The Promise of the Ages

The Promise of the Ages

© C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

The Christmas Song

by Don Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passover Lamb: Exodus chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

He introduced Jesus as the fulfillment of that Promise!

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 1:26-38

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

Luke 2:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Memorial of the Promise

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

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

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

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

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

(Communion Service)

How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 2:11-25 Galatians 5:16-23

Introduction:

We saw last week that there are “changes coming,” for all true believers. No matter who I was in the past, life is not going to be just as it was before. I have a new heritage, and a new Master. It is obvious that things are going to change. So, we need to think about what will change, and how.

We saw last week that there were things destined to be “laid aside and left behind” as we press forward to walk with Jesus. We also saw that there was an expectation that we would begin to display a “family resemblance,” since we have been born again—“born from above,” as some of the passages say—and specifically, we are born into the family of God, as His real children.

Now Peter goes on to admonish and exhort the believers to “live up to” the calling they have received. I can’t lose my position in Christ, but walking with Him does require some attention as to my response to the world around me: without that attention to my walk, I will constantly stumble, and fall back into the mess of my old habits and responses. So, Peter gives fair warning against this trap:

Abstain from Fleshly Lusts

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

He prefaces it all with the fact that as long as we are in this World, we are literally “strangers and pilgrims:” travelers, nomads…just “camping out,” here; seeking a home not in this world, but in that which is to come. The song, “This World is not my Home” is correct: we are “Just passing through!” But it is so easy to forget that fact. Peter warns us to not forget, but, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against our souls.

The goal is that our lives should reflect the truth and grace of God before unbelievers, so that, when they speak evil of us (as He says will happen,) they will eventually have to confess before God that our lives(the Greek word “anastrophe,” translated “conversation,” here, means our “way of life”) and our works actually have shown the truth of our testimony, and that they have rejected and persecuted us without cause…and in so confessing, they will Glorify God in that day—the “day of visitation.” Our reputations should be built upon the truth that people can see in our lives, not just what we say is there. This is the importance of a living testimony, which is expected to agree with our spoken testimony.

If I consider, for a moment, the phrase, “Abstain from fleshly lusts,” I might also step over into Galatians, where the “works of the Flesh” are listed. These are what the lusts of the flesh produce, if I allow them in my life. The word “lusts” simply means “strong desires, and isn’t even always a bad thing, though we use the word that way almost exclusively.

The Lusts Produce the Works (Galatians 5:16-21)

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh (verses 19-21) are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as the nine-fold list in verses 22, 23, and that last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural: if I am partaking in any of these, then I am in the flesh; it’s as simple as that. Any one of these marks me as being “in the flesh.”

But the next “list” is half as long, and it is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit (singular), or a single fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book of Galatians is the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, then the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why God can freely tell us, here in 1st Peter 1:13-15, to submit ourselves to Civil Authority.

Civil Authority

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

As a general rule, believers are to cheerfully submit themselves to human civil law. Is there a possibility that the law of man can “cross the line,” so to speak, and be in direct conflict with the Law of God? Surely there is! But it is actually pretty rare. Usually civil laws are made to protect the law-abiding people from human predators and to protect their personal rights against those who would take them away. It is a rare thing for the laws of man to require us to do something that is wrong, or to forbid us to do something God says we are to do. But it can happen.

A week ago, we received the news that our governor had mandated “no more than 25 people in church gatherings.” That does not force us to disobey God, though it might have made us work harder to obey Him: we were willing to split the services to keep below 25. But the ruling also said that enforcement was at the discretion of local Law enforcement; so we called the local police chief, to see what he would require, and we were told that he has no intention of enforcing such a mandate, and that if he comes here it will be to worship with us, not to act against us.

So, we obeyed the law, and simultaneously obeyed God. And, in the process, we allowed the local law enforcement to see that we are not in rebellion, which strengthens our testimony with them, whether they are believers or not.

We virtually always have an option to not disobey God, and still be obedient to the law. In the unusual event that there is literally no avenue of escape without bringing down the judgment of an evil, ungodly employer or government, then that becomes our option: we can lose a job, or our belongings or our freedom or even our lives as the final option. Believers have made these hard choices for virtually all of human history.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go into the furnace because they disobeyed God, but because they obeyed Him. Daniel did not end up in the lion’s den because of dishonoring God, but because of honoring Him. Daniel submitted to every ordinance of Man until the ordinance clearly required him to ignore God, and even then, he was in his own home, praying toward Jerusalem, not out on a street-corner, haranguing crowds of unbelievers in the name of the God of Israel. He was quietly obeying God when they came in and arrested him. We need to keep these examples in mind.

16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

We are truly free in Christ: we are free to serve Him, but we are not free to use our “liberty” as a way to cover sin. We are free to serve and to suffer, as the servants of God. We are not free to use our freedom to damage someone else unnecessarily, nor to express self-will and rebellion cloaked in a show of “piety.”

Honoring Man, while Honoring God

17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Notice that there was no hint of “backtalk” here: they were to extend respect and honor to all those around them. They were to commit themselves to the Love of the Brethren, in keeping with Jesus’s command in John 13:34, 35, and to fear God above all human authority, and yet, to honor the human government. He goes on to give some examples:

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Is it possible that we will suffer grief in return for good behavior? Certainly it is! And, if that is what really happens, then God is glorified by that suffering. But if we are “off in left-field” doing things God has warned us not to do, and end up being punished for our misdemeanors or infractions, then it does not honor God…it dishonors Him. I have heard of Christians losing jobs specifically because they are Christians…and, in anti-Christian countries, people are imprisoned or even killed because of their faith. In those cases, they have honored God by their obedience and their suffering.

But when I have also known believers who were jailed for tax-evasion, or theft, or other crimes, they were not suffering for their faith: they were being punished for wrongdoing. And that does not honor God. Is it possible that the government will use your taxes for evil purposes? I can just about guarantee that they will! When Jesus paid taxes to Caesar, was Rome using that money to promote godliness? Of course not! And yet, we are told to pay our taxes, and not be rebels. We are to take Jesus as our example:

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

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

In the first place, the subject in this context is the concept of “suffering for doing rightly.” Jesus certainly did nothing but “good, righteous works,” showing compassion and kindness to the poor, and holding the privileged and wicked religious leaders accountable for their sin. However, this passage is not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, and walk around attempting to imitate Jesus in His earthly ministry: I have no gift of healing, nor of any sort of miraculous sign-gift. So I can’t imitate that portion, but I can imitate His righteousness and I can strive to learn His Word, so that I can offer the same message of Hope which He offered.

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

We can at least see that we are to trust God for justice, not other humans, who are flawed individuals, just as we are. We can also see, obviously, that we are especially to abandon the kinds of wrong behavior that could get us in trouble with civil law, because there is no glory to God in suffering punishment for unrighteousness. Dishonesty and a vengeful, sharp tongue are both mentioned as things Jesus did not exhibit.

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

What is the “Goal” of our Salvation?

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

We are dead to sins, that we should live unto righteousness. That is the goal!

Now, this last phrase, “by whose stripes ye were healed,” is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5, but the conclusion is strictly New Testament: We could not be “dead to sin” in the Old Testament. But, according to this passage, along with Romans 6 and Galatians 2, we believers during the Church Age truly are dead to sin, as we died with Christ, and the result is supposed to be that because we are alive to Righteousness and alive to God, we should live for God.

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

This final passage reminds us that the letter was originally to Jewish Christians: the gentiles were seldom referred to as “sheep,” but the “lost sheep of Israel” was a common theme. In one place, only, John 10:16, Jesus said “16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” I believe in that reference he is talking about the Gentiles who would respond in faith: In the Church Age, there truly is one fold and One Shepherd. The Jews who had strayed from the God of Israel were considered “the lost sheep” of Israel. The Gentiles were simply considered to be foreigners and heathen. In fact, the word “gentile” simply means “heathen.” So these who had once been “lost sheep” of Israel had been returned to the shepherd and “overseer” or “Bishop” of their souls. The word translated “bishop” is “episkopos,” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer.”

We gentiles have been born into the family of God, and He is truly the Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls as well, but we were not the lost sheep of Israel. We did not “wander away from God:” In fact, regarding the lost world, in Matthew 7:23, Jesus said “I never knew you! Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” He does not say, “I once knew you, but you just wandered off and got lost: too bad!” He says he never knew them. We were born as sinners, just as the lost Jews were born as sinners. That is where we all start out!

This is probably a good time to be reminded of what Jesus says about us who have become His sheep: John 10:27, 28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish.” Also, in John 6:39, he said “this is my Father’s will who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” As a gentile believer, you will never become a “lost sheep.” He will keep you for eternity. You have been placed into a new relationship with the Savior, and it is entirely dependent upon Him, not you!

We are His forever! Now we need to learn to walk with Him!

Lord Jesus, allow us to walk with you and reflect your holiness as a testimony to the world that has rejected You. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps!

Rejoicing in the God of Our Salvation

Rejoicing in the God of Our Salvation

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:5-12

Introduction:

We have begun a study in the book of first Peter, the first epistle of Peter to the scattered Jewish believers, evidently after the persecution in Jerusalem. We saw a strong encouragement in the first five verses, underscoring the security of these persecuted believers, and the fact that their position “in Christ” was permanent. The last thing we considered was a very brief look at the fact that we are “kept by the Power of God unto Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

We need to talk about that idea of “Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time:” Aren’t we saved now; already? Let’s read what it says, and then consider:

5Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

“Tenses” of Salvation:

Notice that it says this salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time.” There are three aspects, or “tenses,” to what we call “Salvation:”

  1. We have been saved from the penalty of our sins. Romans 5:1 says that we have been (or “are”…perfect tense) “justified” (declared righteous) by faith, and that, as a result, we have (present tense) peace with God. This is positional truth.
  2. We are being saved (present tense) from the power of sin in our lives. Romans chapters 6 and 7 point out that while we no longer are slaves to sin, there is a daily battle in progress, and our constant salvation from that power is found in Christ. This is conditional upon our choices.
  3. We will be saved (future tense) from the presence of sin. Revelation chapters 21, 22 tell us of the end result of the salvation God brings: there will be a new heaven and a new earth, in which there is literally no sin, no evil, no suffering. This is positional truth, again.

