The Work of the Shepherds: Part Two

The Work of the Shepherds: Part Two

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying a Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job Requirements from 1st Timothy 3:1-7

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

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

Principles or Methods?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Work of the Shepherds: Part One

The Work of the Shepherds: Part One

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Structure and Function of the New Testament Church

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Work of the Shepherds

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

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

“Feed the Flock”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shepherd the Flock”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoicing in Persecution

Rejoicing in Persecution

© 2021 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 4:12-19

Introduction:

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

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

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

Don’t be Surprised!

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

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

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

Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.

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

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

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

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

What is Sin?

Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:

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

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

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

If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allow God to Work!

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

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

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

What Should We do Now?

What Should We do Now?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:20-4:11

Introduction:

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

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

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

3:21, 22

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

What Baptism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Should We do Now?

4:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Serious about This!

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

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

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

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

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

The Result?

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

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

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

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

Dead to Sin: Alive to God

Dead to Sin: Alive to God

© 2021, C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 2:21-25 (read it!); Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 2:16-21

Introduction:

We have been working our way through 1st Peter, and we see in 2:21 that we are to take Jesus as our example:

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

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

In the first place, the subject at hand was the concept of “suffering for doing rightly.” Jesus certainly did nothing but good, righteous works, showing compassion and kindness to the poor, and holding the privileged and wicked religious leaders accountable for their sin. This passage is not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, and walk around attempting to imitate Jesus in His earthly ministry: I have no gift of healing, nor of any sort of miraculous signs. So I can’t imitate that portion. But, I can seek to imitate His righteousness, and I can strive to learn to use His Word, so that I can offer the same Hope He offered. And that is our actual assignment, according to Matthew 28:19, 20!

So: What did His Example Look Like?

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

We can at least see (v. 23) that we are to trust God for justice, not other humans: they are flawed individuals just as we are. We can also see (v.22,) obviously, that we are especially to abandon the kinds of wrong behavior that could get us in trouble with civil law, because there is no glory to God in our suffering punishment for unrighteous deeds. Dishonesty and a vengeful, sharp tongue are both mentioned as things Jesus did not commit…not just overt sins.

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

So, the One before whom we stand is not just giving us an outward “inspection” as it were, but literally sees through us! If it were not for His great Love and Compassion toward us, there is not a one of us who could stand before his gaze at all! Lamentations 3:22, 23 says, 22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

I can rejoice in my perfect standing before Him, rather than fearing His judgment, only because of my permanent position in Him which has been secured by His Grace, through faith! And, because I have that position in Him, secured forever, I not only am commanded, now, to walk with Him, but I am confident that it can be done, because His Holy Spirit now lives in me!

Peter goes on to remind us how that happened, and what the intended results are to be:

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

This last phrase, “… by whose stripes ye were healed”  is obviously a quote from Isaiah 53. But the conclusion is strictly New Testament: We could not be “dead to sin” in the Old Testament. However, according to this verse, and Romans chapter six and Galatians chapter 2, we believers of the Church Age truly are dead to sin, as we died with Christ; and the result is supposed to be that because we are alive to Righteousness and alive to God, we should live for God.

Let’s take a look at Romans Chapter 6:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

This is a clear statement that believers are dead to sin! So we need to start thinking about what that means: It certainly does not mean that it is impossible for us to sin.

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

Here is another point to consider: The above three verses have nothing to do with water! They all refer to the one REAL baptism, which was accomplished by the Holy Spirit at the moment of rebirth, when He placed us into (baptized us into) the Body of Christ! (1st Corinthians 12:13)Water baptism is only an outward “picture” of the real, inward change that has already happened. Anyone can be baptized in water, whether they are a believer or not. But, the Holy Spirit never makes a mistake, and unbelievers have never been “Baptized into the Body of Christ!”

What is baptism anyway? As far as the meaning of the word, it literally means to “dip.” When Jesus “dipped the sop in the cup” and handed it to Judas, the word, there, for “dip,” is “bapto.

But what does Baptism signify? We could get a clue from how the word is still used today, in dyeing cloth: fabric is “dipped” in the dye, in order to permanently associate it with (or identify it with) that color dye-pot. Jesus was baptized by John to identify Himself with the message John was preaching: “The Gospel of the Kingdom.” He was the King! He was the One regarding whom John said, “He who comes after me is greater than I!”

We have been baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit, so that we are identified with Him in His death and burial and His new, resurrected life. We are dead with Him. Please bear in mind that “death” always refers to some kind of “separation.” To be “physically dead” means that one’s physical body is separated from one’s non-physical self: the soul and the spirit. To be “spiritually dead,” (as we all were before our new birth) meant that we were spiritually separated from God; and, in fact, that we were His enemies! Romans 5:10 tells us that, whether we knew it or not, we were enemies of God.

There is an aspect of “spiritual death” which can occur in a believer’s life, too: when we choose to sin, we are separated from fellowship with God; and functionally, we are “dead,” again. We have not changed our position, but our condition has become bad: we need His cleansing through confession. (1st John 1:6-9) But a believer—even in terrible condition—remains God’s Child and will eventually be going home. If an unbeliever remains spiritually dead, never having received the Lord Jesus as Savior, then eventually, the Eternal Death (called “the Second Death”) is all that is left for them. (Revelation 20:14)

But! We are not talking about any of those forms of death, here! Here he says that we are dead to sin! So, keeping in mind that “death” has to correlate with some kind of “separation,” what can it mean to be “dead to Sin?”

