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Security of the Believer (Pt. 1)

Introduction to Peter’s Epistles:

Security of the Believer (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:1-5

Introduction:

We never want to forget that the Author of any portion of Scripture is God, but I think it is important to remember the identity of the writers as well: The writer, in this case is the Apostle Peter, and it was written probably about A.D. 60. But let’s give some thought to Peter: This is Peter, the companion of Jesus, the commercial fisherman, the one who openly struggled with his humanity, and truly desired to overcome it and walk with Jesus. This is the Commercial fisherman who absolutely knew the danger of going overboard in a storm but was willing to deliberately step out of the boat, to “go for a walk on the water” with Jesus.

This is the same Peter who was sternly rebuked by Jesus for trying to prevent Jesus’s journey to the Cross; the same who swore he would be true to the death, but a few days later, denied he even knew the Lord. The same Peter who ran to the gravesite, and barged right into the empty tomb, seeing for himself the empty grave-clothes, and the folded face covering. This is the same Peter who loved Jesus with all his heart, as a human, and knew his own shortcoming: he couldn’t profess a greater love. The same Peter, who tradition holds was crucified upside down, by his own request, as he didn’t feel he was worthy to die just as Jesus did. We don’t know the manner of his death in detail, and I can’t prove the traditional tale true or false. But all the other notes are directly from scripture.

Remembering who Peter was, as a human, leaves me a little surprised at his understanding of “heavy doctrines,” which may explain why it astonished the Jews of the time as well. What you and I need to remember is that it was a supernaturally-supplied understanding. In the first place, his personal tutor was God the Son! In the second place, when he began his preaching ministry in the book of Acts, he was not only indwelt by, but also “full of” (under the influence of) God the Holy Spirit. The Jews were amazed (Acts 4:8-12), and said, “How could an uneducated man learn these things?” Let us not make the mistake of judging the authorship by what we know of the writer: Peter was just “the guy carrying the bucket!” The one who filled it was God. God is the Author of this epistle, just as He is the Author of the rest of the Bible.

This epistle was to a large group of scattered individuals, not to an individual, nor to a specific assembly in a given town. But the way he describes them in the first five verses allows us to realize that we are also included. Like the other epistles, this is to You.

Security of the Believer

Chapter One

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Key Words and Ideas in the first five verses of this epistle:

I have underscored about 30 words or phrases in these first five verses. If we can grasp the significance of these few words and phrases, we will be well on our way to studying the whole epistle:

Peter (Greek ‘petros’): This is not just “the man’s name:” it is the new name given to Simon Bar-Jonas, by Jesus, and it means “a rock”…a stone, such as one might pick up and move, to be used for some purpose. This is not to be confused with ‘Petra’ which meant an unmovable bedrock: the kind a building is founded upon, not to be moved. Peter is not the “rock” upon which Jesus was to build His church. The Truth about Jesus is! (Matthew 16:18)

Apostle: The word simply means a “sent one.” There is a gift called “apostle,” and that gift is a person. Peter was one of those gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16). Are there others beside the original 12? Well, there at least were others: Paul was one, for sure. Some think he was the only other one, but in Acts 14:14 both Barnabas and Paul were identified as Apostles. There is some evidence that Apollos was recognized as an apostle. It is possible that the number even included Priscilla and Aquila, but all it says is that they were “of note among the apostles.” At any rate, that is what the word means, and as far as I can see, their primary task was to plant the churches. There are people who argue that they also had to write scriptures. The problem with that idea is that there are only eight writers of the New Testament, and only four of them were called apostles. Mark was not an apostle. Neither was Luke. The “James” who wrote the epistle of James is almost certainly not James the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, but rather one of the brothers of the Lord, who was not even a believer during the Lord’s earthly ministry. And Jude did not claim apostleship, but only said he was James’ brother. Just something to consider.

Jesus: this is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name we pronounce “Joshua.” It means “The LORD (YHWH) Saves;” which is especially significant because the angel Gabriel announced that his name should be called Jesus because He would save his people from their sins. This is the name before which it is said “every knee shall bow, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the name of which it is said “…there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This is His personal name, as the Savior, and not just during his earthly ministry. It is his chosen name forever, regardless of into what languages it is translated. Not the pronunciation of it, but the name itself: the “content” of the name.

Christ: This is a Greek word, too, meaning, “the anointed one,” which is what the Hebrew term “Messiah” means.  That is His “office”, as being “chosen and sent by God”…it is not his “last name.” When we refer to Jesus Christ, we are referring to Jesus as the “anointed one” from God, who was sent as our one and only Blood Sacrifice by which the sins of the entire Human race were to be washed away. It means, Jesus the Messiah: Jesus, the Anointed One. The world uses it as a curse, when, in fact, it is a point of worship. He is “The Anointed One!” There is no other!

