How Should We View the Bible?

How Should We View the Bible?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:16-2:3

Introduction:

Over a month ago, we began to study through the second epistle of Peter, but were diverted by easter and some other needful things. Peter had spoken of the gifts of God and the goals he sets before us in the first 15 verses. so we are now returning, beginning at chapter 1, verse 16.

Revelation is not of Human Origin

16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

First, Peter reminds the readers that there were no “fables” involved in the Gospel; every single point of the gospels had multiple witnesses, and not always the same few “yes-men.” Jesus had enemies, and they confirmed the miracles. (John 12:9-11) Peter then points out that he, James, and John were eyewitnesses of the Majesty of the revealed Christ on the “Mount of Transfiguration:” they saw His glory personally, and up close, and heard the voice of God the Father, calling them to hear Jesus, the only begotten Son. That is pretty amazing stuff!

But what does Peter do with that vision? Does he say, “I was one of the few chosen to see Jesus in His Glory, so you need to pay close attention to what I say!”? Nope: his next sentence (verse 19) is to point out that the Word of Prophecy (God’s Written Word) is more sure. It is more reliable than any special vision Peter had… more reliable than his experience.

Unreliable Sources

A fellow pastor once told me of a woman with whom he had attempted to share the Lord. She did nothing but argue, and when he attempted to show what the Bible had to say, she blurted, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” That is precisely the opposite of what Peter is teaching us. We are to trust God’s written Word above all experience, even if it seems to be supernatural experience. It is interesting to me that the false prophets who were contemporaries of Jeremiah all had visions and dreams, etc. and God says that they “caused the dreams themselves.” (Jeremiah 29:8)

How did they cause them? I have no idea: perhaps simply by their own desires, since they all desperately wanted Nebuchadnezzar to go away. Possibly it was caused through hallucinogens of some sort. (The Oracle at Delphi was apparently under the influence of volcanic gases inhaled from a crack in the ground under the shrine to Apollos. The Mescalero “seers” in the American southwest used Peyote cactus buds to enter a drug-induced state from which to give prophecies or spirit-messages of some sort. Drug-use to attempt spiritual enlightenment is common all around the world. But so is simple self-deception. Jeremiah 17:9.)

How Should We View The Bible?

What does Peter say about how we should see the Written Word of God?

19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

He says that we are to pay attention to it! “Take Heed!” Notice also the time-clause in verse 19: How long are we to “take heed” to the written word? “Until the day dawn and the daystar arise in your hearts!” (This is in reference to the Return of Christ!) God’s written Word is to be our central, primary, and, essentially our only reliable source for truth until Jesus comes back!

And how are we to give heed to it? “As unto a light that shineth in a dark place!” Think about this one: When you need to venture into a dark place (perhaps because the power is out) and you take a flashlight with you, where do you look? You always turn your eyes toward the place you have turned the light! You allow that light, however feeble, to guide your steps. Why? Because the character of light is to dispel darkness. And we can only see what is revealed by reflected light. So, how should we use God’s written Word? Treat it as if it were your only source of light in an otherwise dark world. Use it to make your path visible, and your footing secure.


Many Writers, but One Author

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.


And here is the reason we should feel that way, and respond in that way: it is because, though humans were used by God to transmit His Word, they were no more the “authors” than the “bullhorn” is the authority when police speak to a crowd. Anyone can get a bullhorn; Anyone can hire a scribe to write down words. The Author is the key ingredient in this mix: Peter said that the scriptures are not something subject to private interpretation: They are God’s Word! The Prophecies did not come as a result of human will, but the Holy Spirit, starting out with a godly, submitted individual, moved those men (and sometimes women) to speak his Word. The result is really quite amazing, in my opinion:

Internal Agreement

Here are 66 separate documents (some, like the Psalms and the Proverbs, a compilation by more than one writer) written over a period of about 1,600 years, through approximately 40 different writers…or a few more. And they agree remarkably well, when one considers that in all but a very few cases, the different writers didn’t even know one another, and had utterly different backgrounds. In fact, as one who studies the Bible pretty consistently, I am constantly thrilled with just how completely it agrees with itself.

I have read books in which, though there was only the one (fairly famous) author, a careful reader will find mistakes and contradictions. But when people protest to me that “Oh, you know, the Bible is full of contradictions,” I reply, “Really? Name one!” (I can name a few—very few–and in nearly every case, the error can easily be determined to be a copyist error or translation error. And there are very few even at that level. And we are talking about a change in the age of an individual at a certain time, or the number of soldiers at a given place… not in any way related to doctrine.) But, almost without exception, those individuals don’t know a single one. It is just something they have learned to say, in an attempt to deny, or minimize Biblical Authority.

Over the last 45 years, I have become increasingly convinced that the Bible truly is the Word of God, and as such, it is the only reliable light in our sin-darkened world. The longer I study it, the better satisfied I am that this is the truth.

Other Clues

Let me give you some other examples of the things that have convinced me of its authority:

  • A rather “odd” one is simply the fact that God doesn’t “sugar-coat” or “whitewash” anything. He doesn’t claim that all his people, or all his servants or prophets or whatever, are just “wonderful people.” They aren’t, and He tells you about their failures. God does not allow the failures of His servants to affect the long-range outcome of His purpose. He is never “surprised” by human failure. But, He also doesn’t ignore it. The Bible is unique in that it does not “put people on pedestals.”
  • There were many prophecies within the scriptures which, if they were really true, and really from God, had to be fulfilled immediately or not at all. And they were not only fulfilled immediately, but to the letter, often in the presence of many hostile witnesses. (Example: 2nd Kings 7:17-20) Read it!
  • God uses the foolish schemings of man to achieve His ends, but He does not depend upon them. He is omnipotent, and will accomplish His directive will with or without our cooperation. We see many schemes where people tried to outsmart God. And it turned out to accomplish exactly what He said would happen. (e.g., Joseph the patriarch.)
  • The points at which the Bible touches secular history, where it could logically be expected to be confirmed (or disproved) by archeological evidence, are consistently confirmed by the very people who thought they were about to “disprove the Bible.”
  • The points at which the Bible touches upon science turn out to be entirely correct, as well.
    • The Bible has taught the fact of a primordial mega-continent from the beginning: but it wasn’t “proven” by science until the latter part of the 20th century.
    • God mentioned the “paths of the sea,” (Psalm 8:8) centuries before the ocean currents were known to exist, let alone be mapped out.
    • God said the world was “suspended upon nothing” (Job 26:7) centuries before science knew it.

Peter’s Conclusion

So, on the basis of what he shares in chapter one, Peter is preparing to lay out some key things for his readers to remember, in the remaining two chapters. But he prefaces it with the fundamental truth that the Written Word of God, the Bible, is our only dependable source of light in this dark world. And we have already seen that our job is to “hold forth the Word of Truth” and to reflect that light: we are to “shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15, 16)

The whole structure of the Christian life is founded upon the truth of God’s Word. In Paul’s instruction regarding the armor of the Christian warrior (Ephesians 6:14,) the truth of God’s Word is likened unto the belt that held up all the rest of a Roman soldier’s armor. We are to “stand, therefore, having our loins girt about with truth.”

So what happens if we don’t? What happens if we choose to be lackadaisical about Bible Study?

There will be False Teachers

Chapter Two

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

Notice that the false prophets evidently knew that what they were proclaiming was not from God, even though they claimed to be His messengers. The false teachers, in similar manner, knowingly turn people away from the Cross, and replace God’s sacrifice with something else.

This has been the pattern since the beginning. Cain rejected God’s plan, thinking he could bring his own ideas, and his own worship offering. Remember, though, that to bring something other than the offering that God demanded is to set Him aside in favor of one’s own ideas.

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

This is future tense, showing that God knew from the beginning what would happen: false teachers frequently gain a following. Why is this so? It is because the heart of Man already has a tendency to turn away from God’s light and choose darkness (Jesus said so! John 3:19.) So, when someone comes out with a message that “sounds reasonable,” and also satisfies our natural desire to avoid dealing with the reality of God, then our deceitful hearts gladly receive it.

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

Evil Motives

What could be their motive? Why would someone do such a thing? In some cases, it is simply that people desire the honor of “having a following,” (Acts 20:30) even if it just means being able to say, “I have more Facebook friends than you do!” Some people just desire an audience. They don’t want to teach because of a commitment to feeding the flock, but rather because they seek social approval, or public acclaim, and personal validation.

Another motive, sadly, can be money. Verse 3 states that their motive is covetousness. I first assumed that the Greek root was “philargurion,” which literally means “the love of silver.” But this is actually a different, much broader word, “pleonexia,” which simply means “greediness,” not just a desire for money. In other words, there is something they are seeking to gain for themselves. Perhaps it is fame; some people crave power…who knows?

There are different degrees of this sin, and it is not limited to unbelievers, I have known pastors who I am convinced were genuine believers, who still saw their ministry as “a job,” and were always seeking a larger, wealthier church to serve. To me, that is very sad, as it surely calls into question one’s motives. They actually told me that they considered the small church in which they were currently serving to be a “stepping-stone” to better things. But, when I questioned them about their faith, it was clear that they saw Jesus as God in the flesh, and as their only hope for salvation. I do not think they qualified as a “false teacher,” though their motives certainly seemed to be flawed. This is the error of Balaam…marketing their giftedness for financial gain.

But, at the end of this chapter, we will see that the false prophets and false teachers mentioned here are not born-again believers. Their relationship with the Lord was built upon “knowledge,” to some degree, but evidently not saving faith…there was no transformation begun in their lives.

Are there cases today, where the motive clearly is money and they deny the Lord? Certainly! There are modern cults that were begun specifically as a hedge against taxation. The founder of one such cult was a relatively successful fiction writer, and quite cheerfully wrote the books framing his new “church,” knowing it was all a lie, and that it was only geared to make and keep money. But I am told it is now one of the fastest growing cults in the United States, including many rich, famous actors…which somehow seems fitting.

