Responding to Present Trials

How Should We Respond to Present Trials?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:13-20; 2nd Samuel 18:19-33


13 
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?

Introduction

As a general principle, people who do good things in their human relationships are also treated well by their fellow-humans. We are seen as “harmless,” and “usually beneficial.” So we are treated fairly well, as a rule. But there will always be an undercurrent of evil in the human race, and those who are enemies of God by nature will eventually become enemies of God by choice, and, because they can’t attack Him personally, will choose to attack His children and servants.

I don’t make a practice of preaching on current events, but I would like to observe that, while the whole country, (and much of the world with it) is deeply frightened by current events, this is obviously “pretty small stuff” compared to some of the horrors that have happened in years gone by: In the centuries past there have been plagues that wiped out whole populations. There have been dictators and emperors who murdered people literally by the millions. In our own times (including that of our parents and grandparents) over 100 million, worldwide, have died under the various communist regimes…and it isn’t over!

Those of us who see the current events as leading into more of those horrific days, are rightfully afraid of what is to come. But we must remember that believers have faced the same sort of things since the beginning. In Psalm 116:15, God says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” We are not abandoned, nor are we ignored. We know that believers are expected to suffer for Jesus. Philippians 1:29 clearlysays, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Our problem is just that we have enjoyed a season of relative peace, and we have hoped that it would continue. There is nothing “wrong” with that hope: We just have to remember that, eventually, the peace will fail. Human-sourced peace will always fail!

In Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet Habakkuk showed us how to respond to the destruction of our nation. In Job 1:20-22, Job showed us how to respond to the loss of all we hold dear, including all our belongings and even our loved ones. In Daniel 3:16-18, Daniel’s three friends showed us how to face death, with faith and courage…but they were spared! In the seventh chapter of Acts, Stephen made it even more plain; and he was not spared: neither were most of the prophets, nor most of the apostles. As far as we know, virtually all the Old Testament prophets who were sent to Israel were eventually killed by the people they came to serve. And with the possible exception of John, history tells us that probably all the apostles were killed because of their faith and their testimony.

How Should We Respond?

14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

Since suffering is virtually inevitable, as a general rule, we need to see what Peter says to do about it. (By the way, tradition holds that Peter was eventually crucifiedso he wasn’t talking “theory!”) He says that we are to put Jesus first: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” (The word “sanctify” literally means “set apart” as special, in some regard…for a special purpose…but it carries the idea of “making holy.”) God is already utterly holy: how am I to “sanctify” Him in my heart? I am to recognize that He is of first importance: above all else, He is to be honored. And the result is that I will deliberately prepare myself to give honest, clear, humble, and loving testimony to His Grace and His salvation.

Will that cause people to treat us well? Absolutely not! It will intensify the hatred of those who hate Jesus, and focus their wrath on us! (Just as it did Peter and the other apostles and prophets. John the Baptist was beheaded before his 33rd birthday, because he spoke for God!) But it will have the reverse effect on those who are willing to hear the message of salvation. The Philippian jailer believed, partly because of the earthquake, obviously, but that was only the “exclamation point” on the testimony of Paul and Silas. They had already preached Christ in the town of Philippi. They had been savagely beaten, without trial, as a result, and, while chained in the prison, still bleeding from the beatings, they were praising God and singing hymns at midnight! Everyone in the prison could hear them! And then the earthquake struck. The Jailer believed the Gospel as a direct result of their response to sufferings.

J. Vernon McGee liked to tell about something he had repeatedly experienced as a child: he was often tasked with feeding the livestock at night, and so he entered the barn with a lantern, in the darkness. When the light of the lantern dispelled the darkness in the barn, two things happened simultaneously: the rats scavenging the barn floor for food ran for cover, knowing that the light was from their enemy, and would reveal them to their enemy. But at the same time, the birds roosting in the rafters mistook the lantern light for sunrise and began to sing, because they thought it was morning! Different people respond differently to the light of the Gospel as well. And, in another appropriate metaphor: if we place a slab of soft potter’s clay out in the sun, along with a similar slab of hard beeswax, the clay will respond to the heat of the sunlight by becoming harder and harder, while the wax will become softer and softer. In both metaphors, the stimulus was the same but the responses were opposite. The nature of the recipient determines the response to the light. Jesus said, “…this is the condemnation, that light is come into the World and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Does that mean that we should only share the Gospel with those who already believe it? Of course, that is a ridiculous question: those who have not heard of Jesus are the primary target audience, which is precisely why we support missionaries who go where the Gospel has not gone before. Romans 15:20 says, “Yea, so have I strived, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” That was Paul’s goal!

But we do need to realize that there will be a cost for obedience: I have known people to be fired from a job, simply because it became known that they were a Christian. I know others who were persecuted and driven out of jobs because they shared the Gospel with others. In my own case, the persecution was quite mild: I was simply seldom invited to any sort of gathering, and not included in groups of friends. That doesn’t feel very good, but it hardly compares with real persecution. There may come a time, possibly even relatively soon, when it will be very costly indeed to call upon the Name of Jesus.

But we are to prepare our hearts in advance, as taught by Stephen, Daniel, Peter, and others, and joyfully expect to share the Gospel in word and deed.

How should we Share the Gospel?

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

There is an odd passage here: Peter transitions from our preparation to share, to talking about the suffering of Jesus, to the souls of them who died in the Flood! (Say what?) We don’t want to miss the main point here: Jesus lived His entire life out under the Law, but also, entirely under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit! Jesus refused to use His prerogatives as God, to benefit Himself. (Yes, He could have turned the rocks into food, if He chose to do so. But He was committed to dependency upon the Father, not His own ability.) So, under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit, He endured the privations of life as a poor man in a poor country with poor hygiene and limited diet… and to being physically abused by those He came to save.

How did He do it? He was put to death in the flesh, but “quickened” (made alive) by the Spirit, the same Spirit by which he went and preached to the spirits (now) in prison.

I am aware that some versions of the scripture have done a little “interpreting,” in attempt to make the passage easier to understand. But there is a danger in so doing. We need to ask several questions:

  1. What “Spirit” is spoken of here? (I will take it to be the Holy Spirit.)
    1. Is that the same Spirit mentioned in 1st Peter 1:11? (“The Spirit of Christ?”
  2. When did the preaching occur?
    1. If Jesus went and preached in Hades, as many believe, why would he only preach to a select group of Old Testament Sinners? If He was offering a “post-mortem” opportunity for repentance and faith, why only to that group? And, if He offered such a thing at all, wouldn’t that contradict Hebrews 9:27? Why would that group alone get a “second chance?” Or, if He was only “proclaiming victory,” as some suppose, why only to those individuals? (And, what would be the point?)
    1. Since it was “by the same Spirit” who is also called “The Spirit of Christ which was IN them,” in 1st Peter 1:11, doesn’t it follow that it was by that Spirit He preached, and that it was during their lifetimes, just as it is for every other sinner in history? So when did they hear? It was while the Ark was being built! That is why they were called “disobedient!” They heard, and they rebelled!
    1. Who physically did the preaching? 2nd Peter 2:5 says that Noah was the preacher. The Spirit of Christ, which was in him was how the preaching occurred. And while the ark was being built, is when the preaching occurred.
  3. In that case, the “Where”question has also been answered: Jesus preached in the person of Noah, by the Holy Spirit (also called the Spirit of Christ) where Noah was, on the only continent that existed before the Flood, while the Ark was being built…for 120 years!

So, what we are being told, here, is that just as Jesus preached through Noah, He wants to preach through us. And the results could be good, bad or indifferent. But that is how we are to share the Gospel. Jesus wants to speak through us by the Holy Spirit.

How Should We Prepare?

There are at least three levels of preparation we might consider:

  1. Spiritual preparation: Is Jesus really “first in your heart?” Am I really “sanctifying the Lord God in my heart,” as I am commanded to do?
  2. Mental preparation: Do I actually “know the message” well enough to “be a messenger?” This is one part of being “ready always, to give an answer.” It may require some study, some reading, some planning, and some memorization, so that when the opportunity arises, you have the facts at your disposal, and are not left fumbling, saying, “Well, I know it says in there, somewhere.”
  3. Emotional preparation—preparing the Heart, or the Will: There was an example given, in 2nd Samuel 18:19-33, when David’s son, Absalom was killed. (Read it!) The messenger Ahimaaz was a very fast runner, and desperately wanted to be “the one chosen” to go with the message. But another runner, Cushi, was chosen, because Commander Joab knew there was a very good chance that the messenger would bear the wrath of the King, and be executed, when it was told that Absalom had been killed.

    But Ahimaaz wanted to go anyway, and he begged until Joab finally said, “Go!” So, Ahimaaz took off, found a short-cut, and, in fact, he outran the chosen messenger (Cushi) and arrived first. But, evidently, he had been “doing some thinking” on the way, and was afraid to give the true message. So he said, “There was a great tumult, but I couldn’t see what happened.” (It was a flat-out lie! He knew exactly what had happened.)

    So King David told Ahimaaz to stand aside, as Cushi, the chosen messenger arrived just behind him. Cushi was both faithful and wise, and he told the truth, but gave the message sadly, in inoffensive terms. The result was that king was in grief, but, as far as we know, he did not punish the messenger. But what we need to see is that Cushi, the faithful messenger, fully expected the possibility of suffering, and he faithfully gave the message in spite of the danger. The unfaithful messenger, Ahimaaz, feared the consequences and refused to take the chance. He knew full well what the message was, but he chose to pretend he didn’t know. He chose personal safety over honoring God.

Choices

So, it seems we have some choices to make, too, in terms of our “current events:”

  1. We have to choose what master we will serve.
  2. We have to choose what message we will deliver.
  3. We have to choose what values we will embrace as primary in our lives.
  4. We have to choose what source we will trust, to find Peace and Joy.
  • The first seems an easy choice: all of us have already chosen to serve the King of kings! But: do our thoughts, attitudes and actions reflect that choice? Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” And also, “These things I have spoken unto you that in Me ye might have Peace. In the World, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.” If He is my Master, doesn’t it require that I obey those commands, as well? Set aside my fears, and experience the Peace of God? I don’t know about you, but I find that a pretty challenging assignment!
  • The second requires some thought: the Gospel is defined as “the Good News of Jesus’s death for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection, which, being believed in, is the power of God to save sinners.” (1st Corinthians 15:3, 4; Romans 1:16) Is that the message you are sharing? Or is it “You would be happier with Jesus!” or “You would like our church!” or something else, still? The message we were assigned to carry has not changed throughout history. We are either willing to carry that message and faithfully deliver it, or we are not. But the message remains the same!

The third requires a little more self-awareness: Yes, I am grieved at the circumstances in our nation (So was Habakkuk, in his!)— But is “my country” or “my politics,” etc., my primary value, or are the Message of Christ, and Rejoicing in the Person of Christ, and honoring God through faithfulness to Christ the most important things to me? Only you can examine your own heart before the Lord and give an answer to that question.

The fourth choice is very “Black and White:” Will I turn to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, our Redeemer, and the Captain of our Salvation, to find Peace and Joy? Or— will I not? Moment by moment, this is a choice: I am either choosing to keep my eyes on Jesus, or I am looking somewhere else. That’s it!

Those are the choices we all have to make. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we respond to them.

Lord Jesus, help us to be conscious of the choices before us and to make wise, Godly choices with our time, our affections and our values. Let us keep you constantly before our eyes as our leader, Teacher, and Lord. Fill us with your Spirit, and allow us to serve.

How should we live (Part 4)

How should we live (Part 4)

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:8-14; Colossians 3:13-17, 18-23; Ephesians 4:1-3

Introduction

We have been studying through the book of 1st Peter. We read through a passage explaining “how we were to live, because of our position in Christ.” One of the issues mentioned was our marriage relationship, but the concepts extend into all other relationships. The key relationship for all believers is our relationship with Christ, which is reflected in all other relationships.

The relationship which most closely pictures our relationship with Him is the marriage relationship, so it receives some fairly specific attention. But we are told that how we treat others—how we relate to others—will determine how the World sees Jesus. This is the central message of John 13:35, which says “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” This was the first commandment given by Jesus, after Judas left: Only believers— the eleven remaining disciples—were there to hear the New Commandment. Only believers can do this, and even they can only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last week, we read 1st Peter 3:5-7, which is specific to marriage, but now Peter returns to the main theme: how we are to live as believers, because of our new position in Christ.

1st Peter 3:8-14

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye, and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled:


Before we move on to the rest of the teaching regarding how we are to behave in general, we have one more place to read about marriage. Over in Colossians, Paul treated this topic in a similar manner, “sandwiching” the marriage relationship between all the other behavioral instruction. Two short sentences, to sum up all that is included in that precious relationship.

Colossians 3:13-17, 18-23

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord: for ye serve the Lord Christ. 21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God;

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

All the other relationships are important, of course, but the marriage relationship is the only one given before sin entered into the world, and it is the only one which was specifically designed by God to let us see the Relationship between Christ and the Church.

General Commands Still Apply

All the rest of the “behavior pattern” commands apply even more stringently to the marriage relationship. Marriage is supposed to be the most secure and permanent relationship outside of parent-child relations that can exist. So violating that relationship, whether by abuse or deceit, or unfaithfulness is even more repugnant to God than doing the same things in other relationships.