So the recipients of this letter had been enduring persecution, it seems (which is possibly why they were scattered…compare Acts 8:1, 4.) And they were assured by Peter, that the “last chapter” will bring full deliverance. The words translated “salvation” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament mean “Deliverance.” The words translated “savior” mean “deliverer.” That is why God referred to the judges, leaders, and heroes he sent to “save” Israel from their enemies as “saviors.”

We tend to think of Jesus as the only Savior, because, in terms of salvation from Sin, He IS the only Savior. But the word isn’t always in reference to salvation from sin. It can refer to being delivered from an oppressor, or a danger. But Jesus is our savior in every sense of the word.

Even if He chooses to not spare me from some present disease or danger, He is the Savior. As a rule, every one of us will die of our last illness, if an accident or other calamity does not take us first. All of us face that reality. Hebrews 9:27 says “it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” But in our current lives, He is our Savior from the penalty of sin, since God’s Judgment for sin fell upon Jesus at the Cross. This is positional truth. Because you are in Christ, you have been eternally saved from the eternal penalty of sin. Jesus said in John 5:24 that you will never again be condemned by God.

He is our Savior from the power of sin as well, according to Romans 7, but that battle is still in progress … and whether I am “being delivered,” in a practical sense, depends on how I am responding to Him. If I am walking with Him, I will be free from the power of sin. If I am not walking with Him, then I will behave as one who is a slave to sin, because in terms of my condition, I have subjected myself to sin instead of to Christ. This is conditional truth.

But in the end, He is our Savior from the presence of Sin. This is positional truth, again, because we are in Him. That is our position. We have been placed there by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said in John 6:39 that he will not lose any of us, but that He will raise us up at the last day. That is a precious promise!

That truth, alone, is worth our rejoicing. And the people to whom Peter addressed this letter were rejoicing over that deliverance, by faith, in spite of their current distress. We can do the same. As we mentioned last week, from God’s perspective, according to Ephesians 2:6, we are already seated with Him in the heavens! So our eternal position with Him is secure forever!

Rejoicing in spite of Trials

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

Remember that the reason they were rejoicing was their salvation in Christ. The word, “wherein,” is in reference to the Salvation mentioned in the previous verse. These believers were under intense persecution, not just the normal hardships of life, nor simple unpopularity or public scorn. They were losing their belongings to confiscation, according to Hebrews 10:34 and were in some cases tortured and killed. But their response was to rejoice greatly! They were not just “hanging on and hoping the Lord would bail them out.” Why?

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

The trial of their faith was producing praise and honor and glory to God. This is one of the purposes of trials; the way we respond to the testings can produce glory to God, and reward for us. We can read more about the reasons for sufferings, over in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11. But look at how Peter described the relationship of these persecuted Jewish believers to their Savior:

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. 10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:

These Jewish believers had not met Jesus during His earthly ministry: if we are correct that these were the believers from the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2 and those thereafter between chapters two and seven, then they were not living in Israel during Jesus’s life on earth: they had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and heard about Jesus from Peter and the other apostles. There were thousands of people who became believers during that time in Jerusalem. And, when the persecution arose, evidently they headed back to the countries into which they had been driven hundreds of years earlier. And they did not go home empty: they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they carried with them the Gospel of Christ.

Now Peter is declaring the nature of their relationship with Jesus.

  • They have not seen Him, but they love Him
  • They are still not seeing Him, but because they believe in Him, they are rejoicing with unspeakable joy, and are filled with His Glory.
  • They are (present tense) receiving the result of their faith, the salvation of their souls. Here is another example of the different “aspects” of salvation: Their souls were already delivered from the grip of the Evil One, forever. They were looking to Jesus for daily deliverance, but confident in Him for ultimate deliverance.

Peter goes on to remind them that the Old Testament prophets had desired to know what they now knew: those prophets had enquired and searched diligently, desiring to see it, but all they could do was prophesy of the Grace that was to come. None of them knew of the realities of the Church Age. Paul makes this emphatically clear in Ephesians 3:4-6, that the Old Testament believers (even the prophets) did not know about the Church. It was revealed after the Cross, after the resurrection, after the ascension, and after the giving of the Holy Spirit. All of those things were known to the prophets. They also knew about the coming Tribulation and the Kingdom age to follow. But they knew nothing about the Church.

11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.

Daniel 9:23-27 is a prime example of a great Old Testament prophet knowing everything before and after the church age, but skipping the Church Age entirely. He described events right up to the crucifixion, and then skipped all the way to the Tribulation! He skipped the Church Age!

Isaiah 53 predicted the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah. He also predicted the judgment that will fall during the tribulation, and the glory of the Kingdom to come. But he didn’t see the Church Age at all.

12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

In Daniel 12: 8, 9, Daniel told the angelic messenger that he (Daniel) did not understand the message. He was informed rather succinctly, that the message was not for him, but for the people of the end times! He was told, in short, to “write it down, close it up, and run along!” I believe that some of the prophecies in scripture are still in that category. There are some that seem impossible today, but that will become plainly obvious to the people at the end of the age. Some have changed in that regard, just in the last 50 years or so. Some in the last 30 years! (I used to wonder how it could be that the armies of every nation would be there to fight against Israel: It occurred to me a few years ago that they are already there! The UN Peacekeepers are comprised of the armies of all the nations! If they turn against Israel, at some time in the future, then that prophecy will be literally fulfilled! Another thing: I used to wonder how it could be that “every eye” would see Jesus at His return. With the advent of the internet and live video of news coverage, it has literally become a reality.)

So Peter underscored this idea, that it was not for themselves, but for us that those prophecies were given. He also reminded the readers later (2nd Peter 1:19-21) that the messages came by the Holy Spirit, not by the desire or the imagination or the “scheming” of the prophets. It was revelation from God by means of the Holy Spirit. And all the apostles and prophets and evangelists who had shared that message with them (the readers) were empowered by that same Holy Spirit. He concludes with a strange comment, that all of the subject of Grace and salvation are “things the Angels desire to look into.” This is a mystery to them as well! They are waiting “on the edge of their seats,” as it were, to see how it will all be explained. And, over in Ephesians 3:8-11, Paul confirms that the entire experience of mankind, and God’s salvation of those who place their hope in Him, (culminating in the Church Age) is specifically an “object lesson” for the holy angels. He says that God’s eternal purpose was that through the Church might be known unto the angelic hosts in the heavenly places, “the manifold wisdom of God.”

I find that idea simultaneously mind-boggling and encouraging. On the one hand, I think “What could the angels possibly learn from our experience?” But on the other hand, knowing that it is so, because God says it is so, makes all the trials seem somehow more worthwhile. Knowing that our hard times are somehow a blessing and an education to angelic hosts that we can’t even see is such a strange thought! But God says it is so, and we can rejoice in that fact!

Joy is a Choice

I am uncomfortable making this statement, because I have had so much failure to rejoice, in my life: I’m guessing it may be rooted in unthankfulness, or unbelief. But we are so ensnared by what the world tells us that we have a hard time looking past what we see with our eyes, and seeing what God tells us is the reality “behind the veil.”

The fact is that these persecuted saints were rejoicing with “Joy Unspeakable!” They were overflowing with joy at the sheer privilege of walking with God, rather than complaining because they didn’t like the circumstances.

I am constantly having to confess unbelief and ingratitude to God, because I am whining about some inconvenience…all things that we call “First-World Problems.” Others in the world are lacking food, water, shelter and safety, and instead of being grateful that I have all of these, I am distressed about some tiny problem and I’m distracted to the point of ignoring God’s provision.

When I open my eyes to God’s provision, it changes my perspective. I know “Joy is a choice.” Joy has to be a choice, because the command in 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 includes “Rejoice evermore!” There is always a possible choice to disobey a command. Obedience is a choice!

But what if all those provisions, the visible, tangible ones, are taken away? That is where faith had better be the real basis of my relationship with God! If I am only thankful when things are the way I want them, then I am guilty of that of which Job was accused by Satan! Satan claimed that the only reason Job responded well to God was that he had everything so easy…he was rich! He had everything! So a test followed! Job lost literally everything, including his health. And his response initially, was to worship God and say, The LORD hath given, and the LORD hath taken away! Blessed be the name of the LORD!” Now, it is true that Job’s attitude began to suffer after some time, and the long argument with his supposed comforters began to produce bitterness in his own heart. But God stepped in and corrected him, while rebuking the others. Bear in mind that Job’s troubles were not because of sin: God says so!

I think it would be good to consider the prophet Habakkuk: He recognized the wickedness in God’s people and pleaded with God to clean them up. God replied that He was sending the Chaldeans (who we call the Babylonians) to punish His people, the Jews. Habakkuk was shocked! He said “But they are even more wicked!” God agreed that they were, and said that He would use them to punish the Jews, but He then would punish Babylon even more severely.

Then, in Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet concludes “17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.


The things Habakkuk listed were all the things Israel considered to be blessings and provisions from God. And they were all to be taken away, because of sin, in this case. But Habakkuk chose to find his Joy in the Person of the Savior, the God of his salvation. He saw that God was going to lift him above the trials, and “make him to walk in high places” like a sure-footed deer.

And he gave the message to the musicians to make a song about it; evidently so that he and others could sing of the Joy of the Lord! Choosing to rejoice just might include choosing to sing about His goodness! I know it helps me to focus on His goodness when I sing of His Grace and Mercy. Praying and actually verbalizing thanks helps as well. We can choose to do these things!