How to Spot a Cult

But one thing that all the cults have in common is that they either flatly deny the Deity of Christ, or they modify it in some way, to deny His authority and Honor, as God in the flesh.

Those who clearly teach any of the following:

  • that Jesus is not God, or
  • that Jesus is not the only savior, or
  • that His blood does not suffice to take away the guilt of those who trust in Him, or
  • that the Bible is not the Word of God, (and thus is not authoritative,)

are clearly crossing the line into “false teaching.”

If a believer has been deceived and teaches false doctrine, believing it is correct, does that make him or her a false teacher? Not the kind mentioned here. Believers do make errors and can teach those errors to others. That is not the focus in this passage but we can still take warning from the verses, as we hope to avoid being like those who deliberately detract from Jesus.

Being mistaken about the intent or meaning of some particular passage is not necessarily “false teaching,” but we are warned to study to show ourselves “approved unto God, workmen who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  So we study and we pray and we earnestly attempt to gain clear understanding of God’s Word, and to teach it accordingly.

We teach the Bible as being  literally the Word of God. We believe in the literal facts of the Gospel, that Jesus was literally God in the Flesh, that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. We teach that Jesus is literally the Judge of all the earth, and the Master to whom we owe obedience and worship. We teach that His promises regarding our future are literally true and will be literally fulfilled.

Are there passages in scripture that are less literal: perhaps more symbolic or metaphorical in nature? Surely there are, but they are also easily identifiable as such. Perhaps it begins with “Jesus spoke a parable and said…” In fact, to certain groups of people, He only spoke in parables! And, in certain prophecies of future events, the characters, instead of being named, are only described, often in highly symbolic verbiage. But as a rule: we take the Bible to be meant literally, and to be understood literally, unless there is a specific clue to let us know that in this case, there is a metaphor, a simile, a parable, a symbol, or the like.

Look to God’s Word as the only Light in this dark world. It is completely trustworthy and authoritative. Study it, to clearly understand how to apply it in your life. Feed on it to become strong in your faith, and to be nourished and encouraged by the Lord, in Person. Remember that Jesus himself is identified as being the Living Word of God. As you draw near to the Written Word, be conscious that you are drawing near to Him, and can hear Him speaking.

We will continue to feed the flock here, on the written Word, and seek to obey the Living Word.

Lord Jesus, fill us with a sense of your eternal purpose and allow us to fulfil your heart’s desire and complete the work you have assigned your people. Raise us up as faithful Men and Women of God.

Why Did the Angel Roll Away the Stone?

Why Roll Away the Stone at all?


Matthew 12:40

© C. O. Bishop 2011 revised 2021

Introduction: The Simple Questions

We never really ask ourselves the simple questions. We want to know the answer to the “Big Ones”. We want to understand the Holy Trinity, the Doctrine of Election, the balance between the Sovereignty of God and the Free Will of Man. We want to know why God allowed sin to happen at all. We question the Character of God, and ask how a good God could allow such evil in the world.

But, what about asking some of the simple questions? What about questions such as, “Why did David select exactly five stones from the brook, when he went to confront Goliath?” How about a question such as, “Why were two angels sent to overthrow Sodom and Gomorrah, when one surely could have handled the job?

How about questions such as; “Why did God tell Noah to coat both the outside and the inside of the Ark with pitch (or tar, as the case may be)?”

Those sorts of questions have answers in the Scripture, or sometimes in scriptural reasoning, even if the answer is not clearly spelled out.

Answers in Scripture:

When we read in 2nd Samuel 21:18-22 that Goliath had four brothers (or possibly sons; the meaning is not clear), then we get a clue as to why David took five stones. We see that it was not cockiness that sent him to fight Goliath, but faith; and he was prepared to fight all five of the giants—with one rock each. If that is really the reason, that’s real faith, in my mind. And it must be the reason, or God could have simply said that David selected a bagful of stones, or “several stones”, or something similar. But He didn’t. He told us that David selected five smooth stones from the brook. And later, He let us know that Goliath had four giant brothers who were later killed by either David or his men. God lets us see the “inside story,” to strengthen our faith.

When we read Genesis chapter 19, we see that Lot and his family had to be led out of Sodom by their hands. Two angels; four hands, four people: God knew what He was going to do, and exactly what it would take to save Lot and his family. One angel (or none) could easily have destroyed the city. God did not need to send anyone at all for that purpose; but he sent the two angels to get Lot and his messed-up family out so he could then destroy the place. Grace was why he sent two angels. And he let us know about it, to give us cause for faith.

When we read a narrative as seemingly-simple as the instructions Noah was given in Genesis 6:13-16, by which to build the Ark, it is easy to “brush over” details such as the fact that the pitch, or tar, was to coat all of the outside, and all of the inside of the hull. But, we can see, as we read the whole passage again, that there seem to be distinct parallels between Noah’s Ark and the Messiah:

  1. The Ark was built according to definite directions from God.
    1. Jesus came in fulfillment of hundreds of very specific prophecies that had to all be literally fulfilled, in one person.
  2. The Ark was made of a common, but very specific wood.
    1. Jesus came of ordinary human lineage, on his human side, but from a specific genealogy—Joseph had to be his stepfather, to establish his right to the throne, but couldn’t be his father, as that lineage also included a curse. Mary’s lineage is where he traces his bloodline to David. The virgin birth fulfills prophecy too.
  3. The Ark was sufficient to save all who were in it, animal and human.
    1. Jesus’ blood paid for the sins of the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike, and whether or not they would actually respond in faith.
  4. The Ark had only one door—one way in…and God closed that door.
    1. Jesus is the only way to God, and the one way to approach Him is by faith…those who come to him can never be lost—God closes them in.
  5. The Ark had no rudder, sails or oars…it went where God sent it. And Noah went with it.
    1. Jesus went where God sent Him, and all in Him go where He goes. We have no say in the matter.
  6. The Ark had only one window, and it did not allow Noah to see the wreckage of the world as it died around him—he could only look upward.
    1. Jesus does not allow us to see the process of His judgment on the earth—we can see the results, but our only clear view is of Him…by faith.
  7. The Ark was tarred outside with what the King James Bible called “pitch”, but what contemporary scholars claim to be tar—which is likely correct—there were many tar-pits in the area. Either way, the substance rendered the Ark waterproof: immune to the judgment that fell on the earth…it fell on the Ark as well, but the Ark rose above the judgment.
    1. Jesus bore the judgment of God at the Cross. But His righteousness made him immune to death in the final analysis. He rose above the judgment, in the Resurrection. (Ah! That’s what we are here about, isn’t it!?)

So, what about the tar on the inside?

  • The Ark was coated with tar on the inside, making it immune to the corruption within. What corruption, you ask? Well, there were thousands of animals in that ark, and eight people, for over a year, with no convenient way to “clean it all out,” if you catch my meaning. That might be enough to compromise the integrity of the hull, I would think—except for the fact that the tar kept the filth from coming into contact with the wood. The microorganisms could not begin to attack the Ark.
    • Jesus is immune to the “corruption within”, as well. His work of salvation is complete: our sins were completely paid for (past present and future), and the sins we still commit, as saved sinners, are no threat to His plan of salvation. Our sins cannot compromise the integrity of God’s salvation.

And God let us see the security of our position in Him—“in the Ark,” as it were— in “picture form,” long before he stated it explicitly in the New Testament. God wants us to know about His Grace, and He wants us to clearly see that our approach to Him is by faith, and our walk with Him is by faith. He spells all these things out in the New Testament, but they were there in the Old Testament as well.

So… What about that stone?

Consider the following: Jesus had clearly stated that he would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:40) We know that the women went before daylight, the first day of the week, to add more spices to the embalming that had been begun by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea. Working backward from that time, we can see that the crucifixion must actually have been on Wednesday. Traditionally it was posed as having been on Friday, because we also are told that the next day was a Sabbath…but the Passover was the next day, and regardless of what day of the week the Passover came, it, too, was a Sabbath. (Not all Sabbaths were on Saturdays.)

If the crucifixion was around 3 PM on Wednesday, then Thursday, Friday and Saturday were the three days, while Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night comprised the three nights. By Saturday evening, then, the prophecy was complete! Jesus could have left the tomb any time after sundown, Saturday.

So why would you suppose the angel would have waited so long to roll the stone away? Did Jesus have to wait there in that cold, dark tomb for the angel to “let him out?” No! He did not need to be “let” out. Remember that, after his resurrection, he entered a locked room to show himself to the disciples—He just appeared in their midst, with the door still closed! The stone could not have held him in.

There were also sixteen Roman guards outside that sealed tomb…did Jesus “need help” dealing with them? No! Even before the resurrection, at Gethsemane, he had flattened two hundred Roman soldiers by simply speaking; saying “I am He!

So why did God send the angel? Why roll the stone away at all? Why couldn’t Jesus simply appear in that upper room, and let ‘em all see him? Isn’t that proof enough of the resurrection?

The answer is “NO!” The empty tomb was necessary as well. The fact that the women and the disciples saw the empty tomb before they saw the risen Lord dispelled any idea of a fake—a counterfeit—an impostor. That empty tomb was the confirmation that something had happened; the Lord’s body was gone, and, specifically, having left the winding cloths undisturbed—an empty shell; and the face-covering folded neatly and laid aside. No grave-robber could have accomplished the evidence left behind. Also, because of the angel, the Roman soldiers fled, leaving the disciples free access to examine all that evidence, in the empty tomb.

Some of the disciples believed immediately; some doubted. Some did not know what to think, and all were very confused. Jesus met with each of them, singly or in groups, as needed, to confirm their faith, and let them know that He had truly risen. He appeared to over five hundred at one time; to the eleven at another time; to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; and to Peter alone…and later still, as we know, to Saul of Tarsus who would become the Apostle Paul.

