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Celebration of a Life

What little I know of Richard Banham:

© May 30th, 2020, Chet Bishop

It is a little disconcerting to realize just how little I know of a man with whom I have served for nearly a decade: I know his birthdate (September 25th, 1931) and I know the date of his death (May 29th, 2020.) He would have been 89 in September.

I know he became a believer in his late teens, and still later (not sure when?) he attended Biola (Bible Institute Of Los Angeles.) I think he graduated from there in 1957. I know he served as a US Marine, and later as a Hillsboro police officer, and a Chaplain while he was on the Hillsboro police force. I know that during one period of his life, he had also served as a missionary, reaching unchurched areas of Oregon and Washington, and possibly other areas, teaching in homes and leading people to Christ.

He served as a Bible Study teacher in a wide variety of care centers, around the Portland area, teaching, preaching, evangelizing, and serving in whatever capacity he could. But we knew him primarily because of his time here at True Hope Christian Fellowship.

At True Hope Christian Fellowship

Richard first appeared at True Hope Christian Fellowship, one Sunday afternoon, in July of 2010, during a downstairs deacon’s and elder’s meeting. I held no office in the church at that time, and I was already done teaching, so I was with Ann, in the car, across the street, getting ready to leave. We saw him walk up the steps and go in, and both of us said, “He needs to talk to someone!” So I got back out of the car, and followed him inside.

We introduced ourselves to one another, and Richard began asking questions about the church, the organizational structure, our doctrinal statement, etc. He first asked mostly general questions, but became more and more specific, as he worked to ascertain just exactly who he was dealing with.

My formal training had familiarized me with all the theological terminology and phrases he was using, as he “grilled” me on what the church really believed, so I was quite comfortable with answering his questions, and I genuinely enjoyed the visit. He was finally satisfied that we were in agreement about everything that was important to him, so he slowed the pace a bit. At that point, I said, “I really think you need to meet Pat James, the pastor, here.” So we walked downstairs and I introduced him to the men gathered there, and I left. Ann and I went on home, but we were both hoping that Richard would be back.

That was the beginning of Richard’s relationship with the church, and he rapidly settled in to serve. I had been teaching both a morning adult Sunday school class and a Wednesday evening Bible study/prayer meeting, but as my vocational work at Gunderson Inc. became more demanding, I asked Richard to take over the Wednesday night meeting. (Pat James was living at the coast by then, and it was getting to be too much for him, to drive back for an evening meeting every week, though he had done so for many years.)

I had also been teaching an afternoon Bible Study at Cornell Estates, every Sunday, for ten years, and I asked him to come there with me, so that, in the event I could not be there, he would already be familiar with the group and could easily step in. We ended up taking turns teaching through books of the Bible, for nearly another ten years, after that. He was absolutely faithful to be prepared, and to teach in great detail any portion of scripture he addressed. He also went there during the weeks and ministered to the believers, which I was unable to do because of my work schedule.

Richard was ordained as an elder after a few years at True Hope, and when Pat and Jan James became sick enough that Pat could not always be at church, Richard and I took turns filling the pulpit, for a year or so, always hoping that Pat’s health would improve.

When Pat finally became too sick to continue serving at all, he asked Richard to take over the shepherding of True Hope Christian Fellowship. Richard agreed to do so, provided I would serve with him, as he and I were both aware of the Biblical standard that there should always be a plurality of leaders—elders—in each church. So I was ordained by the church, as well, and he and I began taking turns preaching every week. If one of us had a message that required more than one week, the other simply backed off and allowed the series of messages to be completed. We had good harmony in our service, though we did not always agree 100% about small points of doctrine. There was never a rift: we were both free to study, learn, and build our personal understanding of God’s Word. He was a blessing to me and to the Church.

In Sickness and in Health

A few years ago, Richard was told he had advanced Prostate Cancer. He subjected himself to all the treatments, and continued to serve faithfully. He very seldom missed a service, though he became increasingly fatigued, and weaker, month by month. A few times he fell, and could not get up, but he always insisted on taking care of his own needs, which caused some distress for his family and friends, but was it was simply part of his character, as one who came to serve, not to be served.

Richard served faithfully until he was physically unable to go on…and then He was simply called home. He came as close to “dying in harness” as almost anyone I have ever known, and he stayed lucid to the very end. I had actually asked him the previous week (Memorial Day weekend) whether he would like to take the Sunday service. He declined, saying he really wasn’t prepared, but thanked me for asking. Neither of us knew that he had only a week left on Earth.

Richard died in his own home (as he had frequently said he desired to do) with many of his family around him. He died in peace, without prolonged suffering, which we count a special blessing and an answer to prayer. He was simply called home: he answered one last call.

It was an honor to have served with Richard, and I wish I could have known him earlier in life. I learned a good deal from him in the years I knew him, and I wish that I could have continued to do so. Richard was a teacher to everyone around him, and a friend to the whole church. He cared deeply about the church and the individuals within it. He became a true pillar in our community of faith, and was universally respected for his deep knowledge of God’s Word.

Already, in the short time he has been gone, there have been questions I wanted to discuss with him, to get his input. But he’s not here for me anymore, and that grieves me, as I am sure it does many of you. We are all going to miss him, but it gives us peace to know that he is with the Lord today.

So… What do we do, Now?

1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 is a good passage to remember at times like this:

 “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout; with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

The twin reasons these words can be a comfort to us are both contained in the passage itself:

“If We Believe that Jesus Died and Rose Again”

To an unbeliever, this passage would be no comfort at all: the whole passage is predicated on the assumption that the people to whom Paul was writing were all believers! And these are the core issues of the Gospel: 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 spell out that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, specifically as payment for our sins, are the key message of the Gospel. Paul says “if we believe…” that Gospel, then these words are a comfort to us.

Romans 1:16 says that that Gospel, being believed in, is THE power of God unto salvation. Paul said, “I am not shamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the Power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

Richard believed with all his heart that Jesus’s blood at the Cross paid for all his sins, completely and permanently. If we also “believe that Jesus died and rose again,” as the 1st Thessalonians passage points out, then we can have confidence that not only we will see Richard again, but that we cannot miss the Rapture of the Church. We will be caught up with him!

2nd Corinthians 5:8 says, “We are confident, I say, and willing, rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  This was another source of confidence for Richard, knowing that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” He did not go into some sort of “limbo,” as some people teach, nor into any sort of “waiting room,” such as a “purgatory,” or any other such thing. His soul did not go into suspended animation or a “soul-sleep!” He left his body, and he was instantly in the presence of his Savior. There is no middle ground. Those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, by believing that His death and burial and resurrection are full payment their sins, personally, will personally step into his presence, just as Richard did.

“Even So, Them also which sleep… in Jesus”

It is important to recognize that our confidence is in God’s Word, and His faithfulness…not our own goodness, nor that of Richard Banham. There may be some who knew Richard long ago, and who have held a grudge against him for some cause, and who may still think, “Well, he was nothing special!” Let me assure you: Richard would have been the first to agree with them! He never considered himself to have “earned merit” with God, but only to have had the unspeakable privilege of serving Him, in whatever capacity he was allowed. His standing with the Holy God he served had nothing to do with his own worthiness, but entirely to do with the Worthiness of Jesus Himself, because God only saw Richard “in Christ!” You see, that phrase, “even so them also that sleep ‘in Jesus’…” addresses positionnot condition. Richard never stood before God in his own righteousness, but rather in the Righteousness of Christ, alone. That is his eternal position before God.

If you have received Jesus as your Savior, then the scripture says you also are permanently “in Christ!” Your confidence in Him, because of your position in Him, should move you to find great freedom in living for him. Richard was dedicated to doing just that.

Probably there are some of you who would like to share how Richard has affected your life… how he stirred you to grow in the Lord, or in other ways influenced you. Our sister, Kristen Flemmer, shared her thoughts last week because she knew she would unable to be here today. If you would like to speak, please don’t be shy: If he was a blessing to you, we all would like to share in that blessing. This is how it becomes a blessing to all who hear it.

Time for sharing

Close in more songs and prayer.


By What Law?

By What Law?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

Genesis 2:17; Exodus 20:1-17; Ezekiel 18:4; Mark 12:28-34; John 13:34, 35; Romans 7:1-6; Romans 8:2, 4; Galatians 6:2; James 1:25; Romans 3:27, 28;

Introduction:

Whenever the Bible talks about “law,” we tend to assume it is referring to the Law of Moses, sometimes called the Mosaic Law. But that is certainly not always the case. There are at least six separate concepts called Law…maybe several more, as we are not even addressing things like civil law or the laws of physics, et cetera.

Six Laws in Romans

Romans 3:19 Mosaic law

Romans 3:21 Principle of law (Compare Romans 2:12-14)

Romans 3:27 Law of faith, excluding boasting (also, law of works…Mosaic Law?)

Romans 7:21, 23, 25 Law of sin in my members

Romans 7:16, 23 Law of my mind: agrees with the Mosaic Law, but is unable to obey it.

Romans 8:2, 4 Law of the Spirit, setting me free from the Law of Sin and death.

In the book of Romans alone we can see at least six separate ideas called a “law.” One of those definitely is the Law of Moses. That is the one we typically think of when we see the word “Law” in the Bible. But the other five are not the Mosaic Law at all.

And when Paul later says for us to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ, (Galatians 6:2) none of the six “laws” listed in Romans is in view. What is the Law of Christ?

When James refers to the “Perfect Law of Liberty,” (James 1:25) to which law is he directing our attention? What is the perfect Law of Liberty?

When Paul says we have been set free from the Law of Sin and Death (Romans 8:2)…which law is in view? What is the “Law of Sin and Death?

You see, we need to answer these questions, before we try to understand the true relationship between the believer and the Law. What Law?

From the Beginning

In Genesis 2:17, we see the first record of the Law of sin and death: There was only one prohibition made. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

That is a pretty simple concept: if you sin, you will die! And, lest anyone think I am oversimplifying that idea, look at Ezekiel 18:4 “…the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This is the Law of sin and death. Remember, the Mosaic Law had not yet been given, but the concept existed from the beginning of the world…and perhaps before. The issue is that God is Holy, and cannot coexist with sin. The angels who rebelled (evidently before the creation of our world) were separated from fellowship with God, and eventually will be separated permanently.

When Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:7), they were separated from fellowship with God, and were at risk of the same permanent separation. 2000 years later, when the Law of Moses was given at Sinai (specifically to the nation of Israel— the Jews) it upgraded the Old, “simple” Law of sin and death, but was still effectively a part of that law. However, in Genesis 3:21, God provided for the offering of a substitutionary sacrifice in order to escape death, while still confessing human guilt. So did the Mosaic Law. From that starting point in Genesis, however faint it may seem to the casual reader, a trail of blood trickles down the ages, throughout the Old Testament, leading to the Cross. The Law of Sin and Death must be fulfilled! In John 1:29, John the Baptist introduced Jesus as that “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World.” Jesus is the culmination of all of that history of blood sacrifice.

What about Today?

Galatians 2:19 tells us, once for all, how it is that we have been delivered. It says something very strange: “…for I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.” Through the Law, I have been made dead to the Law? The Law of sin and death was fulfilled for the entire human race in the person of Christ, at the Cross. Jesus died for the whole human race, as the chosen blood-sacrifice for sin, thus fulfilling the Law which called for the death of every sinner.

