Posts Tagged ‘Blessing’

Faith Begets Godly Wisdom

Faith Begets Godly Wisdom

“The World by (worldly) Wisdom Knew Not God”

© C. O. Bishop 2020

James 1:5-11; 1st Corinthians 1:17-25 (esp. 21)

Introduction:

For some reason, Christians love to cite “Scientific Proof” for the Bible being the Word of God. Occasionally, it is some specific point that is being corroborated by physical evidence, which is fine: God’s Word does have a better pedigree in terms of documented evidence for its archaeological accuracy, etc. than any other ancient document. In fact, I have been told that, prior to a century ago, historians believed the city of Troy, from Homer’s The Iliad, to be sheer fiction, with no historical basis in fact. But, as I was told, the city of Troas is identified (and located) from scripture, and it was conjectured that possibly, because of the similar name, they were the same place. So digging commenced at Troas, and, sure enough, nine civilizations down, archaeologists discovered that Troy had indeed been a real place…and that was it.

In another example, secular scholars long believed that King David of the Bible was a legendary character, and not historical. Why? Because no other ancient documents seemed to mention him. In fact, they also had believed that the Philistines, Israel’s ancient enemies, never existed, for similar reason. But archaeologists happened to discover the ruins of the Philistines right where the scriptures said they were supposed to be (and of course, they made the Philistines out to be noble, wonderful folk), and later, in Philistine writings they excavated, they found mention of…King David. (Oh! Well! So if the Philistines mention him, then he must have existed!)

Doesn’t that seem a little “backward?” If the Bible has more documented evidence to its accuracy than any other ancient document (and it does), wouldn’t it make more sense to take its word for something until proof comes that it is fiction, rather than the other way around?

The Psalms mention (Psalm 8:8) “…the paths of the sea”. In the early 1800’s, an American naval officer, Matthew Maury read that verse and thought, “Well this is certainly just a ‘figure of speech’…there are no ‘paths’ in the sea.” But he was a believer—he was convinced of the truth of God’s Word (as a principle) and it troubled him to find what seemed to be an exception. So…he proposed a test:

He already knew that there were certain places in the oceans that seemed to allow faster sailing, and thought that the explanation might be the “paths” mentioned in scripture. So the test was to have thousands of small bottles dropped overboard from sailing ships at each time a location was known, say, at their noon-shot bearings, with a slip of paper inside, having the longitude and latitude written on it, and a reward offered if the paper was sent in with precise answer as to where it was found. The idea was that, if there were paths, or “rivers”, currents, in the oceans, then the bottles would not just wash ashore randomly, but would go to specific areas, determined by the location where they were originally dropped overboard and the resulting exposure to the currents of the ocean.

And it worked! The result was the first tentative “mapping” of the ocean currents: the “paths of the sea”. Today the shipping companies use those routes to minimize fuel costs, and oceanographers maintain accurate satellite maps of the ocean currents, because, as it turns out, the paths move around a bit, and it pays to know where they are at any given time.

There are times when Scriptural information far pre-dates that of science: Though it made no special point of it, the Bible told of the original super-continent, and its subsequent breakup, long before modern science proved it to be so. (I had read it there, and understood the implications 20 years before the proof was determined by Computer modeling.) Now, here is an interesting question: The breakup supposedly happened long prior to man’s evolution on the planet. But the scripture not only calls out that it happened, but that it happened within the memory of man…a man was given the name “Peleg” (meaning “division”), because it broke up about the time he was born. How would they even have known about it, let alone named a child after the event?

If the Evidence is solid, why does the World reject the knowledge of God? Is it odd to you that the Bible makes no attempt to “prove” the existence of God? The existence of the “self-existent one” is taken as fact, and all that is offered is how a sinner may be reconciled to that holy God.

Faith Precedes Full Knowledge (not vice-versa)

Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith. It goes on to explain that “…he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

That naval officer believed God that there were paths in the seas, so he went looking for them. Today we have them mapped in detail by satellite photography, and infrared camera tracking, etc., so that shippers and meteorologists know on a day-by-day basis where the currents are, and how fast they are travelling, as well as their temperature within a few tenths of a degree. But the beginning of that knowledge was faith. Proverbs 1:7 agrees, stating that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham had met God…because God had sought him out, and invited him to leave his family home, and go with God. Abraham was nothing special—an idolatrous shepherd from what is now modern-day Iraq. But he believed God enough to get up and go, so God gave him a little more light. Eventually, in Genesis 15:6 where Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness…which is to say, God declared him righteous…the promise was for the Land and a progeny. Abraham was about 85 years old when God made that pivotal promise, and he was right at 100 years old, when his “only begotten” son was born (Abraham had seven other sons…one before, and six afterward, but none of them were the Son of the Promise. “Only-begotten” is a special phrase, meaning “the heir”.) But Abraham still had a lot to learn, after he believed God.

The Door to the Truth is the Will, not the Intellect

Jesus said that “whoever is willing to do the will of God will know of my teaching, whether it is of God, or just my own.”(John 7:17) The key to knowledge, then, as Jesus was describing it, was being willing to do God’s will. A person who approaches the truth in rebellion against God will find the truth to be too obscure to follow. He will find it repugnant, and finally call it foolishness. And God knows this. (1st Corinthians 1:23)

Jesus really did shed his blood for the sins of the whole world, and He said that He had come that the world through him might be saved. But he also predicted that most people would avoid Him, ignore the truth, take the easy way of following the World and believing Self… and as a result, would be lost.

Consider Cain and Abel: both, as far as we are told, had exactly the same information to work with, and that is borne out by the fact that God reasoned with Cain as with one who knew the truth. But Abel believed God, and Cain did not. Hebrews 11:4 states that by faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice. Both Cain and Abel knew it was to be a blood sacrifice; Cain went his own way, Abel believed God and obeyed.

Some well-meaning philosophers have attempted to “prove” the existence of God…but there are always holes in their arguments. Why? It is because we are required to know God by faith, and He will not permit us to remove faith from the equation. There will always be a believable argument available against faith, and it will always be a fatal choice, if believed.

Jesus described the “wide path” that leads to destruction: one might ask, then, “why not put up an impassable roadblock?” One thing we tend to miss is the fact that we are by nature the enemies of God, not just “innocent bumblers.” Romans 5:8-10 says that while were yet enemies, Christ died for our sins. God does not force his enemies to fellowship with Him. He offers full forgiveness to anyone who comes to Him, and warns over and over of the punishment awaiting those who continue to reject him. But, ultimately, if they choose destruction, that choice is open as well. He will not force them to come to safety in Him. The problem is “Human Reasoning.”

“Human” Reasoning leads to “Human” conclusions.

God tells us that humanity has never learned by means of human wisdom to know the Creator. (1st Corinthians 1:21) We are warned against human reasoning, philosophy, and vain thinking, (Colossians 2:8) because it will ensnare the unwary soul. The Law of the Harvest was laid down in the creation account—each plant bore seed “after its kind,” and every animal reproduced “after its kind.” What you sow is also what you reap. If you use human reasoning against, or instead of, God’s Word, you will wind up with Human conclusions against God’s Word. When a person or a church begins to drift away from the centrality of the Word of God, ultimately, the decisions they make and the conclusions at which they arrive will be in opposition to God’s principles…and the longer they allow the slide to go, the further from truth they will stray, until they are a fully apostate person or assembly, whether individual, local, or wide-spread. There are large church organizations today, once known for their stand with God, which are now better known for their stand against Him. There are no Bibles in their sanctuaries, nor is there a Godly word from their pulpit. They are fully committed to humanism, yet still proclaim themselves to be “Christian”, though everything about them says they are far removed from the flock of Christ.

How can we overcome this tendency?

Faith begets Wisdom

James 1:5-8 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

We see, then, that Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” is also borne out in the New Testament: We saw earlier that faith precedes knowledge; and here we see that faith precedes wisdom. In fact, in both cases, faith actually begets knowledge and wisdom. You see, James agrees with the Old Testament regarding both wisdom and knowledge:

Proverbs 2:6 “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” “Understanding” is the same as wisdom. The source of both knowledge and wisdom is the “mouth” of God! His Word is the source of both wisdom and knowledge. But to get either one requires that we approach the Bible as actually being His Word. That requires faith!

Hebrews 11:6 says, “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We feed on God’s Word, because we believe it is God’s Word. The result is a growing confidence and faith in Him (because we constantly see how all of His Word ties together) and a growing knowledge of what He says, as well as a growing wisdom as to how to apply it to our lives.

If we are constantly calling into question God’s character, and doubting His person, His authority or the truth of His Word, then we are not going to gain any of that. That is what “unbelief” really entails: we are continually questioning God’s character, and authority, and the truth of His Word, at the very least. And eventually we will even question His existence. This is why James says that a man full of doubts is unstable, and will not gain wisdom.

Wisdom gives Clear Perspective

The last three verses in this passage reflect another result of gaining God’ Wisdom: we gain a clear perspective as to who we are in Christ, which eliminates both pride and shame.

James 1:9-11 “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.”

If I am controlled by Godly Wisdom, I will neither be tempted to “hold myself up as being something special,” nor to “grovel in self-condemnation.” Romans 12:3 says that we are to see ourselves in a “sober” way: not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. This is not the same as “self-condemnation.” Sobriety means seeing things the way they really are. Years ago, an anti-drug campaign made a statement along the lines of “Drugs are for people who can’t handle reality!” Someone else replied, as a joke, “Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs!” But God says that “sobriety” (not simply the absence of substance abuse, but the embracing of reality) is the view by which He wants us to see ourselves and everything in life.

Perhaps you have thought, “Oh, I’m the worst sinner…!” Well, believe it or not, the Bible says who the “worst sinner” was, if you want to read for what it says. Three times, the Holy Spirit identified the Apostle Paul as “the chief among sinners;” “less than the least of all saints;” and “not worthy to be called an apostle.” There are those who laugh at this fact, saying, “Oh, that’s just how Paul felt about things!” If that is the case, then it is not true, and not all of the Bible is God’s Word, since not all of it is true. But this is God’s Word, and no one else in scripture is so labeled. You can accept it or not, but the Bible says you are not as “bad a sinner” as Paul was.

Perhaps you have thought, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as (so-and so)!” Sorry, that is a wrong perspective, too. If we were both without Christ, we would both be equally lost! (Remember that everyone outside the Ark, rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, sick or healthy, were ALL just as lost, when the rain began and God closed the door to the Ark! On the other hand, inside the Ark, regardless of any other differences…all were saved.

The ground at the foot of the Cross truly is level: As a man with limited education, I can rejoice that it will not hold me back in God’s service. As a man with a checkered past, perhaps, I can rejoice that it is all under the Blood of Jesus, and completely removed from how God sees me. As a person with lots of money, a sterling past, an impressive education and a long list of accomplishments, I could rejoice that those things also do not prevent my serving the Lord with my life. (They may even help, but there is no guarantee that they will do so. Paul had all of those things, and he reckoned it all to have been a waste.)

Conclusion

All of us need to gain a proper perspective as to our importance to God, and our very limited “window of opportunity” in which to be used by the Lord. James says that our lives are “a vapor” that will soon pass away. We have “one shot at the target,” so to speak: One life to use for God. One chance to work with Jesus “in the flock,” or “in the vineyard,” or “in the harvest…” however you like to see His work.

Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me:” He asks us to be co-laborers with Him, and learn wisdom from Him. So, let’s gain God’s Wisdom, let’s see ourselves clearly, and then, let’s get on with the job! Don’t allow human reasoning or wrong thinking to keep you out of the blessing!

Lord Jesus, we ask that You fill us with Faith and Wisdom and Sobriety. Let us see ourselves as You see us, and make us able ministers of your Grace.


