Answers from the Mouth of God (Pt 1)

Answers from God’s Word

(Two parts) © C. O. Bishop 2010 revised 2021

Introduction: (Part one)

There are many questions we all seem to have in common. How can the believer have assurance that he/she is saved, and that “peace with God” is a settled issue? How can one overcome doubts and self-condemnation? How can one know God’s will for one’s life? These are common questions that come up over and over, and in some cases never get answered. Where do we look for answers? Can our own wisdom and/or reasoning provide solid answers? Should we simply, blindly, trust that “everything will be all right?” To whom should we turn for the answers?

God has the answers.

We need to begin by establishing a confidence that God himself has all the answers. We can’t count on ourselves or any other human being to have complete knowledge, insight and wisdom. But God does have it! Proverbs, chapter two, tells us that He is the source of all wisdom. James 1:5 echoes this idea. But the key, in Proverbs 2:6, is that “…out of his mouth comes wisdom…” God’s Living Word is the link between Himself and us. He prompts us by his Spirit, and via other people, etc., but the written Word is our “…more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place...”(2 Peter 1:19)

Establish a pattern of reading, and study, to begin familiarizing yourself with God’s Word. If you don’t understand something, don’t fret: just make a note of the passage, and come back to it later. When you find something that seems to speak to your particular need, write it down, and perhaps select a verse to memorize. Keep building a supply of material that God can use to teach you.

Attend a good church regularly: this means you need to find a body of believers who teach the Bible as God’s Word, and who don’t teach “peculiar doctrine,” or twist the scripture to make it say something unusual. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Ask for a doctrinal statement from them, and read it carefully. Not every group calling itself “Christian” is actually teaching the pure Gospel. But it is important to find believers with whom to fellowship, and from whom to receive encouragement and teaching. As you study God’s Word, and as you fellowship with other believers, you should begin gaining a solid understanding of the answers to the questions most of us have.

So, let’s talk about some of those specific questions:

How can I Know I’m Saved?

This is a very common question, and probably the most important question one can ask. If you have no confidence that you are a child of God, then there is no point in trying to live like one.

A simple way to find an answer is to first ask, “What does it take to be saved?” and then, “Have I satisfied that requirement?” So: what does it take? How is salvation accomplished? The Philippian Jailer, in Acts 16:30, asked, “…what must I do to be saved?Acts 16:31 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” That was Paul’s answer! There is nothing complicated about that, but perhaps it bears clarification.

In John 3:14-16 Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, explaining to him how to be born again. He adds some insight as to the nature of belief and salvation, but still says “believe”.  “14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

(Remember that, in Numbers chapter 21, the children of Israel were in trouble with God, and He sent migrating vipers among them as punishment for sin: people were bitten, and they were dying! Moses was commanded to make a bronze serpent and hang it up high, where everyone could see it (bronze or brass were symbols of judgment.) Anyone who was bitten was called to look to that bronze serpent…thus confessing that this judgment was from God. The result? They did not die. It does not say that the pain went away, or that the punctures in their flesh were miraculously healed. But, having looked to God’s solution, they escaped death.)

John 5:24 gives a conditional promise: it has two conditions which have to be fulfilled, and a three-clause promise. “24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Jesus was talking to a crowd, and told them if they heard his Words, and believed (placed their trust in) the One who sent him, then they had eternal life—right then! And furthermore, He said that they would never be condemned: they had permanently crossed over from death into life.

Romans 10:8-17 gives more detail: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Paul said that if a person calls upon (invokes, places their faith in) the name of the Lord, they will be saved. Then he said that one could not call upon someone in whom they did not believe, and they couldn’t believe what they hadn’t heard, and couldn’t hear without one to tell them. This is why we practice evangelism, and support missions!

Romans 1:16 says that the Gospel, being believed, is the power of God to save people…and it is the only thing so called in scripture. Jesus’ death at the cross is “Plan A:” there is no “plan B!”

1 Corinthians 15:3, 4 defines the Gospel. “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins according to the scripture, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (in fulfillment of prophecy). This message, being believed, is what Romans 1:16 says is God’s power to save those who believe.

1 Corinthians 15:22 defines two “positions,” with their respective results. Paul says, “all in Adam died; all in Christ shall be made alive”. Then, we can apply these verses to our own position, to ask–“Am I in Christ, or am I still in Adam?” This is a question that only you can answer. But, according to Jesus’ promise which we read in John 5:24, if you have:

  1. listened to, (or have read, or heard it in some other way) the Good News concerning Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection, and have
  2. believed that His blood sacrifice is enough to pay for all your sins, and so have truly placed your dependence on Him as your Savior,

then God says you have eternal life already, and that you now belong to Him. He wants to begin to change your life, to make you more like Himself. If you rebel against him, he will not change his mind, and take away the eternal life He promised, but you will be unhappy and unfulfilled until you correct the problem, whatever it is, because you won’t be free to fellowship with Him.

So, what do I do when I don’t “feel saved?”

Many believers face this problem now and then. What I have done, when I found myself questioning my salvation, was to go back, mentally, and review what it took to be saved: I asked myself, “Has there ever been a time when you placed your full dependence in Jesus’ completed work at the cross as being sufficient to pay for all your sins?” The answer in my case is “Yes.” So, I was forced to conclude that salvation was not the issue, and that probably I was simply out of fellowship with God. (Incidentally, as I have gone through this sequence a number of times, I have more and more quickly arrived at the correct conclusion: I was out of fellowship with God.)

What breaks fellowship?

In a word, “Sin!” Sin breaks fellowship with God. Amos 3:3 says that two cannot walk together unless they are in agreement; Psalm 66:18 says that if I am holding sin in my heart, God will not hear me.

Romans chapter 6 assures me that I do not have to sin. Romans 6:16 says that when I choose to submit myself to sin, I temporarily become a slave to it again.

1st John 1:5, 6 says, “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” So, if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and our lives don’t match His truth, then we are fooling ourselves. We are not in fellowship.  How do we restore fellowship? By confession. 1st John 1:9 “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

How do we maintain fellowship? By obedience. 1st John 1:7 “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

Walking with Jesus

Can Sin be eradicated from our lives? I don’t believe it can: 1st John 1:8, 10 says that if we think we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and that if we simply think we have never had a sin problem, then we are making God a liar.  So, just as Paul struggled with his indwelling sin nature (Romans 7,) in the same manner, we have to fight it.

Colossians 2:6 says we are to walk in Christ in the same way we received Him–(by faith). Walking implies a continuous action, not a “one-time” action. It also implies a step-by-step, relatively slow action, not an idea of “moving by leaps and bounds”, nor of coasting, gliding, or sprinting. I think, in light of the verses listed above, and the wealth of information given to believers concerning how to live the Christian life, that it is safe to say that we will not be without sin until the day we go to be with God. Then, according to 1 John 3:2, “…we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

The Christian life has battles, in which we are expected to stand fast. (Ephesians 6:10-18 describes the armor and tells who the enemy is; James 4:7 says we are to submit to God and resist Satan; 1 Peter 5:8, 9 says that the enemy is deadly, and that he stalks us, but that we are to resist him steadfastly.) The key is to be filled with, or to walk in, or be led by the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18 “be filled with the Spirit”; Galatians 5:16-23 “…walk in the Spirit”; Romans 8:14 “…be led by the Spirit.”). All three are the same idea. The Christian life is not difficult; it is impossible apart from the indwelling, presiding Holy Spirit living that life through us, day by day, and moment by moment.

I trust that each of you is looking to God for the whole life He has to offer you. Please come again, next week, and we will discuss some specific issues in the Christian life.

Lord Jesus, please teach us to find our answers in You: in Your Word, by your Spirit, and always as a manifestation of your Wisdom. Help us to apply your wisdom to each of our personal lives, so that we become the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.

Baptism and the New Testament Church

Baptism and the New Testament Church

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

What do we actually know about the New Testament Church?

There are many books written on this subject. I don’t propose to rewrite them. I do think it would be well to summarize:

The New Testament Church was:

  1. Indigenous. In no case was an outside person, thing, or material necessary to the function of the local church. (Titus and Timothy were sent to help, later, but they were commanded to get the job done, and get out. 2 Tim 4:9, 21; Titus 1:5; 3:12)
  2. Self-governing. No Church was subject to a distant board of overseers, or any kind of hierarchic structure. (Acts 15 was a request by an apostle for confirmation, from other apostles. It was not a board of cardinals, [or other “birds”] stepping in to correct a local church which was in need of correction.)
  3. Self-supporting. No Church was to depend upon another for its sustenance, but every church was concerned about the others, and stood ready to help in time of need. (2 Corinthians 9)
  4. Self-Propagating. No Church depended upon professional or foreign evangelists to bring in souls, or to carry out the work of the ministry. Leaders were raised up from within the congregation, and every member was expected to function in the ministry. (Ephesians 4:11-16) This is critical to the health of the church.
  5. Under the headship of Christ, with a plurality of human under-shepherds.
  6. There is no scriptural example of a singular leader in a church, except possibly Diotrephes, in 3rd John.
  7. Every example, either by anecdote or command, is “elders” (plural) of the “church” (singular).
  8. The headship of Christ is constantly underscored throughout the epistles.
  9. Free to fit the culture in which it has been planted.
  10. This, of course, is not a license to sin, but a recognition that the style of music, worship, and preaching will vary with the culture, and be used by God accordingly.
  11. If the church is unnatural to its environment, it becomes questionable what makes the people different—is it the indwelling presence of the person of Christ, transforming their life, and making them holy, saying “Come out from among them and be ye holy!”? Or is it the abiding presence of an outside influence that tells them “Live according to this creed, and God will be pleased.”? One is the voice of the Liberator; the other the voice of the Legalizer. One sets them free; the other enslaves them. We need to avoid error in this matter.
  12. Committed to the study and preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
  13. This one is obvious all through the epistles.
  14. The leadership gifts of the local assembly are all to bring about the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4:12)
  15. Committed to obedience to the Written Word, administered by the Living Word.
  16. This one is harder to achieve, but we have to prayerfully, respectfully pursue it with our whole heart. This is where we live or die. It is the foundation to everything else.
  17. Those who desire genuine submission to Christ continue to purify their own lives, and keep going back to the Word, for the purpose of transformation. And God honors this desire, and gives them an even stronger desire to draw near to Him, and walk with Him.
  18. Devoted to the Love of, Worship of, and Obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ; and the Love of, Care of, and mutual commitment to one another.
  19. This is the heart of what makes genuine Christianity work. If you don’t love the Brethren, you don’t love the Lord. And the reverse is true as well. If Christ is the center (imagine a spoked wheel) and we (“the spokes”) desire to draw near to Him, we can’t help desiring to draw near to one another as well.
  20. Devoted to fulfilling the Great Commission.
  21. This is not a grievous task, but the natural outworking of a spiritual “chain-reaction” that has begun in the life of every believer. If we are doing what the Lord wants us to do, we will have opportunity to share our faith, and we will desire to do so. (1 Corinthians 15:34; Romans 15:20)

What about Today?

It seems to me that we should continually make it our aim to make a clean start, unfettered by tradition, whether recent or ancient, except where those traditions are plainly in obedience to Scripture, or where they are harmless, and in an area in which we have freedom to choose, anyway. (Church potlucks, Bible Studies, etc.)

It further seems to me that we should make every effort to not carry “baggage” from our former church or churches, but focus our attention on “What does God’s Word actually say?” and “How can I rightly apply it to my life?” We need to step away from the old baggage and move forward, not be constantly looking back.

When Paul went into a new area, he went to the local gathering-places (the marketplace, waterhole or well, the synagogue, etc.), and he preached. When some responded positively, he spent more time with them, and taught them, confirming them in their new faith. He spent further time, training up leaders, and ordaining them to the work of shepherding the local flock. He gave them two ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Table), and adequate instruction, and then he left, and began again elsewhere. Later he sent men to further instruct, train and encourage the new believers, but the fledgling churches were largely left in God’s hands, and, (amazingly!) they mostly flourished!

Is there any real reason the above principles cannot be applied in North America, in the 21st century? I can’t see any. The only thing that has limited the abilityof the Holy Spirit is the availability of Man. When we don’t do what God says, usually it is because we don’t choose to, not because we “don’t understand.” The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect. It is important that we feed the understanding, and we seek to do just that, here at True Hope: but we must also appeal to the will of every believer, to make a decision to walk with Jesus; to attempt obedience to the instructions in the epistles.