2nd Corinthians 5:14 concludes that “…if one died for all, then were all dead.” I have been made dead to the Law, by the fulfillment of that Law. Now the Law of sin and death is satisfied regarding the believer, and it has nothing further to say. We are dead, where the Law of sin and death is concerned. (Remember that the Law of sin and death pre-dates the Mosaic Law, and includes it. The Mosaic Law was given specifically to the Jews, and no one else; but it still fell under the description of the “Law of sin and death.”) But, if I am “dead to the Law,” why are there so many references to law in the epistles?

Well, that question is raised, briefly, in Romans 3:27, when Paul questions, “by what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith.” Thus we are forced to confess that there are different kinds of law, to some of which we are still very much bound. (Is anyone here free from the law of gravity? Neither am I!) So, let’s look at what laws we are bound by, and what laws we are called to fulfill as believers.

The Law of Sin in my Members

This is a reality in our lives, whether we admit it or not. We still have a sin nature. Paul struggled with this reality, in Romans 7, and concluded that the sin living in him (sometimes called the “old man”) is the culprit, causing his downfall, and that his mind, though it desired to do what the Law of God required (here referring to the Mosaic Law) it could not obey God. But God says He is not interested in what the Old nature wants…He says that it is not only corrupt, but that it is “being corrupted.” Ephesians 4:22 says that the old man is “being corrupted by the deceitful lusts” (KJV says, “…which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts,” but the Greek uses a present-tense verb there, showing that it is a continuing issue.) Romans 8:7 states that the “carnal mind (yet another term for the old sin nature) is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be.” My old sin nature is truly incorrigible! It cannot be cleansed, nor corrected. God is making no effort whatever to salvage my sin nature: He had to give me a new nature, through a new birth. Without that new nature, there was nothing in me that could be in fellowship with God. The new nature is not the Holy Spirit: Ephesians 4:24 states that the “new man…is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The Holy Spirit is not a created being. He is God, the Creator. Further, it says “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” We are re-created in the true image of God, with His character, His holiness, His righteousness. But the new man in us is stuck living in a body with our old, actively corrupt sin nature. And that makes for some frustrating times!

Paul concluded in Romans 7:24, 25 that he found his freedom from his slavery to sin, in the person of Christ…which leads us to a new Law: The Law of the Spirit of Life!

The Law of the Spirit of Life

This Law only exists in Christ! Paul says that “the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the Law of sin and death! (Romans 8:2) We cannot access this law on our own, nor can an unbeliever lay claim to it at all. Hebrews 11:6 states that “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

So apart from faith, the Law of the Spirit of Life is beyond our reach. That is true of believers and unbelievers: to an unbeliever, it simply does not apply, as the unbeliever has never entered in by faith. But to the believer, who has entered into Christ by faith, but who has again been ensnared by sin, it is temporarily out of reach, because he or she is out of fellowship with the Lord because of sin, no matter how insignificant-seeming.

This is why 1st John 1:9 is so critically important to us, as believers. We want to be in fellowship with God. And God has promised that “…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” We are constantly bombarded with the values of the unbelieving World, because the Enemy knows that, since we no longer belong to him, his only hope is to render us unusable to God. He seeks to do so through temptation. When we sin, we need to immediately apply 1st John 1:9 by confessing our sin, and returning to obedience.

What about secret sins? Things that don’t show, but are held in our hearts? Bitterness, lust, envy, pride, covetousness…all these are sins of the heart which we are commanded to put away, and which, if we hang onto them will result in broken fellowship. Psalm 66:18 says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” So sin does not have to be expressed outwardly to be destructive. Ephesians 4:31 says, “…let ALL bitterness, and wrath, and anger and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice…” The clamor and evil speaking may be outward, of course, but the rest of those things are inward. And they are to be put away from us, in order for us to walk freely in the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.

Jesus said (John 15:5) “Apart from me ye can do nothing.” That is exactly what He meant! We cannot live the Christian life apart from His constant infilling…we are not able to fulfill His Law on our own, at any level, and we never have been able to do so.

What does it “Look” Like, to “fulfil the Law of Christ?”

In John 13:34, 35 (after Judas left to betray Jesus to the Priests) Jesus told the eleven remaining apostles, “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.”

This is the “New Commandment” –the New Law. When we are commanded to “fulfil the law of Christ,” that is the law in question. So, in Galatians 6:2, Paul says “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ.” Since we know that the Christian is frequently under attack by the enemy, and that we are not called to “just tough it out,” and bear it stoically, but that we are called to serve together…what do we do, when we see another brother or sister slammed with pressure that cannot be borne alone? (This word, “burden,” is translated from the Greek word “baré”, meaning “pressure,” or a crushing load. This where we get the word “barometer” meaning “a tool that measures atmospheric pressure.”)

According to Galatians 6, we help one another to bear such loads. There is a different Greek word (“phortion”) used in verse five, meaning “an assigned task,” and those tasks we each face individually; he says “…every man shall bear his own burden.” But in verse two we are clearly told to “fulfil the law of Christ,” by helping one another through the hard times.

Further, in James 1:25 we are admonished to “look into the perfect law of liberty,” and be a “doer of the work.” This is not a suggestion that we return to the Mosaic Law! In fact, most of the book of Galatians is specifically warning against returning to bondage, and points out that we have gained Liberty in Christ, and should not give it up. So, living in a grateful, loving response to that newfound freedom in Christ, we willingly subject ourselves to that New Commandment, and the result is that we change our old behavior patterns. A living, practical holiness begins to find expression in our lives: rather than a legalistic rigidity, we are having a relaxed, friendly walk with our Savior…which gives us a relaxed, friendly, loving approach toward life in general, and specifically toward our fellow humans, both saved and unsaved.

How can I know if I am fulfilling that Law?

1st John 2:7-11 makes a peculiar statement: John says that the commandment is not new, but that we have had it from the beginning. But then he says that it is new, in us, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shines. He gives a “test” by which to tell whether we are obeying this New Commandment: “Do you love the brethren?

John says that if I say I am walking in the light, but am hating a brother, then the reality is, I’m still in the dark! This idea would include the less “intense” terms in English: we don’t like to admit “hatred,” but God says anything short of the Agape love is really a form of hatred. We might prefer to say, “Well, he and I just have a personality conflict!”, or “He just really annoys me!” The fact is that we are not loving that person as a brother in Christ, even if we say that we are. We need to admit to ourselves that our sin nature is stirred up by the flaws in that brother, thus revealing our own flaws and sin. This is why Paul said, “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” And he went on to say, “…and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” You see, we don’t just “put away” the anger, and the other sins: we replace them with the loving responses of kindness, and forgiveness, because we have already received that forgiveness from God, through Jesus’s blood at the Cross.

Think about that! Is His blood not enough to give us forgiveness toward one another? My sins toward God are far more grievous than any human’s sins toward me. My sins put Jesus on the Cross! If God has forgiven me for the sake of Christ, then I need to extend that full forgiveness to others as well. (And, I’ll confess, I have a hard time doing it!)

So, though the Law of Christ was given thousands of years in the past, it is still a relatively new idea in each believer’s life. We each have to come to grips with the new reality of our freedom from the Old Law, and our new position in Christ. We have to learn how to walk, literally, just as a baby has to learn. And it isn’t always easy. In Colossians 2:6, Paul says “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” How did you receive Him? By faith! We have to learn to walk that way, day by day, until it becomes the new “normal” for us all.

In my experience, and to my understanding, since Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would bring to our remembrance all things whatsoever He said unto us (and I realize some think that promise was only to the apostles)…it still pays to memorize the scriptures so that the Holy Spirit has something to work with! He can’t “bring things to our remembrance” that we never bothered to read, for certain! But if we devote enough time and effort to absorbing His Word, that we actually build up a fair-sized “library” in our memories, then it is that much easier for the Holy Spirit to gently bring it into the “living room,” as it were, making it a living reality in our lives and not just something we “know about.”

So: What have we learned?

First, we have seen that not every reference to “law” is referring to the Mosaic Law. But, more importantly, we learned that, while we have indeed been set free from the “Law of sin and death,” we are eternally subject to the Law of Christ, which is the true and perfect Law of Liberty. Why does that matter today? Because that is the law under which the results of our lives will be judged. James 2:12 says, “So speak ye and so do as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” This is the standard by which the relative worth of our lives will be judged, at the Judgment seat of Christ. This is the standard for reward…the Law of Liberty: Jesus’s command that we live out His Agape love toward one another! So this concept is critically important to all believers!

Let’s press on, then, to learn what that means and to ask that God’s Grace may transform us into His likeness, so that each of our lives will be a reflection of that Perfect Law.

Lord Jesus, Grant your Mercy and Grace, to give us understanding, and empower us to live out your perfect Law of Liberty!


Communion: Memorial of the Cross

Communion: Memorial of the Cross

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

Introduction:

We often hear people preach sermons around “occasions:” holidays, news items, political trends or social happenings. As a rule, I simply don’t do that. We shepherds are instructed to “feed the flock,” and the flock, in turn, is instructed “…as newborn babes, desire the sincere Milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation: it tells me that, if I am going to feed God’s Flock, I have to feed them the Word of God. And the Bible doesn’t say anything about American holidays, or whatever is happening on the news…sorry. However, it does say something about memorials!

God’s Memorials

We see in Exodus 3:15 that the very Name of God, the Great “I AM,” is to be seen as a memorial to all generations. In the New Testament, we discover that Jesus is that “Great I Am.” And we live our lives to honor Him.

In Exodus 12:14 in regards to the Passover, the fact that we are redeemed by the shedding of blood is called a memorial, which we see today as a picture of the Cross. The people of Israel were to remember that the Blood of the Lamb, on the lintel and the two door posts, was the only thing that stood between them and the wrath of God.

In Exodus 17:14, Moses was commanded to write down the account of the battle with the Amalekites, where God had intervened as Moses held up the staff of God, and Aaron and Hur had held up the hands of Moses before the Lord. That book was to be a memorial to God’s faithfulness and the efficacy of prayer, holding one another up before the Lord.

There were many other memorials: stone monuments, never to be removed, and written portions of God’s Word, to be carried with the believers at all times, to remind them of who they were, and whom they served.

Finally, in the New Testament, we have a commemorative feast. We celebrate the Lord’s Table as a memorial to the Cross. Passover looked back to the Exodus, and forward to the Cross. The Lord’s Table looks back to the Cross and forward to the Return of the Lord. When we take communion we each, individually, are confessing that Jesus shed His blood for our sins, personally. We confess that our sins, personally, are what necessitated the Cross. We look back to the crucifixion as our only hope of salvation, remembering that the Blood of the Lamb at the Cross of Calvary is the only thing standing between us and the Wrath of God. And we joyfully look forward to the Second Coming as our Blessed Hope.

Man’s Memorials

Man’s memorials are made to fail. We put up monuments, only to have a later generation tear them down. We write laws, only to have a later authority repeal those laws. We remember our war-dead, and are grateful for their service, but we know that they are easily forgotten in the heat of whatever current upheaval is threatening our peace of mind. And graveyards inevitably fall into disrepair and are forgotten: the headstones go missing, or are damaged, and the land is overgrown, with the graves eventually covered over by progress…pavement, in many cases.

I am thankful that God does not forget. Malachi 3:16 says “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.” God wants us to remember Him, to fellowship with one another in His service, by reaching out to a lost world, and by sharing together in Worship, meditating on the character implied in the name of the Savior. And He remembers us for doing so. This is a memorial that will never be forgotten. In Hebrews 6:10, it says that “God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and your labor of love.”  He remembers!