Lord Jesus, we know that hard times are coming for the world. We ask that you would lift our hearts above the troubles of the World through Faith, and show us your Mercy and Grace, every day. Allow us to shine for you in the darkness of this world.

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.

Problem Passages in James (Part 2)

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 2)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 Healing, Confession, Prayer, Conversion, and “Saved from Death”

Introduction

We are finishing up our study in the Book of James, and last week we discussed some passages with some small problems for us in terms of how to apply them. But the following verses give me serious trouble:

Healing

I am not at all sure that I understand the last seven verses, here. I’ve heard them preached, and seen them put into practice, but unless my memory fails me (and my wife remembers the same few times I recall), every single time I have seen this done, the patient has not been healed, but rather has died. So, perhaps we need to give serious thought as to what is being taught here.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

So, what should we get from this? To begin with, I can definitely say that the sick person is the one to call for the elders. It is not for the elders to volunteer. They are told to pray over the sick individual, and anoint that person with oil in the name of the Lord. (OK, so far…) But then, verse 15 makes a clear statement that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, AND if he has committed sins they shall be forgiven him.

In legal terminology, the word “shall” is a very strong word: it is the word that makes an issue mandatory, without exception, unless otherwise stated. It would seem, then,that the passage has to be a “blanket promise for healing” so long as some certain conditions are met. So…in the cases where the sick was not healed…what should I assume? What were the “conditions?”

  • Was their prayer not “the prayer of faith?” In other words, “Was it the fault of the elders?” I can’t blame the patient for a lack of faith: all they were told to do is call the elders; and they did so! So, let’s say the elders have “doubts about” this passage: if they lack faith, then, should they disobey and not follow through and pray? Jonah wasn’t “full of faith,” but God used him! Namaan the Syrian wasn’t “full of faith” when he took “seven dips” in the Jordan. He had just enough faith to go and do it! Seems to me they need to go and do it when called. But then…what is the “prayer of faith?” (I guess I don’t know!)
  • Is there some sort of “formula” not being correctly followed? (If so, it is not stated.) A special kind of oil, for instance? Special liturgy to follow?
    • Dr. McGee points out that the Greek word for “anoint,” here, is not the word “chrio” which is used in the sense of a spiritual “anointing” and from which we get the word “Christos” or “Christ…the anointed one…the Messiah.” Instead, it is the Greek word “aleipho” which just means “put oil on something,” often for a practical reason. His commentary says that since it was sometimes used in a medicinal sense, he has concluded that this must mean to “go get medical attention in addition to the prayers.” Sorry…it simply doesn’t say that: Grammatically, it says that the elders are to pray over the sick person, anointing that person with oil, in the name of the Lord! (The doctor would not do that!) There is no teaching here of getting separate medical attention, though I agree that the oil may not be a “ritual anointing.” I just don’t know how to understand this. I certainly believe in going to doctors for help. (Jesus said “he that is sick needeth a physician.”) That is not what this passage is about.
  • I do think it is worth noting that it says “…the prayer of faith shall save the sick…” It does not say the oil will do it. (Regardless of what the oil may mean.)
  • So, then, is this only for sicknesses caused by sin? Verse 15 does bring up the possibility that sin was involved. And if it is for “sicknesses caused by sin”, then why would it not heal some of the modern, fatal diseases that definitely are caused by sin?
  • Is the Lord no longer offering this promise? (It does say the Lord shall raise him up…) Has that offer been revoked? There are people who truly believe this to be the case; that this promise is no longer in force. How would we know, for sure?
  • Was the promise only for a select group of believers? Well, the book was originally written to Jewish believers. But, I don’t believe that healing is only promised to Jewish Christians. There were lots of Gentiles healed in the New Testament.
  • Does the fact that the word translated “sick” in verse 15 is not the same as the one in verse 14 make any difference? (In verse 15, the Greek word is “kamnonta” and it means “exhausted one”, or “faint one,” and it’s only used four times in scripture, and only translated “sick” in this verse. The Greek word in verse 14 is “asthenei”, which is frequently translated “sick”, or “infirm,” but also could be translated “faint” or “weak.” The word “asthenei” is the one used in regard to Lazarus, who was so sick that he died… and Jesus raised him from the dead. John 11:1-44)

The fact is, I have no solid answers to any of the above questions, and I am not willing to jump to anecdotal “proofs” of any sort. Either God gives light in His Word, or He does not. The claims made by so-called “healers” usually end up proving false: some very shamefully, publicly false, which leads unbelievers to blaspheme the Lord, and claim that the scriptures are false, and that all who believe the Bible are fools. And I can’t blame them, when that’s what they see!

For the moment, I have to confess, I simply do not know what to make of this passage. I don’t like to “skip a verse”, and I am not inclined to pretend to have knowledge, when I can’t back it up with God’s Word. So…that’s where it stands for right now. I’m sorry!

Confession

The next verse seems to tie in with the previous two, with the exception that it does not mention oil or prayers of the elders, at all: it does mention confessing our faults to one another, and praying for one another. It again mentions healing, but seems to be a general principle, not necessarily a specific incident of sickness.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The word translated “faults” here, is not the usual Greek work “hamartias” which is translated “Sins,” (as in 1st John 1:9.) It is the Greek “paraptomata”, and it means “offenses, trespasses, faults, etc.” This is not grounds for the practice of the “confessional”, as in some religions. It means that if I have offended, I should confess it to the offended party, and if it is a public matter, I should confess it publicly; not necessarily in a formal setting, as though it were a courtroom, but simply addressing the fact that (for example) “I wronged this brother when I was angry. I said harsh words about him. It was unfair of me to speak that way, as he was not at fault. I have already spoken to him, and asked his forgiveness, but many of you heard me, and I want your forgiveness too.” That sort of honest transparency “keeps the decks clear,” so to speak, and perhaps keeps our communication with God more open as well, because Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.”

Prayer:

It also says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” This passage is constantly quoted as proof that “prayer changes things,” and I agree that it does. I believe that we are commanded to “pray without ceasing,” (1st Thessalonians 5:17) and “in everything.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) We have examples in the lives of the apostles, as well as Old Testament saints, and the life of Jesus Himself. They all seemed to have pretty intense prayer-lives.

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

This is a good reminder that prayer can make a difference: It is important to read what the rest of the scriptures say about prayer, too, though: 1st John 3:22; and 5:14, 15 give some admonitions regarding God’s reply to prayers. There are some keys given, in regard to answered prayer. We do not always “get what we want.” The passage in 1st John 3:22 suggests that we have to be living in God’s will in order to have confidence in prayer. If we aren’t even walking with Him, why should we hope for Him to do what we want? And the one in 1st John 5:14, 15 lets us know, that God still reserves the right to veto our idea. Remember that He is God!

He does answer prayers, but He reserves the right to answer “No”, or “Wait” as well as “Yes.” We say, “God didn’t answer my prayer,” unless He immediately answers “Yes!” That is a bad response on our part, and certainly not one that expresses faith. “No” is a legitimate answer, too, and sometimes it is the best answer God can give. “Wait” is also a good answer, in many cases.

Consider how many times a young child asks his parents about something he or she wants to happen. Little children are asking from a child’s perspective, and cannot understand all the ramifications of their requests. Like those little children, we have very limited understanding of the things of God, and the eternal issues He considers in responding to our desires. We need to trust that He will make the best choices for us, but also remember that He does want us to ask. And, finally,

What does “Convert” mean? What does Death mean?

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.  

Is this about evangelism? Or is it in regard to restoring a sinning brother?

There are three keys to understanding this passage:

  1. The first is the phrase “if any of you do err from the truth”
  2. The second is to find the meaning of the verb, “to convert.”
  3. The third is to determine which of the three possible meanings of the word “death” is intended in this passage.

In the context (“Brethren, if any of you…”) I would have to say that it is regarding a sinning brother (or sister) who is erring from the truth, not an unbeliever who has never been connected to the truth. Remember that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” when we sin, we are “erring from the truth”…wandering from the way, and temporarily separated from the life of Christ. Not lost, but acting as though we were lost…and, for all practical purposes, living as if we never knew Him.

But, in that case, I also have to ask, what does it mean to “convert” someone else? I certainly cannot “save” someone else, nor can I even force them, through strength of argument, to voluntarily receive the Lord. They have to make that decision themselves. Remember that the door to the truth is the will, not the intellect. (“Whosoever will may come!”) So, in what way are we “saving a soul from death?” What does “conversion” even refer to?

In our culture, we have long referred to salvation as “conversion:” possibly even because of this passage. But Jesus addressed Peter (already a believer) and said  … Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.(Luke 22:31, 32)

How could Peter, who was already a believer, expect to be “converted?” Perhaps some people would use this verse to support the idea of a believer “losing their salvation and being saved over again:” But it says, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” So, if Peter’s faith did not fail even though he denied the Lord, and he felt that his faith had failed, and he acted as though his faith had failed, what would his subsequent “conversion” entail?

The English verb “convert” (from the Greek, “epistrepho”) means to “turn back”, or “return.” It is the same word used when the shepherds “returned” after seeing Jesus in the Manger, and they “went back” to their flocks, glorifying God. (Luke 2:20) It was also the word used when the demon in Jesus’s parable decided to “return to his house,” meaning to “go back and repossess the man who had been freed from demonic possession.” (Luke 11:24) So Peter was expected to return to his strong faith. Could the word be used to denote salvation? Possibly…but the primary use simply means to return…go back! An unbeliever has never been a child of God: he cannot “return” to being one. Only a sinning brother or sister can “return” to the Lord. So, that leaves the last question, “What kind of death?”