But why is it so specifically recorded that an angel appeared, and rolled the stone away? Why could the disciples not have rolled it away, once the soldiers were gone? The Governor’s seal was on that tomb—anyone breaking that seal would have been risking their life to do so. But the seal and the guard was only for three days, according to Matthew 27:64.  Evidently the women were hoping that they would be allowed to complete the embalming, since the three days were over, but they still were wondering as they walked in the darkness, “Who will roll away the stone?” (Mark 16:3)

Well, as it turned out, the guards were still there when the women approached. They probably would not have cooperated at all, but God had other plans. Matthew 28:2 says an Angel of the Lord came, shining like lightning, and rolled away the stone and sat on it. The guards were so afraid they passed out. The women were evidently not so affected, and the angel spoke directly to them saying, “…see for yourself—He is not here—he is risen! Come and see where He lay!” And the same invitation is given to us, today.

We do not get to go and see the physical tomb, necessarily, though it is claimed that the specific place is known. Nearly two millennia have passed, and it seems unlikely to me that the tomb has remained empty, since it was only borrowed in the first place, and since the land has been in the hands of unbelievers for most of those long centuries. In any case, the invitation to us is to examine the textual evidence, and the historic evidence.

The stone was rolled away so that we could know that Jesus lives…that he is not a ghost, or an apparition of some sort…he was physically, bodily resurrected, and He lives today. The Roman soldiers were paid to claim that the Lord’s body was stolen by the disciples while the whole guard slept. This was a ridiculous lie, as the penalty for sleeping on guard duty was death…the chances of the entire watch nodding off and staying asleep while a huge stone was noisily rolled back from the mouth of a hewn-rock cave are exactly zero. The soldiers knew the risk of such a lie, but with the assurance that the priests would keep them from being punished, they accepted the pay and spread the lie.

The disciples themselves were initially reluctant to believe the resurrection, because it just seemed “too good to be true…” and they were not stupid. But Jesus rebuked them for their failure to believe, as He had told them in advance that this was what was going to happen, so they should have grasped the fulfilled promise immediately, rather than doubting.

What About Us?

We can see the whole story—the prophecies, the actual crucifixion, the burial, and the aftermath of the resurrection. No one was “in the tomb” watching to see the Lord’s resurrection. All they saw was the aftermath as well. We can read and see that Jesus met with the disciples, showed him his hands and feet and side, and they touched him, confirming that he was the “real McCoy”, as they say. We can read of the empty tomb. But the reason the angel rolled the stone away was for us to see, through the eyes of those disciples, that the tomb was truly empty.

The resurrection is one of the best supported facts of human history. The prophecies giving rise to the expectation, the witnesses present at the time, and the total change in the behavior of the disciples should all be enough to show the truth of that event. The disciples were changed from grieving, cowering, defeated men, hiding for fear that they would be the next to die, to being bold evangelists who cheerfully died for the truth of the good news they shared. Something transformed them!

The enemies of Jesus could have stopped the spiritual “avalanche of joy” that was about to happen: All they had to do was to produce the body! But they couldn’t do that—because he was no longer dead—he had risen! The disciples had been completely cowed, before, and were in hiding. They did not even consider stealing the body. Had they really wanted to, they could have done so before it was buried, while Nicodemus and Joseph were preparing it for burial. But they didn’t. And, after it was sealed in a stone tomb, with a huge stone rolled over the door, and soldiers guarding it, they had no further opportunity.

And the simple fact was: they never had a motive. How would it benefit them to have a dead Messiah? They had no hope of conquest, nor did they make any such attempt after he had risen. There was no profit for any of them, beyond the joy of knowing and serving their risen Lord. All of them (with the possible exception of John) died as martyrs, early or late. All died in relative obscurity and poverty. There was no motive for a lie.

The bodily, physical, literal, visible resurrection of the Messiah is as important as His crucifixion—because without that resurrection, the crucifixion would have been just another tragic murder in history. Instead, the death and burial and resurrection of Christ are the heart of the Gospel. (1st Corinthians 15:3, 4)

The Good News of the Easter story is the message we are to take to the world. It is that message which, being believed in, is the only power of God to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) That message is the only light in this dark world. I pray that all of our hearts may catch fire from that light, and burn as a witness to those around us.

The Angel rolled the stone away for a reason! Let’s make that reason known!

Lord Jesus, we rejoice with the disciples that you are truly Risen! We ask that you would transform our lives as you transformed theirs, so that we, too, may serve as your witnesses in this dark world. Remold us into your image and fill us with the desire to serve You.

Why aren’t we catching any fish?

Why aren’t we catching any fish?

(An Evangelical Allegory)

© 2004 C. O. Bishop, revised 2020

1st Timothy 3:15; 1st Corinthians 2:2; John 12:32; etc.

Introduction

When a person goes fishing, usually it is because they hope to catch fish. I have heard of folks who went fishing not desiring to make a catch, because they simply wanted some peace and quiet. But those are not the ones to whom this message is directed.

When an individual who fishes fairly frequently does not at least occasionally catch at least a few fish, they often say that they “have bad luck.” But this may not be the case at all!

There are seven very good reasons why an individual may be “having no luck”.

       1. Wrong Bait

       2. Tainted Bait (Right Bait, Wrong Smell)

       3. Bad Technique (Right Bait, Wrongly Presented)

       4. Bad Timing (Right Bait, Wrong Time)

       5. Wrong Location (Right Bait, Wrong Place–No Fish)

       6. No Experience (Any Combination of Above Reasons)

       7. No Teacher or Guide

Let’s discuss the possibilities:

  • Wrong Bait: Fish usually don’t eat tomatoes. Or chocolate bars. So we don’t bait hooks with them. On the other hand, some fish are terribly hungry, and will eat anything thrown into the water. (Those kinds of fish usually find themselves in trouble very soon.) But you do need the right bait, as a rule, so it pays to learn what it is.
  • Tainted Bait: Fish frequently like worms, but not when they are coated with mosquito repellent. Or gasoline. That’s why it’s important to have clean hands, or at least that your hands be coated only with the bait itself, when baiting your hook.
  • Bad Technique: Fish may like worms, salmon eggs, marshmallows, corn, or many other baits, but they unanimously turn away from anything tied to a large weight, and thrown carelessly into their midst. It frightens them, and they leave the area, or simply stay away from the offending fisherman.
  • Bad Timing: Fish eat at a variety of times, but there are certain times when they almost never eat. Bait presented ever so skillfully will be ignored if it is presented at the wrong time, or under the wrong circumstances.
  • Wrong Location: Fish don’t eat bait they can’t get to. If one fishes in a pool behind a gravel bar, formed by water seeping through the stones, one cannot hope for success. There cannot possibly be any fish in that pool. On the other hand, if you make a perfect cast into a pot of coffee being shared by other fisherman, the very best you can hope for is an empty hook!
  • No Experience: As you gain experience, and learn from your own mistakes and those of others, you hope to eventually avoid all the reasons why you would not catch fish, and begin to see success. One of the sure signs of inexperience is a lack of preparation: not having done your homework results in mistakes that could have been avoided.

    Inexperience will produce a hodge-podge of mistakes, any of which could render the fishing trip fruitless. But don’t give up hope! There are usually some fish hungry enough to overlook minor errors, and give you the early successes, encouraging you to press on and hone your skills for bigger and better catches!
  • No Teacher or Guide: The fastest way to learn, and the most effective way to fish, is to have an experienced Teacher and Guide along to help you, to prevent the errors, and bring good results on the first attempts.

Equipment?

We haven’t discussed this aspect of fishing because that this is where the allegory breaks down. In fishing for fish it is often necessary to have specific equipment, to have any hope for success. But this message is really about fishing for people! And the Christian who hears the Lord’s command to fish for men already has all the equipment needed (God’s Word), and only needs to learn to use it.

So What’s The Application?

  • Let’s start with the “Bait:” What is the “bait” we are continually to proffer to the world? Please read 1st Corinthians 2:2. (“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.”)

    This was the Apostle Paul writing. He said, effectively, “This is the only bait needed.” Every believer has this “bait” available without limit. “Fish” can and may “bite” on a variety of things (witness the myriads of cults), but the only message that can save, and change a life for eternity is the simple message of the Gospel, “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”. Any other “bait” will eventually condemn the person who swallows it.
    This is why God so strongly condemns those who preach a false Gospel. (Galatians 1:6-9) Jesus Himself said (John 12:32), “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” Jesus himself, crucified, is the “bait,” if you want to call Him that. He says that He is the One drawing all sinners to Himself. So—if He is to be what we hold out to others, we need to bear in mind why they might find Him attractive: Only people who see themselves as sinners see a need for a Savior. So, if we ignore the “bad news” of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus died for our sins–then there is no “felt need” for a Savior! You see, the “Bad News” of our sin is a necessary part of the Good News of Salvation from the eternal consequences of Sin! The Gospel must include that bad news!
  • Now we should talk about “Tainted bait”, or “the right bait, but the wrong smell.”  You can preach the gospel, and be “doctrinally correct,” but fail in your efforts simply because of an impure, careless lifestyle.

    Look at 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. “Now thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour (smell) of His Knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other, the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”  

    Our lives are supposed to “smell like” Christ Himself. To everyone! To unbelievers, His righteous deeds in us reek of judgment. And so they should. But not judgment from us, or by us. They are simply to be convicted by our way of life, as well as the words spoken in Christ. But, to those who choose to believe the message, our lives are to be a fragrance of Christ: a constant reminder of the victory now present in their lives. A new believer needs the constant encouragement offered by the pure, cheerful, loving, committed lives of older believers. We are to smell like the sweet newness of the resurrected life in Christ.
  • There is then the matter of “Bad technique”, or, “the right bait, but wrongly presented.”
    Each of us have heard someone say something that was actually true, but said in such an offensive spirit, or manner, that the truth of the words is lost upon the hearer.

