000 years later, and the Enemy is up to the same tricks! And it is getting much easier! He no longer has to depend upon some misguided person to go out of his or her way to spread lies personally: we have the internet, and anyone who thinks it is great fun to watch Christians run for cover has only to fire up Facebook and spin a tale of conspiracy! And it works every time!

Also, for some reason, some well-meaning believers (even those well-taught in the Word) suddenly get the idea that they can “ferret out the truth” about “what God doesn’t want us to know” and figure out the date of the Lord’s return.

I remember the evening I left the missionary training camp in Baker, Oregon, in 1980. I stopped in the tiny town of Union, Oregon, to say goodbye to the little Baptist church I had attended there for two years. There was a meeting in progress, and the place was packed. So, I sat in the back and listened, waiting to say my goodbyes. The guest speaker was a well-known local preacher: the subject was “When the Lord is returning?” (Yep! That will draw a crowd all right! You see, we don’t really believe Jesus when He says we will not know.) Everyone was listening earnestly, and taking notes, writing down all he had to say: he had found a “way around” Jesus’s statement. He said “The Lord said you won’t know the day or the hour! He didn’t say you can’t know the month and the year!” (Do you see a problem with that? If we knew the month and the year, we’d only have to worry about His return for the last thirty days or so, right? That means, ultimately, we would know the day and the hour, as well, within a 30-day bracket.)

So…when was the Lord’s Return “supposed” to occur? It was “scheduled” for March of 1982! (Guess I must have missed it, huh?) It was false teaching, regardless of his honest effort to teach good doctrine. He was a good man, and a faithful man of God, but the study was doomed from the beginning, because he had taken the bait of “things God doesn’t want you to know!”

Other “Conspiracy theories”

There are other such examples: people claiming to have portions of scripture that were “left out” of the Bible, so that we Christians “aren’t playing with a full deck,” so to speak. You can look these things up, and read them: Usually, a careful reading, even in English, makes it obvious why it was left out. It simply is not authored by God, and it is obvious: it teaches contrary to the rest of the scriptures. There are many such attacks, and I don’t propose to attempt to answer them all. Look up “pseudepigraphal writings,” and you can see a long list. “Pseudepigraphal writings” means “false writings.” They were recognized as bogus epistles (or whatever they claimed to be) at the time they were first presented. It did not take the Council of Trent to disclose them for what they were. The original recipients had recognized them as false, years before.

So what about today? What is the latest buzz, today? I remember when I first became a believer, the rumor was running around that Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist. There are several problems with that sort of rumor. One, is that he does not fit the description in scripture. The biggest, however, is the fact that scripture makes it clear that we will not see the Antichrist, because he will be revealed after we are removed from the earth! The primary passage is found in 2nd Thessalonians 2…but even if we didn’t have that passage, we can see in the Revelation that the church is to be removed from the Earth in Revelation chapter four, while the Antichrist is to be revealed in chapter thirteen! This is pretty hard to get around! The same goes for the “Mark of the Beast,” which Christians have been fearing for years. “What is it?! How do I avoid it?! How can I recognize it?!) That mark shows up in Revelation 13, long after the Church is to be evacuated in chapter 4.

What about the Mark of the Beast?

Recently, more than one person sent me “documented” evidence that “the government is conspiring against us” to force us to receive an imbedded computer chip (similar to those implanted in pets, for identification purposes) and that they are “gonna do it by means of a vaccination!” (This time, it’s the COVID virus vaccine.)

I’m going to pass up the temptation to argue the obvious physical and technological objections inherent in this hoax. (And, yes, it is yet another hoax, meant to terrify the people of God and keep them from doing their assigned task.) The physical size of an implantable chip is far larger than the interior of a vaccination needle. But let’s set that objection aside, and just stick to scriptural reasoning: What three things from scripture would tell me that this is a hoax?

  1. The Mark of the Beast is to be either in the forehead or the right hand; No vaccinations are given in either of those two places: they are simply not good places to administer medicine. This alone would make me believe that “it just isn’t so!” But that isn’t all!
  2. The Mark of the Beast is a voluntary compliance associated specifically with the choice to worship the image of the antichrist (this is spelled out in Revelation 13.) No one can “slip it to you unawares!” You can’t just innocently go to the doctor for a vaccination, and come home headed for hell.
  3. The bottom line still is the fact that the Church is leaving Planet Earth in Revelation chapter four, and the Antichrist and everything associated with him is not revealed until we are gone…specifically, in Revelation chapter thirteen!

What about the “One World Government?”

We hear a lot about this. It is good to remember two things:

  1. The way the people of Bible times saw “the world” implied “the civilized world,” which, in the time of Daniel, meant the Babylonian Empire. In the time of Alexander the Great, it meant the Grecian empire, and under Rome it meant the Roman Empire. (By the way, each of these was successively larger than the ones before. But Rome never went to Canada, or Australia, etc.)
  2. When Daniel gave the prophecy regarding the world’s governments to come, in Daniel 2, it gave the progression of Babylonian Empire, Medeo-Persian Empire, Grecian Empire, Roman Empire (though unnamed) and the revived Roman Empire (also unnamed). But it was all one image: not four images. The World system of government as a whole was to be smashed by the “Stone cut out without hands.” This is the Return of Jesus.

So, how does that tie into the idea of the One World Government? If we read carefully, in both Daniel and Revelation (which are closely-linked, and, ideally, should be taught together) we see that the antichrist is plagued by wars all around him, even though he has secured that “One World Government. So it isn’t as “monolithic” as we tend to make it out to be. Remember the Revived Roman Empire of the “ten toes” of Daniel chapter 2: that “empire” is comprised of parts of the old Roman Empire. Those parts have been trying to reassemble ever since the Roman Empire imploded. Remember, Rome was never conquered, so much as it fell apart through corruption and neglect and social disunity. (Sound familiar?)

When the Czars were in power in Russia, their very name gave us a clue as to their thoughts. The name “Czar” is the Russian word for Caesar. When Kaiser Wilhelm declared himself the Emperor of the German Empire, again, we can see his intent, as the German word for Caesar is “Kaiser.”

And, according to J. Vernon McGee, when the current European Union was first organized, the treaties were not signed in Brussels, Belgium as I would have expected: They were signed on Capitol Hill, in Rome! Is the EU the “revived Roman Empire” of Revelation? I don’t know! Could they at least be a predecessor to the coming political structure over which the Antichrist is destined to rule? Sure!

But, if it is, what should our response be? To tremble in terror and find a place to dig in, and hide? Nope…but that is what the disciples were doing after the crucifixion. And Jesus came and preached peace to them! He had said, earlier, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the World!” And that was before the Crucifixion! But now, afterward, he was speaking to them as the Resurrected Christ! And that is how he speaks to us as well! We are not to cower in fear: Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” That is not a recipe for helpless fear!

2nd Timothy 1:7 says “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of Love and of a sound mind.” And that is how we are to respond to the threats brought by the Enemy!

A Famous Historical Example of Satan’s Attack

Remember, back in the book of Nehemiah, the assignment was given to “rebuild Jerusalem.” In chapter four, the threat had come of an attack, specifically to prevent the people from carrying out God’s command. Their response was good. They were watchful, but they went on with the work. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side and so builded.” They were prepared for an attack, but their primary attention was given to the assigned task of building the wall. (The wall was specifically what their enemies did not want built, as it once again made Jerusalem a walled city, and very defensible.)