Is this simply the “separation from fellowship” …a spiritual deadness which occurs every time we are out of fellowship? Or are we talking about the eternal “second death,” warned against in the Revelation? (In which case this would definitely be about evangelism, not restoration.) Or, is it actually about physical death? (Which indeed can result from a continuing pattern of rebellion in a believer’s life.)

To begin with, I am sure that this is a believer in question: it says, “Brethren (that means believers), if any of you do err from the truth…” So, let us assume there is no further question that the individual is already saved. That settles the issue with death, as well, then, because it is impossible for a believer to die, spiritually, although they can live as if they were spiritually dead, if they are out of fellowship. So, the only possible choices are either the “spiritual deadness” that results from unbelief and disobedience, or, more likely, physical death.

There are several examples in scripture of believers whose lives were taken by God, because of rebellion, or some flagrant sin. Perhaps that is the warning, here. John says that “there is a sin unto death.” (1st John 5:16) And John was talking about believers. In 1st Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul stated that some in the church at Corinth—believers— had physically died because of their sins regarding the Lord’s Table. They had dishonored the Lord by their actions and attitudes, in what is intended to be a solemn, holy memorial and celebration.

Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5:1-11, were believers too, but their sin of publicly lying to God, about something so mundane and trivial as money, cost them their lives. Peter demonstrated how pointless the whole thing had been; saying that the money was theirs, the land was theirs: they had been free to keep it, give it, or do whatever they wanted with it. But they lied to God about it, and judgment fell. They did not lose their salvation: they lost their lives.

King Josiah, one of the best kings Judah ever had, lost his life in an unnecessary battle with an Egyptian king who had no quarrel with Judah. (2nd Kings 23) We can lose our lives because of sin, too. Anger or lust or envy can drive us into situations that become deadly: in traffic, water-sports, or other life-situations. As we try to out-do a rival, or pass another driver, or show off for someone we want to impress, we take unnecessary risks. Many young men lose their lives through foolish behavior, but it is not limited to the young, nor only to men.

Left to ourselves, we can allow sin to fester until it erupts into a catastrophe. Murders have often occurred because of hurt feelings, anger, jealousy, etc. That possibility is not just for unbelievers. Christians are capable of every sin, the same as unbelievers. Suicides frequently occur because the individual turns in upon himself in a tighter and tighter “vortex” of frustration, guilt, fear, despair or anger, until there seems to be no escape. Sometimes (but not always) someone else can draw alongside the suicidal person and turn them away from the trap into which they are falling. That is what we are called upon to do, here.

We are told to care for one another, and to help turn one another away from such snares. I have personally known believers who allowed themselves to be drawn into sin that eventually cost them their lives. I don’t know what could have been done to turn them back from that sin, before it was too late. I do know that their family (also believers) desperately tried, but finally gave up trying. I heard about the results long after the fact. But we are told, here, that if we can “turn them back,” it will save their life, ultimately.

Believers are not immune to the attacks of the Evil one. In fact, we are his primary target. He really doesn’t need to do anything to unbelievers: he already has them. We are members of the Body of Christ, and Satan attacks us, in order to fight against Jesus, the King.

This closing admonition from James is to remind us of the battle we are in, and to urge us to take it seriously. I pray that we will do so. We are to function together as a team, as a body, and work to strengthen and bless one another. If we fail in that regard, the enemy is always looking for an opportunity to attack. We are told to “be sober, be vigilant, for your enemy the devil walketh about as a roaring Lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1st Peter 5:8)

Lord Jesus, we ask that you will feed us on Your Word, and give us the Wisdom to apply it to our lives, even when we feel that we don’t fully understand.  Shape us into your likeness and help us in our weakness and our ignorance.

Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

Some Problem Passages in James (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 5:12-20 (Oath-taking, Prayer and Singing)

Introduction

The remaining verses in James are difficult for me: Quite honestly, I am not entirely sure how to teach them. I know what they say, and I know what the words mean, but I do not know how to apply them all, especially the verses about healing.

Even verse 12, many (including myself, in the past) have taken to be a prohibition against oath-taking of any sort. (And, perhaps it is: I can’t rule that out completely.) But, when a public official (even a police officer) in our country takes office, they are required to take oath to uphold the law, to uphold the constitution, to protect and to serve, etc. Is that a bad thing? I really don’t think it is! They are being required to state, for the record, that they are bound by this oath to actually do the things in that oath. The same goes for marriage vows. So we need to talk about this verse and what implications it might hold for us.

Oath-taking

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

(Remember that in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus taught the same concept, nearly word for word.)

I have known of people who habitually used the name of God in everything they did, not even disrespectfully, but perhaps too casually, as if it were a charm, or a magic phrase to make things come out right. Perhaps they knew the verse that said to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” so they simply “said those words” with everything they did. A Latino friend told me how his father did that: throwing a bag of seed into the back of a truck, he would say En el nombre de Dios!” He told me that his father did everything that way! I can’t speak to that, because I can’t see the man’s heart. Perhaps it was an honest effort to “do everything in the name of God.” But saying those words does not make it actually be in the name of God: it strikes me that this is very likely to become “taking the name of God in vain,” even if the intentions may have been good.

I have frequently heard unbelievers say something like “Jeeezus help me!” in a frustrating, but somehow humorous situation. All of us have heard unbelievers cry out “God help me!” in a bad situation…an emergency, of some sort. (That is where the aphorism comes from, saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes!”) This takes the form of profanity, though, in many cases, to the extent that people only use the name of Jesus or of God, as a curse. That is not what this verse is referring to, but there are plenty of other passages that address that idea and the “cursing” aspect is also supposed to be “left behind” in the darkness of our old life.

This passage, however, is about taking oaths. Cursing is a separate issue. Remember, when Peter was confronted by the Jews at the crucifixion, (Matthew 26:74) “…he began to curse, and to swear, saying I know not the man!” The cursing was one word…the swearing (oath-taking) was another. He was terrified that they were going to crucify him along with the Lord, and felt helpless to change the course of events. Perhaps he was even angry at Jesus for allowing it to happen? I don’t know. But, in that circumstance he was both cursing and making a false oath. And both things are clearly forbidden.

Butt seems to me that taking true oaths should not be a light thing, either. I don’t really think this verse (nor the passage in Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus said nearly exactly the same thing) is a prohibition against all oath-taking, since God demonstrated in Genesis 15 that an oath can be appropriate. (The passage in Genesis 15 predates the practice laid out in Jeremiah 34:18 wherein two people walked between the pieces of a sacrifice, confirming an oath before God. In Genesis, God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice. He alone bore the oath.)

Some believe that this passage in James really is a prohibition against all oath-taking, and will refuse to take oath in court, for instance. (I used to think that!) Our laws make room for that specific belief, allowing a witness to simply affirm that their statements will be entirely true.

But there are sufficient righteous oaths taken in scripture to make me believe that this verse is more likely a prohibition against “casual” oath-taking. (Abraham required an oath of his servant in Genesis 24, for example.)

“Swearing on a stack of bibles” that something is true, is pointless, when simply stating that “you are convinced of” something is more honest. There is no need to invoke some “higher authority” to validate your given word. It seems that the Jews had become habitual “oath-takers,” and needed to go back to just giving their word, as a general practice. (Which may explain the Matthew 5 passage as well.)

But I think this verse would also preclude any of the ugly, pagan oaths take by people who join secret societies, or certain cults. I have read some of them, and they are truly gory, ungodly oaths. Why are they requiring such oaths, in order to join their organization?

You did not “take an oath” in order to become part of the Body of Christ: you simply placed your faith in His Word, and in His blood. God made the promise: He promised to save you and to keep you, forever. He required no oath from you! Remember, in Genesis 15, He made the oath; He required nothing of Abraham! He also requires no oath from you.

As a member of the Body of Christ, you are expected to find a group of like-minded believers and attach yourself to that assembly, and then faithfully function there as all believers are called to function:

  1. You are a priest before God, and you are expected to pray and offer praise and thanksgiving to the Savior, both for yourself and for others.
  2. You are an ambassador for Christ, and are expected to reach out to the lost as well as to the saved, to offer the Grace of God to the lives around you.
  3. Finally, there are specific gifts you have been given as a believer, that are to be used to bless the assembly, and to serve, and to build up that assembly.

We hope that everyone who attends this assembly will take all these things seriously. But no “oaths” are needed! This is simply what God expects of all believers, in every assembly!

Prayer and Singing

Here is where things begin to be a little more difficult, though they ought to be easy:
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

This seems pretty straightforward. I can easily teach the practice of praying, as it is taught everywhere in the scriptures; We are commanded, in Philippians 4:6, 7, to “be anxious for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

So the part about being afflicted, and praying, I can teach, for sure. Affliction could be physical, mental, emotional, or financial (or maybe something else.) But we are told to give ourselves to prayer, both here and elsewhere. This is to be prayer from the heart, by the way, not reciting written prayers from a book of prayers, but actually talking to God about what is on your heart.

But there are people who say that “Prayer doesn’t change anything: God is just going to do His will anyway!” This passage teaches us otherwise! In verse 16 we are told it can accomplish a great deal. But most roads have two ditches, and this is no exception:

The other extreme is people who think that we can literally “order God around,” telling him what to do…specifically not “asking,” as (they say) that displays a lack of faith. But we are absolutely told to ask. We are absolutely told that, at least sometimes, we “have not because we ask not.” (James 4:2) And we are absolutely told that the reply depends on several things:

  • Our relationship with God at that time, (1st John 3:21-24)
  • The faith with which we ask, (James 1:6, 7) and
  • Whether, in fact, the thing we ask is within God’s will. (1st John 5:14, 15)

God always reserves the right to reply “Yes, No, or Wait.” The Lord is very definitely in control as God…He is not a “celestial vending machine:” (where you just put in your prayer, pull the appropriate lever, and automatically get your wish!) He is God! Yes we are to pray, and freely come to His throne to receive help in time of need, but do remember who it is you’re talking to! He is the Authority! He is God!