    Take a look at James 3:18: “And the Fruit of Righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” Also, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

    Now, notice it doesn’t say, “They shall become the children of God,” or “only peacemakers can possibly be the children of God,” but rather they shall be “called the children of God”. By whom? By God? No: He recognizes His children even when they miserably fail the “peacemaker test”. But people, the people we are to reach, will only recognize God’s children when we act like God’s children, offering the Gospel in the Spirit of Peace.

    Remember this verse? John 13:34, 35. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Maybe we need to work on this one, too: how we get along with other believers definitely affects the message!)
  • How about “Bad timing”? (The right Bait, offered at the wrong time.) Is it possible to present the Gospel at the wrong time? Yes, it really is!

    Let’s look at Acts 28:1-10 (Read it in your Bible, and get the whole context.)

    Paul and his entourage (of prisoners and soldiers) had shipwrecked on an island (Malta), during a terrible storm. All had escaped with their lives, but all were soaked, weak from hunger (having fasted for two weeks just prior to this episode), and cold. The natives of the island treated them very kindly, and started a big fire, to warm them all up (A big fire—there were 276 people who came out of that wreck!) So this would be the ideal time for Paul to preach the Gospel, right? Wrong! Paul got to work and helped gather firewood. He was just as wet, cold, hungry and tired as all the other prisoners, but service came first.

    And then, as if to reward him for his faithfulness, a viper came out of the bundle of wood he had gathered, and bit him on the hand. That really got everyone’s attention. They thought, “Aha! This guy must be really bad! He got out of the sea alive, but justice is being served anyway!” But Paul shook the venomous creature off into the fire, and suffered no harm. Then the people, after waiting for some time for Paul to swell up, or drop dead, decided that he must be some sort of god: a deity visiting the island! So, they are really focused on Paul!

    As a result, the chief of the people wanted Paul to stay at his house. And when Paul got there, he found that the chief’s father was deathly sick. Paul prayed for the man, and he was healed. Then lots of people wanted to be healed!

    Do you think Paul may have had their attention now? You bet he did! The scripture doesn’t say when or even if Paul preached the Gospel on this island, but from what we know of Paul, it seems likely that during their three-month stay on Malta, the Gospel was thoroughly preached. And the response must have been favorable: it says the people honored them greatly, and loaded them with everything necessary to continue their journey when they left.

    Be conscious of timing. You can’t take time that is supposed to be used for work you were hired to do, and profitably preach the Gospel. Nor can you hope to catch a sports-enthusiast’s interest while he’s watching a football game, or something like that. There is such a thing as bad timing!

    On the other hand, developing a sense of good timing depends upon always being ready, and constantly looking for the opportunity. Remember 1 Pet 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
  • Now there’s the matter of “Wrong location.” You can’t catch fish where there are no fish. Nor can you see souls saved where there are no unbelievers. If you only share with believers, you are fishing for those who should be fishermen!  (Romans 15:20Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.”)

    Also, if the person with whom you are attempting to share the Lord steadfastly refuses to hear, don’t continue to waste your time and theirs! Look at Acts 28:28—Paul said to the hard-hearted Jews, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it:” Paul knew when to stop talking and move on. (Also in Acts 13:50-52, Paul did the same thing.)
  • Then, there is “No experience.” This one is a little tricky, since all believers have the “experience” of Salvation by Faith, and therefore are equipped to share it with others. But there is room for improvement, and as you examine your bait, cleanliness, technique, timing, and location, you will see experience beginning to pay off. Also, when it comes to preparation, your preparation is in the Word, in Prayer, and in a track-record of Faithfulness.

    Ephesians 6:15 “…having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace;”

    2nd Timothy 2:15Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    1st Timothy 2:1, 3, 4  “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;…For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

    Will you make mistakes? Very probably. But the biggest mistake you can make is to not try. If you are not moving, God cannot guide you.
  • Finally, our Teacher and Guide is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus said “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5), and He meant exactly that.  Without the Teacher and Guide, your efforts will bear no permanent fruit. This is why we are exhorted to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)

What can we conclude, then?

A good “fisherman,” then, needs to be well-informed, so as to present the right bait (Jesus!) He/she must be clean, so as to present an untainted bait. He/she must be wise, so as to present that clean, correct bait in an acceptable manner.

Patience, and the guidance of the Master Fisherman are necessary, in order to choose the correct time, and yet not miss vital opportunities. We need wisdom and sensitivity to the direction of the Lord so that, when it’s time to change locations, to move on, to find deeper, richer fishing grounds, we know it, and we can respond promptly. Jim and Judy Burdett, missionaries we have supported for many years, had to do exactly this. They packed up and moved to a different village. The result was that, besides their planting a church in the new village, the genuine (but persistently carnal) believers they left behind, got serious about their walk: they straightened up, repented of their sin, and became a profitable church, too! There are solid, teaching elders and soul-winners, in both places, now!

Finally, persistence and perseverance are needed so that experience will result in our becoming successful, joyously productive “Fishers of Men,” as Jesus promised! But, the single most important factor is your Guide. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct and teach you, and it will be He who does the “fishing.” Then there needn’t be so many stories about the “big one that got away.”

I feel like just saying, “Good fishing!” now, but there’s something else to think about, too, here:

We are here to take communion together this morning. Communion is also a testimony; a remembrance together, declaring the facts of the Gospel; agreeing together upon the Person of the Gospel, as the one message we are offering to the World. If unbelievers are here, that is what they should be seeing; not some sort of “mysterious ritual.” We celebrate our Unity in the Person of Christ, our Security in His promises, and our Position in Him as His redeemed people. And, as His Ambassadors, we offer that hope to everyone around us.

Lord Jesus, center our thinking upon Yourself! Help us to take seriously our job as “ambassadors of Christ,” “holding forth the Word of Truth,” and “shining as lights” in a dark world. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps and behave as You would behave.

How should we Live (Part 3)

How should we Live (Part 3)

© C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:5-7; Ephesians 5:18-33

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the first epistle of Peter, and have arrived in a place where the specific topic seems to be “how husbands and wives are to relate.” But the broader context was “How are we to live, as believers?” and we see this admonition to husbands and wives as a continuation of that topic. So, in keeping with that idea, we took a side-excursion to talk about the whole spectrum of marriage relations. That will include Ephesians 5:21-33, and other such passages, so we are going there today.

Remember as we study, that the “mirror” of God’s Word is for you to see YOU: apply these truths to your own life, not that of your spouse or someone else.

Ephesians 5:21-33

21   Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

This passage is a continuation of verse 18—people who are “filled with the Spirit” as commanded in verse 18 (meaning “under the influence of” the Holy Spirit) are characterizedby the things we see in verses 19-21 They rejoice, they give thanks, they worship, they fellowship with the brethren, AND they submit themselves to God and to one another. Submission to God and to one another is the “introduction to the rest of the chapter.” Then he spells out an underlying “hierarchy:”

A hierarchy and pattern for Submission

Now—as we continue into verses 22 and following, you will notice there is a continuing pattern of submission. Many people don’t like these verses. You have to determine how you are going to respond to God’s Word. It is all God’s Word, and whether we like it or not, it is there, and we have to deal with it. We will be held accountable to it. Some things are more comfortable than others. But if you are going to choose to be “under the influence of the Holy Spirit,” as the command in verse 18 is given, then you must remember that it is part of this same context. People who are Filled with the Spirit, or “under the influence of” the Holy Spirit, act like this! Please don’t brush it off as “not applying to you.” It does apply to you.

But, read the whole context—from Ephesians 5:18-6:9, and then see how it all ties together. Yes, it means what it says, but remember there is no individual who is not called to a life of submission to God, and no person who has no responsibility to another human, somewhere.22   Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.23   For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.24   Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

I underlined some words and phrases in this passage:

  • Own husbands” you are not told to be subject to any other man, just because he is a man. This is part of the marriage relationship, only!
  • As unto the Lord” It is possible for a bad husband to attempt to force he wife to do something that is simply wrong. That is not “as unto the Lord,” because the Lord would never try to get you to sin. We actually used to have laws to protect women against this, so that if it could be shown that she acted on her husband’s orders, she went free. Those laws have changed, for obvious reasons.
  • Head”…not abuser. The head in a normal body does not usually (knowingly) do things that endanger the welfare of the body. This is one reason to not get married as a teenager: (sorry!) sometimes teenagers do take foolish risks! (So do some adults.) And, you need to know an individual quite well before you agree to a marriage. If he (or she) acts like a fool (or angry, or arrogant) before marriage, there is no guarantee that he or she is going to change after marriage. Check out how he/she treats his/her parents…and how he/she treats your parents, siblings and friends.

I am going to let the rest of this passage speak for itself, apart from the underlined emphases added by me, but, remember: Sisters, this is to you…husbands, you have no right to “beat your wives over the head” with this passage—you will have more than enough trouble with “living out” the part that is to you—and if you are in full submission to God in that part (loving your wife as Christ loves the Church,) then you will not be using this passage in that manner, anyway.

James compares God’s Word to a mirror (James 1:22-25), with which we are to examine ourselves, not our wife, our husband, our neighbor, or whomever else. The mirror is pointed at you—look at the part that “reflects you” until you have that under control—then you can see clearly to help others with their part. I can’t emphasize this enough.

As Christ Loved the Church

25   Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Here again is the Agapé love: this is the self-sacrificing love that calls me to work for my wife’s benefit, to care about the things she cares about, and to strive to make her dreams (wholesome dreams) a reality. Not just my dreams, my goals, my desires. There is no room for self-centeredness in marriage. That goes for both husbands and wives.