When we share the Gospel of Christ with people, we give them information sufficient to make a decision to receive Jesus as their Savior. But we also appeal to the will, asking them to believe. Again, the door to the truth is the will, not the intellect. When Noah was building the Ark, he was a Preacher of Righteousness according to 2nd Peter 2:5. All those around him knew what he was building, and why. But the only ones who were persuaded to believe were his own family, who obeyed by faith, and entered that Ark.

We obey the Gospel by faith, placing our trust in the Blood of Jesus at the Cross, as complete payment for our sins, and as our only hope for eternal salvation.

As believers, we see that two ordinances have been given: Water Baptism, and The Lord’s Table. We explain the nature of the Lord’s Table every month when we take communion, but we haven’t talked much about baptism. Both are an outward testimony of something that has already occurred inwardly, and a physical, visible demonstration of a spiritual, invisible reality. Communion testifies through the symbols of the bread and the cup that “Jesus died for me: His body was torn and broken for me, and His Blood was shed for me!” As believers we take part in communion to testify of His sacrificial death, until He comes: which means we also express our confident assurance that He is indeed returning!

When we celebrate communion, we are testifying that Jesus’s blood was the full payment for our sins. (Remember the Passover Lamb: the people who placed themselves under the blood of that Lamb for protection against the Wrath of God, did not just “stand there and watch:” they each ate of that lamb!) We eat (as we were told to do) as a commemoration of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the whole world. By faith we are laying our hands upon that sacrifice, and claiming it as the substitute for our own lives. And in doing so, we honor Jesus before the world, proclaiming His death until He comes.

What about Baptism?

There are two types of baptisms taught in the New Testament: one of them is absolutely necessary for salvation, but has nothing to do with water. The other does involve water, and is in no way required for salvation…but it does stand as a matter of obedience, even if we don’t fully understand it.

Baptism by the Holy Spirit

Turn to 1st Corinthians 12:13. This chapter is entirely given to understanding the gifts of the Spirit, and how He, the Holy Spirit, builds the church by giving appropriate gifts to each believer. He makes the choice as to who will do what task, and, just as individual cells in a body are not given the option to choose their individual tasks or locations in the body, believers are given their assignments by God, the Holy Spirit. Without going into a lot of detail about the gifts of the Spirit, this verse, in the midst of the larger passage, tells us a key point: every single believer has been “Baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ.” That fact is what makes you a “Member” of the Body of Christ at large.

When we talk about “Church Membership,” this is the only kind of membership God addresses. Every member of the Body of Christ is expected to find a local assembly of like-minded believers and attach themselves to that assembly and serve there, as a functioning part of the Body of Christ. Every member is to function.

Some churches have a “membership roll,” as if they are a country club, or something. No such idea is suggested in scripture. Some literally require that you be water-baptized (again) into that church, for membership. This also is unbiblical. Some require that you be “vetted” by a governing board, and deemed “worthy” to be a part of their organization. I personally find that to be repugnant. If Jesus’s Blood at the Cross, which made me clean enough to stand before a Holy God, and address Him as Father, is not enough to make me “worthy” to be in some human outfit, then I don’t belong there! (Is there “church discipline” in the Bible? Yes, but it has nothing to do with membership. We will discuss that at another time.)

Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ is the only kind of baptism necessary for salvation, and it occurs the moment you place your faith in Jesus as your Savior, even if you are unaware that it is happening. So let’s talk about the otherkind of baptism: water baptism.

Water Baptism

First, let’s discuss the actual meaning of the word, “baptize.”

Oddly enough, the Greek word for “baptize” is pretty much just “baptize.” The problem was that when the first English Bibles were being published (particularly the King James Version which was “authorized” by King James, the then monarch of England, who was also the head of the Anglican Church)…since they had to not contradict the Church of England, the translators could not write in the actual meaning of the word for baptism. The Church of England (which was scarcely removed from Catholicism,) was practicing baptism by sprinkling, while the actual meaning is “To Dip!” The Greek word “baptizō”means “immersion!” The intensive verb “baptizō” is most frequent derivative of the root “baptō”, which is translated, and is always translated “Dip.”

In the Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, by Lawrence O. Richards (pp. 100-101,) under Baptizō, it says: “Baptō is the basic verb. It means ‘to dip in’ or ‘to dip under.’ It is often used of dipping fabric in a dye. Baptizō is an intensive form of baptō. From early times it was used in the sense of immersing.”

So… had they consistently translated the word to what it actually means, John the Baptist would have been John the Dipper! But when Jesus “dipped” the sop in the cup, and passed it to Judas, the word “baptō” was actually translated: and no one called that a baptism!

We can see, then, that the concept involved immersion, and that the result of that immersion is to fully identify the thing being dipped, with the substance it was dipped in. The sop Jesus handed to Judas was soaked in whatever was in the cup. Cloth that has been dipped in a certain pot of dye is permanently identified with that specific pot of dye. In fact, all the cloth that came through that specific pot is together identified as a specific “dye-lot.” If you have been born again through faith in the Blood of Jesus, then The Holy Spirit has immersed you into the Body of Christ, according to 1st Corinthians 12:13, and you are permanently identified with Him in every way.

Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized so that He was identified with the message of John: John preached the Gospel of the coming Kingdom—the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the 1000-year reign of Jesus on earth. Jesus is the promised King! So He needed to be identified with the Promised Kingdom.

We practice water Baptism for the same reason as we practice Communion: we were told to do so! It commemorates in the life of each believer the fact that the Holy Spirit has already placed us into the Body of Christ. He has immersed us into Jesus, so that we are fully identified with Him, forever, in every way. We do this once, as a believer, to testify of our new position in Christ. It is not how we “join a church,” or “repent of our sins” or any other such thing. This is a believer’s baptism.

What happens if you don’t get baptized? Nothing, as far as I can see: But Jesus commanded the eleven to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” There is a spiritual “chain reaction,” there, which requires that this command, called the “Great Commission” is our marching orders, just as it was for the eleven. And that includes believer’s baptism. So, even though we may not really be sure how it works as a testimony, we do practice water baptism by immersion. We do not require it of anyone, and only offer it as it is requested.

It is interesting to read in 1st Corinthians 1:10-17, where we can see how the Apostle Paul felt about Baptism. He saw that it had already fostered some divisions among the brethren: (“Paul baptized me!” “Well, Apollos baptized me!” …etc.)

Paul said he was thankful he had only baptized a handful of them, and concluded that “Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the Gospel.” Paul did practice water baptism, but it did not have a very high priority in his mind. The reality (being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ”) came about through the preaching of the Gospel. Water baptism was just a picture of the real thing.

Water baptism does not require any special clothing or ritual, or oath-taking or any other such thing: upon public confession of faith in Jesus and His finished Work at the Cross, a believer is qualified for water baptism, as a step of obedience and a testimony of the new birth.

One person in our fellowship, already a believer, has requested water baptism, so, next week we plan to fulfill that ordinance for that person! If there is anyone else who would also like to be baptized, please let one of us know, and we will extend the offer to all believers. Rick Flemmer and I will serve together to carry out the baptisms.

Next week is also communion Sunday, so we will be observing both ordinances of the church on the same day. That seems pretty special to me!

Lord Jesus, please help us to focus our attention on you, and not the “outward things” that so easily attract our eyes and our minds. Let us learn to walk with You in obedience.

What Happened on Palm Sunday?

What Really Happened ?

© C. O. Bishop 4/13/19 revised 3/25/2021

Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; Zechariah 12, 14, etc.

Introduction:

I have frequently heard preachers say that the very people who praised Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the young donkey, shouting “Hosanna” to Him, were the same ones who, a few days later, were howling for his crucifixion. I’d like to examine that claim this morning, especially in light of what the scripture says regarding the coming Judgment of Jerusalem.

We have read so much of the coming Judgment, in various prophecies, that it becomes difficult to even imagine their complete return to blessing that will follow. But let’s take a careful look at the frequently-made claim; that “Jesus’s followers at large turned against Him.”

Matthew 21:1-11

1And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.

And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.

10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?

11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

Verse five, above is a partial quote of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Not all of the Gospel accounts mention that there were two animals, but this prophecy should have been ringing in the ears of the watching Jews, regardless. So the important question becomes, “who were the ‘multitudes’ in verses 8, 9, and 11?”

Luke 19:29-40

29 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples,

30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither.

31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him.

35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. 36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way.

37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the DISCIPLES began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. (They themselves were not His disciples, but were amongst the multitude)

40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,

42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.

43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,

44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Where was Jesus coming from?

If we back up a few verses, to Luke 18:35-43, we see that Jesus had just passed through Jericho, heading up to Jerusalem. En route, if we read all the gospel accounts of this visit, he healed three blind men; one as he entered Jericho, and the other two as he left. He also encountered Zacchaeus, and transformed his life. But he was headed for Jerusalem all the time.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany and Bethphage, just outside of Jerusalem, he was in the town where he had raised Lazarus from the dead, and where his friends Mary and Martha still lived with their brother, Lazarus. He was among friends, who had seen His miracles, and heard His teaching, and who loved Him. These friends, his disciples, evidently gathered to walk with him to Jerusalem. We are not talking about just the twelve, now: Luke says it was a whole multitude of His disciples…a crowd. But they were a crowd who genuinely liked Jesus, even if they weren’t really sure who he was. So, Jesus was coming from Bethany into Jerusalem.

Turn back to Matthew, and notice what happened when this multitude of His disciples began to announce His coming as the King, coming in the name of the Lord: as they entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, and asking “Who is this man??” and the crowd of disciples answered that Jesus was the prophet of Nazareth, of Galilee. Did they really not understand that He was the Savior…the Messiah? Maybe not, but the word “Hosanna” means “save us now!” So, they at least saw Him as “a” savior of some sort…a deliverer. Maybe they only thought He would deliver them from the Romans. But we need to differentiate between the crowd of disciples, confused though they may have been, and the city of Jerusalem, whose response, eventually, was to kill Him.

Turn back to Matthew 23:37-39, please: Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem again.

37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till YE shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.


Now: compare this passage with the one we just read, in Luke 19:37, 38. In that passage; who were the ones shouting “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord?” It was the multitude of His disciples! The inhabitants of Jerusalem were just “stirred up” by the call—they did not receive Him as their King.

Why Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is the City of the King: they were the ones who had to officially receive Him. God says that the Jews finally will turn to Jesus as their Messiah, weeping over their sin, and the fact of their guilt, having crucified the Messiah. But, where will it occur? At Jerusalem! And, when will it occur? After the tribulation! How do I know? Jesus says so!

In Matthew 24:29-31, Jesusgives the time frame, saying:

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect (The Tribulation Saints) from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.


Zechariah 14:3-5 gives us the specific location: on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, just as the angelic messengers foretold in Acts 1:10, 11.


Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.

Acts 1:10, 11 (At the ascension.)

10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.


Zechariah 12:10 says the inhabitants of Jerusalem will completely repent, weeping over the One they Crucified.

10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.


This is what Palm Sunday was all about: Jesus made His final offer to Jerusalem during that visit, and was rejected. But the One they judged, illegally, and with total prejudice, is the Judge of all the Earth, and who Judges righteously, without prejudice…without respect of persons. How do I know? Jesus says so! He said that the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22)

The Day of the LORD

So, the “Day of the Lord” about which we studied some time ago, is the entirety of what Jesus just barely began to warn against in Matthew 24. It actually begins with what we call the Rapture, as taught in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18; it continues directly into the Tribulation, as seen in 1st Thessalonians 5, and it culminates in the return of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom; ending with the Great White Throne Judgment, in Revelation chapters 19 and 20.

In Matthew 24, Jesus described only the Great Tribulation and the coming of the King: Why? Because Jerusalem had just rejected the King. His disciples were scattered, during the trial and the crucifixion: they were not the ones howling for his death. It was Jerusalem, proper, finally rejecting their King by calling for his execution, just as Jesus had predicted.

This is why the message in Isaiah predicts Judgment on Jerusalem, (among other places) as the chief offenders. It was Jerusalem, as Jesus said, who routinely rejected and killed the prophets.

The ones who had shouted “Hosanna” (the crowd of disciples) were terrified that they would be executed next. Remember that when Jesus first met with the eleven after the resurrection, they were in a locked room for fear of the Jews. All the disciples had been scattered. Jesus predicted this, too: (Matthew 26:31 “Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” He was quoting Zechariah 13:7.) And that is exactly what happened!

