How should we Live (Part 2)

How should we Live (Part 2)

© C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 3:1-12; Ephesians 5: 21-33; Colossians 3:18-23; 1st Corinthians 13:4-8

Introduction:

In studying through 1st Peter, we happened to read a cross-reference in 2nd Peter 3:11, asking the question, “…what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and Godliness?”

That is the implied question all the way through 1st Peter as well: “How should we then live?” If my position has been established in Christ, by Grace, through faith, so that I now have a perfect and secure standing before God, how should I live in response to that fact?

Part of that answer has already been addressed in previous studies, including the general command that we “Love one another” with the Agape Love, and the command to maintain the God-ordained Unity of the Spirit, and to conduct ourselves in such a way as to be seen “shining as lights in a dark world,” and “holding forth the Word of Truth.”

But in 1st Peter 3:1-12, the Lord becomes quite specific, addressing husband-wife relationships. This has become an uncomfortable topic in our culture, as militant feminism as well as secular humanism have deliberately sought to undermine the gift of marriage, and to destroy the relationships between men and women at large, and husbands and wives in particular. Our marriages are supposed to be a testimony of God’s Grace, too: not a battlefield or a contest of wills. There are other places where God speaks to this issue as well, so, rather than just speak from 1st Peter, we are going to also look at Ephesians 5:21-33, Colossians 3:18-23, and a few others. As we read through all of these passages, I ask that you read the scripture as “looking in a mirror:” As James says, we are to see ourselves (not our spouse) and see what needs changing in our own lives, not that of our spouse. I mean this very seriously: look to God to see a change in your own life, not someone else!

What Does the Scripture say?

1st Peter 3:1-12

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:

Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

Ephesians 5:21-33

21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Colossians 3:13-17, 18-23

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. 20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.: for ye serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

The Real Root of the “Problem”

You see, the verses we have been reading are all addressing the solution to a problem which never should have existed: Humans were created as a team, male and female, with no “built-in conflict:” there was no “War between the sexes,” as it is commonly called today. We read in the Bible Study on Genesis that the woman was not present when the command was given to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: She had not yet been created. So, two things were clear: Adam was the one given the command, and responsibility for the entire race, as he was the head of the race, since ALL subsequent humans, including Eve, came from him. Adam’s failure was the only one which could affect the entire human race.

The woman was selected by the Enemy as the “weak link” because she had not been there to hear the command, and (possibly) because she had received a garbled version of it from her husband. (We don’t know whether she misquoted what she had been told correctly, or correctly quoted what she had been wrongly told.) She was deceived, having been attacked on three fronts: the same three which were used by the same enemy to test the Lord, in the desert, and, the same which he uses against us today:

  • The lust of the eye,
  • The lust of the flesh, and
  • The pride of life.


We see these three areas of temptation clearly spelled out in 1st John 2:15-17. We have all been deceived in each of those areas, ourselves, also, so beware that you do not level any accusations against Eve, or against women in general. Satan finds all of us an easy target, too! It is instructive, however, to take note of how Jesus averted such an attack: He used the Written Word, correctly quoted, and in the appropriate context.

Next, we saw that until the Man ate the fruit, nothing happened:  the woman, being deceived, ate the fruit: her husband was right there with her and evidently said nothing! But when he ate, judgment fell upon the entire human race! At that moment, of course, there were only two individuals, but, as we read further, we find that all their progeny would also be under the same curse.

And, part of that curse involved the relationship between men and women, specifically husbands and wives, but it seems to affect the entire race, with or without marriage. Take note, too, that Marriage was one of the few gifts God managed to give to the human race before sin entered the world. Marriage is absolutely ordained by God, and it has His eternal blessing. We will see a specific reason for that as we study Ephesians 5:32.

One effect of the curse was that the woman would no longer be in a peaceful team-relationship with her husband, but would desire to control him. The passage that says “Your desire shall be toward your husband and he shall rule over you” sums it up: the word “desire” in that passage is translated from the Hebrew word “teshuqah,” which is only used three times in scripture, two of them in Genesis. The other one in Genesis is where God warned Cain that if he did not choose to do right, then sin would crouch at the door, and its desire would be for him, but that he, Cain, must master it. The type of “desire” indicated is the desire to possess and control, not a loving desire, but a desire to dominate.

And, unfortunately, the other half of that “couplet” is that while the woman desires to control the man, he ends up in a position of rulership anyway. Both of these ideas are part of the curse! Neither the “desire to control” nor the “ruling” aspect of the relationship were there before they fell into sin. Sin has distorted and corrupted the marriage relationship, as well as the relationship between men and women as a whole, and, in fact, all human relationships. We cannot hope to teach all that is available on this topic in one sermon, so I will break it into two or more. There are scores of books written on the subject and I do not intend to repeat all that they have to say.