Strangers: This epistle was especially addressed to the “dispersion:” the Jews who had been scattered among the nations, but specifically the Messianic Jews—the believers among the dispersion (perhaps specifically those who had been scattered after the persecution in Jerusalem)…not just any foreign-born Jew. Remember that the scattered tribes had been gathered in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost, for the feast of tabernacles. Those who became believers in Jesus stayed in Jerusalem because of the Gospel. When persecution arose, they were scattered again (Acts 8:1) and possibly began drifting back to their homes among the nations. But we are told that wherever they went, the Gospel went. They shared their faith! These are the original recipients of this epistle. But we are to be that sort of person as well.

Elect: This word means “chosen.” A lot of controversy comes over the understanding of this word, so we will address it later, except to point out that it does not always have anything to do with salvation. Aaron’s rod was called “elect,” too, as were the vessels in the temple. It simply means “Chosen.” Rather than spending a lot of time on the subject right now, I would like to point out that the whole Gospel is addressed to “Whosoever Will.” (Revelation 22:17) We see the invitation on the outside of the “gate” or “door,” so to speak, saying, “Whosoever Will May Come! “ Then, by Grace, through faith, we step across that threshold, entering into a permanent relationship with the Creator, through Jesus’ Blood at the Cross. But later on, we begin to learn more, and we look around; finally turning to look back and ask “How did I get in here?” And, on the inside of that same door, we see the sign, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the Earth!” God chose in Eternity Past, to save all those “In Christ.” Those who respond in faith are automatically part of that group. There is nothing in the scripture to indicate that God deliberately chose the majority of the Human Race to end up in eternal punishment. We choose that ourselves.

Foreknowledge: This goes right along with “election:” we have no doubt about the absolute foreknowledge of God. That’s the way He presents His “Credentials” in Isaiah 46:10. He “declares the end from the beginning.”  We will address both of these ideas more thoroughly, later in this study. Yes, God knew from Eternity Past who would choose to believe Him, and who would not. But He also chose to go to the Cross and die for the sins of even those who rejected Him. You will never meet a person for whom Jesus didn’t die; a person whose sins were not under His Blood. 1st John 2:2 specifies that Jesus did not die “…for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God knows in advance who will come, but the offer and the promise is genuine.

God: The Greek word is “Theos.” It is His “office”…” it is what He is.” This is not His name. The name he offered to Moses, to give to Israel, was ‘I AM.” The name by which Abraham knew Him was what we call the “Tetragrammaton:” the “YHWH” four-letter “puzzle,” which no one seems to know how to pronounce. (I think Acts 4:12 is a good answer to that puzzle, by the way.) But this passage specifically refers to God the Father.

At this point we are beginning to touch upon the doctrine of the Trinity. In Isaiah 9:6, 7, we are told that “the Son”, the long-awaited Child, of whom we sing at Christmas, “…shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father!” So, at that point I gave up. Jesus confirmed that the Father is greater than He, but this scripture says Jesus is the Father. And, in Acts 5 and in Acts 13, we see the Holy Spirit identified as God, as well. So…I will drop it right there. I think the Trinity is a true “mystery,” and I seriously doubt that it is decipherable by human intellect.

Sanctification: the word means “being set apart for a special purpose.” Like the word “elect,” it can be used for inanimate objects, not just humans. But in the case of humans: saved individuals have become the Lord’s personal property, and are for His use and His honor only. We have been declared holy! Give that some thought, as to how it may apply to your own life. When the vessels from the temple, which were declared Holy, were defiled by enemies who stole them and used them in idolatrous feasts, did they lose their “holy” status? No! They had to be cleansed, and restored to proper use, but they were still God’s personal Property. So are we! So, when we have sinned, and are out of fellowship with God, we are no less holy, positionally, but we are defiled, in terms of condition. We need to be cleansed and restored! That is what 1st John 1:9 is all about: the restoration of a sinning believer.

The Spirit: This is in reference to the Holy Spirit: there is not as much information about the third member of the Godhead as we might like there to be. There is enough, however. He chooses to not speak of Himself, but of Jesus. The bookstores are loaded with extrabiblical books about the third member of the Godhead which are largely false. But there is sufficient information in the scriptures for our use, and Jesus specifically said that the Holy Spirit would not glorify Himself, but only Jesus. We need to keep that in mind, when we are trying to gain “greater spiritual experiences.” Does it really glorify Jesus, or do we simply want a thrill?