So both of the above ideas about prayer are mistaken: yes, “most roads have two ditches,” but the idea is to stay out of the ditches, and preferably in your own lane! Prayer definitely will at least change your relationship to the One you serve, and may change the world around you, as well. But remember that the Lord is sovereign: He always has the final say!

Something I frequently do, in prayer, because of 1st Peter 5:7, where we are told to “CAST” all our cares on God, is to use that word as an acronym, to remind me to begin with

  • Confession of my sins, and my frequent unbelief, then moving on to
  • Adoration and Worship, Praising God for who He is, then making requests, in
  • Supplication (praying for my needs and those of others,) and not forgetting
  • Thanksgiving for answered prayers and the constant faithfulness of God.

So, What about Music?

The singing of hymns (or specifically psalms as some churches insist on doing) to express joy, worship, praise, thanksgiving, fellowship and faith is clearly taught as well. I think it is well to remember the rest of what the scriptures say about singing, too: Jesus and the disciples “…sang a hymn, and went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30)

The scriptures encourage us to “sing unto the Lord a new song”, in several places. And some of us may feel encouraged that the psalmist also says “make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” There is no restriction as to our innate gifts in music, or our skill as musicians. There also does not seem to be a restriction as to what sort of music, as it varies wildly from culture to culture, nor is there a restriction as to what kinds of instruments, as far as I can see. But it seems clear that the lyrics must honor the Lord. (It would seem reasonable, as well, that the music should be of a sort that draws a person into a serene, joyful worship of Christ, not stirring them to a frenzy of emotions, though perhaps that is also a matter of perspective: we will discuss particulars later.)

There are churches which completely forbid the use of any musical instruments in the church, just because there is no mention of them in the New Testament. But the Old Testament has many references to musical instruments: some were used for the glory of God, some were not: but the difference was in who was using them, and for what purpose. There is no mention of them in the New Testament, except in the Revelation; but there is no prohibition against them, either.

The three types of music mentioned in the New Testament are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and they are grouped together as “singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19) All these are commanded and encouraged.

The problem with “trying to decide what kind of music is permitted” is that in other cultures, when the believers “sing unto the Lord a new song,” it does not sound like western hymns at all! And, as cultures change, the style of music frequently shifts along with the changing culture. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The “old” hymns we love were once “new songs.” And not everyone approved of them! The churches which demand that we only sing psalms forbid making new lyrics. And the really old churches did not approve of what we now consider the great hymns of the faith. But one thing that stays consistent, throughout the centuries, is that the Holy Spirit always speaks to glorify Jesus. So, if the “new songs,” and the “spiritual songs” are actually coming from Him, then the lyrics have to clearly honor the Lord.

My youngest son sadly, quietly told me once, of being condemned by the pastor of his church (in the presence of his friends) for listening to “rock” music. The man said “I’m a man of God! You are a man of the World!” I felt especially bad about it, because my son was a very young believer, and such harsh condemnation is hurtful in any case, but especially in the case of a young believer, and doubly so, in front of a group of friends. (I still grieve for the damage done by this pastor: the entire exchange was wrong!)

But a few days later, I was accompanying my son somewhere in his car, and he started a song on his music system, that was unquestionably “rock” music. I had a little trouble understanding the words, and really wasn’t listening too carefully, until my son asked “What do you think of the song?” I answered honestly, “Good music!” as there was nothing inherently wrong with it, though it was not what I might choose. Then he said, “That’s the song I was listening to when the pastor chewed me out.” So I “perked up my ears,” so to speak, and listened more intently. I found that I actually could understand the words if I listened carefully. Do you want to know what they said?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me…cast me not away from thy presence…restore unto me the joy of your salvation….” Do you recognize those words? Yes! It was the 51st Psalm put to music! That is what he had been listening to, and that is what was condemned by his pastor.

I’m not sure those wounds ever really healed. And they were inflicted by someone who, I am sure, thought he was doing something “righteous.” But James 3:18 says, “…the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That encounter did nothing to create or maintain peace, and the fruit it bore was not righteousness, but bitterness. We need to think carefully about how we use God’s Word, and how we treat the people around us.

Now, in another case, when I was in welding school, I myself was singing or humming the tune (not the lyrics, because it was in Latin, and I didn’t know the words) to Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” A younger friend, a brand-new believer to whom I had been teaching the Bible, heard me, and confronted me, in shock, demanding “Why are you singing that song!?” I was astonished, and said, “It’s a beautiful song! I like it!” He asked again, “Do you know what that song is?” I said, “Yes, it’s Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria.’”

He persisted, though, saying, “But don’t you know what that is??” I said, “I guess I must not!” He said “That is the ‘Ave Maria!’ The ‘Hail Mary’ put to music! It is a worship song to Mary!

I simply had never thought of “what the song was about.” I certainly did not intend to sing a worship song to Mary, even if the music was beautiful! And this young man was a recent believer, who had been saved out of Roman Catholicism, so he was very sensitive to this particular thing. I answered on the spot, “I just never thought of that! I won’t sing it anymore!”

You see, the “beautiful, worshipful music” of that song was specifically written to worship a human being, as if she were deity. Mary herself confessed that she needed a Savior. She is not to be worshipped. And in my friend’s mind, I was singing worship to Mary! I was literally causing him to stumble, and I didn’t even know it. The “beautiful music” did not make it acceptable, nor did the “rock music” in the previous case make it wrong. The lyrics, in both cases, made the song what it really was.

So these two concepts of prayer and singing ought to be a total blessing to us, but they can be problematic as well. We need to think about them and what they really mean, and how we are to use them to honor the Lord.

Is there a Conclusion?

If nothing else, I hope that we can come away with a commitment to “Love one another,” and not to condemn each other for innocent differences of opinion regarding God’s Word.

But the remaining verses in James are about “healing,” and something called “Converting a sinner” and “saving a soul from death.” All of these ideas can be easily misunderstood, and are controversial enough that many commentators sharply disagree over them. I’m not certain I have all the answers, but we will address that passage next week, as these also are subjects people may struggle over.

Lord Jesus, please give us light to read your Word in the teaching of your Holy Spirit, so that we are not confused, but rather drawn closer to yourself. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness.

Waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord

© 2020 by C. O. Bishop

James 5:7-11; 2nd Timothy 3:1-17; Psalm 37:1-10; Psalm 139:23, 24

Introduction:

We are nearing the end of the Epistle of James. Last week we saw the only portion of the book which seems to be addressed to unbelievers (specifically wealthy unbelievers), and in the next few verses, James switches back to speaking to the believers, addressed as “Brethren.”

The believers in the first century were experiencing persecution, as well as the normal difficulties of life, and virtually all of the epistles teach us to “endure” such difficulties, and to honor the Lord by our responses to hard times. James emphasizes endurance and patience as being necessary for reward.

Patience as that of a Farmer

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Notice, here, that James definitely switches back to addressing the believers at verse seven. Only believers are called “brethren” in the epistles, although in the book of Acts, sometimes a Jewish apostle or other individual spoke to Jews at large, addressing them as “brethren,” because they, too, were sons of Abraham. James is primarily addressing Jewish believers, but he still only addresses the believers as brethren, and when he makes statements which may be to, or about unbelievers, he does not use the terms “brethren”, or “brother.”

We, as believers, are to wait for God’s timing in all things, knowing, especially, that His righteousness will not be thwarted, and that the wrongs against us will be recompensed in eternity. James gives the example of a wise farmer who knows the local weather patterns and how his crop is to mature, and when it will be the right time to reap a crop of grain, dig a crop of potatoes or onions, or whatever. He doesn’t run out and start pulling up onions as soon as he sees them sprouting…he knows that the large bulbs he is hoping to harvest will not be there until much later. Same for potatoes…there is a right time to harvest potatoes, though some people do enjoy a sample of “early potatoes,” deliberately harvested before full maturity, as a treat early in the season.

So when does God say the true final harvest is to occur, from our perspective? He says “be patient…unto the coming of the Lord.” In each of our individual lives, we may not know the results of ministry or endurance until we die, because we simply can’t see what is going on in other people’s hearts. But, over the whole of human experience, none will know the full effect of the plans of God, until the revelation of Jesus, at the second coming. Even the Rapture of the Church will only bring to a close the Church Age…the ones left behind will not know what is going on until it is too late, and, though millions will become believers during that tribulation period, they will not see the full deliverance of God until the end of that period. Many of the tribulation saints will die for their faith…and their only reward will come with the Lord’s return. So the harvest of souls that is in progress now, and has been since the Day of Pentecost, is one type of harvest. We are asked to be working in that harvest on a daily basis.

But the harvest of reward and ultimate triumph of God’s Righteousness is not going to happen until the Lord’s Return.

What does the Harvest Look like?

We know from the scripture that “evil men …shall wax worse and worse,” but we need to read the context of that verse:

2nd Timothy 3:13 “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”

That seems to stand alone; but if we back up and read the whole chapter (read it) we can see that Paul (speaking to Timothy) is letting us know the future, in general terms, and what to expect from the World…and how we are to respond to it.

2nd Timothy 3:1-17

1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Doesn’t that sound as though the apostle is describing today’s World? It should come as no surprise: that is the description of the general trend of sinners from the beginning, so it will fit the pattern all the way to the second coming. Paul goes on to point out the end results:

Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as their’s also was.

He predicts the ultimate uncovering of the folly of evil, and calls Timothy as a witness to the work God has done in his Paul’s own life…how Paul continued to teach sound doctrine, live in a manner consistent with the faith, filled with the purpose of God, and demonstrating faith, longsuffering, the Agapé love and endurance.

10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,

All these came in spite of tremendous persecution which Paul personally endured.

11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.

And Paul cautions Timothy to understand that those who live a godly life, honoring the Lord, “SHALL” suffer persecution.