Masters and Mouths

Masters and Mouths

© 4/18/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:1-12

Introduction:

James seems to address two ideas here: Masters and Mouths. But, the admonition is directed to “My Brethren:” to believers. So, since both ideas are addressed to the same audience, and the one leads directly into the other, we will approach them as if they were one idea, simply having a wider and a narrower focus.

The general focus is “how we live,” especially in the case of leaders. Remember that in chapter two that was also the primary focus, where faith had to result in actions. Hypocrisy was ruled out by genuine faith, leading to the “practical” holiness of life which God requires.

“Be Not Many Masters”

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Bear in mind that I am quoting the King James Version…which, in its original form was from 1611. In modern English, especially in the US, we no longer often use the word “master” to mean a teacher, but that was a very common usage, two centuries ago, even in the US. A school-teacher was called a schoolmaster, a person who went from town to town teaching young people the arts of ballroom dancing (once considered an important part of education) was called a “dance-master,” etc. The word for teacher in Spanish is still “maestro,” and such usage is common in many languages. This passage is not a warning to not be an employer, nor even a caution against the (then-common) practice of slave-holding. It is an admonition that one not be over-eager to become a teacher (specifically, teaching within the church…teaching scripture, feeding the flock, equipping the saints, etc.) Why would James extend such a warning? Over in 1st Timothy 8:1, it says that “if a man desires the office of a bishop (“overseer”…same person as an elder, pastor, shepherd, presbyter,) it is a good work he desires.”

The issue is one of being held accountable: see Hebrews 13:17. We elders are going to be held accountable for the results of our ministry, at least so far as it is a direct result of what we did or failed to do. Ezekiel 34:1-10 spells out the job description of the shepherds, and specifically emphasizes their ultimate accountability to God. If you read that passage, and it does not make you think very seriously about the consequences of ministry, for good or bad, then something is wrong with how you approach God’s Word. He makes it a truly serious issue.

The warning here, about “masters” (teachers) bearing a greater condemnation, also could be in reference to the fact that our human observers will more harshly condemn a failing teacher or preacher than they will one who does not hold such a position. (Consider how the news media love to report any failure in pastors, Sunday-school teachers, etc.) And the warning is clear, that we should not be “in a rush” to gain that status, knowing that the risk is there.

But…it is also a warning that God demands more of a teacher or a shepherd. We are held to a stricter standard. The qualifications for leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9 are quite clear, and they definitely lay out God’s standard for Church leaders. They do not say that all Christians have to meet those criteria. On the other hand, they definitely are all character-traits that should be emulated by those who follow. Paul said (1st Corinthians 11:1) to the Corinthian believers that they were to follow him as he followed Christ. Elders, deacons and other leaders are to lead by example, so that others can do as they do, without fear of being led astray. Peter said (1st Peter 5:1-3)that the elders are not to serve as “lords” over the flock, but to be examples for the flock.

The danger of failure looms for everyone, but the results of failure in a shepherd’s life can be disastrous, as others are certainly following. A pastor who winks at worldly thinking will be held accountable for the sin into which members of the flock will certainly be drawn. He taught them that it was “OK.”  The failings in the teachers will be lived out in those they teach. So James addresses the most common failing, here: the mouth…the tongue. And he reminds us that we all fail in this area, so it is especially vital to guard against this nearly universal failing.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

The Importance of the Tongue

This sounds like an exaggeration, but James says that if a believer can completely solve the “mouth problem”, he is fully mature—“perfect,” in the sense of the ability to walk with God. James says that if you can control your tongue, you can control everything else, as well, because, evidently, that is the greatest challenge. Then he goes on to illustrate how the tongue is at least indicative of where the whole man is headed.
Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

James uses, as illustrations, a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship; they are examples of how something relatively small can have a huge effect. In a way, it is an “inside out” analogy… in both those cases, the small thing (bit and rudder) are used to physically control, from the outside, a much larger thing (the horse or the ship.) But the tongue is primarily an indicator of what is going on in the heart. Jesus said (Matthew 12:33-35) that a good man brings forth out of the good treasures of his heart that which is good; while an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil. He said that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Interestingly, this is also the passage where the scripture teaches that “by their fruit ye shall know them”. He was referring to false teachers, and the “fruit” was their teaching; their words. What comes out of our mouths is indicative of what is in our hearts.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

We need to consider the ultimate source of what is coming out of our mouths: Does it originate with God? And, if not, from where else might it originate? (set on fire of hell?” Is this literal? Or figurative?) Jesus said (Mark 7:15-23) that a man is not defiled by what he puts into his mouth, but by what comes out, specifically because of the source. The evil that comes out of our hearts, and bears fruit through our words and actions, is what brands us as sinners. Paul said, (Romans 8:7) that our sin nature is literally untamable—that it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be brought into submission. So, if my sin nature is the source of what comes out of my mouth, it is guaranteed to be unprofitable, if not downright destructive. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Author of all of the Bible, through the various human writers. So James, by the same Holy Spirit, confirms that the tongue (because it bears the fruit of the inner man…the heart) is untamable, too…and that it reflects our old sin nature (which, in turn, is ultimately fueled by the Evil One, as we see in Ephesians 2:2, 3) Not much fun to consider, is it?

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

The issue is the heart: Jeremiah, over 600 years earlier had said, (Jeremiah 17:9) that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” So, even in a believer, who is possessed of a new nature which is created holy and righteous (See Ephesians 4:24), the old sin nature, unchanged and untamable, is still there, waiting and yearning to take over and make us a curse to all around us instead of a blessing.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

The contrast between blessing and cursing is stark, and very clear: What other kinds of things does God label as “sins of the lips?”

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

So the classification of “what to say and what not to say” could be narrowed to “What, in this flow of words, could minister grace to the hearers?” (By the way, I try to maintain the consciousness that, even “in private,” there are hearers, and watchers. Consider the fact that we are a testimony of God’s Grace and Wisdom to the Angelic hosts, not just to humans.) How is this edifying to anyone? How does it build up someone in their walk with God? Or, conversely, does it actually do the opposite? This is serious stuff, if you consider the potential consequences.

Ephesians 5:4 says, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” (KJV)

  • NASB renders the same passage, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
  • NIV renders it “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

In these passages, Paul lists some things that are simply seen as being inappropriate for believers to say or discuss. We may have a variety of opinions about what those subjects may be, but I am guessing that the things to which he refers, here, are conversations that either make light of, or glorify sin or immorality. He goes on to say that “it is a shame even to speak of those things done of them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) Such things should not be comfortable for us to discuss, and there has to be a very good reason to even broach these subjects, let alone dwell upon them. I have had young believers insist that “swearing can be a good thing” in certain circumstances. I am not the judge: Jesus is. But Jesus is the Living Word of God. How can I rationalize obscenity, off-color joking, or the like, when the Written Word of God tells me it is to be abandoned?

What other kinds of things does God list as sins of the mouth? One he hits on in many places is deception: Jesus labeled Satan as being the author of deception, saying “…he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Give that some thought, when you are tempted to shade the truth.

In Proverbs 6:16-19 He lists:

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaketh lies
  • He that soweth discord among brethren.

I’m not sure that I understand the difference between the first two items, as both seem to deal with lying. But the third one can refer to someone who spreads negative information, even if it is true. Proverbs 10:12 says that “hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” 1st Peter 4:8 echoes that idea, saying that “…love covers a multitude of sin.” It is possible for us to tell the truth, and still be in the wrong, as we have become a “talebearer.” Proverbs 11:13 says “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”

Our mouth can be a source of trouble even when we are telling the truth…when the matter simply should not have been discussed. Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Wisdom is the thing we want controlling our words. Proverbs 31:26, referring to a virtuous woman, says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Those are the things we want to characterize what comes out of our mouths. Wisdom and Kindness!

Incidentally, if we have wronged someone by talking behind their back, and they know it, then we owe them confession and apology, as well as the same to all those to whom we gossiped. But if the “victim” does not know, and we run to them to “clear our conscience”, then we have only burdened them with the knowledge that we have wronged them, and then left them to worry about the potential long-term results of our sin.

That is not a kind thing to do, nor does it undo the damage we have done: instead, it adds to the damage. So, while we do have to go and confess our gossip to those to whom we gossiped, it is very questionable motive that would drive us to also go let the victim know that their reputation has been sullied by our loose mouth, unless there is a real chance they would learn of it anyway, and this might somehow protect them from the potential damage.

One must consider what “Agape” love means: It requires doing things for the benefit of the recipient, without regard to the effect on the doer. That is what Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. If my “confession,” meant only to “unburden my soul,” is going to cause further damage to the victim of my loose mouth, then that is not a loving thing to do. We need to examine our motives, and consider the potential results. There may be times when the only one to whom I can confess is God himself.

It is not Random: It is a Choice.

James goes on to finally compare our speech to a fountain or a fruit tree:

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Nature doesn’t hold very many anomalies like the human mouth. A spring would not normally alternate randomly from salt water to fresh, and back again, though I suppose a seasonal change or a tidal change might produce such a phenomenon. But it is certainly not considered normal, nor would it ever be considered a good thing. It would make that spring unreliable to any creature who needs fresh water.

A fruit tree will never “randomly” offer a completely unrelated fruit, though grafting can produce some rather unusual combinations. But there is nothing random about it, and usually, it is considered a desirable thing, where grafting is involved, because someone went to a great deal of trouble and care, to produce that successful graft.

But our speech does swing wildly from very good to very bad, sometimes without warning. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it is a reality that we can (and must) learn to deal with, and, thankfully, one from which we will eventually be free.

In the meantime, we are exhorted to be aware of the danger and to deal wisely in the things we say and do. The words we use and the way we conduct relationships tell the people around us more about the reality of our walk with God than any overt “piety” we may try to display. People need to

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

To leaders, this is an especially serious warning, of course, but all believers need to be aware that we are affecting someone, whether we know it or not, and for better or worse. Choose daily to consider what effect you are having, and allow God to change your thinking and your words.

Blessings upon you all. I trust that we will soon be together again in the building the Lord has provided. Until that time, please try to maintain contact with one another by telephone, and maintain contact with God, in the Word, and in prayer.


Believers, Place Your Bets!

Believers, Place Your Bets!

© 4/15/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 2:12-26

Introduction:

We hear a lot of arguments regarding the twin subjects of faith and works. And that is what they really are: twins! Saving faith produces works as a rule. Works are proof of faith as a rule, but not always saving faith: they may only be proof that the one performing the works wants to please God, or even wants to be seen as righteous by his or her fellow-humans.

Here in James, the single verse (26) “26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” is one of the most misused and frequently misquoted passages in the Bible.  Why? Because we tend to isolate that one idea, and thus sever it from the context in which it is given. Let’s back up to verse 12, at least, and see what is being discussed: Remember that James is speaking to believers. “12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Behavior matters!

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We all get one chance— one life—during which to honor God, and present our bodies a living sacrifice as a worship offering. Once it is over, only that which met this standard will have eternal value. Usually, we only have one chance to make a “first impression” with those people around us, too. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be around folks long enough for them to see that we are not “stuck-up” or rude…but if that is what they really thought, when they first met us, they will probably not come back and give us another chance. Does God see us for what we really are, good or bad? Certainly He does! He is not governed by “impressions.” I am frequently amused by married couples’ testimonies that “when I first met ___, I didn’t like….” Their first impression was bad, but they grew to love one another and eventually were married. Their first impression was wrong, but could have cost them dearly. God sees the truth at all times. He is not the one we are trying to impress, or trying to not cause to stumble, or whatever.