Obedience: The Greek word here, is “hupakoe”, meaning to “hearken submissively” or, along with that idea, to “set in order below”…in other words, deliberately choosing for ourselves the “lower rank,” where Jesus is concerned, and taking His Word as authoritative. Interesting concept, isn’t it? Notice that both the word “Obedience” and the following phrase, “the sprinkling of Blood,” are both in reference to the Lord Jesus.

Sprinkling of Blood: This refers back to the Old Testament sacrificial system, under which an object was declared holy through the sprinkling of the blood of a holy sacrifice: a priest or other believer was declared holy (as well as cleansed) by the same sort of sprinkling. This was completely fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ, whose Blood did not just “cover” our sin (which is what happened at the day of Atonement, each year) but “takes away the sin of the World,” according to the statement made by John the Baptist, in John 1:29. These Jewish Christians were quite familiar with the Old Testament teachings regarding Blood. They had no trouble understanding what Peter meant. He stated it fully, though: “…Obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”…so this is not some generic requirement of obedience, nor of any “other” blood. Both are about Jesus. And all of these people had heard Jesus, and had “hearkened submissively.” This is the “obedience to the faith,” called out in Romans 1:5. Paul made it more clear a few verses later, in Romans 1:16, where he stated that the Gospel, being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. This is Obedience to the faith. Does it result in more “physical” obedience? Surely it does, yes, but the initial choice to place one’s dependence on the shed blood of Jesus at the Cross for salvation, is the “obedience of faith” that resulted in the “Sprinkling of Blood” upon that believer’s soul, and which cleanses him or her before God, forever!

Conclusion: (Yes it means You!)

If you have heard the Gospel, the “good news” that Jesus’s blood was the full payment for your sins: If you have believed that news, and placed your trust in His shed blood for your salvation, then according to Jesus’s personal promise in John 5:24, all of the things we have been talking about are true of you!

You have been “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the earth!” You have been declared Holy, by the “sprinkling of His blood” and You are His personal Property, forever!

Yes, you entered in because you saw or heard the invitation, “Whosoever Will may Come!” But you can now look back and see that you were chosen in Him, specifically because you were “one who would respond in faith.” So, now, when you read the first chapter of Ephesians, and see all the amazing “positional truths” laid out there, you can know for sure that all those things are true of You, not just some “theoretical person.”

Next week we will continue in 1st Peter, and see the remaining concepts concerning our eternal position in Christ.

Lord Jesus, please secure our hearts against the fear that the Enemy sows in us. Let us rest in your Promise, not in our own wisdom or reasoning. Help us to obey out of Love and confidence, not fear, as we rest in your promise and your Love.


Faith Begets Godly Wisdom

Faith Begets Godly Wisdom

“The World by (worldly) Wisdom Knew Not God”

© C. O. Bishop 2020

James 1:5-11; 1st Corinthians 1:17-25 (esp. 21)

Introduction:

For some reason, Christians love to cite “Scientific Proof” for the Bible being the Word of God. Occasionally, it is some specific point that is being corroborated by physical evidence, which is fine: God’s Word does have a better pedigree in terms of documented evidence for its archaeological accuracy, etc. than any other ancient document. In fact, I have been told that, prior to a century ago, historians believed the city of Troy, from Homer’s The Iliad, to be sheer fiction, with no historical basis in fact. But, as I was told, the city of Troas is identified (and located) from scripture, and it was conjectured that possibly, because of the similar name, they were the same place. So digging commenced at Troas, and, sure enough, nine civilizations down, archaeologists discovered that Troy had indeed been a real place…and that was it.

In another example, secular scholars long believed that King David of the Bible was a legendary character, and not historical. Why? Because no other ancient documents seemed to mention him. In fact, they also had believed that the Philistines, Israel’s ancient enemies, never existed, for similar reason. But archaeologists happened to discover the ruins of the Philistines right where the scriptures said they were supposed to be (and of course, they made the Philistines out to be noble, wonderful folk), and later, in Philistine writings they excavated, they found mention of…King David. (Oh! Well! So if the Philistines mention him, then he must have existed!)

Doesn’t that seem a little “backward?” If the Bible has more documented evidence to its accuracy than any other ancient document (and it does), wouldn’t it make more sense to take its word for something until proof comes that it is fiction, rather than the other way around?