So let’s look at what he says as far as general commands in relationships, in Colossians 3:13-17:

  • Forbearing one another (putting up with and accepting each other as we are.)
  • Forgiving one another (accepting the loss and the cost of forgiveness…without either reparations or recriminations.)
  • Love one another (“Charity” is the KJV word for Agape love.)
  • Live at Peace with one another…let the Peace of God “Rule” (umpire) in your hearts.
  • Be thankful. You do have a lot for which to be thankful! Think on it!
  • Let the Word of Christ Dwell in you richly in all Wisdom:
    • Teaching one another and admonishing one another, (how?)
      • In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
      • Singing with Grace in your hearts to the Lord
  • Do all in the Name of (under the authority and auspices of) the Lord Jesus,
  • Giving Thanks to God and the Father by Him.

How do these commands correlate with the commands back in in 1st Peter 3:8-14?

  • Be ye all of one mind (maintain unity).
  • Have compassion toward one another. Care about others: and do something about it.
  • “Love as Brethren” (this is the “phileo” love, given as a command. This means being genuinely friendly: preferring one another’s company as brothers and sisters.
  • Be empathetic (“pitiful”: having pity for others.) Weep with those who weep!
  • Be courteous: polite…we do not have license to be less than courteous “because we are family”—quite the opposite: Courtesy is part of brotherly love.
  • No “payback”—no revenge: instead, provide blessing in place of payback.
    • Jesus said “…do good to them that hate you…” (Matthew 5:44)
    • We are called to bless, so that we can inherit blessing.

Application

So, how can we apply all the above information? It is easy to see that there is such a thing as a Biblical pattern, a standard we are to use. It is also easy to see that we are to apply the standard to ourselves, not to others: Not to other married couples, not even to our own husband or wife. The “mirror” is pointed at you! At me! Don’t use it to look at others!

We are to accept one another as we are: if there is definite sin involved, we are given specific instructions as to how to deal with that, but the fact is, most of what irritates us in other people is just that: Irritation. It is not thereby “sin” that needs to be “confessed and renounced and have guilt thickly spread over the poor wretch who dared to offend us.”

Notice that in Colossians 3:19, it says, “Husbands love your wives and be not bitter against them.” And, there are no qualifiers added…no “ifs, ands or buts.” Furthermore, over in Ephesians 4:31, 32, it says: “31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.

(Don’t you just love that word “All?” It really covers a lot of territory, and eliminates a lot of “loopholes.”) Notice that the passage in Ephesians is to all believers: not just husbands and wives. So this thing in Colossians, about “bitterness” (hard-hearted grudges and bad feelings) applies to everyone, not just husbands.

And, over in Proverbs 31, when it describes the “perfect wife,” what if we were to apply that passage to the Church, the Bride of Christ? Remember, God designed marriage to show the relationship between Christ and the Church!

Proverbs 31:10-31 lists a number of features, but the key idea is in verses 11 and 12: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Then it goes on to describe her industrious character, her kindness toward others, her hospitality, her wisdom in speech and behavior: How she cares for her household, especially her husband and children. The bottom line is that his reputation, his belongings and his children are safe in her care: He can confidently back her in everything she says or does, because she always acts in his best interest, and in such a way as to honor him.

Of course that is a great standard for a wife to consider, but, if we are collectively the “Bride of Christ”, shouldn’t we all, every one of us, apply those truths to our own lives? Consider:

  • In what way am I “honoring the Lord in everything I say and do?”
    • In what way do I enhance His reputation by my behavior?
  • Can Jesus really count on me to faithfully treat others as He would treat them?
    • Providing for those He has entrusted to my care, putting their needs ahead of mine?
    • Speaking kindly to (and about) others in every circumstance?
  • Do I open my mouth in Wisdom? (Or keep it shut, when that is the best response?)
  • Do I provide the Gospel to those around me? (See 1st Corinthians 15:34, 1st Peter 3:15)
  • Am I being “about my Father’s business” as He was?

In the end, we saw that the “virtuous wife” was rewarded, and honored. We are the Bride of Christ, and, collectively, we will be rewarded and honored. But as individuals, we need to ask, “Will my present actions, thoughts and attitudes be deserving of reward? Will the Lord say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful Servant’ regarding what I am doing right now?” And if the answer is “no!” then we need to confess it as sin and go do what He has commanded us to do.

Now: is all that just about marriage? Of course it isn’t!

But what better place to practice the life He has called us to live, than in our own homes? If it is real there, then it will spill out into other relationships as well, affecting our children and our extended families, as well as all others around us.

Peter moves on to talk about how we are to fit into society at large, in the rest of this passage: he says, 10For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye, and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled:

In effect, then, he says:

  • Watch your mouth! Don’t be a source of evil talk or falsehood!
  • Stay out of trouble! Stay away from bad situations. Look for ways to do good!
  • Make Peace! Look for ways to build peaceful relations, and follow that way.

He says the Lord is always watching, and His ears are attentive to our prayers, but that he will resist any who are doing evil. The Lord is a perfect supervisor: He sees everything and He understands everything, including our motives and intentions. He never wavers in his righteous response, though sometimes it seems to take a long time, from human perspective. (If you are wondering how to explain the apparent ease in which the wicked people of this World live, and how they seem to “get away with it,” I would invite you to read Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. Between the two of those psalms, I hope you can get God’s perspective on that matter.)

Is it possible that we may suffer for doing right? Absolutely! It is possible! In some places in the world it is not only “possible” but highly probable! And He says we are blessed if that occurs!

What are Our Choices?

When we look at any of God’s commands to us, ultimately we always find only two choices:

  1. Obey, striving to do exactly and completely as He commanded us, or,
  2. Not. If I choose to “partially obey,” I am choosing to disobey. If I choose to do something that somehow “parallels” what He says, but is different, I am still choosing to disobey.

I heard about an entertainer, a singer, who was faced with an inebriated customer demanding that he sing a certain popular song. He wasn’t going to sing that song, for a variety of reasons, but he also didn’t want to cause a public quarrel, so he assured the customer that while he couldn’t sing that particular song, the very next song would have a lot of the same notes! The customer was drunk enough to not understand that virtually all songs have “a lot of the same notes,” so he sat back down and the singer simply pressed on as planned.

When we try to do something other than what God asked, even though it may even be something “intrinsically good,” remember that He is not some drunken fool in a bar, who is unable to see that we are flat-out not doing what He commanded. He knows! And, the truth is, we also know that we are not doing what He said to do.

It comes down to a daily, moment by moment “multiple-choice test,” with only two choices for each problem:

  1. Will I submit my will to that of God and do what He asks me to do, or
  2. Will I not.

Those are the choices.

You can choose, moment by moment, how to respond to God; how to respond to your husband or wife, how to respond to your children, your coworkers, your employers, your neighbors, or even that “bozo who just cut you off in traffic.” (Or you can make excuses: that is a choice, too!)

Every single step is a choice. That is why we call it “walking:” We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and constantly looking to the Lord for direction, both from His written Word, and from His Holy Spirit.

Is it easy? No! In fact, apart from the Holy Spirit living in us, it is impossible! In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing!” Now, if anyone else said such a thing, it would be incredible arrogance: but when the Lord Jesus said it, it was simply the truth.

So what do we do?

We can’t walk on water. Peter was commanded to walk on water, because he dared to ask Jesus to command him to do so. But what did Peter have to do about it?

  1. He had to keep his eyes on Jesus!
  2. He had to get out of the boat!
  3. He had to put one foot in front of the other, regardless of circumstances.

He started out OK, but he soon forgot #1…he failed to keep his eyes on Jesus! That is where we all most frequently fail, I think. But, I still have to “get out of the boat!” I confess that I simply cannot live the Christian life, but I am commanded to live it! So, I have to “get out of my comfort zone:” look to God to find out what I am to do today, even if it is utterly mundane or really uncomfortable, and then go for it!

Look to Jesus, pray for strength and guidance, and step out! Start putting one foot in front of the other. I’m told that, if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, pretty soon we’ll notice that we are actually “walking!” That is what walking is!

Lord Jesus, teach us to walk with you as your disciples, doing exactly what you command. We know that we fail you constantly, and we depend upon your grace and forgiveness. Please teach us true obedience, and lead us day by day in your service.

The Promise of the Ages

The Promise of the Ages

© C. O. Bishop

Genesis 3:15, 20, 21; Exodus 12; Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-12

Introduction

The Christmas Song

by Don Francisco

The center of the ages, and the Lord talks with a girl
And by the words He speaks He gives a Savior to the world
The fullness of the time has come, and Mary’s Son is born,
The promise’s fulfillment lies asleep now in her arms.

He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend–
To call us all His servants, but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from Satan’s power, to reign at His right hand
In the little town of Bethlehem, when God became a man.

Today the God of Majesty has given to the Earth
A gift of such magnificence we could never plumb its worth
And the rudeness of the setting just ignites the jewel’s fire
A pearl beyond the greatest price, the joy of man’s desire.

He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend
To call us all His servants but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from certain death, to reign at His right hand
When, once for all eternity, God became a man.

The first mention of that Promise: Genesis 3:14, 15

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

When the human race fell into sin, and, as they had been warned, judgment fell, the means was also given to go beyond judgment to Grace. God said that someone called “the Seed of the Woman” would undo the damage caused by Satan, there in the Garden of Eden. The Promise was quite vague at that point, and cloaked in mystery; but Adam believed the promise of God, and God responded by clothing him and Eve with the skins of slain animals, in what turns out to have been the first blood sacrifice for sin. Their own works (the fig leaves) could not cover their sins, but God’s Chosen Sacrifice could!

We can see in the next chapter that Abel understood that connection, and by faith, brought a blood sacrifice for sin. That is confirmed in the New Testament, in Hebrews 11:4.

The Passover Lamb: Exodus chapter 12

There were many other examples of a blood sacrifice for sin, in the book of Genesis, and in that book, also, it is clearly shown that we enter into the Grace of God through faith alone. That truth is spelled out for us Genesis 15:6, where Abram believed God, and was declared righteous. His faith is expounded upon in Romans 4, thousands of years later. But the one huge picture that has been maintained throughout history is the Passover Lamb, spelled out in Exodus 12. The lamb was described as a perfect male lamb, chosen in advance, kept separate for the express purpose of the sacrifice, and his blood was to shield the believers from the wrath of God.

In fact, in that first Passover, the blood was to be struck on the lintel and the two door posts, forming a cross, 1500 years before the crucifixion! Also, every individual had to eat of that sacrifice, personally. It was not just a general blanket-covering for sins. Every person in each believing household was to take part in that sacrifice, just as today, every individual has to make a choice to receive Jesus as Savior! So the picture was becoming more and more clear!

In Psalm 22 the crucifixion was described, more than 1,000 years before the event. In Isaiah 53, the crucifixion was explained, 700 years before the event. The Promise was drawing nearer and nearer to fulfillment: but the fulfillment still had to “begin” somewhere! In Micah 5:2, God promised that the birth of that fulfillment would occur in Bethlehem Ephrata, the same city where King David was born, and Jacob’s wife, Rachel, was buried. I love the fact that, in that little verse, it also points out that the Savior is eternal: that “His goings forth were from of old, from everlasting.”

The very last promise was in Malachi 4:5, 400 years before Christ, only saying that a prophet would come before that fulfillment. Jesus later said that John the Baptist fulfilled that promise, though the promise had actually said Elijah was coming. (Elijah is still coming, by the way! God fulfills His promises to the letter!) John came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah will come in person, as one of the two witnesses, during the tribulation. (See Revelation 11:3-12)

But the Passover has been celebrated every year, for 3,500 years, as the Jews are still looking for the coming Messiah, who will take away the judgment. The Jews have longed for the fulfillment of that ancient Promise, the Promise of the Ages, all these thousands of years, when the reality was met in the Person of Jesus, 2,000 years ago!

When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, he didn’t say, “Look! There’s my cousin, Jesus!” He said “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the Sin of the World!” (John 1:29)

He introduced Jesus as the fulfillment of that Promise!

So, let’s look at the Promise, and the Fulfillment:

The Fulfillment of the Promise: Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-12

Remember that the original Promise (however vague) said that the person would be “The Seed of the Woman.” Billions of people have been born throughout the millennia, but all were the offspring of a man and a woman… not the seed of the woman. So, Isaiah 7:14 says that “…a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (meaning ‘God with us’.)” Now, there are many who will protest that the Hebrew word “alma” (translated virgin, here) really only means “a young girl.” In a sense, that is true, but in that culture, it specifically indicated a girl young enough that she was not married, hence a virgin. And the translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, over 150 years before Christ, understood that, and deliberately chose the word “Parthenon” as the Greek word by which to translate “the Hebrew word “Alma.” The word “Parthenon” specifically means “virgin,” and is not even gender-specific, as it can be applied to a virgin male, too, as it is in Revelation 14:4, regarding the 144,000 young male Jewish witnesses during the great tribulation.

So, when Mary was chosen by God, in Luke 1:26-38, and she protested that it was impossible for her to have a child, as she had never known a man, (verse 34), it fit the prophecy exactly, and the stage was set: why? Because, for the only time in history, there would be a man born of a woman, without a human father, and who would literally be sired by God. He was the only fulfillment of the promised “Seed of the Woman!”

But there was still another issue: Mary lived in Galilee: the prophecy said that the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem! We even sing about it: “O Little Town of Bethlehem!” So let’s see how all of that unfolded: (Turn to Luke 1:26.)

