False Teachers

What does God say about False Teachers?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 2:3-22

Introduction:

We left off, last week, with God’s warning about false teachers, and we discussed briefly what is and is not a false teacher. There are several questions to be addressed in this chapter: God points out a key idea; that the false teachers are “denying the Lord that bought them.” (v. 1) But that raises a question in many people’s minds, thinking, “they must be believers, otherwise how could it say he ‘bought’ them?” That sounds like a reasonable question, so, let’s answer that first:

Who did Jesus purchase with His Blood?

How many sins did Jesus die for at the Cross? 1st John 2:2 states that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world. It is not just “hinted at,” or “indicated;” this is not a “matter of interpretation:” God flatly says, he died “…not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (There is nothing “ambiguous” about it!) Jesus said the reason he came was that the World might be saved through Him. He also said that those who believe in Him “have eternal life,” and “are not condemned.” They who do not believe are “already condemned” and “shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on them.” (John 5:24, John 3:17, 18, and 36)

So, a false teacher is not a “believer” because the Lord “bought them:” they are human sinners, (just like us) because the Lord bought them. (He did not die for the sins of the angels who rebelled.) And, by the end of this chapter, we will see that the false teachers definitely are not believers. God draws sharp distinction between sinners who are believers and sinners who are not believers. But the next verse raises another question:

What about Hell?

For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

Here is another confusing passage. The word translated “hell,” here, is not the common Greek word “hades” meaning “the place of the dead:” it is the word “Tartarus”, meaning the abyss, or the “bottomless pit.” In fact, the word Tartarus is only used this one time in scripture, and the Greek word “abussos” (describing the same place) is only used nine times, and in all but one, the meaning is clearly not the place of the dead, but the “abyss;” the “bottomless pit” which is evidently reserved for angelic prisoners, not humans. (see Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; also Revelation 11:7; 17:8, and 20:1, 3)

People have somehow gotten the idea that Satan “rules in Hell.” That is simply not so. Right now, he is tromping around, right here on earth! (Job 1:7) Hell (hades, or, in the Old Testament, sheol) always simply refers to the “place of the dead.” Sheol/hades was divided into two compartments…the place of the righteous dead, and the place of the unrighteous dead. But the place for angelic prisoners is a completely different location, called the abyss.

People have also somehow gotten the idea that Jesus “went to hell for our sins.” This also is not true! When Jesus made His final declaration of victory, from the Cross, the word He cried out, in Greek, was “Tetelestai!” It meant “Paid in full” It is translated “It is finished,” but that can have a variety of English connotations. I like the way it reads in the Spanish Bible: “Consumado es!” (“It is consummated! It is completed! The work I was sent to do is utterly finished!”) There was nothing left to pay for!

He had told the Jews that He would be spending three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And he told the thief on the Cross: “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise!” (Not hell!) There were two “holding places” for the dead: the righteous dead waited in a place sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom,” as in Luke 16:19-31, or Paradise. In either case, it was the place of the righteous dead: the “waiting-room” for those who would eventually be admitted into Heaven, as a group. (When?) After the resurrection of Christ, at His ascension.

(Why the delay?) Until Jesus died, the way into God’s presence was closed, as pictured by the thick, floor-to-ceiling veil in the temple. When He died, that veil was torn from top to bottom, showing that the way was now open. When Jesus ascended, Paradise was literally transferred into Heaven. This explains why, years later, Paul described being caught up to “the third heaven” (remember, sky, outer space and God’s abode are all called by the same word in both Greek and Hebrew)  He said he was caught up to Paradise: up, into God’s presence, not down, into the heart of the earth, where Jesus said He was going to be for three days and three nights.

So, these angels who were cast into the abyss were not in the same place where the unrighteous human dead are still awaiting the final judgment, in Revelation 20:11-15. This is also how we know that “hell,” translated from the Greek word hades, is not the “final” judgment: Revelation 20:14 says that death and hell are to be cast into the Lake of Fire. That is final! Hades is only the “waiting room” for the Lake of Fire, where the whole mass of humanity who rejected the Lord during their lifetimes will be cast, all at one time.

Saved Sinners

Who does God save, then? God saves believing sinners.