There were other such threats, some more subtle: in chapter six the enemies tried to draw away the leader of the assembly, Nehemiah, himself. But he knew their intent was to ambush him in some way, and he said, in effect, “Sorry, I’m too busy to meet with you!”

Later they threatened to accuse him to the Emperor, saying that he was trying to make himself a king.  He called them on it, saying that it was a lie, and that they were simply trying to put fear into the hearts of the people.

In another attempt, they claimed to be “prophetically” warning him of an attack on his person. Nehemiah 6:13 states that he recognized that the man was hired to bring a false message, in order to frighten Nehemiah into dropping the work he was commanded to accomplish. The rest of the passage (Nehemiah 6:15, 16) goes on to say that even their enemies could see that the work had been done through the power of God, as they had rebuilt the entire city wall in 52 days, even when under the constant threat of attack and various means of dissuasion by their enemies.

The testimony of God’s people when under persecution and attack is important, as our response will let the World know who is really in charge in our lives. If we are easily shut down, silenced, and turned away from our assigned task as the ambassadors of Christ, they will notice! If we continue to function regardless of circumstances, then they will notice that as well.

We have to choose which kind of behavior will go on record as our “normal.” Will we be “children, carried about by every wind of doctrine,” as Ephesians 4:14 warns us not to be? Or, as 1st Corinthians 15:58 encourages us to be, will we be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?”

Ultimately, the choice is ours! We cannot choose what events may happen in our lives, but we can choose our response! We can’t control the actions of the World, and we are not told to do so. We cannot “rewrite the book of Revelation!” Those things are going to happen! We can either:

  1. Rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s Word, and lift up our collective heads, knowing the Lord’s return is near, or we can
  2. Cower in fear, hoping to avoid things that may not be pointed at us in the first place.

Let’s choose faith, and rejoice before the Lord together, knowing that our release is near!

Lord Jesus, turn our collective and individual eyes upon you and let us leave our fears behind! Fill us with the joy of knowing that you are coming soon, and the courage born of knowing you are with us even now!


The Day of The Lord

The Day of The Lord

© C. O. Bishop 2010 (reviewed and expanded, 2020)

Introduction

I heard a sermon recently, written and delivered by a sincere man, a believer, but which stirred me to re-study the subject of the “Day of Jehovah” or, in the New Testament, “Day of the Lord”. The man had correctly read 2nd Peter 3:10-12 to describe the day of the Lord, but had incorrectly taught that it all happened at the same time. (read it) We see there, that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night, and that it results in the complete destruction of the earth.

There is a fair amount of confusion about the subject, so, I would like to begin at the beginning, so to speak.

First Mention

The first mention of the Day of the LORD is in Isaiah 2:12. [The word “Lord” is in all caps, in the KJV, indicating that the word being translated is the “tetragrammaton”… the Hebrew four-consonant word, YHWH, that is sometimes translated Jehovah, or, occasionally, in modern Bibles, “Yahweh”. We simply do not know how the word is to be pronounced, but, since, in the New Testament, the word was translated Lord—from the Greek, kurios , then I will feel free to simply point out the different words, and use the same English words: “The Day of the Lord.”]  The introduction of the concept is a warning that God will judge the proud ones of the earth, and specifically, that judgment would begin at Jerusalem; that he would judge her before blessing and restoring her. Isaiah goes on to elaborate on the theme and mentions the day of the Lord, in eight more passages. Frequently, the theme is enlarged upon without using the full phrase, but only calling in “in that day”. Listen to what the various scriptures say about this Day:

Many Contrasts

The day of the Lord is said to be a day of vengeance, of salvation, and recompense. (Isaiah 34:8) Everyone left alive in Jerusalem will be declared holy—a cloud and smoke by day will mark the city and a shining, flaming fire by night. (Isaiah 4:1-6)

The Messiah, (root of Jesse) will be eagerly sought after by the Gentiles, and the twelve tribes of Israel will be united again—literally, and relationally. The Dispersed Jews will be brought back to Israel from everywhere on earth, and will get along perfectly, for the first time in history. (Isaiah 11:10-13)

Israel will blossom, and abound with fruit, and be utterly blessed by God…after a terrible judgment. (Isaiah 27:6)

Idolatry will finally be utterly done away with, voluntarily, as every man will get rid of his idols. (Isaiah 2:20, 17:7, etc.)

It will be a day of cruel Wrath and fierce anger (Isaiah 13:6-11)

It will be a day of blessing, and peace, and gentleness. (Isaiah 19:23-25) Are you starting to see some apparent contradictions? And yet ALL these prophecies will be fulfilled literally, in the Day of the Lord. If any fall short, then God’s Word would fall short. Remember that they are to be fulfilled in the Day of the Lord, not before. There may be similar things that happen before, or have already happened, but the ultimate fulfillment is in the Day of the Lord.

The country south of Israel, once known as Edom, or Idumea, will be destroyed—its creeks will flow with pitch (what we call “tar,” I think), and sulfurous dust will cover the ground. The tar (if that is what it is) will burn, and will not be put out. There will be some wildlife that finds a habitat there, but humans will not live there anymore. (Isaiah 34:5-11; 63:1-6)

Not an Ordinary “Day”

Isaiah concludes by stating that God will judge the whole earth, and that after that judgment, the whole world will come to worship Him. (Isaiah 66:15-24) Interesting…that is pretty much what the book of the Revelation describes, too, as the tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, the destruction of the enemies of God, and the blessedness of the Kingdom that follows. But it takes 1007 years, not one single “ordinary” day.

So we see that the Day of the Lord is not a 24-hour day, nor even a single occurrence, but a series of occurrences that follow a prescribed format and a God-ordained schedule. Incidentally, Isaiah did not have the whole picture: there was more to come, after the Kingdom age.

Jeremiah confirms Isaiah’s message (Jeremiah 25:29-38)—he says that Judgment will begin at Jerusalem, but will cover the earth, and that the slain will be from one end of the earth to the other, and that they will not even be buried, but will be allowed to rot on the face of the earth.

Ezekiel confirms the terror of the coming day. (Ezekiel 30:1-3, ff) He also tells of some huge changes, regarding the temple, itself. (Ezekiel, chapters 41-48)

Church Age Excluded (sidebar)

Daniel (9:23-26)does not use the phrase “the Day of the Lord”, however, he describes the Day of the Lord and the 483 years prior to the Messiah (in other words, prior to Jesus’s life and death) but skips the Church age entirely, as does every single Old Testament prophet…they were given no hint of the mystery of the Church age. Daniel’s message begins with Nehemiah’s day, and runs as far as the Cross, then skips straight to the tribulation, and beyond. We have been in the Church Age for nearly two thousand years, and the prophets did not see it coming at all. The New Testament confirms (Ephesians 3:4-6) that they did not know about it. They weren’t told!

More prophecies of the Day of the Lord

Joel warns that the priesthood won’t escape God’s judgment. (Joel 1:13-15, 2:1-11)  The whole nation will suffer the judgment. But he also points to the coming blessing. (Joel 2:18-3:21)

Amos reminds the people that the Day of the Lord would begin with horrific judgment on Israel…and was not something to be looked forward to. (Amos 5:18-20) But he, too, confirms that after the terrible judgment of God there will be restoration and blessing. (Amos 9:11-15)

Obadiah 15-21 emphasizes the judgment on the heathen (gentiles), and does not specifically mention the judgment on Israel.

Zephaniah 1:7-18 again emphasizes the judgment on Israel.