Luke 1:26-38

26 And in the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist) the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused (betrothed) to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Luke 2:1-19

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

We saw, then, that Gabriel was sent to speak to Mary, as God’s spokesman in that particular event: God spoke to Mary through Gabriel. And, Mary lived in Galilee. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph: they were engaged, as we would say today. That was a very serious contract, in that culture, and required a divorce to break it. And that is what Joseph had intended to do, over in the Matthew 1:19-25 account. He initially assumed that Mary had somehow been unfaithful to the betrothal. It says that he was a just man, and did not want to humiliate her, but intended to quietly, secretly, break the betrothal. But Gabriel was sent to him as well, to assure him that Mary had not sinned, and that the Child who would be born would be called the Son of the Most High! So, Joseph went ahead and married her, but did not have relations with her until after her firstborn child was born. And he called the name of that child “Jesus.”

But remember: when Gabriel visited them, they were still in Galilee: and, under normal circumstances, Mary would have given birth there. Joseph was a very poor man, as we discover later, but regardless of income-level, a decree went out from Caesar, that there was to be a census taken, and for the purpose of that census, everyone had to travel to their hometown, to be counted (and apparently taxed.) Well, Joseph was from Bethlehem! So, off they went! Tradition says that Mary was riding on a donkey, but the Bible simply doesn’t say anything about that. Personally, I hope she did get to ride there, because it is about a 90-mile walk to Bethlehem from Nazareth, and she was nine months pregnant!

One way or another, they arrived in Bethlehem, and the place was packed: everyone had received the same notice, and there were lots of folks in town just for that census. Therefore: no room at the inn. So, they found the next-best place, a stable. I’m sure that “born in a barn” didn’t have quite the same connotation then, as it does now, but it still wasn’t ideal: her mother, or sisters or aunts, who might have served as midwives, were not there. But God was there: she had the best care in the universe, though she probably wasn’t fully aware of it.

A manger, even today, is a raised feed-trough for livestock: it keeps the hay or other feed off the ground, so it will stay clean. That was the bed for Jesus: a clean bed of hay or straw. And Mary, being a country-girl, used the old-fashioned “swaddling clothes,” which were already becoming uncommon in that day. But it turned out to be an important choice, because that was one of the signs given to the Shepherds: They were to “find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger:” and that is exactly what they found!

That was the birth of God’s Promised Messiah: of course, we know the rest of the story: He began His earthly ministry 30 years later, and ultimately gave his life as a ransom for the entire world. This is God’s Provision for Salvation from sin, but it is a provision which must be entered into by faith, on a personal, one-by-one basis….just like the Passover Lamb! Unlike the Passover Lamb, however, His blood takes away our guilt, rather than just “covering” it for another year. Hebrews 10:4 says “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” All those old sacrifices could do was cover sin: But they all looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s Promise to take away our sins, as Psalm 103:12 says.

Each of us, as believers, have personally placed our trust in that one final Blood-sacrifice for our sins. We confess that “Jesus died in my place: His blood paid for my sins!” When we look back to the Cross in our commemoration at communion, we give thanks and worship to the “Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the World,” as it says in Revelation 13:8. We find, through the rest of the Gospel account, that Jesus was literally “God in the Flesh,” as Isaiah promised. John 1:1-5, 14 makes it clear that He is the Living Word, God the Son, the Creator, and the Light of the World, as well being God in the Flesh. John 5:22 states that He is the only Judge, though he did not come to judge us, on that occasion: He came to save us! He has already saved us from Satan’s power, and, according to Ephesians 2:6, He has already raised us to sit with Him in the throne! What an amazing story! What an incredible gift!

The Memorial of the Promise

The Passover celebration looked back to the Exodus from Egypt, but also looked forward to the Cross. When we take communion, we look back to the Cross, and look forward to His Return.

When we celebrate Christmas, we remember the birth of Christ, the beginning of fulfillment:

When we celebrate Easter, we remember the resurrection of Christ the proof of fulfillment.

When we celebrate Communion we rejoice in His entire ministry, but we declare his death as our hope before God, until He comes for us!

And in His presence with us, here, we find abiding Joy!

(Communion Service)

How should we Live (Part 2)

How should we Live (Part 2)

© C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:1-12; Ephesians 5: 21-33; Colossians 3:18-23; 1st Corinthians 13:4-8

Introduction:

In studying through 1st Peter, we happened to read a cross-reference in 2nd Peter 3:11, asking the question, “…what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and Godliness?”

That is the implied question all the way through 1st Peter as well: “How should we then live?” If my position has been established in Christ, by Grace, through faith, so that I now have a perfect and secure standing before God, how should I live in response to that fact?

Part of that answer has already been addressed in previous studies, including the general command that we “Love one another” with the Agape Love, and the command to maintain the God-ordained Unity of the Spirit, and to conduct ourselves in such a way as to be seen “shining as lights in a dark world,” and “holding forth the Word of Truth.”

But in 1st Peter 3:1-12, the Lord becomes quite specific, addressing husband-wife relationships. This has become an uncomfortable topic in our culture, as militant feminism as well as secular humanism have deliberately sought to undermine the gift of marriage, and to destroy the relationships between men and women at large, and husbands and wives in particular. Our marriages are supposed to be a testimony of God’s Grace, too: not a battlefield or a contest of wills. There are other places where God speaks to this issue as well, so, rather than just speak from 1st Peter, we are going to also look at Ephesians 5:21-33, Colossians 3:18-23, and a few others. As we read through all of these passages, I ask that you read the scripture as “looking in a mirror:” As James says, we are to see ourselves (not our spouse) and see what needs changing in our own lives, not that of our spouse. I mean this very seriously: look to God to see a change in your own life, not someone else!

What Does the Scripture say?

1st Peter 3:1-12

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:

Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

Ephesians 5:21-33

21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Colossians 3:13-17, 18-23

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. 20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.: for ye serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

The Real Root of the “Problem”

You see, the verses we have been reading are all addressing the solution to a problem which never should have existed: Humans were created as a team, male and female, with no “built-in conflict:” there was no “War between the sexes,” as it is commonly called today. We read in the Bible Study on Genesis that the woman was not present when the command was given to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: She had not yet been created. So, two things were clear: Adam was the one given the command, and responsibility for the entire race, as he was the head of the race, since ALL subsequent humans, including Eve, came from him. Adam’s failure was the only one which could affect the entire human race.

The woman was selected by the Enemy as the “weak link” because she had not been there to hear the command, and (possibly) because she had received a garbled version of it from her husband. (We don’t know whether she misquoted what she had been told correctly, or correctly quoted what she had been wrongly told.) She was deceived, having been attacked on three fronts: the same three which were used by the same enemy to test the Lord, in the desert, and, the same which he uses against us today:

  • The lust of the eye,
  • The lust of the flesh, and
  • The pride of life.


We see these three areas of temptation clearly spelled out in 1st John 2:15-17. We have all been deceived in each of those areas, ourselves, also, so beware that you do not level any accusations against Eve, or against women in general. Satan finds all of us an easy target, too! It is instructive, however, to take note of how Jesus averted such an attack: He used the Written Word, correctly quoted, and in the appropriate context.

Next, we saw that until the Man ate the fruit, nothing happened:  the woman, being deceived, ate the fruit: her husband was right there with her and evidently said nothing! But when he ate, judgment fell upon the entire human race! At that moment, of course, there were only two individuals, but, as we read further, we find that all their progeny would also be under the same curse.

And, part of that curse involved the relationship between men and women, specifically husbands and wives, but it seems to affect the entire race, with or without marriage. Take note, too, that Marriage was one of the few gifts God managed to give to the human race before sin entered the world. Marriage is absolutely ordained by God, and it has His eternal blessing. We will see a specific reason for that as we study Ephesians 5:32.

One effect of the curse was that the woman would no longer be in a peaceful team-relationship with her husband, but would desire to control him. The passage that says “Your desire shall be toward your husband and he shall rule over you” sums it up: the word “desire” in that passage is translated from the Hebrew word “teshuqah,” which is only used three times in scripture, two of them in Genesis. The other one in Genesis is where God warned Cain that if he did not choose to do right, then sin would crouch at the door, and its desire would be for him, but that he, Cain, must master it. The type of “desire” indicated is the desire to possess and control, not a loving desire, but a desire to dominate.

And, unfortunately, the other half of that “couplet” is that while the woman desires to control the man, he ends up in a position of rulership anyway. Both of these ideas are part of the curse! Neither the “desire to control” nor the “ruling” aspect of the relationship were there before they fell into sin. Sin has distorted and corrupted the marriage relationship, as well as the relationship between men and women as a whole, and, in fact, all human relationships. We cannot hope to teach all that is available on this topic in one sermon, so I will break it into two or more. There are scores of books written on the subject and I do not intend to repeat all that they have to say.

The Result of God’s Solution

So, here we are, 2000 years after The Cross: beginning the 21st Century! And the curse is still in effect…more than six thousand years of misery on Earth because of sin! Peace has never lasted long, because the hearts of humans are still corrupt. God said, in Genesis 8:21, “The imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth.” And, Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked!” So, what has God’s solution for sin been the whole time? Remember? Jesus is “Plan A” and there is no “Plan B!” So the Blood of Jesus at the Cross was the cure for the spiritual death we had as our inheritance from Adam. But even with that salvation from death, we have the root of our sin still present, so we bear grudges against one another, and envy one another, and squabble and fight, just as if we had never known the Lord! That is not the result of God’s solution to sin! That is simply the result of our continuing in sin!

The result of God’s solution is that I actually have a new nature now: I do not have to sin! Romans 6 makes it very clear that when I sin, I choose to sin! So, in spite of my sin nature, I am actually free to serve God…provided that I choose to submit myself to His authority and His Love, and that heed His call to walk in His steps. He is perfect, and never makes mistakes. He loves me unconditionally, even though I constantly fail.

So, I ask myself…”Am I free to Love my wife unconditionally, in the same manner as Jesus loves me?” Yes! I happen to be blessed to have a wife who makes it very easy to offer her that unconditional love, but; even if that is not the case, each believer is free to obey God. A woman married to a marvelous man of God, who loves her constantly and provides for her needs in every way finds it very easy to follow his lead in their relationship, because he also listens to her and values her opinion and judgment. But if that were not the case, does God give her the freedom to obey the Lord in subjecting herself to a husband who is not very kind, or loving, and not caring for her needs? The answer is still “Yes!”

The scriptures we are reading use employees and employers as examples, as well: So, I ask, “Can I do good work for a bad boss?” I have certainly done so, for most of my working life: I have only had a handful of really good supervisors, and they were a joy to work for. But a bad manager or supervisor, while they made me long to be free from their tyranny and backstabbing, and politics, etc, did not change the fact that I was free to honor God by doing good work!

The same goes for the marriage relationship: we are free to be blessed by God by faithfully carrying out His will toward our spouse, regardless of the circumstances. Does he promise it will be easy? Absolutely not!

So, as we begin to look at the specifics of God’s plan for marriage, keep at least these two things in mind:

  • Point the “mirror” of God’s Word at yourself,  and,
  • God offers you the power and ability to do His will, as well as the will to do it. (Philippians 2:13) “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

The Realities of the Relationship

The reality is that we are all saved sinners, still capable of being “difficult to deal with.” So the Lord has given rules that are to govern relationships between believers and our marriage relationships as well:

  • The Agape love is the overarching “law of Christ.” “Love one another as I have loved you!” We see what that looks like in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. As we read that passage,we see that not a single one of the fifteen words or phrases used to define that love have anything to do with feelings: they are all action words. Every one of them describes actions or behavior patterns, designed to reach to someone else with God’s best for them, without regard to how it affects the person doing the loving.
  1. Patient
  2. Kind,
  3. Not envious,
  4. Not proud,
  5. Not arrogant,
  6. Not behaving in an “unseemly manner”
  7. Not self-centered,
  8. Not easily stirred to anger,
  9. Thinketh no evil (not taking into account a wrong suffered.)
  10. Does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth,
  11. Bears all things,
  12. Believes all things,
  13. Hopes all things,
  14. Endures all things
  15. Love never fails.
  • “Mutual submission to needs and demands in the relationship” are part of that Agape Love. (Ephesians 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”)
    • Then a “hierarchy of submission” begins to unfold. This is not a “chain of command,” as in a military organization: every single believer has full access to the Head, who is Jesus himself. Those under your “authority,” such as it is, can always “go over your head” to God. Never lose sight of the fact that, regardless of how much or how little authority is vested in you among humans, God is still the ultimate authority, and you will be answering to His justice, in the end.
  • “Forbearing One Another in Love” is another part of that “Agape love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
    • Forbearing one another in Love means “putting up with” one another’s failings and foibles, and appreciating them for who they are, being grateful for God’s Grace in one another’s lives. It means not constantly demanding more, and demanding changes in the other person, but accepting them as they are, and loving them unconditionally, as they are, allowing God to work in their life.
  • Marriage is supposed to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, (Ephesians 5:32) which makes it a profoundly important relationship.

Next week, we will begin looking at the specifics of the marriage relationship and how it is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you change our hearts and teach us to love one another unconditionally, not judging one another, or criticizing one another, but blessing each other through your Love. Make us the men and women of God you have chosen us to be, to bring glory to yourself.

Feeding on, and Holding Forth the Word of Truth.

Feeding on, and Holding Forth the Word of Truth.

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:4; Philippians 2:16; Psalm1, 119:9, 11; Deuteronomy 17:19; 1st Timothy 4:13

Introduction:

We have been studying through 1st Peter, and passages related to that book: we read in 2nd Peter 1:4 that by means of the “Exceeding great and precious promises” in God’s Word, we are to “become partakers of the Divine Nature.” We are to feed on God’s Word, according to 1st Peter 2:2, so we need to examine how that is supposed to happen. Does it mean, “If I go to church once a week, and read my Bible for a few minutes before I go to sleep, then I am OK?” Or is there more to it than that?