As believers, we have already received God’s Mercy, at the Cross: We are in no danger of His changing His mind, and rejecting us. We are sealed in Christ until the day of redemption, according to Ephesians. But we need to reflect that fact, in reaching out to those around us in a merciful way. Can it backfire? Certainly it can! It did for Jesus, many times. After he fed the 5,000, in John chapter 6; the very next day, those he had fed were back for more; but he offered them the Bread of Life instead, and they immediately turned on him and began to argue, in John 6:30, saying “What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?” (What? He just fed the whole crowd on five loaves and two fishes, and you ask for another sign?)

We have had people ask for money for food, and when we gave it, we saw them immediately head for the liquor store. So, the next time, when someone asked for money for food, we took them to get food. In one case that worked very well…the woman involved was telling the truth: her husband and several children were waiting in an empty lot beside a school, and they were all very glad to see her show up with a large bag full of sandwiches and other food.

But in another case, the fellow asked for food, and we offered to drive with him right then, and buy a meal. He changed his request, saying he needed gas for his car. We offered to go with him to get gasoline…the story kept changing, and we kept offering to meet the stated need, until he was exasperated, and blurted “Can’t you just give me some money?!” He was lying! He didn’t want any of the things he claimed to need. We were glad we had not given him anything, whereas in the case of the woman with the children, we were only sad that we could offer no better help than food.

What is the Connection?

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

We need to see the connection between faith and works, then. James poses the question “Can Faith save?” The real issue is “what kind of faith are we talking about?” Saving faith seems to be the issue, but there are other things we, as humans, call faith.

In responding to this passage, I would like to relate an argument I had with an unbelieving co-worker, nearly thirty years ago: He claimed that he could “create his own reality.” He claimed that his beliefs would control the reality that he experienced.

I replied that he did not really believe that, and that the untruth of his statement was made obvious by how he lived his life: He had to live with the same reality as everyone else. He “placed his bets,” so to speak, upon the realities of this world, the same as everyone else. I said, “If you are in the middle of the road and I tell you a truck is coming, you will get out of the road, just like everyone else. You will not ‘create your own reality,’ in which the truck will somehow not hurt you: You are betting on the reality of death, and saving yourself by moving out of harm’s way.” He had no answer, and the conversation ended. But that same rule is applied here, by James:

What you really believe is revealed by your works. If you really believe your house is on fire, you try to save yourself, your loved-ones and your possessions, unless you are suicidal, and desire to die. Where you “place your bets” is the best indicator of what you really believe.

If you really believe that Jesus is your Savior, your Master and your Judge, then your actions should reflect that, as a general rule. So the logic follows: if you see someone else in need, what you really believe about your relationship to Christ and His lordship in your life will be revealed by your works. (Bear in mind the inherent question, “revealed to whom?” Does God know the truth? Or are we constantly having to again prove to God the reality of our faith?)

The kind of faith that produced a love-relationship with an unseen Savior should also produce a compassionate relationship with the visible people around us with their visible needs. 1st John 4:20, 21 agrees, saying, 2If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The demonstration of the reality of faith is to other humans, not to God. The kind of faith that does not produce appropriate works is called a “dead” faith. We are commanded by Jesus to love one another…a genuine faith should result in a genuine caring for those around us. We should love one another in practical ways, according to this passage.

And, What if we Don’t?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Such neglect is unprofitable and brings a negative shadow on the name of Christ. If we, as believers, don’t even care for one another’s needs, then how can we say we are “brothers” in Christ? Even unbelievers, as a rule, will care for the needs of their families, though perhaps in poor grace, in some cases. Usually, simple cultural norms will demand that a person care for their own immediate family members. Why, then, would it be acceptable to us to not take care of the believers with whom we share an eternal bond of kinship in the person of Christ? That lack, if founded upon a lack of concern, not just ignorance of the need, would show a non-functional faith, at least, and perhaps would give reason to suspect even the validity of that faith…leading us to verse 17, which is closing in on what we wanted to address in the first place:

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Such faith, that does nothing to move the will, and causes no change in action, is a useless, non-functional faith. Is it valid? Only God knows! You see, this whole passage on “faith versus works” is couched in the question of “How can the World see faith? How can people see faith?”

God could see the faith of Lot, though no human could see it. When I first read the account of Lot, in Genesis chapters 13-19, I would definitely have supposed (in spite of his Godly Uncle Abraham) that Lot was simply an unbeliever, whose sins finally caught up with him. But God says, in 2nd Peter 2:6-9, that Lot was a righteous man! I certainly would not have come to that conclusion by observing his works, because, except for one feeble attempt to save the angels whom he thought were ordinary men, he was pretty much invisible, in terms of faith, because his works did not reveal his faith, as a rule. Even his sons-in-law did not believe him, when he tried to warn them of the coming destruction. So, the next verse makes it clear:

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

A man, a fellow human, can only observe faith in action. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow humans. We can only see actions. God says we need works to confirm who we are in Christ, to those around us. Lot’s life was a wreckage that was not only useless as a testimony to unbelievers, but produced enemies to the seed of Abraham, lasting until today. Lot’s sons (by incest with his daughters) were Ben-Ammi and Moab. The Ammonites and the Moabites were bitter enemies to Israel from the beginning, and they still are, today, as they are the people of Jordan, and the Palestinians. It is a sad thing, but “righteous Lot” left a terrible legacy.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Doctrinal soundness” does not replace a living faith. “Orthodoxy” is simply a case of having correct opinions. One can know the truth, intellectually; accept it as fact; be able to recite a catechism or creed, and yet have no personal interaction with that truth. It is certainly possible to have “correct opinions” regarding theology, and still be absolutely an unbeliever.

But remember that James is speaking to believers. All he says, here, is that knowing the fact that “there is only one God” is not the same as having a living relationship with that one God. He gives the example of the demons, who have known God face-to-face, since before the world was created, and yet are eternally His enemies. They know all about the God of the Bible, and are terrified of their coming judgment. We know the bare facts, as we have been told them, but we are indifferent about the coming judgment, and acting as if it will never come.

Genuine Faith will Change Our Life

If our faith is a real, saving faith, it should be changing our motives, and our behavior. We don’t “make that change” in order to “prove our faith.” Genuine Faith changes us, from the inside out, and proves its own validity.

James goes on to discuss Abraham, whom God justified by faith (Genesis 15:6), but whom men justify because of his works. The scripture that says he was justified by his faith, found visible proof in his later works.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

The word “perfect”, here, means “completed”…fulfilled. If we compare Ephesians 2:8-10, we can see that while we are saved “by Grace, through Faith,” and specifically not through (or by means of) works, verse ten makes it clear that we are “His workmanship, created unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So the fulfillment of our faith and God’s Grace, in re-creating us in His own image, is that we are to walk in the good works that he ordained for us ahead of time.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Remember that the word “justified” means “declared righteous.” Bear in mind Who it is, doing the real justification, and who the observers are in this context. In Romans 5:1, Paul states that we have been justified by faith, and that, as a result, we have peace with God. So, looking again at verse 18, we remind ourselves that, in this case, the persons questioning our faith are fellow humans. We can only demonstrate our faith to other humans through appropriate works. Our fellow humans “declare us righteous” based entirely on what they can see. So, in verse 24, we are “justified” or “declared righteous,” on the basis of works, where humans are the judges. We were declared righteous entirely on the basis of Faith, where Jesus is the Judge. (We don’t even like to think of Jesus as being the Judge, but He says He is, in John 5:22) Romans 5:1 addresses our justification before God. James 2:24 refers to our justification before Man. Does it matter? You’d better believe it does! (Remember Lot!)

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

It somehow seems appropriate, in this context, to remember that “dead”, in scripture, usually has some sort of “separation” in view. A body, separated from the spirit of the person to whom both belong, is considered a dead body: no longer functional. A faith that is separated from the works that should accompany it, is considered a dead faith…not functional. It does not mean that such a person has never been accepted by God, necessarily. There are examples in the Old Testament and the New Testament, of people whose faith faltered, and their testimony was ruined, and who, in some cases, lost their physical lives because of their subsequent disobedience. (Lot, Balaam, Samson, Ananias & Sapphira, Demas, etc.) But in each case, it seems clear that they were real believers who simply fell into a pattern of disobedience… and it cost them heavily.

Place your Bets!

Remember that salvation tract (The Four Spiritual Laws) people used to hand out, which began with the statement (true, by the way) that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”? Well, here’s the other side of that idea: “Satan hates you and has a TERRIBLE plan for your life!” Now, if you walk with Jesus, staying close to the Great Shepherd, you need have no fear of the Evil One, at all: He is a defeated enemy. But the Enemy does have an agenda:

  1. Satan desires to destroy your fellowship with God, through distractions, through neglect of feeding on the Word, neglect of prayer, and through overt sin.
  2. He desires to destroy your Joy and Peace, through all of the above.
  3. He desires to destroy your testimony, as bitterness and cynicism begin to replace Joy and Peace, and your works show to others the deadness of your faith.
  4. Finally, if he can draw you far enough away from the Shepherd, he desires to destroy your life, either through the destructive results of the bad decisions made in the flesh or through the consequences of overt sin.

God does not need you to “prove your faith” to Him by works. But your works are the result of what you really believe, and are a pretty good indicator of where your heart really is today. They reveal where you are currently “placing your bets.” They should reveal to you how you are doing, spiritually, and they definitely will let your neighbors, friends and family make decisions about the reality of faith in your life.

Look in the “Mirror of God’s Word, and see yourself! Look at where you are “Placing your Bets,” and see whether that is how God wants you to respond to Him.

So you really believe prayer is important? Then place your bet that way: pray! Do you really believe Jesus is the Master? Then obey Him! Do you really believe you should be feeding on God’s Word? Then do so! Do you really believe you should share your faith with others? Then do so! Where you “place your bets”–what you actually do–reveals what you really believe.

The Lord Bless His Word, and His people as they seek His Face.


Ultimate Blessing

Ultimate Blessing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Isaiah 4:1-6; Revelation 1:10-18

Introduction:

Last time, we completed chapter three, and saw how God was going to purge Jerusalem of her sin. We saw that it could have been referring to the Babylonian captivity, but that it certainly had reference to the Great tribulation as well.

Chapter four skips all the way past the Great Tribulation, and addresses the blessedness of the surviving remnant in Jerusalem after the Lord’s return.

When we study God’s Word, especially when studying the prophetic writings, we must look for the correct, Biblical interpretation, before attempting to find appropriate application in our own lives. In other words, we must ask: to whom is this written, or regarding whom? What are the circumstances under which it is written? When was it written? (In what time period?) Are there any clues as to when the prophecy (or promise) is to be fulfilled? Exactly what is being prophesied, or promised? Are there conditions under which things could change? (For example, if there is a warning of coming judgment “…except ye repent”, does that mean there is a possibility of escaping judgment, if the recipients change their behavior? It certainly had that effect in Nineveh, didn’t it?)

So, beginning with those standards of study, let’s read Isaiah chapter 4. (Read all of it)

To Whom is this written?

As we read, we will keep in mind that, according to verses 2, 3, 4 and 5, these promises are to Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel, not the United States, Great Britain, or some other country. There may be application in our lives at one level or another, but the interpretation is definitely to the Jews, not any Gentile nation, nor even to the Church.

Where will it happen, and When?

Chapter 4

1And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

The prophecy in verse one could (possibly) still be in reference to the Babylonian captivity (because of the scarcity of men, after the siege and evacuation), but verse 2 makes it clear that the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be at the beginning of the Millennial kingdom:

In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.