As we take communion together, please bear in mind that God remembers: He sees our hearts, and He knows whether we are here to remember Jesus, looking forward to His coming, or just going through the motions. As we remember our war dead, and the others we have lost to death, let’s give special attention to the one who unquestionably died in our place, and honor Him: not only in the communion service, and in other church services, but in our lives, every day, as a form of the worship that is rightfully His alone.

Our Commemoration

In 1st Corinthians 11:23-26 we see the purpose of the Lord’s Table set out: it is to “do this in remembrance” of Jesus; specifically, declaring His death, burial and resurrection, and His soon return. It actually only states the death and second coming, but they dictate the necessity of the burial and resurrection. In 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 we see that those three components, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ are all specifically fulfilling prophecy (God remembers!)

So we are called to remember as well: to remember in reverence and sincerity, not flippantly, or simply in a formalistic ritual. This is a real memorial!

(Communion service immediately followed.)


What Shadow? Juniper, Gourd, or God?

What Shadow? Juniper, Gourd, or God?


© C.O.Bishop 2014 THCF 3/2/2014

1st Kings 18; Jonah 4; Song of Solomon 2:3; Psalm 91:1

“Beneath the Cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand: the Shadow of a Mighty Rock within a weary land!”

Introduction:

There are a lot of references in scripture to shade, or shadow, in a positive sense: in a sunny, middle-eastern environment, shade is a thing of real value. Shadow can also refer to protection in general; not simply a cooler place to rest. But I would like to compare three different ideas regarding shade, or shadow, in reference to three different individuals: Elijah, Jonah, and the Shulamite woman from the Song of Solomon.

Elijah and the Shadow of the Juniper tree

Elijah had a pretty heroic ministry. We love to hear about all his miraculous victories, the chariot of fire that separated him from his protégé, Elisha, his exit from this world via the whirlwind, and the transfer of prophetic authority to Elisha, etc. But he had a low time, too…under the Juniper tree.  So, how did he get there?

Elijah was a faithful servant of God. He did what he was told to do, and God worked wonders through him. The king of Israel at that time was Ahab, a wicked man, whose wife, Jezebel, a Zidonian pagan woman, was even worse than Ahab. Jezebel had ordered that all the prophets of God be killed. Some had escaped, including 100 prophets hidden in two caves, and fed by a high-ranking steward of the king’s household, Obadiah. But we don’t learn about that until after the fact. Ahab had built numerous pagan altars. Because of their animosity toward the God of Israel and disregard for His word through His prophets, God sent Elijah to curse the land (the northern ten tribes, specifically) for Ahab’s sake.

Elijah was sent with a very simple message: “It will not rain again until I say so!” Then he went off and hid where God sent him, beside the brook Cherith, near the Jordan river. “Cherith” apparently means “gorge” so possibly there was a small ravine there, in which he hid himself. At any rate, he stayed put, as God told him to do, and God had ravens bring him bread and meat, twice a day, morning and evening, so long as he was to stay there. Ravens are unclean birds: we are not told just where they got the bread or meat, but Elijah did not question God’s provision. He obeyed the Lord, and stayed put until God told him to leave. His water came from the creek; when the creek dried up, God told him to go to a city called Zarephath, as He had commanded a widow there to feed Elijah. I am assuming it was a small industrial town of that day, since the name “Zarephath” means a “workshop for refining metals”. Nothing more is said about it, though, so it is just an interesting side note.

Now, during a famine, we might not feel that was very fair to the widow, to command her to feed Elijah, when it was hard enough to feed herself. But, in the first place, take note that God had commanded her…so Elijah didn’t have to twist her arm much. In the second place, as it turned out, the food with which she was to feed Elijah was miraculously provided, and was sufficient to save her life and that of Elijah and her household as well.

When Elijah arrived, she had gone out to gather firewood to cook the very last of her meal (barley-meal, perhaps) with the very last of her olive-oil, and was expecting her son and herself to die of starvation thereafter. What a strange thing, that God had commanded her to feed Elijah! Elijah asked that she make a little loaf for him first, and then to do so for herself and her son. She did so, but I wonder what she was thinking. Elijah had promised her by the Word of the LORD that the meal in the barrel would not run out, nor would the oil in the jar, until rain came again in Israel. And it didn’t! She obeyed, and that barley-meal and oil were the supernatural sustenance for Elijah, the widow, and her household, throughout the remaining time of famine.

But at the end of the famine, God sent Elijah to meet Ahab, and through him, to challenge all the prophets of Baal, and the prophets of the Asherim (sacred groves dedicated to the female Babylonian deity—Ishtar: Aphrodite, and Venus were later names…different names for the same sex and fertility goddess). Elijah was calling them all to what amounted to a duel…only it was one prophet of Jehovah against all the false prophets Jezebel had been feeding during the reign of Ahab.

We all know the story, how Elijah offered the eight hundred and fifty servants of the pagan gods the first try at calling down fire from heaven. They spent all day trying to get Baal to ignite his own altar. But there was no answer. Then Elijah declared that it was his turn, and, at the time for the evening sacrifice, he built up the altar of Jehovah that had been broken down, using twelve stones—one for each tribe of Israel—and laid wood on it, and a cut-up ox…but no fire. He had the people soak down the wood and rock and meat with twelve barrels of water. Then he offered a very short prayer for God to vindicate Himself, and show the people He was God. The fire of God fell and burned up the water, the meat, the wood, the rocks and the dirt…left a smoking hole. The people fell on their faces and confessed that Jehovah was the true God. Then Elijah called for the slaughter of the false prophets, and killed them all. He called for rain, out of a clear sky, and it came very soon, with huge dark clouds and torrents of rain. He outran Ahab’s chariot 17 miles back to the gates of Jezreel, and then went home victorious. So…how did any of that end up with him out hiding again, under the Juniper tree?

Well, Ahab had arrived home, and said “Honey, I’m home, and I’ve had a bad day! Elijah and Jehovah won, and all your pet prophets are dead.” So, Jezebel sent a message to Elijah, telling him that by the next evening he would be as dead as they were. Elijah was exhausted, and probably his guard was down, since he had thought the battle was already won and over. So, instead of calling on God to “fry” Jezebel, he ran off into the desert to hide. He sat under that Juniper tree and begged God to take his life. God did not rebuke him, but he did ask him what he was doing there.

That is a good question for us to ask ourselves when we find ourselves in similar straits. “What am I doing here?” If the honest answer is “Nothing! I am just feeling sorry for myself, and am no longer willing to trust God and to try to serve Him”, then we need to confess that, and allow Him to encourage our hearts. Elijah was in the shade of that Juniper tree, and his needs were provided by God, just as when he was hiding at the brook Cherith, but this time it was an Angel, not a raven, who brought him food and guarded his sleep. After a couple of good long naps, and a couple of heaven-sent meals, he took a long walk with God; and afterward, God provided the necessary correction to his thinking, and gave him a new job to do. The shadow of the Juniper tree was not a “bad place” for Elijah—it was a place where he was re-directed by God. But what about Jonah?

Jonah and the Shadow of the Gourd

Jonah is somewhat of a “special case” scenario from start to finish. God sent Jonah to do a job: he was to pronounce judgment on Nineveh (which would ultimately result in repentance. Jonah rebelled and ran away, for what was, to him, a very good reason: Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the oppressor of his people, and he did not want those people to repent.

But, at every step of the way, God had prepared a solution for Jonah: it says that God had prepared a great fish to take Jonah back to the beach—not an elegant mode of travel, but it got the job done, and also brought Jonah to repentance. After his own repentance, Jonah preached in Nineveh, and the entire city repented of their evil behavior: the king proclaimed a fast, that both humans and animals should have no food or water, and that all, both humans and animals, should be clothed in sackcloth and cry out to God for mercy. That must have been a very strange sight, seeing all the animals of Nineveh clothed in sackcloth. But it had the desired result. God postponed the judgment.

After Jonah had delivered his message, he was deeply angered that God had changed his divine sentence because of their repentance, and had not destroyed the city as Jonah had predicted. He said, “You see, this is why I ran off in the first place: I knew you were going to do somethinglike this!” So Jonah asked that God take his life. God didn’t really respond; He only asked whether Jonah was doing right, to be angry. Jonah didn’t answer, but moved off to the east of the city, to watch, hoping God would change His mind.

He sat outside of Nineveh, some distance away, and hoped God would destroy the city in spite of their repentance. The sun was hot, and he was in danger of getting sunstroke, so he built himself a little shelter of branches or something, and tried to shade himself that way. God had prepared a gourd plant, with its broad leaves, to grow up rapidly and give him shade, specifically as an act of deliverance, to deliver him from his grief. Jonah was glad for the gourd, but still hoped to see the Assyrians die. So God prepared a worm the following day, that ate the stalk of the gourd plant and it died. Then, instead of deliverance, He added to Jonah’s suffering by preparing and sending a strong east wind, hot and dry. Evidently even his little hut blew away, because it says the sun beat directly on his head, so that he fainted from the heat.

Jonah was furious with God, and asked for death again. When God questioned him again, whether he was right to be angry, Jonah angrily claimed his own righteousness. God handled him pretty gently, considering all that had already occurred: He reasoned with him concerning his values; how he valued a gourd plant more than the souls of over 120,000 people. Pretty sad story, but evidently Jonah must have repented again, because he wrote the account of the whole story, including all his failures.

We tend to focus on the story of the fish, and Jonah’s repentance in the fish’s belly. But the Shadow of the Gourd is perhaps equally important, and just as miraculous. Yes, gourds grow fast, but they don’t naturally grow so quickly as to grow up overnight, enough to shade a man from the middle-eastern sun. The Gourd was prepared by God, as both a mercy to Jonah and a lesson to him and us. The Shadow of the Gourd was given to show Jonah his sin. He valued human life very little. He was forgetting that those people (the enemies of his people) were people that God created. He didn’t know that God had plans for Assyria. Isaiah later predicted that Assyria, Egypt and Israel would be blessed together by God. (By the way, Assyria included all of what is now Iran; think that one over….) So God had a purpose in sparing them. But Jonah saw his own comfort and his own desires to be more important than the lives and souls of over 120,000 people. Do we do the same? Where are our priorities? How do we respond to God’s call to be witnesses for him? Do we head for the beach, and say, “I’m outta here!”? Or do we look for the road to Nineveh, and at least try to lead the enemies of God to the foot of the Cross, to approach His throne in peace?

What shadow do you find yourself under, today? If you have been broken down by stress, worry, and fear (unbelief, really) in the midst of trying to walk in obedience to God, then perhaps the Shadow of the Juniper tree is where you find yourself.

If you are angry at God, and are sure He has somehow short-changed you (believe me, He hasn’t), then perhaps what you are experiencing, with limited blessing, but your needs still being met, is the Shadow of the Gourd. Remember that because Jonah was grateful for the provision of the Gourd, but not changing his heart-attitude regarding the lost, God took away the Shadow of the Gourd, and even Jonah’s own provision of shade, so that Jonah experienced some real chastening. I pray that we will all seek God’s face, and repent of our hard-heartedness, so that the small but sufficient blessings we now have will not be taken from us in order to teach us the Grace and Mercy of God toward our fellow humans. But what shadow should we seek?

