Posts Tagged ‘Holding forth the Word of Life’

Children of the Light

Children of the Light

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction

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

1st Thessalonians 5:4-11

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

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

The Puzzle of being “Children of the Light”

Perhaps one thing to consider is the opposite concept:

What is “darkness?”

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

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

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

Our next question, then, obviously, should be:

What is Light?

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

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

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

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

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


Children follow their Father

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

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

Following Jesus

Ephesians 5:1-14

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

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

But in what other ways should we respond to the darkness of the world around us? (Philippians 2:12-16) 12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

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

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

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

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

What is the Alternative?

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

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

The Privilege of being a Child of the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should we live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shining as Lights in the World

Shining as Lights in the World

© C. O. Bishop 12/16/2017; Cornell Estates 12/17/2017

Philippians 2:14-30

Introduction:

We have been studying through the epistle to the Church at Philippi, and we have seen that the people to whom Paul was writing were already believers, already saved. Paul had stated, in Philippians 1:6, that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.” Then he goes on, in the following verses, to say that the normal behavior of believers is that we are to “shine as lights in the World.” How do we do that? He goes on to give examples:

Shining in Life

14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

Complaining and bickering are not supposed to be part of the “normal Christian life”.  The prohibition against such things actually extends to all people, not just believers. As believers, though, we are supposed to be characterized by love, peace, unity, honesty, stability, etc. So, if that is what we are supposed to “look like”, what would be the result of that reality in our lives?

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

He says the result will be that others can find no cause for blame in us, unless it is specifically regarding the person of Christ (Remember the prophet Daniel!). People around us will have to admit to themselves that we do no harm to those around us (again, unless they have a specific problem with Christ and the message of the Cross.) We are to live out the reality of the fact that we are called the Sons of God (Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God”), and that we are the Sons (the heirs) of God. If we are his children, then our lives should reflect that truth in all areas, and every day, not just a mish-mash of sacred and secular; sometimes holy, and sometimes contaminated by sin.

There will be no cause for rebuke in our lives, either from other believers or from unbelievers, though we are forced to live in a fallen world. Paul goes so far as to call the World around us “a crooked and perverse nation.” (That seems to fit awfully well, even today, doesn’t it?) But, far from offering the believers a “way out,” he pointed out the purpose of their being there: they were to “shine as lights in the World.” We are to be lights for God; lampstands from which the light of the Gospel can shine, unhindered by sin, disunity, anger, jealousy, etc.

We are to proffer the written Word, as well as the Living Word. Both are part of how we “shine as lights”. Remember what was said about Jesus, the Living Word, in John 1:4 “In Him was Life, and the life was the light of men.”

One thing to keep in mind is that a dirty lamp does not shine brightly. Frequently, over the years, after a winter storm, I have suddenly realized that the headlamps on my automobile had excessive road-grime on them. After I stopped and cleaned them, I was surprised at the dramatic change in brightness. The light was always present in the lamps, you see, but the road-grime had built up slowly enough that I did not realize how much their light was being dimmed by the dirt, until it was very difficult for me to see the road ahead. I think that our personal habits, words, attitudes and behavior can also gradually take on the “patina” of the World around us, until the Light of Christ is quite dim in our lives. So, as the Living Word (Jesus) is present and preeminent in our lives, the Light of God will shine through us. The final result will be that God’s Work in us is not wasted, but is a good investment. That’s how Paul felt, too! His labor had not been wasted!

One other thing it might be well to remember is that the response of others to the light of God is largely dependent upon their personal character, not just the relative brightness or dimness of the light. So long as it is really the light of God, and not just our human piety or cleverness, or “logic”, or something similar, their response is ultimately based on how they respond to light.

J. Vernon McGee once related how, when he was a young boy, he was required to go out at night, and tend to the cattle in his father’s dark barn. He took a lantern with him, and when he opened the barn door, two things happened simultaneously: the rats which had been scavenging on the barn floor all ran for cover, and the birds which were roosting in the rafters mistook the lantern-light for daylight and began to sing. Why the difference? The light was exactly the same! But the lifestyle and character of a rat is very different than that of a bird. Their characters, whether bird or rat, were revealed by their response to the light. It is the same principle, in humans. Our character is revealed by our response to God’s light.

Shining in Suffering

17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

The Greek word for “offered”, here is “sperdomai”…“poured out” –it refers to the drink-offerings which were part of a worship offering; not to be consumed by the priests, but to be poured out upon the offerings being burned as worship offerings. Paul felt that, if his service culminated in death, while their lives were being offered daily as living sacrifices, then he was a worship offering along with their offerings, so they could rejoice together. (What a blessing!)

Later, we will see that Epaphroditus had been terribly sick, as well, and his main concern was for the grief of those who loved him and were anxious for his health. He mourned for their mourning, as he had no way to assure them that he was at peace, and walking with The Lord. (There were no telephones, nor any other means to communicate at a distance: not even a postal service. We will wait, and discuss that portion of scripture when we get there, though.)

Paul was now sending a letter by Epaphroditus, telling them how he himself felt about the prospect of death, and his own past sufferings, as well as how Epaphroditus had responded to the challenge. He doesn’t spend much time on either instance, but we can learn by their examples, so that we, too, can “shine in suffering.”

Shining in Service

Paul then gives Timothy as an example of someone who was “shining in service:”

19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.
20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.
21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.
22 But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.
23 Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.
24 But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.