 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;

Noah was a saved sinner: how do I know? Because Genesis 6:8 says “Noah found Grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Grace means “unmerited favor: un-earned favor.” Only sinners need Grace! Noah was saved by Grace through faith, just the same as you and I are. But those around him, whether good or bad (from human perspective,) gentle or violent, young or old, educated or ignorant, sick or healthy, weak or strong, were all unbelieving sinners. God categorized them with one phrase: “the ungodly.” And, because they did not believe the warning, when the flood came, they were all destroyed.

And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)

Lot was a saved sinner! How do I know? Because God calls him “just:” righteous! I would never have considered Lot a righteous man from the Genesis account. He seemed to just be a sinner, all the way around. But evidently he believed in the God who blessed Abraham, because God calls him a righteous man. I had no doubt that the Sodomites were wicked: they proved it. But I had just assumed that God rescued Lot for Abraham’s sake. I didn’t see Lot as a righteous man: but God says that he was! And the only way to be called “righteous” by God is by faith.

What is a Saint?

How does God define His saints? The word “saint” means “holy one;” those whom God has set aside for His service. But where is the dividing line? Turn to Psalm 50:5 “Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” Those who had “made a covenant with him by sacrifice” are those He calls his “saints.”  He has set them apart for His purpose, His exclusive use, and as His exclusive property!

The next question has to be: “What Sacrifice?” There were hundreds of them! In the Old Testament, many people brought sacrifices, but not all of them were making a covenant with God. Some were just “going through the motions.” They brought the “correct” sacrifice, because they were required to do so, but they had no heart for God. He was not deceived by their outward behavior: He saw their hearts, and He openly rejected such sacrifices. (Isaiah 1:11-13)

In Romans 3:25, we see that God has set forth Jesus to be a propitiation (a satisfying sacrifice) through faith in His Blood!” So, today, those who have “made a covenant with God by sacrifice” are those who have placed their faith in Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for their sins. And God says, that makes them His saints: His property; his children, and His ambassadors. If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, then all of that is eternally true of you!

That is the same basis upon which Noah, and Abraham, (yes, and Lot) were declared to be righteous. “Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of his faith.” (Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3)

Saints often Suffer

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:

Remember: in Job’s life, he had done no evil (God says so!) but much evil befell him. In his case, it was so that we could learn the righteousness and authority of God, and learn from the faith and endurance of Job. But, Naboth was faithful, too, and refused to sell the inheritance of his ancestors. Queen Jezebel had him framed for blasphemy, and stoned to death, so she could illegally take the land for King Ahab! Yes, God is faithful, but remember that He is also God: He allows his saints to suffer, for His glory and their eventual reward. Job was blessed and rewarded in his lifetime. Naboth’s reward will obviously have to be in eternity…but Ahab and Jezebel both died very ugly deaths for their wickedness…and eternal judgment still awaits them! And our reward is also not necessarily in this life!

What about those false teachers, then?

The rest of this chapter describes only the false teachers. I have underscored the pronouns in the passage. They are all third-person plural. The only exceptions are the pronouns regarding those with whom they interact. When they deceive believers, the believers are addressed as “you.”

10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

11 Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.

They speak bold, defiant words against all authority, slandering those in authority, when even angelic beings speak more circumspectly, not making wild accusations. And God says they will bring upon themselves the destruction they deserve.

12 But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; 13 And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;

Notice how they relate to real Christians: they deceive us! They think it’s fun (that’s what “sporting themselves” means) to “infiltrate” the local assemblies, take communion as if they were a believer, come to potlucks, sing the songs, pray the prayers, and fool us all! And we are pretty easily deceived: we want to believe the best of people, so it is hard for us to see through their deceit. But usually, there will be discrepancies that arise, because they also want the pleasures of the flesh. Eventually, their behavior and their words will show their real heart.

They are Not God’s Children!

14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:

I’ve often heard people say, “we are all children of God!” The Jews tried that with Jesus, and He told them that they were not children of God: rather, they were of their father, the Devil! (John 8:44) Yes, they were “cursed children!” But many assume that it means these had been children of God, and were now cursed. No: they had never been believers, had never entered into a covenant with God by sacrifice, and had never been reborn as children of God.