Believers and the Shadow of God

There are a number of references that call us to shelter under the Shadow of God—Psalm 57:1 says that we can shelter under the shadow of God’s wings, until the calamity has passed. Psalm 91:1 and 2, again speaking of refuge, says that if we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, we shall “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty”. He gives a condition—how to abide there. It requires that we make our personal walk with God central to our lives. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High: that’s private fellowship and personal prayer-life and worship of God…our personal devotions. Don’t just visit there once in a while…make that your home base! Then you can abide under the Shadow of the Almighty…God Himself.

In Song of Solomon 2:3, we see another aspect of that Shadow of God: The Shulamite girl, the bride, a picture of the Church, states regarding her relationship with the King (a picture of Christ) that: “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste!”

Are you approaching the Throne of God with great delight? Do you sit down under His shadow (this time not as a refuge from destruction, but as a sanctuary of joy) with great anticipation of basking in the Joy of His presence? Or is it a chore?

If we find that our relationship with God seems a chore, we need to confess that our hearts are not right. Israel saw their relationship with God as “wearisome” (Malachi 1:13), so God told them, “If that’s the way you feel about Me, then stay away! I don’t want your sacrifices, if they come from a polluted heart!” (Wow!)

I don’t want God to feel that way toward me! I want to see my relationship with Him as precious and Holy, so that I can enjoy it forever, and so that He is free to bless me and my service toward Him. The results of a right heart toward God should be:

  1. Great delight in His presence and in Prayer
  2. Sweet fruit from His Spirit and from His Word
  3. Urgent outreach toward the lost, and a genuine desire for their salvation
  4. Refuge from the Evil one, so that, even in time of trouble, we find Peace in Christ.

Examine the place in which you find yourself. Ask yourself: what “Shadow” is my current experience? Am I joyfully trusting in the refuge of the Shadow of God, and eating the fruit of that relationship? Or am I broken down in fear, depression or defeat, and afraid to try again? Worse yet, am I angry at God, and desiring the destruction of the wicked around me, not caring for their eternal souls? Wherever you are, today, God calls you to “come away” with Him. If you are a believer, then you are part of the Bride of Christ, and, as Solomon called to the Shulamite girl, Jesus calls to you, “Come away with Me, my Love!”

Listen to His call, and meet him in the “Secret Place of the Most High.” Abide under the shadow of the Almighty, in joy and in peace.

Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to understand your word, to hear your invitation, and to choose joyfully the shadow of the Cross.


Judging: What does it mean?

Judging: What does it mean?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:11, 12; Romans 14:10-12; Matthew 7:1; (compare) 1st Corinthians 5:1-7; 1st Corinthians 6:1-8; etc.

Introduction:

James briefly addresses the subjects of “gossip and slander,” here, but he also relates them to the concept of “Judging,” in a negative sense. Probably the most common verse used by unbelievers (and believers) to “counter-attack,” when someone disapproves of their behavior, is (misquoted) “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” They are attempting to quote Matthew 7:1, in order to excuse their bad behavior, and assuming that the Lord Jesus forbids any judgment of any sort. That is a wrong assumption as well as a misquote of the KJV, but even if correctly quoted, (“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) that verse has a context, (v.2) where Jesus explained that there is a right way to judge, and that we need to be aware that we will be judged in the same way we judge others.

Further, in 1st Corinthians 5 and 6, there is a command to judge sin, in order to prevent corruption in the church, and also that we are to be able to judge “civil matters” among believers without dragging one another before unbelievers in a courtroom.

What is Judgment?

So, what is the deal, here? Are there different Greek words for “judge,” or something? How do we know when we are to judge, and when we are not? Well, actually, no, there are not different words for the different concepts: the Greek word in most cases is one form or another of the word “krino”, meaning simply “to judge.” There is one other word that simply means to have an opinion. (For an English example, “Well, I judge it’s gonna rain, before we get the plowing done!”) We don’t commonly use it that way, anymore, and it wasn’t common in Biblical times either. The word “judge” simply has several possible connotations, some negative, some positive, and some judgment is simply a necessary part of wisdom and discernment. We need to know which is which.

In this particular passage in James, he is talking about unfairly, unjustly condemning another believer, by talking behind their back. We call that “Gossip,” and so it is; but James points out that it is also a form of wrong, unjust Judgment.

That makes total sense: In the first place, I am not their Judge, and in the second place, it is always wrong to be a “talebearer,” or a “sower of discord among brethren.” (Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 26:20; Proverbs 6:16-19) In the Leviticus 19:16 passage, it is expressly forbidden to “go about as a talebearer”. In Proverbs 26:20, we see one of the results of gossip: strife. And in Proverbs 6:16-19, we see how God feels about the matter: He hates it! So, here in James, it is no surprise that we are admonished, once again, to “Knock it off! Stop it!”

James 4:11, 12

11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

It is, unfortunately, not at all uncommon for believers to “bad-mouth” one another, essentially slandering one another, when, even if the things we say may be defended as being “true”, they still amount to gossip, and “evil-speaking.”

Ephesians 4:31 says that we are to “put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking, along with all malice”…that little word “all” is a hard one for us: we seem to think that somehow the things we say are exempt from this command. But that is not true: He said all evil-speaking is to be put away from us. The word here, by the way, in Greek, is katlaleo, meaning “speaking evil”, or “backbiting.” It is only used a few times in the New Testament. This is not to include a simple testimony of fact, in a courtroom, for instance. “Backbiting” carries the idea of evil intent, as does “slander.” Talking behind the back of another person, especially against a believer, is definitely in that category.

James then says that when we “speak evil” of one another we are speaking evil of the Law. But, what Law? I have to assume that it means that we are repudiating the Law of Love, which Jesus laid down for believers, not the Mosaic Law. Why? Even though this book is directed primarily to Jewish believers, and, indeed, they may have taken it to mean the Mosaic Law, it would seem that it could not be the Mosaic Law in question, as believers are said to be “dead” to that Old Law. (Galatians 2:19 “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.”) Remember that the whole context of the book of Galatians is that of the contrast between Grace and Law. The Mosaic Law was definitely the Law in question in Galatians. How is it that through the Law, I was made dead to the Law? When Jesus died, it was to satisfy the righteous demands of the Law on my behalf: he died under the Law. Through the satisfaction of God’s Law, at the Cross, I died with Christ! Therefore, under the Law, I am dead! I am dead to the Mosaic Law, through the satisfaction of its righteous demand for justice, in the Person of Christ.

But I am not dead to the Law of Love. (John 13:34, 35 “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.”

Indeed, I became alive to that New Commandment, the moment I trusted in Christ as my Savior. Can I be in obedience to that Law, when I am speaking evil of a fellow believer? Resoundingly, No! Then, James concludes, I am “speaking evil” of that Law, and judging that Law to not apply to me. I do not have the authority to make that call: Jesus made his command that we love one another, and there were no exceptions given. And, further, He said that this is one of the three things Jesus has given the World, by which to judge the Church! One is Love, another is Unity. Those two, along with a life-pattern of good works toward all around us, are the ways that the Church is to exhibit the light of God’s presence in a dark world. Given that foundation, the Gospel finds hearts ready to receive the Savior.

I am aware that there must be other ways to interpret this passage, and I want to be open to re-examining it in other ways, but, for the moment, at least, that is the best I can do. I don’t know any other way in which a believer can be guilty “speaking evil of the Law,” or of “judging the Law.”

So what about Judgment in a positive light?

We should give some thought to passages that command us to judge, or tell us to take actions that would require some judgment:

I was at a workshop with perhaps a dozen or more individuals, the majority of whom (demonstrated by their own words and actions, and in some cases openly declared) were blatantly ungodly unbelievers. I had found one Christian among the group, and we had driven off to a market to get some sort of supplies. On the way back, I was singing a particular hymn, and he wanted me to sing it for the group when we returned to the workshop. I declined, as I thought it would be inappropriate to sing sacred songs to those who already were openly rejecting the Lord and the Gospel. I cited Jesus’ command (Matthew 7:6) to not “give that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine…” He asked “But are we supposed to judge that?” I answered, “Of course we are! Otherwise how could we obey the command? If I have no idea who is referred to in that passage, or am unwilling to exercise enough judgement to realize that there is a time and a place and an appropriate audience, then the “…lest they trample them under foot and turn and rend thee…” is what I can expect. That is the warning in that verse!

We really don’t like the word “Judge,” and we have been taught by our society that it is always wrong to judge. But that is simply not the case.

We are not to condemn one another…that is made abundantly clear, here in James, as well as elsewhere. Romans 14:1-13 specifically says that we are not to condemn, despise, or judge one another for perceived short-fallings in regard to lifestyle. The two questions specifically addressed there are meat-eating and Sabbath-keeping. A young woman asked me one day “Who is right?” because she wanted to keep the Sabbath, while her husband did not. I said, “Well, according to the scripture, you are both right!” She was surprised, and asked, “Where does it say that?” We read Romans 14:1-13 together, and then verse 23, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” And she was delighted. She correctly understood the word of God, as delivered, and instantly applied it to her own heart. She was freed from her anxiety about the potential discord between her and her husband. How? By God’s Word!

When are we required to Judge?

Please keep in mind that Jesus is called “the Word of God” at least four times in the Bible. But in Genesis 18:25 he is also addressed as “the Judge of all the Earth!” He confirmed that in John 5:22, where he said that “The Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son, that all men may honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” So when Abraham talked with Him face-to-face, and addressed him as the “Judge of all the earth,” he was definitely talking to Jesus (compare John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him.”)

So, as much as we may not “feel comfortable” with the idea, Jesus, the Savior, is also Jesus, the Judge; the Living Word of God, who is alive and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, able to discern (judge; Greek, “kritikos) the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

We are not permitted to be complacent about gross immorality. The Church at Corinth was soundly rebuked by Paul (1st Corinthians 5:1-7) because they were literally congratulating themselves for their “loving, non-judgmental, tolerant” attitude toward sin.

There was a man in their assembly—a believer—who was committing adultery with his father’s wife (remember, this society was polygamous…and even if it were not, his father could have remarried a much younger woman. It has happened countless times.) They were apparently accepting the fellow, as a “believer in good standing,” and not addressing the sin issue.

Paul rebuked them for not judging the sin, and stated that he himself was judging the sin, and commanded them to collectively judge the sin and put the man out of fellowship. This is what is commonly called “excommunication.” It does not mean that the person is cut off from God. It means that he or she is cut off from fellowship with other believers, because of sin. It also means that, if the individual repents, and abandons the sin, they are to be received freely back into fellowship. (1st Corinthians 5:11-13)This really amounts to what we call “quarantine,” where communicable disease is in question. It is a preventive measure, intended to protect the larger population, not to “punish” someone with a disease. And, notice, it has no application to an unbeliever. They were not part of the fellowship to begin with, and their sin is not the primary concern. Their lost status is (or should be) our only concern toward them.

And even when this correct, required form of judgment is in view, the heart-motive of the church is always to be carefully guarded. The Church is widely regarded as “the only army in the world which shoots its wounded.” That is pretty sad. So how should we respond to those in sin?