When relating to your wife, you can ask yourself, “is this how Jesus treats the church?” Kindness, and respect, and absolute tenderness are to be your whole demeanor. Jesus never mocks us for our silly fears, nor does He condemn us for our constant failures. He consistently treats us with Grace. Remember, too, that Grace is “unmerited favor”. We do not earn the good treatment Jesus offers to us. He cares for us because we are His bride. We cannot require our spouses to “earn” the Love and Grace that God so freely gave us. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give!”(Matthew 10:8)

An important cross-reference to this verse is Colossians 3:19; Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Notice that there are no “qualifiers” listed here: no “unless”, or “except” or any other means by which we can “wiggle out of” what it actually requires. If I am growing irritated or angry, or bitter, or sour toward my wife, I am wrong. It is that simple. Jesus said that there would never be any condemnation from him toward the believers (John 5:24), and He has maintained that stance (Romans 8:1). There have been local churches which have become corrupted to the point that he shut them down as a group (Revelation 3:14-19), and there have been individual believers whose lives have become a bad enough example that Jesus called them home (Acts 5:1-11), but He never offers condemnation. I am not to deal harshly with my wife, under any circumstances.

According to Knowledge

Another important passage would be 1st Peter 3:5-7, speaking of the whole marriage relationship: especially verse seven where it states that I am to honor my wife “as the weaker vessel, and as a fellow-heir of the grace of life that my prayers not be hindered.” Let’s read it:

For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

So, we can see that there are potential consequences to not treating our wives with the grace and kindness, and honor that Jesus requires. Let’s take a brief look at that passage in more detail:

  • Dwell with them according to knowledge. You have been given a fair amount of information in God’s Word about the gift of marriage, and the nature of the marriage relationship. Use that knowledge wisely. Relate to your wife “according to the instructions” in God’s Word. (We will see another aspect as well, in a moment.)
  • Giving honour unto the wife. This is talking about respectful treatment: no belittling, or shaming, “talking down to,” or disrespecting the person God had given to be your partner in life. It means living in such a way as to make her life easier, not harder.
  • As unto the weaker vessel…I had trouble with this one, because, rarely, one does find a woman who is actually physically stronger than her husband. Does that negate the principle? (No, it doesn’t!)
    You might ask, “But who says it means physically weaker?”
    OK, that might get us into a dangerous area, but let’s examine that: I have known lots of women who were intellectually superior to their husbands, maybe especially in certain areas. So “intellectual weakness” is definitely not the question.
    I have known even more women who were spiritually better-equipped than their husbands. Better-taught in the word, blessed with greater wisdom, faith, or whatever: so I don’t think it means “spiritually weaker” either. “Physically” looks most likely, but there are definitely exceptions to that. So what could it mean?
    An elder Christian woman set me straight on this: she told me quite bluntly that the issue is the fact that once a month, a woman’s body essentially “drugs her” with a sudden change in hormones, and she may be emotionally unstable for a few days because of it. (Bingo!)
    And husbands are advised to know that (dwelling with them according to knowledge,) and respond kindly, acting in a supportive manner until that period of time is past. It does no good to argue or criticize, or try to “explain” why her feelings are not “logical.” You are to respond in love and patience, maintaining respect for her as a person, and (more importantly) as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace!
  • As being heirs together of the grace of life. We are in this together! Treat your wife as your precious teammate! Your partner in Life! If you are both believers, then she has the Holy Spirit the same as you do: God is living in her, same as He is in you!

And, here’s the “kicker!” He says that if you do not respond in this way, your own prayers will be hindered! Give this some thought! Take it seriously!

By the Word: (Back to Ephesians 5)

26   That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

This is an important verse, too, as it gives us a clue as to the relationship of “Water” to salvation and sanctification: The Water is the Word of God. This is in keeping with John 15:3 where Jesus told the eleven that they were “clean, through the Word” that He had spoken unto them. We are saved through hearing God’s Word and believing it. 1st Peter 1:23 confirms this, saying that we have been born again by the Word of God.

But it also has practical application: the life we live, soaked in God’s Word, and loving our wife, will also have an effect upon our wife: it opens her heart further to the ministry of the Word, and we see our relationship deepening and improving. I frequently tell people that “marriage just keeps getting better!” and it is true…but it is especially true because God has continued to mold us into His likeness, and has deepened our love for one another.

27   That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

This is what Jesus does regarding the Church at large—the whole Body of Christ—and why: He is “producing the Bride” and is preparing her for an eternity with Himself. But how is He doing it? He is preparing and perfecting us through the Word, and by the Holy Spirit.

Think back to Genesis 24, please: What we see in Genesis chapter 24 is a beautiful picture of how the Lord is calling out the Church; the Bride of Christ.

In this chapter, Abraham sent his chief servant to find a bride for His only begotten Son (the Heir of all things…sound familiar?) and he gave specific commands as to where to find her, and how to select her. One criterion was who the family was from which she was to be chosen, and another was where that family was to be found. Another, the final clause, was that she had to be willing to come. If she was not willing, then the deal was off. (No one becomes part of the Body of Christ through force, coercion, or trickery. Every single member of the Church-at-large gained that status by hearing the news of Jesus’s payment for their sins and willingly, by faith, choosing Him as their only hope for salvation. There are no exceptions.)

The Servant followed the instructions to the letter, submitting himself to the will of the Father, as well as looking to God for direction. He found the Bride (Rebekah, in this case) and made his case before her and her family. And she stated clearly that she was willing to become the bride of the Son (Genesis 24:58), and immediately the Servant demanded that the journey begin: that they begin the trek across the desert, to get to the Son. (As a new believer, there is no “waiting for the transaction to be completed:” the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, you were placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (see 1st Corinthians 12:13), and the “journey” was begun. You were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He began shaping you for God the Son.

We know for a fact, when they were drawing near (Genesis 24:65), that the servant identified the Bridegroom to the Bride: and I am going to surmise, that, since we also know that he began the relationship by telling her about the Son, then the time during their travel across that huge desert was often spent telling her more about the man she was going to meet, and whose Bride she would become. The Holy Spirit, especially through the Word of God, will tell you all about Jesus, His character, His Grace, His authority and His Love…if you are willing to hear Him. And the result will be that the “journey” does not seem so long, nor the “desert” so bleak and barren. The “relationship” was well under way before Rebekah ever actually met Isaac. The Servant had spent the weeks of travel telling her all about him.

Throughout the Journey, too, Rebekah and her companion were under the full protection of the Chief Servant and his fellow servants. For their purposes, they had the single “most precious and irreplaceable treasure in the world,” and their only objective was to deliver the Bride to the Son. The Holy Spirit will never lose you: you were made part of the Bride, and you are precious and irreplaceable in His sight: not just a “cog in a machine:” not something unimportant or “dispensable.” This is how the Holy Spirit and the Bridegroom sees YOU!

Do you see your wife in the same way as Jesus sees you? Because that is precisely what he is demanding of you, here in this passage! Love your wife as Christ loves the Church!

As His Body

28   So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.29   For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:30   For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

The Bride of Christ is also called the Body of Christ. Technically, I suppose, it should be said that we are currently the Body of Christ, and when the Church is complete, it will then be the Bride of Christ. But to teach how I am to respond to the needs of my wife, the Lord uses my own physical body as an object lesson:

One day, years ago, I carelessly closed my thumb in the door of one of our out-buildings. It was a heavy, metal door, and there was a solid “thump” as it caught my thumb. Right at that moment, had you asked me a question about current events, or a theological question, or even the current project I had been building, I would not even have been capable of understanding your question: I was completely absorbed in the needs of my thumb!

My whole body, in fact, responded very oddly: I seemed to be imitating a kangaroo, as I frantically hopped up and down toward the house, rushing to get some ice, to relieve the pain and swelling. Why is that important? Because my wife is to have that level of priority in my life. We care for our bodies instinctively, and, depending upon what we understand about health, we care for our bodies “according to knowledge” as well. There is to be both a baseline “because she is my wife” care and a growing, learned “this is how I meet my wife’s needs” care, for our wives.

A Picture of Christ and the Church


31   For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. (Quoting Genesis 2:24)32   This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

What we are seeing here is that, back in Genesis, before sin entered into the world, God ordained marriage: not just as a precious gift to the human race (which it is) but also as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, though the Church would not be revealed for another 4,000+ years!

If you think you have this all “under control” and can flawlessly love your wife as Christ loves the church, then I personally think you are fooling yourself, or at least that you are “comparing yourself with other people,” and not with the living Christ. Compare yourself with Him, and smugness will never be part of your life. Remember Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Don’t become self-satisfied.

33   Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

You know what I think? I suspect that a wife whose husband was loving her in the ways listed above, consistently putting her first in their relationship, would have very little trouble seeing him as her head, and responding to him accordingly.

Lord Jesus, help us to respond to your Grace, and to pour out that Grace upon our spouses, not demanding from them, but pouring out Your blessings upon them. Let us become living portraits of your divine love for the Church!

Remembering Jesus, the Redeemer

Remembering Jesus, the Redeemer

© November 15th, 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 11:23-26; 1st Peter 1:18-25; (Cp. Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3; John 1:1, 14)

Introduction:

We are taking communion today: Because we make a practice of sharing communion every month, on the third Sunday, it ought to be very easy for me to remember, but since the first Sunday of this month also happened to be the first day of the month, it feels as though the month has hardly begun, yet, here we are at the third Sunday. If Ann had not reminded me, I would have simply forgotten again. I’m grateful that she always remembers.

We have been studying through 1st Peter, and the message I had prepared for this morning was really too long to share the time with the Communion service. Besides, we have been studying about some pretty special things regarding Jesus our Redeemer and our new relationship with Him, so, since Communion is all about remembering Jesus’s sacrifice for us, it seems appropriate that we re-focus on some of the things right here in 1st Peter, that ought to be remembered, as well as looking back to the Beginning, since we are also learning some pretty precious things about Jesus in Genesis, in the Wednesday night Bible study.