What does it mean to be “Dead to Sin?”

6Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.

In what way have I been separated from Sin? Take a quick look at Romans 7:7-17. Paul goes through a lengthy argument in the entire chapter, but an important conclusion for us to understand is in verse 17: he says that the sin is “…no longer I, but Sin that dwelleth in me!”

Is Paul attempting to “escape guilt” by denying that he was the one who sinned? No, because back in verse 14, he confesses that “…the Law is Holy, but I am Carnal, sold under sin!”

The issue is that, when Paul was born again, he acquired a new nature! And that New nature is the only nature God is willing to recognize! In fact, over in Romans 8:7, Paul affirms that the old sin nature cannot be healed! It cannot be brought into subjection to God. So, the new birth, and the new nature is the only hope for a sinner. And that new nature is the “new You!” God sees you (the new nature) as His holy child. He recognizes that we still have our old nature, and that it is incorrigibly wicked. So He considers it to be dead, and calls us to do the same: He calls to us, as in the Song of Solomon, “Come away with me my love!” And Romans 6 says we no longer have to sin!

Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.

God says that, just like Jesus, we have been set free! But unlike Jesus, who never had a sin nature, we have choices to make, moment by moment, as to whether we will heed the call and walk with Jesus. So he calls us to see life through His eyes: to see ourselves as dead to sin; no longer under its authority.

11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And, on the basis of that faith, He calls us to turn away from temptation and not yield ourselves to the lure of sin. Rather, we are called to yield to God’s Holy Spirit, and become tools of righteousness in His hands.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.


The final word, there, is that we are not under Law, but under Grace. Why is that important? Because the first thing we tend to do is to make a “list” in our minds of “all the things we will not do,” and suppose that if we can “obey the rules” we will be walking with Jesus. This thought-pattern totally misses the point! The reverse is true: if we learn to walk with Jesus, walking in the Spirit, we will “obey the rules,” if you want to call it that! Paul said in Galatians 5:16, “Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the Flesh.

Further, he says that, even as believers, our righteousness is not established by obedience to the Law, but by our position in Christ. Look at Galatians 2:16-21.

16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. 17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

We have been permanently separated from our old sin nature, in God’s eyes, so that our new nature can freely respond to God. He no longer holds us guilty of our sins, even though, as saved sinners, we still sin! We are His saints, now, and that is the only way He sees us! It is our daily choice to either walk with Him and leave sin behind, or choose to go our own way, and quickly find ourselves back in sin’s grip. Turn back to 1st Peter 2:25, please.

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

This is another passage that reminds us that this letter was originally to Jewish Christians: the gentiles were very seldom referred to as “sheep;” but the “lost sheep of Israel” was a common theme. One time, only, in John 10:16, Jesus said “16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” I believe that verse is talking about Gentiles who would eventually respond in faith. That verse is about you and me!

In the Church Age, there is truly one fold and One Shepherd. Jews who strayed from the God of Israel were considered “the lost sheep” of Israel. Gentiles were simply considered foreigners: heathens! In fact, the word “gentile” means “heathen.” So these Jews who had once been the “lost sheep” of Israel had been returned to the Shepherd and the “Overseer” or “Bishop” of their souls. The word translated “Bishop” is episkopos, and it means “supervisor” or “overseer.”

We gentiles have been born into the family of God, and He truly is the Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls as well, but we were not the lost sheep of Israel. We did not “wander away from God.” In fact, regarding the lost, in Matthew 7:23, Jesus said “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity: I never knew you!” He does not say, “Well, I once knew you, but you just wandered off and got lost! (Too bad!”) No, He says he never knew them.

This is probably a good time to see what He says about those of us who have become His sheep: John 10:27, 28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish.” Also, in John 6:39, he said “this is my Father’s will who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” In both of these passages, Jesus says that He will keep you for eternity! You will never be a “lost sheep!” You can never become lost again!

What then?

So how does all of this tie into 1st Peter 2:21-25? Remember that Jesus “suffered for doing rightly:” that is the immediate context, here. But it also says that he died so that we could live unto righteousness.

And that is what this passage has all been pointing at! If we can learn our position in Christ; “Finally free to walk with Him, and finally equipped to do His will,” then we can “live unto righteousness,” and be the Ambassadors He has called us to be.

Jesus walked in humility, living in physical poverty. We are sent out as redeemed and healed “beggars,” sharing with other beggars where to find free food, free clothing, free healing, and eternal life, freely given! Jesus did not “lord it over” anyone, and he spoke sternly only to the false teachers and the failed leaders of Israel. We are also sent in humility, to reach out with the Light and Love and Grace and Mercy of Christ, in a dark and dying world.

Lord Jesus, teach us to walk with you and to live in the newness of life, so that we may represent you in this lost world.

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.

Responding to Present Trials

How Should We Respond to Present Trials?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

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


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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

How Should We Respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should we Share the Gospel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Should We Prepare?

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

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

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

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

Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should we live (Part 4)

How should we live (Part 4)

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

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

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

1st Peter 3:8-14

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


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

Colossians 3:13-17, 18-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Commands Still Apply

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

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In effect, then, he says:

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

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

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

What are Our Choices?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are the choices.

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

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

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

So what do we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

The Promise of the Ages

The Promise of the Ages

© C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

The Christmas Song

by Don Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passover Lamb: Exodus chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

He introduced Jesus as the fulfillment of that Promise!

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 1:26-38

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

Luke 2:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Memorial of the Promise

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

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

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

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

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

(Communion Service)