That is why they “cannot cease from sin!” Even believers can’t “eradicate their sin nature” and permanently cease from sin: But an unbeliever only has the one nature: They literally cannot cease from sin, (and “covetous practices”) because even when they do “good things,” they do so with wrong motives, trying to declare themselves righteous. Their relationship with Christ is based on knowledge alone; not faith (consider Judas as an example: he knew everything the other disciples knew: but he had never placed his faith in Jesus.) These false teachers knew the right way, and evidently made an outward attempt to conform (just like Judas), but then abandoned it, scorning it. (Keep in mind that Jesus confirmed that Judas was never born again…he was never cleansed. John 13:10,11)

15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.

They are doing as Balaam did (following his way), choosing money, power, and position over a relationship with God. (Balaam was a genuine prophet…a real believer: but he “sold out” and he was killed with the enemies of God.) The false teachers don’t even have that final saving grace: they are phonies; only pretending to believe, just like Judas. “Waterless wells,”  have nothing of eternal value to offer…nothing to quench the thirst of a soul desiring hope, and peace with God.

18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.

19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

We can be deceived!

It is entirely possible for a false teacher to draw away real believers after themselves: when Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:30, he warned that the false teachers would do just that! Believers can be drawn away into cults: they cannot be lost, but they can be rendered utterly ineffective, and unfulfilled. (When the holy vessels of God’s Temple were stolen by the Babylonians and used for the worship of false Gods, did those vessels become the “property” of those false Gods? No! They were still God’s Property, and He brought them back!) When Jim Jones led his followers into the jungle of Guyana and murdered them all, some of those had been members of evangelical Christian churches in the past, and very likely were real believers! But he was a persuasive speaker, speaking “great swelling words” as we just read in verse 18, and they were deceived! The result was a gruesome death for over 900 people.

But verses 20-22 are about the false teachers themselves, not believers: Notice, it says:

20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.

Notice that there is no mention of “saving faith,” or any faith: We are not saved by knowledge; we are saved “by Grace, through faith.” The demons “know” Jesus! They recognized Him and called Him by name, when He was casting them out of the humans they had possessed. They knew Him as “the” savior, but not as their Savior. That “knowledge” could not save them. But how do we know these people were not believers?

21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

Again, there is no mention of faith. That alone is important, but not necessarily conclusive. However, see what it also does not say: It does not say, “The sheep has turned back into a dog, and has gone back to eating vomit,” or “The sheep has turned back into a pig, and gone home to the hog-wallow!” No: God identifies these people, like Judas, as those who had never been cleansed…never been transformed, never been born again!

So, the false teachers in this chapter are unbelievers who masquerade as believers. Jesus warned (Matthew 7:15) against the false prophets, saying that “they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Paul warned against the same people, in Acts 20:29, saying that “grievous wolves” would arise, even from among the flock, and draw away disciples after themselves.

Conclusion: We have been warned!

And the only safety we have is found in God’s Word and His indwelling Holy Spirit. We are told to “Be sober! Be vigilant, for your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour!” You cannot be lost, but you can be deceived. Study God’s Word, and arm yourself against the trickery of the enemy, who desires to damage your walk with God. We will continue to work to equip the believers in this assembly to stand fast against that enemy.

Lord Jesus, continue to draw us into a deeper relationship with you through your written Word, by the Holy Spirit, and through fellowship with God and the people of God. Make us strong, and teach us to do your work.

How Should We View the Bible?

How Should We View the Bible?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:16-2:3

Introduction:

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

Revelation is not of Human Origin

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

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

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

Unreliable Sources

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

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

How Should We View The Bible?

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

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

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

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


Many Writers, but One Author

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


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

Internal Agreement

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

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

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

Other Clues

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

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

Peter’s Conclusion

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

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

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

There will be False Teachers

Chapter Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evil Motives

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

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

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

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

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

How to Spot a Cult

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

Those who clearly teach any of the following:

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

are clearly crossing the line into “false teaching.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers from the Mouth of God (Part 2)

Answers from the Mouth of God (Part 2)

© C. O. Bishop 2010 revised 2021

Introduction: (Part two)

Last week we explored some common questions in believers’ lives: (How can I be sure I am Saved? What should I do when I don’t “feel saved?” and What breaks fellowship?) As a beginning premise, we established that we need to turn to the Bible as the written Word of God, to find answers. It is not just a “rule book.” It is God’s written communication to us. Jesus is identified as being the Word of God, in several places. We can call Him the Living Word, the Word made Flesh, etc. But we are to treat the Written Word, the Bible, as if He himself were speaking to us: because He is! So, today, we need to further explore the questions that cause us doubt, and see whether we can shine the light of God’s Word on those issues. To review, briefly:

What do I do when I don’t “feel saved?”