Zechariah 12:1-14, 13-1-6 describe the judgment and the salvation of Jerusalem, and the subsequent holiness of the people of God. Zechariah 14:1-21 describes the judgment of the enemies of Israel, and the fact that the survivors of that judgment will be worshipping God thereafter, and coming to Jerusalem year after year to do so.

Malachi 4:1-7 concludes the Old Testament with the assurance that the Day of the Lord was certainly coming, and that Elijah would precede its coming. (Jesus talked about that too, and said it was fulfilled in John the Baptist. Interestingly, Elijah appeared personally, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and evidently will appear again, during the latter period of the Great Tribulation, though he is not specifically named in that passage.)

Jesus spoke about the same period of time, in Matthew 24:4-44. In verses 29-31, he specified when the second coming would happen: it will be after the Great Tribulation.

New Testament Warnings

In Acts 1:11, the angels said that Jesus would return in like manner as they had seen him leave (ascending into a cloud)…so they could expect a physical, bodily visible return. But in Acts 2:19, 20 Peter again described the terrible signs of the Day of the Lord.

No further mention is made until Paul is correcting some bad doctrine that had already crept in, in Thessalonica. Evidently some people had been teaching that the Day of the Lord had already occurred. (2nd Thessalonians 2:2…called the “day of Christ,” here)

Paul gives them some hope in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18, and describes what we call the “rapture.” (Compare 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52)  Then (1st Thessalonians 5:1-5) he describes the Day of the Lord, and states that it will overtake the world “as a thief in the night”, but states that that day would not overtake them (the recipients of the letter), as they were not of the night. (Ephesians 5:8 points out that the believers—all of them—were no longer of the darkness but of the light, and admonished them to behave accordingly.) 1st Thessalonians, chapters four and five are continuing the same context! The events of chapter four immediately precede those of chapter five. Chapter four describes the “thief in the night” portion. What follows is total nightmare.

It is interesting, too, to see that the beginning of the tribulation will be associated with what the World will see as security and safety—peace, in fact. It seems as though the “middle-east peace treaty,” that everyone has wanted for years, will finally actually happen, but that treaty will be the beginning of the tribulation. (This is speculation on my part, to some extent, but give it some thought: why else would the whole world say “Peace and Safety!”? Compare Daniel 9:27)

Those who rejected the truth before the Rapture will not “change their minds” after it. (another sidebar)

In his second letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul further described the events of the tribulation, specifically describing the antichrist, and explaining how the people would respond to the rapture (apparently,) in saying that God will send a “strong delusion” so that those who had previously rejected the Gospel would not believe (because of the rapture?) but that those who had not rejected it (never heard it, or whatever) would apparently still be free to believe. (2nd Thessalonians 2:1-12) Read it carefully…the verb tenses are important. This is why millions will be saved during the tribulation, but none who previously rejected His Grace.

“The Day of the Lord,” again

Finally, we get to 2nd Peter 3:10-12, the passage that was so poorly treated in the sermon I heard. The verses truly do describe the Day of the Lord…beginning with the rapture, as a matter of fact. Consider: it comes as a thief in the night—not as an armed robber at dawn, or an attack at mid-day. The “thief” comes by night specifically to take away with Him something of value. And those sleeping are not aware it has been taken until they awaken: Too late!

Remember that in 1st Thessalonians 5, Paul pointed out that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, immediately after he described the catching away of the church. He stated that this was the beginning of the destruction, similar to the beginning of labor, for a woman in childbirth. (“The time has come and it cannot be evaded or postponed.”)

But what part of the tribulation could be described as coming as a thief in the night? The wars? The famines? All the judgments of the tribulation are done openly, and known worldwide. The physical return of Jesus is seen by all: it is the single most “public” event in history, to that date.

The only aspect of the Day of the Lord that can be likened to a thief in the night is the Rapture of the Church. The World will be in profound spiritual darkness, and deeply asleep, in regard to the call of God. Jesus comes silently (from the World’s perspective) and takes away the Church secretly (so far as the World is concerned). We will hear the call! We will see him face to face! But those left behind will only wake up to find a bunch of “Christian whackos” have “gone missing.” (Big deal! Good riddance! Party time!) And, at about that time, just before or just after the rapture, evidently a seven-year peace treaty (Daniel 9:27) will be signed with Israel. Everyone will rejoice, and say, “Peace and safety!” not knowing the tribulation is upon them.

The Tribulation will conclude with the physical return of Christ, and we will be coming back with Him. (Revelation 19:11-21) Those opposing him will die in the attempt. The Judgment of the living nations will immediately follow (Matthew 25:31-46). Those who have become believers during the Tribulation (and survived it) will go into the kingdom in their natural bodies (verse 34), but those who were enemies of God will go directly into judgment—specifically Hades. The kingdom will last 1000 years (Revelation 20…confirmed six times in the first seven verses), and will be the place and time-period of blessing described by all the prophets. During that Kingdom age is the time when “the Lion shall lie down with the calf.” (Isaiah 11:6-8) The whole world will know Jesus personally, face to face. (Jeremiah 31:34; Habakkuk 2:14) They will come and worship Him there in Jerusalem, year after year, as we read in other passages.

But not all will willingly serve him…children will be born who do not want to serve him, and there will be a growing undercurrent of unrest. There will be occasional minor rebellions, which will be quickly crushed. Nations that choose to ignore the feast of tabernacles, specifically, will find that the rains “choose to ignore” their lands. It specifically says that Jesus will “reign with an iron scepter”. It will not be a re-run of “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” On the other hand, he will literally know the heart of every human, so there will never be a “miscarriage of justice.” Jesus is (and always has been) the Judge of all the earth, and He will do no wrong.

The Kingdom will culminate in a final attempted rebellion by those who had pretended subservience and loyalty during the kingdom-age (Parable of the wheat and the tares: Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43), but the rebels will be rounded up by angelic means (none other than Satan and his cronies, who instigated the rebellion) and the human rebels will be burned on the spot.

The End of the Age

At that point, the skies will open, and a Great White Throne will appear in the sky. The Judgment which is referred to as the “Great White Throne Judgment” ensues immediately. The Day of the Lord is about to end. This judgment pronounces sentence upon all the lost souls of all time, and they all are cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

The very next scene shows the new heaven and new earth, the old having passed away… How? Well, that is what 2nd Peter 3:10, 11, 12 are referring to—the fact that the heaven and earth shall pass away with a “fervent heat and a great noise!” I find it interesting that Colossians 1:17 says “…and in Him all things consist” (hold together)—if Jesus is literally what is “holding all things together,” then what would happen if he “let go?” A “fervent heat and a great noise,” I’ll bet!

Conclusion:

Now, while we are thinking about, and looking at, the passage in 2nd Peter, please notice that the context in Peter includes 2nd Peter 3:7-9: “But the heavens and the earth which are now, are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is, with the Lord, as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

AH! So, maybe there was precedent for understanding that the 1007(+) years that constitute the “Day of the Lord” do not violate any scriptural norm. God is not restricted in His use of time, as we are. A millennium passes, and it is as if a day has passed. God is simply not affected by time. Time was created for the sake of Man, and will apparently end with the passing of this world.

Don’t miss the point here, though—we Christians are running out of time! We are supposed to be ambassadors for God, here on earth. We are supposed to have the same heart for the lost that God has. We do not have to be afraid of the coming judgment for our own sakes, but we should be afraid for the sake of the lost. Judgment is coming, and, like it or not, we are the only messengers sent to avert disaster for the people. Angels do not have the privilege of sharing the Gospel: Only Humans get this assignment!