Verse two predicts that “in that day” the “branch of the LORD” will flourish (in reference to the returned and reigning Messiah), and that the fruit of the land would be excellent and beautiful for the remnant of Israel, who survived the tribulation. This is the “remnant” of whom God will speak over and over again: those Jews who survive the tribulation, and enter the Kingdom alive, in their natural, physical bodies.

Verses 3-6 make it clear that this is specifically in reference to the physical return of the Lord… the entire city of Jerusalem will be under the Glory of God, and every living person therein will be called Holy. When? “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion.” At that time, every single living Jew will be a believer, and will be utterly devoted to his or her Savior. Where? In Zion, the City of the Living God.

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

So the judgment that happens during the Tribulation period is for the purpose of purging and cleansing Israel, making her holy, and preparing her for the purpose He had announced from the beginning, that she should be holy, and a kingdom of priests. Remember, as we say this, that the Church is to be kings (plural) and priests. Israel is to be a kingdom (singular) of priests. The two are not the same.

What will happen?

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

We want to be especially careful in applying these sorts of prophecies—this is only in reference to Israel and Judah, and any misapplication can result in some bad theology. The closest proper application will be that at that same time, every living Gentile will also be a believer (this is immediately after the “judgment of the living nations” described in Matthew 25:31, ff). But the Gentiles will NOT be “called Holy”, and will NOT have the special supernatural blessings that will be in Jerusalem. Life will be better than at any time in history, all over the world, but the Jews in Jerusalem will be under the special blessing of the presence of the ruling Messiah.

Are there Applications for today?

In terms of today, in the Church age, I can think of no physical application, except to say that having Jesus residing in your heart is great, and an absolutely necessary result of your salvation: but having Him presiding there—reigning there—is greater still…and is what God wants for each of us, day by day. Jesus will be physically residing in Jerusalem, and reigning from there, over the whole world. I want Jesus to reign from my heart over my whole life. It is entirely possible for a believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, by the person of the Trinity, actually, to still be in active or passive rebellion against his or her Master. This would be a spiritual application of a physical reality.

I can also see some further spiritual application: in verse 5, he says that “a cloud and smoke by day, and a shining of a flaming fire by night” will be upon every dwelling in Jerusalem. Remember that, when the tabernacle and the temple were first built, God promised that he would literally move in, and live there. The smoke and the fire from those two edifices were to show everyone that God lived there. He did move in, and the glory of God shone out so brightly that no one could come near the place. (Exodus 40:34, 35; 2nd Chronicles 5:13, 14) In the Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom, He will live in ALL the dwellings…how does that apply today?

(See John 14:16, 17; Romans 8:9)

John 14:16, 17
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Romans 8:9
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

So, we can see that every single believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God…no exceptions.

Why? What is the point? And, if it is so important, then how ought the world to know it? (See John 13:34, 35; Philippians 2:15, 16; etc.)

John 13:34, 35
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Philippians 2:15, 16
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Notice that, in the Philippians 2 passage, Paul gives us some idea about what it means to “shine as lights in the World—holding forth the Word of Life.”

We are not just to be “fine moral examples,” or “upstanding citizens,” though those are also expected. We are to be a constant testimony to the saving Grace of God.

Jesus addressed this idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), saying, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.

Our Love for the brethren and our good works in general ought to stand as a constant testimony to the living reality of God’s saving Grace in our lives. And, our words should match our life.

The Revelation Confirms It!

Oddly enough, in the opening chapters of the Revelation, God again refers to the churches as candlesticks. They are the light holders…the lamps. Collectively, we are called to be lights in the world…lamps, shining in a dark place. Jesus Himself is the actual source of the Light.

Revelation 1:10-18

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.


The candlesticks (lampstands) are representing the Church at large: we are not the source of light…we are holders of the light. (Think back to Matthew 5:15; the man lighting a candle is God, in the person of Christ. Jesus is the light of the World. But where does he put that candle? On a candlestick! Each assembly of believers should be a light in their community.

In Philippians 2:15, we were told that we are to shine as lights in the world. And how? Philippians 2:16 says that we are to” hold forth the Word of life.” Who is that Word of Life? According to John 1:1, Jesus is the Word, and according to John 1:4, 5, Jesus is the Light, and the Life. The Gospel of Christ is the Word of Life we offer to the World, while we hold the light of Christ.

So the Light in the midst of the candlesticks, there in Revelation 1:13, is Christ… the lampstands, or candlesticks, are the churches (plural), and collectively, they are the Church, proper. The reason we separate the two ideas (singular and plural,) is that (as we will see in chapter 3) individual churches can fail, and be removed as lights in the world. The Church as a whole is held in place by God until we, as a whole, are removed at the Rapture of the Church.

The fact that there were seven candlesticks speaks of the completeness of the Church: there were many other churches within the Church at large. The number “Seven” is frequently used to indicate completeness, and it shows that the whole body of Christ is in view.

The Gold speaks of intrinsic value. Keep in mind, as we see the flaws in churches(plural,) that in spite of their flaws and their failings, they are still solid gold, in God’s eyes. Even when we see the stern warnings to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we need to remember that GOD said they were solid gold! When you feel tempted to be dismissive of another believer, for whatever reason, remember that they are precious in His sight.

The golden implements and vessels of the Old Testament temple were still holy to God, even when enemies had physically stolen them and used them for unclean things. (God judged Belshazzar in the book of Daniel for that very crime.) An individual church may become unusable, because of sin, but all the born-again believers in that church are still God’s holy people, and He will keep them, chastise them, correct them and recover them for His own glory, even if it means taking them home. Jesus has never lost a single lamb of His flock!  He himself makes that claim in John 6:39—“ And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Those are precious promises, aren’t they? Now, if I had to depend upon my own works to save me or keep me, I’d be lost: it is as simple as that! But Jesus says He will not lose a single one of us…and He says that we are precious in His sight. He calls us to choose holiness, and to lay our lives before him, daily, as a living sacrifice, so that every moment is to His glory.

Israel has a promise of great things to come: we have even greater blessing: we are the Bride of Christ, collectively, and are currently indwelt by His Spirit! Israel will be seen as a priesthood for God in the Millennial Kingdom, and marked, physically, by the column of smoke by day, and fire by night, from every residence in Jerusalem. We are to be priests in the World today, marked by Love and good works. We are to hold forth the word of life, and to shine as lights in a dark world, meanwhile, as it says in verse six, we are also to find in Him our only shelter against the trials of life: the heat of day, the cold of the rain, and the power of the storms of life. Find our shelter in Him, and offer that shelter, His Love and Grace, the light of life, to all those around us.

God help us to do just that!

Lord Jesus, change us from the inside, and make us able ambassadors of your Grace. Purge us of the fears and bitterness and anger that shackle us; the sins that so easily weigh us down, and free our hearts to serve you with Gladness.


Judgment and Cleansing

Judgment and Cleansing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Isaiah 3, 4

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Isaiah, and have taken a long hiatus to look in detail at the many prophecies regarding the day of the LORD. Now we are circling back to what Isaiah was actually discussing when we went off on that side-excursion. Isaiah was discussing the coming judgment on Israel and Judah, and specifically Jerusalem:

Judgment

Chapter 3

1For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water.
The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient,
The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.

Verses 1 through 3 outline the way that God will strip the nation of Judah of everything they depended upon:

  • Food and water,
  • Civil and military leaders,
  • Preachers,
  • Teachers,
  • Elders,
  • Public speakers,
  • Counselors, and
  • Craftsmen

All would be removed.

He then says that those who were left would be ruled over by those least qualified to bear authority…those who had as yet developed no wisdom, no life-experience from which to make sound decisions. The result would be turmoil and oppression:

And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.
And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.

The men who were in rulership did not behave as grown men ought to act, but were foolish, as if they were children.  The few who were left would be living in ruins, too, and without the wherewithal to improve their lot.  This actually happened during the Babylonian invasion. Nebuchadnezzar simply took away anyone he thought might be useful, either to himself or to those left behind. He left only the poorest, least-skilled, and least educated. (Why should he add to his own country’s welfare problems? Leave them here to fend for themselves!) He did just that, and many starved, or were killed by bands of marauding raiders. It was a miserable time in Jewish history.

When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand:
In that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people.

The people would try to choose someone to be a ruler, based only upon the fact that he still had presentable clothing. What a shallow, idiotic reason to confer the responsibilities of leadership upon a person! And it seems that the appointment was not welcome, either: no one wanted the position. (Perhaps we need to learn this lesson, too, and think about how we vote in our country, and how we view civic duty and responsibility.)

A further way to look at this would be that, in the New Testament, God has given specific requirements for choosing church leaders; none of it has to do with personality cults, popularity, or good looks. One does not “dress for success” to become a shepherd in the flock of God. There are specific requirements (listed in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, and 1st Peter 5:1-3) which must all be met; it is not a “smorgasbord”, where we can just choose what is important to us, personally. They all have to do with character and behavior, as well as giftedness. Even education (while valuable) is not on God’s list. But the willingness to serve, and the faithfulness to serve, and continually feed and guard the flock, are critical needs.

Reason for Judgment

Verses 8 and 9 remind us of why the judgment fell, and they should stand as a solemn warning to all those who follow: The people openly, deliberately, flagrantly sinned against God. (Many do the same, today, and openly mock Him as being powerless against them.)

For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.
The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.

Sodom was proud of its excesses, and flaunted its depravity. Somehow that seems very familiar today, as well…we think we have thrown off the shackles of authority and morality, as a nation, saying that we are becoming free; but, in reality, we are becoming increasingly enslaved to sin. And Judgment is coming. God says so!

We should also be taking a lesson from the wartime experience of Israel, and recognize our own helplessness against the enemies of our souls, and so throw ourselves on God’s Mercy, and seek His Grace in humility. Has it occurred to you that your greatest enemy, Satan, is not only far more intelligent that any human, and far more powerful, and hugely influencing world affairs: our great enemy is all of these things, and invisible, as well! How badly we need the Great Shepherd of our Souls! We are utterly defenseless against our enemies, apart from the Person and the Work of Jesus Christ.

Cleansing

10 Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
11 Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

God said to the righteous within the nation (verse 10) that He would look out for their well-being. In that time, I believe, He probably meant their physical well-being. But the righteous suffered then as well as now, so we must remember that, in every age, the eternal well-being of God’s people has always outweighed the temporal. (Remember Hebrews 11. Those whom God said were the best of the best (“of whom the World was not worthy”) were those who had been completely oppressed and destitute, but who were still faithful to God.) He also says, here in verse 11, that the wicked will receive the just due of their wickedness. Compare Romans 6:23 “—the Wages of Sin is Death.

The same principle still holds true…check out Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. Even at that time, there were wicked people who seemed to be totally blessed in their evil lives. But the Psalmists remind us that we cannot always see the judgment of God. Think of Luke 16:19, ff…would you rather have been Lazarus or the rich man? (Keep in mind the fact that this particular account told by Jesus was not a parable…those were real individuals.)

12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.
13 The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.

God warns the people (verses 12, 13) that their rulers were leading them astray, and that childish and unmanly behaviors among the leaders were becoming the norm. (In the end, many of their kings were literally children, some the age of first or second-grade children; and their mothers ruled through them… usually disastrously, though there were some exceptions.)

14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.

God said to the rulers of his people (they had used their position to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor, who were relatively defenseless in legal battles), that He would take the witness stand against them, and enter into judgment against them. He said that they had beaten his people to pieces, and had ground the faces of the poor.

It is inescapable to me, that we should see the parallels in our own nation, in this age. There are wealthy “rulers” who have actually boasted about their supremacy, that they always get what they want, and that “only the little people pay taxes…,” etc. We have governing officials who have made secret deals with wealthy “robber barons”, and accepted bribes to give preference to them in legal issues…and judgment truly will come for them, too…but this one was to the rulers of Judah, and Jerusalem.