Galatians 6:1 says “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Let’s break that down into individual points;

  1. The man is “overtaken in a fault”…it caught him, entangled him; tripped him! He is the victim of sin, even though he is also the perpetrator. We are not to see him as an enemy!
  2. Ye which are spiritual” (You who are not personally entangled in sin right now, whether overt or covert…you who are walking with the Lord in peace, and the light of His Word.) If you are out of fellowship yourself, regardless of why, then you are not qualified to minister to this person. You need ministry yourself.
  3. RESTORE!” This is to be the only objective: you are not there to “Straighten him out!” or whatever other “self-righteous” motive we might secretly entertain. If you cannot say honestly that your only motive is to restore broken fellowship, and to help a fallen brother, then keep your mouth shut until you have addressed your own heart-issues!
  4. In a spirit of meekness…” We see this primarily as “gentleness”, and that is mostly right, but there is an aspect of “yieldedness” as well. If you are not yielded to Christ, and being as gentle as He was with the woman caught in adultery, then perhaps you need to keep out of it. The objective is restoration, and if you are “strutting in, with an edict from the throne,” then probably it will not bear the desired fruit. James 3:18 states that the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. Give that some thought.
  5. Finally “Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Recognize that a common trick in human warfare is to deliberately wound, rather than kill an enemy combatant, in hopes that he will serve as “bait,” to attract his fellow soldiers, who are earnestly trying to help, but who then can also be fired upon. Our enemy isn’t stupid: He knows that one wounded Christian can be used to draw in other Christians as victims as well.
    Be aware! You may be targeted along with the brother or sister you are trying to restore. (This could take many forms: anger, depression, etc. Along with this warning, think clearly: Brothers deal with Brothers! If a sister is involved make sure that women are involved with the restoration. If you are an elder; at the least, take your wife with you. Many Godly individuals have been drawn away by a relationship that started out right, but “took a wrong turn,” so to speak.)

What then?

How then should we respond to the passage in James? That one by itself is pretty easy. No Gossip! No talking behind people’s backs! (By the way, that includes “Let me share this with you so you can pray about it!” This is a common “spiritual-sounding” cloak for gossip. Prayer-requests, as a general case, need to be such that the person being prayed for would not be offended by the sharing of the request. We try to ask permission of the person requesting prayer, before we share the request on our “prayer-chain.”)

But the general idea of “judgment” needs to be carefully considered, as to whether the judgment is forbidden by God, or required by God. 1st Corinthians 6:1-8 says that “…we shall judge angels!” (Really? Why?? And When??) As far as I can tell, this is because we will be seated with Christ, in Christ, at the Great White Throne judgment. But the specific application Paul was offering, was that we are not to be taking one another to court: We should be able to judge civil matters within the church, to avoid turmoil and disunity, and to deal with it before it becomes a bad testimony for the church at large. I don’t know of any churches today that practice this…which is sad, because the result is that believers do sue one another, and take each other before unbelieving judges, seeking justice, as though the believers at large lack the wisdom or equity to deal with such things. Paul’s conclusion is that the least-qualified believer ought to be a better choice than taking another believer to court. (There’s an idea to ponder!)

Can we apply these things today? I hope we can. There is no doubt that we can (and must) stop the gossip. There is also no doubt that we must begin taking Galatians 6:1 to heart, and check our motives before attempting to “restore” a sinning brother…but it is still a command to do so. We are not allowed to shrug our shoulders and turn away, thinking, “Too bad! Guess you are in trouble now!” We have an obligation to seek restoration, but also a series of warnings about how to do so. And, yes, that whole process requires “judgment!”

Can we circumvent civil courts and seek justice through the church? I would hope so, though I have never seen it done. I expect that it would have to involve believers who were mutually desirous of obedience to the Lord, and simply have a disagreement as to how to do it. Perhaps one believer feels that he was treated poorly in a business matter with another. Paul says we would be better off to bring such matters before the assembly, and settle it amongst believers. That would be a broader, “conference-call” application of Galatians 6:1, I guess. And the collective motive has to be to restore fellowship. Paul concludes in that passage, that it would be better to suffer a financial loss than to bring shame on the Church by publicly airing our petty squabbles.

I agree. And I fervently hope that the church can learn such commitment to the honor of the Lord that they all will feel this way.

The Lord give us wisdom, and sound Judgment, as we learn to apply His Word.


Drawing Near, and Dwelling

Drawing Near, and Dwelling

© 5/5/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:8-10; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 15 and others

Introduction:

We need to talk about the difference between our position in Christ, and our condition as we attempt to walk with Him. The two are not the same, and, while both are clearly defined in scripture, we tend to confuse the two, or decide that only one of them really matters. Both of those failings are traps we need to avoid.

Remember, as we read, that James is speaking to believers. These “brethren” to whom he addressed himself are all persons who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ; in His righteousness, His Blood, His finished work at the Cross, His resurrection and His coming again. They are already Christians! So, with that in mind, let’s read the next three verses, and ask some questions about their meaning.

Draw Near to God

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

How can one “draw near to God?” Obviously, this is a somewhat rhetorical question: He does not occupy just a single location in space or time, where we can physically go to meet with Him, though many people think of Him in that way: Frequently people feel that if they go to a specific place (a church-house, a temple, a special place outdoors, etc.) then they are “going where God is.” Many churches actually encourage such thinking, referring to their physical building as “the house of God.”) The Old Testament believers had an unusual, special time, during which God promised that He would actually take up residence in the Tabernacle (and, later, in Solomon’s Temple,) and that people literally could approach Him there. So, when Jesus spoke of the Temple as being “my Father’s House,” he was addressing a literal reality. That temple (rebuilt by Herod the Great) was destroyed in AD 70, however, and it had ceased to function as the “house of God” long before it was finally destroyed.

But even the Old Testament scriptures teach that God is Omnipresent…everywhere at once. Solomon (who built that great original temple) acknowledged that the entire creation could not contain God, so how could this building of stone do so? Both the New Testament and the Old Testament teach that God does not “dwell” in a house made by human hands. In fact, in the church epistles, we discover that the Church, proper—the people—are now the “habitation of God!” Together, the people of the Church at large, comprise the “Temple of God,” and He personally indwells every member of the Body of Christ.

Remember, James is only speaking to believers! So, I cannot get more close to God, physically: He already surrounds me entirely, inside and out. Since that is the case, and we are not being exhorted to get physically closer to “wherever God is”, what really is the intent of this passage? What is James encouraging you to do? Let’s compare some other passages:

Hebrews 4:16 exhorts us to “…come boldly unto the throne of Grace…”

Hebrews 10:19-22 says,

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Neither of these two exhortations could have been literally followed, even though the temple in Jerusalem still existed at the time they were written. No one but the High Priestcould enter the holy place under any circumstances, and he only once a year.

Draw near, by Faith, as a matter of Practice

But all the believers were being encouraged to “enter in”, and to “draw near” by faith. And that is how we do it, too. We enter into the relationship by faith, initially; and every day (indeed every moment,) we can choose to maintain that “holy place” relationship by faith. Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith. The rest of Hebrews 11 is called the “faith-chapter” for good reason: it underscores the necessity and vital importance of faith in our walk with Jesus.

Colossians 2:6 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” How did you receive the Lord? Was it by works? By reciting a creed? Going to church? Praying a prayer? You may have done all these things, and I have no doubt that they were done in all sincerity; but please remember that is possible to be sincerely wrong. Romans 3:25 makes it clear that faith alone, and specifically faith in the shed blood of Jesus, the Savior, is what makes us eligible to receive the Grace of God, offered through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

So…when I ask someone how they became a believer, that is what I am hoping to hear. If they tell me “I went forward at a tent meeting…” or something, I am worried, because it sounds as though their faith is in something they did…not the finished work of Christ at the Cross.

This is why Paul said, in 1st Corinthians 2:2,”For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He was preaching the Cross, because he knew that, otherwise, his audience would place their faith in something else—anything else. We don’t like the Cross! It was the equivalent of a gallows, or an electric chair, only worse: a truly “cruel and unusual punishment.” We would rather think that we can do something good, which will put us in good standing before God. But God made the rules: We are saved by Grace through Faith alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9) and that is how we are to walk with Him as well

Walking by Faith denies self—it excludes pride and self-will. It confesses that “I can do nothing.” Jesus said in John 15:3, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” If anyone else says that, it is a statement of supreme arrogance, and it is utterly offensive to the hearers. But when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. There is nothing we can accomplish of eternal value, without Him being the motivator and source of authority and power. This is what Jesus called “abiding.” It is just a fact. On our own, we produce nothing of eternal value. In Christ, walking by faith, everything we do, regardless of how mundane, has eternal worth, because we are in obedience, doing His will! Abide in Christ, abide in the Tabernacle…dwell in His Holy place!

Dwelling with God

Psalm 91:1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The Psalmist suggests that it is possible to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High”, not just visit there once in a while. Further, it says that the one who does so, deliberately, by choice and by faith, will “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” Surely that is worth the struggle, to maintain that sort of close relationship with the Creator, Savior and Judge of all the Earth.

Psalm 15 reads as follows:

1Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

So, not only is it possible to “abide in the tabernacle,” and “dwell in His holy hill,” (at that time, the temple mount) but He goes on to say what kind of behavior goes along with the privilege. This is not a blanket promise to all believers: this is very definitely a “conditional promise.” We have read many of God’s unconditional promises, all of which are true of every believer. But this one, and many others like it, are dependent upon how we respond to God, and the resulting ways that we respond to the people around us. Notice, please, that every single one of the “conditions” listed in Psalm 15 are describing how we are to deal with other humans, with the possible exception of “speaking the truth in his heart.” That one may have to do with being honest before the Lord, since only He can see the heart; but it would still affect our interpersonal dealings.

In James 4:8, we are exhorted to “cleanse” our hands, as sinners, and “purify” our hearts, from being double-minded. So my behavior and my heart-motives are both in question, as I attempt to draw near to God. I cannot “draw near” to God, if I am mistreating other people in any way, or even just submitting myself to my Old Sin Nature, in pride, or lust, or covetousness, etc. Psalm 66:18 says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God won’t even listen to my prayers, if I am sinning…even just in my heart. (Jesus confirms this, when he “upgraded the Law” by saying that if I am angry without cause against a brother, then I am in danger of judgment, just as if I were a murderer; and that if I am secretly desiring sexual sin, I am just as wrong as if I were literally committing adultery…he said that I am already doing so in my heart! There’s that heart-motive thing again!)

 In Ephesians 4:31, 32, it says that I am to lay aside all bitterness, and wrath and anger (all of which are inward attitudes) and clamor and evil speaking (it is starting to come out my mouth, here), along with all malice (the underlying heart-issue.)

Morally, and in terms of His character, God has never “moved” nor changed His “position.” He defines perfection. We embraced His promise by faith, and received eternal life through our Savior. We are also invited to embrace His righteousness by faith, and to see our thoughts, values and behaviors change. As they change, and as we learn to walk with God, we will find that He also continually reaches out to us, to steady us in our walk, and to encourage us to “climb higher”, grow stronger, etc. As we “draw near to Him” on a character plane, He draws near to us, not by changing His position, but by reaching out to us, and helping us along toward Himself.

Proverbs 2 (and, I strongly recommend that you read this, slowly, meditating on the meaning) describes the relational efforts involved with “drawing near to God.” It seems to involve much time in God’s Word, much time in Prayer, and a good deal of soul-searching, for lack of a better word. It is not an easy process. It takes effort!

This part of the Christian life is entirely conditional.  None of the walk of faith is guaranteed to us, except the result of obedience, which is eternal reward. Although the promises of God regarding salvation itself are only conditional upon faith, and the truths regarding the believer’s new position are dependent only upon that position “in Christ”, it is entirely possible to live one’s whole life as a believer, and never learn to enter in and enjoy a close walk with God. In fact, tragically, it is quite common.

