What Examples do We Follow?

What Examples do We Follow?

© C. o. Bishop, 2/9/2018 THCF 2/11/2018

Hebrews 13:7-9


We have been slowly working our way through the Epistle to the Hebrews. We have finally reached the last chapter, and we are reading the writer’s instructions to the Hebrew believers. The epistle has presented a series of comparisons, where Jesus is compared to the Old Testament figures of the Messiah—foreshadowings of the real person who was to come. There were the Prophets who spoke the living Word to the people…and were usually ignored, and eventually killed. There was the Temple and the tabernacle, each of which was loaded with pre-figures of the redemption that the coming Messiah would deliver to the World. There were Angels, revered as the messengers of God, above whom the Messiah is recognized to be not only their Commanding officer, but their actual creator…God himself!

A total of seven such comparisons were made, and, in every case, Jesus was shown to be infinitely superior to the Old Testament pictures, just as virtually anything we can see is far superior to a grainy, scratched, black and white photograph, from an old-time “Brownie” camera.

But the writer in making no more comparisons.

A total of seven warnings were also given, evidently to those unsettled in their faith… specifically, to those dabbling in faith, but convinced in their own minds, that, “If things don’t work out”, they could still go back to the Jewish religion of the Law. The writer makes it clear that, if they reject the real Lamb of God…the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, then there was no animal sacrifice they could turn to, for redemption.

They must either make a clear “step” from believing in the old sacrifices as being God-ordained (and they were!) to placing their faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and pictures, or…they would have nowhere to turn. Seven such warnings were given, becoming more stern and serious as they progressed.

But the writer is offering no more warnings.

He is only offering instructions for real believers, now: He began in Hebrews 12:1, and continues to the end of the epistle. We are in Hebrews chapter 13, now, and considering just three verses, today; Hebrews 13:7-9.

The Example of the Church Leaders and Teachers.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

This in an admonition to look to the local church leaders and teachers—the elders, or overseers—the shepherds or pastors—as examples of how to live our lives. We are to learn from them a living faith, not just a head-knowledge of appropriate doctrine. The writer says to consider the results of how they live. I take this as a warning, personally, that I am to live in a way that will not lead someone else astray. Peter also said that the elders were to live as examples for the flock. (1st Peter 5:1-3) Quite honestly, I find that command very intimidating. I don’t know whether I can fulfil that command. All I can do, again, is to throw myself on the mercy of God, and seek his guidance daily.

Have there been shepherds who did a good job? Certainly, there have been. Moses was an excellent example. Was he perfect? Nope. God never said he was. But he did say that, among all the people of God, “Moses was faithful!” That is quite a testimony, coming from God.

Joshua, whom Moses trained, was also an excellent example. There were only two times when he should have asked God’s direction and failed to do so. The first was disastrous, the second only a continuing burden for Israel. But there was not a single recorded instance of his disobedience to God. Joshua was the first (and best) of the Judges.

Samuel was the last of the Judges, and was right up there with Joshua. There is no record of any disobedience on his part…only that he failed to raise his sons in a godly manner. (Actually, only that they turned out rather badly. God does not say, (as He did in the case of Eli) that Samuel had done a bad job. Most of the Judges had some personal problems, in spite of their faith and service.

Moses followed God. Joshua followed Moses’s example, and learned, in his own life, to follow God. That is the kind of example God calls the elders to provide. In fact, he gives a peculiar assignment, to the elders, to go along with the command to live as examples for the flock: he tells then to find reliable men and deliberately disciple them, training them to follow along and feed the flock as well. (2nd Timothy 2:2) The elders are to produce other elders, as well as shepherding the flock.

Leaders are not “made by” seminaries and Bible colleges, though such institutions can help with schooling. Many men and women, however, who completed theological training subsequently have fallen prey to the enemy, through temptation of one sort or another, and become shipwrecked…a castaway: still part of God’s flock, but no longer able to serve. Church leadership is trained up within the church. Human credentials are neither part of the qualifications nor part of the responsibilities.

He says we are to consider the “end” of the lifestyle of the elders: does it honor God, as a general result? Then it is a good thing to emulate. Does it consistently point you to the Bible for authority, rather than itself? Does it always point you to a better walk with Christ? Then it is a good example to follow.

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 

I’m not completely sure why this verse is here…the only thing I know to do is to connect it with the previous command, “…consider the end of their conversation”. The result of a consistent walk with God should be that an observer sees the person of Christ in the believer’s life. And Jesus has not changed, throughout the ages. The character of the believers’ lives in the time of Abraham was the same as it is supposed to be, today. Godliness is not just a matter of piety, but rather the Agapé love of God, along with His righteousness, and holiness, flowing through a believer into the World around them. He hasn’t changed.

Once, when I was in Bible School, I was struggling with the concept of having a love for God. He still seemed too abstract for me to love, not to mention the fact that I still had no concept of what the Agape love really was. I was looking for a feeling of “loving God.” As I was pondering this lack in my life, I was praying while I studied the scriptures, and it occurred to me to say, “I have a hard time loving what I can’t see!”  (Actually, that is quite Biblical, though I didn’t know it!)  But as I prayed, it suddenly occurred to me that I could see Jesus in a somewhat older fellow student who had kindly taken me under his wing, and was lovingly drawing me along to a more stable walk with God. He offered no condemnation for my worldly, foolish former life, but just encouraged me to move forward. The man’s name was Bob Mulloy, and he has served for nearly 40 years now in Indonesia, as a missionary. That memory is still precious to me, because I am now aware that his loving example was what drew me along, specifically because I could see in him the living Christ.