Think back: review what it takes to be saved. Ask yourself: “Have I ever placed my full trust in Jesus’ blood; His completed work at the cross as being sufficient to pay for all my sins?” If the answer is “Yes,” then salvation is not the issue: probably you are simply out of fellowship with God. (Another possibility: You may just have sad feelings caused by fatigue, guilt, or grief.)

What breaks fellowship?

In a word, “Sin!” Only sin breaks fellowship with God. Amos 3:3 says that two cannot walk together unless they are in agreement; Psalm 66:18 says that if I am holding sin in my heart, God will not hear me. God is not angry at you. He desires to have fellowship with you. If you are not “holding out on Him” by clinging to known sin, then you are free to enjoy His presence and His blessing. Elijah was not in sin, when he was hiding in the desert, under the juniper tree. He was overwhelmed with fatigue and fear. God did not rebuke him: He first met Elijah’s physical needs and only then, afterward, corrected his thinking.

Romans chapter 6 assures me that I do not have to sin. But, Romans 6:16 says that when I choose to submit myself to sin, I temporarily become a slave to it again(and it is always a choice!)

 “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1st John 1:5, 6) So, if we say that we have fellowship with Him, but our lives don’t match His truth, then we are fooling ourselves. We are not in fellowship.  Then, how do we restore fellowship? By confession. 1st John 1:9 “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession is not “groveling and begging for forgiveness:” it is agreeing with God (that is what “confession” means) that our behavior or thoughts were sin, and then stopping it. If it happens again, confess it again! Some things take longer to break ourselves of than others.

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

Walking with Jesus

Can Sin be eradicated from our lives? 1st John 1:8, 10 says that if we think we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and, if we think we have never had a sin problem, then we are actually making God a liar.  So, in the same manner as Paul struggled with his indwelling sin nature (Romans 7,) we also must fight against it. It’s just a simple fact.

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

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

So, What about my “feelings of unworthiness?”

To begin with, let’s stop, and just admit it: if I am examining my own personal abilities, strengths, or righteousness, then of course I’m unworthy! So are you, and so is the whole human race! We are all sinners! But, if you are a born-again child of God, then God is not looking at those things in your life; so why are you? (By the way, false guilt can cause just as much damage as real guilt!)

God has already permanently placed you into the body of Christ; (1 Cor. 12:13 says that we were all “baptized into one Body of Christ, by the same Holy Spirit”), and He has already seated you with Christ in the heavenly places; (Ephesians 2:6 says that we have been raised with Christ and are seated with him in Heaven,) and He has sealed you in Christ. (Ephesians 1:13, 14 says we are sealed in Him by the Holy Spirit until the redemption of the purchased possession …us!)

You are already perfect in Him (Ephesians 4:24 says that your new nature has been created in the likeness of God, in righteousness and true Holiness), and you (past tense) have been made the Righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Christ became sin for us, though He knew no sin, so that we could be made the righteousness of God in Him.) God no longer sees your sin at all, except as a hindrance to the blessing and work He wants to accomplish in you. According to Jesus’ promise, you will never be condemned. (John 5:24).

How would you feel, if, after a few tries trying to learn to tie his shoes, your four-year-old child declared himself a failure, and unworthy to be called your son? The issue of whether he could tie his shoes is ultimately insignificant: it has no bearing whatsoever on whether he is your son. The same is true in our relationship with God the Father. We became children of God by rebirth, upon receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior. Our works have nothing to do with salvation.

Our good works are only possible because we are children of God; they are not required in order to make us children of God. An unbeliever may do good works, possibly even more consistently than most believers, but he does it for a different reason, and his good works will not change his lost standing before God. Works are simply not in the picture, except as a result of Salvation.

Feelings are not Trustworthy.

