Gifts and Goals

Gifts and Goals

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:1-15

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

The Gifts and the Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goals

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

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

So there are seven things to look for:

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter’s Closing Admonition

Final Encouragement

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 5:5-14

Introduction:

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Agape Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoicing in Persecution

Rejoicing in Persecution

© 2021 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 4:12-19

Introduction:

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

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

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

Don’t be Surprised!

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

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

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

Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.

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

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

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

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

What is Sin?

Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:

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

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

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

If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allow God to Work!

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

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

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

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.