12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

It might be very small things, such as always being on the “outside” looking in (regarding social functions and groups and outings.) But it can escalate into genuine attacks, whether verbal or physical.

And that is where the key verse comes in, about evil getting worse and worse: We are told that things will continue to get worse until the Lord’s return. There are teachers today who are publicly declaring the opposite: that “things are getting better and better!” I am absolutely baffled by that idea! I don’t know how they could think such things, if they believe the Bible at all, let alone believe the Bible and read the worldwide news. The things described by Jesus and all the New Testament writers do not add up to “things are getting better and better!” And things we see increasingly in the news also do not indicate that things are getting better. But I have heard this teaching from a variety of people, who vigorously argue that we live in the “safest time in history!” Here is what God says about it:

13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.

We are clearly told that the evil will grow, more or less continually, until the Lord’s return! Notice that it specifically calls out the deception that characterizes the Evil: it is not just evil behavior, but the teaching of a monstrous lie, along with it.

The Harvest, alluded to in James, and described in the Revelation, will not only include the “final harvest of souls,” but also the harvest of Evil, where God says “Enough!”, and where Jesus steps in personally to stop the downward spiral into destruction. In that harvest, the description includes that of an angel (Revelation 14:14-20) with a sharp sickle, reaping the earth, and pouring the harvest into the winepress of God’s Wrath. It also includes the personal return of Jesus, to a World that has nearly universally rejected Him, and in which the righteous remnant are being systematically hunted down, persecuted and murdered! God will finally take vengeance!

And how are believers told to respond to all this? How are we to live, in response to the sure knowledge of coming trouble?

14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

We are told to continue in the scripture, responding in faith and wisdom to the revelation God has given. He says that the scriptures (all of them!) are given for the perfection and maturation of the child of God, so that the man of God…the mature believer…is completely furnished with what is needed to live a godly life in all circumstances. He says that, collectively, all the scriptures are profitable for teaching (that is what “doctrine” means), for reproof (sometimes we need to be reproved!), for correction (this could apply to simple misunderstandings in how we are seeing the scripture, or to behavioral issues), and for instruction in righteousness.

Bear in mind that “righteousness” means a “right standing before God.” I have the righteousness of Christ applied to my account, so that God sees me as eternally righteous. But that was true of both Abraham and Lot, as well, and their lives were utterly different in terms of content, immediate, and long term results! Lot’s sin is still having terrible results today. His sons (by drunken incest with his daughters,) were named Ammon and Moab. The Moabites and Ammonites have been bitter enemies of Israel ever since…and today, those specific people are the Palestinians, and the population of Jordan. The capitol of Jordan is Amman. Ironically, the Greek name for that city in the Bible is “Philadelphia!” How ironic, that the nation who most hates the Jew is comprised of those who are closely related to the Jews (Lot was Abraham’s nephew) and the city is named “Brotherly Love!” What a nasty joke!

So, if Lot had the imputed righteousness of God, as a gift, as did Abraham, why is his life so drastically different than that of Abraham? Our lives as believers could go either way, as well: God says that the scripture gives us “Instruction in Righteousness.” You see, Abraham was constantly going back to God, receiving instruction from Him, and obeying those instructions.

We go to God’s Word for instruction. As we obey those instructions, we find the likeness of Christ developing in our lives. We want to be re-made in His image, and this is how it happens!

Psalm 37:1-10 cautions us to wait on God, and not give in to the temptation to “fight fire with fire”, by doing something on our own that may be unrighteous, dishonest, or wicked in any way, in an attempt to bring about the “comeuppance” of these wicked. He says for us to allow God to deal with them.

Who is the Judge?

(Back to James)

James continues, and says that we are not to hold these things against those who have hurt us, even when they are other believers.

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

The “condemnation” here can only refer to the judgment of our works. Our sins were judged at the Cross: Jesus himself promised that we will never again face condemnation from God. (John 5:24) But we still face the Judgment seat of Christ, and our works very definitely will be judged.

Bitterness and the desire for revenge, along with all other evil motives are completely condemned by God as unworthy attributes for believers. Give that some thought: Who has wronged you? And how do you feel toward them? What thoughts do you entertain when you remember them? It is easy to grumble inwardly, thinking of all the things I “should have said” or “ought to do!” But God says “Knock it off!

This is in agreement with Romans 12:17-21. We are warned to not attempt to avenge ourselves for wrongs committed against us, but to allow God to deal with them. He says we are to treat people well, regardless of how we have been treated, as opposed to responding in kind when we are mistreated. If I respond in kind, then my behavior is just as condemned as theirs is. And, from the perspective of the unbelieving world around us, that brings us and all believers under the condemnation of our fellow men. Remember that the general context of the book of James is: “How can humans see the reality of your faith?”

10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

Their example is nearly universal: the prophets were virtually all under a threat of violence and death, and most (if not all) of the ones actually sent to the Jews, died a violent death for doing exactly what they were called to do. Ironically, the few who were treated rather well were the ones sent to heathen (gentile) kings and peoples. (What a sad, puzzling thought!)

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

Remember that “patience” here, has to do with endurance, not just “waiting for something to happen.” Job endured terrific testing, and never knew the reason why. Mostly he endured it in a godly manner. And God was pleased with him in general, though he did get somewhat of a “talking-to,” at the end of the account. But remember that God said Job was right, and his “friends,” who criticized him, were wrong. Job was reproved, but the “friends” were under God’s wrath, until they repented and Job prayed for them.

I would hope to be in that same boat, with Job: I want to be in agreement with God, which means, I have to change!  Each of us can open our hearts in confession and prayer, and ask what the Master would have us to change. Psalm 139:23, 24 says, “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I think that’s what we want, here! We need the Lord to search our hearts and to lead us in the way everlasting! And it can only happen on a one-by-one basis. Jesus meets us each individually, and deals with each of us as individuals.

Lord Jesus, help us to take personally the admonitions given through James. Draw us into a closer relationship with yourself.

A Warning to the Wealthy

A Warning to the Wealthy

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

Interpreting James Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unbelieving Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how should we respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children of the Light

Children of the Light

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:4, 5; Ephesians 5:8

Introduction

We just completed a three-week survey of the doctrine of the end times and how the Church is to respond to the turmoil in the World today. But last week we touched on the concept, that we are “children of the light.” Paul said that the Day of the Lord would not catch us sleeping because we are not “of the darkness” but rather, we are “children of the light.”

1st Thessalonians 5:4-11

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

I want to return to that idea and explore it a little: What does it mean to be “children of the Light?” How should it affect our lives, knowing that we are “children of the Light?”

The Puzzle of being “Children of the Light”

Perhaps one thing to consider is the opposite concept:

What is “darkness?”

Ironically, Darkness has no substance. Light is both a wave and a particle. There is such a thing as a “photon.” There is no “dark matter” in our everyday lives, though science does describe such a thing. The reality is, I can go to any store and expect to find a flashlight for sale. There is no such thing as a “flashdark!” I can only make darkness by closing out light.

In Genesis, when God said “Let there be light…” the result, apparently, was that light permeated everything…no shadows anywhere! (We can see the return of that unrestricted light in the new heaven and new earth, where there will no longer be a need for “luminaries” (sun, moon, lamps, etc.) because the presence of the Lord will be everywhere, providing shadowless light. So, in the next verse, when it says, “God divided the light from the darkness,” it can only be that He limited His light…so that it was possible to have the absence of light…which we call darkness.

Darkness, in our lives, can only be described as “the absence of light.” On a practical level, it has no substance of its own. To whatever degree light is restricted or blocked, we will experience darkness. On the other hand, the tiniest source of light will dispel darkness within the sphere of its influence. A tiny flame, such as a match or a small candle allows us to see around us well enough to move safely in a dark place. And, when we have such a light-source, we focus our attention on the area it illuminates, rather than straining to see what the darkness may hold. Our eyes only respond to light. And light dispels darkness because it its nature to do so. Light makes things visible to us. Ephesians 5:13 says, “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” So light is defined as the means by which things are made manifest, or revealed: made visible. That includes physical light, of course, but in the context of the scriptures at hand, it is clear that something else is in view.

Our next question, then, obviously, should be:

What is Light?

As we study the scriptures, we find that God defines this specific type of light for us: Psalm 119:105 says, Thy word is a light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet.”

2nd Peter 1:19 says, We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the Day dawn and the Daystar arise in your hearts.”

Remember that the light is what reveals or “makes visible” things that would otherwise be in darkness. It is instructive, I think, to remember the fact that Jesus is more than once identified as the Living Word, in Scripture, and along with that, He is identified as the True Light

John 1:1-5 says, 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John goes on to say, in verse 9, that Jesus is the true Light, and in verse 14, that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.” Later still, in John 8:12, Jesus said “I am the Light of the World…” And, in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the Light. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”


Children follow their Father

So, using this God-given “light-analogy;” the eyes of our hearts should respond to the light of God’s Word (they are called “the eyes of your understanding” in Ephesians 1:18): Our spiritual eyes should be specifically responding to Jesus, not to the words of the enemy.

I have been told by two different people how, when they were visiting in Israel they watched two flocks of sheep crossing paths there. In both cases, the watchers assumed there would be total chaos, as the two shepherds tried to sort out which sheep belonged to which shepherd. But the shepherds cheerfully greeted one another, and simply went on their respective ways, repeatedly calling their sheep. And the two flocks literally flowed through one another, and, as the shepherds got further apart, the two flocks once again were distinct, with no confusion whatsoever. Why? It was because the sheep in both flocks were following the voices of their respective shepherds, not just blindly following other sheep. There is a powerful lesson for us there! Jesus said, (John 10:27) “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

Following Jesus

Ephesians 5:1-14

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) 10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. 12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. 13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. 14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.