And what are the results expected to be? We already saw that one result is that we are to “become partakers of the Divine Nature.” But we also have seen in Philippians 2:15, 16, that we are expected to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of Truth. So we need to do some thinking about what that means, as well.

Our involvement with the Word of God has two aspects: what we are to take in, to affect our own lives, and what we are to give out, to affect the lives of others. So, let’s talk about both of those ideas: Intake and Output.

Intake: Feeding on the Word of God

As we look through God’s Word, we find at least five levels of involvement described for us, in taking in the Word of God: Hearing, Reading, Studying, Memorization, and Meditation.

  • Hearing is always important, and it should lead to a change in behavior all by itself, although we are warned (James 1:25) that it is possible to be a “…forgetful hearer and not a doer of the Word.” So we don’t want that to happen. But we also know that “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!” (Romans 10:17) So hearing is really important: No one has ever been saved without hearing (or receiving in some way) the Gospel of Christ…the preaching of the Cross, (1st Corinthians 1:17, 18).
  • Reading is commanded in both the Old Testament and the New Testament: In Deuteronomy 17:19,Israel’s kings were commanded to read the scripture daily, for a combination of the effect in their own lives and the result in the nation. (I wish our leaders today were doing this.) In 1st Timothy 4:13, referring to the public reading of scripture for the edification of the hearers, reading of the scriptures was clearly commanded to be done on a regular basis. But we are also warned to take the time to think about and understand what we read. (Matthew 24:15)
  • Study is at least implied, in the Bible, though the Biblical term “study” means to “give effort and attention to” something. We tend to only use that word to mean book-work: intense reading and careful analysis of a topic or a passage. But, “giving effort and attention to understanding God’s Word” does imply some “book-work,” as a rule, and we are encouraged to “study to show ourselves approved unto God.” (2nd Timothy 2:15) but, it goes on to say, “rightly dividing the Word of Truth!” That does imply Bible Study, and mastering the content of our Bibles so that we use the scriptures appropriately, not taking things out of context: not misinterpreting the intent of scripture. The result is that we are each to become “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” (That is a good goal all by itself!)
  • Memorization is only mentioned a few times, but Psalm 119:11 makes it pretty clear: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee!” Someone has famously pointed out that “either the Word will keep you from Sin, or Sin will keep you from the Word.”  That is fairly accurate. We tend to find ways to occupy our thoughts so as to not consider the changes that need to occur in our lives, or any other uncomfortable thoughts. So all sorts of activities and entertainment are marketed precisely to meet that desire in humans. But if we deliberately turn away from all those distractions and focus on God’s Word, the Word begins to change us, and to change our desires, so that we are less driven to “escape the presence of God,” and more likely to desire to “walk with Him.” Think of the difference between the response of Adam and Eve fleeing from the presence of God, and Enoch, walking with God.
  • Meditation is the last means of “taking in” God’s Word, and it has the deepest effect upon the believer. “Meditation,” in scripture does not mean the “blanking or emptying of one’s mind so as to allow every passing, vagrant idea to have free rein in one’s heart” but rather the deliberate focus of one’s unhurried, conscious thought upon a particular concept or passage in scripture, so as to allow that truth to “soak in” and permeate one’s thinking. Psalm 119:9, along with all of Psalm 1, gives the idea of what meditation on God’s Word implies, and the expected result in one’s life. Psalm 119:9 says that “taking heed thereto according to thy Word” would have the effect of “cleansing” my way. If I want my life to change for the better, so that I am learning to walk with God, I need to apply God’s Word to my life: take heed to my life, in accordance with God’s Word. Psalm 1 says that a man who meditates on God’s Word day and night, will be blessed and flourish before the Lord; that “he will be like a tree, planted by rivers of water.” He will be strong, and unshakeable, and he will flourish spiritually, at the very least.

All five of these activities concerning the Word of God are commanded in scripture. I find it a good memory aid, or object lesson, perhaps, to consider the fact that I have five digits on each hand: if I grip something with just my smallest finger, I really can’t get a secure grip. So, unless the object is very light, or perhaps has a hole through which I have inserted my smallest finger, I really can’t depend upon that grip. I compare that idea to limiting my intake of God’s Word to just “hearing.” It will not prove sufficient, in the long run, or in times of trial.

If all I ever do is hear the scripture, unless I hear a great deal of it, I am not likely to develop a good “grip” on God’s Word. Now, there can be exceptions: I knew a fellow whose job allowed him to listen to tapes on ear-bud headphones during work, so he bought a full set of Bible tapes—eighty-four 45-mimute cassettes, comprising the entire Bible, being read aloud—and he proceeded to listen to them all day, every day, at work! That meant that every two weeks or so, he “heard” the entire Bible being read to him, on those recordings. He wasn’t just “casually listening,” either: he was hungry to learn, so the sheer volume of “hearing” the Word, was getting closer to “study,” even though all he was “physically” doing was hearing it.

But, the more “fingers” I add to my “grip” the better my grasp of scripture will become. The fellow with the tapes did not restrict himself to simple hearing: he went home and looked things up, reading for himself, and taking time to think about what he was reading. He quickly moved along into genuine study, and from there into memorization through sheer familiarity, if not by deliberate “rote memory.” And Meditation came right along with the rest. The result was that God was rapidly transforming his life, as he was feeding heavily on God’s Word.

He began to lead his family members to Christ, beginning with his elderly mother, who died just a few months later. Next, he led all of his adult children and all their spouses to Christ, and began teaching them the Scriptures. The transformation was astonishing, and it was entirely due to the effect of God’s Word, working by the Holy Spirit, to mold him into the likeness of Christ! This is how “Intake” turns into “Output!”

“Output:” Holding Forth the Word of Truth

You see, what happened in that man’s experience was the natural outworking of God’s Word changing a life: The result of a constant, powerful intake of God’s Word soon became the powerful outflow of God’s Word into the lives of others. And that “chain-reaction” will continue, provided that those who are being “fed” on the Word gain the same passion for understanding that their teacher has: but there is no way to guarantee that will occur. If they become satisfied to just sit and be “fed;” a little here and a little there, then perhaps they will never go further. But we all are admonished to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us,” and to pursue with diligence the “race” that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1) If that happens then there is no limit to God’s Power in the human life.

So, what forms might “Output” take?

  • Being a Living example is required of all of us, but it is the “minimum.” It has to be there, but our lives alone cannot transmit the Gospel. They can only give credence to it as it is spoken. Jesus said “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” This sort of learned behavior is part of what the Bible calls “discipleship.” It means “following Jesus and learning from Him.” And that truly is the minimum requirement for our lives, if we want to walk with God.
  • Preparing to give an answer is also required, in terms of “output,” but it requires more study. It means deliberately thinking through our testimony, writing it out, perhaps, and practicing it privately, so that when questions arise, we can clearly articulate why we believe what we believe, how we came to believe it in the first place, and what change it has made in our lives. (1st Peter 3:15) We are thus prepared to give a spoken testimony, whether a single sentence, or a one-minute short explanation, or a longer, more detailed account of our own journey from being lost to being saved, how it is accomplished by faith in God’s promise, and what changes it has made in our own lives.
  • Learning to accurately quote the Scriptures (memorization) is, at the very least, a defense against temptation. Jesus demonstrated this in Matthew chapter four. But it also stands as the single most effective way to answer arguments against the Gospel: It puts the adversary into the position of arguing against God, rather than against our logic, or our understanding. Even if I only have a handful of memorized scriptures to use, they are a better tool (and/or a better “weapon”) than my own reasoning will ever be.
  • Holding Forth the Word of Truth is what we are all supposed to be doing (Philippians 2:16): it means the Written Word as well as the Living Word. We are offering the spoken word, reflecting the Written Word, when we share with others. We offer a glimpse of Jesus, the Living Word, as they see the reality of Christ worked out in our lives; and we offer the Living Word as a permanent gift of Eternal Life, when we offer the Gospel as God’s only plan of salvation. All of this is “Holding forth the Word of Truth.”
  • Feeding the Flock was specifically commanded to Peter (John 21:15-17), but, along with the Great Commission, it applies to all mature believers. We have a job to do, and while the main thrust of it has to do with offering the Gospel to a lost world, the other part has to do with building up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16.) The whole body ministers to itself, strengthening itself and becoming more effective in the assigned work. We encourage one another, and help one another with the burdens of life, and work together to see the assembly become healthy and strong, as well as reaching out to believers in other places, through missions, and letters and prayer.
  • Discipleship is not only required of each of us as a lifestyle, it is the commanded means by which to transmit the values and knowledge and skills necessary to continue the spiritual “chain reaction.” It is the specific way that spiritual reproduction is to take place, and it is part of the great commission: When Jesus said, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” the Greek word “matheteuō,” translated “teach” in this passage, is actually the verb-form of the word “Disciple.” It actually means “be a disciple” ormake disciples,” depending upon the context. It is not the common word “didaskō,” meaning simply “to teach.”  In the remainder of that verse, when it says “…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” the Greek word is from the common verb “didaskō,” simply meaning “teach.” But the stated goal is discipleship!

So, in 2nd Timothy 2:2, though he does use the common word “teach,” when Paul commanded Timothy “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also,” the idea is that Timothy is training disciples in the manner Jesus meant, whose purpose is to carry on the teaching of sound doctrine. The “Faithful Men” are those to whom he commits the training and the subsequent ministry. They are believers, and committed to the Lord, as well as being specifically those gifted to teach others: those who hopefully will become the leaders, elders and shepherds Paul had already described in 1st Timothy 3:1-8. But the fact is, we are to make disciples of all those hungry enough to feed on the Word. God is the one to decide specifically what He will do with their lives. We do not “assign” gifting nor individual tasks. Jesus is the head of the Church!

All of these are just examples of how God might choose to pour His Word through believers to reach out to others, whether to other believers or to unbelievers. This is by no means an exhaustive list: there are far more ways for God to pour His Word, His Grace, His Mercy and His Blessing through His people than there are ways for us to “drink in” the fullness of His Word. But we are told to feed on His Word and to expect to see His divine nature manifesting itself in our everyday lives. This is not something to be taken lightly, as if it is a “hobby” or a pastime. This is the core of who we are as His people! This is the “normal Christian life!”

Jesus is identified in several places in scripture as being “the Word of God:” the Living Word of God. It seems to me that the manner in which we respond to the written Word of God may reflect deeply on how we are really responding to the Living Word.

Give that some thought! Consider how you approach the Bible…and how often. It is far more than just an “instruction manual for life,” though we sometimes refer to it as such a manual. It is the ink-and-paper manifestation of God’s Redemptive plan for the Human Race. Thousands, over the centuries, have given their lives to make the Bible available to us. Thousands still today are spending their lives, and hazarding their lives, trying to bring the New Testament (and Jesus, personally) to people who have never heard of Him, and in whose language His name has never been spoken. It is evidently worth their lives to get that message to those who haven’t heard. How much is it worth to us?

Is it worth hearing God’s Word? (It must be, to most of you, at least: you are here, listening, and perhaps you also intend to read the notes and scriptures later.) Is it worth reading God’s Word? Is it worth studying it, carefully examining it word by word, phrase by phrase, spending the time to actually learn to understand what God says? Is it worth taking the trouble to memorize at least some key verses, so as to arm yourselves against the battle you know is already upon us? Is it worth taking the time, alone, to meditate on the Word, and allow God to actually speak through His Written Word, and by His Holy Spirit, so that He is free to work in your life, and set you free from the bondage of besetting sins, fears, worries, and distractions? Is it worth the time, and focus, and effort to do all of this?

I really hope it is! That is what this relationship is all about: it’s about getting to know Jesus, and learning to walk with Him, and being willing and able to serve as His hands, His feet, and His voice here among the human race.

Lord Jesus, please focus our hearts on You, the Personal Messiah and Savior, who died for us, to the extent that we will focus our minds upon Your written Word, allowing You to use Your Word to transform our lives, and remold us in Your image. Allow us to serve as Your hands, Your feet and Your voice so that as long as we live, we live for You.

How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 2:11-25 Galatians 5:16-23

Introduction:

We saw last week that there are “changes coming,” for all true believers. No matter who I was in the past, life is not going to be just as it was before. I have a new heritage, and a new Master. It is obvious that things are going to change. So, we need to think about what will change, and how.

We saw last week that there were things destined to be “laid aside and left behind” as we press forward to walk with Jesus. We also saw that there was an expectation that we would begin to display a “family resemblance,” since we have been born again—“born from above,” as some of the passages say—and specifically, we are born into the family of God, as His real children.

Now Peter goes on to admonish and exhort the believers to “live up to” the calling they have received. I can’t lose my position in Christ, but walking with Him does require some attention as to my response to the world around me: without that attention to my walk, I will constantly stumble, and fall back into the mess of my old habits and responses. So, Peter gives fair warning against this trap:

Abstain from Fleshly Lusts

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

He prefaces it all with the fact that as long as we are in this World, we are literally “strangers and pilgrims:” travelers, nomads…just “camping out,” here; seeking a home not in this world, but in that which is to come. The song, “This World is not my Home” is correct: we are “Just passing through!” But it is so easy to forget that fact. Peter warns us to not forget, but, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against our souls.

The goal is that our lives should reflect the truth and grace of God before unbelievers, so that, when they speak evil of us (as He says will happen,) they will eventually have to confess before God that our lives(the Greek word “anastrophe,” translated “conversation,” here, means our “way of life”) and our works actually have shown the truth of our testimony, and that they have rejected and persecuted us without cause…and in so confessing, they will Glorify God in that day—the “day of visitation.” Our reputations should be built upon the truth that people can see in our lives, not just what we say is there. This is the importance of a living testimony, which is expected to agree with our spoken testimony.