So, to summarize: the Day of the Lord begins with the rapture, which happens silently and secretly, as a thief in the night, where the World is concerned, and which ends in the destruction of the world, as we know it, resulting in the establishment of a new heaven and new earth, (Revelation 21:1.) We are not told much about the new world. I think we will find it satisfactory.J

But, I am anxious that we conduct our lives in such a manner that our Savior will also find us satisfactory. We are already saved, but we are told that we can add rewards to salvation. Salvation is a gift that has been given and it will not be lost. But rewards can be missed out on, and we will be grieved if we lose those opportunities.

Let us consider how to live so as to please the One who died for us. Anything else is ultimately worthless.

Footnote:

I am printing these notes and providing them to any who want them, in the church. My recommendation would be that you take the time to look up and read all the passages cited in the notes, re-examining the message as you do so. I do not want you to believe anything simply on my word…you need a “thus saith the Lord!” So please study the passages, ask questions, and establish your own convictions regarding what is to come.

If you are reading these notes online, feel free to download the notes and print them, for study purposes.

If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me. I will do my best to answer questions and explain the notes, as needed.


Three Distinctives of the True Church

Three Distinctives of the True Church

© 2009 C. O. Bishop

Introduction:

Last week I mentioned that people in our church are rightfully concerned about current world events and how they may affect the Church. So, as we think about such events and what our response should be, it is appropriate to ask ourselves what God would have us to do. We find the answers to that question, of course, in God’s Word…He is the one to tell us what He wants of us.

As Christians, it matters how we behave. Our salvation is secure in Christ, but He has given us some assignments as well. For example, He says in Acts 1:8 that we are to be witnesses for him in the world. Paul reiterates this, many years later, in 2nd Corinthians 5:18-20, saying that unto us has been given the ministry of reconciliation, and that we are his ambassadors. So how do we carry out that mission? How do we build credibility? What is it about the believers that should convince unbelievers that our message is true?

Three Distinctives

The Word of God lists three things, all of them behavior-specific, and things we can make a choice about.

  1. Love (John 13:34, 35) Jesus said “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples…”
  2. Unity (John 17:21) Jesus said “That the world may know that Thou [God] did send Me…”
  3. Practical Holiness (Matthew 5:13-15; 2nd Timothy 2:19) Jesus said that if our light shines for others to see, they will glorify the Father. Paul says, “Let every one who names the Name of Christ (calls himself a Christian) depart from iniquity.”

Chronologically speaking, the call to practical holiness (obedience) precedes the command to love one another. But in the economy of God, it can be demonstrated that His Love was extended to us prior to creation, let alone prior to the fall into Sin, or the giving of the Law, etc. The Love and Grace of God were part of the plan, certainly, before the world was created. (Revelation 13:8) But I am personally convinced that God’s Holiness is His primary attribute. (Isaiah 6:1-8) Even His Love is subject to His Holiness.

But, In God’s dealing with the Church He reverses that order, and commands first that Agapé love be the undergirding basis for ALL other principles—why?

Love (John 13:34, 35) (Read this passage)

In the Gospels (Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus revealed to the Jewish lawyer that to “…Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and strength, and to love thy neighbor as thyself…” encapsulated the whole Law. The Pharisees had specialized in the outward compliance to the Law…but Jesus pointed out that the undergirding principle was Love. Romans 13:8 reiterates this principle in the epistles.

Jesus commanded the disciples (John 13:34, 35), saying, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Notice that this is a God-given means by which the World is to judge the Church. This is the way that the World can determine whether you are a real believer. God knows for sure—but if the World does not see this evidence, they are not expected to believe you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What do we know about this sort of love? We can see it demonstrated in the life of Christ, and see its characteristics in 1st Corinthians 13. Notice, as we read through 1st Corinthians 13:1-8, that every single characteristic of the Agape love is NOT a feeling, but an action. (Read it) None of them has much (if anything) to do with how I feel. They are directives as to how I am to behave. When God said “For God so loved the world…” it was not saying “God loves you SOOOoo much…” It is saying, “in this manner God loved the World:”. In fact, in Spanish, that is exactly how it is translated: “Porque de tal manera amo Dios al mundo…” in this manner God loved the World.

So…we have been commanded to love one another in the same manner as Jesus did. What exactly did he do? Did he go around feeling tender and mushy all the time? Hardly. When Jesus cleared the temple, he certainly was not feeling or acting tender or mushy…but he was acting in love. Were all the things he said sweet and gentle? Hardly. He called the Pharisees “sons of Hell”, and a “brood of vipers”, and hypocrites and all sorts of other not-so-nice things. Was he being unloving? No! Jesus went on serving, teaching, healing, meeting people’s needs, long after he was exhausted. He met each person at the level they approached him. The weak and poor he received very gently. Toward the rich and powerful he seemed rather cool sometimes, though in one case—the rich young ruler—it specifically states that Jesus loved him…yet he gave him a hard choice, and sent him on his way.

What is the Agape love all about, then? The Agape love can be defined as “that act of the will that moves an individual to do what is in the best interest of the recipient of the action, regardless of how it affects the one who is acting.” It means that to act in Agape love, I have to do what is really best for the other person, even if it does NOT make me comfortable. In some cases it may mean giving what I did not feel comfortable giving. Or, conversely, it may mean that in some cases I may not give at all, because the individual in need intends to misuse the gift…or because he/she is in the predicament because of irresponsibility, and there has been no change of heart, so the gift would be an enablement to commit more sin.

It means that I am not free to shoot off my mouth and be rude. It means I cannot be self-centered. It means I am not necessarily going to be on the receiving end of relationships. It means humility when self-will seems the order of the day. It means not paying back evil done to me. It means considering others better than myself (Philippians 2:1-7; Romans 13:10), and seeing their needs as taking priority over my own. It frequently means deliberately taking a “back seat”, so to speak. Jesus taught this principle over and over. This is NOT an easy assignment. In fact, my guess is that is so entirely contrary to human nature that it is only possible via the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Agapé love seems to only be possible when God loves through us. Otherwise it seems too likely to be contaminated by human weakness and sin.

Unity (John 17:21) (read this)

What about unity? What does it mean? Are we all to be in “lockstep” about everything? All believe precisely the same set of dogma—chant our catechism in unison? Memorize our creed, and quote it word for word at every opportunity?

Got a bad secret for you…. The teachers in your church do not all agree about every detail of doctrine. We do have unity in all the essentials and far beyond. We practice forbearance in things not essential to the faith. And Love is the undergirding factor that makes it all possible.

  • Unity is not achieved by abandoning truth. The Ecumenical movement has sought to create “unity” by abandoning doctrine…by saying “Oh, let’s not fight over what the Bible does or doesn’t say! Let’s just love one another and praise God!” That may sound good, but Jesus stated that His Word would never pass away, and that whoever ignored it and taught others to do the same was in deep trouble!
  • Union and unity are not the same. Workers in two companies that have gone through a merger may be unified in their plight, but they are anything but united in spirit or purpose, as all of them individually are primarily concerned whether they will have a job, and be left in peace to do it.

Unity means “no fighting”—it does not mean “carbon copy Christians”. There are some essential unities listed in Ephesians 4:1-6 (read it) … notice that we do not create the unity of the Spirit. We are called upon to maintain it, in the bond of peace. We are told to respond to one another in humility, in longsuffering, in meekness. We are told to forbear one another in love. (Forbearance means “putting up with each other.”)