The Psalms mention (Psalm 8:8) “…the paths of the sea”. In the early 1800’s, an American naval officer, Matthew Maury read that verse and thought, “Well this is certainly just a ‘figure of speech’…there are no ‘paths’ in the sea.” But he was a believer—he was convinced of the truth of God’s Word (as a principle) and it troubled him to find what seemed to be an exception. So…he proposed a test:

He already knew that there were certain places in the oceans that seemed to allow faster sailing, and thought that the explanation might be the “paths” mentioned in scripture. So the test was to have thousands of small bottles dropped overboard from sailing ships at each time a location was known, say, at their noon-shot bearings, with a slip of paper inside, having the longitude and latitude written on it, and a reward offered if the paper was sent in with precise answer as to where it was found. The idea was that, if there were paths, or “rivers”, currents, in the oceans, then the bottles would not just wash ashore randomly, but would go to specific areas, determined by the location where they were originally dropped overboard and the resulting exposure to the currents of the ocean.

And it worked! The result was the first tentative “mapping” of the ocean currents: the “paths of the sea”. Today the shipping companies use those routes to minimize fuel costs, and oceanographers maintain accurate satellite maps of the ocean currents, because, as it turns out, the paths move around a bit, and it pays to know where they are at any given time.

There are times when Scriptural information far pre-dates that of science: Though it made no special point of it, the Bible told of the original super-continent, and its subsequent breakup, long before modern science proved it to be so. (I had read it there, and understood the implications 20 years before the proof was determined by Computer modeling.) Now, here is an interesting question: The breakup supposedly happened long prior to man’s evolution on the planet. But the scripture not only calls out that it happened, but that it happened within the memory of man…a man was given the name “Peleg” (meaning “division”), because it broke up about the time he was born. How would they even have known about it, let alone named a child after the event?

If the Evidence is solid, why does the World reject the knowledge of God? Is it odd to you that the Bible makes no attempt to “prove” the existence of God? The existence of the “self-existent one” is taken as fact, and all that is offered is how a sinner may be reconciled to that holy God.

Faith Precedes Full Knowledge (not vice-versa)

Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith. It goes on to explain that “…he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

That naval officer believed God that there were paths in the seas, so he went looking for them. Today we have them mapped in detail by satellite photography, and infrared camera tracking, etc., so that shippers and meteorologists know on a day-by-day basis where the currents are, and how fast they are travelling, as well as their temperature within a few tenths of a degree. But the beginning of that knowledge was faith. Proverbs 1:7 agrees, stating that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham had met God…because God had sought him out, and invited him to leave his family home, and go with God. Abraham was nothing special—an idolatrous shepherd from what is now modern-day Iraq. But he believed God enough to get up and go, so God gave him a little more light. Eventually, in Genesis 15:6 where Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness…which is to say, God declared him righteous…the promise was for the Land and a progeny. Abraham was about 85 years old when God made that pivotal promise, and he was right at 100 years old, when his “only begotten” son was born (Abraham had seven other sons…one before, and six afterward, but none of them were the Son of the Promise. “Only-begotten” is a special phrase, meaning “the heir”.) But Abraham still had a lot to learn, after he believed God.

The Door to the Truth is the Will, not the Intellect

Jesus said that “whoever is willing to do the will of God will know of my teaching, whether it is of God, or just my own.”(John 7:17) The key to knowledge, then, as Jesus was describing it, was being willing to do God’s will. A person who approaches the truth in rebellion against God will find the truth to be too obscure to follow. He will find it repugnant, and finally call it foolishness. And God knows this. (1st Corinthians 1:23)

Jesus really did shed his blood for the sins of the whole world, and He said that He had come that the world through him might be saved. But he also predicted that most people would avoid Him, ignore the truth, take the easy way of following the World and believing Self… and as a result, would be lost.

Consider Cain and Abel: both, as far as we are told, had exactly the same information to work with, and that is borne out by the fact that God reasoned with Cain as with one who knew the truth. But Abel believed God, and Cain did not. Hebrews 11:4 states that by faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice. Both Cain and Abel knew it was to be a blood sacrifice; Cain went his own way, Abel believed God and obeyed.

Some well-meaning philosophers have attempted to “prove” the existence of God…but there are always holes in their arguments. Why? It is because we are required to know God by faith, and He will not permit us to remove faith from the equation. There will always be a believable argument available against faith, and it will always be a fatal choice, if believed.

Jesus described the “wide path” that leads to destruction: one might ask, then, “why not put up an impassable roadblock?” One thing we tend to miss is the fact that we are by nature the enemies of God, not just “innocent bumblers.” Romans 5:8-10 says that while were yet enemies, Christ died for our sins. God does not force his enemies to fellowship with Him. He offers full forgiveness to anyone who comes to Him, and warns over and over of the punishment awaiting those who continue to reject him. But, ultimately, if they choose destruction, that choice is open as well. He will not force them to come to safety in Him. The problem is “Human Reasoning.”