1st Peter 1:18-25 Remembering The Redeemer

This is pretty recent, in our studies, so we ought to find it easy to remember: we talked about the fact that there are three words in the New Testament, used to describe our redemption:

  • Agorazo, (bought in the marketplace)
  • Exagorazo (bought out of the marketplace)
  • Lutroō (bought with the purpose of being set free.)

The whole of what we know about the concept of redemption is in the compilation of those three words: We were bought by Jesus, in the “agora”…the marketplace of sin. We were bought out of that marketplace, (exagorazo) never to be returned, and He bought us with the intent to set us free, forever. We know those things, according to 1st Peter 1:18…and more specifically, He says we know the price that was paid:

The Price of Redemption

He says in verse 19 that we were not redeemed with Gold or Silver or anything else of corruptible, temporal value: We were redeemed (bought out of the marketplace of sin, never to be returned there, and specifically to be set free) by the price of Jesus’s death at the Cross: by His sinless blood being deliberately shed on our behalf. (“By His stripes we are healed!”) By His death, we have been set free forever.

The Plan of Redemption

We saw, too, that before the foundation of the Earth, Jesus was “Plan A,” and that there was no “Plan B.” He was God’s only provision for the salvation of sinners, and the provision was made before there were sinners to save!

The Path of Redemption

In John 14:6, Jesus told the disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; No man cometh unto the Father but by me!” Here in 1st Peter 1:21, we see that he is way we approach God: It says, that “by Him we believe in God.” It is not just a conceptual question: anyone can “believe in God:” James pointed out that the demons also “believe, and tremble!” But that sort of belief doesn’t help anyone. Believing in God through the Person of Jesus is our means to approach God.

Adam heard the very slender promise of Hope in the promise of the coming Savior, the “Seed of the Woman,” in Genesis 3:15, and he believed that promise. He stated his faith in that coming Savior by naming his wife Eve,” the “Mother of all the Living.” And God accepted His faith, and Eve’s along with him, and clothed them in the skins of animals, making the first blood sacrifice, prefiguring the Sacrifice of Jesus, at the Cross, some 4,000 years later.

That approach, through the Blood of the Chosen Sacrifice, has been the only approach, ever since. The Passover Lamb, looked forward to the Cross. Consider the motions needed to fulfill the command regarding the blood at the Passover: They were to dip the bundle of Hyssop (a weedy shrub that grows in that area) in the basin of blood from the freshly slain lamb, and strike it on the lintel and the two doorposts of the home. Run through those motions in your mind, and see that you are necessarily making a cross in the air, of the literal blood of the lamb! Those believers, 1500 years before Christ, were huddled under the same Blood of the Cross as we share today!

So, these Jewish believers, to whom Peter addressed this letter, had celebrated the Passover every year of their lives, and, at the day of Pentecost had finally come to know the Lamb personally, and, through Him, finally were able to approach God freely. Some had been Old Testament believers, but had known their limitations: no one but the High Priest could ever enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and draw near to God. Now, through Jesus, and the Redemption He made at the Cross, they were able to walk right into the presence of God …just as we are! They had always believed in God at one level or another: but now they believed in Him by means of Jesus!

The Power of Redemption

Finally, in verse 23, we see that they (and we) are born again, not of any fleshly, or biological process, but specifically, by the Word of God. Let’s give that some thought:

Over in Hebrews 11:3, we can see that the World was created by the Word of God. If we compare Genesis 1:1 and all that follows it, we can see that God literally “spoke the World into existence.”  But if we look at John 1:1 and following, we see another facet to this truth: It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!”  If we find that puzzling, we can keep reading: when we arrive at verse 14, we will see that it says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His Glory, the Glory as of the only Begotten of the Father,) full of Grace and Truth.” In short, we can see for sure that “the Word” was Jesus, in Person! And He was not only with God, but actually was God, so that as Jesus the Messiah, walking the roads of Israel, He was literally, “God, in the Flesh!” (That is what “Incarnate” means, by the way: “in the flesh.”) Finally, when we turn to Hebrews 1:10,we see God the Father, speaking to God the Son, saying “And, Thou, Lord, in the Beginning, didst lay the foundations of the Earth, and the Heavens are the Works of thine hands.”

Jesus is the Word! And He is the Creator! So, when Adam and Eve were dealing with the kind, but stern Creator in the Garden, it was Jesus! Later on, in Genesis 18, we see Him identified as the Judge of all the Earth! And Jesus confirmed that, in John 5:22, 23, saying, “For the Father judgeth no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all men may honor the Son even as they honor the Father.

So, when it says in Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and He (God) counted it unto him (Abraham) as Righteousness,” we can see that Abraham believed the promise of Jesus, just as Adam had done, and was declared righteous (justified) on the basis of his faith.

Jesus made the promise to us and all who will ever live, that if we place our trust in Him, we have eternal life now, not waiting until we die to find out whether we “made the cut.” John 5:24 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my Word and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life and shall not come unto condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” And He wants us to know it: In 1st John 5:11-13, he says “And this is the record, that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son, He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of god, that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (Emphasis mine… )

Finally, in Romans 1:16, we read, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto Salvation to everyone that believeth” There is nothing else in the scripture, defined as being the Power of God unto salvation. The Good news (That’s what “Gospel” means) about Jesus, the Living Word of God, is called the Power of God to save those who believe in Him.

So, do you see why it is important that we take time to “Remember the Redeemer?” He has given us eternal life by His Blood: When the Jews celebrated Passover, they looked back to their own redemption from physical death, the night before they left Egypt forever. And, unknowingly, they looked forward to the Cross, where their sins would be “taken away forever,” instead of only “covered,” which is all the animal sacrifices could ever accomplish. John 1:29 says, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!” They looked back to the original Passover, and looked forward to the Cross: When we celebrate Communion, we look back to the Cross, and look forward to His return.

Looking Back, to the Cross

When we look back and remember the Cross, we share in a tiny memorial feast called “Communion,” or “The Lord’s Supper,” or, sometimes, “The Lord’s Table.” We believe His Word, as did Adam, and Abraham, and the disciples, and the people at the day of Pentecost, and every believer since then: we trust in His promise of eternal life, though we scarcely understand all that it entails.

We first read of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels, and again, as the only directive to the church regarding the celebration of communion, in 1st Corinthians 11:23-28. (Read it)

Here we see that there is a practice to be followed in all churches worldwide, as a memorial we have in common. The scripture in this passage simply says “the cup” with no mention of the contents, only stating that it represented His Blood. The bread is also somewhat non-specific, as the staple food varies all over the world, and this feast will fit in any society on earth. In Papua New Guinea, we are told by the missionaries we support, there are no grapes: water is the liquid in the cup. There is also no bread. The staple food there is sweet potato. So, water and sweet potato are the elements of communion among the believers, there in Papua New Guinea. Here, there is a narrower choice. Some insist upon using wine, as that truly was the staple drink in the land of Israel at that time; but it is not the standard drink, here, and there are many who are trying to escape a past addiction to alcohol. So we have chosen to offer grape juice as the contents of the cup, and some sort of unleavened cracker as the Bread. The elements themselves are not terribly important: the meaning behind them is very important, as is our attitude toward the Lord’s Table: The believers in Corinth had taken communion lightly, and flippantly, and took it in combination with some sort of community feast, such as we might call a “pot-luck.” But, if we read the whole context, starting in verse 17, we can see that they weren’t even sharing the food at the “pot-luck.” Communion means “Sharing” or “Fellowship… Having in common.” How could you take the very thing that expresses our commonality in Christ and make it into a show of “who has food and who doesn’t?” So they were being judged for their unworthy behavior.

The scripture warns against taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner: it has nothing to do with the person being unworthy, nor even of having unconfessed sin in one’s life (though it is certainly a good time to reflect on that as well.) The warning is against an unworthy approach to God’s memorial feast: perhaps a manner by which God is dishonored, or by which fellowship is denied, rather than strengthened. We approach the Lord’s Supper in reverence, “Remembering the Redeemer” and all He has done. We approach in Unity, knowing that the ground is truly level at the foot of the Cross. We approach in Love, truly desiring God’s best for one another. The scripture says, that, having examined ourselves and our motives, we are to go ahead and eat. It says, “So let him eat!” So we will share together in the Lord’s Supper now.

(Communion Service)

Final Hymn and Prayer

A Warning to the Wealthy

A Warning to the Wealthy

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

Interpreting James Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unbelieving Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how should we respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sources of Wisdom

The Sources of Wisdom

©July 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:13-18; John 7:40-53

How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?

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

Godly Wisdom

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

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

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

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

Worldly 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.

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

  • Bitterness
  • Strife
  • Envy

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

Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

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

  • Earthly, (meaning, in keeping with the World’s way of thinking)
  • Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; “soulish;” from the Flesh) and/or
  • Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan, who is also called the Devil.)

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

So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?

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

Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit than the other sources:

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

Nine evidences of Godly Wisdom, just as there are nine evidences of the Fruit of the Spirit, given in Galatians 5:22, 23. If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.

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

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

Some time ago, a younger friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs:

The first couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry.) They were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.

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

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

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

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

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

James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next verse (v.17) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

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

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

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

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

What about those other Sources?

The World

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

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

Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least: according to 2nd Kings 14:25, the prophet Jonah was from “Gathhepher,” which happens to have been a city in Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, of Judea (not Galilee) just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and they stalked off, feeling triumphant.

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

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

The Flesh

There have been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, 6, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!

The Devil

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

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

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

The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

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

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

What is the result of Godly Wisdom?

Verse eighteen makes a peculiar statement: “The seed of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (KJV) Modern translations render the passage, “The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That is pretty clear language. So, what does it mean?

In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.” (Greek “huioi”—sons…mature offspring of God.) If a child of God approaches a situation in peace, seeking to make peace, and to sow seed that has the intended fruit of righteousness, then there is a good chance that righteousness will be the result.

If the person sowing the seed is either not a child of God coming in peace, or not acting as a peacemaker, then the results are truly doubtful, even if the “seed” itself was correct. But if the source of the “seed” is not God’s Wisdom, then it almost doesn’t matter who “sows the seed,” nor how they went about it: the results will not be good.