If I consider, for a moment, the phrase, “Abstain from fleshly lusts,” I might also step over into Galatians, where the “works of the Flesh” are listed. These are what the lusts of the flesh produce, if I allow them in my life. The word “lusts” simply means “strong desires, and isn’t even always a bad thing, though we use the word that way almost exclusively.

The Lusts Produce the Works (Galatians 5:16-21)

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh (verses 19-21) are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as the nine-fold list in verses 22, 23, and that last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural: if I am partaking in any of these, then I am in the flesh; it’s as simple as that. Any one of these marks me as being “in the flesh.”

But the next “list” is half as long, and it is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit (singular), or a single fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book of Galatians is the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, then the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why God can freely tell us, here in 1st Peter 1:13-15, to submit ourselves to Civil Authority.

Civil Authority

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

As a general rule, believers are to cheerfully submit themselves to human civil law. Is there a possibility that the law of man can “cross the line,” so to speak, and be in direct conflict with the Law of God? Surely there is! But it is actually pretty rare. Usually civil laws are made to protect the law-abiding people from human predators and to protect their personal rights against those who would take them away. It is a rare thing for the laws of man to require us to do something that is wrong, or to forbid us to do something God says we are to do. But it can happen.

A week ago, we received the news that our governor had mandated “no more than 25 people in church gatherings.” That does not force us to disobey God, though it might have made us work harder to obey Him: we were willing to split the services to keep below 25. But the ruling also said that enforcement was at the discretion of local Law enforcement; so we called the local police chief, to see what he would require, and we were told that he has no intention of enforcing such a mandate, and that if he comes here it will be to worship with us, not to act against us.

So, we obeyed the law, and simultaneously obeyed God. And, in the process, we allowed the local law enforcement to see that we are not in rebellion, which strengthens our testimony with them, whether they are believers or not.

We virtually always have an option to not disobey God, and still be obedient to the law. In the unusual event that there is literally no avenue of escape without bringing down the judgment of an evil, ungodly employer or government, then that becomes our option: we can lose a job, or our belongings or our freedom or even our lives as the final option. Believers have made these hard choices for virtually all of human history.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go into the furnace because they disobeyed God, but because they obeyed Him. Daniel did not end up in the lion’s den because of dishonoring God, but because of honoring Him. Daniel submitted to every ordinance of Man until the ordinance clearly required him to ignore God, and even then, he was in his own home, praying toward Jerusalem, not out on a street-corner, haranguing crowds of unbelievers in the name of the God of Israel. He was quietly obeying God when they came in and arrested him. We need to keep these examples in mind.

16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

We are truly free in Christ: we are free to serve Him, but we are not free to use our “liberty” as a way to cover sin. We are free to serve and to suffer, as the servants of God. We are not free to use our freedom to damage someone else unnecessarily, nor to express self-will and rebellion cloaked in a show of “piety.”

Honoring Man, while Honoring God

17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Notice that there was no hint of “backtalk” here: they were to extend respect and honor to all those around them. They were to commit themselves to the Love of the Brethren, in keeping with Jesus’s command in John 13:34, 35, and to fear God above all human authority, and yet, to honor the human government. He goes on to give some examples:

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Is it possible that we will suffer grief in return for good behavior? Certainly it is! And, if that is what really happens, then God is glorified by that suffering. But if we are “off in left-field” doing things God has warned us not to do, and end up being punished for our misdemeanors or infractions, then it does not honor God…it dishonors Him. I have heard of Christians losing jobs specifically because they are Christians…and, in anti-Christian countries, people are imprisoned or even killed because of their faith. In those cases, they have honored God by their obedience and their suffering.

But when I have also known believers who were jailed for tax-evasion, or theft, or other crimes, they were not suffering for their faith: they were being punished for wrongdoing. And that does not honor God. Is it possible that the government will use your taxes for evil purposes? I can just about guarantee that they will! When Jesus paid taxes to Caesar, was Rome using that money to promote godliness? Of course not! And yet, we are told to pay our taxes, and not be rebels. We are to take Jesus as our example:

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Whole books have been written about what it may mean to “Follow his steps:” I am not going to spend a lot of time on the subject, but I do think we should at least look at this particular context to see what is in focus, here:

In the first place, the subject in this context is the concept of “suffering for doing rightly.” Jesus certainly did nothing but “good, righteous works,” showing compassion and kindness to the poor, and holding the privileged and wicked religious leaders accountable for their sin. However, this passage is not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, and walk around attempting to imitate Jesus in His earthly ministry: I have no gift of healing, nor of any sort of miraculous sign-gift. So I can’t imitate that portion, but I can imitate His righteousness and I can strive to learn His Word, so that I can offer the same message of Hope which He offered.

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

We can at least see that we are to trust God for justice, not other humans, who are flawed individuals, just as we are. We can also see, obviously, that we are especially to abandon the kinds of wrong behavior that could get us in trouble with civil law, because there is no glory to God in suffering punishment for unrighteousness. Dishonesty and a vengeful, sharp tongue are both mentioned as things Jesus did not exhibit.

But for believers, it goes further, as Jesus judges the hearts, not just the outward actions. There are people who teach that “unless there is an outward action, it isn’t sin.” Sorry…that is simply not true. Every man who is honest with himself knows what it means to “sin in his heart.” And, it is interesting to note that the specific sin Paul addressed in Romans 7 was covetousness! (What part of your body do we use to commit Covetousness?) It is specifically a sin of the heart and the mind! Jesus judges the heart, not just the outward actions!

What is the “Goal” of our Salvation?

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

We are dead to sins, that we should live unto righteousness. That is the goal!

Now, this last phrase, “by whose stripes ye were healed,” is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5, but the conclusion is strictly New Testament: We could not be “dead to sin” in the Old Testament. But, according to this passage, along with Romans 6 and Galatians 2, we believers during the Church Age truly are dead to sin, as we died with Christ, and the result is supposed to be that because we are alive to Righteousness and alive to God, we should live for God.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

This final passage reminds us that the letter was originally to Jewish Christians: the gentiles were seldom referred to as “sheep,” but the “lost sheep of Israel” was a common theme. In one place, only, John 10:16, Jesus said “16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” I believe in that reference he is talking about the Gentiles who would respond in faith: In the Church Age, there truly is one fold and One Shepherd. The Jews who had strayed from the God of Israel were considered “the lost sheep” of Israel. The Gentiles were simply considered to be foreigners and heathen. In fact, the word “gentile” simply means “heathen.” So these who had once been “lost sheep” of Israel had been returned to the shepherd and “overseer” or “Bishop” of their souls. The word translated “bishop” is “episkopos,” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer.”

We gentiles have been born into the family of God, and He is truly the Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls as well, but we were not the lost sheep of Israel. We did not “wander away from God:” In fact, regarding the lost world, in Matthew 7:23, Jesus said “I never knew you! Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” He does not say, “I once knew you, but you just wandered off and got lost: too bad!” He says he never knew them. We were born as sinners, just as the lost Jews were born as sinners. That is where we all start out!

This is probably a good time to be reminded of what Jesus says about us who have become His sheep: John 10:27, 28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish.” Also, in John 6:39, he said “this is my Father’s will who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” As a gentile believer, you will never become a “lost sheep.” He will keep you for eternity. You have been placed into a new relationship with the Savior, and it is entirely dependent upon Him, not you!

We are His forever! Now we need to learn to walk with Him!

Lord Jesus, allow us to walk with you and reflect your holiness as a testimony to the world that has rejected You. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps!

Change is On the Way!

Change is On the Way!

© 2020 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 2:1-10

Introduction:

We have begun a study through the book of first Peter: For all practical purposes, the first half of chapter one was given to a lengthy “salutation,” making it clear who were the intended recipients of the epistle (and it included us!); but then outlining their (and our) collective and individual position in Christ, our security there, and all that this position implies.

Then, in the last half of chapter one we began to examine Peter’s exhortations as to how to respond to the reality of our new position in Christ. Because we are “In Christ,” there are certain changes that are to occur. Because He is holy, His followers are to be holy. We are literally His children: members of His family, and members of His Body, the Church. Therefore we should expect to see the “family resemblance” in ourselves. And the world around us should expect to see those changes also. Remember that Jesus gave three criteria by which the World is expected to judge the Church, in this Age:

  1. Love (John 13: 34, 35): this is the supernatural Agape love between the brethren.
  2. Unity (John 17:21): this is the supernatural unity of the Spirit taught in Ephesians 4.
  3. Good Works (Matthew 5:14-16): this is the result of the Holy Spirit working through us, which is supernatural by definition, but may look completely normal, in a way, but as a whole, it is to exist as a light in a dark world, bringing glory to God the Father.

Those things are not the result of our personal piety or goodness. Unsaved people can certainly do good works in their own strength, for the purpose of advancing their religion or philosophies, or to earn merit from their gods for their good works, or simply because “that is the way they were raised,” and they think it is what “ought to be done.” But I cannot earn God’s Grace.

Grace is defined as “unmerited favor:” unearned favor from God. If we are saved individuals, we recognize that we were saved “by Grace, through Faith”, according to Ephesians 2:8, 9. And in gratitude for that Grace, we serve, out of love. That is what the world needs to see, in terms of good works.

Our unity, also, is to be a genuine outworking of Agape love and faith, not a “truce” created by “glossing over” important teachings in God’s Word. (By the way, that is “Ecumenicalism:” It is the effort to create and maintain a false “unity” by simply ignoring or ceasing to consider any teaching that may be controversial or which could offend someone. Think back: did Jesus “skirt issues,” in fear of offending the Pharisees? No! He went ahead and taught the hard doctrines! And the common folk loved Him for it!)

Now; here in chapter 2, Peter begins to be specific about what those changes should look like:

What should we “drop and leave behind?”

1 Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings,

Notice that he first lists five things that should be left behind in the darkness of our old lives:

  • All Malice: Mean-spiritedness…the desire to torment or “get back at” people that we don’t like. Taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune or discomfort.
  • All Guile: deception at every level. Presenting a false front to others, as well as saying things we know are untrue. If we are acting or speaking in such a way as to hide who we really are, that should warn us that something is amiss.
  • Hypocrisies: This goes right along with Guile. The old word “hypocrite” simply meant a “false-face actor:” those old-time performers who literally held up a smiling face-mask when playing a happy part, or an angry face-mask when playing an angry part, etc. They were just reading lines, and holding up a mask on a stick, so that the audience would “feel” the correct emotional response to the play. But when we pretend to be something we are not, we are doing just that; and Jesus repeatedly condemned that behavior in the Pharisees.
  • Envy: desiring to have the honors offered to others, not by earning them but by supplanting that person: wishing to take their place, and desiring to drag them down, because we can’t stand the fact that they are receiving honor. This is frequently the source of strife between the brethren.
  • All Evil Speakings: This is a“catch-all”phrase that at least forbids “bad-mouthing” others. It would also seem to rule out general “snarkiness,” as they call it today: taking verbal cheap-shots at others; put-downs, etc. Possibly it could even include just a complaining spirit, in general. This is something to think about and ask oneself how it might apply in one’s own life.

What should we use to replace the old ways?

Having commanded us to “lay aside ALL our old wicked ways,” he then says what shouldbe used to replace that old, evil behavior: and the first thing listed is the Word of God! I’m reading from the KJV: if your translation is different, bear with me, and we will address that difference.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

This makes it clear that if I am a believer, (If I have tasted of His Grace) the normal response is to hunger for God’s Word. Even a newborn lamb, or a baby mammal of any sort, has an instinctive desire to feed, and be nourished on its mother’s milk. Our food is the Word of God. God says that we are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby. If you ever have a question about what God considers to be proper “sheep-food,” this verse should answer that question. In Matthew chapter four, Jesus also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the Mouth of God.” This is what we are to feed on: The Word of God!

I am aware that other translations handle this differently: the Greek word here, translated “Word” in the KJV is “logikon” which could be translated “logical,” but which comes from the root word “logos.” While it can be translated in several different ways, “logos” is the word used when John 1:1 says “In the Beginning was the Word.” Possibly even more instructive is the passage in 2nd Peter 1:4, which says that by the “exceeding great and precious promises” in God’s Word, we are to become “partakers of the Divine Nature.” As we might tell a small child, “If you want to grow up to be big and strong, like Mommy and Daddy, you need to eat your healthy food!” And He just told us that the “food” we are to consume is the “exceeding great and precious promises” of the Word of God!

So the core change in our lives should begin with a hunger for God’s Word, as opposed to philosophy, politics, human logic, or human rationalization. The World offers all of these. We try to avoid any of those things and only offer God’s Word as our source of nourishment. We don’t preach politics, opinions, or current events. We preach the Person of Christ; The Word.

God says we are to center our thinking on His Word, and allow Him to reshape our outlook. And what does He say about the nature of the relationship? He says something very strange: He refers to us as “living stones,” and to Jesus as a special, precious stone, as well as a Rock of offence.

Living Stones

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

This whole passage seemed very strange to me. When the scripture refers to Jesus as a stone, it is strange enough, because I don’t think of a person as a stone, at all. (In this passage the Greek word for “stone” is “lithos”, meaning a building stone, or, in some cases, simply the material, “stone.”) I see stones as specifically non-living objects: mineral in substance, completely inorganic and, in most cases never having possessed life of any kind. So how can I see Jesus as a stone? And when it calls Him a Rock of offence, the Greek word is different: it is “petra”, which usually is a monolith: the kind of rock of which mountains are made, or upon which buildings are founded. How is He a Rock of offence?