“Human” Reasoning leads to “Human” conclusions.

God tells us that humanity has never learned by means of human wisdom to know the Creator. (1st Corinthians 1:21) We are warned against human reasoning, philosophy, and vain thinking, (Colossians 2:8) because it will ensnare the unwary soul. The Law of the Harvest was laid down in the creation account—each plant bore seed “after its kind,” and every animal reproduced “after its kind.” What you sow is also what you reap. If you use human reasoning against, or instead of, God’s Word, you will wind up with Human conclusions against God’s Word. When a person or a church begins to drift away from the centrality of the Word of God, ultimately, the decisions they make and the conclusions at which they arrive will be in opposition to God’s principles…and the longer they allow the slide to go, the further from truth they will stray, until they are a fully apostate person or assembly, whether individual, local, or wide-spread. There are large church organizations today, once known for their stand with God, which are now better known for their stand against Him. There are no Bibles in their sanctuaries, nor is there a Godly word from their pulpit. They are fully committed to humanism, yet still proclaim themselves to be “Christian”, though everything about them says they are far removed from the flock of Christ.

How can we overcome this tendency?

Faith begets Wisdom

James 1:5-8 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

We see, then, that Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” is also borne out in the New Testament: We saw earlier that faith precedes knowledge; and here we see that faith precedes wisdom. In fact, in both cases, faith actually begets knowledge and wisdom. You see, James agrees with the Old Testament regarding both wisdom and knowledge:

Proverbs 2:6 “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” “Understanding” is the same as wisdom. The source of both knowledge and wisdom is the “mouth” of God! His Word is the source of both wisdom and knowledge. But to get either one requires that we approach the Bible as actually being His Word. That requires faith!

Hebrews 11:6 says, “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We feed on God’s Word, because we believe it is God’s Word. The result is a growing confidence and faith in Him (because we constantly see how all of His Word ties together) and a growing knowledge of what He says, as well as a growing wisdom as to how to apply it to our lives.

If we are constantly calling into question God’s character, and doubting His person, His authority or the truth of His Word, then we are not going to gain any of that. That is what “unbelief” really entails: we are continually questioning God’s character, and authority, and the truth of His Word, at the very least. And eventually we will even question His existence. This is why James says that a man full of doubts is unstable, and will not gain wisdom.

Wisdom gives Clear Perspective

The last three verses in this passage reflect another result of gaining God’ Wisdom: we gain a clear perspective as to who we are in Christ, which eliminates both pride and shame.

James 1:9-11 “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.”

If I am controlled by Godly Wisdom, I will neither be tempted to “hold myself up as being something special,” nor to “grovel in self-condemnation.” Romans 12:3 says that we are to see ourselves in a “sober” way: not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. This is not the same as “self-condemnation.” Sobriety means seeing things the way they really are. Years ago, an anti-drug campaign made a statement along the lines of “Drugs are for people who can’t handle reality!” Someone else replied, as a joke, “Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs!” But God says that “sobriety” (not simply the absence of substance abuse, but the embracing of reality) is the view by which He wants us to see ourselves and everything in life.

Perhaps you have thought, “Oh, I’m the worst sinner…!” Well, believe it or not, the Bible says who the “worst sinner” was, if you want to read for what it says. Three times, the Holy Spirit identified the Apostle Paul as “the chief among sinners;” “less than the least of all saints;” and “not worthy to be called an apostle.” There are those who laugh at this fact, saying, “Oh, that’s just how Paul felt about things!” If that is the case, then it is not true, and not all of the Bible is God’s Word, since not all of it is true. But this is God’s Word, and no one else in scripture is so labeled. You can accept it or not, but the Bible says you are not as “bad a sinner” as Paul was.

Perhaps you have thought, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as (so-and so)!” Sorry, that is a wrong perspective, too. If we were both without Christ, we would both be equally lost! (Remember that everyone outside the Ark, rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, sick or healthy, were ALL just as lost, when the rain began and God closed the door to the Ark! On the other hand, inside the Ark, regardless of any other differences…all were saved.

The ground at the foot of the Cross truly is level: As a man with limited education, I can rejoice that it will not hold me back in God’s service. As a man with a checkered past, perhaps, I can rejoice that it is all under the Blood of Jesus, and completely removed from how God sees me. As a person with lots of money, a sterling past, an impressive education and a long list of accomplishments, I could rejoice that those things also do not prevent my serving the Lord with my life. (They may even help, but there is no guarantee that they will do so. Paul had all of those things, and he reckoned it all to have been a waste.)