Further, in verses 16-24, God says the wanton behavior of the leaders was mirrored in the wanton behavior of the women…the over-indulgence in cosmetics, and personal adornment, and overtly flirtatious, suggestive behavior and alluring perfumes. He says that this too would be taken away, and replaced with their opposites…disfigurement, poverty and humiliation; uncleanness, and foul odors.

16 Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,
19 The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,
20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,
21 The rings, and nose jewels,
22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,
23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.
24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.

He concludes in verses 25 and 26 that the coming wars would take away the men, and the few people who were left behind would be desolate, sitting on the ground in despair and poverty. The “her” in verse 26 is actually in reference to the city, not the women. Jerusalem is usually referred to in the feminine gender.

25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.
26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.

Conclusion:

The judgments outlined here were literally fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity, but there is an even more pointed fulfillment, during the tribulation period still to come. (Remember: so far, Isaiah is just stating the theme! He isn’t even warmed up yet!)

If nothing else, we should be beginning to sense the holiness of God: that He hates sin, and that He judges sin. One of his titles is “Judge of all the Earth;” and as we discovered in earlier study, the specific member of the Godhead who carries out the judgment of Sin, is God the Son: Jesus! Jesus confirmed this, saying that “the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22)

Next week we will see the ultimate result of God’s Judgment.

Lord Jesus, teach us to see your hand in the World around us, and to take your Holiness seriously, not taking it lightly. Purify our hearts, and le


The Day of the LORD (1)

The Day of the LORD, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 3/30/2019

Isaiah 2:6-22

Introduction:

We have been studying through Isaiah, and are already up against some of the central themes of the book: the awful Judgment and Holiness of God, as well as the Grace of God, and His desire to reason with fallen Man.

Isaiah is distraught at the wickedness of Israel, and begs God to not forgive them, as he sees that all the coming Judgment is fully deserved.

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

The remainder of the chapter promises the coming judgment on Judah, reminding all readers that it was specifically because she has forsaken her God, and sought her sustenance from everyone and everything except Him. In verses 6-9, Isaiah is speaking to God, commenting on the spiritual condition of the nation, and the reasons for the coming judgment. He specifically lists all the things upon which they have depended instead of God—and the things in which they have found pleasure instead of God’s values. He complains that from the least to the greatest, they have all bowed themselves to idols, as a nation (not excluding the possibility of a righteous remnant, which God says will always be there.) So, Isaiah begs that God not forgive them. This is an interesting insight into how a man of God may see the holiness of God, and demand retribution for sin.

In Luke 9:54, 55 (Read it), two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, wanted permission to call down fire out of heaven to burn up some people (Samaritans) who rejected Jesus. But Jesus rebuked the two disciples for the idea, saying that they were wrong, and that He had not come to destroy lives but to save them. So, I need to recognize that even wicked, self-centered enemies of God (whomever they are) are still folks for whom Jesus died.

In the Psalms, there are many examples of “imprecatory prayers”, where the Psalmist called for judgment on sinners. Yes, Judgment is coming, but it will be in God’s timing, and under His righteousness, not our self-righteous indignation. The coming Judgment has a name, in fact: it is called “The Day of the LORD”, and it is first mentioned here in Isaiah 2:12.

The Name of the Coming Judgment

The Day of the Lord becomes a powerful theme in all the prophets, as we begin to see the various parts of it, and how widespread its effects will be.

10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.

11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

13 And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

In verses 10-22, he speaks to the people, outlining the coming judgment. He says that all the things they have depended upon will become worthless. Looking at verses 11, 12 and 17-21 we see that the Judgment in question is the culmination of the Great Tribulation. Three is no other time when all the earth shall be judged in that fashion, and in the Revelation, he describes just such fear and trembling, and attempts to hide in the rocks.

What is the Day of the Lord?

The Day of the Lord, mentioned here, and many other places, begins with the removal of the Church-age believers from the earth, as seen in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Read it). But then (1st Thessalonians 5:1-3 (Read it)) it immediately transitions into the tribulation; next, the second coming (Zechariah 12:1-10; 14:1-15), the Kingdom age (Zechariah 14:16-21) and finally the ultimate destruction of planet earth (2nd Peter 3:10-12). All five aspects are clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments. The immediate judgment coming upon Judah is very minor, compared to the ultimate judgment described here, though I am sure that they saw it as pretty major.

God says Judgment is coming (both immediate and ultimate), and that it will affect absolutely everyone (not just the Jews), and remove from them all the things they have depended upon and found foolish pleasure in. Verse 22 says that above all, they need to quit relying upon humans…which would include dependence upon themselves. (Cp. Proverbs 3:5-7) Part of our sin nature, our incurable arrogance, is that we continually trust ourselves over God, even though we have proven untrustworthy time and time again. Now: Am I advocating piously “trusting God” as opposed to going to a doctor? No! I trust that God will guide the doctor, and, unless I know a solid reason to do otherwise, I usually take the doctor’s advice. Do I mean, when I am forced to respond to a legal summons, that I should “just trust the Lord” and not get the best lawyer I can afford? No… I am to pray for God’s guidance, and look for the most honest and competent, intelligent legal counsel I can find. But my dependence is to be upon God.

The story has been told (countless times, I guess) about a man who was trapped by rising floodwaters. He sat on his front porch roof, and a boat came by, with a man offering to take him to higher ground. He piously replied, “No; I am trusting God. He will help me!”

The water rose higher, until he was on the peak of his upper roof, when a larger power boat came up, and the pilot offered to take him to high ground. He was frightened, but clung to his “faith” and said, “No, I am waiting on God!” Finally, when he was clinging to his chimney, and about to drown, a helicopter hovered overhead, dangling a ladder, and offering help. He made his final choice, to depend on God, and finally was swept away by the flood.

He appeared before God, and asked, “Why did you not save me? I trusted in you!” God replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What did you want??”

I do NOT think that the command to not place our trust in Man is an order to abandon sensible behavior, but rather to allow God to define what sensible behavior is. A hospital employee may say, “This child will never have a normal life, you need to have an abortion.”—and we should feel quite secure in saying, based our understanding of God’s principles, “No, I will not kill my child…I will give him the best life I can, and, though it may not be much, I will not deny him the right to live!”

Someone else may say, “Well, I would never stay married to a person like that…” and it may be that we feel the same way. But, we must have the conviction to do as God leads, not man. Marriage is sacred, and not to be lightly disposed of, though God does recognize both divorce and remarriage, according to John chapter 4.

The same things are true in Business, Politics, and Church Government. The “bottom line” must not be “Does it work?” or “Is it profitable?”, but, “Does it Honor God? Is it obedient to His revealed Word?”

As far as we know, the only two times Joshua got into any trouble were the two times when he simply forgot to ask God what to do. He thought he knew the answer, and went off to battle at Ai, when, in fact, there was sin in the camp, and God would not have allowed them to go to battle at all, without having dealt with the sin. So, 36 men lost their lives in a fiasco at a very small city. (Joshua 7)

The other time, he was fooled by the Gibeonites, because he trusted his eyes, and did not seek God’s counsel. (Joshua 9)

Joshua was a good leader and a good soldier. He made decisions on a daily basis that affected the entire country, but he also kept very close accounts with God, and, as a rule, he was always where he was supposed to be, and doing what he was supposed to be doing, because he walked closely with God and had His constant guidance.

That is what we need, too, as we approach the end times: we need to keep close accounts with God, and seek God’s constant guidance. We cannot see our deadly enemies, in the spiritual battle around us, but we are given some things we can do to be on guard. The first, is: follow Jesus! (The closer the better!) The second is that we are to arm ourselves as He directs us, and learn His wisdom from His Word, as part of that armament.

The battle is not ours, but we are in it, nevertheless. We need to take the coming judgment seriously, and live as those who have been freed from a death-sentence.

Lord, help us to see the coming judgment, as you have described it, and live to free others from the destruction to come.


Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

The prophetic books are usually listed in two divisions; Major and Minor—this has nothing to do with importance or authority, but only volume. Also, the prophets are not in chronological order. So, Isaiah is not the first (Jonah is), nor is it necessarily the most important. (In terms of how it ties the whole Bible timeline together, it might be argued that Daniel is possibly most important.) But in terms of the frequency with which it is quoted by New Testament writers, as well as sheer volume, and how thoroughly it points to the person of Christ and the coming kingdom age, and warns of coming judgment, Isaiah is foremost, in every sense.

Further, remember that, in all ages, a prophet was/is a mouthpiece for God…a spokesman for God. In the Old Testament he was also (frequently) a “seer” or a teller of what was to come. God claims this as His own peculiar credential as bona fide Deity: He is the only one who can tell us precisely how things will turn out. No educated guesses, or vague, smoke-and-mirrors type “prophecies.” He called by name, people who were not to be born for decades to come (Cyrus, in Isaiah 44:28; Josiah in 1st Kings 13:2); and He told in exquisite detail, things that would happen in hours, in a day, or a month, a year, or even thousands of years in the future. (Isaiah 48:5)

A Look at Isaiah

Isaiah was one of the most important prophets, in that: he was quoted by most of the New Testament writers, he was the writer of the most lengthy of the prophetic books, and he ministered to Judah under four kings (though only briefly under Uzziah, also known as Azariah.) The first five chapters are a rather lengthy introduction to the themes of the book, as his apparent call from God occurred in chapter six—at least that is the way it looks…he does not specifically say that this was his first call—he only says what happened—and also says that he served under four kings (verse 1).

Isaiah gives us a great deal of information about the coming Messiah: his virgin birth, his suffering, his resurrection, his return in judgment, his earthly kingdom, and his eternal reign. Another important theme is the remnant of Israel, preserved by God. Yet another is the eventual blessing of the gentile nations (predicted earlier, by Moses, in Genesis 22:18).

As we read the book, it is very important to remember that this book of prophecy is to Israel and Judah (the divided Kingdom), though mostly (verse 1) to Judah (southern portion) and her capital city, Jerusalem; and NOT to us, as Christians, or as Americans (or whomever else). It is for us all, but not to us all…this is an important distinction, in that when God says “Israel”, He means Israel, not the United States, Britain, or some other gentile nation. We are to learn from their experience, and be warned by the consequences of their behavior. But the book is definitely concerning Israel and Judah, not (primarily) any other nation, except as named in the text.

When reading this book, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to try to apply the condemnations and warnings directly to our country(s), because they seem so applicable;  but that is the key—remember that they were directly, literally to Israel; usually Judah in particular, and only by application…careful application…is it for us. The same goes double for the promises: unless it is part of the promised blessings to the gentiles, don’t try to apply any of the promises as a blanket promise to all who believe—it might be (and most probably is) specific to Jerusalem in particular, Judah, Israel, or the combined reunified tribes as a nation.

The book begins with a solemn warning to Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1

1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

After addressing the book (verse 1) to Judah and Jerusalem, God begins by calling the whole creation to bear witness (verse 2): He has reared up a people, a privileged people, whom He has nourished and cared for, as if He were rearing children; but that nation has rebelled against Him. He compares them unfavorably (verse 3) to barnyard animals: oxen and asses…pointing out that even lowly, relatively unintelligent animals recognize the one who feeds them (verse 3)…but that Judah has forgotten her God, and deliberately turned her back on Him (verse 4.)

I have observed this behavior among even the lower animals, as well; birds, for example. A flock of chickens will quickly learn to recognize the one who feeds them, and will come running when that person calls. Even fish (sea bass) are currently being experimentally trained to come to a particular sonic signal, in hopes that fish farming and harvesting will become simpler.