All of God’s blessing and relational joy is available to all believers at all times, but none of it is guaranteed, without the deliberate choice, on a moment-by-moment basis, to walk with God. The problem is that it involves a constant battle: our old nature, the Flesh, is not at all in agreement, and the World constantly works to distract and dissuade us, while Satan finds ways to trip us up. (See James 3:15, where these three sources are named.)

How should we respond to knowing that we are NOT walking with God?

James makes it clear that it is far beyond “sobering” to discover that all your investments, so to speak, have been wasted: Knowing that all your life is being wasted, and that your hope of eternal reward is vanishing, should bring total remorse and repentance! Remember that “repentance” means a change of mind. We are to drop our old pattern of thinking, realize what it has cost us, and adopt a new outlook, causing a radical change in our behavior as well.

Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Repentance (Greek, metanoia”…meaninga “change of mind, resulting in change of behavior”) has to result in humility, sufficient to cause us to let go of our old priorities, and begin to seize upon the priorities of God. And He says that if we choose to humble ourselves before Him and change our priorities; then He will reach out to lift us up, and honor us in His way, instead of whatever manner we had been attempting to satisfy our own desires for fulfillment. That may seem a hard choice to make, but it is a good one.

We might take this as meaning to “lift us up” in terms of help, in hard times, and, indeed, it could include that. But, consider Stephen, who had already been walking a humble, Spirit-filled life, and was faithfully serving the poor as described in Acts chapter six; but, as he was being falsely accused (chapter seven) the scripture says he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and his face was literally shining, so that he resembled some heavenly, angelic creature: Then Jesus met Him at the Father’s side, by standing, thus “exalting him in due time” (1st Peter 5:6). But his enemies were still allowed to stone him. He was exalted in that he was martyred. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15) He was not “helped” as we would seek help: being rescued from pain or death, shame, or some financial misfortune.

There are no promises of health or wealth, or physical safety and comfort for Church-age believers. Quite the contrary: Philippians 1:29 plainly states that “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” This is not a comfortable thought, perhaps; but please bear in mind that we have already been joined with Him in His death, His resurrection, and His ascension: He has assured us of our position with Him for eternity. We are also to expect a certain measure of His suffering as a part of our position in Christ.

To me, the rich promises of the blessings of simply walking with God far outweigh the certainty that there will be rough times. When Psalm 15 was written, the battles were quite real and physical. The blessings of God were in focus in that Psam, so fully that the stresses of daily life were completely off the table…not even being considered. The Psalmist wanted to walk with God, not just be saved. He wanted to dwell in God’s Holy Hill, in the Holy Place with God, not just visit there, once in a while.

I think it is fitting that believers today, indwelt by the Holy Spirit should desire that closeness even more, and seek His face even more earnestly.

Give this some thought, and re-examine the scriptures we have read. Ask yourself where your focus really is, and how it might look different if you were walking by faith, and dwelling in the Holy place with Jesus.

This is a matter of continuous re-examination and continual attention. It isn’t something we can “do once” and be done with it. It is a practical outworking of our real life in Christ.

Blessings upon you as you seek His face.


The Doctrine of the Church

The Doctrine of the Church

© 8/29/2010 C. O. Bishop

Ephesians 3:1, 2-13, especially verses 4-6

Introduction:

We hear a lot about “the church” in public speaking (usually in reference to some denomination) and it seems that the world, unsurprisingly, does not see the church the same way God does. Unfortunately, neither do we believers. We have been heavily affected by the world’s point of view. We tend to think of the building as a “church”, though we (supposedly) know that the people are the real church. And even when we think of the “people” as the church, we tend to think of a particular group of believer’s as “the church”, instead of recognizing one body of believers, as God does.

Does this mean that God does not see a local assembly as a church? Absolutely not! He definitely recognizes local assemblies as “churches” (plural), but the two natures of the church (local and universal) are necessary because the living believers still have two natures, and are limited by time and space, whereas the believers who have already gone to be with Christ have only their redeemed nature, and they are all consciously with Him and with one another. (Now, there’s a “Mega-church,” for you!)

In Ephesians chapter one Paul introduced the idea of “The Church,” proper (singular)…one body eternally bonded with Jesus Christ. Let’s read, as he expands on the topic briefly in chapter three.

A Parenthetical Statement

1For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

“For this cause…” (What cause?) The fact that the believers are being built together as a habitation of God, through the Spirit (See previous verse)

v.1 For this cause I, Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

[v.2 If ye have heard…] the following thirteen verses are a parenthesis, from verse 2 to verse thirteen. In verse 14, Paul picks up the thread of his original thought again, and completes the sentence, “For this cause…I bow my knees unto the Father…” He is declaring that because of the church truth being worked out in Jew and Gentile, he is consistently praying that the believers would receive certain blessings from God, and grow in faith and understanding.

It is interesting, and possibly a little ironic that the explanation of the Church is given in parenthetical form, since, as we will see later, the church itself is, in a way, a “parenthesis.” The parenthesis in chapter three is where I want to focus my attention today:

A New Man

Paul began to make a statement concerning his prayers for the believers, but paused to explain why it was his particular duty and pleasure to do so. In Romans 11:13 Paul stated clearly that he was “the Apostle to the Gentiles.” Did he only preach to Gentiles? No: in fact, as we mentioned in Ephesians chapter one, his particular practice in every city was to go to the synagogue first, and offer the message to the Jews. Then, when they turned up their collective noses at the offering (as they inevitably did,) he turned his attention to the Gentiles in the vicinity.

The fact that the Gentiles could and would be saved was NOT a mystery…God had promised an outreach to the Gentiles, and promised that He would save those who sought him. But the fact that He would create a “New Man” (the Church) and include Jews and Gentiles in the same Body, had only vaguely been alluded to by Jesus himself, in John 10:16, and was nowhere spelled out or explained.

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

Paul was given this ministry by revelation from Jesus himself, beginning on the road to Damascus, as we read in Acts 9:1-20, especially verse 15, and continuing in Galatians 1:15-2:2 (read it). Paul was met by Jesus in broad daylight, and blinded by the light of Jesus’ countenance. He was told by revelation that he was to serve Jesus, and would be used to take the gospel to the heathen (ultimately us!)

Only in the writings of Paul do we find the specific doctrine of the church. It is mentioned, of course, in other writings, but the specific teaching regarding it being made up of saved Jews and saved Gentiles, and that they were one body in Christ, is taught by Paul alone.

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

Paul underscores the fact that the doctrine of the Church had not been made known “in other ages”—that is, by previous prophets, or, more specifically, during previous dispensations. Paul begins in verse two, saying “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the Grace of God, which is given me to you-ward:” in other words, the gift that God has given Paul is that of “being the Apostle to the Gentiles (see verse 8).”

It would be tempting to use this passage as a proof-text for the concept of dispensations, but that is not what is being taught in this passage, though the doctrine of dispensational theology is definitely taught throughout the scripture. The use of the word “dispensation” in this passage has only to do with the fact that Paul was assigned a particular gift, to be administered toward the Gentiles. However, his pointing out that the church was not revealed in previous “ages” is part of the clear teaching of dispensations. It simply has nothing to do with Paul’s use of the word, here.

When the prophet Daniel was given what was possibly the furthest-reaching prophecy in scripture, culminating in Daniel 9:23-27, it included all the time from the days of Nehemiah to the Messianic Kingdom, but, though it specifically predicted the death of the Messiah, it completely skipped the Church age! Many of the prophets detailed the kingdom age…but none touched upon the church age. The church could be seen as a “parenthesis” in God’s dealing with Israel and the World.

Even Jesus, though he briefly predicted it, saying “Upon this Rock I will build my church…,” did not explain anything about it. And, though he stated the he had come to fulfill the Law, he did not specify how he would do so. Paul’s writings (Galatians 2:19) tell us that “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.” Jesus fulfilled the Law for us by dying in our place, so that we could be “dead to the Law,” thus beyond its reach. I am no longer judged by God’s Law, and am finally free to serve Him without reproach.

Paul wanted his readers (us, too), to understand how he knew what he did about the church age…and that it really was new information, though completely in keeping with the Old Testament scripture. It violated nothing, and fulfilled everything.

By the Gospel

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

Paul specifies what portion of this doctrine was the “mystery” (something not previously revealed), in verse 6: “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel” That was largely the sticking point for the Jews, regarding the Gentiles. The Jews could not understand how, after all the years of isolation in God’s blessing, the doors were to be thrown open, and the heathen were coming in.  Not only were they coming in, but once they were in, God would no longer make a distinction between Jew and Gentile.  That did not sound like “Good News” to the Jews, especially the unbelieving Jews. They were not prepared to share their inheritance.

But how did the Gentiles come in? How did they become fellow-heirs? How did it happen that there was to be only one “Body of Christ? How were the Gentiles to be made partakers of the promised Messiah?

The answer?  “By the Gospel:” the Gospel is listed as the only power of God to save those who believe, in Romans 1:16, 17 (read it). And it says that this is how he saves Jews and Gentiles. But this is all new information…and Paul was sent to teach it.

Paul was overwhelmed by the honor and the privilege he had been given. He said, “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints in this Grace given; that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

I wish that I could see the job of world evangelism through Paul’s eyes. I am caught up with day to day living, and sometimes can barely see those around me as an opportunity for the Gospel, or, more specifically, as precious souls for whom Christ died…Paul saw evangelism as the greatest privilege in life!

Each of you who have received Jesus as your Savior has been saved by means of the Gospel. There are no exceptions. That is the only way God saves people. Actually, it has always been the only way he saved people. He gave the promise of the coming Messiah in Genesis 3:15-21, immediately after Man’s fall into sin. Those in the Old Testament looked forward to that coming Messiah—we look back. They brought blood sacrifices, looking forward to the cross. We take communion, looking back. Every saved person in history was saved “by Grace through Faith”, the same as you and I have been saved. That part of the message is not new.

What is new is the Church—the one body of believers, in whom there is “neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female”, etc. This is in reference to the one body of Christ, not the local assembly.

Interestingly, Paul addresses only the universal church in the book of Ephesians…in the letters to the believers at Corinth, he speaks more to the local assembly, and gives directions for the local churches. He gives similar counsel in the letters to Timothy and Titus. But the letter to the Ephesian believers is primarily devoted to teaching them their “position,” or standing, as believers. Then, how to live as believers, and how to stand fast in their faith as believers.

How Old is the Plan?

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

One thing I find particularly intriguing about this passage is that it is also one of the few that give us some inkling of God’s purpose in creating the church. He says that he purposed it in Himself since the beginning of the world, but that it has been hidden, down through all the ages.

Paul goes on to say that the eternal purpose (verse 11) was that now (verse 10) the angels (various names of various ranks) would observe through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God.

But…haven’t they already seen it, down through all the ages? What is so special about the Church? I really am not sure. But evidently the indwelling Holy Spirit (which also had not occurred before, at least on a wide-spread basis) and the outpoured Grace of God are an amazing thing to the angelic hosts. They are to me, too! I cannot understand His Grace. I do not know why He would go to such lengths to salvage such wrecks as we in the human race really are…honestly.

But God not only says that it is true, but He says that it is his purpose to demonstrate it to the angels. To me, somehow, that makes all the other messed-up things in life seem more bearable, because I know that God is using me to demonstrate His Grace and Wisdom to the angelic hosts.

How can we be a part of God’s Plan?

To take that “heavenly thought” and bring it “down to earth,” so to speak, let us consider: if God is planning to use you to show the angels His Grace and Wisdom…don’t you think He could use you to demonstrate and share His Grace with other humans? Right here on Earth? Right here in town? In your own family? Your own neighborhood? Right where you are?