  1. One Body—one true church—not supposed to be splintered and fighting amongst ourselves. (This is the body of Christ at large…not a denomination.)
  2. One Spirit—the Holy Spirit. Third Member of the Godhead. God.
  3. One Hope of your calling. In this age, we are all called to a single hope…the assurance in faith that by Jesus’ propitiating blood at the Cross, we will be with Him, cleansed, safe, secure, and His forever.
  4. One Lord—The Lord Jesus Christ is not divided. There isn’t one Jesus for one denomination, and one for another.
  5. One Faith—the saving faith in the character, person and work of Christ.
  6. One Baptism—the Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the One Body of Christ (1st Corinthians 12:13). This has nothing to do with water, by the way, and happens at the moment of salvation.
  7. One God and Father—it is interesting that the simple belief that “there is one God” does not produce unity—Jews, Muslims and Christians share this belief, but utterly lack unity. And even among those who claim Jesus as their savior, there is very little unity. Why?

What did Jesus say would occur if the church had unity? He prayed that we would have Divine Unity, so that “the World may know that” Jesus was sent by God. So…when we do not have unity, what should we expect the result to be? I believe the result will be that the world will conclude that Jesus was not who he said he was, and that God did not send him. Is that a serious enough consequence? Do you think it may already have happened?

What is real unity? How do we avoid disunity? Sound teaching in God’s Word helps. We can agree upon those seven truths that Paul laid out as being essential…but usually we go beyond. We want the other guy to agree with us on every last detail of what we believe. From what I see in scripture, that is not called for…and maybe not possible. But forbearance is possible.

Let’s move on to the third distinctive:

Practical Holiness (Matthew 5:13-15; 2nd Timothy 2:19)

Jesus told his disciples that they should let their lives be a beacon to God…lights in a dark world…that others should see their righteous lives, and glorify the Father. He also said that they were to have a practical usefulness in the world… one was to be a light—shedding the light of the truth of God’s Word in practical ways. The other was to be the Salt of the earth…having the effect of preservation… and purification. He says that if salt has lost its primary function, then it is useless on an earthly basis, and MEN will trample it underfoot. God will never forget who you are, but the world will always think, “What have you done for us lately?” So if we lose the primary value we have in the world of setting a good standard, and taking a stand for morality, etc., then, as far as they are concerned, we are useless.

Paul reiterated this principle, saying “…let every one who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Any questions about that? Do you have any doubts what constitutes “iniquity?” Then grab your Bible and start reading. God says to flee temptations, but to resist Satan. It is not OK for us to continue in sin. We are told to knock it off; Period.

Now, let’s talk about that for a moment. Quite frankly, I don’t think I can just “knock it off”.  I am a sinner. Yes, I am saved— I have a new nature— but I still have my old sin nature too. The only way I can see from scripture that I can live the Christian life is if God lives it through me. Galatians 5:16 says “if ye walk in the Spirit, ye will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh”…and as far as I know, that is the only way it can be done.

You see, part of the problem is the fact that some sins are inside. God says our thoughts can be an abomination to him. He says we can look good on the outside, but be full of sin inside. Let’s see what he said to the Pharisees: (We just love the Pharisees! They were so bad, they make us feel good about ourselves! In reality, they were the best of the best at the time—and very proud of it.) Jesus said (Matthew 23:25, 26) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup, and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” (Really? What does a cupful of extortion look like? Jesus was referring to the people, not their dishes.) In verse 28, he says “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are filled with hypocrisy and iniquity.”

That’s pretty rough talk… harsh judgment! The Pharisees were the “Christian Businessmen” of their day…and the city council, and the church board, and school board, and everything else. They were important guys, and upstanding beyond measure. But Jesus could see what was inside, and knew of the secret dealings. He knew what they were really like. And when he pointed it out, they did not want to repent, and be cleansed—they wanted to kill Jesus.

They obeyed every little command, from a human perspective. Matthew 23:23 says “…you tithe mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not left the other undone.” In other words, the Pharisees had reversed the order of God’s priority, because the outward form of righteousness they thought they could manage on their own (at least well enough to convince themselves and others that they were pretty good.) But the first priority should have been the inward things, so that the outward things would follow as a matter of course.

We can easily fall into the same trap…looking good on the outside, but harboring sin inside. God says the priority is to Love the Lord thy God, and to love they neighbor as thyself…and that was before there was such a thing as a “Christian”. Jesus told his disciples (that includes you and me, by the way) that the greatest commandment was love, and that his NEW commandment was that his disciples were to love one another as He loved them. Laying down their lives for one another, in a practical day-by-day manifestation of God’s love. Setting aside self, in favor of a brother or sister.

If we learn to express that kind of agapé love in our actions, the unity will be easier to maintain, and the outward trappings of righteousness easier to achieve, as well, since usually the roots of disunity and every kind of sin are found in self-will. Agapé love cannot co-exist with self-will.

Conclusion

This message is only a quick look at the three things God has given by which the world is free to judge the Church. On the basis of these three things, how do you think the world ought to feel about the Church, as a whole, today?

What are you personally willing to do to reverse that trend? It all comes down to each Christian asking, “Is it I, Lord?” and going back to 1st John 1:9, confessing our sin, and beginning to walk again.

I want to be the kind of Christian that Jesus wants me to be. I want to love the way he says to love, even when it doesn’t feel good. I want to be one who helps to maintain the real unity created by the Holy Spirit…not looking for ways to break away from fellowship. I want to live in such a way that other humans, believers or unbelievers, can look and see the hand of God in my life, and give glory to Him, not me. My hope is that you want to live this way, too. We’ll discuss these things in more depth in the coming weeks. But for now, let’s meditate on what we have learned regarding our own behavior and choices, and ask the Lord to reveal what needs to change.

Lord Jesus, once again, we ask that you turn our eyes to the mirror of God’s Word and allow us to examine ourselves in the light of what we see there. Bring conviction where it is appropriate, and comfort where it is needed. Re-mold us into your own likeness, and to your glory.


What About the Future?

Making Plans: What About the Future?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:13-17

Introduction:

We humans are constantly making plans: we have “day-planners” that we carry with us, and business-plans, wherein we predict the future of a company. I am told that US businesses think they are doing well to have a five-year business plan, but that many Japanese businesses have 100-year plans. That boggles my mind, because there are so many unforeseeable changes in the world that it seems impossible to have any sort of serious plans extending more than a very few years. How can one predict market trends, new inventions, famines, plagues, wars, etc.? In reality, we have very little “control” of our lives, though we want very much to think that we are in control. James reflects that reality, and warns us to give God the honor He deserves by confessing that, in reality, He… and only He… is in control of the future. All we can control is our response to that reality.

So, James answers our ambitious, presumptuous, self-confident plans by saying, 13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

It would be an easy shift, to change our thinking, and simply acknowledge that God can confirm our plans or He can change them completely. We could simply say “If the Lord wills…” which could be just lip service. But it does require at least some humility, to say, “I hope to do thus and so, but, ultimately, God is in control, not I.”

The Problem of Self-Direction

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

We don’t think of our “grand plans” as “boasting,” but God says they are! And each of us has made such plans, at one time or another, thinking we were “taking control” of our futures…but the fact is, we do not have control of our futures. Our lives are completely under God’s control, for good or bad. My wife and I knew a Godly young woman, apparently with her whole life ahead of her. She was married, and had great things planned. But she slipped on an icy walk, and smacked her head: and the bleeding on her brain killed her. Was she in sin? Not that I know of. She was really a godly young lady, and rejoicing in the Lord. But God has the right to take his children home, and it is not punishment! She simply graduated early. She is home with Jesus. It was a surprise, and a shock, but, honestly, isn’t that what we are all looking forward to?