But: we humans have a distressing tendency to forget who our sustainer has been. We do this both in human relationships and in our relationship to God. Ingratitude, and a short memory of the benefits we have received, seem to be ingrained into our fallen nature: Even though we usually find it personally offensive if another human fails to recognize a service we have done toward them, we constantly do the same thing, particularly in our relationship with God. And it costs us dearly: In the case of Judah, it brought national chastisement from God.

Notice, too, that he says they are loaded down with sins, and that they are a brood (seed) of evildoers. This is who they are by nature. They did not just “somehow become that way.” Jesus addressed this idea in John 8:44, where he said that the Jews to whom He spoke were the children of the devil…He said “ye are of your father, the devil, and his works will ye do….” It was natural for the people to respond the way they did, because of their pedigree. Judah, in Isaiah’s day, was no different: God said they were not only corrupt, but they were “corrupters.” They influenced others to corruption, as well. Sin is always contagious. When we rebel against God, we influence others to do the same.

As a nation, Judah had forsaken the LORD, and turned away completely. There were still believers around: under Hezekiah there was a great revival, and Judah turned back to God, in a great way. (Read 2nd Chronicles 29-32) But there had already been a terrible apostasy in Judah, which had begun much earlier in Israel, the Northern ten tribes. As a nation, they were in sin; and, God states (in verses 5-8,) that He has punished Judah until there is nothing left to punish.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

And the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

The custom in that day was to erect a small shelter for a night watchman in vineyards and gardens, to keep marauding animals away. But when the season was over, and harvest was past, the shelter was left to fall apart, as it was only a temporary shelter anyway. Far from being the prosperous nation they had once been, Judah was in poverty, now, and Jerusalem was in ruins.

They were a destroyed, desolate nation, cast down by the God they had once claimed to serve. He was now offering to try something else in order to reach Judah. He offered to reason with them. Incidentally, this is nothing new—He has attempted to reason with Man since the very beginning (Genesis 3:9-13, 4:6, 7, etc.). But He is once more attempting to reason with a fallen people. God extends reason to us, as well, via the Gospel. We always consider ourselves to be “reasonable” people, but the historical facts do not support that claim. We rebel as a matter of principle, as if it is somehow a noble cause, and a right thing to do. We forget that a puppet who “cuts his strings” is completely helpless. The strings were what made him seem to be alive and functioning. We are not puppets, in the strictest sense, but we are utterly dependent upon the God who created us and who sustains and defends us…and, whether we believe it or not.

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Hypocrisy Stinks

Judah was still practicing “religion,” but their hearts have long ago abandoned His worship. (Careful, now…this is Judah, not the USA, or any other modern, post-Christian nation.) He compares them to Sodom, and to Gomorrah (verses 9 and 10.) So, knowing that their hearts are far from Him, he tells them (v. 11-15) to take away their sacrifices, services, incense and prayers. He wants nothing to do with their pretense.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

God could no longer stand the sight and smell of their offerings: he wanted to hear no more of their prayers. He states that when they lifted their hands to Him in prayer, what He saw was that their hands were red with the blood of the innocents they had killed as a nation.

I don’t know whether He meant criminal attacks, or gross governmental negligence which has cost people their lives, or something else entirely. In our nation, the United States, it might well apply to the huge numbers of abortions every year, or, possibly to our having sold weapons of war all over the planet, or simply to the many who lose their lives every year, to crime in our streets and homes, while our governments are filled with people who claim to be good, and “Champions of Justice,” but adamantly refuse to put away the evil from among us. We parole violent criminals, and allow them to go back and repeat their crimes and worse. We promote the lottery, and then decry the gambling addictions that ruin our people. We glorify violence and immorality in television shows and movies, and then wonder why our people continue to slide into more and more violent crime, and gross immorality. We are reaping what we have sown.

Judah had done the same sorts of things, and was coming to the end of their cycle. Notice that God is not saying that the religion itself had anything wrong with it—the problem was the people. Judaism and the Temple services associated with it, was ordained by God: but, the people repeatedly allowed themselves to first become perfunctory, and then lax, and finally completely false in their response toward God. Their religion had become irrelevant to them, and repugnant to God. What does God say they needed? Repentance and cleansing.

Repentance and Cleansing

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Verse 16 and 17 describe repentance—the kind of repentance God wants: first, a turning from evil (which first requires recognizing it,) and then a turning to good. Repentance does not simply mean halting—it means reversing direction. They had to return to their relationship to God being central to who they were as a nation, not just a peripheral point of interest, or a national peculiarity, and “trademark” of sorts. It had to be the core of their thinking, not a “veneer” pasted to the outer shell: it must be the structure, not the “paint.”

Social justice was to be the fruit of that change, not the change itself. Attempting to change the results without changing the core issue is akin to hanging fruit on a dead tree. It will only be a temporary change, and impossible to maintain; while a genuine revival of the tree would produce life, and fruit in its season. So, God calls to them to restore their relationship with Himself. The proof of that restoration would be the fruit He describes.

A nation can produce righteous legislation, but it is impossible to “legislate righteousness.” You cannot produce righteousness by laws, or even by external obedience to righteous laws: Paul emphasized this in Galatians 2:21; “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” David recognized this truth in Psalm 51:17, where he recognized that a broken and contrite heart would not be rejected by God.

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

This is God’s offer to “settle out of court”, so to speak—a plea for them to be reasonable—to be entreated, and to accept good counsel. Notice the phrase “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is offering cleansing. His command that they wash themselves has become an invitation to be washed. The self-cleansed man is no cleaner than when he began to wash…God points this out in another passage: Jeremiah 2:22 and 4:14 tell the other side of that challenge. (“Though thou wash thee with nitre (washing soda), and take the much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD”, and “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved”.) One could find a parallel with John 13:8, where Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” God has to do the cleansing, or the sinner can never be clean.

Judgment is Coming

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

This is his warning to Judah of coming Judgment. The whole world has also been warned of coming Judgment. We know that God is righteous, and that He judges sin. How we respond to that knowledge reveals who we are. If we are grieved by our own sins, and throw ourselves on His Mercy, as offered in the person of Christ, then He offers to permanently set our sins aside. But if we ignore His warning, then we stand condemned because of our unbelief. There is no middle ground. Jesus said those who put their faith in Him are not condemned, but that those who reject Him are condemned already, because they do not trust in Him. (John 3:18)

We need to keep these things in mind as we study through the book of Isaiah.

Lord Jesus, help us to look into your Word and see your face as the King of Kings, the immortal eternal and sovereign God of all time and space—and our Savior! Make us able ministers of your Grace to the dying world around us.


Prayer and Pedigree

Prayer and Pedigree

© C.O. Bishop 6/23/2018

Colossians 1:9-14

Introduction:

Last time I was with you we were introduced to the book of Colossians, as Paul addressed the believers at Colosse. We also saw that it was intended to be a circular letter, to be delivered to all the other churches, as were the other epistles.

We ended in Colossians 1:8, where Paul affirmed that he did not know most of these believers, but had received a report of them from Epaphras, who evidently had led many of them to Christ, and continued teaching them. Epaphras had told Paul of the faith and love of the believers at Colosse. Paul was thrilled at the news, and gave thanks for them.

In verse nine we see Paul praying for the recipients of the letter…and, his prayer can include us.

Paul’s Prayer—Conditional Truth

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;

11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

Paul prayed for quite a list of things, here. He prayed:

  • that they might be filled with the Knowledge of God’s will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding
  • that they would “walk worthy” of the Lord, unto all pleasing
  • that they would be fruitful in every good work
  • that they would increase in the knowledge of God
  • that they would be strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power
  • that it would result in all patience and longsuffering, in them, with joyfulness, and
  • that they would be giving thanks to the Father.

So: seven items on Paul’s prayer list at that point in time…but he applied it to a lot of people. Notice that none of the seven included financial security, physical health, or safety and comfort. It all had to do with their walk with God: our condition as believers. Shouldn’t that tell us something about God’s priorities?

Doesn’t this give some clues about the sort of things we should focus on in prayer? It is fine for us to ask for the things that concern us the most, but, perhaps we need to re-focus our concern, so that we pray for the things God wants for us.

Paul listed seven things:

  • He wanted us to be filled with the experiential knowledge (from the Greek epiginosin) of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Not just to “know facts,” but to experience the reality of God in our lives. The only way that can happen is if we are focused on the Person of Christ as the central figure in our lives. And the next thing it should affect is our behavior:
  • He wanted us to “walk worthy” of the Lord unto all pleasing. To behave ourselves in a manner that is fitting for the children of God, one which will honor the Lord, and please Him. There are many times when believers behave poorly, and bring shame to the name of Jesus. That should not be our experience. We are to “live up to” the Name of the One we have been called to serve. Will we fail? Surely we will, but the result of “Christ in you” should be obvious even to those who consider themselves our enemies. The fruit of the Spirit should be so prominent in our lives, that even when we fail, people will tend to remember the general trend of good
  • The result of the inward change in our lives is to be a continually increasing fruitfulness, in a life spent doing good, rather than self-centered behavior.
  • The other predictable result is that, as we continue in right behavior, we will also continue to get to know God better, experientially, through Bible Study and Prayer, and through an obedient walk with Him.
  • He prayed that we would be strengthened with all might, according to God’s Glorious power. I’m fairly sure this is not talking about physical strength, but rather spiritual strength, with which to serve God, and stand against our spiritual enemies.
  • He wanted this strength to result in patience, and longsuffering with joyfulness. We are to be strengthened in such a way as to endure the hard times of life, with joy, not collapsing in fear or despair.
  • And the overall result of that miraculous change in our lives should be that we are equipped to give thanks to the Father in all circumstances.

The Pedigree of the Church—Positional Truth

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

Here, Paul begins to list some facts about them and us, which are completely true about us simply because we are in Christ. But notice he has changed pronouns, here. He now says “us”, not “ye” (“ye” is the plural “you” in old English.) All of the following are true of all believers, because we are in Christ:

  • He has made us fit (that is what “meet” means in old English) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (past tense.)
  • He has delivered us from the power (Greek exousia) of darkness (past tense.)
  • He has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (past tense.)
  • We have redemption through His blood (present tense.)
  • We have forgiveness of sins (present tense.)

Notice that none of the above list is just a potentially true statement. There are no qualifiers. There is nothing to detract from the full weight of the statement regarding our position in Christ!

From the moment you placed your trust in Him as your savior, God has already made you completely worthy to be a partaker of all that he has in store, along with all the believers in the history of the world, in the kingdom of light that is yet to come. Do we “feel worthy?” I can’t speak for you, but I surely don’t feel worthy. This is a prime example of the fact that our feelings are not accurate representations of reality. God’s Word is Reality. He says that we have been made worthy—fit—to be partakers in all that Heaven and eternity holds for the believers of all ages.

God has already delivered us from the power (the Greek word is “exousia”—meaning “authority”) of darkness. Here, again, I don’t feel “delivered.” I still see the effects of the darkness of this world in my own life, my thoughts, my desires, my words, and my actions. Are they better than they were 45 years ago? Certainly! But, the fact is that I was just as “delivered” from the power—the authority—of darkness at the moment I first believed, as I am today. I am still being delivered from the ongoing power of sin, but the darkness that bound me and in which I was once lost and blind and helpless, has no further authority over me at all, unless I choose to disobey God and go back to “running my own life”. The enemy has no further authority over me, but he can intimidate me into submission, and persuade me to sin.

God has already translated us out of the darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son. The word “translate,” here, could mean to transfer, or to move over, from one place to another. It is used three times in Hebrews 11:5, regarding Enoch being taken to heaven without dying. Here, in Colossians, God says that we have already been moved over into God’s Kingdom, as well. In Ephesians 2:6, he makes it even more specific, saying that we were resurrected with him, and have ascended with Him, and are seated in the throne with Him…already! These are positional truths, all true about us simply because we are in Christ.