We, then, have to not only be sure that the “wisdom” we offer is from God’s mouth, as it were, because it is His Word; we also have to be sure that our hearts desire is to produce and maintain peace, and righteousness. Otherwise the results may not be what we hoped for.

At the beginning of this chapter, James says we have a problem with our mouths; in other passages we saw the reason why: our mouths reflect our hearts. The wisdom or the folly of our hearts is expressed in our actions and our words. In the next chapter, James says, “purify your hearts!” God’s Word, by His Spirit, is the only cleansing agent by which our hearts may be purified.

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

What Am I Missing?

What Am I Missing?

© Chet Bishop, April 2012 (THCF 4/1/12)

Luke 19:1-44 (whole Passage)

Luke 19: 1-10 (read it)

1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Introduction:

In the parallel passages in the other gospels, we have read how Jesus traveled through Jericho, headed for Jerusalem. We read about the blind men who were healed before and after Jericho…but what happened in Jericho?  A mob of people followed Jesus. They had heard of him, and had seen him heal people. Funny, though, these people were not encouraging those blind men to be healed, but rather were telling them to be quiet. They saw them as a nuisance. Jesus saw them as people—souls whom he created and for whom he was about to die as a life-purchasing sacrifice.

As Jesus passed through Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus saw the mob of people surrounding Jesus as he passed, but could not see Jesus, because he himself was very short, and evidently didn’t even know who he was. He was gripped by curiosity, though, enough to run ahead of the pack and climb a tall tree, because he “…sought to see Jesus who he was…”. This is an odd phrase, and perhaps it is just the King James language for “wanted to see who it was” but it specifically says he wanted to “see Jesus, who he was”. He could have simply asked, as the blind man had asked…but he really wanted to see Jesus, who he was.  I don’t know of anyone else of whom this peculiar statement is made. He had a God-given hunger…I will assume he had heard something of God’s word, simply because he was a Jew….

Remember that there was a whole crowd of people “seeing Jesus” as he walked along. They had seen the healings. But they were missing something.

What about Zacchaeus? Who was he? He was chief among the publicans…a Jewish born tax-collector for the Romans…a collaborator with the enemy. But he wasn’t born that way. He had his training in the synagogue school, his “bar mitzvah”, etc.  It is just that at some point he wandered from the God of Israel, and followed the God of money…he was a rich man as a result. And he had been paying the price for that sin. He was rejected by all his neighbors, so he had no fellowship with them, and no fellowship with his Creator either.

Perhaps the old prophecies that he had memorized in his youth echoed in his mind from time to time, and he wondered if the Messiah would ever come—and whether he himself would even be worthy to own him as his Lord. And then Jesus came to town…. But I don’t want to guess:

Whatever the true background, Zacchaeus climbed that tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “Who he was”. And Jesus saw him “who he was”…and called him by name. Jesus said “Zacchaeus! Hurry down from there…I must stay at your house today!”

What a transformation! Zacchaeus hurried down and received him joyfully. The neighbors (ALL those who saw the transaction) grumbled, saying that Jesus had gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner. (I’ll bet that made Zacchaeus feel great…he was right there…he knew what they were all saying.) But Zacchaeus responded with works fit for repentance. He stood, during dinner, and told Jesus that he would give half of all he owned to the poor, and that if he had wrongly exacted money from anyone he would restore it fourfold. (That made him the best investment in town. 300% return. J)

I don’t know how the neighbors felt about that. I’m not sure Zacchaeus really cared—he was concerned with a relationship with Jesus. And Jesus saw his heart, because He responded in these words: “This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”

That might have raised some eyebrows too. Paul had to explain the concept later, pointing out that those who were physically the offspring of Abraham were not necessarily the children of Abraham, but that the children of faithful Abraham became so by faith. This man had just demonstrated that he believed in Jesus. Jesus said he had become a son of Abraham. Then (evidently for the benefit of those listening) he stated his purpose in coming. “…the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus had great joy, because his Messiah had come, had called him by name, had eaten at his table, and forgiven him of his sins. As far as we know, he did not see any of the healings. The others did see them, and had walked across town with Jesus. But when Jesus healed the life of “nasty little old Zacchaeus”, they were not filled with joy—they grumbled about the Grace that was extended to Zacchaeus. They missed the joy that was there amongst them—but Zacchaeus did not miss it. He received it. Am I missing the joy that is around me because I am grieved at God’s plans? Do I even have the right to question His wisdom, let alone whether I have the intelligence and wisdom to understand what it is He is doing?

Jesus turned to those who followed and issued the following parable:

A Warning

Luke 19:11-27 (read it)

11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.


This is a warning to all that were following. Most were not believers, even though they were going along with him as he went. Jesus told a parable of a ruler, a nobleman, who went to a far country to receive a kingdom. I am of the opinion that the man in this parable is Jesus Himself. He is going to his Father to receive the Kingdom. Consider the following…the servants are not in danger—the rebellious “citizens” are in serious danger. Even the least faithful of the servants is in far better shape than those enemies who did not want his reign in their lives.

From a human perspective, I understand the feelings of the people. They wanted autonomy. And, from a human perspective there is not much wrong with that plan. However, remember that Jesus is GOD, the Creator, and that he literally owns every atom of which we are made. He literally owns us body and soul—and that was true before we were saved…much more afterward. But he owns the whole world by creation. Now he owns it again by purchase, at the cross. There is no one who can accurately claim to be exempt from his claim on their life. Remember from whence comes this desire for self-will and self-rule: Isaiah 14:12-15.

The servants were each given a responsibility to discharge—some did it well, some did less well, one didn’t try. He lost his reward and the responsibility. The others gained further responsibility as a reward. The only punishment listed here is upon those who were not his servants. So what about that Servant? Since (in this particular parable) he was not in danger of death, what was the cost? He missed his opportunity.

He was given an opportunity to serve, even if in a rather humble way. He chose to reject that opportunity based on his judgment of the Master’s character, and he lost the only opportunity he would have to be rewarded for faithful service. Some of the people there were servants of God. Some were his enemies. Jesus spoke to the whole crowd. All had an opportunity of one sort or another. All had the opportunity to repent, if nothing else. Some had the opportunity for repentance and service, others the opportunity for salvation. Am I missing the opportunities for service? The opportunities to lead others to Christ? The opportunity to draw near to God and be blessed in this life?

Fulfilled Prophecy

Luke 19:28-40 (read it)

28 And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. 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.

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


The colt: Much has been made of this situation, but we really aren’t told enough to know how much was miracle, and how much simply the narrative of what happened. I see two apparent miracles… one is that a never-ridden animal usually has a disagreement to work out before becoming a docile beast of burden. It is fitting, though, that none was seen here, because it fits the general pattern: People—humans—and fallen angels are the only things that have ever disobeyed God. The young male donkey was acting exactly as a creature is supposed to act under the hand of its Creator.

The other issue is the fact that the owners let the animal go without an argument. J. Vernon McGee suggests that there had been a prior arrangement made by Jesus, and this was just the outworking of it, and that he had given the phrase “the Lord has need of it” to let the owners know that it was he who sent the disciples. That is sheer supposition. All we are told is that they consented. Both of the above seem highly unusual, and if a person wants to find a natural explanation, that is their privilege. But I really think if one wants to do that, they at least should try to stick to what is actually written, and try not to wander astray. Once a person feels free to inject supposition, then anything is possible.

Further, many have supposed that the same individuals that cried out “Hosanna” in the other Gospels, and “Blessed be the King!” in this chapter, are those who cried out “Crucify!”, a few chapters later. But if you will read verse 37, it says that the disciples were the ones who cried out “Hosanna” and other things, while the Pharisees were disturbed by it. The other gospels say that the whole city was stirred up over it. The Pharisees knew that the disciples were publicly recognizing Jesus as the king. They demanded that Jesus shut them up. Essentially they demanded that He deny the truth of what they were shouting. Far from denying it, Jesus strengthened it, saying that if the disciples were silenced, the stones would cry out. The disciples were rejoicing and being blessed. The Multitudes (folks from Jerusalem) were stirred up and disturbed. The Pharisees were angry. They were all missing the point:

Something was happening! Prophecy was being fulfilled in (at least somewhat) miraculous ways! The particular Psalm that was being quoted here is Psalm 118:25, 26. It is nearly an exact quote, even in English. The word “Hosanna”, in the New Testament, does NOT mean “praise the Lord” or anything like it. It means “Save us now”. That is why Psalm 118:25 says “save NOW, Lord…” That is exactly what Jesus came to do. They were all missing the point; probably even those who quoted the Psalm.

Am I missing the point? Am I out of tune with what God wants to accomplish, so that I can’t be walking in step with Him, and rejoicing at the victories He brings? Amos 3:3 asks the rhetorical question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer being “No!”)

1st John 1:7 states that “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”. I want to be in constant enough fellowship with God that I can have some sense of where He is going with things. There is a lot of peace and joy in simply watching God at work. I don’t have to “understand everything.”

A Lament

Luke 19:41-44 (read it)

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.

Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem stated that because they had “missed the boat” as it were, having failed to recognize their Messiah, they would face destruction from their enemies. This was fulfilled, of course, in AD 70, with the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus. They missed out on the blessing of the promise of God through their willful blindness and pride, and faced destruction as a result.

Don’t Miss Out

You who have trusted Jesus Christ as your savior, who have placed your faith in Hs finished work at the Cross are not in danger of “Missing the Boat”, as those in Jerusalem did. According to Jesus’ promise (John 5:24), if you have heard his word, and believed on Him who sent him, you HAVE eternal life, and can never lose it.

But you can still miss the point of God’s work in your life. You can miss the opportunities for service, blessing and reward. And perhaps saddest of all; you can miss the Joy He offers in the daily relationship with Him.