Conclusion

All of us need to gain a proper perspective as to our importance to God, and our very limited “window of opportunity” in which to be used by the Lord. James says that our lives are “a vapor” that will soon pass away. We have “one shot at the target,” so to speak: One life to use for God. One chance to work with Jesus “in the flock,” or “in the vineyard,” or “in the harvest…” however you like to see His work.

Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me:” He asks us to be co-laborers with Him, and learn wisdom from Him. So, let’s gain God’s Wisdom, let’s see ourselves clearly, and then, let’s get on with the job! Don’t allow human reasoning or wrong thinking to keep you out of the blessing!

Lord Jesus, we ask that You fill us with Faith and Wisdom and Sobriety. Let us see ourselves as You see us, and make us able ministers of your Grace.


Problem Passages in James (Part 2)

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 2)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 Healing, Confession, Prayer, Conversion, and “Saved from Death”

Introduction

We are finishing up our study in the Book of James, and last week we discussed some passages with some small problems for us in terms of how to apply them. But the following verses give me serious trouble:

Healing

I am not at all sure that I understand the last seven verses, here. I’ve heard them preached, and seen them put into practice, but unless my memory fails me (and my wife remembers the same few times I recall), every single time I have seen this done, the patient has not been healed, but rather has died. So, perhaps we need to give serious thought as to what is being taught here.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

So, what should we get from this? To begin with, I can definitely say that the sick person is the one to call for the elders. It is not for the elders to volunteer. They are told to pray over the sick individual, and anoint that person with oil in the name of the Lord. (OK, so far…) But then, verse 15 makes a clear statement that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, AND if he has committed sins they shall be forgiven him.

In legal terminology, the word “shall” is a very strong word: it is the word that makes an issue mandatory, without exception, unless otherwise stated. It would seem, then,that the passage has to be a “blanket promise for healing” so long as some certain conditions are met. So…in the cases where the sick was not healed…what should I assume? What were the “conditions?”

  • Was their prayer not “the prayer of faith?” In other words, “Was it the fault of the elders?” I can’t blame the patient for a lack of faith: all they were told to do is call the elders; and they did so! So, let’s say the elders have “doubts about” this passage: if they lack faith, then, should they disobey and not follow through and pray? Jonah wasn’t “full of faith,” but God used him! Namaan the Syrian wasn’t “full of faith” when he took “seven dips” in the Jordan. He had just enough faith to go and do it! Seems to me they need to go and do it when called. But then…what is the “prayer of faith?” (I guess I don’t know!)
  • Is there some sort of “formula” not being correctly followed? (If so, it is not stated.) A special kind of oil, for instance? Special liturgy to follow?
    • Dr. McGee points out that the Greek word for “anoint,” here, is not the word “chrio” which is used in the sense of a spiritual “anointing” and from which we get the word “Christos” or “Christ…the anointed one…the Messiah.” Instead, it is the Greek word “aleipho” which just means “put oil on something,” often for a practical reason. His commentary says that since it was sometimes used in a medicinal sense, he has concluded that this must mean to “go get medical attention in addition to the prayers.” Sorry…it simply doesn’t say that: Grammatically, it says that the elders are to pray over the sick person, anointing that person with oil, in the name of the Lord! (The doctor would not do that!) There is no teaching here of getting separate medical attention, though I agree that the oil may not be a “ritual anointing.” I just don’t know how to understand this. I certainly believe in going to doctors for help. (Jesus said “he that is sick needeth a physician.”) That is not what this passage is about.
  • I do think it is worth noting that it says “…the prayer of faith shall save the sick…” It does not say the oil will do it. (Regardless of what the oil may mean.)
  • So, then, is this only for sicknesses caused by sin? Verse 15 does bring up the possibility that sin was involved. And if it is for “sicknesses caused by sin”, then why would it not heal some of the modern, fatal diseases that definitely are caused by sin?
  • Is the Lord no longer offering this promise? (It does say the Lord shall raise him up…) Has that offer been revoked? There are people who truly believe this to be the case; that this promise is no longer in force. How would we know, for sure?
  • Was the promise only for a select group of believers? Well, the book was originally written to Jewish believers. But, I don’t believe that healing is only promised to Jewish Christians. There were lots of Gentiles healed in the New Testament.
  • Does the fact that the word translated “sick” in verse 15 is not the same as the one in verse 14 make any difference? (In verse 15, the Greek word is “kamnonta” and it means “exhausted one”, or “faint one,” and it’s only used four times in scripture, and only translated “sick” in this verse. The Greek word in verse 14 is “asthenei”, which is frequently translated “sick”, or “infirm,” but also could be translated “faint” or “weak.” The word “asthenei” is the one used in regard to Lazarus, who was so sick that he died… and Jesus raised him from the dead. John 11:1-44)

The fact is, I have no solid answers to any of the above questions, and I am not willing to jump to anecdotal “proofs” of any sort. Either God gives light in His Word, or He does not. The claims made by so-called “healers” usually end up proving false: some very shamefully, publicly false, which leads unbelievers to blaspheme the Lord, and claim that the scriptures are false, and that all who believe the Bible are fools. And I can’t blame them, when that’s what they see!