And God says that our “self-centered” desire to be “self-directed”, making us “self-made” men and women, is what is evil, having found its root in the sin of Satan, which we can read about, in Isaiah 14:12-15. 12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Lucifer lost his position as the “Light-bearer” (that’s what “Lucifer” means) when he sinned. What was the sin? The desire to be self-directed…to be his own master, and thus, ultimately, to supplant God.

He made five statements of self-will in that passage, all exalting himself above God.

  1. I will ascend into heaven (not by invitation, but by presumption)
  2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God (referring to the angelic host)
  3. I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north (referring to Zion: God’s chosen throne on earth)
  4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds (God’s position)
  5. I will be like the most high. (Self-direction is the only aspect in which he could be like the most high…he could not attain to the attributes of deity, but he wanted the position and honor of deity.)

What did all five statements have in common? “I will…”  This is the self-will that set in motion the sin that pervades our human sphere. He spread it to the first Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden, and they lost their position of innocence. They regained fellowship with God through a blood sacrifice, and by faith. We also enter into that fellowship by a blood sacrifice (the Cross) and by faith. But when we sin, even as believers, we emulate the self-will of Lucifer, because we defy the authority of God, and, by our actions, words or attitudes, we declare that “In this small sphere, I am the master! I will make the choices, here, and I will chart the course of my life!”

It is hard for us to think of these things in this way, because we have been taught, all of our lives, that such things are good! “Be your own person! Take charge of your life! Be all you can be! Be your own boss! Throw off the shackles of authority! You deserve the best!” Does any of that sound familiar? Those are all advertisements in magazines, as to how you can tell off your boss, start your own business, and suddenly be in charge of your own future, get rich (or at least richer), and have all the things and the relationships you have always wanted! Interesting, huh?

How does the Enemy attack us?

Do you see how, when Satan tempted and tricked Eve, he attacked through three areas of temptation? Genesis 3:6 says that “When she saw that:

  1. the fruit was good to eat, and
  2. that it was pleasant to the eyes, and
  3. desirable to make one wise,

(then) she took the fruit and ate, and gave it to her husband with her, and he ate…”  The result was the fall of the human race! Spiritually, we all died that day in the Garden of Eden. We were separated from fellowship with God! We have regained our position through Jesus’s blood at the Cross, but we still have our old Sin nature, and can still be drawn away to sin.

When Satan tested Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), he used the same three areas of temptation: food, public status, and riches. But Jesus successfully rejected that temptation, on the basis of God’s Written Word…which we can also choose to do.

There’s an odd thing, here: God calls out those specific things as how the enemy will tempt us, too! (1st John 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” )

  1. The Lust of the Eyes (what I see and find attractive)
  2. The Lust of the Flesh (what would serve to gratify the body)
  3. The boastful Pride of life (What would serve to gratify my sense of self-importance.)

Those same weapons have been used against the human race from the very beginning. And the pride issue, the part of us that says, “I did it myyy way!” (That was a famous song!) is a very common failing, virtually universal among humans. So, with that warning, we need to change how we approach life.

What can I do differently?

Is it “wrong” to make plans? When God says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding…” does that mean it is sin to make plans? Absolutely not! In fact, Jesus addressed that idea in regard to discipleship, saying we need to count the cost, sit down and calculate whether we can do the things we hope for: He gave the examples of one preparing to build a tower, or go into battle, calculating ahead of time whether they had what it took to complete the work, or to succeed in battle.

I have to plan ahead, and make time to study God’s Word, or I will not have the teaching to feed a flock. We have to plan ahead and prepare the soil for a garden, if we want to reap a crop or even have flowers. We have to plan ahead and acquire specific schooling if we want to work in certain jobs or professions. And maybe, after all, we aren’t able to do those things once we take the training. (You can’t be a surgeon, for example, if you always faint at the sight of blood! Or a commercial fisherman, if you can’t overcome motion sickness, etc.)

We each have plans we have to make, and the passage that warns us to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts” goes on to say, “…in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path!” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

So James echoes this idea; that we need to recognize our frailty at the very least: our lives are like a vapor, or a mist, that appears briefly and then is gone. We have grand ideas of things we’d like to do, but the very least we can do is realize how short life really is, and that we simply don’t have time to do them all. (I like to make things. My brother-in-law pointed out, “Chet, you can make anything! You cannot make everything!” Meaning, “You won’t have time!”)

Not all of the ideas we have are worth wasting our limited time on them. But if we start with the confession of our own frailty and the very brief time we have been given in which to function, then we can begin to rethink our values and our choices, and apply the wisdom of God to our plans, seeking His guidance and approval as we go. He says that we need to recognize every day that our plans are subject to His authority, and that things may change suddenly and without warning. (Remember the rich man who was planning to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his crops, as opposed to sharing that bounty. He didn’t know that he was already in his last day of life.)

I knew a Bible teacher, in 1975 (Ralph Hovland, a retired missionary,) who had spent what most would call “his retirement years” teaching the Bible to younger men and women, preparing them for service. He finally was too old to even continue that, so he was going to retire, and he and his wife were going to move to a retirement home of some sort. He was walking down the street near the school with one of his students, Scott Gutmann, and explaining his plans. He concluded with, “But, of course, the Lord could change those plans at any moment!” and at that moment, he suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead! He was called home, as a good and faithful servant. No suffering, no slow deterioration. And the impact it had on Scott’s life was profound! He went on to serve as a missionary as well.

There is nothing wrong with making plans, and we are urged by God to do so:  Proverbs 6:6-8Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

We are given ample instructions as to preparing for an uncertain future: to “…watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh.” Ralph Hovland had done exactly that: he was fully prepared for an uncertain future. It changed without warning.

How should we respond, then?

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Each of us has this warning, so, then, each of us is responsible to take heed. In so saying, James gives us one of the four New Testament definitions of Sin: “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This is where the sins of omission come in: If we know what God wants us to do, and choose to do something else; even if the thing we are doing is not intrinsically “wrong,” it is sin, because we knew we were supposed to be doing otherwise. Sin isn’t necessarily on a list of things not to do: It could simply be doing something other than what we were directed to do.

We need to be looking to God for our direction: in His Word, in Prayer, being alert to the prompting of God, by the Holy Spirit. He never leads contrary to His Word, so that is a “filter” we can constantly apply to our plans. Read the Word and find out God’s Principles!

In this particular passage, it seems that the “good”, is something “good” in the sense of moral rightness, not just “they would like it if I did this.” And, in the second place, it says, “if a man knoweth to do good, and doeth it not…” (Not, just “if a man has a great idea of how to be a blessing to the world around him.”) I do think that there has to be some sense of having been directed by God; either through His written word, or some sort of clear leading.

When Ann and I are moved to give money (for example) to meet a known need, we are both alerted to the need, and, invariably, we have the same amount in mind. We see that as God’s leading. Perhaps there are better ways to approach this, but, between God’s Word and Prayer, I don’t know of any better way.

The Key is Submission to God

The real key in making plans is to consistently be in submission to God as we read in James 4:7, so that He is able to direct our hearts and, ultimately, our paths. Apart from a conscious choice, moment by moment, to submit to the Lord, we can’t be sure we are doing His will, even though we look to His Word for direction. If I have chosen to submit my will to God, and I can see from His Word what I think he wants me to do, then I can be pretty sure I am doing right.