But Good News is coming: next week, at Easter, we will examine “The Rest of the Story.”

Lord Jesus, direct our hearts to apply your Word correctly: to read carefully, seeking earnestly to see the light of your countenance in the written Word. Help us to apply your Word to our lives, and to walk as your disciples.

Gifts and Goals

Gifts and Goals

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:1-15

1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

Introduction:

We completed our study of 1st Peter, and we are moving on into 2md Peter. I always enjoy reading what the apostles say about themselves, in the epistles. Usually it is very straightforward: none of them claim to be anything special, though once in a while they may refer to something special that happened in their walk with Jesus.

Peter, the “famous fisherman apostle” simply introduces himself as “Simon Peter, a servant.”(This is a combination of the name he had before he met Jesus, and the name Jesus gave him.) He also introduces himself as an apostle, but it is secondary to the fact that he is a servant. Perhaps we should also notice that he is simply a servant and an apostle: he is just one of many. He does not remind us of his fame, or his attempted heroics, or his earlier desire for preeminence, either. He’s simply a servant and an apostle (a “sent one”) of Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace

He addresses himself to all other believers: those who have obtained “like precious faith”—the same trust in Jesus as savior, resulting in the same eternal life and the same permanent position in Christ. (That includes us!)

He says that we all have obtained that faith and that position in Christ through the righteousness of God and of our Savior Jesus Christ. That is an interesting idea, because we always think of it as having been conferred upon us by Grace (which it was), but we forget that the holiness and righteousness of God is what oversees the application of His Grace and Love. They are all one package. If God is involved, then His righteousness is involved, and His holiness. If we are involved with God, then His Grace has to be involved, because, on our own, we do not have and cannot produce the righteousness of God or the holiness of God. God demands that holiness and righteousness in any relationship with Him; so He has to offer it to us by Grace. We never will have it by any other means. So, the very next verse addresses how we are involved with His righteous holiness: By Grace, resulting in Peace.

In every epistle except Hebrews, James, 1st John, 3rd John and Jude, the apostles open with the need for Grace and Peace in our lives as believers, in that order. Jude replaces “Grace” with “Mercy.” Which is simply the “flip-side” of Grace. (Grace is unmerited favor—God giving us what we have not earned and do not deserve. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve and have earned: He has transferred that judgment to Jesus at the Cross.) Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus include Mercy as well as the usual Grace and Peace: “Grace, Mercy and Peace to you…”

There is no room left for us to doubt our need for the Grace of God in order to experience His Peace. In the few epistles which do not begin with that phrase, the principle is strongly taught, later on. Every true follower of God has come to grips with this truth. I need God’s constant grace in my life if I am to function at all, in a manner that is to His glory. I simply don’t have the wherewithal to produce such a life on my own. This is why Jesus taught in John 15:5, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” There is no arrogance or condescension in that remark: it is the simple truth. That is why the entire context of that passage is surrounded by the idea that the branches of a vine are unable to produce the fruit of that vine without the sustenance of that vine flowing through them. That is true of us as well.

The Gifts and the Goals

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

God has already given us a number of gifts: some He gave to the whole human race, whether believers or unbelievers. Some He gives specifically to believers, irrespective of whether they are actually walking in obedience…all the gifts are theirs because they are in Christ, and, whether they are aware of them or not.

But there are some gifts He wants to “add to the mix,” which must be diligently pursued by a believer, in order to appropriate them. They are still gifts, but in a matter of practical application, they are goals. So… What is the difference?

Verse three says that God has already given us all things that pertain to life and Godliness. No believer is re-born a “spiritual cripple,” who is “lame from re-birth.” In your new self, you have been given the ability to choose to walk with Jesus. Because you have come to know Him, you have access to all the rest.

How? Verse four tells us how we are to see these realities worked out in our lives: “Exceeding Great and Precious Promises!” Peter says that by means of those promises in God’s Word, we have the privilege of beginning to partake in the character, and nature of God, Himself…and that in so doing, we escape the corruption that is in the World through the ungodly desires of our old natures. In reality, this is part of our inheritance in Christ: we are His real children, and we should expect to grow into His likeness.

Collectively, the desires of the World and those of our old natures are completely in opposition to all that God is. His Righteousness and Holiness are utterly repugnant to them. We escape the corruption of the world and the flesh through the application of God’s Word to our lives. Diligent application of His Word produces further results: We could think of them as goals.

The Goals

Diligence in applying the “exceeding great and precious promises” as well as the rest of the admonition and correction and encouragement in God’s Word will produce the following things:

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

So there are seven things to look for:

  1. Virtue
  2. Knowledge
  3. Temperance
  4. Patience
  5. Godliness
  6. Brotherly kindness
  7. Charity (Agapé love)

Please note that all of these things are still under the condition Jesus spelled out in John 15:5, saying “apart from me ye can do nothing.” Is it possible to produce a “cheap imitation” of each of these things by our own efforts? Certainly it is! But all these things, if produced by the flesh, (our old sin nature) are contaminated by the flesh. The Old Self is not only corrupt, but is continually being corrupted. So, for the realities of each of these values to be born in us, they have to be coming from an ongoing walk with Jesus, in full fellowship with Him. Let’s look at each of them individually:

  • Virtue: (Greek: arête…force or strength) It is strange: all my life, I thought that the word “virtue” meant something similar to “piety.” But it does not: it means “strength of character.” God wants to produce that strength of character in each of our lives.
  • Knowledge: (Greek: gnosis…experiential knowledge: not just “stuff to know and tell.” This comes from an ongoing relationship with Christ, on a daily, moment by moment basis.)
  • Temperance: (Greek: ephrateia…self-control, or continence. We are not to just be tossed around, by every thought, or circumstance, but we are to be controlled by our new nature.)
  • Patience: (Greek: hupomonē… endurance…pressing on. It doesn’t mean just “waiting,” but rather, persevering, in the face of hardships and disappointments.)
  • Godliness: (Greek: Eusebiapiety or reverence. This is the person and character of Christ “seeping out” all over the life of the believer, so that we literally “smell like Jesus.”)
  • Brotherly kindness: (Greek: Philadelphianactually, this is the “brotherly love” word. This is the general friendliness and kindness and care that we are to have toward others.)
  • Charity: (Greek: agapé…Agapé love…the unconditional, committed love expounded upon, in 1st Corinthians 13:1-8.) Not feelings, but actions, in every case.

So, the idea is that by diligently applying God’s Word to our lives, these changes should be the result: and that all of them (the real thing) are from God, not “drummed up” by self-effort or self-improvement schemes.

The Results

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The idea behind all of these virtues in a believer’s life is to make us fruitful. Orthodoxy only means “having right opinions.” If these character traits are missing, then the “correct opinions” have never gotten out of the “library” into the “living room.” They have not become a practical, living reality. A person may have strict adherence to a creed of some sort, and even a form of godliness, but Jesus warned that this can be counterfeit. The Pharisees had all of that and they hated Jesus. James pointed out that the demons are “monotheistic,” too! They know there is “only one God!” They have seen Him face-to-face! As we can see, then, “having all your doctrinal ducks in a line” is not the real issue: Having an ongoing, faith-based, obedient walk with Jesus is always the issue, and it is evidenced by the fruit of that relationship: the agapé love coating all aspects of our lives.

So, while we can see two possible extremes (one who is not a believer at all, but whose opinions and behavior patterns are pretty good, versus one who actually does know Jesus as his Savior, but whose life does not reflect that reality, nor is he well-schooled in theology) we need to see that Peter is addressing those who definitely are believers, and who have begun to grow in their faith: He exhorts them to press on and grow more! He also gives them things to look for in their own lives to see whether the “growth” is genuine.

[Remember, James did much the same, giving us clues by which to recognize Godly wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom of the world, the flesh, or the devil. (James 3:13-18. “13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”)]

These fruits are what we should look for to see how we are progressing. He also warns that a believer who lacks these attributes has forgotten that Jesus purged him of his old, sinful way of life, and has become judicially blind, through the willful disregard for God’s Word.

But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

We really do not want to be blind to God’s Word, or deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

So…if we know that we have received the Lord, then we need to give diligence to be “digging in” and growing in Him. God’s Word is what will make us grow: remember 1st Peter 2:2 “…desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.”

This is the constant invitation (and command) from God: that we draw near to Him in Bible-study and prayer, so that He can draw near to us, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, and help us to walk with Him in obedience. We know that. As believers, we will eventually be in the new heaven and earth with Jesus. But He asks that we enter in now: not being lax, and just figuring that all of it will eventually happen. Hebrews 10:19 calls us to enter into the holy place now, by faith, through the person and work of Christ. This is not about Salvation: it is an invitation (and command) to believers: people who are already saved.

12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.

Peter shows that he knew these people were already believers: he says that he is reminding them of something they already knew.

13 Yea, I think it meet, (fitting) as long as I am in this tabernacle (physical body), to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. 15 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.

Peter is especially concerned for their well-being, because the Lord had revealed to him that he was soon going to die (He was to be executed, tradition tells us.) so he wanted to be sure they understood and would be able to remember the central truths of their relationship with Jesus. He was going to give them a “review lesson,” specifically so that after his death they would be able to remember these things. That’s what the book of 2nd Peter is: a review lesson. (The first point in that review, actually, is the manner by which God’s revelation is given to Man: And we will look at that next, in our study of second Peter.)

Lord Jesus, teach us to look to you for all things, and not to depend upon our own wisdom but to look to you for godly wisdom to guide our lives. Raise us up as your servants and allow us to shine in this dark world.

Peter’s Closing Admonition

Final Encouragement

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 5:5-14

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of 1st Peter, since October of last year. We have finally arrived at Peter’s closing admonition in this first epistle. I hope we will continue into 2nd Peter, next, unless something more pressing arises. For the last three weeks, we have focused on the teaching regarding elders and church leadership. Now, I realize that a preacher is supposed to speak to exhortation, edification and comfort: I am primarily a teacher, so perhaps the messages have lacked in the “exhortation and comfort” departments. I ask your forbearance: bear with me, and perhaps you will ultimately find the teaching encouraging.

However, as we approach this last passage, I must begin by confessing that I do not knowwhat the first sentence of this passage is intended to convey: (“likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”) I realize that some people would try to use it to give themselves authority over anyone younger than they, but the very next sentence undermines that idea, by declaring that we all are to be subject to one another; and it then introduces what seems to be the key idea in the rest of the entire passage: humility.

Humility

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

ALL of you be subject one to another! This is not a hierarchy of authority. We are all to be clothed with humility: God resists the proud, and gives Grace to the humble. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you! Don’t be looking for authority: look for service, and if God puts you in a position of responsibility, so be it. Remember Joseph the patriarch, who humbled himself as a slave, and was falsely accused of a crime, and still humbled himself in the prison; the dungeon into which he had been cast. He rendered thirteen years of humility under God’s hand, knowing that he had been chosen for something better! And we know what eventually happened: he was raised out of the prison directly into the throne room of Pharaoh, where he continued to faithfully serve for many decades.

Interestingly, the word “clothed” in this passage is completely different than any of the other words for clothes, or for clothing oneself: The Greek word “egkomboomai” means to “bind onto oneself” and it is only used this one time in the scripture. It is not meaning “in contrast to nakedness,” as the word “enduo” is used to convey, over in 2nd Corinthians 5:4, where the contrast is made that a human spirit not having a body would be “unclothed” but that we are destined to be “clothed upon” by God, in the interim between our deaths and the resurrection of our physical bodies in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Rather, this phrase seems to be an admonition to take to ourselves this particular “garment” of humility, and put it on, as if it were part of the armor of God, or perhaps part of the “uniform” of God’s army! Choose it! Embrace it, and dress yourself in it. Why? Well, for one thing, He says that if we “choose humility” now, not seeking to place ourselves more highly than God may want us, and not “looking down upon” others for any reason, then He will raise us to our proper station at the appropriate time, just as He did Joseph. In contrast, on a day-by-day basis, we can see that if we indulge our pride and self-will, then God will resist us: but if we choose humility, as He says, then He will supply us with His Grace within which to live. This is not about His Grace in salvation, but rather about the Grace that we need moment by moment, daily, in order to walk with Him. If we hope to walk with Jesus, it has to be done in humility, not self-will.