We already have redemption through his blood…present tense. We are not waiting, hoping that somehow the redeemer will count us worthy. He did it all at the Cross. As we have noted before, there are three Greek words used, collectively, to communicate the idea of redemption:

  • Agorazo, meaning “bought in the marketplace.”
  • Exagorazo, meaning “bought out of the marketplace”…taken off the market.
  • Lutruo, meaning “bought for the purpose of being set free.”

All three of these words are used in the New Testament, and are translated “redeemed”, or “redemption”, because that is what Jesus did for us, at the Cross: He paid the price for us in the marketplace of sin, where all of us were enslaved, and He took us out of the market, permanently, for the purpose of setting us free. And all of this was completed at the Cross. We have only to step into that reality by faith, knowing that we have truly been set free, and that Sin has no more dominion in our lives.

Finally, He says that we already have the forgiveness of sins…present tense. In 1st John 1:9, where we are told to confess our sins to God, and that he is “faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” the issue is the restoration of fellowship: this is conditional truth, which has to be dealt with on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis. The forgiveness referred to, here in Colossians, is the positional truth that we have already been completely forgiven of all sins; past, present and future, thus securing our position in Christ.

Do you see the difference? The one act at the Cross could only happen once, and had to be sufficient for all sinners, for all time. The forgiveness we seek daily, in confession, has nothing to do with our position in Christ, but only affects our fellowship with God. He says, “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.” Fellowship is what is in question, there, regarding our walk. It affects our “condition”, as a believer.

What do we do with this concept?

If I have believed the Gospel, trusting in the once-for-all price that was paid for my sins (as well as those of the whole human race) then my position is secure. I have been born again, as a legitimate child of God. I am forever in Christ.

But I am expected to grow in that relationship with Christ, learning to walk with him in a manner which honors Him, and which attracts others to Him. As I live, day to day, I will certainly (frequently) stumble and fall, especially as a new believer. I should be growing more stable, and less likely to fall, but the possibility of failure is always there. I still sin.

What happens when I stumble, and fall into sin? Am I “un-born again?” No, that is just as impossible as my being “un-born” as a natural human. But I have become soiled…I need cleansing. So I go to God and confess my sins, and He cleanses me. It is that simple. Then I go back to learning to walk with Him.

In fact, the seven things for which Paul prayed, regarding us, in the previous verses, are all part of that growing process. Review them, and put them into practice!

Lord Jesus, fill us with your Grace, and the knowledge of your will. Teach us to walk in a way that pleases you, and draws others to you. Fill our lives with the good fruit you desire in us, and make us able ministers of your Grace.


Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

Paul’s Blessing to the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 5/16/2018

Philippians 4:10-23

Introduction:

We have been studying through Paul’s epistle to the believers at Philippi: We have witnessed the close relationship between the Apostle Paul and this particular assembly of believers.

We have seen that, in spite of the epistle being quite a personal and tender letter to Paul’s dear friends, and fellow-laborers, it is also addressed to the believers in all ages: to us!

Paul has just concluded some pretty important directives as to how to experience the Peace of God (as opposed to Peace with God), and has concluded in Philippians 4:9 that if the believers would put into practice all that they had learned from Paul, and had witnessed in his living example, then the God of Peace would “be with” them. That he would sustain and uphold them through the hard experiences of life, and that they would live lives saturated with the Peace of God. They already had, permanently conferred upon them, Peace with God. They were learning to experience the Peace of God.

Now Paul changes the subject and blesses them for their recent gift.

The Supporting Church

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

Evidently the Church at Philippi had lost track of Paul for a while, and, though they had desired to support him, they couldn’t, simply because they didn’t know where he was. He acknowledged that, and graciously relieved them of any feelings they may have had, that they had somehow let him down.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Paul says that he was not hurt in their absence…he had matured to the point that he was satisfied with little or much, and neither would distract him from the job at hand. This is an important point. I have had people tell me that if God would not support them, they would not serve Him. To be fair, I think their logic was that “God’s blessing comes in the form of support”, therefore a lack of (financial) support would indicate a lack of his blessing, and that they would take that as a signal to stop whatever ministry they were involved in. That is still poor logic: Every single child of God is called to be an ambassador for Christ. You serve, regardless of circumstances, and regardless of reward. The privilege is to serve, and the blessing was the Great Commission.

So Paul had learned the lesson of true blessing, and knew it seldom is dependent upon finances. This seems perfectly logical to me, but, if you recall, the people of Israel had sought a very mercenary relationship with God, often. “You bless us, and we’ll serve you!” (Witness Jacob at Bethel: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, and I will bring you back a tithe!” Really? If God just wanted the money, why would he bother giving it to you? He could just keep it! Jacob seemed to have things rather backward…but God taught him differently over the ensuing years. Jacob learned what it meant to put God first.)

But this little church, out of their deep poverty, had regularly sought the privilege of supporting Paul in his work. They gave far beyond their means, counting it a privilege, and he received it as a blessing from God. But he was not dependent upon their gifts.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Paul says that he was completely satisfied to serve, regardless of the conditions, just as they evidently were pleased to serve. He had learned (been instructed) how to be full, and how to be hungry: to live with abundance and to live with poverty. And he was able to serve under either extreme:

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Notice how the context, here, changes the meaning of the verse? How many times have you heard someone “claim this verse” as their “promise” that they could do some hard task, or perhaps win a football game, or some similar application? This is a great case-in-point for learning to get the interpretation correct, and then look for application.

Do you see what the context is? It is the question of living with plenty or living with barely enough to survive: not “winning a game,” or lifting a load, or overcoming a trial, a disease, a court case, or whatever…it had to do with learning the peace of trusting God for everything….not worrying about where the next meal is coming from, etc., because Paul was doing what God sent him to do, and he was confident that God was meeting his needs according to His own plan. And Paul was satisfied with the plan!

There is no hint, here of “special empowering” for super-human tasks, though we know that Paul was used, on more than a few occasions, to bring about various miracles. I think it is really instructive to observe that, when Epaphroditus was sick (Philippians 2:25-30), and nearly died, Paul was not given authority for a miraculous healing, though God did eventually provide a rather ordinary kind of convalescence and healing. Further, when Paul himself was afflicted in some way (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10…I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it seems likely that it had to do with his failing sight) he pleaded with God for healing, and after three such prayers, God told him to drop it: that God’s Grace would be sufficient for him. So, it was Christ who strengthened him to endure hard times, not to do super-human stunts, nor even miraculous deliverances, as a rule.

But Paul wanted them to know that they had served well, in supporting him.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

Paul let the Philippian believers know that they had done well in sharing with him, and that he personally appreciated it…furthermore, that they were the only church supporting him. I’ll bet there was a great reward for them! They were literally part of the ministry of the Apostle Paul! And, over in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-5 we see that they were very poor. This was not a casual “giving of alms,” but a joining together in ministry. The churches in Macedonia gave to the believers in Jerusalem, and the Philippian believers (also one of the churches of Macedonia) supported Paul’s ministry.

Guess what! We do the same thing when we support missionaries who are taking the Gospel where it has not gone before, or who are part of a team doing so. Paul said, over in Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named….” I think that is (or should be) one of the highest priorities of the church. And this little church was right there in the thick of things, working with Paul to get the job done! What a blessing, to see how they were serving right along with the Apostles!

And notice that Paul himself was not so anxious to get the gift…he was grateful that it was given, but especially because he saw it adding to their reward. Money had never been an issue with Paul. He says:

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

Worship in Giving

Paul was not in the ministry for money. Usually he was completely self-supporting, though he acknowledged elsewhere that this was not the norm among the apostles. He simply chose to work that way, so that no one could falsely accuse him of mercenary motives, and also so that he would not be a financial burden to any of the churches he served. He worked as a tentmaker on at least one occasion, to provide travelling expenses for himself and his entourage.

He was pleased that the believers in the Philippian Church were sharing, because it did them good—it brought fruit that is to their credit. They are being rewarded, now (today, and forever) for helping on his job. We have the option to join in the work of world evangelism, too, by praying for missionaries, and by giving to support God’s work.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

Paul assures them that their gift delighted him, and it pleased God, as well. He recognized it for what it was—a worship offering to God, and their service to God. He assured them that he was personally blessed by their generosity, and he felt that he had more than enough of everything he needed. (Bear in mind that he said this from a Roman dungeon!)

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul begs the believers in Rome, on the basis of the Grace of God they had already received, to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God. And he called it their reasonable service of worship. So these Philippian believers were doing just that: they were in extreme poverty, but they scraped together enough to send a gift to him and make his ministry easier.

The Sustaining God

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

When we read this, we need to think carefully about the difference between “needs” and “wants”.  God does not say he will give us everything we want.

Recently I wasted a lot of time, idly thinking about buying a different (larger) vehicle, because certain items I thought Ineeded to transport would not fit in my small SUV. I have been very grateful to have this present car, and am very satisfied with it, but I was beginning to worry about “needing” a larger van, perhaps. After some time of thinking about it, I decided that I should not be worrying about that, yet, as the object I was concerned about transporting (a double bass) did not exist yet, and that, when it did materialize, God would see to it that our needs were met. At that moment it suddenly occurred to me that He had already done so!

A few years earlier, my wife’s uncle had died, and she really felt strongly about buying his old, but well-cared-for pick-up truck, with a canopy, so we bought it. We have hardly driven it since then, except to carry gardening things, or firewood, etc., so I really hadn’t given it a thought, but the fact is that it will serve perfectly for the things I want to carry (upright basses.) It is not what I had in mind, but my needs had already been met. When I set aside the “wants” I had been entertaining, the facts were made clear to me.

Paul’s Conclusion and Benediction

20 Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This seems to have been the underlying motive in Paul’s whole life. He wanted to bring glory to God. Like Jesus, he determined that “My food is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work!” Is that my motive in life? Is it yours? What is your core reason for what you do? How does it work out in what you do and say? Paul wanted to bring glory to his God. It seems to me that he lived up to that objective.

He made it inclusive, as well: he referred to God as “our Father”…he invited us to join in that purpose. We have been chosen to function as emissaries of God’s Grace, and ambassadors of Christ. As we step into the reality of those tasks, we find ourselves laboring along with Jesus Himself, and bringing eternal Glory to God by our service.

21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.

22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.

It is always somewhat heart-warming, to me, to see that Paul does not forget the believers around him. In some cases he calls them by name: for example, he names the one (Epaphroditus) who acted as scribe in writing this letter, in the next verse. Paul was nearly blind, and had to have someone else do his writing, as he dictated. In other epistles, he only names a group, but it is clear that he valued each of them as individuals, and fervently loved the church as a whole. He prayed for them continually, and sought to bless them and strengthen them in every way.

It is also encouraging, to see that his personal testimony had made inroads into the very household of Caesar: There were believers in Rome, by this time, feeding upon the same bread of life that had been offered at Philippi, through Paul. And they felt the kinship shared among believers; they extended their greeting to their brethren in Philippi. It is interesting to me, too, that the believers in the household of Caesar evidently did not see themselves as being anything special, because of their position in life, in the household of the emperor. They were anxious to join in fellowship with this tiny group of poor, but utterly faithful and valiant saints in Philippi.

Living Grace

23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (To the Philippians written from Rome, by Epaphroditus.)

Paul’s final word is virtually always to invoke God’s Grace for the lives of the believers to whom the letter is addressed. I believe it is in keeping with the tone of the rest of his letters to assume that God’s Grace is what we are to look for as well—that this prayer, in fact, addresses the needs in our own lives, not just those in a tiny church in a Macedonian city, 2000 years ago.