And when he begins to address us as “living stones” I used to find it completely repugnant, as I imagined sitting forever as a “stone” in God’s temple, unmoving, and fixed in place in a wall or something, throughout eternity. That really does not sound attractive to me!  But as I was reading in Ephesians, it finally dawned upon me that the “temple” he is referring to in Ephesians is the living Church, scattered all over the World, but united in Christ. That we are the (singular) “habitation of God,” now; not just sometime in the future. I am not “sitting, imprisoned in a wall, as a non-living piece of rock,” but rather, I am a living part of a single organism called the “Body of Christ” which also happens to be the Temple of God on earth, as well as including all those believers who have gone before us into Heaven. I am only “cemented in place” in terms of my security in Christ: I can never be removed from Him. He can move me or have me stay put, according to His will, but wherever I am within the Body of Christ, I am to be an active, functioning part of the body of Christ! We are living stones, or, as the KJV says, “lively” stones.

By the way, that is the essence of “positional truth!” I am literally, permanently cemented in Christ!”  But I am an integral, organic part of the Body of Christ: not a parasite or a transplanted foreign organism. How did we get into this position in Christ? We became His children through the new Birth, being born again. We entered in by faith and are permanently joined to Him. Whether we knew it or not, we were each planted in the church-at-large, as a “living stone,” a part of His Living Temple! In 1st Corinthians 12:13, it says that the Holy Spirit “baptized” us into the body of Christ. We are eternally joined to Him in one Body.

We are part of what God presents to the World as His army of ambassadors: we each have a part in the task He has assigned the church: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel!

Further, Peter points out that the World sees Jesus as a “stone of stumbling” and one rejected by the builders (quoting Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:13-17, Romans 9:32, 33) but we also see that to those who are believers, He is precious beyond description. That puts us in a different category than those who reject Him. It clearly spells out a different response expected from those of us who see Him as Holy, and Precious, than from those who stumble over His claim to be the Incarnate God, the Savior and the Judge of all the Earth.

By the way, while we are talking about Christ as a stone or a rock, I want to point out that when we read about the children of Israel wandering in the desert, and Moses bringing water from a Rock in that desert, we need to look just a little further: in 1st Corinthians 10:4, Paul clearly states two incredible truths:

  1. The “Rock” from which they drank followed them in the desert, so that they found water wherever they went, and,
  2. That “Rock” was Christ! (Exact same Greek construction as when John 1:1 says “The Word was God”)

How’s that for a mind-boggling truth? The physical Rock that the people approached, and from which Moses demanded water, was literally Christ! (In fact, it says, “the Christ” in Greek.) This is not stated as a metaphor: it is stated as a truth: they were followed by a spiritual Rock, in physical form, and they drank fresh literal water from it. Remember, too, that there were around 2-1/2 million people in that group, plus all their livestock: and all of them had to get their water from that Rock. We aren’t talking about a little “stream:” it had to be millions of gallons of water coming out! And this is the Rock to which we have come as well, seeing Him as our true source of sustenance, both physical and spiritual!

God says that He is also the Stone (lithos, again) rejected by the builders. Jesus was rejected by the religious authorities of His day, but He turns out to be the foundation and the cornerstone for all of both Judaism and Christianity!

But You!

So, what else is true about us?

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

These all were quotes from the Old Testament, and initially were specifically stated about Israel. But a change has happened: Yes, Israel was to be a priesthood and a “kingdom (singular) of priests” standing before the Lord according to God’s promise in Exodus 19:6, and they still shall be, according to Isaiah 4:3, Isaiah 61:6, and others.

But there is a similar and yet different promise to the Church Age believers: we are called “kings (plural) and priests,” in Revelation 5:10, which is not the same thing as a “kingdom” (singular) of priests. The Body of Christ is never called a kingdom: it is a Body, with a Head, not simply a Kingdom, with a King. We, as the Body of Christ are part of the greater Kingdom of God, but we are there as part of the King, not simply subjects in the kingdom. We are the Bride, whereas believers from other ages are the guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Peter, speaking to Jewish believers, quoted passages that were familiar and precious to them. They knew of the old promise from Exodus, but they also knew that it has never yet been fulfilled. During the Church age, it is partially fulfilled, in the sense that every believer, Jew or Gentile, is declared to be a priest in the Body of Christ: we can stand before God and pray for others, and offer “sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving.” But, in the Millennial Kingdom, it will be completely fulfilled, in that every Gentile nation will come to Jerusalem to worship the King, and Israel will literally be a “kingdom” of priests. But we will still be the Bride of Christ, seated in the throne with Him.

Even the passage about not having been a people, etc. were from Hosea chapters one and two; messages originally directed to Israel; not the Gentiles, but they now apply to us according to Ephesians 2, where we are described as having been outcasts, and foreigners, lost, without Christ in the World. That is a fact! We have to be very careful when we attempt to apply promises or commands to ourselves which were actually directed to someone else. But if God says they now apply to us, then we can apply them with confidence. In this case there is a direct application to the Church Age believers. This is reiterated in Revelation 5:9, 10, where the Church (which is called out from every nation, every language, every ethnic group and every tribe on Earth) confirms that they have been made “kings and priests” and that they shall reign on the earth.

Yes, we have obtained mercy, and yes, we have been called out of darkness, and, yes, we are now filled with His marvelous light, because Jesus, the Light of the World, indwells us! And the result should be that we will demonstrate His Glory and honor in our lives: “…showing forth the Praises of Him who called us!”

So, perhaps we can each individually consider this small verse as a “standard” or a “measuring stick” against which we measure our behavior. We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Am I living in such a way as to “show forth the Praises of Him who called me?” Or am I pretty much living the way I have always lived?
  • Does the Agape love shine as a central motivating factor in my life, or do my motives seem to be pretty much the same as everyone else’s motives; self-centered, rather than pouring out the Love of Christ to others?
  • Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood, and then value them as He does? Or are they primarily irritating, contrary “blockheads” who only exist to annoy me? There is an old ditty that says, “To dwell in Love with the saints above, O, that would be Glory! But to live below with the saints I know; well, that’s a different story!” Can you treat the believers around you as the holy, precious saints that Jesus says they are?

I can’t answer any of those questions for you: each of us has to stand before God, and, along with David, say “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

This is a direct quote from Psalm 139:23, 24. You can go and read it in your Bible and spend some time dwelling on it, allowing God time to speak to you. This is what we call “meditating on God’s Word”…it is not “blanking your mind and leaving yourself open to any vagrant thought:” it is specifically shining the light of God’s Word on your heart and allowing Him to speak to you through His Word and by His Spirit. We all need God’s Word to speak to our hearts and change us into His likeness.

Lord Jesus, take charge of your people, the Body of Christ! Train us up in the way that we should go, as your children. Send us as capable ambassadors, to do your work on Earth! Allow us to serve with you.

Responding to the Redeemer

Responding to the Redeemer

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:13-25


Introduction:

We are studying through 1st Peter, and we have seen the security of the believers and the Joy that is their choice, and which is only possible because of their position in Christ. Given that position, that security, and the possibility of such Joy, the logical question seems to be, “What now? How should we respond to this reality?” Peter addresses that question in the last 13 verses of this chapter. He begins by listing three things the believer is to do:

How should we Respond?

1.      Gird up the Loins

13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

I am told that when a man of that time was called to some sort of active work, or a coming battle, he would prepare by picking up the hem of his tunic or robe or whatever sort of long garment he was wearing, and tucking it into his belt, or “girdle” as it was called, then cinching it so that it could not fall loose and trip him. I have no way to know the accuracy of that historical note, so all I can do is look at it in the context of the rest of the scriptures and see that, in every case, when people were told to “gird up their loins”, it meant to prepare themselves for coming activity, whether a fight, a trial, or a task. It was an admonition to “get ready for action.” God wants to use your life: prepare yourself so that you are usable in His hand! We see this over and over in the New Testament. We are saved to serve. We have been set free from our slavery to sin, and now we are free to go to work “with Jesus.” He asks us to join Him in His work, but working with Him requires that we are prepared to serve.

2.      Be Sober

Being sober is not the opposite of being drunk: it is looking at things realistically, from God’s perspective: not frivolously, but also not overly optimistically when God has not promised a good end to circumstances. Nor are we to think pessimistically, assuming that God doesn’t care. We have been left in this world to live as lights in a dark place! If life were “all easy” for us, then we would not be seen as lights at all: we just would appear to be “privileged characters” incurring the envy and anger of all those around us. If we are complaining about life all the time, then we are not seen as a light, either: we are simply seen as whiners.

But, if we see life soberly, accepting hardship and privation as being part of life, and choosing to find our Joy in the Savior Himself, instead of only in all He provides, then the people around us can see that we have something to be desired. We have clear Hope when there seems to be no hope. We have Joy in the presence of grief. People are not blind to the work of an active faith. Serenity and peace during tumultuous times is an unusual thing, and it is seen as valuable to most people. It is a mark of stability and strength, and attracts attention to the source of that strength.

3.      Hope to the End

All the believers to whom this epistle was originally written have died, obviously. Every one of every generation since then has also “hoped to the end” to see the revelation of Jesus Christ. I believe that we are very close to His return, now, but we are still told to “hope to the end.” So, we keep pressing on, doing what we were told to do, placing our faith in the faithful Creator who claims us as His children; building our lives on the foundation of our new relationship with Him.

A New Relationship

We have been born again, so we are in a new relationship with a new Father. We want to imitate our Heavenly Father, just as a toddler tries to imitate his parents.

14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

God’s primary attribute is His Holiness. Even His Love is subject to His Holiness. So, we need to consider what that means, if we hope to imitate it. The word “Holy” means “set apart for a particular purpose.” It does not mean “walking around with your hands pressed together as if in prayer, and with a pious expression on your face.” The world recognizes that phony charade and rejects it, just as God does. The Pharisees specialized in that sort of behavior, and Jesus condemned it as hypocrisy and fraud. In Matthew 23:25, He said they were polishing the outside of a cup, while the inside was still filthy; “…filled with extortion and excess”.

But we are called to imitate the holiness of God, because He has created us by the new birth to be as holy as He is Himself: It means that, as His child, and His new creation, you belong to Him, and you are created for His personal service and fellowship.

Your whole life belongs to Him, which is really nothing new: He created every sub-atomic particle in every atom of every molecule in every cell in your body as well as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat. That was true of us all, even when we were still in our sins! How much more, now that He has freed us from our slavery to sin, and provided us with eternal life?

We are re-born in His image, and we are created for His pleasure and service. It is our privilege to be in his service. We are in a place of honor and reward, not “forced servitude.” So He calls us to imitate Him in His holiness. Paul begged the believers to do just that In Ephesians 5:1, saying, “…be imitators of God, as dear children.”

This is part of what is involved in “girding up the loins” of our minds, in preparation for service. It means that we are to subject our wills to His, and see our lives beginning to reflect His character.  It also means that we are to learn His Word. Over in 2nd Peter 1:4, it says that by means of the “exceeding great and precious promises” in God’s Word, we are to become “partakers of the Divine nature.” The way…the only way, God promises to change us into His likeness is through the application of His Word, as we allow the Holy Spirit to use that scripture to change our hearts. (Psalm 119:9-11)

Since we are born of “His seed” as it says in 1st John 3:9, we are “genetically predisposed” to bear His likeness. One of the first laws discernible in God’s Word is the Law of the Harvest: “Like begets like!” God made man in His image, but that image has been marred by sin. So He offered the new birth, and we are born again in His likeness, with the express intent that we are to be like Him, in character and purpose and action. Psalm 119:9 says that the way our lives can be cleansed is by the application of God’s Word. This is a key issue, because it means that His Word can change us into His likeness. (So, what was the means by which we have been born again in the first place? We will answer that question in verse 23. But for the moment, we are to remember the price that has already been paid for us.)

How did we Get here?

17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

Since we call upon the Lord as our Father, we need to consider and remember how we became His children: the result should be a sobriety and a respect for the Holiness of God, and a dread of offending the Eternal One who loves us.

We were not bought out of our slavery to sin by a “cash payment” of any sort, nor were we freed from the Law of Sin and Death by a price that we could pay. This is especially important in the case of these Jewish believers: they had lived their whole lives attempting to please God by works of the Law, as their ancestors had taught them. They (like most humans) were convinced that they could live in such a way as to please God. But they could not pay the sin-debt that stood as a testimony against them. That One Blood Sacrifice approved by God and delivered by Jesus is the only price that could redeem them and us. The Greek word, here, for “redeemed,” is “elutrothete” which is a form of the infinitive verb “lutroō,” meaning “to purchase with the intent to set free.” There are three words translated “redeem” in the New Testament:

  • “agorazo,” meaning “to purchase in the marketplace”…the “agora.”
  • “exagorazo,” meaning “to purchase out of the marketplace”…not to be sold again. And,
  • “lutroō,” meaning “purchased for the purpose of setting free.”

All of these words, combined, tell the story of our redemption.

  • We were enslaved to sin. Jesus went to that marketplace of sin, to purchase us with His own blood. That is where he bought us, because that is where we were!
  • He purchased us out of that marketplace, never to be returned there. We belong to Him eternally. And, best of all,
  • He purchased us with the purpose of setting us free. He was not just trying to increase his household staff, nor the number of workers in his field. We were set free by that purchase. We are free to serve Him, but also free to choose not to serve, in which case we suffer loss, though we still are saved.