But there is another reason to “choose humility” that is extremely practical for the “here and now:” Turn back to James 4:6, 7, please. This is a companion passage:

James says “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble: Submit yourself to God! Resist the Devil and He will flee from you!” You cannot resist the devil if you are not in submission to God. When we were working through the book of James, we used the illustration that coyotes are not particularly fearful of horses, as a rule…but they will flee from a human on a horse. If you are self-directed rather than submitting to God, then nothing you can do or say has any effect upon the evil one. But if God is “the one in the saddle,” so to speak, then, under His control you can resist the Devil and he will flee. So Peter goes on to say nearly the same thing. Let’s turn back to 1st Peter 5:6:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Notice he says that, part of “humbling oneself under the hand of God” is to cast one’s cares upon Him. If we are reluctant to cast our cares upon Him, then we are disobeying a clear command, and we are choosing self-sufficiency over the Grace of God. In 2nd Corinthians 12:9, when God told Paul, “My Grace is sufficient for thee,” Paul could have said something like, “Oh! Well, then, I guess I’ll have to take care of it myself!” or, “God is not answering my prayer! I will just have to suffer on alone!” But, He did not: he submitted himself to God’s will in his life. And, on the basis of that willing submission to God, he was kept and sustained by Grace. That is the nature of Godly humility. We see that the next verses clearly tie to the passage in James as well: Peter described our active enemy, the devil; and says that we are to resist him.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

We are to take this fight seriously, not lightly: with sobriety, not silliness. He says that we are to be sober, and vigilant: watchful, not lax! If you think that an enemy of some sort may be near, you are alert at all times, keeping your eyes open against a sneak attack. But we don’t just think that the enemy may be around: we are assured by God that he is around, prowling, searching for an unwary believer whom he can subvert, and make ineffective and unfruitful. He can’t take us away from Jesus, but he can take away our joy and peace, if he can trick us into unbelief.

Further, Peter says that the whole body of Christ faces this same enemy, and that we are to resist him together as well as individually. We pray for one another, as Jesus did for Peter. Jesus said that Satan had desired to “sift” Peter like wheat… but that He himself had prayed for Peter.

Testing and Trials
It would be easy to think that somehow we ought to escape such testing, but we are told repeatedly that this sort of testing and trial is for the whole body of Christ. Notice it says that we are to resist Satan. Hebrews 12:4 chides the Hebrew Christian recipients, saying that they “have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” This may have been in comparison to the many martyrs who had been listed in Hebrews 11.

But we are given three different commands in regard to three different types of trials:

  1. Resist: We are to resist sin, and resist Satan. (Hebrews 12:4; James 4:7; 1st Peter 5:9)

  2. Flee: We are to flee sexual immorality (1st Corinthians 6:18), flee youthful lusts (2nd Timothy 2:22) and flee temptations (1st Timothy 6:11.)

  3. Endure: We are told to endure hardship, and trials and suffering, and injustice, etc. (Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 12:1, 2; 1st Peter 2:19; 1st Peter 4:12, 13; 2nd Timothy 2:3)

10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

The word “suffer,” here, means to endure: to allow these realities to have their effect. When Jesus assured John the Baptist that his baptism was the right thing to do, he said “suffer it to be so, now…” (allow it to be so!) Provided we respond well, God uses such trials and testings to stabilize us, and strengthen us, and settle us in our faith. Greenhouse plants have to be gradually exposed to the harsher realities of life out in the open air, in a procedure called “hardening off.” The gardener exposes them to direct sunlight and the breezes and the unregulated air temperatures for longer and longer times, each day, until the plants are mature enough to survive planted in a garden or orchard. Otherwise they will not be strong enough to survive. But we have to allow the trials to have their desired effect.

As baby Christians, we were not particularly stable: any strange doctrine or rumor could shake us in our faith. Any apparent “lack” of what we thought we needed made us doubt the character of God. But Ephesians chapter four says that we are to grow up out of that babyhood, and become mature believers.

The epistles of Hebrews, James and Peter all tell us how God chooses to bring about that stability. Part of it is through feeding on the Word of God. (And you have been doing that, to varying degrees!) We are told to feed on the sincere milk of God’s Word. We are also told that through the exceeding great and precious promises of God’s Word we are to become partakers of the Divine Nature. And all of that is true! But part of it is by going through hard times with Jesus. When we walk with Jesus, we go where He goes. And he doesn’t often take the easy way. He doesn’t take the easy path! And we are called to walk with Him!

Closing Comments:

11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter is beginning his closing comments, here: his benediction to the recipients of the letter. He begins by glorifying God for His Grace, as mentioned in verse 10, and the incredible gift of the calling of God. He offers eternal Glory and dominion to the God of Grace. Then he “says his goodbyes.”

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.

Apparently Peter did the same thing as Paul did: he used another person to scribe his writings. In Paul’s case, as an educated man, he was certainly able to write well, but there is scriptural evidence that his eyes were bad: possibly affected by the stoning he received at Lystra, or possibly an ongoing infection. The one time when he wrote the letter with his own hand (Galatians 6:11), he wrote in very large letters, as (perhaps) one whose vision did not permit him to write normally. Also there were several other remarks in other passages, which make us think his eyes were failing.

In Peter’s case, I have no idea why he was using a scribe. But remember that the Jews were astonished at his supernatural wisdom, saying that he was too uneducated to have learned it normally (Acts 4:13). So perhaps he was really not able to write the letter himself. That is a possibility; however in the second letter, no such credit is given to the scribe. Did he use a scribe and simply not mention him? That also was very common. So we just don’t know. In any case, he was sure that the readers knew the scribe, and counted him a faithful brother. We know nothing else about the man.

Agape Love

13 The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.

Peter closes with an interesting salutation from the church at Babylon. Some try to say that Peter was not actually referring to the “real Babylon,” but was using a euphemism for Rome. That is not at all indicated by the scriptures: Babylon had a small but thriving community up through the time of Christ. The fall of the Babylonian kingdom did not bring about the destruction of the city of Babylon, proper. The ruins are still there, though essentially uninhabited, and it currently being rebuilt. The destruction promised to Babylon in Isaiah 13:17-20 is yet to come! It will evidently happen during the tribulation. The primary reason for the decline of Babylon over the years was the fact that the Euphrates River was gradually changing course, and their only source of water was just too far away, now, to be reliable. So, they finally gave up and moved away.

But there had been a population there, and a good church at one time; and they sent their greetings to the Jewish believers to whom Peter was writing.

“Marcus” is probably in reference to John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was not Peter’s literal son, but apparently they had that sort of relationship. Remember that Paul had been displeased with Mark’s unreliability as a young man, and refused to work with him anymore. But Barnabas took him and trained him, so that he became a valuable servant of God, recognized as such by Paul, and apparently held in high esteem by Peter.

14 Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

“Kissing” is still a proper form of greeting in many societies. Our culture has moved to handshakes, over the last several hundred years, and is now in the process of devolving further into “fist-bumps,” supposedly to prevent the spread of disease.

I do not believe that the means of the greeting (kissing, handshakes or fist-bumps) is the issue: the central issue is the motivation of the greeting: Agapé love is to be the core value in our lifestyle. We are to maintain that sort of relationship with all the believers in our sphere of experience. Disunity is not acceptable with God. Telling someone else “I don’t need you,” even if you are only thinking it, should be a real cause for alarm in your thinking. 1st Corinthians 12:21 makes it clear that we do need one another. We cannot be dismissive toward one another. We need to value one another as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

When one part of our physical body is in pain, the whole rest of the body tries to help, by compensating, shifting loads elsewhere, etc. We may see that as limping, or something, and wonder what is wrong: but what we are seeing is the body attempting to care for its own members. We are to do the same for one another.

The “Love one another, as I have loved you!” is the Law of Christ! That is the one law that encompasses all the others. We may learn many things as “rules for living”, but this one trumps them all, and if it is missing, then no matter what else we may be doing, we are failing to live as Jesus commands! That is the bottom line!

For the last ten years or so, in my observation, this little church has done very well in this department. You have loved one another, and prayed for one another, and rejoiced with one another in victories, and wept with one another in shared griefs. Well done! Press on! Keep loving one another with the Agapé love! And God says that, as we continue to walk with Him, we are to have His Peace, as His gift.

Lord Jesus, in these uncertain times, we truly desire your peace. We see the deep need we have for your guidance, and we desire to walk with you in humble submission to your wisdom. Guide us by your Word, and protect us by your Grace and power, so that we may serve as your witnesses, here on earth.

The Work of the Shepherds (Part 3)

Job Requirements for Elders/Overseers/Pastors: (continued)

© C. O. Bishop 7/28/16 THCF 8/14/16 revised 3/2021

Titus 1:5-9; 1st Peter 5:1-4

Introduction:

Last time we had to stop short, because I had prepared too much information to be properly addressed in the time allotted, so today we will finish discussing the qualifications of Elders, as we had begun last week. In 1st Timothy 3:1-7; we saw 17 individual qualifications listed, in that short passage. In the remaining two passages left to study (just nine more verses in all), we will find 16 additional requirements, some of which overlap those in 1st Timothy to some degree, but we will not even cover the ones that are simply a repeat of the ones we discussed earlier.

I do want to preface all these verses with a comment that Paul sent to Timothy, in 2nd Timothy 2:2—He told Timothy to find men to teach…to raise up as teachers and leaders, but that he was to spend his energy teaching a specific kind of individual: He said, “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.” Timothy had to look for reliable individuals.  Was he not to feed the whole flock as well? Certainly. But the ones he was to train as leaders had to fit this mold.

Another passage, in 1st Corinthians 4:2, says “Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” We will see today that the elders are made “stewards of God.” As such, it is absolutely imperative that they be faithful to the flock and to God…reliable overseers.

Titus 1:5-9 (Speaking about Elders)

5For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (plural) in every city, (singular) as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

  1. Plurality of elders (as we have seen in every case) is taught here, in verse 5.
  2. Having believing children, not accused of riot or unruly. Verse 6 reiterates some of the qualifications listed in 1st Timothy, but expands upon the issue of children: This is where we get the idea that an elder’s children must not be “out of control”. There are people who take this to mean that “if he has no children, he is not qualified.” I believe if he does have children, and they are out of control, then perhaps he needs to deal with that, rather than further burdening himself with something bigger. Again, I think this is a case where “track-record demonstrates character”: one may have a reputation for having well-behaved children, and later those same children may choose to rebel and walk away from God. (Billy Graham’s son walked away for years, but finally returned.) If a man has children at home, are they in good control? That is the issue.
  3. The overseer (bishop, elder) is the Steward of God. He has been entrusted with the care of God’s flock, and he has to be faithful to feed the flock, and tend to its needs, as laid out in Ezekiel 34. There can be no laxity in one’s attitude toward the task. (See 2nd Timothy 2:2) Reliability is the issue, here. Can the flock count on him…always?
  4. Not self-willed. The Man of God has to be in submission to God. This is not a popularity contest, or a personality cult, so there is no place for a big ego. This is a place to emulate Christ, in saying “not my will, but Thine be done!” This is a place to take a step back, and put other people’s desires and plans ahead of his own.
  5. Not Soon Angry. Patience and long-suffering should preclude a “short fuse”, or a bad temper. It should be really difficult to get a man angry, who is truly submitted to God.
  6. A lover of good Men.  Who does he hang around with? This is the old “birds of a feather flock together” idea. If you can see that the people with whom he is most comfortable are those who are distinctly secular, or even ungodly, then maybe there is a hidden problem.
  7. Just. Fair, in his dealings with others. Having a right walk with God, and demonstrating it, in his dealings with others. He treats others fairly, in every arena.
  8. Holy. Separated to God’s service. He is no longer his own man. He belongs to Jesus.
  9. Temperate. Good control in all areas of life. His sin nature doesn’t control him: God does.
  10. Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught. Able to understand and remember sound doctrine—teaching—to the extent of being willing and able to stand for truth, and back it up accurately from the Bible. Paul goes on to say that there are some people whose mouths need to be closed by sound teaching, to keep them from engaging in false teaching. That is part of the elder’s job, in defending the flock from predators.

1st Peter 5:1-4 (Speaking to Elders)

1The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Most of this passage is “task-oriented,” as to “how the job is to be carried out” but we can glean a few more job-requirement ideas, too, in terms of Motivation (Why do you do the job?), Attitude (How do you see yourself and the flock?), Behavior (How do you live, in keeping with your responsibility?) and Expectation (What should you expect, as an elder?)