On a personal level, I think it is important to constantly self-examine: 1st John 1:5, 6 says, “this, then, is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” If I am not walking in the light, then I am not in fellowship with God. He goes on to say, in verse seven, “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is something to strive for and to maintain.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 

This is a warning, peculiar to believers; there will always be those who teach “strange doctrines”. They come up with odd, obscure references and interpret them in such a way as to bring believers into bondage regarding food, clothing, and rituals of various sorts. None of those things have any real effect on the believer’s life. Grace, not external trivia, is to be the core issue for us. The writer points out, in passing, that the Jews had the dietary laws, and kept them, but it did not profit them. That is important to see: it did not profit them! None of their self-efforts were profitable. Maybe the Jews didn’t do a great job of obeying God’s Laws, but they surely did it better than I do: And it did NOT have a good result! It was NOT profitable!

Most frequently, when a cult adds legalism to the Grace of God, it draws its treasured trinkets from a limited understanding of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple rituals. Remember, those were only a foreshadowing of the reality to come, which is Christ. We have the reality, now and forever; why do we need a grainy, limited-quality photograph, when we have the living Christ?

Think for a moment about who the people were who gave Jesus the worst trouble during His earthly ministry: It was not the common people, with their goofy, misguided thinking about things in general. It was not the Gentiles, as a rule, though they got involved at the end. It was not even the blatantly ungodly sinners among the people who gave him the fierce, consistent resistance: It was the religious leaders! Specifically, it was the religious leaders within Judaism, which was truly ordained by God.  They had all of God’s Word at the time: the whole Old Testament. They had the Temple, and the memory of the tabernacle. They were conscious of the miraculous history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. They knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah…but had locked in on one aspect of His coming that they really liked, and were ignoring all the rest.

Their doctrine had begun correctly, but had become nothing but legalism. And it was not profitable, either for individuals who attempted to live it, or for the nation. It resulted in their utterly rejecting the Messiah when he finally came.

Later on, both Peter and James (see Acts 15), when confronted with the demand from the Judaizers, that the Gentile believers should be forced to become Jews, responded by saying “Neither we nor our forefathers were ever able to carry that burden: why do you suppose the Gentiles would ever be able to do so?”

Jesus has not changed, and humans have not changed. He is still holy, and pure, and is still holding out the gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. We, as humans, still want to add to it, take away from it, twist it and deny it. So, how can we avoid the traps of false teaching?

The Example of God’s Word:

Avoiding the Snares of False Doctrine

There are a couple of keys, here: One is the command, back in verse seven: “Consider them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” What kind of doctrine are they teaching? As we asked before, “Are they turning your eyes to the Bible for answers?” That is a good place to start.

Within that answer, though, is a caveat, a “beware sign”. The writer says your heart should be strengthened by Grace, not what you eat. He used “diet” as a single example of the kinds of wrong focus that bad teaching produces. Jewish dietary laws are one of the things that many cults latch onto, because they think they can do it! “Here is something I can do to make God approve of me: I don’t eat this, I do eat that!” But that is characteristic of all legalism, not just the dietary law of Judaism, which was specifically for them, no one else.

Any teaching which tends to point me away from God’s Grace (even when it seems to be coming from God’s Word), and which makes my relationship with Him dependent upon outward “trappings of faith,” or “acts of piety” instead of an actual, active, living Faith in the Grace of an actual, active, living God, is likely to provide a snare for my soul. Such teachings turn us away from the actual source of living water, the Person of Christ, and encourage us to “dig out cisterns” (our own works) in which to store our own supply of “water.”

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah 2:12, 13

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Two Evils!

  1. They forsook the LORD—the God of Israel—who alone is the source of righteousness, and eternal life…and
  2. They turned to their own works, as a replacement.

The Lord calls Himself the fountain of living waters. Compare this to John 7:37-39 where Jesus said that those who came to him in thirst would receive an indwelling fountain of living waters…and it goes on to say that he referred to the Holy Spirit, which at that time was not yet given. The Holy Spirit is God! And, God is the one who offers the living water! In the desert, Moses was told to command the rock, and it would bring forth water for the nation. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4 that “…that Rock was Christ.” (Wow!)

So, in Jeremiah, we see Jehovah God as the source of living waters. In John, we see the Holy Spirit as the indwelling source of living waters. And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even back in the desert, 1500 years before the first advent, the Rock—the source of the water—was Christ!

So: humans ignoring God’s command to allow him to provide, and to guide, and to bless, is a pretty major abdication, to begin with. But having the total audacity, and arrogance to suggest that “…my water is better, anyway”, when we can’t even produce water, let alone store it, is beyond imagination. It is utter insanity! And yet we do it! We choose to look away from God and His Spirit, and His Written Word, and His final eternal payment for sin, at the Cross…and look to our own works, our own philosophies, and smugly say, “I have my own way!”

Jesus said that He himself was the only approach to the Father, and that He himself was the only sacrifice for our sins.

So…any teaching that wanders away from those central ideas, and turns us away from Grace, to legalism, is something to be avoided. Any teaching that turns us away from God’s written Word, which he says we are to focus on, as unto a light in a dark place…is to be avoided. Any teaching that tends to marginalize or minimize the preaching of the Cross, is to be avoided. These things are all central to a relationship with God. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says for us not to be “…carried about with strange doctrines.” We can only obey that teaching by deliberately choosing to follow the teaching of God’s Word…learning from the examples of our teachers, and remembering that Jesus himself has never changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Lord Jesus, we are utterly dependent upon your immutability—your unchanging goodness. We know that you have never changed, and we ask that you teach us to follow your Word, so that we are not drawn away by false teaching, or odd practices. Teach us to rely upon 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


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.