Remember, we were all pretty much living pointless lives, serving our own desires, in activities that had zero eternal value, regardless of how they may have seemed to us. He has given us a new purpose in life. Now we can live in such a way as to be to His eternal glory! We can work with Him in a task that has eternal value and which will earn us eternal reward!

20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,

This is an important concept and it is very easy to just “pass over” and not notice it. It says here that He was “foreordained” (or “appointed before the time”)…when? Before the foundation of the world! Before Genesis 1:1 (!) Ponder on that for a while! So, when it says, “In the beginning…” He was already there and was already “Plan A” for our salvation!

Compare this verse to Revelation 13:8, and see what it means: in that passage, He was “the Lamb Slain, from the foundation of the world.” But here it says, from “before the foundation of the world!” Jesus was always “Plan A” and there is no “Plan B.” Before He created the world, God ordained that Jesus was to be the sacrifice for the fallen Human Race…the “as-yet non-existent, un-created, un-tested, and not-yet-in-danger, Human Race.” God provided for us before He created us. What wisdom and care! We can see in Ephesians 3:8-11 that God had an eternal plan. And, He laid the foundation for His plan before He laid the foundations of the earth!

Where do we Stand? And, What should we Do?

21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:

It is interesting that he is not “commending them” simply for “believing in God:” these were Jews, who already believed in the God of Israel. And James points out that “belief in God” is not necessarily even meritorious: he said, “The demons also believe, and tremble!” But something has changed in them, in Acts 2-7: they met God personally, by faith, in the person of Jesus their Messiah. Now they believe in God through Jesus. The result is an unfeigned (genuine) love of the brethren. Agape love is the fruit of their lives because they believe through Jesus. They received the Holy Spirit when they believed, and He changed their hearts and their desires, just as He has changed our hearts and desires. Each has a new nature, because they have been born again, same as we have. And along with them, we are commanded to fervently love one another with that Agape Love. Finally, he reminds us of the means by which we were born again:

23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Take special note of what Peter says, here: He says that you were “Born Again:” by what means? By the Word of God! It had nothing to do with works! It had everything to do with your having heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and having believed that message, placing your trust in the promise, and thus in God who gave it.

So, this also correlates with verse 3 where he says that we have been “begotten again.” The “seed” of natural birth is corruptible. The “seed of God,” in this case, is incorruptible, as it is the Word of God.

This is an important concept, because we sometimes are given to think that our own “persuasive speech” is the key to drawing a lost soul to Christ. But Jesus said, in John 12:32, “If I be lifted up…I will draw all men to myself!” He is the one who draws souls, like bits of iron to a magnet. We are to lift up Jesus, not try to dazzle unbelievers with our convincing arguments: The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect! We are to preach the Cross and Jesus Christ: not try to “convince” people by philosophy or moralizing, or any other sort of Human reasoning. Paul echoes this idea, in 1st Corinthians 1:17, saying that he was sent “…not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” We actually reduce the effectiveness of the Gospel through our “human effort.” Peter concludes this passage with a clear comparison between the flesh and all its “human wisdom” versus the Word of God and His eternal Wisdom. He says,

24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Let’s bear in mind that God’s Word has eternal value. Everything we can do on our own is destined to decay and failure. What God chooses to do through us, by His indwelling Spirit, by His perfect Word, not only has eternal value, and will bear eternal fruit, but it will also pay eternal rewards or “dividends.”  God gives us the will to serve, and He does the work through us, but then He rewards us for the work as if we had done it ourselves. What Amazing Grace!

Lord Jesus, free us from our addiction to self. Teach us to subject ourselves willingly to Your will, to Your Holy Spirit, and the teachings of Your Word. Continue to remake us into your likeness, and let us shine in this dark world as reflections of your Light.

Rejoicing in the God of Our Salvation

Rejoicing in the God of Our Salvation

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:5-12

Introduction:

We have begun a study in the book of first Peter, the first epistle of Peter to the scattered Jewish believers, evidently after the persecution in Jerusalem. We saw a strong encouragement in the first five verses, underscoring the security of these persecuted believers, and the fact that their position “in Christ” was permanent. The last thing we considered was a very brief look at the fact that we are “kept by the Power of God unto Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

We need to talk about that idea of “Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time:” Aren’t we saved now; already? Let’s read what it says, and then consider:

5Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

“Tenses” of Salvation:

Notice that it says this salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time.” There are three aspects, or “tenses,” to what we call “Salvation:”

  1. We have been saved from the penalty of our sins. Romans 5:1 says that we have been (or “are”…perfect tense) “justified” (declared righteous) by faith, and that, as a result, we have (present tense) peace with God. This is positional truth.
  2. We are being saved (present tense) from the power of sin in our lives. Romans chapters 6 and 7 point out that while we no longer are slaves to sin, there is a daily battle in progress, and our constant salvation from that power is found in Christ. This is conditional upon our choices.
  3. We will be saved (future tense) from the presence of sin. Revelation chapters 21, 22 tell us of the end result of the salvation God brings: there will be a new heaven and a new earth, in which there is literally no sin, no evil, no suffering. This is positional truth, again.

So the recipients of this letter had been enduring persecution, it seems (which is possibly why they were scattered…compare Acts 8:1, 4.) And they were assured by Peter, that the “last chapter” will bring full deliverance. The words translated “salvation” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament mean “Deliverance.” The words translated “savior” mean “deliverer.” That is why God referred to the judges, leaders, and heroes he sent to “save” Israel from their enemies as “saviors.”

We tend to think of Jesus as the only Savior, because, in terms of salvation from Sin, He IS the only Savior. But the word isn’t always in reference to salvation from sin. It can refer to being delivered from an oppressor, or a danger. But Jesus is our savior in every sense of the word.

Even if He chooses to not spare me from some present disease or danger, He is the Savior. As a rule, every one of us will die of our last illness, if an accident or other calamity does not take us first. All of us face that reality. Hebrews 9:27 says “it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” But in our current lives, He is our Savior from the penalty of sin, since God’s Judgment for sin fell upon Jesus at the Cross. This is positional truth. Because you are in Christ, you have been eternally saved from the eternal penalty of sin. Jesus said in John 5:24 that you will never again be condemned by God.

He is our Savior from the power of sin as well, according to Romans 7, but that battle is still in progress … and whether I am “being delivered,” in a practical sense, depends on how I am responding to Him. If I am walking with Him, I will be free from the power of sin. If I am not walking with Him, then I will behave as one who is a slave to sin, because in terms of my condition, I have subjected myself to sin instead of to Christ. This is conditional truth.

But in the end, He is our Savior from the presence of Sin. This is positional truth, again, because we are in Him. That is our position. We have been placed there by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said in John 6:39 that he will not lose any of us, but that He will raise us up at the last day. That is a precious promise!

That truth, alone, is worth our rejoicing. And the people to whom Peter addressed this letter were rejoicing over that deliverance, by faith, in spite of their current distress. We can do the same. As we mentioned last week, from God’s perspective, according to Ephesians 2:6, we are already seated with Him in the heavens! So our eternal position with Him is secure forever!

Rejoicing in spite of Trials

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

Remember that the reason they were rejoicing was their salvation in Christ. The word, “wherein,” is in reference to the Salvation mentioned in the previous verse. These believers were under intense persecution, not just the normal hardships of life, nor simple unpopularity or public scorn. They were losing their belongings to confiscation, according to Hebrews 10:34 and were in some cases tortured and killed. But their response was to rejoice greatly! They were not just “hanging on and hoping the Lord would bail them out.” Why?

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

The trial of their faith was producing praise and honor and glory to God. This is one of the purposes of trials; the way we respond to the testings can produce glory to God, and reward for us. We can read more about the reasons for sufferings, over in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11. But look at how Peter described the relationship of these persecuted Jewish believers to their Savior:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. 10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

These Jewish believers had not met Jesus during His earthly ministry: if we are correct that these were the believers from the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2 and those thereafter between chapters two and seven, then they were not living in Israel during Jesus’s life on earth: they had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and heard about Jesus from Peter and the other apostles. There were thousands of people who became believers during that time in Jerusalem. And, when the persecution arose, evidently they headed back to the countries into which they had been driven hundreds of years earlier. And they did not go home empty: they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they carried with them the Gospel of Christ.

Now Peter is declaring the nature of their relationship with Jesus.

  • They have not seen Him, but they love Him
  • They are still not seeing Him, but because they believe in Him, they are rejoicing with unspeakable joy, and are filled with His Glory.
  • They are (present tense) receiving the result of their faith, the salvation of their souls. Here is another example of the different “aspects” of salvation: Their souls were already delivered from the grip of the Evil One, forever. They were looking to Jesus for daily deliverance, but confident in Him for ultimate deliverance.

Peter goes on to remind them that the Old Testament prophets had desired to know what they now knew: those prophets had enquired and searched diligently, desiring to see it, but all they could do was prophesy of the Grace that was to come. None of them knew of the realities of the Church Age. Paul makes this emphatically clear in Ephesians 3:4-6, that the Old Testament believers (even the prophets) did not know about the Church. It was revealed after the Cross, after the resurrection, after the ascension, and after the giving of the Holy Spirit. All of those things were known to the prophets. They also knew about the coming Tribulation and the Kingdom age to follow. But they knew nothing about the Church.

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

Daniel 9:23-27 is a prime example of a great Old Testament prophet knowing everything before and after the church age, but skipping the Church Age entirely. He described events right up to the crucifixion, and then skipped all the way to the Tribulation! He skipped the Church Age!

Isaiah 53 predicted the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah. He also predicted the judgment that will fall during the tribulation, and the glory of the Kingdom to come. But he didn’t see the Church Age at all.

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

In Daniel 12: 8, 9, Daniel told the angelic messenger that he (Daniel) did not understand the message. He was informed rather succinctly, that the message was not for him, but for the people of the end times! He was told, in short, to “write it down, close it up, and run along!” I believe that some of the prophecies in scripture are still in that category. There are some that seem impossible today, but that will become plainly obvious to the people at the end of the age. Some have changed in that regard, just in the last 50 years or so. Some in the last 30 years! (I used to wonder how it could be that the armies of every nation would be there to fight against Israel: It occurred to me a few years ago that they are already there! The UN Peacekeepers are comprised of the armies of all the nations! If they turn against Israel, at some time in the future, then that prophecy will be literally fulfilled! Another thing: I used to wonder how it could be that “every eye” would see Jesus at His return. With the advent of the internet and live video of news coverage, it has literally become a reality.)

So Peter underscored this idea, that it was not for themselves, but for us that those prophecies were given. He also reminded the readers later (2nd Peter 1:19-21) that the messages came by the Holy Spirit, not by the desire or the imagination or the “scheming” of the prophets. It was revelation from God by means of the Holy Spirit. And all the apostles and prophets and evangelists who had shared that message with them (the readers) were empowered by that same Holy Spirit. He concludes with a strange comment, that all of the subject of Grace and salvation are “things the Angels desire to look into.” This is a mystery to them as well! They are waiting “on the edge of their seats,” as it were, to see how it will all be explained. And, over in Ephesians 3:8-11, Paul confirms that the entire experience of mankind, and God’s salvation of those who place their hope in Him, (culminating in the Church Age) is specifically an “object lesson” for the holy angels. He says that God’s eternal purpose was that through the Church might be known unto the angelic hosts in the heavenly places, “the manifold wisdom of God.”

I find that idea simultaneously mind-boggling and encouraging. On the one hand, I think “What could the angels possibly learn from our experience?” But on the other hand, knowing that it is so, because God says it is so, makes all the trials seem somehow more worthwhile. Knowing that our hard times are somehow a blessing and an education to angelic hosts that we can’t even see is such a strange thought! But God says it is so, and we can rejoice in that fact!

Joy is a Choice

I am uncomfortable making this statement, because I have had so much failure to rejoice, in my life: I’m guessing it may be rooted in unthankfulness, or unbelief. But we are so ensnared by what the world tells us that we have a hard time looking past what we see with our eyes, and seeing what God tells us is the reality “behind the veil.”

The fact is that these persecuted saints were rejoicing with “Joy Unspeakable!” They were overflowing with joy at the sheer privilege of walking with God, rather than complaining because they didn’t like the circumstances.

I am constantly having to confess unbelief and ingratitude to God, because I am whining about some inconvenience…all things that we call “First-World Problems.” Others in the world are lacking food, water, shelter and safety, and instead of being grateful that I have all of these, I am distressed about some tiny problem and I’m distracted to the point of ignoring God’s provision.

When I open my eyes to God’s provision, it changes my perspective. I know “Joy is a choice.” Joy has to be a choice, because the command in 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 includes “Rejoice evermore!” There is always a possible choice to disobey a command. Obedience is a choice!

But what if all those provisions, the visible, tangible ones, are taken away? That is where faith had better be the real basis of my relationship with God! If I am only thankful when things are the way I want them, then I am guilty of that of which Job was accused by Satan! Satan claimed that the only reason Job responded well to God was that he had everything so easy…he was rich! He had everything! So a test followed! Job lost literally everything, including his health. And his response initially, was to worship God and say, The LORD hath given, and the LORD hath taken away! Blessed be the name of the LORD!” Now, it is true that Job’s attitude began to suffer after some time, and the long argument with his supposed comforters began to produce bitterness in his own heart. But God stepped in and corrected him, while rebuking the others. Bear in mind that Job’s troubles were not because of sin: God says so!