Choose the path of Zacchaeus and the other disciples. Enter into the Joy of your Lord today— now—not waiting until you die to experience his presence.

The Lord bless you all as you choose to walk with Him.

Circumventing the Cross

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the Creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a Savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond their own that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

They think it foolishness for a host of reasons: I read a newspaper comment by a man who said that he was not about to take seriously “…the world-view of a ragged band of goat-herds from 3,000 years ago!” Hmm. There are a lot of misconceptions, there!

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12)

Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as the human race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they? (Read Galatians 1:6-9)

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works (penance, alms, service) to expiate all the bad works. God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; If you trust in a failing bridge, you lose your life. If you place your faith in a false God, a false religion, a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment. Romans 3:25 states that our faith is to be in the Blood of Jesus, specifically.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can make that choice. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. “The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.”

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same: Preach the cross of Christ! Do not attempt to make the Gospel more “palatable” by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they most desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The “real” (original) Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross was the salvation God prescribed, even 1500 years before Christ. Do we like that idea? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either

  • echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or
  • we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners.

Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. This sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.

In Light of our Destination

Living in Light of our Destination

Colossians 3:1-11; compared to Genesis 24

© C. O. Bishop 10/18/18 Cornell Estates 10/21/18

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Colossians, and we have arrived in a precious passage where Paul is encouraging the believers to allow God to change their lives. He has already established their position in Christ, so he poses the logical result: living in light of our position, and our destination.

1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

All of what we are to experience and put into practice, now, is predicated upon the truth of this passage: either we really are dead with Christ, and risen with Him, and our real life truly is now hidden with Christ in God, or we are not dead with Christ, not risen with Him, and we are still in our sins.

We cannot have it both ways: either my sins were purged at the Cross, by the Blood of Jesus, and I am already seated with Christ in the heavenlies, or His blood did not purge my sins, and I am still guilty before God, and lost.

On the strength of that truth, we are told to set our affections upon the things of Christ—the things above, not the passing things of this world. Jesus said a fair amount about laying up treasures in Heaven: he also said that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also—not the other way around. If we are really dead to sin, and dead to the World, then our affections should be upon the things above. We are to set our priorities according to this truth. And the more we see our treasures as being with God, the more we will see our hearts directed that way as well. Remember that Daniel yearned toward Jerusalem, and several times a day, he opened his windows toward Jerusalem, and prayed toward the demolished temple there. That is where his treasure was, and that is where his heart was. His actions demonstrated the fact.

We are to place our trust in the finished work of Jesus at the Cross, and recognize that everything of eternal value is there, with Him, in Heaven.

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

We can’t see these things, now. We walk by faith: we are trusting in that which is to come. We are not even told what the rewards are like: in fact, he clearly states that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things the Father hath in store for them that love him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9) That certainly calls into question the truth of the many books available today where the authors expound on all the details of heaven. We are actually given very little to go on, and it is fitting that it should be so: God says it is completely beyond our comprehension, and beyond our imagination. Don’t believe the false prophets! They really have not seen heaven, nor can they tell you what eternity holds!

Compare an Old Testament bride to the New Testament Bride

Remember, back in Genesis 24, when Abraham sent his servant back to Ur of the Chaldees, to find a wife for Isaac. When Rebekah left home with her female servants, all of them were in the care of Abraham’s servants, and she herself was betrothed to become the Bride of Isaac. But, once her home town was out of sight, behind them, she and her companions were utterly committed to the mercy and the faithfulness of the One keeping them for the end of that journey. They could not run away and go back, even if they wanted to: the desert was utterly merciless to inexperienced or unprepared travelers. They would never again see their old home.

The main comfort they could hold to, in their hearts, was the fact that a huge price had already been paid for the Bride (Rebekah), and there was nothing that could ever persuade the Servant of the Father, to fail to bring home the Bride, to the glory of the Father and of the Son.

Give that some thought: That is what we have, too! The unimaginable price paid for our sins, and for the sins of the entire World, has already been paid on our behalf, at the Cross; and, when we completed the transaction by faith, we were sealed for the glory of the Son: we are part of the Bride. We were sealed in Him until the redemption of the purchased possession. (Ephesians 1:13, 14) Our life is hid with Christ in God! So, now: what are we supposed to do about it?

Consider the Old life truly Dead

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

Some things need to completely drop away: they are part of the old dead self that still plagues us, but to whom we owe no further obedience. My old sin nature is still there, but I am to treat it as if it is dead: permanently separated from the “real me,” because the real “Me” is already seated with Christ, in the heavenlies!  (How’s that for mind-boggling?)

Remember, too, that regardless of how Rebekah behaved on the trip to meet the Bridegroom, she was sealed for Him, and she was the Bride! If she behaved in a “proper” fashion as the Bride, it was to her honor, and to the Father’s glory; but that is not what made her the Bride. Two facts bound her to Isaac as his Bride:

  1. The fact that the Bride-price was paid, and
  2. The fact that she agreed to go.

Those were what betrothed her to Isaac, though she had never met him. She behaved as the Bride should, because she was the Bride, not the other way around. She was genuinely looking forward to meeting her groom. I would surmise that, along the way, the Servant had been telling her all about Isaac: his miraculous birth, his utter faithfulness and perfect relationship to his Father, Abraham.

I surely hope this is sounding familiar to you. This is such a tender picture of the Christian experience, as the Word and the Spirit tell us all about Jesus long before we ever get to meet him face to face. We are already betrothed, and already sealed, and we have only this long and sometimes difficult journey to endure before we meet Him. But we are carried along by the indwelling Holy Spirit, whose only desire is to glorify the Father and the Son, and who, personally, is our guarantee of redemption: the Earnest of our inheritance. He will bring home the Bride! But along that journey, while we travel, we are learning to walk with God, too.

God says that His wrath still burns against the children of disobedience (unregenerate sinners) for the things listed in verse 5 (and elsewhere): But, notice that he says (in verse 7) that you are no longer part of that group: He says that you once were part of that group, but that you have been taken out, and you are dead with Christ (verse 3).

As a result of our being dead with Christ, we are to lay aside the works which were associated with our old position in the World: all the behaviors that once marked us as being just plain, ordinary, “run-of-the-mill sinners” are to be left behind. Think again of Rebekah: except for her maids, and whatever personal belongings she brought with her, everything of her old life was abandoned! She left the old life behind, in favor of the new life with her bridegroom, Isaac!

We, too, need to leave the Old life behind!

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

Notice how many of these things have to do either with the heart, or with speech—the mouth! Jesus said that a good man brings out of the good treasure of his heart things that are good; and an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart things that are evil; because “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh!” The old sin nature is still there, but we need to starve it, and guard against it! Our mouths are supposed to be filled with good things, now…so the change has to begin with a cleansed heart.

God says we can only cleanse our hearts through the application of His Word. He says that through His Word, we are to become partakers of the Divine Nature! When we feed on God’s Word, and meditate upon His promises, we begin to see the character of God working itself out in our lives. The Fragrance of Christ will begin to permeate our lives, so that anyone who knows us can see the changes brought about by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We begin to be a blessing to those around us.

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

We have a new nature: He says it has been renewed in knowledge, in the image of the Creator. What does that mean? Over in Ephesians 4:24, he says that the new man has been created in the likeness of God, in Righteousness and true Holiness. Speaking for myself, if it were not for the knowledge that God has given me that new nature, I could not at all grasp the notion that God has imputed to me the righteousness of Christ. It simply would not fit the natural “reality” that I see in my flesh. Notice that it is all past-tense, too. This is not something that we are to “strive toward:” it is a current reality based upon a completed past event, and it is for us to lay hold of by faith, so as to experience the reality of it, today.

Why does God “spell out” the prohibition against lying? Remember what Jesus said (in John 8:44) about our old spiritual father: He said “Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it.” So it makes sense that one of the things God really wants laid aside is lying. That is the earmark of Satan’s brood. We all began there, whether we know it or not. We all were called the Children of wrath, in Ephesians 2:3.

Lying is the most common human reaction to circumstances we wish were otherwise. People lie on their tax-returns because they don’t want to pay the taxes they owe. People lie to one another for reasons ranging from heartbreaking to ridiculous. And some people just lie for the fun of fooling people. But we are told to stop it, specifically because our “old man” has been set aside. We are separated from it to the degree that we can speak honestly, and we can worship from a clean heart. But we are not free from its influence. We are in an ongoing, daily battle to walk with God, and to not follow our old sin nature. This is true for every Christian, regardless of his or her background. Now we are called to “Speak the truth in Love!”

The Jewish Apostles pointed out in Acts chapter 15, that no Jew had ever been able to follow the Law, so they said it was wrong to burden the Gentile believers with it. Paul said that we have been set free from the Law. What a happy, blessed freedom that gives us all! All believers, Jews and Gentiles, together, were freed by the same sacrifice, and we are now free to fellowship and worship as one body of Christ!

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Whatever you were before you were born again is of zero importance. In Christ, the old divisions no longer exist. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross. Where the Jews were once separated from the Gentiles, slaves were once shunned by free men, and commoners shunned by noblemen, they all have been “leveled” by the Cross. None of those “differences” are of any significance when compared to the Majesty of the Messiah; nor could any of those “differences” alleviate to any degree the total lostness of the human race, apart from the Cross.

All of us are called to lift up our eyes and see the Savior! We are called to set our affections on Him, and the things He has for us. We are to let our old life drop away as a freed slave lets his chains drop away. We have truly been set free in Christ. We are dead with Him at the Cross, buried with Him, resurrected with Him, and ascended to sit with Him. We believers are all part of the Bride of Christ. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and He will bring home the Bride!

Lord Jesus, allow us to see ourselves clearly, so as to know that we have died with you, so that we may lift up our eyes above this world, and fix our hearts on our treasures with you. Free us to serve you with gladness, in Jesus’ name!