Motivation:

  1. Not by Constraint. The task is to be done willingly, not “because you have to”. If you are unwilling, then don’t take the job. It is one thing to see the task as something that “needs to be done”, but entirely another to feel that you are being “forced” to do it. If you end up resenting the “burden” it will show in your relationships with the flock.
  2. Not for Filthy Lucre. The elder is not to be motivated by a hope for gainful employment. That is not what this is about. Virtually every good pastor I have known could have earned better money elsewhere, in a secular job, with less stress. I know of a few exceptions, but the issue here, is that money is not to be what drives a man to serve.
  3. Of a Ready Mind. The elder is both a “draftee” and a volunteer. He is called to this work, possibly reluctantly (consider Jeremiah 1:4-7), but he is also a volunteer (consider Isaiah 6:1-8.) Yes, you have been “called,” but you still have to say, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” You have to answer that call willingly.

Attitude:

  • Not as Lords over God’s Heritage. You are not the “Big Cheese”. If you want this job so people will honor you, you really should find something else to do—be a politician, maybe, or an entertainer. This is not about power, or position, or personal glory; it is about service, and submission to God.

Behavior:

  • Examples to the Flock. You have to take this one seriously. You are a role model, whether you like it or not. You are supposed to be leading by example. It is not acceptable to not “practice what you preach.” You must lead by example.

    This includes every aspect of a leader’s life…not just when he is at church, or “on display” in any other way. This is part of what it means to be “blameless”…above reproach. Does it require sinless perfection? No, it requires a consistent, reliable walk with God, consistently, reliably caring for the flock and your own family, not living for self.

Expectations:

  • Finally: Expect your reward from Jesus. He is our master, and the one to whom we all look for reward. If you get confused about that, so that being an elder or pastor is just a job; a way to earn an income, then you have forgotten whom you serve, and should just go get a secular job somewhere. If Jesus really is the One you serve, then all the frustrations of the job will just be part of dealing with Sheep: you are actually joining the True Shepherd in His work, and you will also join him in His joy and His reward.


There is another side to the “rewards” issue. Hebrews 13:17 is actually talking to the flock, admonishing them to respond well to the leaders God has given them. But it includes something the leaders would do well to take to heart: It says “…for they (the elders) watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief, for that unprofitable for you.”

The Work of the Shepherds

“Tending the flock” (shepherding the flock) involves watching over the spiritual well-being of the local church; this is what it means to “watch for their souls.”  This is the specific task of elders, regardless of the title. Shepherds (elders, pastors, overseers…) have to “give account” to God for the well-being of the believers in the flock they serve. We are held accountable for what “happens on our watch.” From the perspective of the shepherds, we want to be able to give account with joy and not with grief. From the flock’s point of view, it is good if we can do the job of shepherding “with joy and not with grief.”

“Feeding the flock” involves faithfully teaching and preaching God’s Word. It requires that the elders invest energy in prayer, study, and time spent dwelling on, and “digesting” the Word. The scripture uses the word “meditation”, which means “dwelling on the Word in active thought, pondering and considering the meaning of scripture.” The false religions of the world use the word “meditation” to mean nearly the opposite: They mean the emptying of one’s mind of all thought, and opening one’s self to whatever comes to mind; drifting aimlessly, mentally “in neutral”, so to speak. “Meditation”, as a scriptural concept means dwelling on a particular concept, or passage, actively seeking to understand it. It is coupled with active study, reading the rest of scripture to see if further light is available elsewhere in the Word. (A related word is “ruminating”, which literally means “chewing the cud”, but in humans, it means “re-thinking, remembering and considering” either a past experience, or something one has learned.

A well-fed church should be doctrinally sound, and spiritually encouraged; not confused, fearful and defeated. The flock is to be strengthened by means of the teachings of the Word of God, and the examples of the leaders, not weakened, or discouraged by lack of good teaching or the misbehavior of their leaders. The apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers (1st Corinthians 11:1) “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” He was leading by example. I would hesitate to say such a thing, concerning myself, but that is what we are supposed to be doing; leading by example.

The Care of the Shepherds

This particular local church has mostly been good to its shepherds, for the last 20 or more years. But I have been in churches that were quite dismissive, or even antagonistic toward their leaders. It was a grief to those men, to serve. That was not profitable for the church as a whole, nor for the individuals within the flock.

The Church cannot control how an elder must give account, that is to say, for his own actions, but they can maintain a good relationship with the leaders, so that the whole experience is mutually profitable.

One of the areas a church can address is in caring for the physical needs of their shepherds. I have known churches where it was taken to an extreme, where the pastor (singular) was living like a very wealthy man. I have also seen the opposite, where the pastor (again, singular) literally did not have money to buy shoes for his children. Both extremes are unreasonable, unless that is simply reflecting the overall wealth or poverty of the local church. If elders are serving full-time, and serving well, they should be supported at a level at least matching the average for the flock. Shepherds have not taken an “oath of poverty.” One of the missionaries we support, Bob Nyberg, has a degree in mechanical engineering: don’t you suppose he could have had a better income as an engineer? He has served faithfully and sacrificially for 40 years or more, usually at a very low level of support, because most churches look at his work and say “Well, you’re not a ‘real missionary’.” In reality, his work has sent hundreds of “real” missionaries into their chosen fields of service, well-equipped to serve: He trained missionaries to learn languages, and to dissect those languages, so as to be able to make accurate translations of the New Testament. He taught Lori Morley, and she became an expert in that field. Isn’t he worthy of respect and support?

Caring for elders may take other forms: Some of the tribal churches work the gardens of the elders so that the elders can use their time for ministry. No one has money, and ALL of the people there depend on their gardens for food: if the elders can’t take care of their own gardens, they literally would have no food. Perhaps there are physical burdens that can be lightened, as an encouragement to the leaders. Things that would ordinarily take time from shepherding, in order to maintain a home or a vehicle: Perhaps there is firewood to be brought in, or other things that could help.

For the past seven years, and more, this church has been blessed with self-supporting elders: Richard and Rick and I were each supported in other ways, so as not to place a burden on the flock. But there may come a time when the elders will have to serve full time, to meet the increasing needs of the growing church. (That is a good problem!) We financially supported Pat and Jan James, until their death, years after they could no longer actively serve, in recognition of the faithful years they had already served the church. That is a good thing, too, and entirely proper.

1st Timothy 5:17, 18 (please write these down) makes some very clear statements regarding the support of Church leaders, while verses 22, 24 and 25 give solemn warning against being in too great a hurry to appoint leaders. You have to know them first; you don’t want any surprises, later on.

I will leave those verses with you to study on your own.

Conclusion:

This has been a summary, an overview of what the scriptures say regarding the job of the Shepherds, and the qualification of Elders or overseers, as well as their care. We can review the scripture as needed, and, if you have been taking notes, I would hope that you will study these passages out on your own. They are important concepts to really understand.

I hope that we can take this teaching seriously, and apply it to our lives as a Church. When we look for leaders, we need to look for them the way God says to look, not the way the World looks. When we care for those leaders, we need to follow His word as well.

Lord Jesus, turn our eyes upon you, the Great Shepherd, and let us see your perfect example. Raise up men to oversee your flock. The Harvest is plenteous, as you have said, but the laborers are few. Make us your laborers, and raise us up into your service.

The Work of the Shepherds: Part Two

The Work of the Shepherds: Part Two

© C. O. Bishop, 7/5/16 THCF 7/17/16 Revised 2021

1st Peter 5:1-4; Ezekiel 34:1-22; Acts 20:17, 28-30; 1st Timothy 3:1-7

Introduction:

Last week we began discussing the subject of church leadership, because it was addressed in the scriptures we were studying: 1st Peter 5:1-4. As a rule, I try to avoid “topical” studies, as they can end up breeding confusion, as people develop a set of opinions about many subjects without a way to tie them all together. So I try to teach whole contexts, and whole books, in chronological order as much as possible.

Last week we had covered the first three points regarding the shepherds of the flock; namely that

  1. Sheep need a shepherd
  2. God has assigned human shepherds (who are also sheep in the flock) and
  3. The work of the shepherds has clear definition.

We read the defined work of the shepherds in Ezekiel 34:1-10 and in Acts 20:28-30, and we were prepared to move on to the rest of what God says about those human shepherds, when we ran out of time. The next point was that;

4.      Shepherds bear ResponsibilityShepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, judgment is coming in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 all address the issue as well.  Revelation 3:14-16, regarding the church at Laodicea, tells the long-range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God will shut it down.

5.
Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds:

  • These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. (They are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and  1st Peter 5:1-3.)

6.     Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, (Great Shepherd, Chief Shepherd—)

  • Perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Identifying a Shepherd

The shepherds we seek to identify among us are those who actually step in and begin to function in several or all of the listed responsibilities. Perhaps they are teaching…perhaps they are caring for the members of the flock in other ways. Perhaps they are gifted in management, and can readily see needs in the church, whether spiritual or physical.

Those who specialize in meeting the physical needs of the Church are called “deacons;” (the Greek word (singular) “diakonon” means “servant;” plural is “diakonous,” or servants,) as they serve the Lord by serving the local assembly, watching over, and managing the physical needs of the assembly. (We see them in Acts chapter 6.) There is some overlap between the two roles; but Elders are primarily tasked with the spiritual feeding of the church and, in fact, the gift of teaching is one of the job requirements. We will talk about the office of Deacon separately, at another time.

But in the meantime, we are to look for those who care for the flock, comforting, blessing, feeding, helping, protecting, and, in general, showing that they are committed to the well-being of the flock, as opposed to just being committed to their own benefit. God’s accusation against the “shepherds” of Israel was that they were committed to feeding themselves, and were only in the job for what they could gain. We hear that accusation today as well: “They’re only after your money!” And, at least in some instances, the accusation has proven to be true. So, we are seeking those who, by their track-record in our observation (not just “letters of recommendation”) have shown themselves faithful and gifted to shepherd the flock, and, specifically, to feed the flock.

Paul told Timothy (2nd Timothy 2:2) to find “faithful men”—reliable believers—to whom he could entrust the Word of God. He was not only to find people whom he could teach, but he was specifically to find those who could teach others. There is supposed to be a spiritual “chain reaction” going on. Those are the ones who God will raise up to be shepherds in the Church, one way or another.  It doesn’t require college, or seminary degrees, but it does require a faithful heart, spiritual giftedness, and a commitment to the Flock of God. We need to keep our eyes open for those individuals, and pray that God will raise them up among us.

If you are one of the ones God has called to this work, then you need to study these passages and apply them to your own life, so as to prepare for the job of shepherding, or to strengthen your hands to continue in the work.

Now we will discuss the job requirements…the specific “qualifications” for the job.