We need to recognize that feelings are only valid when they reflect reality…they are not usually a safe measure of reality. Amusement parks capitalize on this fact: they make us feel as though we are falling when we are actually relatively safe. Magicians make us think we see things that we actually know are not true. But the fact of God’s Word is reality. We place our faith in His Word, and we change our way of life to match His principles…we embrace His values as our own. Feelings of deep joy and satisfaction, and awe at the majesty of God should follow.

But there will always be the likelihood that our feelings may not reliably reflect the reality of our new relationship with God. So, we need to constantly review the facts, and bask in the glory of God’s presence in His Word and in fellowship with other believers, to insulate ourselves from the negative feelings that besiege us in the unbelieving World. God’s Word reveals which feelings are from Him, and which are from our old sin nature. Satan will try to use my old nature as a tool to render me unprofitable to God. That is part of the battle—avoiding the traps he sets for our minds. In fact, that is what the “Helmet of Salvation” is all about in Ephesians 6:17. The assurance of our salvation is what guards our minds against Satan’s attacks.

What about when I “forgive” someone, but I am still angry?

This is an example where feelings do reveal what is really in our hearts. Consider this: if I forgive a debt someone owes me, it means they no longer owe me! The debt is cancelled, which means I must fully accept and absorb that loss. That is why Jesus had to go to the Cross, in order to forgive our sins. He bore the loss, the broken law, the weight of the shame and guilt of the lost world, and He took the punishment we deserved. So, when I say the words, “I forgive…” it means “I accept the loss, the hurt, the injury received, and I no longer hold the other person responsible.” So, when the angry feelings come back, I need to confess that the feelings are not from God and that they are a manifestation of my old nature. I can confess my anger as sin! I can set it aside, and accept that “yes, I was injured,” and decide again, “I no longer hold anyone else responsible.”

Someone has pointed out that “Anger is like a large, heavy bell: it took several pulls on the rope to get it ringing, to begin with, and just letting go of the rope once will not stop the sound. But if, every time I hear the bell, I yank the rope again, it will never stop ringing!” You must let go of it and give God time to heal your hurt feelings and harsh, sad memories.

So, how can I know God’s will for my life?

For a believer who has already settled the issue of his/her salvation, this is an important question to answer. The Bible gives a great deal of information on the subject, and I won’t try to cover it all right now. But, the basics are as follows:

God gives “General instructions” to all believers–He wants all of us to walk in obedience to Him, and live lives that are pleasing to Him, and which honor him before men. He wants all of us to believe His Word; trust His Grace and Wisdom; and to tell the good news of salvation to others. He wants all of us to consistently fellowship with Him and with other believers. He wants all of us to pray constantly, and be an encouragement to other believers, as well as praying for their needs.

He wants all of us to live without sin, but He knows our frailty, and He is more than fair– if we sin, we are to confess it to Him, restore whatever wrong has been done (if possible,) and go on walking with Him. He wants all of us to love Him, above all things, and to grow in that love. He wants His love to spill over from our lives into those around us, and to bless all those around us.

God wants all of us to serve as His ambassadors, to reach the lost and dying world around us with the Gospel. He gives all of us instructions, as to how this is to be accomplished. He gives all of us instructions as to how to relate to our spouses, to our children, to our employers or employees, the government, the police, the lost people around us, and to fellow Christians.

In short, all the general instructions regarding how to live for God are in the Bible. Specific instructions, as to what school to go to, or who to marry, or how much to give, or where to seek employment, are a matter of applying the principles of wisdom given in God’s Word, and praying for guidance from God’s Holy Spirit. Many things can be a process of elimination, too, if we write down the “pro’s and con’s”, and then apply God’s principles to make our choices.

Start by obeying the things you know, and praying for wisdom on the things you don’t know. (James 1:5) Then search the scriptures to see if there is a governing principle by which you can make the specific decision that is troubling you. If all the truth you know seems to point in a given direction, feel free to go that way. If the answers you come up with really leave two equally good options, feel free to choose on the basis of personal preference. But be cautious; examine why you prefer one over the other. Ask God for guidance. It is OK to seek counsel of other believers whom you consider to be wise in the Word, as well.

Finally, if you have gone as far as you can, and have made the best decision you know how, then commit your way to God, and trust Him to direct your path. (Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust 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.”) If He “closes doors,” so to speak, it could be that He is redirecting you. On the other hand, it could simply be an obstacle that you are to overcome. At any rate, God wants you to know His will. He does not play games of hide and seek, or make you guess. If you are willing to submit yourself to His will, and are actively seeking it, then you will eventually be directed by Him.