The answer is yes! We are to be “lights in a dark world,” reflecting God’s light, and drawing people to Him. If people cannot see God’s love in our lives, they will not believe the Gospel when it comes out of our mouths. He can use you. First by your attitude, and behavior, second by your words, but all undergirded by prayer that His Grace will flow through you as it did through Paul, to reach the dying world around you. We meet together as believers, specifically to encourage one another, and to pray for the lost around us, and to pray that God will use each of us for His glory.

Between the times when we meet together, we meet daily with the risen Christ, and get our “marching orders,” so to speak, from Him.

We read our Bibles, and we pray, asking God to reveal Himself in His Word. We sing together, worshipping the Lord, and encouraging each other. That is how believers are to function.

Let us pray that we will be faithful to do all these things. We will continue in His Word, and in fellowship with one another, as He permits.


“Unanswered” Prayers?

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:1-7

Introduction:

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

Human Sin

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

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

Whether the desire is for political ascendancy, more land, more power of any sort, natural resources, or any other thing, the fact is that we, the human race, are willing to commit violence to satisfy our desires. That forces the other party to commit violence in defense: they really have little choice. But invariably, they end up wanting revenge, not just defense. So the cycle goes on, and repeats itself. If we want to see the original source, we can read Isaiah 14:12-15. There we see how Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” through his desire for power and glory, became Satan, the “Adversary.” We have adversarial relationships with one another because of our sinful, selfish desires, and, ultimately, we, as a race, are adversaries of God thereby as well.

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

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

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

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

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

Unanswered Prayer

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

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

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

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

Prerequisites to Answered Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Grieving the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

How can we overcome this pattern? Humility!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are you now?

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

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

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

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

Please consider carefully, and choose rightly how to respond.



Things God Wants you to Know

Things God Wants You to Know—and Things He Doesn’t.

© Chet Bishop 2011

Introduction:

I rarely offer “current events” sermons… The most current thing in the world is God’s Word, and I can never offer anything more relevant than what He has to say. But over the last few weeks a frustrating, sad thing has been happening. A man (Harold Camping) has claimed to know something, and has presented this “special knowledge” to the world at large. He did so in the name of Jesus. He advertised worldwide…spent millions, in fact,  to tell everyone that Jesus was going to rapture the church on May 21st, 2011 at 5:59 PM. (In case you are wondering, nothing happened at all…guess we missed it.)

This is not the first time this charlatan has made this claim. He did the same thing in 1994, and it almost seems to me that he claimed the same day that time, but I can’t remember for sure. At any rate, he was shown to be a false prophet that time, and has done so again. But this time, the whole world is mocking the Christians, assuming that this is what Christians believe. They laugh, and write slanderous ditties, mocking those who believe in the Christ at all, let alone the relative few who accepted the message of the charlatan.

Serious Christians and, more specifically, serious Bible students were not at all disturbed by his message, except that we all fervently wish he would knock off the frivolous claims, and quit dragging the name of Jesus in the dirt of public mockery. We knew he was wrong.

How did we know?

There are things God definitely wants us to know. He says so, and commands Christians to share that knowledge with anyone who will listen. (He also says that we are not to waste it on those who are opposed to the message.) But there are things God does NOT want us to know, as well: more specifically, things He has plainly told us we will not know, that it is not ours to know.

Things God want us to Know:

Let’s look first at just a few of the things God says He wants us to know—there are many, of course, but let’s look at a few of the key issues:

Isaiah 6:1-3 says “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim…and one cried to another, and said, ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the LORD of Hosts’!”

(God is Holy! In fact, Holiness is His primary attribute…and He wants us to know it!)

Zechariah 8:17 says, “And let none of you imagine evil in your heart against your neighbor… for these are things that I hate, saith the LORD”

One thing God wants you to know (and He declares it to be so, over and over) is that He is a Holy God. That means he is separated from sin. It also means he hates sin, as any grieving parent would hate the drugs that were destroying his or her precious child…God hates sin because it is repugnant to him…offensive to him; and he hates it because of the destruction it is working in the world he has created…the people that he loves…the people for whom he died.

God is Holy, and He hates sin…he hates the evil that mankind thinks up, one against another—all of it—from the gossip and lies that are so common in the world, to the greed that consumes our nations, to the immorality that riddles all of our cultures.

We don’t like to think about God hating—but he does—He is Holy, and He hates sin.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now, Love is something we DO like to associate with God—we like to remember his Love, and we sing, “Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus!” Let’s see what it says He loves: It says, “God so loved the WORLD…” the people. Not the World system of thinking, which despises His grace, and spits on his Law, but the people themselves, created in His image. He hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

So, another thing God wants you to know is that He loves you—you, personally, with all your pride and sin, and failings. (Yes, you are a sinner…most of you do not need me to tell you that…you already knew it.) God says that “ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23) He also says “the wages of Sin is death” (Romans 6:23.) But God says He loves you in spite of your sin, and sent His Son to die in your place.

Now, one thing He told us briefly, in John 3:16, is that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That begins to let us know what God wants us to do…He says he wants us to believe in His Son, who died for us.

Once Jesus was speaking to a large crowd of people, and one of them asked “Teacher, what shall we do that we might work the works of God?” Some of you know His answer—this question was in John 6:28—verse 29 gave His answer. He said “this is the work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Jesus could have quoted the Ten Commandments to them—He was the author! But God has NEVER invited us to do good works to earn His favor. He has always invited us to place our trust in His perfect work, and receive un-earned favor—that’s what we call GRACE. (Grace means “unearned favor.” God says “By Grace are ye saved, through Faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.”He loveH

So, right along with the fact that He loves us, is the fact that he wants us to place our trust in Him—specifically, in his Son, the Lord Jesus.

In another situation, Jesus was talking with a group of people, and made a very special promise.

 John 5:24 says “Verily, Verily, I say unto you; whosoever heareth my Words, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life”

God wants you to know HOW to receive eternal life, He wants you to receive it, and He wants you to know for sure that you have received it. Let me re-emphasize that: He wants you to know how to have eternal life, He wants you to HAVE eternal life, and He wants you to KNOW you have it—NOW, not waiting ‘til you die, and hoping you would get it.

Look at that promise! John 5:24 is ONE promise, with TWO conditions, and THREE clauses. (ONE, TWO, THREE!)

The whole verse is one promise—what are the conditions? He said whoever (that means you and me)…#1: whoever hears my words (If you have heard the promise of Christ, even if today was the first time, and I know for most of you it is not), #2: and believes on Him who sent me (If you place your trust in the Grace that sent Jesus to the cross—believing that His blood was sufficient to pay for your sin) Those are the only conditions—there is no one here who cannot fulfill those two conditions. Let’s look at the threefold promise that rests on those two conditions:

Whoever hears, and believes, #1: HAS everlasting life (notice it does NOT say, will have everlasting life—it says HAS everlasting life—NOW!— not “someday, if you are good enough”… NOW— in spite of your sins.

#2: The second clause is similar—it says you shall not come into condemnation—God will remember your sins no more. He will never condemn you again. Your sins are gone forever, in terms of judgment. They were nailed to the Cross. Will you still sin? Yes. Will God ever condemn you again for your sins? NO. Those sins were paid for by the blood of Jesus.

The third is almost too simple—we almost miss it.

Clause #3 states that we have passed from death unto life. Now notice the tense, here—the first clause is present tense—it says we HAVE eternal life—present tense. The second is future tense—it says we WILL NOT come into condemnation. That covers my present and my future—what about my past?

The last clause is past tense, but not just past tense; no, rather, God used past PERFECT tense in the original language—meaning I have crossed over at some specific time in the past, and it has eternal results. I can never go back. That’s why we call it the new birth–Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again!” Well, by faith, I have been born again, and cannot be “un-born.” That is what perfect tense means…it’s a done deal!

God wants you to know that you have eternal life!  

1st John 5:11-13 says, “This is the record, that God has given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His son. He that hath the Son, hath life. He that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. These things I have written unto you who believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life.

God says He wants you to know that you have eternal life—not “hope you can hang on long enough to get it.” These are all things God definitely wants us to know.

Things God does NOT want us to know:

Some things we can assume He did not want us to know because He simply does not tell us, and there is no way to find out. What was God doing the day before Genesis 1:1? It isn’t entirely a silly question…God has been active throughout all eternity. We are given a few things to know—we know that there was a war in heaven—we don’t know exactly when. We know that the angel named Lucifer fell into sin because of pride, and became the adversary known as Satan (which means “the adversary”—the enemy.) We know that a third of the angelic host joined him in his rebellion, and were lost with him. We think (can’t prove it) that they are probably the spirits that became the demonic host that plagued Israel during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This type of question can be considered in light of what God has told us, and probable answers can be proposed…but only tentatively.

Peter asked Jesus, just before the ascension, what John was to do. Jesus told him, in effect, that it was none of his business, and that he should concentrate on his own walk with God. (John 21:20-23). I would hypothesize from Jesus’ answer that we are not given to know God’s will for another individual except in the general sense, in that he has told us his will for every believer in a wide range of circumstances, and general principles, so that there should be little doubt. But he does not tell me what he wants of you in your ministry. There is no hierarchy of clergy through which God reveals his will for all the laity—in fact, the whole concept of a division between clergy and laity is foreign to the church age. Every believer is a priest in the Body of Christ, and we all have responsibility as priests…and we all work directly for the Head of the Body—Jesus, himself.

Daniel once observed that he could not understand the prophecy he had just been given (Daniel 12:8, 9)—the angel who had given him the message told him to “write it down and run along—“ that it was not for him to understand, but for the people of the end time. Interesting! Daniel, one of the greatest prophets of all time, was not allowed to understand the prophecy he was sent to deliver!

Jesus’ disciples had essentially the same question…when is all this stuff going to happen? (Matthew 24:3, ff)  Jesus had gone to great lengths to explain the Great Tribulation, and the things that would preface his physical return to earth…but not a word as to how to put a date on it. In fact, in verse 35, he confides that not even the angels knew the date—but (at least at that point), only the Father (Matthew 24:35). In fact, in Mark 13:32, Jesus said that he himself did not even know the date of his return! Does Jesus know today? Undoubtedly, since he is God—and He was God, then— but evidently he had set aside that particular prerogative, and was living by faith, as a man. We might (probably should) take enough from these passages to understand that this is a closed issue. But the disciples weren’t satisfied…they just had to ask again.

At the ascension, just before Jesus left the Earth, they tried once more (Acts 1:6-8), asking, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?” They did not understand any of the issues involved—they were asking for a restoration of the glory of the kingdom of David, or possibly that of Solomon—they had no idea of the Kingdom of God, or they would not have asked for “restoration”—they had never seen the Kingdom of God; Israel had never had it—so it could not be “restored”.

But Jesus’ response is a real key to the whole matter of the end times: He said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power (authority.)” (None of your concern!) But, he went on to say, “you shall receive power…and ye shall be witnesses unto Me…” the great commission was reiterated at this point. The thing that WAS theirs to know was that they were to be ambassadors for Christ throughout the whole world.

That particular question was never raised again by the disciples—and it was not bandied about in the epistles. There is zero discussion about when the Day of the Lord may begin…only that it will begin suddenly, without warning, and that it will begin with the snatching away of the church, and the Tribulation (seven years of it) will immediately follow (see 1st Thessalonians 4 and 5). Jesus’ return to earth will terminate the Tribulation, and usher in the Millennial Kingdom Matthew 25:31 and following. Also Revelation 19 and 20.). The book of the Revelation primarily concerns itself with this whole time period from the rapture to the end of the millennial kingdom…but no clue is give as to when it might happen. There are many clues as to how to know it is coming, but not one bit about setting a time.