I think it would be good to consider the prophet Habakkuk: He recognized the wickedness in God’s people and pleaded with God to clean them up. God replied that He was sending the Chaldeans (who we call the Babylonians) to punish His people, the Jews. Habakkuk was shocked! He said “But they are even more wicked!” God agreed that they were, and said that He would use them to punish the Jews, but He then would punish Babylon even more severely.

Then, in Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet concludes “17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.


The things Habakkuk listed were all the things Israel considered to be blessings and provisions from God. And they were all to be taken away, because of sin, in this case. But Habakkuk chose to find his Joy in the Person of the Savior, the God of his salvation. He saw that God was going to lift him above the trials, and “make him to walk in high places” like a sure-footed deer.

And he gave the message to the musicians to make a song about it; evidently so that he and others could sing of the Joy of the Lord! Choosing to rejoice just might include choosing to sing about His goodness! I know it helps me to focus on His goodness when I sing of His Grace and Mercy. Praying and actually verbalizing thanks helps as well. We can choose to do these things!

Lord Jesus, we know that hard times are coming for the world. We ask that you would lift our hearts above the troubles of the World through Faith, and show us your Mercy and Grace, every day. Allow us to shine for you in the darkness of this world.

The Believer’s Security (Part 2)

Introduction to Peter’s Epistles:

Security of the Believer (Part 2)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:2-5

Introduction:

Last week we began a study of Peter’s first Epistle. We didn’t even complete the second verse, because there was so much information packed into the words themselves. Today we will continue and attempt to finish the first five verses, as Peter continues his greeting to the recipients of the letter. Remember that you are among the intended readers.

Security of the Believer, (continued)

As you recall, we had underscored about thirty key words in the first five verses:

Chapter One

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


The Terminology:

We only got through the first thirteen of those key ideas, last week. Let’s read on! We saw that, in the first two verses we have the security of the believer introduced. And we were only halfway into verse two! The next concept is “Grace:” so we will start there, and continue.

“Grace:” this word can be easily misused, so we want to think carefully about it. It means “unmerited favor.” We might use it in a variety of ways, but the key word, there, is unmerited favor. Unearned favor. One might do something special for one’s employer and be rewarded by the bestowment of honor, or by particular privileges…but in those cases, the honor was earned.

I did not and cannot earn the honor that God has bestowed upon me; to be made an ambassador of Christ…to be made a real child of God. To be seated with Christ in the Heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6 says if you are a believer, you are already there!) and so much more…I haven’t earned any of those. That is why it is called “Grace.” Keep that in mind, when you see that word in scripture. It is not a “feeling” type word, as in “that was so gracious!” It is a fact! It means “I did not earn this, but it was given to me anyway, in spite of my not deserving it!”

“Peace:” There are several kinds of Peace in the believer’s life: the initial one is the fact that you are no longer “at war with God.” You may think that you never were at odds with Him, but Romans 5:10 says that all of us were initially the “enemies of God.” But, the day you trusted Jesus as your Savior, that “Peace” became a permanent reality. You have Peace with God, because you have been justified (declared righteous) by faith. (Romans 5:1 is a positional truth.) We are encouraged to seek the Peace of God in our daily lives. (Philippians 4:6, 7 is a conditional truth.) We are to seek to make peace with other people and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers…” which is probably that same kind of peace.) But please notice that all peace is dependent upon prior Grace. The Biblical order is always Grace and then Peace, as a result of Grace..

“Blessed:” The Greek word here is “eulogetos” meaning “to speak good words”…this particular aspect of “blessing” is the voice of worship, giving blessing back to God, not a “conferred blessing.” When He blesses us, we benefit. When we bless Him, we also benefit, and draw closer to Him in worship and praise. This idea can also be used to bless other humans, in which case it is not worship, but genuinely wishing good for them. We are commanded to bless them that curse us. That is this word. (There is another Greek word, makarioi, which means “happy, because of God’s approval.” When Jesus preached the Beatitudes: that was the word He used, there. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” etc. That is a different concept.)

“Lord:” The Greek word “kurios” is translated “Lord,” virtually every time it is used. It literally means “Master,” and “Lord,” but was often used casually, in about the same way as we say “Mister, or Sir.” Both of those English words came from English and French words, meaning “Master, or Lord.” Regarding Jesus, it is not a casual term of reference: We are not simply politely saying “Mister Jesus.” He is literally our master, our creator, our owner… our Lord: the One to whom we owe honor and obedience and loyalty and Love. It is the exact same meaning as the Hebrew word “Adonai.” It has nothing to do with deity; it means “master.”

“Mercy:” This is the “reverse” of Grace. Grace was “God giving me what I don’t deserve.” Mercy is “God not giving me what I do deserve.” I have earned the full wages for my sins! That is what I deserve! Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death:” meaning, “that is what I have earned and deserve.” Not giving us those “wages” is Mercy. It goes on to say, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have not earned that! That is Grace! I need both the Mercy and the Grace of God. Without both of those, I would have no hope.

“Begotten Again:” This is a key issue. The idea, here, is not just a “trendy thing to say,” as it has become over the last fifty years, but a reality! You were born again the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, whether you knew it or not. You became God’s real child, through that new birth. The word “begotten” is the same idea as the word “sired”…in that He not only “claims” you as His own, but, as he says in 1st John 3:9, “His seed remains in you.” At a spiritual level, you are His child, genetically. The New Man, your new nature, is literally the child of God. Your old nature could never approach God, even if it wanted to. Now you can approach Him in confidence as His true child, because you have been “begotten again.”

“A Living Hope:” The word translated Hope, here is “elpida” and it just means “hope.” The word translated “lively” in the KJV (or “living,” in most of the newer translations) is “zosan.” (“Zoē” means “Life,” in Greek.) So what is our ‘hope”, and why is it a living hope?

Hope has essentially a three-part definition, in scripture, as well as in “just plain English:”

  1. The happy confidence of good, for our future. (This is how God wants us to feel and think toward our future: not the hopeless, despairing, defeated thoughts of unbelief.
  2. The ground, or evidence on which that confidence rests, (our hope rests in the character of God and the truth of His Word.) and finally,
  3. The Object of our confidence (in our case, it is Jesus. He is the one toward who we direct all our hopes. He is our only Hope.)

And it is a living hope: it is to be realized in our lives, now, not sometime after we die. In John 17:3 Jesus says, “…this is eternal life; that they may know Thee (present tense), the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”  We are to be “knowing Jesus” on an experiential basis all the time, not “just hanging on and waiting to die,” to get out of our distress. In John 5:24, Jesus says we have eternal life now! Present tense! 1st John 5:11-13 says that God wants you to know that you have eternal life…again, present tense. It is a living Hope! And the Person who is our hope lives in us; and that miracle is called the “hope of Glory!” (Colossians 1:27.)

How did we enter into that Living Hope? By faith! How do we maintain that hope? Also by faith. Faith is not a “force,” nor is it a “feeling.” It is something you choose to do. Faith is believing God enough to act on that belief.  The root word in Greek is “peitho” which means “being persuaded.” But “peitho” can also be translated “obey” as it means “persuaded to the point of action.” Faith is not just mental assent, but “an obedient response to a revealed truth.”

“Resurrection:” Greek “anastasis.” This literally means “a rising up from” or “a standing up out of” death. An argument frequently brought up by unbelievers is that “Jesus wasn’t really dead…just passed out.” Or, on the other hand, claiming that the many medical revivals of “those who otherwise surely would have died, but who rose up to once again enjoy good health” are the same as what Jesus did. Jesus was dead…not in a coma. His body cells were dead. The reason for the three day “limit” was that at four days, he would have begun to decompose, and the prophecy of Psalm 16:10 stated clearly that he would not experience corruption (decay.) Lazarus was in the grave four days: and the bystanders warned Jesus that he would be stinking by this time. God says he can easily bring a truly dead body back to life. Don’t mistake “revival” for resurrection. Revival is only a renewal of life: resurrection is a restoration of a truly lost life.

“Dead:” One thing to keep in mind when reading scripture is that there are three kinds of “death” called out in the Bible:

  1. Spiritual Death (first recorded in Genesis 2:17 compared to Genesis 3:7-12. The sinning couple were separated from God the moment Adam ate that fruit.)
  2. Physical Death (Adam died physically, 930 years later. (Genesis 5:5) His spirit and soul were separated from his body.)
  3. The Second Death. (Eternal punishment, separated eternally from God, in the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14)

Do you see what all three have in common? All have to do with some sort of “separation.” Physical death requires that the spirit and soul (the non-material parts of the human) are separated from the physical body. It is not just “flat-lining” on a heart-monitor. We all start off “spiritually dead,” separated from God. There is a “modified form” of this death, which can be experienced by believers: when we are in sin, we are separated from fellowship with God, although we can never again be separated from either His presence or His love, forever. But when we are in sin, we are no longer pleasantly aware of either His presence or His love, and are effectively living as if we were spiritually dead. Resurrection, for us, will mean a permanent, conscious reconnection with a body that can never die, a Savior who will be visibly, physically with us, and the permanent escape from sin and destruction. In Jesus’s case, it was a permanently resurrected body, and a never-again-to-be-separated connection with the Father. It is utter mystery to us that the Immortal One died at all! It is utter mystery that the eternal Unity of the Godhead was temporarily separated, for our sake. But it is a fact. And it will never be repeated.

The Inheritance

“Inheritance:” We are not told a lot about the inheritance, but the following points are important to remember:

  • We have this inheritance in Christ, because we are joined to Him eternally, and are part of His family. (see verse 3)
  • The Inheritance itself is eternal (1st Peter 1:4; Hebrews 9:15)
  • The Holy Spirit is the “earnest” (down-payment) of that inheritance (Ephesians 1:14)

Notice that the next four descriptive words or phrases are all in reference to the inheritance. It is:

“Incorruptible:” We usually associate this idea with an absence of moral corruption, but the idea here is that our inheritance cannot rot, mold, or by any other means, deteriorate. This is about our inheritance. It has nothing to do with “reward,” to be discussed later.

“Undefiled:” There is nothing negative about your inheritance: there is no “seamy side,” unlike our present lives and experience. It is untouched by any sort of destructive or polluting influence. Again, this has to do with your eternal inheritance…not your current condition, nor your eventual reward.

“Fadeth not away:” Your inheritance will not be affected by time. It does not wither, or oxidize, or die on the vine. It is eternal, just like Jesus. He is the heir: we are joint-heirs with Him, and the inheritance we have is ours through Him.

“Reserved in Heaven for you!” The inheritance is yours and it is reserved for you! This is not like an earthly hotel or airline “reservation” which may be accidentally “double-booked,” or “sold out from under you,” leaving you with nowhere to go. God’s “reservation” of your inheritance in Christ is for you eternally. By the way, I have been using the word “eternal”, a lot: the Greek word for eternal is “aeoneon” and literally means “to the ages of the ages.” Some unbelievers have claimed that it therefore does not really mean “forever,” but rather only “a very long time.” The problem with this idea is that the exact same word is used to describe the eternality of God! So, we (and our inheritance) are “only” going to last as long as God does! And, I think that will be sufficient!

Finally, the last phrase I want to address in these five verses, is about the believers, not the inheritance:

The Believers

As believers, we are:

“Kept by the power of God!” Why is this so important?  Because there are those who claim that “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!” Let me share with you: if at any point, my salvation is dependent upon my works, then, ultimately, it is entirely dependent upon my works, because, I can guarantee you, “My works are definitely the weak link!” But, if, on the other hand, I am “kept by the power of God unto salvation,” as this verse clearly says, then how much more secure can I feel in my position in Christ?  How much more confidence should that give me regarding my future and my current service, knowing that I literally cannot lose, and I absolutely cannot be lost? It is hard to even grasp the concept, because, from human perspective it seems not only illogical but impossible. But that is also true regarding the rest of the Gospel! The entire plan of salvation is unthinkable from human perspective: How can God become a man? How can there be a virgin birth? How can the blood of His sacrifice have any effect on a sinner like me? How can I have the righteousness of Christ applied to my account, through His blood? And, because of the human “disconnect” from the truth of God, we must enter in by faith: But we are kept by the power of God!

“Through Faith:” This was and is the avenue of approach. God’s Grace is what saved us, and His Power is what keeps us (Compare Ephesians 2:8, 9) Faith is simply the avenue by which we are required to approach Him. (Hebrews 11:6Without Faith it is impossible to please God.”)

“Unto Salvation:”   We are kept “unto salvation.” Our inheritance is reserved in Heaven for us, and secure, because we have been declared to be the children of God, through the new birth, and we are also eternally placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit. (1st Corinthians 12:13) The end result of all that we experience, all that we hope, all that is promised, is Eternal Salvation. We have it now, but we don’t feel it, necessarily. It is ours now, but we don’t see it. The day is coming when it will be visible and tangible, and, in every way a part of our permanent awareness. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish!” (John 10:27, 28)

Conclusion: The “Helmet” of Salvation

In case it had not occurred to you, the security of the believer is the “Helmet of Salvation” described in Ephesians 6:17. This Knowledge and Faith that we are Eternally Secure in Christ, is what gives us the confidence to walk with Him and to serve Him, knowing we cannot fail. The Helmet of Salvation protects your mind from the attacks of Satan.

Spend some time mulling this over: Consider how it affects your relationship with God and with the World around you, knowing that you are eternally secure in Christ, and that He is eternally your Lord and Savior…the Master of all things.

Lord Jesus, we are so limited in our understanding of who you are! Please open our eyes to the spiritual realities surrounding us and allow us to see the world through your eyes. Raise us up to serve you in faith and confidence.