For the moment, I have to confess, I simply do not know what to make of this passage. I don’t like to “skip a verse”, and I am not inclined to pretend to have knowledge, when I can’t back it up with God’s Word. So…that’s where it stands for right now. I’m sorry!

Confession

The next verse seems to tie in with the previous two, with the exception that it does not mention oil or prayers of the elders, at all: it does mention confessing our faults to one another, and praying for one another. It again mentions healing, but seems to be a general principle, not necessarily a specific incident of sickness.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The word translated “faults” here, is not the usual Greek work “hamartias” which is translated “Sins,” (as in 1st John 1:9.) It is the Greek “paraptomata”, and it means “offenses, trespasses, faults, etc.” This is not grounds for the practice of the “confessional”, as in some religions. It means that if I have offended, I should confess it to the offended party, and if it is a public matter, I should confess it publicly; not necessarily in a formal setting, as though it were a courtroom, but simply addressing the fact that (for example) “I wronged this brother when I was angry. I said harsh words about him. It was unfair of me to speak that way, as he was not at fault. I have already spoken to him, and asked his forgiveness, but many of you heard me, and I want your forgiveness too.” That sort of honest transparency “keeps the decks clear,” so to speak, and perhaps keeps our communication with God more open as well, because Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.”

Prayer:

It also says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” This passage is constantly quoted as proof that “prayer changes things,” and I agree that it does. I believe that we are commanded to “pray without ceasing,” (1st Thessalonians 5:17) and “in everything.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) We have examples in the lives of the apostles, as well as Old Testament saints, and the life of Jesus Himself. They all seemed to have pretty intense prayer-lives.

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

This is a good reminder that prayer can make a difference: It is important to read what the rest of the scriptures say about prayer, too, though: 1st John 3:22; and 5:14, 15 give some admonitions regarding God’s reply to prayers. There are some keys given, in regard to answered prayer. We do not always “get what we want.” The passage in 1st John 3:22 suggests that we have to be living in God’s will in order to have confidence in prayer. If we aren’t even walking with Him, why should we hope for Him to do what we want? And the one in 1st John 5:14, 15 lets us know, that God still reserves the right to veto our idea. Remember that He is God!

He does answer prayers, but He reserves the right to answer “No”, or “Wait” as well as “Yes.” We say, “God didn’t answer my prayer,” unless He immediately answers “Yes!” That is a bad response on our part, and certainly not one that expresses faith. “No” is a legitimate answer, too, and sometimes it is the best answer God can give. “Wait” is also a good answer, in many cases.

Consider how many times a young child asks his parents about something he or she wants to happen. Little children are asking from a child’s perspective, and cannot understand all the ramifications of their requests. Like those little children, we have very limited understanding of the things of God, and the eternal issues He considers in responding to our desires. We need to trust that He will make the best choices for us, but also remember that He does want us to ask. And, finally,

What does “Convert” mean? What does Death mean?

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.  

Is this about evangelism? Or is it in regard to restoring a sinning brother?

There are three keys to understanding this passage:

  1. The first is the phrase “if any of you do err from the truth”
  2. The second is to find the meaning of the verb, “to convert.”
  3. The third is to determine which of the three possible meanings of the word “death” is intended in this passage.

In the context (“Brethren, if any of you…”) I would have to say that it is regarding a sinning brother (or sister) who is erring from the truth, not an unbeliever who has never been connected to the truth. Remember that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” when we sin, we are “erring from the truth”…wandering from the way, and temporarily separated from the life of Christ. Not lost, but acting as though we were lost…and, for all practical purposes, living as if we never knew Him.

But, in that case, I also have to ask, what does it mean to “convert” someone else? I certainly cannot “save” someone else, nor can I even force them, through strength of argument, to voluntarily receive the Lord. They have to make that decision themselves. Remember that the door to the truth is the will, not the intellect. (“Whosoever will may come!”) So, in what way are we “saving a soul from death?” What does “conversion” even refer to?

In our culture, we have long referred to salvation as “conversion:” possibly even because of this passage. But Jesus addressed Peter (already a believer) and said  … Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.(Luke 22:31, 32)

How could Peter, who was already a believer, expect to be “converted?” Perhaps some people would use this verse to support the idea of a believer “losing their salvation and being saved over again:” But it says, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” So, if Peter’s faith did not fail even though he denied the Lord, and he felt that his faith had failed, and he acted as though his faith had failed, what would his subsequent “conversion” entail?