I knew a fellow, years ago (a believer,) who earnestly wanted to do God’s will, and daily sought to lead others to Christ. The problem was that he was an hourly worker, and was trying to lead people to Christ during times when he was supposed to be working: and the type of work (welding) precluded working and talking at the same time. He did not see that he was dishonoring God by taking time during which he was paid to weld (as were the people he was talking to) to try and tell people about Jesus. He was ultimately let go…not for witnessing, but because of not working. (He was actually off in another building, going through the garbage dumpster, looking for cans to turn in for money, when he was supposed to be working.) That is not a good testimony, and it is not being in submission to God. I don’t know if he ever admitted to himself that what he was doing was wrong, but it served to remind me that the things we do have eternal impact, for better or for worse.

In these tumultuous times we are living in right now, we have a special desire to use our time wisely, and to make Godly choices, as it truly seems we are getting closer to the Lord’s return. We don’t want to waste what little time we have left!

We will try to spend some time, soon, talking about these troubled times and how we are affected by them; but for now, regardless of when the Lord returns, the key issue is that we be in constant submission to the Lord, and alert to His direction and leading.

Lord Jesus, please draw our hearts to yourself, so that we are constantly motivated by your Word, by your Spirit, and your Love. Allow us to examine ourselves in the Mirror of your Word, and remember what we see there. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness. Make us the men and women of God you have called us all to be.


Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:1-7

Introduction:

We often wonder why our prayer life seems ineffectual, and either bemoan that “God doesn’t answer,” or cynically declare that “prayer makes no difference, because God will just do whatever His plan was, anyway.” Both ideas are wrong, and the truth is more related to the character of our relationship with God than it is anything else. James begins by backing up and asking a rhetorical question, and then answers it, and begins to build upon the answer.

Human Sin

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Here, the “you” (plural) to whom James speaks, is the whole human race. There had been no instance (at that time) of literal wars happening between believers, though it has happened more recently. But the history of the human race is absolutely riddled with warfare, raids, murders, enslavement, etc., in every nation, and in virtually every culture, at one time or another. And James recognized the source of the problem: that, far from being just some “force of nature”, or “artifact of human imperfection”, those wars and evil behaviors specifically come from our sinful desires.

Whether the desire is for political ascendancy, more land, more power of any sort, natural resources, or any other thing, the fact is that we, the human race, are willing to commit violence to satisfy our desires. That forces the other party to commit violence in defense: they really have little or no choice. But invariably, they end up wanting revenge, not just defense. So the cycle goes on, and repeats itself. If we want to see the original source, we can read Isaiah 14:12-15. There we see how Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” through his desire for power and glory, became Satan, the “Adversary.” We have adversarial relationships with one another because of our sinful, selfish desires, and, ultimately, we, as a race, are adversaries of God thereby as well.

Romans 5:10 agrees with this idea, stating that we (believers) were enemies of God (prior to being saved) and that Jesus died for us while we were in that state, not after repentance or because of some “pre-christian” status. (There is no such thing as a “pre-christian,” by the way. We start off as enemies of God, and, if we die in that position, we are eternally lost. If God can bring us to repentance then we make a full transition to being children of God, and are credited with the righteousness of Christ.)

So, this passage tells us why the state of man is so filled with violence. God made a point of this clear back in Genesis 6:12, noting that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. He also stated, (Genesis 6:5) that every thought of the imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually. “Well (we may protest) that was before the flood. We are all sprung from Noah, today!) So then, after the flood, things should have improved, right? Let’s see what God said: (Genesis 8:21) “…the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” The only people present were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their respective wives! Eight persons comprised the world’s entire population! And God said they were full of evil!

So…if that is the state of man, what chance do we have for improvement? On our own effort? None at all! That is why Jesus became a human being, lived a perfect life so as to qualify as our redeemer, and willingly became our blood-sacrifice at Calvary. He did this so that we could be born from above…born again, with a new nature, which is capable of living for God. What about that old nature? It is still there, otherwise all the warnings of the New Testament would be pointless, as believers would be incapable of sin!

But the truth is that our old nature is completely incapable of being transformed, healed, or salvaged. It is not only corrupt but it is still actively being corrupted. When we sin, we feed our old nature, and it is strengthened. But our new nature is completely holy, like the One who created it. So we are left with a perpetual fight to maintain a Christian life.

James knew all of this, but rather than go into detail explaining it to fellow-Jewish Christians, he built on their knowledge of the Word, and moved forward. (We Gentiles frequently have to go back and read the Old Testament Scriptures in order to catch up.)

Unanswered Prayer

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When we think of prayer, our opinions may run everywhere from “prayer is a waste of breath, because God is just going to do what He wants to do, anyway” all the way to the idea that God is a “celestial vending machine” who will give us whatever we ask for, if we either ask often enough, or ask with the right formula, or something. Both of those ideas are sadly mistaken, though both have elements of truth.

God does commit Himself to righteousness, and to His own perfect plan, though His plan may seem chaotic to us. We need to realize that what seems rather random and directionless, to us, is actually quite controlled, but so unimaginably complex as to easily evade our understanding. We humans can create machines, computer programs, to produce “random” numbers, but the fact is that they are simply taking whatever micro-millisecond that the computer clock is at, at the moment you give the command, and applying an extremely complex formula to that number, so rapidly that we cannot hope to follow it. Since we have no way to know the exact time we gave the command, and no way to track the math, the resulting number seems completely random to us, but, in reality, it was completely planned: we are just unable to see the plan.

Isn’t it odd that we are willing to entrust our lives and money and health to a computer, designed, built and programmed by humans, who, in turn, were programmed by their own sin, but we are not so willing to trust the God who designed and built us, though He is not contaminated by our sin? Give that some thought!

Prerequisites to Answered Prayer

Over in Hebrews 11:6, it says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” We have to begin with the conviction that God exists, and that He is good, beyond comprehension: that He is the creator and designer of all good, and that even the evil in the world is not “outside” His oversight.

We live, today, in the ruins of what was created a perfect world, but which was devastated by sin: we live with the evidence of that destruction all around us: even in the majesty of the peaks, where we see the layered sediments as mute testimony of the flood, and the broken, ragged ridges; evidence of the continental breakup still in motion today. So, within the wreckage of “life after the Fall of Man” we need to realize that God’s ultimate good is still in control, but there are still the ugly realities to deal with: life in a fallen world; life with fallen humans as our fellow-travelers. When we pray, we need to realize that sometimes the things we want are not in keeping with a greater plan of God.

Therefore, we are admonished over in 1st John that there are some prerequisites to answered prayer:

  1. We, ourselves, have to be in obedience to God, so that we are not already at cross-purposes to His sovereignty. (Yes, it is not only possible to be at cross-purposes to God, it is so common as to be nearly universal. 1st John 3:18-24)
  2. We have to ask in accordance with His revealed will. (1st John 5:14, 15) This takes some study and growth, on our part, to even know, as an over-arching concept, what that will is, let alone His will for any given matter. But God does reserve the right to reply in one of three ways:
    1. Yes,” which is what we always want.
    1. No,” which is what we really mean, when we claim that “God didn’t answer me!” or,
    1. Wait,” which is very commonly perceived as “no;” but we need to be patient and find out whether our petition has been denied for cause, or simply deferred, because a better occasion is coming soon.

So, how does God see our Allegiances with the World?