Paul explains quite a bit about the changed relationship between us and the World. He tells us a lot of things that should be “left behind” in the darkness. He tells us a number of things to be embraced as part of the Kingdom of light. Our lives are to be a reproof to the darkness, as Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and Glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”

But in what other ways should we respond to the darkness of the world around us? (Philippians 2:12-16) 12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 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.

Yes, our lives are a living testimony, but it goes a step further: we are “holding forth the Word of Life.” The Gospel is our reason to be in this world! The only thing that we can do for God, here on Earth, which we could not do better in heaven, is sharing the Gospel. We are shining as lights and holding forth the Word of Life, offering God’s Grace to sinners like ourselves.

What does Jesus say about the idea of our functioning as children of the light? Matthew 5:14-16

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

We get these instructions and this “Word of wisdom” from Jesus. Where else could we turn?

What is the Alternative?

What happens when someone seeks to fight darkness, without using the Light? (Would Saul qualify as an example, when he consulted the Witch of Endor? You may recall in 1st Samuel 28, that the LORD refused to speak to Saul, so Saul sought a necromancer to call Samuel up from the grave, so that he could ask Samuel what to do. Samuel shut him down, and informed him that he would be killed the next day! And he was!

If we seek “wisdom” from a source other than God, what are the other options? According to James, the other three sources are the World, the Flesh, and the Devil! Saul tried the latter option, not realizing what trouble he was asking for. God stopped him short and called him home. Saul had enjoyed the privilege of being a king, under God’s protection and blessing, but he used the privilege poorly. How are we using the privilege granted to us?

The Privilege of being a Child of the Light

We need to think about what a privilege it is to be the children of the light! We are no longer enslaved to the spiritual darkness that once held us. We have been forgiven permanently for all of our sins, past, present and future, and we are seen by God as His real children. This is an important idea, because this is the core issue: our position in Christ.

We are no longer part of the domain of Darkness. We have been transferred into the Kingdom of Jesus…the Light of the World. Colossians 1:13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

This is a permanent transfer: Jesus says so, over and over! I only want to highlight a couple of passages, but this is not by any means an “obscure” teaching.

Jesus made some personal promises to anyone who would place their faith in Him:

John 11:26 “He that believeth in me shall never die.”

John 10:27, 28 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me and I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish…”

John 5:24 “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that heareth my voice and believeth on Him who sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from death unto life.

You see, if all I had was the promise in John 11:26, someone might say, “Ah, but if you fall short and stop trusting in Him, you can’t hope that the promise would still apply to you!” (They would be wrong, by the way: “shall never die” rules out the possibility that my security depends on my steadfast faith!)

But what if all I had was John 10:27, 28? If I stop following Jesus and am drawn away to some sort of doctrinal silliness, or gross immorality, or even criminal sin…then do I lose out? What part of “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish” lends itself to God going back on His Word? Would I lose reward that way? Obviously, yes, I would! But David, guilty of both adultery and murder by proxy, was still a child of God, and though it cost him terribly, he was not lost. Jesus says he gives us eternal life. How long does “eternal life” last? When Jesus says “they shall never perish,” what do you suppose He meant? How long is “never?” Why do people feel free to twist Jesus’s words and add qualifiers to them, to negate their content? But people do just that! So what about that promise in John 5:24?

  • “Has everlasting life” is present tense! It means the very moment you placed your trust in Him, you were the possessor of eternal life, as a gift…you have it now!  You are not waiting until you die to find out whether you “made the cut!”
  • “Shall not come into condemnation” is future tense! It means that the God who knows the whole future, so that there will never be any surprises for Him, has declared that you are permanently free from the danger of condemnation from Him! You will never ever make Him change His mind about you! You are His, forever!
  • “Is passed from death unto life,” in the Greek, is perfect tense! That means it was a completed action in the past, having a permanent effect upon the future! It means you have crossed over and there is no crossing back!

So! How should those promises affect your ability and willingness to “be a light” in the dark world around you, given that you are literally invulnerable to your enemies, beyond what little they can do to you in this world?

How should we live?

You are going to be coming Home to Jesus, one way or another, and sooner or later. Some of us have graduated early, as did my cousin, last month. Some have lived a very long time, as did our brother, Richard.

What can change, though, is what kind of homecoming we can expect. Abraham and Lot were both believers: God says so! Which do you suppose had the better homecoming? I really want to hear “Well done thou good and faithful servant!”

We still experience the “fear of the Lord,” but now it is based on our earnest desire to not displease the Father. All I want is to walk with Him. And that is pretty much all He requires. But things can get a little complicated sometimes, can’t they? So, He tells us to keep our focus on Him and allow Him to sort things out.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 says “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path!” Micah 6:8 says, “What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Honestly, that seems within reach, and quite reasonable. It goes right along with what Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in Heaven.”(Matthew 5:16)

As we consider the howling chaos and stormy darkness of the world around us, we need to remember that the reason we are here is to provide a lighthouse in that storm! We aren’t just here to watch. Let’s consider how to carry out the assignment we have been given!

Lord Jesus, enlighten our minds to see how we are to serve as lights and blessings, and a source of food and medicine to the lost world around us. Let us see them through your eyes, and reach out to them with your Grace.

Looking for the Lord’s Return

Looking for the Lord’s Return

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 3:12 “Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God”

Introduction:

From what we see in God’s Word, we can easily see that, literally from the beginning of the Church Age, nearly 2000 years ago, the Church has been under spiritual (and sometimes physical) attack from the enemy. And yet it has grown under those conditions. I just read a very interesting comment, supposedly made on National Public Radio, to the effect that things are changing in Communist China, in part because the younger generation is turning to Christ! This is not good news to NPR, but it is good news to me! The Church has always grown under persecution! We are not warned to flee persecution, but rather, to endure it!

So, since we don’t know when He is coming back, only knowing that the Rapture of the Church is the “next major event” in His plan, what are we to do while we wait, and how are we to respond to the threats against the Church, and the many hoaxes against our peace of mind?

Should we hunker down and hide? Should we become militant and try to fight back, physically? Should we waste what little time we have, trying to argue against the endless array of accusations against God’s Word and the Lord Himself? Or do we have a definite assignment?

The problem is that, in our flesh, we all fear persecution! We want to escape it entirely! But part of the message of the New Testament is the admonition to “take up thy Cross!” Embrace the Cross! Philippians 1:29 says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;” The fact is, we don’t like that part of the Gospel! And we are not alone in this tendency:

The Disciples wanted the Kingdom!

As Jesus prepared to leave this world, and was saying His final goodbyes, so to speak, the disciples (evidently all of them) were still stuck on their own agenda: Acts 1:6 says, “When they were therefore come together, they asked of Him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?”

Somehow, in my imagination, I see Jesus heaving a sigh, and once more, explaining to them the priorities of God!  But all it actually says it that Jesus clearly stated that we will not know the time of His return, thus, we will not be told, ahead of time, when the Rapture of the Church (which they knew nothing about), the Tribulation, and the Lord’s physical return, would occur: (nor, therefore, His coming Kingdom, which is what they wanted first; though, as we have seen from the scripture, the other things had to happen first! Jesus spent all of Mathew chapter 24 explaining the tribulation, and then capped it with the Matthew 25 statements as to His imminent physical return, after the great tribulation, and showed the Kingdom coming after that!

There on the Mount of Olives, in Acts 1:8, He gave the disciples their final “marching orders:” They were to be His witnesses, to the uttermost parts of the Earth!

Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God

We do have an assignment! The great commission, (Matthew 28:19-20)which was given to the eleven disciples, includes the words, “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations,” and ends with the words, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age).”

So…what had he just commanded them to do, and, more specifically, is that part of our marching orders as well? Yes, it is! The Great Commission is directed to us, simply because we are among those taught. Thus, part of how we are to respond to the sure knowledge that His return is imminent (meaning that it could happen at any time) is that we are to be doing what He asked us to do.

When we know that “company is coming” we run around, getting ready, making everything “just so,” until we know they are about to arrive. Then we try to just relax and wait to hear them in the entryway, so to speak. But that is when we know they are coming, and we know the appointed time!

In this case, it is not just “company:” it is the Master! And we only know that He is coming: we do not know when, and He clearly stated that we will not know the time of His coming! So all we can do is to faithfully be doing what He assigned, all the time, so as to not be ashamed at His arrival. There is no time when we can say, “OK, He should be here in the next ten minutes! Let’s sit down and wait!” We are to “look for and haste unto” the coming of the Day of God! We are to anticipate His imminent return and act accordingly, getting on with the job: specifically evangelism and discipleship.

So What about all the rumors and attacks?

I have had several people send me literature about “current bills in Congress” or secret agendas, conspiracies, etc. The first thing we want to remember is that our enemy is not flesh and blood. It is Satan and his emissaries. The second thing would be to look back in the Bible, and see that this sort of attack has been his “modus operandi” since the beginning: what was the first thing he did, in order to misdirect Eve in the Garden? First, he twisted God’s Word, then he flat out denied its truth, and finally, he said the words we so often hear today:  “thou shalt not surely die! For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (This is “Stuff God doesn’t want you to know.”) We are constantly presented with “things the government doesn’t want you to know,” or “things your church doesn’t want you to know,” or similar offerings. These are the root of “conspiracy theory.” These ideas are very tempting to us, just as Satan’s ploy was to Eve. It works!

So, skip forward about 4,000 years: When Paul had gone through Thessalonica and preached the Gospel of the Cross, there was immediately an uprising of people fighting against that Good News: And, their weapon? Making false accusations against Paul and his entourage, as well as against those who received them. There was very nearly a riot: the local government stepped in, and demanded a peace-bond of the believers, and that night, the believers had to smuggle Paul out of town under cover of darkness, to keep him safe. One would think that this would be the end of the Gospel in Thessalonica, but the seed had taken root! The letters to the church at Thessalonica were to that core group of believers and those whom they had subsequently led to the Lord. So…how long had Paul been teaching there? Less than three weeks, apparently. It says he taught there for three Sabbath days. So, at least two weeks, but less than four.