Qualifications for Elders (including the companion words, “bishops and shepherds”)

1st Timothy 3:1-7
1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Job Requirements from 1st Timothy 3:1-7

  1. Desiring the job. If a person is unwilling to take the responsibility, or simply hasn’t the heart for the work, then they should not be considered for the office of Elder, even though they may qualify in every other way. In this sense, I could say it is a “calling”, though I am careful with that word. Every single believer is called to serve. (Romans 8:28-30)
  2. Blameless—above reproach. This literally means “there is nothing in his life that one could lay hold of” and make legitimate accusation. It embraces all that follows, so that the list is not a smorgasbord, from which you just choose as many as you want. They all have to be there.
  3. Husband of one wife. This is one that invites controversy. On the one extreme, we have those who insist that the candidate must be married, and can only have been married once: if his wife dies or leaves him, regardless of circumstance, he is no longer qualified. On the other side we have those who say it only means a “one-woman man”.
    The fact is, it does literally say “man of one woman” in the Greek. But, the Greek words andra, (Man) and guné (Woman) are also used to mean “husband” and “wife”. So it could mean “husband of one wife”.  I try to compare the whole context, here: all the requirements—all of them—are either character traits, or gifting. If this one is a “track-record” issue, rather than a character trait, then it is the only one. In every case, the current track-record (perhaps since they have been a believer, or perhaps only since maturity as a believer) simply serves to demonstrates the character that God has developed in the man. He is not unfaithful to his wife, nor is he a polygamist, though that is legal in many places.
    I have known several men whose wife left them under circumstances over which the man had no control. He never demonstrated any character flaw in the matter. But many organizations would reject him for service. On the other hand, I have observed that if there is a character flaw involved, it will eventually resurface, in a repeating pattern.
  4. Vigilant. This is one we are all urged to embrace. Peter said (1st Peter 5:8) “be sober; be vigilant…” why? Because there is a deadly enemy prowling the world. An Elder must be continually aware of the dangers to the flock.
  5. Sober. Same idea. It means taking life pretty seriously…and taking the work of the shepherd absolutely seriously. This isn’t “kid-stuff:” it is not a game, or a hobby.
  6. Of Good Behavior. Remember that an elder is to be setting an example for the rest of the flock. We saw this one explained in 1st Peter 5:3.
  7. Given to Hospitality. The Greek word literally means the “love of the stranger.” (philoxenon). It means that he is going to have an open-armed policy toward “outsiders”…welcoming them, not desiring to be isolated from them.
  8. Apt to teach. As far as I can tell, this is the only requirement that is a “gifting” issue. If it simply meant “able to teach” then it would be pointless, as everyone is able to teach something. But a teacher, in the New Testament, is a person gifted to understand and transfer understanding of spiritual truth, from God’s Word, so that others can profit thereby. Some translations say “qualified” to teach; but that is not accurate. The Greek word is “didaktikon”, and in modern Greek language it simply means “teaching”, whereas “didaskalos” means “teacher”. He is to be functioning as a teacher of the Word.
  9. Not Given to Wine. This one seems obvious, but is reiterated elsewhere, as “not given to much wine”… in other words, he has no addiction to drink. I expect that we could extend that to other social drugs as well: It is just that alcohol was about the only one available in that time and place. But I do think it is talking about addictions, not dependencies. I don’t think that a person whose physical condition requires, by a doctor’s order, that they be on medication, is thereby disqualified from service. (But there have been organizations that took that stance.) Again, this is talking about a character issue, not a medical issue.
  10. No Striker. Not a violent person. Not one who resorts to violence to assert his will, or to settle a dispute. It does not forbid self-defense, military service, police service, etc. There are many whose jobs occasionally require physical violence who have never been in a fight anywhere else. They simply do the job when it is required…it does not reflect on their character: they are not violent by nature.
  11. Not Greedy of Filthy Lucre. Some translations say “sordid gain”. He’s not in the church for the sake of personal gain. Money is not an issue. There is no avarice in his character.
  12. Patient. This is actually translated from the Greek word epieike, and this is the only place it is translated “patient”—usually, it is translated “gentle”. Most newer translations render it that way: And, it fits, as it is in contrast to the next one:
  13. Not a Brawler.  (Greek amachos) This is not just talking about physical fighting, but general cantankerousness…argumentativeness, belligerence…trouble-hunting. It literally means without striving, but it certainly would include without fighting.
  14. Not covetous. This one is similar to the one about “not greedy of sordid gain”…it literally means “free from the love of money.” (Greek philargurion “love of silver”)
  15. One Who Rules Well His Own House. This is strictly about family life; home life. How does he handle his own wife and kids? How does he treat them, and make decisions there? What have the results been?
  16. Not a Novice. A certain level of maturity and experience needs to be in place before a man should be considered for leadership. Fortunately, as maturity develops, a man who is gifted to serve in this capacity also begins serving, choosing to voluntarily shoulder responsibility, and faithfully discharging that responsibility. How a person takes responsibility and then carries it out, is a good mark of maturity. Appointing an immature believer to the office of an elder is a sure way to produce a stumbling block of pride in his life, possibly destroying the testimony of the one you were hoping to see in leadership. Be very careful not to cross this line. By the way, this has to do with spiritual maturity, not just chronological age. There are some who never grow up. Their age is not the deciding factor, but rather their maturity in Christ.
  17. Having a good report of them which are without. How does the unbelieving community in your area see the man? Does he have a reputation among them for honesty, kindness, and integrity? Remember, those unbelievers are not enamored of his “pulpit presence” nor his “bedside manner.” They are dealing with him in entirely secular matters. How does he deal with the lost world around him, and how are they responding to him? (By the way, this rules out hiring a pastor from outside the community: letters of recommendation cannot fulfil this requirement. And, consider: how much more important it must be, that the local assembly of believers also know him and his family?)

Most of the above requirements are simply reiterated or re-stated, in Titus and 1st Peter, but we will address those passages as well, next week.

Principles or Methods?

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that this is a scriptural viewpoint: unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are ultimately doomed to failure.

So—looking back over the list of tasks associated with the job of Shepherding—(feeding, leading, seeking, binding up, healing, guarding, etc.) How do we do each of these? Is it just “up for grabs”, so to speak, or can we find scriptural examples, at least, and principles to guide our efforts?

I believe we can find both scriptural examples and principles by which to guide our efforts. We can first look at the example of The Lord, all through Scripture. (Examples: Genesis 49:24; Psalm 23; Psalm 80:1;  Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34; John 10; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; etc.)

Then we can look at the positiveexamples of human shepherds in Bible history. (Examples: Jacob, Moses, David, etc.) We can also look at the negative examples (3rd John, Ezekiel 34, and perhaps Revelation 2, 3)

Finally, we can look at the principles taught regarding leadership in general (kings, judges, fathers, etc.) and shepherding in particular (John 10:11-13), and draw our teaching from these.

Methods will vary—no one doubts that—but the principles in God’s Word never change. If the methods are firmly based on God’s principles, they will be good. If the methods replace God’s principles, then no matter how good they seem, they fail God’s test, which is always: “Did it originate with God?” (Proverbs 14:12). So, to answer the rhetorical question above: No, it is not just “up for grabs”.

In Proverbs 3:5, 6Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.” God warns against the “self-directed” approach to life in general; how much more should the warning apply to shepherding the flock of God? Please keep this in mind as we continue to study the Word of God regarding the Work of the Shepherd.

Lord Jesus keep our focus on your Person and your Word, not our own ideas or traditions. Give us understanding of your Word, and the will to walk with you in the Light.

The Work of the Shepherds: Part One

The Work of the Shepherds: Part One

© C. O. Bishop, 7/5/16 THCF 7/17/16 Revised 2021

1st Peter 5:1-4; Ezekiel 34:1-22; Acts 20:17, 28-30;

Introduction:

The next three weeks will lean more heavily toward “teaching” than “preaching,” as we are in a passage that gives some very specific directions, and we need to understand the concepts involved: Teaching is for the purpose of building understanding.

We have been working our way through the book of 1st Peter, and we have finally come to the place where Peter briefly describes the Shepherds, or Elders (also called Bishops or Overseers, in other places.) There are three Greek words applied to this office, all referring to the same individuals, and each translated two different ways, as we will see.

Here in 1st Peter 5:1-4, two of those words are used, and the third is implied:

1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

So, the Chief Shepherd (Jesus) is the one to whom the elders answer, and their primary job, (as under-shepherds) is to Feed the Flock…in this particular passage, the word “feed” is “poimanate,” which is just the verb form of “shepherd,” so, perhaps “tend” is an appropriate understanding of what it implies, in this passage.

Structure and Function of the New Testament Church

We sometimes talk about “New Testament Churches,” and how they are organized, how they function, etc. The primary principle is that Jesus is the Head, and every member is to function.

One critical aspect of the whole picture, though, is how the spiritual leadership of a New Testament Church is supposed to function. We need to know how to identify those leaders, and what they are supposed to be doing. Their various job titles tell us a little about what to expect of them. Those leaders are called by six different words, in the New Testament:

  1. Elders (Presbytery)  
  2. Bishops (Overseers)
  3. Shepherds (Pastors,)


The words “Pastors” and “Presbytery,” in English, are only used once, each: but all six English words are in reference to the same individuals, and all six come from one of three Greek words:

  1. Presbuteros (translated either Elders or Presbytery—it literally means older persons)
  2. Episkopos (translated either Overseers or Bishops—it literally means supervisors)
  3. Poiménes (translated either Pastors or Shepherds—and it literally means shepherds.)

For the sake of this study, I will refer to them all as “shepherds”, mostly, because that is what the Old Testament usually calls them, and, ironically, that is where we will find the most information about their job. You may wonder why we look in the Old Testament to find information about the New Testament job of shepherding: It is because sheep haven’t changed, so the job of shepherding has also not changed. When we read Psalm 23, we can still apply it to our lives, today. Thus, the work of the shepherd as described in Ezekiel 34 is also still valid.

Further, we will break the teaching into three parts: the first (this lesson) will concern itself with the work, or responsibilities, or “job” of the shepherd; the second will begin addressing the qualifications for the job, and the third will complete the qualifications and deal a little with the selection and care of Elders or overseers. We will discuss the job of the Deacons separately, when we come to it, as it is a different job, with a different description, though very similar qualifications.

The Work of the Shepherds

The Work of the Shepherds can be seen in two ways, since, in the New Testament, there are two Greek words used for the task. The most common usage is simply a verb-form (poimainé) of the noun “Shepherd” (poimén), so that doesn’t shed much light, unless we can go and find out what a shepherd actually does…and we will attempt to do just that.

The second word (bosko) however, is a narrower term, meaning, specifically, to “feed.” It is only used eight or nine times in scripture, and always means “to feed,” including when it is applies to animals feeding themselves in a pasture. Jesus used both of these words in the commands he directed to Peter: (John 21:15-17 “If you love me, feed (bosko) my lambs; tend (poimainé) my sheep, feed (bosko) my sheep!”). He used them both in the same conversation, but the two words are not the same, so we have to address both. Let’s look at the “feeding” idea first.

“Feed the Flock”

God commands the Shepherds (in all dispensations) to “feed the flock.” He refers to His Word as the “food” that his sheep need. (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:11-14, etc.) We could say that a person is “feeding the sheep” if all they do is to read the Word in public. And, in fact, that form of “feeding” is commanded. (1st Thessalonians 5:27; 1st Timothy 4:13.)

But teaching and exhortation from the scriptures are also commanded (1st Timothy 4:13; 2nd Timothy 4:2), and exemplified all through the Bible.  There are five ways described in scripture to ingest, or feed upon the Word of God:

  1. Hearing the Word,
  2. Reading the Word,
  3. Studying the Word,
  4. Memorizing the Word, and
  5. Meditating on the Word

Collectively, those five approaches to God’s Word can give us a very solid grasp of its content.

All five are commanded, and the feeding of the flock demands all five in the Shepherds’ lives; this is not supposed to be a “do as I say, not as I do” sort of concept. And Peter specifically commands that the elders serve as examples to the flock, in verse 3.

1st Corinthians 14:3 says that a prophet is to speak, to provide exhortation, edification, and comfort. The person we frequently call a preacher, is what the scripture actually calls a prophet (Greek “prophete:” meaning “one who speaks for God.”) Heis to speak to meet specific needs within the body (exhortation, edification and comfort), as God brings these needs to his attention. (This is slightly different than the Old Testament prophet, mainly because when there was very little of God’s Word in written form, He sent prophets to speak His Word to His people…and often it including “telling the future.” Not so much, in the New Testament.)

The collective leadership of any given body of believers should be closely enough in contact with the members to know what the general need is. And all of the leaders are to be studying and meditating upon God’s word, themselves: feeding themselves, with the intent to meet those needs. That’s all part of feeding the flock.

A teacher (Greek “didaskalos) simply seeks to build accurate understanding of the scripture, including the spiritual truths and potential application to any believer’s life,) in a general or specific sense. This is a specific gift, by the way, not to be confused with preaching, though the two overlap quite a bit. (I am more of a teacher than a preacher, but both gifts are needed.)

The actual word “preacher” (Greek “kerux”), is also sometimes used in scripture, and it has a similar definition: a “declarer,” a “proclaimer,” or an “announcer.” It only occurs as a noun three times in scripture, but, along with the verb-form (“kerusso,” which occurs 60 times; mostly in the Gospels and in the book of Acts) it seems that when it occurs, it is primarily directed to a different audience: A “preacher” in scripture, seems to be one who “declares” the Gospel and the Person of Christ to those who have not heard. (It is not a church office or gift.) That would explain why it is very common in the Gospels and the Acts, but much less common in the epistles. For example, Noah was a preacher of righteousness, and was rejected by his audience.

Because a “prophet” is one who “speaks for God,” his work could include the work of the “preacher;” but the New Testament prophet is specifically called to meet the spiritual needs of the church. In our culture, when we use the word “preacher,” we usually just mean a church-leader: a pastor, regardless of his gifting. So the different words can be a little confusing.