We need God’s grace for salvation, obviously, but we also need it daily, in order to serve, and to live healthy, happy lives. We are not born again just to be left to our own devices: we have a Heavenly Father who watches over His children.

Jesus promised that He would not leave his people comfortless. And he has come, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to indwell each of them. He guides us, teaches us, blesses us, and directs our lives, so far as we are willing to allow him preeminence.

If we are satisfied to just have him reside within us, then our lives will not be much more fruitful than they were as unbelievers. But if we daily invite him to preside…to take the throne and reign, in our lives…then His Grace will fill our lives, and, though things may be hard (as they certainly were in Paul’s life), we will be able to see His hand of provision, and know that we are in the center of His will.

The Lord bless you all as you put the practical truths of the Book of Philippians into practical use in your own lives.

Lord Jesus, take the words of this epistle, and graft them into our hearts, by your Holy Spirit. Allow the Word to take precedence over all the various voices with which we find ourselves bombarded. Help us to listen more and more attentively to your voice, and learn to walk with you as your children, serving as your ambassadors, joining in your work.

Amen!


Our True High Priest, and the New Covenant

Our True High Priest and the New Covenant

© C.O.Bishop 7/14/17 THCF 7/16/17

Hebrews 8:1-13

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Hebrews. Over and over we have seen the theme “Jesus is better” played out in the scripture. Only one exception has been presented: Jesus was not said to be better than Melchisedec. But in every other case, His credentials were shown to far surpass those of all the “heavy-hitters” of Judaism: The Prophets, the Angels, the priesthood, Abraham, Moses…all fell far short of the standard set by Jesus the Messiah.

But now the writer returns to the theme, and sums up the clear Superiority of Jesus over the High Priests of Israel, showing His true office as our High Priest: the mediator of the New Covenant.

Our True High Priest

 1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

The writer is beginning to wrap up his treatise on the superiority of Jesus the Messiah over every aspect of Judaism. (By the way, please keep in mind that this is in no way a “criticism of Judaism:” All of the Old Testament scriptures are “God-breathed.” Judaism, as taught in the scriptures, was entirely from God, and, collectively, it was the introduction to, and prediction of, the Messiah. But Jesus is the Messiah: no more allegory or foreshadowing is needed: He is the real fulfilment of the promises.)

One thing we touched on earlier, but which is worth repeating: the high priest of the Old Covenant could never sit down, while he was “on the job”: the only “seat” in the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat—the “lid” of the Ark of the Covenant…God’s throne on earth. No one ever tried sitting there. People had died under God’s judgment for just touching the ark, even though they had good intentions. Sitting on it would have been a guaranteed path to instant destruction.

So, the point then, is that, in both Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 8:1, we see that Jesus finished his work and sat downand He is still interceding as our High Priest. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”. He is still on the job! So…where is he sitting? Both passages make it clear that he is seated at the right hand of the Father.

But, remembering the Holy of Holies—that means he has to be seated in the throne, with God… all of which agrees with John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus simply resumed his seat of authority with the Father, as is His due. He is God the Son. By the way, consider John 5:22, here, too (“All judgment is committed to the Son”)—Jesus is the Judge of all the Earth. He is the one who sits enthroned and will Judge the nations, as well as the hearts of men. The Throne of God truly is his rightful throne.

A person may think through all this material and still find it puzzling how Jesus could be called our High Priest. But consider this: The High Priest of Israel had two specific functions:

  1. He offered a sacrifice for the nation, once every year, reconciling the nation to God, and
  2. He represented the nation of Israel before God, interceding on their behalf, in prayer.

Jesus’s sacrifice was Himself: His own body, willingly given; and He is still interceding for us. He is our High Priest!

 

What is Different about the Priesthood of Jesus?

For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.

For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law:

Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

If Jesus had remained on earth, he could not even serve as a priest, let alone the High Priest: the earthly tabernacle (and later, the Temple,) were served by one family, under the Law. Only a Levite could serve in any capacity. But that tabernacle given by revelation through Moses, was still only a figure, or a shadow, of the real thing: the heavenly throne room with the literal, continual presence of God was the real thing. And that is where Jesus serves today… It is where He came from.

Moses was commanded to make the tabernacle according to the pattern he had seen in his visions on Mount Sinai. He did so, as faithfully as he could. In fact, God says that He put the spirit of wisdom into the men who did the actual work: they had not seen the vision…they could only work from what Moses told them. But evidently God overshadowed their limitations, and supernaturally guided their hands so that the tabernacle actually came out the way Moses had seen it. The result was a very good (though limited) man-made (though God-ordained) copy. It did not and could not serve the same purpose as the real thing, even though God actually appeared in that tabernacle on at least some occasions. Further, we can see here that the priesthood itself was only a foreshadowing of the “real thing”… Jesus; God the Son. All the sacrifices looked forward to the one blood sacrifice that Jesus was to make at the Cross. All the offerings and prayers and rituals were looking forward to Jesus, in his priestly ministry.

In similar manner, we are told that Jesus is the living Word of God, and that the written Word is God’s best communication of Himself to us. It was given through human writers who, just as he overshadowed the human builders of the Tabernacle, were borne along by the Holy Spirit so that the communication was literally the Word of God. We look to the written Word, as unto a light in a dark place, until the true light of the world—the living Word of God—Jesus—returns.

1st Timothy 2:5 states that “…there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the real High Priest. He is the “One Mediator between God and Men.”

 

The Covenant of Jesus is Better than the Old Covenant

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

Notice the tenses in the above statement: He has obtained (past tense) a more excellent ministry (than that which employed the human priesthood). He IS (present tense) the mediator of a better covenant, which was (past tense) established upon better promises.

I find it strangely thrilling, to see the precision of God’s Word. Jesus obtained (past tense) through his service and sacrifice, a better ministry, or office, than the one the Old Testament priests held, and which they all served. It was consummated at the Cross. (“It is finished!”)

But He serves now (present tense) in that specific ministry, as the mediator of the New Covenant, which is only begun in the Church Age, and which will find (future tense) completion in the Kingdom Age. But He is already at work, and has been for 2000 years. One of the better promises was that he was to be a High Priest eternally, after the order of Melchisedec. The promise of the coming New Covenant was made six hundred years before Christ. The promise was fulfilled at the Cross—still past tense for us and for the recipients of this epistle. But the mediation of that covenant is present tense, and it never stops to take a break. Our High Priest never gets tired, and His sacrifice transforms the lives of those who place their trust in Him.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

This was God’s revelation to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) of the coming New Covenant… with whom? The Church? No, he said, here, in verse 8 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31) that the covenant was with Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern nation), and then reiterates it in verse 10. That promise was not to the Church! (Read on!)

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

He says that GOD found fault with the Old Covenant. But how could He? He was its author! The fault was not a moral failure, nor a design failure: it did exactly what it was designed to do: it drove believers to see their need for a savior. When will the New Covenant occur? After his return: this is a Kingdom age promise. How can we tell the time for sure? Read the next verse:

11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

When, on this earth will every single Jew know Jesus and have the Law of God written in each of their individual hearts? This can only be the Kingdom Age. Has the Kingdom age begun? Absolutely not! Paul warned the church that they not be tricked in that regard…there are a number of things that have to occur first, including the removal of the Church, the revelation of the antichrist, and the terrible seven-year tribulation in which half the world’s population will perish. The new Covenant for Israel will begin shortly after the return of the Lord Jesus.

Has the New Covenant begun for the Church? Absolutely! In fact, that New Covenant is the only one we have, in this age, as Jewish or Gentile believers. Israel had been looking forward to the whole New Covenant as promised, for 600 years, or thereabout, when Jesus announced the good news of the Kingdom. And they rejected it.

The Covenant still stands, but it will only be ratified with the Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. Not before. The Church-age believers experience two small parts of that promise, though vital ones:

  1. In this age, every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit: no exceptions. That will apparently be true in the Kingdom age as well.
  2. In this age, (and all of them, for that matter), the believer stands righteous before God, by imputed righteousness, not by the works which they may or may not accomplish. God remembers our sins no more. But in the kingdom age, God will not rub Israel’s collective nose in the dirt of their past sins. They will simply stand righteous before Him, in Christ. And that is our current standing—“in Christ!”

 

The Old Covenant was passing away—and is now obsolete.

13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

This is the final warning that the Old Covenant was about to expire: it had reached its “pull-date”, as it were. The Kingdom age was not being offered to that generation any more. And the Temple (though the readers did not know it, of course) was about to be destroyed. There would no longer exist on earth even the shadow of reality that the temple in Jerusalem had represented for so many years. There would literally be no way to return to their old way of life.

So, the only way these Hebrew believers could enter into the New Covenant was to believe fully in the Person of Christ, and enter into the New Covenant as it applies to the Church. The New Covenant, as initially offered to Israel, had been temporarily withdrawn.

The promise still stands, and it will definitely be fulfilled, to the letter, but, just as the promise of the land was offered to the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses, and, because of unbelief, they failed to enter in; the generation of Jews who were personally approached by the Messiah also rejected His offer through unbelief, and, in turn, were refused the Kingdom. Could they repent and believe? Certainly, but now they enter in along with the Gentiles, and have the same status as the Gentiles. The ultimate promise of the land and the Earthly Kingdom will not be fulfilled, nor even offered again, until Jesus returns.

 

Conclusion: What can we do (or not do) about the New Covenant?

One thing that keeps coming up is the temptation to go back under the Law, when God says, right here in this passage, that we are not to do so: that the Law never could change a life, and that Grace has always been the means by which we are saved…and that the Law has, in fact, become obsolete. We need to be vigilant against the kind of thinking that insists that our standing with God—our position in Him—is dependent upon our behavior—our walk with Him. Only our state—our current condition—is dependent upon our walk.

Remember that Israel, as a nation, is and has been the “Chosen People” of God whether or not they are in a good relationship with Him. He has never “dropped them and chosen someone else.” But His blessing, on a year by year basis, as a nation, has definitely been based on their walk with Him. When God warned Israel, saying, in effect, “if you obey Me, I will bless you; if you disobey Me I will curse you”, it never affected their position as the Chosen People of God. It changed their condition, as blessed or cursed…which is a huge issue all by itself.

God still defends Israel, as His People, though they have been in terrible condition, spiritually, for thousands of years. And the day is coming (soon, I hope) when they will awaken, nationally, and stand again as the people of God.

We have an even more precious position—the Jews and Gentiles called out of the World over the last 2000 years, are called the Church: the Body of Christ—the Bride of Christ. He sees us as being already perfect in Him, and already seated with Him in Heaven, though our experience may be quite different, at times, here on Earth.

Our position in Him is perfect and eternally secure. Our condition may vary wildly. But we don’t want our condition to be vacillating like that! We want to have a blessed relationship with the Savior, not a rocky, shabby relationship that dishonors Him by our bad behavior.

So, out of love to the Savior, not out of fear of the Judge, let’s look to our lives, and learn to walk in obedience by faith.

Attempting to live a holy life in our own strength is not pleasing to Him, as He has already told us we cannot do it. So, we confess that we cannot live holy lives on our own. We ask Him to take control and live through us. We read His Word, to see how to live; we join in fellowship with other believers to encourage one another; and we confess our sins when we fail. But we don’t waste time groveling over our failures: we stand up by faith, and walk again, knowing that even our fumbling attempts to walk by faith are pleasing to Him.

Let’s walk together, encouraging one another; blessing one another, as we seek to walk with Him. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn away into self-effort, self-improvement and self-righteousness.

Lord Jesus, draw us into full faith, and teach us to walk with you in obedience by Faith.