So…when someone claims to have that knowledge, you are dealing either with a false prophet who is deliberately attempting to lead you astray, or, hopefully, simply someone who has allowed themselves to be deluded, either by their own reasoning (quite common) or someone else’s (even more common). This is simply one of the few things we know of that God does NOT want us to know, and that, indeed we cannot know. Jesus said: “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is!” All we can do is be ready.

Today, this is a pressing hope in the Church. We see the World rapidly deteriorating, and we fervently hope for the Lord’s Return. But all we can do is press forward with the Great Commission, which is one of the things we DO know is His will, and look forward to the Hope of His Coming…another thing we know is His will.

How Shall we then Live?

Paul made an interesting comment to the Church at Corinth: “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (1st Corinthians 15:34) This is especially applicable today, as we are hoping for the Lord’s soon return: There are millions around us who would be eternally lost if He returned today. Paul says we are to wake up and do something about it. At the very least, our lives should reflect the Holiness and Love of God. It is our responsibility to act as ambassadors of Christ, as well, sharing that Love and the Salvation He provided at the Cross with the lost world around us.

Now, There’s something God wants you to know! And He calls each of us to wake up and respond to Him in faith and obedience.

God help us all to open up and yield to His Spirit, and reach out to the lost around us.


The Sources of Wisdom

The Sources of Wisdom

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:13-18

How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

The scripture says that we are to “show” or demonstrate by our lives, the result of the “wisdom” to which we claim to adhere. People need to:

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior; to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech;and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak, and the things we do, will accomplish either the one or the other.

Therefore, the results in our own lives (our lifestyle and works) are what will ultimately reveal the source of that “wisdom.” The old English word “conversation” never refers to “people chatting:” it either has to do with our way of life (as in this case: the Greek root is ‘tropos’) or, in a few cases, (Philippians 3:20, for example, where the Greek root is ‘polituema’) it means citizenship, or commonwealth.In no case it is referencingtwo people involved in verbal interaction. In this particular passage it specifically means “the way you live your life.” This reveals to those around you how they should regard your wisdom.

The Greek word (prauteti) translated “meekness” is sometimes translated “gentleness”, and it can mean just that, but it also carries the idea of “yieldedness;” being yielded to God, and being willing to yield to others, as a result. Not insisting on proving oneself right, but, having stated one’s case, willing to allow others to make up their minds about issues.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

So, then, even when there is someone who, by all accounts, is considered to be a real source of genuine “wisdom”, if any of the listed attributes are a consistent part of their life:

  • Bitterness
  • Strife
  • Envy

Then, we should not automatically consider the “wisdom” they have to offer to be “Godly Wisdom.” We should at least take it carefully, knowing that it has definitely been mingled with other sources. This begs the question, “what are the other sources?”

Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

James gives three other sources. He states that, when bitterness, strife or envy are present, such “wisdom” is:

  • Earthly, (from the Worlds way of thinking)
  • Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; soulish; from the Flesh) and/or
  • Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan.)

As a matter of fact, this is how we know that the Christian actually has three enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The World is the enemy “outside the gate”, so to speak. The Flesh is the enemy within the gate—residing within each individual. And the Devil, as always, will seek to strengthen the World and the Flesh against us, and use them to defeat us if possible. In fact, just as a military force, if unable to hold a bridge, or some other vital piece of territory, will seek to render it useless to the enemy…Blow up the bridge, fill up a well, burn down buildings, etc., our enemy, Satan wants to render you useless to God, destroy your joy, destroy your testimony, and, if possible, destroy you, physically, through slavery to sin. Take this seriously!

So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?

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

Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit:

  • Purity
  • Peaceable-ness
  • Gentleness
  • Approachable-ness
  • Mercifulness
  • Good fruits (fruit of the Spirit?)
  • Impartiality
  • Genuineness…no hypocrisy
  • Producing Peace, because it is given in peace.

If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.

Proverbs 2:6, 7 states that God himself is the only completely reliable source of wisdom, and that His wisdom specifically comes “from His mouth.” So, the Word of God should be our constant primary source, and the standard to which we compare whatever comes from human counselors. As long as the wisdom we receive from human counselors matches that of the Word of God, and we see a pattern of Godliness, then it is very likely sound teaching and counsel.

Further: Jesus Christ, as the Living Word, is identified as the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. (1st Corinthians 1:24)So, the more closely we can walk with Him, the more firm our grasp will be on the leading of the Lord. Without exception, His leading will always match His written Word, because He is the Living Word. (See John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13)

Some time ago, a young(er) friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs. The one couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry), and were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.

The other couple, whom she met in her home church, seemed determined to “take her under their wing”. They were somewhat dominating, and directive, and stated that she needed to get more education, so as to gain “educational credibility”, etc. They did seem concerned about her well-being, but when she mentioned the offer the first couple had made, they were quite dismissive, even suggesting that the first couple were trying to cheat her, and take her money (from support). They said all this, knowing nothing about those people, and never having met them. They did not consider her 25 years of full-time ministerial experience (specifically in linguistics, Bible translation expertise, literacy-teaching, Bible-teaching, and cross-cultural communication) to have “educational credibility”. And they seemed very sure that she was not making good decisions, though they gave no scriptural reasons.

Since both couples seemed “caring”, and both seemed “wise”, she felt torn, since she could not respond favorably to both. But hidden in the behavior of both there were clues as to where the “wisdom” originated. She called me, asking for my counsel, and we had a long phone conversation.

The exchange with my friend triggered more pondering, in my own mind, regarding wisdom: What is the ultimate origin of real wisdom? What does the whole counsel of the Bible have to say about it? What is the character and source of “false wisdom?” What is the motive? Why would someone bother to try to coerce another person with bad advice? What could they hope to gain by it?

Genesis 1:1 begins with four “packed” words, which are easy to miss, because we tend to focus on the last six words of that sentence. We are so familiar with the “Created the Heavens and the Earth” portion, and argue endlessly about the meaning, truth (or untruth) and limitations (if any) of that portion that we ignore the first four words: In the beginning, GOD! He is the origin of all things—He existed before all things; the causeless cause, the ultimate fount of literally all things. He exists outside of time and space, without limits except those imposed by His perfect character and wisdom. Nothing is too hard for him, yet there are things He says He cannot do, because of His perfect character.

So, if He is the ultimate source, but, as we see in our own experience, and read in the Scriptures, there is also “false wisdom” out there, waiting to trip us up, we need a pattern of thinking or a litmus test or something, by which to determine which is which.

James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next chapter (skipping ahead) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

What was there in the behavior of the friends from her church that might give us a clue as to the source of their wisdom?

They were somewhat domineering, and were not open to her thoughts: they dismissed her training as not having been worthwhile, though it had definitely been from God, and had been used in service already for 25 years. They were suspicious of the motives of a godly couple whom they had never met, suggesting that they were somehow trying to rob my friend. (The support-structure of that mission was actually set up in such a way that no one but the intended recipient of the funds could touch it.) Their behavior was neither producing good fruits, nor acting in a loving manner. They were not “easy to be intreated,” as James said. So…we had to conclude that their counsel was at least “not necessarily from the Lord.” No accusations were leveled at them, or anything. She simply thanked them for their concern and went on to make a decision based on God’s Word.

I had a Bible-teacher, more than 40 years ago, who had more of the scriptures memorized than anyone else I have ever known. More than that, he had a better understanding of how it all fit together than anyone else I have known. During a Bible-study, one evening, there was a man who had an argument. The teacher answered his questions with scripture, but that was not enough. The man kept insisting and arguing. Rather than asserting his superior knowledge and considerable pedigree in any way, the teacher began answering with a simple “OK…” to every accusation and argument. Finally the dissenter quieted down and the study could continue. This teacher had a gentle spirit, and was “easily intreated.”

I was in a different meeting once, when a much younger person raised their hand and questioned something that same teacher had just said, bringing up a scripture to back their question. He immediately answered, “You are right! I was wrong, and the change will be in the next revision of my book!” Now, that is being approachable! His wisdom was from God’s Word, and he proved it by his responses. There was no “vying for position,” no envy, no strife, and he was a man of impeccable purity, and proven integrity. I wish he were still alive and teaching today, as we certainly need such teachers.

What about those other Sources?

The World

Frequently the argument is offered, “Well, look! This is what all the scholars agree to be true!” Hmmm… So there has never been a case where “everybody” was wrong, and one person, the dissenter, was right? Even in secular history, there are countless times when a researcher or an inventor proved that “everyone” was, in fact, full of baloney, and that (for instance) the earth really does orbit the sun rather than the other way around; or that, in fact, it is possible to achieve true flight by means of a machine, or that it is possible to travel faster than sound…etc.

John 7:40-53 tells of a time when people were beginning to draw conclusions about Jesus. Some were convinced that He was the Messiah. The argument of the Pharisees was that “Nobody who knows anything would believe that! These people who obviously don’t know God’s Word are under a curse! The Messiah isn’t going to come from Galilee, nor does any prophet!”

Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least…the prophet Jonah was from Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and stalked off, feeling triumphant.

In some circles, this is known as “argumentation by sneer!” If you don’t have a rational answer, then you try to intimidate the other person by shaming them or by pointing out that they are alone in their belief. Neither is a valid argument.

We are to find our truth in God’s Word. If someone has a clear argument from God’s Word, then we are to carefully consider it, as it might very well change our outlook. The people in Berea (Acts 17:10, 11) responded correctly, in that they listened to what the Apostles had to say, and then went and “searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And they were commended by God for so doing.

The Flesh

There have certainly been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!

The Devil

2nd Chronicles 18 tells us the story of a wicked king (Ahab) who was planning to go into battle, and had convinced a good king (Jehoshaphat) to join forces with him. Ahab had a multitude of “prophets” who all unanimously told him he would be victorious in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not so sure, and he wanted counsel from God. So, they called in Micaiah, a prophet of God, and he told them in effect, that this was from God, for the express purpose of bringing about Ahab’s death!  Verses 18-24 tell how God chose a “lying spirit” to speak through Ahab’s “prophets,” to convince him to go into battle! (This is Ahab’s final warning to repent!) And what was the response of the false prophets? One of them walked over and punched Micaiah in the face! (Real “spiritual response,” there, bud! No envy, bitterness or strife there!)

But Ahab went on into battle, and died, as Micaiah had prophesied. Jehoshaphat survived, but on the way back home, another prophet of God met him on the road, and Jehoshaphat got a scolding from God for joining forces with someone who was an enemy of God. (2nd Chronicles 19:1-3)

The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

Ahab listened to a lying spirit, just as Eve did, in the Garden of Eden, and it cost him his life. When Adam went along with Eve, and fell into sin, it cost us ALL our lives! (Romans 5:12)

Whenever we choose to follow some other counsel, rather than that of God’s Word, we are, at the very least, “straying from the Shepherd,” and we are in danger of attack from the enemy of our souls. It could seem a minor issue, and we may excuse the wandering astray in our own minds. But if we persist in such folly, it will destroy our walk with God, it will produce irreversible results in our lives, and ultimately, it will render us fruitless in God’s Service.

I pray that we will all repent of our frequent folly, and look to God for our leading, so that we may be the men and women of God whom He has chosen us to be.