All these ideas are part of “feeding the flock,” and all of them could fall under the definition of the Greek word “bosko.” But what about Shepherding? Shepherding clearly includes “feeding the flock”, but also addresses the rest of the job. Is it really enough to just have “great words of encouragement or explanation” coming from the pulpit and from Bible classes? Evidently it is not, because Jesus said to do both the “feeding” and the “tending” or “shepherding!”

“Shepherd the Flock”

What does the Scripture actually say about Shepherds?Looking at the entirety of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear. We will only address three today:

  1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator seems to be around. And, regarding the human flock of God, the greatest and deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. (Be sober! Be vigilant; for your enemy the devil walketh about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!”)
    Even without the threat of predators, though; as sheep, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Great Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

    We sing “Savior, like a shepherd, lead us; much we need thy tender care….” This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock (Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34:1-10). We need Jesus, the Great Shepherd!
  2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, too, but they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility: not to be taken lightly or with wrong motives.
  3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

1st Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:

  • Feed the flock of God. (KJV): (Here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate: “to shepherd, or tend:” This would certainly include teaching, but it also includes the full scope of shepherding responsibilities.)
  • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer) Take responsibility for the well-being of the flock. (Verb-form of episkopos…episkopountes.)
  • Do so willingly, not grudgingly. If you resent the responsibility you are not approaching the job with the attitude God says it requires!
  • Not for the sake of money. This does not mean that elders are not to be supported in their work, but it does meant that money had better not be their motive for serving.
  • Not lording it over the flock, (You aren’t anything “special!” Don’t act as though you are! Don’t be “bossy!”) but instead, to
  • Lead by example. The shepherds are to be living in such a way that the rest of the flock can “do as they do” and be confident that they are doing right (1st Corinthians 11:1.)
  • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd,” or Chief shepherd) at His coming, for faithful service. (The contrast would be one who expects his reward from humans. Balaam fell into that trap.)

Ezekiel 34:1-16 (Read it!) says the shepherds are assigned seven tasks:

  1. Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
  2. Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement and help to change self-destructive patterns.)
  3. Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel. There is no indication that shepherds all have the gift of physical healing.) This could include corrective teaching to overcome previous misconceptions.
  4. Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those emotional wounds.)
  5. Seek out (and bring back) those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, because they are unable to bear the stress of being around the one(s) who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply are angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
  6. Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden.)
  7. Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; it is clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)

This passage provides a checklist, against which any shepherd can compare himself and see whether he is actually doing the job he was sent to do. It also is a checklist we use when observing whether someone is called to that job: they will begin to do those things, simply because that is their gifting.

Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (v.17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:

  • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger,
  • Guard the flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
  • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), or ‘shepherd’ the flock (the Greek word here is poimainein)
  • Be overseers. (Greek “episkopos bishops…supervisors.)

There are whole books written on the topic of Church leadership, not all of them even close to Biblical in focus, but I am not attempting to replace them today: I am only directing your attention to what the Bible clearly says about them. Some consider these ideas to be outdated, or no longer relevant for one reason or another. The Word of God has to stand as a unit. It is either eternally relevant, or it is not.

We will return to the topic of Church leadership next week:

If you want to study ahead, please read the qualifications for leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9, and re-read today’s scripture in 1st Peter 5:1-4. Remember that theseare not a “smorgasbord,” from which we can select our “favorite character traits,” but a comprehensive prerequisite: things that must all be true before a man is considered for the office of an Elder.

One thing we will see as we study this topic is that the leadership is always to be plural. There is only one example of a “solo” pastor of a church in scripture, and it was a bad example; a man who wanted to “be the star:” he wanted the preeminence. (3rd John 9, 10.) We want to avoid that sort of thing, and the best way to avoid it is to do things the way God says to do them!

Lord Jesus, you encouraged us to “pray ye therefore the Lord of the Harvest, that he send forth laborers into the harvest.” We echo that prayer, and ask that you also raise up shepherds, and make us a healthy flock, honoring you in every way.

Rejoicing in Persecution

Rejoicing in Persecution

© 2021 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 4:12-19

Introduction:

We have gone through several passages dealing with how we are to live, as believers. But Peter now acknowledges that persecution is coming, and he gives instruction regarding how we are to view it. Are we to flee? Fight back? Conform to the World so as to escape their notice? What is our response supposed to be when the World hates us, or when we are essentially “outlawed?” When the moral and spiritual climate around us changes to the point that we are clearly “out of step” at every level with what the World sees as acceptable, how are we to respond?

The first thing we are to remember is that Jesus warned us about this in advance:

John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of Good Cheer; I have overcome the World!” So, at the very least, we should not feel shocked that such things happen. And that is what Peter says:

Don’t be Surprised!

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

The first thing Peter tells us is that we are not to see it as “strange” that persecution should come. We are to anticipate it, though we are to do nothing to precipitate it. As a general rule, when we treat others well, they will tend to see us as “friendly” and not mistreat us, simply because we do not mistreat them. That is common even among the lower animals. But we mustn’t forget that we are in a war! Be aware that the enemy will not allow his “troops” to maintain friendly relations with the people of God when it really matters. The same enemy who sought to destroy Jesus will also seek to destroy us, beginning with luring us away to sin, but always pursuing the goal of literally destroying us. He would rather destroy our fellowship first, so as to make us unfruitful, and our testimony, so as to bring shame to the Lord Himself. If He can destroy those things then we will be without Joy and without Peace, so no one will have a reason to desire what we have in Christ. We will be utterly ineffective as His ambassadors. Then, if he can trip us up and influence us to sin in some very public way, and destroy our physical life in the process, he will consider it a victory. He will have rendered us useless to the Lord Jesus, and ended our service on such a negative note that we will only be remembered as a phony.

Remember Balaam: this is exactly what happened in his case. He was a genuine prophet of God, but he desired the things of the world and its rewards so much that he “sold out” and served the enemy. He is only remembered for his bad behavior. Whatever he may have accomplished as a man of God, earlier, has been forgotten by us humans years ago: we only recall the sin. God remembers Balaam as the man he was supposed to be. His position was secure, but his condition was terrible! Whatever believers were supposed to do regarding the World, during that time, Balaam did not do it! We do not want to follow his example. In fact, that is specifically warned against in 2nd Peter 2:15 where God mentions the way of Balaam, Jude 11 where He mentions the error of Balaam, and Revelation 2:14, where He calls out the doctrine of Balaam.

Rejoice!

The next thing Peter says is that we are to Rejoice.

13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

“Rejoice” is a verb: an action word: It does not say “feel happy,” although that could be the result of choosing to rejoice. Instead, it says “rejoice,” because you are partaking in Jesus’s sufferings, so that (future tense) “when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also, with exceeding joy!” This parallels what Jesus said: “…but be of Good Cheer…”

The feelings of gladness are to follow the obedience of choosing to rejoice. In Acts 16:22-34 (turn there, please) Paul and Silas were not “feeling glad” when they were sitting in the dungeon, with still-bleeding wounds and their feet clamped in the stocks. Their clothes had been torn from them; they had been savagely beaten, without cause, and imprisoned without a trial. But they rejoiced anyway, praying and singing praises together, to God. They rejoiced in spite of the pain and the filth, and the shame. The “gladness” came later!

They were freed at midnight, by miraculous intervention, and they were then privileged to lead the Philippian jailer to Christ, along with his entire family. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy cometh in the morning.”

We go through periods of “night” in our lives, especially during times of sickness, or in crushing disappointments, or as we near the end of our life, or that of a loved one. But the times of tribulation, too, can be seen as a “passing cloud:” a temporary period of deep darkness, beyond which we earnestly look to see the light of God’s countenance. In John 1:4, 5, it says of Jesus, “In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” The contrast between light and dark can only be seen where there has been some darkness. Remember that darkness has no “substance” in itself: it is only the absence of light. Many jewelers display their best gems against a black-velvet background. The velvet absorbs light, reflecting little or no light back at the eye, while the gemstone reflects light, and we are attracted to its beauty. God displays His light against the backdrop of the darkness of the World. Our light is to shine in that darkness, as a reflection of His glory!

Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

We all know of situations in which a Christian was shamed, punished, dismissed from a job, or even imprisoned for things they did wrong: things for which anyone would (and should) receive punishment. I knew a Christian man who went to prison for tax evasion, and another, a pastor, who was jailed for shoplifting. A friend of mine knew another man, apparently a real believer, who committed multiple murders. Am I “comfortable” with those facts? No, of course, I’m not! But those two facts line up with what Peter just said!

There is no “invisible fence” set up for Christians, so that they cannot commit horrible sins. Remember that David committed both adultery and murder. Yes, it cost him dearly, but the fact is, he was a man of God, by God’s own statement, and he committed things regarding which I would love to be able to say, “Christians just don’t do those things!” (Sorry! God says it is very possible and a deeply shameful thing when it happens. There is no “suffering for Jesus” in that sort of experience, when it is punishment for crimes that have actually been committed.)

Notice, too, that being a “busybody”…a meddler in other people’s lives (possibly including a general “snoopiness” and perhaps gossip) is included right along with the general term “evildoers” and the specific crimes of theft and murder. We like to categorize sins as being “little” or “big.” And, in terms of the immediate effect of such things, that makes sense. But in terms of long-term effect, we have no idea what the overall result may be of what we may consider to be “minor.” Go back to Genesis chapters 12 through 19, and ask yourself, “What was the long-term effect of Abraham’s just “bringing Lot along with him,” when God had told him to leave him behind?” Could Abraham have predicted that outcome? Perhaps he just thought he was “sharing the blessing” God intended for him. (Sharing is good, right?) But not only did God not want that particular blessing to be “shared” (it was for Abraham and his progeny alone,) but the result in Lot’s life was horrendous; and the long-term result for Abraham’s progeny is a huge number of enemies who still want nothing more than to wipe the nation of Israel off the globe!

What is Sin?

Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:

  1. 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law” (God’s Law…possibly specifically the New Commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”)
  2. 1st John 5:17 “All unrighteousness is sin.” (It doesn’t have to be “on a list” somewhere!)
  3. James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
  4. Romans 14:23 “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Are any of those four necessarily crimes against civil law? No! There could be things that the civil law could not even address, such as our thoughts. Human law does not prohibit lust or coveting…and our culture openly encourages both. But, are there things that are declared legal by man, but which God condemns without exception? Absolutely, there are! We see these things flaunted every day! And that has been the case throughout human history. Are there things that the world says are righteous, but which God clearly says are not? Absolutely! We think revenge is a good thing! We say “Yep! There’s some ‘karma’ for you!” And that whole concept (karma) is not only against God’s written Word, but it comes from a false religion; Hinduism.

It was completely legal for Abraham to do what he did with Hagar, the Egyptian woman. Did Abraham “Know to do good?” Maybe. Maybe not…again, it was approved by his society, and he had his wife’s approval as well!  But the direct result of his action was to produce a nation that was, and still is today, the largest group of enemies Israel has ever had! What Abraham did was not against civil law, nor even seen as “unrighteous” by his wife, or himself, or the rest of their society. But it was sin! Why? Because it was not of faith! He could have asked God, and had clear direction, but he failed to do so, and we are still reaping the consequences today!

If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…

16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

There was a poster, fifty years ago, which posed the question, “If Christianity suddenly becomes a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” We want to make certain that that accusation—being a Christian— is the only one that will stick.

Yes, false accusations will always be a possibility. And, in today’s world there exists technology by which people can make what appears to be a “real video” of someone committing a crime (or any other activity) and even their friends and family would be convinced that “that is what they saw.” Movie producers have been using this technology to produce films of people who are no longer alive, and who died before modern cinema technology existed. It is amazingly seamless and convincing. So today, they would not have to “find false witnesses” to testify against you: they can simply “make a video” of you doing something you have never done, with people you have never met, in places where you have never set foot. How’s that for deception?

And, we are told ahead of time that we are to rejoice! We are told to not be ashamed, but to glorify God because of the false accusations and the unjust punishment. If we suffer for the “crime” of believing in Jesus, and for walking in obedience to Him, that is cause for rejoicing! You can rejoice that you are identified with Him closely enough that His enemies consider you to be their enemy, as well, regardless of how well you treat them. I have only had this happen a couple of times for sure, and in those particular cases, it did not result in any “real” persecution: I was simply aware that they hated me and talked behind my back. When I finally found out that it was specifically because I was a believer, it quit bothering me: If you hate me because of Jesus; that is OK by me!