Finally, here in James, we see that we frequently are turned away because of wrong motives. The wrong motives, whatever the reason, would automatically place us in the category of “not praying according to God’s Will.”

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Remember that we all begin as the enemies of God: Romans 5:8-10 made this clear. So, having been born again, and no longer being citizens of this world, we need to change our allegiances, as well. It is not that we are not to befriend the people of the world…Remember? “God so loved the World….” But we are to sever our allegiance to the world’s system of thought, and its values and morals.

The people in the world, every single one of them, are created in the image of God, and are precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood. And yet, even there, we are encouraged to make friends of God’s friends. King Jehoshaphat, in 2nd Chronicles 19:1-3, was rebuked for having allied himself with King Ahab, an evil man, in a war (previous chapter.) God eliminated Ahab through a “random” arrow, but Jehoshaphat had survived the battle.

On his way back home, a prophet, named Jehu, met him on the road, and delivered God’s rebuke. The alliance was the issue; the military partnership with a nation that was already at odds with God. We are not to make alliances or partnerships with people who are at cross-purposes against God. 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18 spells this out very clearly: we are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. (This includes, of course, the partnership of marriage. Believers are not to knowingly marry an unbeliever. Have there been people who were tricked into believing that their intended spouse was a believer, only to discover later that it was a lie? Certainly there have been, and God knows that. He addresses that elsewhere.)

This caution against “Friendship with the World” in no way cancels our “debt” to those around us, to offer the love of God, and the Gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16; 13:8). Most will reject the Gospel, and we know that, but we still have the obligation to make the offer of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to those around us.

However, if we continue to embrace the World’s way of thinking, then, at least at a functional level, we are still behaving as the enemies of God. This is the practice and mindset that we are to abandon, wholesale, and avoid completely. The attitude and arrogance, and duplicity of the world, along with its constant message of self-importance and self-will, is completely repugnant to God. We need to guard against being drawn back to those values. When we find that we are setting aside known directives and values of God in favor of what seems appropriate from a human perspective, then we have already crossed the line, even if we think we are doing something “good.”

Grieving the Holy Spirit

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

I am given to believe that the “Spirit,” here, is the Holy Spirit (in spite of the lack of capitalization in the KJV), and that the desire the Spirit has, is for us to learn to devote ourselves completely to God. We tend to only see the word “lust” as referencing sexual desire, but it actually means any strong desire, and not necessarily even an evil desire. Our own spirit is never said to “dwell” in us, as it is truly part of who we are (body, soul, and spirit, 1st Thessalonians 5:23.) Since that is the case, then I do not see this as our own human spirit, as the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in us, and as the third member of the Godhead, He certainly has some strong desires where God’s Will is concerned. Over in Galatians 5:17, it says that “the flesh (old sin nature) lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh…” In that context, at least, the spirit in question is definitely the Holy Spirit. I believe it is, here in James 4:5, as well. Even if that is settled, and if I am correct, I still have to decide what the “desire” of the Holy Spirit is, for us:

In the Old Testament, God claims to be a “jealous God,” desiring his people to serve Him alone, and not go after other gods. In fact, he refers to this practice as spiritual adultery. He considered Israel to be wedded to Himself, and, as a husband, He was jealous of her attention to the foreign, false, evil gods of the nations around her.

We, as the Church-age believers, are called the “Bride of Christ.” Is it surprising, then, that the Holy Spirit jealously calls us to separate ourselves from our old ways and walk with Him alone? Specifically, that He calls us to drop our “friendship with the World”, and draw close to the Lord who bought us out of slavery to sin? I think it is perfectly understandable, and right. In Ephesians 4:30, we are cautioned to “…grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” If we are grieving the Holy Spirit by our attitudes, our actions, or our allegiances, then we definitely should not expect that our prayers will be received as we want them to be. The Psalmist (Psalm 66:18) says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” It does not say that He cannot hear, but that He will not hear us.

How can we overcome this pattern? Humility!

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

This is a hard passage to apply: we never like to admit to ourselves that we are “proud people.” But, when our pride is causing arguments, division, and a stiff-necked disobedience, then we are not in a condition to be blessed by God. Instead, He has to resist us at every turn. The scripture never lists pride as a “positive” trait. It sometimes lists it as an “ordinary” thing, for example, he mentions, in the Old Testament, a strong man glorying in his strength, but even then, he cautions that it is a temporary, fleeting glory. Pride and self-will are in opposition to God, plain and simple: so He has no choice but to oppose us, and resist us, in our pride. If we want to enjoy God’s Grace, then we need to willingly humble ourselves, so that He does not have to do it, teaching us humility the hard way.

The next verse is easy to misunderstand, as well:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This verse must be taken in its entirety: Satan is not “afraid of believers.” But He cannot stand before God. So, a believer, not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but also in submission to Him, and thus able to resist Satan, is not just a helpless sheep, ready to become the prey of the Evil One, but, instead, is a powerful partner of Christ, and is at least dangerous to the plans and programs of Satan. Consider a wild animal…a coyote, perhaps: though he is unafraid of a horse alone, when it sees the same horse with a man in the saddle, he runs for cover. It isn’t the horse that frightens him; it is the man directing the horse that is dangerous. He knows that people are his enemies, and are quite able to kill at a distance.

When we are in submission to God, we are dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. But without that first clause in verse seven, the second clause would be a laughable fallacy. In our own strength, we cannot resist the evil one. We are automatically submitted to him, in fact, when we are not submitted to God.

We only have two natures: Either we will submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus, and see His power working in our lives through our new nature, or we will, by default, submit ourselves to the evil one, and we will increasingly see him damaging our lives, our testimony, and our happiness, as our old sin nature runs wild.

So…Where are you now?

There is no middle ground: when we were unbelievers, we thought that we were “free” from the influence of either God or Satan. Indeed, we counted ourselves the “masters of our fates, and the captains of our souls,” as the poem “Invictus” boasts. But we were actually deceived, and, in fact, we were completely, blindly, under the sway of the Evil one. We had no conscious knowledge of our plight, and so we thought that we were free. Now we have freedom to choose, but there is still no middle ground. We will either serve Jesus, consciously, and willingly, or we will serve Satan, unconsciously, and whether we like it or not.

I frequently think of Samson: Because of his inconsistent, continually “sloppy” walk with God, in spite of the fact that he was a genuine believer, and a man of God, who is even listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, he ended up being physically blinded, and working as a prisoner and a slave, under the Philistines, his mortal enemies. A believer today can end up being spiritually blinded, and working for his great enemy, Satan…and not even know that he has again become a slave to sin.

All I can do is look and see where I am: what does the fruit in my life look like: am I being a blessing to the people around me; and am I a “fragrance of Christ,” or am I a curse and a stumbling-block? Do I pray for them with an honest heart, desiring the best for their lives, or am I mostly praying for them to change, so I will be more comfortable? Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus died, or do I see them mostly as an irritation, causing me inconvenience and distress? What are my real motives in life? Are they the same as those Jesus displayed, or are they self-centered, just like those of the World?

These are things we must think about, as we examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. These are the things we should consider, when we question the “effectiveness” of prayer, and when we wonder where our joy in life has gone.

Please consider carefully, and choose rightly how to respond. If anyone would like to talk more about this, please contact me, and we will take whatever time is needed to find answers in God’s Word.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the Mirror of God’s Word, and James says: let us see where we truly are in our walk with you and let us humble ourselves under your hand, so that you may bless our lives and our service.



The Sources of Wisdom

James 3:17, 18
“17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”