Timothy was one of Paul’s protégés, and fellow-workers, along with Silas and Titus. Many commentators, for some reason, assign to each of them the office of having been “the pastor” of one of the New Testament churches, but there is absolutely no scriptural evidence to support that notion, and there is much evidence to contradict it.

To begin with, every single example we are given in scripture states that there were multiple elders in every church. The few passages where both the Greek word translated “pastor” (“poimen, which simply means “shepherd”)  and either of the words translated “elder” or “bishop”, are used, all reveal that the pastors, elders and bishops were identical—the same men, in the same office; not some sort of “hierarchy” of ecclesiastical authority. All the various divisions and layering of authority (abbots, archbishops, cardinals, etc.) came later, as error crept into the church, all of which furthered the idea of a separation between clergy and laity…for which there is also no scriptural basis. (“Pastor, elder and bishop” are not the same words: they describe the various functions of the office. But they are the same individuals in every case, in scripture.)

Finally: Titus, Timothy and Silas were all given itinerant ministries; helping the churches, training and appointing leaders, and correcting error, but then…moving on. There are various opinions as to their job-titles, and I am not going to address that now, but it simply cannot be the “pastor” of a local church! Paul specifically told the “pastors, elders, overseers” of the local church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28) to stay put, and tend that flock! Titus, Silas and Timothy were told to do what they had been sent to do and get back to Paulm as soon as possible, for another assignment. You can’t both shepherd a flock and also run all over the Mediterranean coast, tending to all the flocks. Whatever they were, it was not an elder, pastor or bishop (all words for the same office.)

Paul sent Epaphroditus with this letter in hand, but he promised to send Timothy as well. He knew that Timothy would care for and teach the flock as well as he himself might have done, and that he would bring back the news as to how they were thriving (not “take root” there, and be their “pastor.”) Interestingly, some commentators declare that Epaphroditus was the “pastor” of the church at Philippi, others claim that he was definitely not the pastor, but was an “ordinary layman”. Both opinions are utterly lacking in scriptural support, and both, in fact, are in contradiction to definite scriptural teaching. There is no such thing as a singular “pastor” of a local assembly in scripture, but neither is there such a thing as a “layman”. Both ideas are the remnants of a serious, divisive, destructive error that began to creep into the church in the first century, and which, by the fourth century, was established as a general rule, as we see it today. The scriptures teach that every believer is a priest in the body of Christ…and the only two church “offices” named are elders and deacons. No one is a “layman”, and church leadership is always plural.

Without regard to the relative titles of either Epaphroditus or Timothy, Paul reminded the believers at Philippi that they already knew Timothy’s testimony, and his reputation: He was faithful, and had a genuine heart for the welfare of the flock. Paul said that he was the only one currently available to him, in that category. He was not stating that he was the only one in existence…just that he, Paul, had no one else to send. Besides, Timothy had served with Paul, as a son would serve with his father in a secular job, effectively serving as an apprentice. Paul was only waiting to find out what his own sentence might be (as a result of his upcoming trial) before sending Timothy to them. He still was hoping that he himself would be permitted to go and see his friends once more, as well. We don’t know for certain whether he did or not, but my opinion is that he probably did. He stated with some certainty that he expected to come and visit them. It is just that we have no scriptural proof that he actually made the journey there again.

Shining in Sickness

25 Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.

The church at Philippi had sent a gift to Paul by the hand of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus had then stayed and cared for Paul, but had contracted some sort of disease while he was there, and had been very sick: he had nearly died. Evidently he had been there for some time, too, as news had already gotten back to Philippi that he was sick, and likely to die, so they were deeply grieved for him:

26 For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.
27 For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
28 I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.
29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation:
30 Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

Epaphroditus knew that they had been sorrowing for him, and, as he convalesced, he was anxious to go home and let them know that he was well. Paul, then, is sending him, along with this letter, and confirming that he had been very close to death, but that God had mercifully chosen to extend his life. Paul was especially grateful for that, as his own troubles were deep enough without adding to them the grief of losing Epaphroditus.

Paul was grieved for their sorrow, too, and, by sending Epaphroditus, he hoped to completely alleviate their sorrow, and also to diminish his own. He asked, then, that they receive him as a man of God, gladly accounting Epaphroditus as one who had served; risking his life to honor God. Paul knew that the church at Philippi had very limited resources, and that the gift they had earlier sent by the hand of Epaphroditus was dipping very deeply into their meager income, and they had given beyond what they really could afford.

Epaphroditus had stayed and served in ways they could not serve from such a distance. It was not a lack of care, but a lack of opportunity and ability that forced them to send a representative. They served through Epaphroditus, just as we hope to serve through the missionaries we support, though very few of us are privileged to travel to foreign fields to serve. Paul said that such people are to be respected for their service, and the risks involved with that service.

Shining Today

But each of us have circles of relationships in our individual lives, within which (perhaps) we are the only source of light…or within which we and a few friends or relatives, collectively, are the only sources of light. None of us are completely secluded: there are always individuals whose lives we can touch; those whose lives we can bless; those whom we can serve, and for whom we can “hold forth the Word of Life.” The only question, really, is: How will you respond to the opportunity, when it comes?

Lord Jesus, alert our hearts and minds to the people around us who need your Grace, and who, for whatever cause, have never trusted you as their personal Savior. Give us the passion to reach the lost, and to love the unloved, so that we may be genuine lights in the World around us. Open our eyes and let us see the need. Open our hearts and let us serve you.