And what form did the subsequent attack against them (the believers) take? 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 says they were told by “someone” that they had somehow missed the Lord’s return. We have multiple cults today that tell us similar things. Well, this was one of the very first, and it began happening before the Church-age was 20 years along. Today, it is nearly 2000 years later, and the Enemy is up to the same tricks! And it is getting much easier! He no longer has to depend upon some misguided person to go out of his or her way to spread lies personally: we have the internet, and anyone who thinks it is great fun to watch Christians run for cover has only to fire up Facebook and spin a tale of conspiracy! And it works every time!

Also, for some reason, some well-meaning believers (even those well-taught in the Word) suddenly get the idea that they can “ferret out the truth” about “what God doesn’t want us to know” and figure out the date of the Lord’s return.

I remember the evening I left the missionary training camp in Baker, Oregon, in 1980. I stopped in the tiny town of Union, Oregon, to say goodbye to the little Baptist church I had attended there for two years. There was a meeting in progress, and the place was packed. So, I sat in the back and listened, waiting to say my goodbyes. The guest speaker was a well-known local preacher: the subject was “When the Lord is returning?” (Yep! That will draw a crowd all right! You see, we don’t really believe Jesus when He says we will not know.) Everyone was listening earnestly, and taking notes, writing down all he had to say: he had found a “way around” Jesus’s statement. He said “The Lord said you won’t know the day or the hour! He didn’t say you can’t know the month and the year!” (Do you see a problem with that? If we knew the month and the year, we’d only have to worry about His return for the last thirty days or so, right? That means, ultimately, we would know the day and the hour, as well, within a 30-day bracket.)

So…when was the Lord’s Return “supposed” to occur? It was “scheduled” for March of 1982! (Guess I must have missed it, huh?) It was false teaching, regardless of his honest effort to teach good doctrine. He was a good man, and a faithful man of God, but the study was doomed from the beginning, because he had taken the bait of “things God doesn’t want you to know!”

Other “Conspiracy theories”

There are other such examples: people claiming to have portions of scripture that were “left out” of the Bible, so that we Christians “aren’t playing with a full deck,” so to speak. You can look these things up, and read them: Usually, a careful reading, even in English, makes it obvious why it was left out. It simply is not authored by God, and it is obvious: it teaches contrary to the rest of the scriptures. There are many such attacks, and I don’t propose to attempt to answer them all. Look up “pseudepigraphal writings,” and you can see a long list. “Pseudepigraphal writings” means “false writings.” They were recognized as bogus epistles (or whatever they claimed to be) at the time they were first presented. It did not take the Council of Trent to disclose them for what they were. The original recipients had recognized them as false, years before.

So what about today? What is the latest buzz, today? I remember when I first became a believer, the rumor was running around that Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist. There are several problems with that sort of rumor. One, is that he does not fit the description in scripture. The biggest, however, is the fact that scripture makes it clear that we will not see the Antichrist, because he will be revealed after we are removed from the earth! The primary passage is found in 2nd Thessalonians 2…but even if we didn’t have that passage, we can see in the Revelation that the church is to be removed from the Earth in Revelation chapter four, while the Antichrist is to be revealed in chapter thirteen! This is pretty hard to get around! The same goes for the “Mark of the Beast,” which Christians have been fearing for years. “What is it?! How do I avoid it?! How can I recognize it?!) That mark shows up in Revelation 13, long after the Church is to be evacuated in chapter 4.

What about the Mark of the Beast?

Recently, more than one person sent me “documented” evidence that “the government is conspiring against us” to force us to receive an imbedded computer chip (similar to those implanted in pets, for identification purposes) and that they are “gonna do it by means of a vaccination!” (This time, it’s the COVID virus vaccine.)

I’m going to pass up the temptation to argue the obvious physical and technological objections inherent in this hoax. (And, yes, it is yet another hoax, meant to terrify the people of God and keep them from doing their assigned task.) The physical size of an implantable chip is far larger than the interior of a vaccination needle. But let’s set that objection aside, and just stick to scriptural reasoning: What three things from scripture would tell me that this is a hoax?

  1. The Mark of the Beast is to be either in the forehead or the right hand; No vaccinations are given in either of those two places: they are simply not good places to administer medicine. This alone would make me believe that “it just isn’t so!” But that isn’t all!
  2. The Mark of the Beast is a voluntary compliance associated specifically with the choice to worship the image of the antichrist (this is spelled out in Revelation 13.) No one can “slip it to you unawares!” You can’t just innocently go to the doctor for a vaccination, and come home headed for hell.
  3. The bottom line still is the fact that the Church is leaving Planet Earth in Revelation chapter four, and the Antichrist and everything associated with him is not revealed until we are gone…specifically, in Revelation chapter thirteen!

What about the “One World Government?”

We hear a lot about this. It is good to remember two things:

  1. The way the people of Bible times saw “the world” implied “the civilized world,” which, in the time of Daniel, meant the Babylonian Empire. In the time of Alexander the Great, it meant the Grecian empire, and under Rome it meant the Roman Empire. (By the way, each of these was successively larger than the ones before. But Rome never went to Canada, or Australia, etc.)
  2. When Daniel gave the prophecy regarding the world’s governments to come, in Daniel 2, it gave the progression of Babylonian Empire, Medeo-Persian Empire, Grecian Empire, Roman Empire (though unnamed) and the revived Roman Empire (also unnamed). But it was all one image: not four images. The World system of government as a whole was to be smashed by the “Stone cut out without hands.” This is the Return of Jesus.

So, how does that tie into the idea of the One World Government? If we read carefully, in both Daniel and Revelation (which are closely-linked, and, ideally, should be taught together) we see that the antichrist is plagued by wars all around him, even though he has secured that “One World Government. So it isn’t as “monolithic” as we tend to make it out to be. Remember the Revived Roman Empire of the “ten toes” of Daniel chapter 2: that “empire” is comprised of parts of the old Roman Empire. Those parts have been trying to reassemble ever since the Roman Empire imploded. Remember, Rome was never conquered, so much as it fell apart through corruption and neglect and social disunity. (Sound familiar?)

When the Czars were in power in Russia, their very name gave us a clue as to their thoughts. The name “Czar” is the Russian word for Caesar. When Kaiser Wilhelm declared himself the Emperor of the German Empire, again, we can see his intent, as the German word for Caesar is “Kaiser.”

And, according to J. Vernon McGee, when the current European Union was first organized, the treaties were not signed in Brussels, Belgium as I would have expected: They were signed on Capitol Hill, in Rome! Is the EU the “revived Roman Empire” of Revelation? I don’t know! Could they at least be a predecessor to the coming political structure over which the Antichrist is destined to rule? Sure!

But, if it is, what should our response be? To tremble in terror and find a place to dig in, and hide? Nope…but that is what the disciples were doing after the crucifixion. And Jesus came and preached peace to them! He had said, earlier, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the World!” And that was before the Crucifixion! But now, afterward, he was speaking to them as the Resurrected Christ! And that is how he speaks to us as well! We are not to cower in fear: Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” That is not a recipe for helpless fear!

2nd Timothy 1:7 says “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of Love and of a sound mind.” And that is how we are to respond to the threats brought by the Enemy!

A Famous Historical Example of Satan’s Attack

Remember, back in the book of Nehemiah, the assignment was given to “rebuild Jerusalem.” In chapter four, the threat had come of an attack, specifically to prevent the people from carrying out God’s command. Their response was good. They were watchful, but they went on with the work. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side and so builded.” They were prepared for an attack, but their primary attention was given to the assigned task of building the wall. (The wall was specifically what their enemies did not want built, as it once again made Jerusalem a walled city, and very defensible.)

There were other such threats, some more subtle: in chapter six the enemies tried to draw away the leader of the assembly, Nehemiah, himself. But he knew their intent was to ambush him in some way, and he said, in effect, “Sorry, I’m too busy to meet with you!”

Later they threatened to accuse him to the Emperor, saying that he was trying to make himself a king.  He called them on it, saying that it was a lie, and that they were simply trying to put fear into the hearts of the people.

In another attempt, they claimed to be “prophetically” warning him of an attack on his person. Nehemiah 6:13 states that he recognized that the man was hired to bring a false message, in order to frighten Nehemiah into dropping the work he was commanded to accomplish. The rest of the passage (Nehemiah 6:15, 16) goes on to say that even their enemies could see that the work had been done through the power of God, as they had rebuilt the entire city wall in 52 days, even when under the constant threat of attack and various means of dissuasion by their enemies.

The testimony of God’s people when under persecution and attack is important, as our response will let the World know who is really in charge in our lives. If we are easily shut down, silenced, and turned away from our assigned task as the ambassadors of Christ, they will notice! If we continue to function regardless of circumstances, then they will notice that as well.

We have to choose which kind of behavior will go on record as our “normal.” Will we be “children, carried about by every wind of doctrine,” as Ephesians 4:14 warns us not to be? Or, as 1st Corinthians 15:58 encourages us to be, will we be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?”

Ultimately, the choice is ours! We cannot choose what events may happen in our lives, but we can choose our response! We can’t control the actions of the World, and we are not told to do so. We cannot “rewrite the book of Revelation!” Those things are going to happen! We can either:

  1. Rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s Word, and lift up our collective heads, knowing the Lord’s return is near, or we can
  2. Cower in fear, hoping to avoid things that may not be pointed at us in the first place.

Let’s choose faith, and rejoice before the Lord together, knowing that our release is near!

Lord Jesus, turn our collective and individual eyes upon you and let us leave our fears behind! Fill us with the joy of knowing that you are coming soon, and the courage born of knowing you are with us even now!