People are (usually) judged in four ways by other humans:

  1. What they do.
  2. What they say. (And whether number one and two match one another.)
  3. Who their friends are: who they are most comfortable around?
  4. Who their enemies are: who despises them, and why?

If their only reason to hate you really is because you are “friends with Jesus,” then that is a good thing, regardless of the result. If you are despised for wrongdoing, or for hypocrisy or inflammatory orungodly speech; a sharp tongue, perhaps: then that is not a good thing. But, if you are seen as “an enemy of evil, both in word and deed,” and a “friend of Good,” as well as a “friend of God, through Christ,” then, come what may, the reward will be good!

17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

The world should see the severity of God’s Holiness along with the deep Grace that He offers and imparts to those who love Him. But frequently the strongest testimony of the saints of God is their response to calamity, and their response to false accusations and unjust punishment.

18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

The World should be able to sunderstand that, if believers must experience the chastening and discipline of God, then they themselves face even worse consequences for their unbelief and sin.

Think of a gymnastic team. They have excruciatingly difficult workouts and practices, and they push themselves to do things that no “ordinary” human can do. Observers are thrilled with what they can do, but they are keenly aware that they themselves cannot do anything remotely similar.

Or, consider any of the martial arts, whether wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu or any other such discipline: Like most men, I have cherished the notion from childhood that, “Oh, I can take care of myself!” But I have watched videos of fights performed strictly for fame and prize money, and I have had to confess that “That young man could have hit me a dozen times before I could even get my guard up!” No, I cannot do what they are doing!

In both of the above cases, the participants subjected themselves to rigorous, painful and prolonged training, in order to “get that good” at what they were doing. And any honest observer can see the results of that discipline: Can the world see that in you? The result should be that, when harsh things happen in your life, and your response is good, they will be convicted by the knowledge that, “If that had happened to me, I would have been devastated!” And then, perhaps they will begin to wonder, “What makes them tick? What have they got that I haven’t got?”

Allow God to Work!

19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Therefore, we are to submit to the hand of God in all genuine tribulation, looking to Him for direction and release. The patriarch Joseph is a great example of this: He was sold by his brothers; he was enslaved to His enemies; he was lured (unsuccessfully) by an evil woman, and finally imprisoned for a crime he did not commit; but he still trusted in God, and he was eventually raised up, fully prepared for the purpose God had intended all along.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom and faith to respond in Godly fashion to the trials we may face in this world. You alone are worthy of all honor and glory, but you submitted yourself to continued abuse, at the hands of your enemies, and have been raised up by the Father, forever. Help us to follow in your footsteps.

What Should We do Now?

What Should We do Now?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:20-4:11

Introduction:

We have been studying through 1st Peter; last week I inadvertently stepped back an entire chapter, and taught on the end of chapter 2, again, where we saw that the believer is “Dead to Sin and Alive to God.” It was not intentional and I was pretty confused, as you may recall, when I discovered that I had studied the “wrong” chapter! But it turned out well, because it actually laid a good foundation for today’s message! (Today, we are in chapter three!)

How is the Genesis Flood a “picture of Baptism?”

In verses 18-20, Peter reminded us that Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit (also referred to as “the Spirit of Christ” in 1st Peter 1:11) went and preached through Noah, to the people of Noah’s day, who rebelled against the message Noah preached. And they have been in hades ever since the Flood, awaiting final judgment. But the initial judgment, which separated Noah from the World, and the World from him, was the Flood. And Peter confirms that in some way, the Flood is a picture of Baptism.

3:21, 22

21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

What Baptism?

Our automatic assumption is that the “water” of the Flood is a foreshadowing of the “water”of water baptism. This is flawed thinking, though: We have already seen that water baptism is only a “picture” of the real baptism (1st Corinthians 12:13) which is the fact of the believer being placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. We also saw (in our Wednesday night Bible Study) that anyone can receive water baptism, and, if they are an unbeliever, all they get out of it is a soaking and possibly a false sense of security, thinking that “baptism saved me!” (Possibly even because of this passage!) But only a believer receives the Baptism by the Holy Spirit, and it happens at the moment of faith, resulting in the New Birth!

Remember, now, that the Flood permanently “separated” Noah and his family from the rest of the World’s population, and “separated” all of them, not only from Noah, but from their own physical bodies. We call that particular separation “Physical death.” Sadly, they had also been unbelievers, spiritually separated from God, so they were eternally lost, and now they face eternal separation from God in the lake of fire, which is called the “Second death” in Revelation 20:14.

So, if this really is a “picture of baptism,” (and God says it is!) then we need to ask, which kind of baptism would it most closely match? Does “water baptism” separate you from the world? No, because any unbeliever can be baptized…and it has zero spiritual effect on him/her. In fact, water baptism has no “spiritual effect” at all, in terms of salvation. It does mark a “step of obedience,” in a new believer’s life. And, in some cultures, that step of obedience will permanently separate the believer from their own society, because that society recognizes baptism as a public declaration that the believer is permanently identified with Christ. And that is true, outwardly.

But in reality, if the person was not already a believer, and already permanently identified with Christ, by the “real” baptism (the Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ) then the water baptism is simply a lie…the person is publicly “declaring something to have happened” that has not happened!

So, what kind of Baptism saves us? The Real one! The moment that you believed the Gospel, placing your dependence upon the blood of Jesus for your salvation, the Holy Spirit placed you into the Body of Christ. This is the “real” baptism, and it is a permanent transaction: Jesus said (John 6:37) “…He that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out!”

So, the same separation that put Noah on the inside of the Ark and the unbelieving World on the outside, is accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit. The “door behind us” is closed, just as it was for Noah—we cannot leave. But it is still open to anyone who will enter in by faith. Unlike Noah’s day, it is not too late to be saved…yet. That door will close, someday.

For those of us who have entered in, Jesus says we have been washed and we stand before Him clean: He no longer sees us as guilty sinners. Jesus said in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you” And, in 1st Corinthians 6:11, Paul reiterated this, saying, And such were some of you: but ye are washed (you are clean!), but ye are sanctified (you are holy!, but ye are justified (you have been declared righteous!) in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (The “filth of the Flesh” has been put away, positionally: see Ephesians 4:22)

The fact is, Water Baptism cannot accomplish any of those things! So that is not what this verse is talking about. Only the Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ accomplishes all these things. And, best of all, we don’t have to seek it, we don’t have to pray for it, or wait for it, or anything else! The moment you believed, whether you knew it or not, all these things happened in your life! And, until Acts chapter 2, it hadn’t happened to anyone before; but now it happens to every single believer! (Romans 8:9 says that if you don’t have the Spirit of God living in you, you aren’t His child. It’s a good thing we don’t have to do anything to gain this blessing. This is strictly positional truth. If you are in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit living in you, whether you know it or not!) That’s Good News!

What Should We do Now?

4:1-11

1 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

We talked about this idea last week: the fact that we are dead to sin, and alive to God! Jesus took our place under the wrath of God, so that, as our representative, He literally “died in our place.” And, according to God’s Law, that means we are dead! God’s justice has been satisfied; the price has been paid. The Law no longer calls for my death, because it now sees me as having died with Christ! The argument, here (and throughout the rest of the New Testament) is that because I am dead with Him, and resurrected with Him, and since I am thereby free to “walk in the newness of life” with Him, I need to get on with it, and do just that!

For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:

Notice that he says we all originally had our roots in the World. He also says, that our background there should be enough of that—it should suffice! We have already done the things the World expected, to one degree or another. We don’t need to “go back for more.” Even now, we still live “in” the World, but God says we are no longer “of” the World. So, all the things that once were common in most people’s lives (to one degree or another) are no longer “normal behavior” for us. (Perhaps you think that you “don’t fit” in this short list. There is a much more comprehensive “list” in Romans 1:18-32, and I can guarantee you will find yourself there!)

Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.

And how does the World see us now? We are the oddballs! They see us as “strange” and they say bad things about us because of our new position. This reaction is not limited to faith in Christ: at my work there was a national certification (Certified Welding Inspector…CWI) which was available to welding inspectors, but the inspection department at work scorned it, for some reason. So every time an individual inspector chose to study and prepare, and pay over $1,000 out of their own pocket to take that exam—a very difficult test—they were rejected by the other inspectors! They were accused of thinking they were “better” than the others! They were harassed until either they left the department or left the company!

That is a pretty sad thing, but it parallels how the World feels toward Christians: they say we are “goody two-shoes,” or that we act as if we are “holier-than-thou!” (Or other accusations: Hypocrites! Phonies! Etc.)

Verse five in the King James uses an old English word, “quick,” meaning “alive.” We still use the word “quick” in this way, but only in extremely limited context. If we cut our fingernails too short, so that they are sore, or even so that they bleed, we say “I accidently cut into the quick,” meaning, “I cut into the living flesh!” Or, if we are deeply hurt by someone else’s words, we might say, “I was cut to the quick by their words!”  So, this passage says that those who falsely accuse believers will face the judgment of Him who judges “the living and the dead.” It has nothing to do with “fast reflexes,” though this verse is frequently misused to mean that, because, over the centuries, the meaning of the word has changed.

For for this cause was the gospel preached (past tense) also to them that are (present tense) dead, that they might be judged (future tense) according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

I love seeing the “changing tenses” in verses like this: it lets me see that those who were dead (at that time Peter was writing, which was present tense) had received the Gospel earlier (past tense…looking back to verses 18-20, so, I would like to say it refers to the time of Noah) and that the result is that they will be judged (future tense.) However, it also specifies that whoever this refers to will be judged according to human judgment in the flesh, but (possibly meaning if they had responded in faith) they would live according to God in the Spirit. So that is a little strange, and it cannot refer back to Noah’s day. Those people lost their opportunity and will certainly not live unto God.

Perhaps I need to look at it another way: the Gospel was preached to me while I was dead in trespasses and sins (past tense,) so that (present and future tense) though I will continue to be judged harshly by humans, I am alive to God, and can live for Him by the Spirit. I think I have to look at it this way, for all three tenses to fit. So, knowing that God the Son is the judge of the living and the dead, and that I am now, permanently, one of the living, what should I do next?

Be Serious about This!

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

Peter gives some solid commands as to how we are to respond to the knowledge of God:

  • Be Sober! Take this seriously!
  • Be in Prayer! This is a serious thing, too…not to be taken lightly. It is not “saying prayers:” it is talking to God, bringing confession, praise and thanksgiving, as well as requests for help for one another.
  • Above all, “Love one another with the Agapé love!” That covers a lot of faults!
  • Be hospitable (love of the stranger) toward one another without selfishness. The word translated “hospitality,” oddly enough, is “philoxenoi:” the “love of the stranger.” This rules out the attitude of, “I don’t know them well enough to want them in my home.” I am bound to extend hospitality to every believer, as a bare minimum: serving to meet the needs of the brethren.

10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter closes this passage by stating that whatever my gift (or yours) is, it is to be used to serve (that is what “minister” means) in order to bless the assembly. If it is a speaking gift, I need to recognize that I am acting as a “mouthpiece for God,” and be very careful what I say, and how I present it. If I serve in any capacity, I must serve as God has gifted me to serve, always recognizing that I am serving Him, not just people.

The Result?

The result should be that whatever my gifts may be, my exercising of those gifts should bring glory to God through Jesus, not “glory to me through pride.” (That can happen so easily!) I remind myself regularly that the flock belongs to God: whatever I do toward the flock, I do as a service to Him. It is not for personal self-aggrandizement, or to seek honor, or even “desiring the limelight,” so to speak…wanting to attract attention. (The Holy Spirit does not attract attention to Himself. He works to glorify Jesus!)

I would just as soon “take a back seat” entirely, and at times in the past, I have attempted to do just that: to maintain that deliberate “low-profile.” But God has always ended up putting me back to the task of teaching believers to understand His Word. So I no longer resist it…I just throw myself on His Mercy, and confess that only He can truly feed His Flock.

I don’t know how else to proceed. Each of us shares this responsibility before God. All we can do is to seek to please Him daily, and look for His leading in service.

Lord Jesus, we hardly know how to stand before you: we often feel that we don’t know what we should do. Please guide us into all truth, and teach us to walk with you in faithfulness.