The English verb “convert” (from the Greek, “epistrepho”) means to “turn back”, or “return.” It is the same word used when the shepherds “returned” after seeing Jesus in the Manger, and they “went back” to their flocks, glorifying God. (Luke 2:20) It was also the word used when the demon in Jesus’s parable decided to “return to his house,” meaning to “go back and repossess the man who had been freed from demonic possession.” (Luke 11:24) So Peter was expected to return to his strong faith. Could the word be used to denote salvation? Possibly…but the primary use simply means to return…go back! An unbeliever has never been a child of God: he cannot “return” to being one. Only a sinning brother or sister can “return” to the Lord. So, that leaves the last question, “What kind of death?”

Is this simply the “separation from fellowship” …a spiritual deadness which occurs every time we are out of fellowship? Or are we talking about the eternal “second death,” warned against in the Revelation? (In which case this would definitely be about evangelism, not restoration.) Or, is it actually about physical death? (Which indeed can result from a continuing pattern of rebellion in a believer’s life.)

To begin with, I am sure that this is a believer in question: it says, “Brethren (that means believers), if any of you do err from the truth…” So, let us assume there is no further question that the individual is already saved. That settles the issue with death, as well, then, because it is impossible for a believer to die, spiritually, although they can live as if they were spiritually dead, if they are out of fellowship. So, the only possible choices are either the “spiritual deadness” that results from unbelief and disobedience, or, more likely, physical death.

There are several examples in scripture of believers whose lives were taken by God, because of rebellion, or some flagrant sin. Perhaps that is the warning, here. John says that “there is a sin unto death.” (1st John 5:16) And John was talking about believers. In 1st Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul stated that some in the church at Corinth—believers— had physically died because of their sins regarding the Lord’s Table. They had dishonored the Lord by their actions and attitudes, in what is intended to be a solemn, holy memorial and celebration.

Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5:1-11, were believers too, but their sin of publicly lying to God, about something so mundane and trivial as money, cost them their lives. Peter demonstrated how pointless the whole thing had been; saying that the money was theirs, the land was theirs: they had been free to keep it, give it, or do whatever they wanted with it. But they lied to God about it, and judgment fell. They did not lose their salvation: they lost their lives.

King Josiah, one of the best kings Judah ever had, lost his life in an unnecessary battle with an Egyptian king who had no quarrel with Judah. (2nd Kings 23) We can lose our lives because of sin, too. Anger or lust or envy can drive us into situations that become deadly: in traffic, water-sports, or other life-situations. As we try to out-do a rival, or pass another driver, or show off for someone we want to impress, we take unnecessary risks. Many young men lose their lives through foolish behavior, but it is not limited to the young, nor only to men.

Left to ourselves, we can allow sin to fester until it erupts into a catastrophe. Murders have often occurred because of hurt feelings, anger, jealousy, etc. That possibility is not just for unbelievers. Christians are capable of every sin, the same as unbelievers. Suicides frequently occur because the individual turns in upon himself in a tighter and tighter “vortex” of frustration, guilt, fear, despair or anger, until there seems to be no escape. Sometimes (but not always) someone else can draw alongside the suicidal person and turn them away from the trap into which they are falling. That is what we are called upon to do, here.

We are told to care for one another, and to help turn one another away from such snares. I have personally known believers who allowed themselves to be drawn into sin that eventually cost them their lives. I don’t know what could have been done to turn them back from that sin, before it was too late. I do know that their family (also believers) desperately tried, but finally gave up trying. I heard about the results long after the fact. But we are told, here, that if we can “turn them back,” it will save their life, ultimately.

Believers are not immune to the attacks of the Evil one. In fact, we are his primary target. He really doesn’t need to do anything to unbelievers: he already has them. We are members of the Body of Christ, and Satan attacks us, in order to fight against Jesus, the King.

This closing admonition from James is to remind us of the battle we are in, and to urge us to take it seriously. I pray that we will do so. We are to function together as a team, as a body, and work to strengthen and bless one another. If we fail in that regard, the enemy is always looking for an opportunity to attack. We are told to “be sober, be vigilant, for your enemy the devil walketh about as a roaring Lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1st Peter 5:8)

Lord Jesus, we ask that you will feed us on Your Word, and give us the Wisdom to apply it to our lives, even when we feel that we don’t fully understand.  Shape us into your likeness and help us in our weakness and our ignorance.


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.


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.