Here is a warning: don’t make the error of “asking God’s will so you can decide whether to submit yourself to it.” He doesn’t “submit directions to us for our approval.” His will is to be obeyed, not just considered. Knowledge is for the purpose of conduct, not curiosity. If you are not willing to do the will of God, then don’t bother asking Him what it is. We are not free to choose whether to obey God; but many of the choices for which we seek His direction are covered by Biblical principles, and He simply tells us to learn to obey the principles in His Word.

You can be assured, as a believer, based on the promise of God’s Word, that you will never be lost, and that God will continue to love you and provide for you, even through trials, sicknesses and death. You can be assured that, as you search His Word for principles to live by, He will lead you in the path of His choosing. You can be assured that, if you apply those principles in His Word, then your choices will be within His will, and you will enjoy his blessing and guidance.

Notice what these ideas all have in common? God’s Word: That is where we find our assurance. You need to establish a regular habit of reading, and feeding on the Bible. That is where you will find assurance and peace. There are five fundamental ways you can feed on God’s Word:

  1. Hear it
  2. Read it
  3. Study it
  4. Memorize it
  5. Meditate upon it.


Each of the five in the list requires more effort than the one before—and more time. Guess which end of the list has the most effect upon your life. Yep. The ones that cost you the most in terms of time and commitment are the ones that will do you the most good. The same thing is true for most relationships. The ones into which you put the most time and effort usually become the most valuable and enjoyable. We will continue to feed on God’s Word in this assembly, and we trust that it will be to your encouragement, as well.

Conclusion:

You decide how you want to relate to the Lord: If you only want a “life-jacket” in the storms of life, then you may find that when the storms actually come, you don’t really know how to use that “life-jacket.” If you seek his guidance, love, approval, and constant fellowship, then when the storms come, you will find that you are already prepared, and you can rest in Him.

I pray you will find your assurance in the person of Christ, through His written Word, by His Holy Spirit, and in fellowship with other believers. If there are specific questions for which you want answers, any of the leaders in this church will be happy to help you find them. Just ask!

Lord Jesus, continually direct our thoughts toward Yourself, so that we find our assurance in your Word, and fellowship with you by your Grace, and pour out your love to the lost world around us. Make us the ambassadors you have called us to be.

Answers from the Mouth of God (Pt 1)

Answers from God’s Word

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

Introduction: (Part one)

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

God has the answers.

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

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

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

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

How can I Know I’m Saved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What breaks fellowship?

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

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

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

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

Walking with Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Baptism and the New Testament Church

Baptism and the New Testament Church

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

What do we actually know about the New Testament Church?

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

The New Testament Church was:

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

What about Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Baptism?

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

Baptism by the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

Water Baptism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Did the Angel Roll Away the Stone?

Why Roll Away the Stone at all?


Matthew 12:40

© C. O. Bishop 2011 revised 2021

Introduction: The Simple Questions

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

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

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

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

Answers in Scripture:

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

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

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

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

So, what about the tar on the inside?

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

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

So… What about that stone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Happened on Palm Sunday?

What Really Happened ?

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

Matthew 21:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 19:29-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was Jesus coming from?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why Jerusalem?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

The Day of the LORD

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts and Goals

Gifts and Goals

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:1-15

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

The Gifts and the Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goals

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

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

So there are seven things to look for:

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter’s Closing Admonition

Final Encouragement

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 5:5-14

Introduction:

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Agape Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Work of the Shepherds (Part 3)

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

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

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

Introduction:

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

I do want to preface all these verses with a comment that Paul sent to Timothy, in 2nd Timothy 2:2—He told Timothy to find men to teach…to raise up as teachers and leaders, but that he was to spend his energy teaching a specific kind of individual: He said, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Timothy had to look for reliable individuals.  Was he not to feed the whole flock as well? Certainly. But the ones he was to train as leaders had to fit this mold.

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

Titus 1:5-9 (Speaking about Elders)

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

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

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

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

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

Motivation:

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

Attitude:

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

Behavior:

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

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

Expectations:

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


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

The Work of the Shepherds

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

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

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

The Care of the Shepherds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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