The Result of God’s Solution

So, here we are, 2000 years after The Cross: beginning the 21st Century! And the curse is still in effect…more than six thousand years of misery on Earth because of sin! Peace has never lasted long, because the hearts of humans are still corrupt. God said, in Genesis 8:21, “The imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth.” And, Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked!” So, what has God’s solution for sin been the whole time? Remember? Jesus is “Plan A” and there is no “Plan B!” So the Blood of Jesus at the Cross was the cure for the spiritual death we had as our inheritance from Adam. But even with that salvation from death, we have the root of our sin still present, so we bear grudges against one another, and envy one another, and squabble and fight, just as if we had never known the Lord! That is not the result of God’s solution to sin! That is simply the result of our continuing in sin!

The result of God’s solution is that I actually have a new nature now: I do not have to sin! Romans 6 makes it very clear that when I sin, I choose to sin! So, in spite of my sin nature, I am actually free to serve God…provided that I choose to submit myself to His authority and His Love, and that heed His call to walk in His steps. He is perfect, and never makes mistakes. He loves me unconditionally, even though I constantly fail.

So, I ask myself…”Am I free to Love my wife unconditionally, in the same manner as Jesus loves me?” Yes! I happen to be blessed to have a wife who makes it very easy to offer her that unconditional love, but; even if that is not the case, each believer is free to obey God. A woman married to a marvelous man of God, who loves her constantly and provides for her needs in every way finds it very easy to follow his lead in their relationship, because he also listens to her and values her opinion and judgment. But if that were not the case, does God give her the freedom to obey the Lord in subjecting herself to a husband who is not very kind, or loving, and not caring for her needs? The answer is still “Yes!”

The scriptures we are reading use employees and employers as examples, as well: So, I ask, “Can I do good work for a bad boss?” I have certainly done so, for most of my working life: I have only had a handful of really good supervisors, and they were a joy to work for. But a bad manager or supervisor, while they made me long to be free from their tyranny and backstabbing, and politics, etc, did not change the fact that I was free to honor God by doing good work!

The same goes for the marriage relationship: we are free to be blessed by God by faithfully carrying out His will toward our spouse, regardless of the circumstances. Does he promise it will be easy? Absolutely not!

So, as we begin to look at the specifics of God’s plan for marriage, keep at least these two things in mind:

  • Point the “mirror” of God’s Word at yourself,  and,
  • God offers you the power and ability to do His will, as well as the will to do it. (Philippians 2:13) “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

The Realities of the Relationship

The reality is that we are all saved sinners, still capable of being “difficult to deal with.” So the Lord has given rules that are to govern relationships between believers and our marriage relationships as well:

  • The Agape love is the overarching “law of Christ.” “Love one another as I have loved you!” We see what that looks like in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. As we read that passage,we see that not a single one of the fifteen words or phrases used to define that love have anything to do with feelings: they are all action words. Every one of them describes actions or behavior patterns, designed to reach to someone else with God’s best for them, without regard to how it affects the person doing the loving.
  1. Patient
  2. Kind,
  3. Not envious,
  4. Not proud,
  5. Not arrogant,
  6. Not behaving in an “unseemly manner”
  7. Not self-centered,
  8. Not easily stirred to anger,
  9. Thinketh no evil (not taking into account a wrong suffered.)
  10. Does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth,
  11. Bears all things,
  12. Believes all things,
  13. Hopes all things,
  14. Endures all things
  15. Love never fails.
  • “Mutual submission to needs and demands in the relationship” are part of that Agape Love. (Ephesians 5:21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”)
    • Then a “hierarchy of submission” begins to unfold. This is not a “chain of command,” as in a military organization: every single believer has full access to the Head, who is Jesus himself. Those under your “authority,” such as it is, can always “go over your head” to God. Never lose sight of the fact that, regardless of how much or how little authority is vested in you among humans, God is still the ultimate authority, and you will be answering to His justice, in the end.
  • “Forbearing One Another in Love” is another part of that “Agape love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
    • Forbearing one another in Love means “putting up with” one another’s failings and foibles, and appreciating them for who they are, being grateful for God’s Grace in one another’s lives. It means not constantly demanding more, and demanding changes in the other person, but accepting them as they are, and loving them unconditionally, as they are, allowing God to work in their life.
  • Marriage is supposed to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, (Ephesians 5:32) which makes it a profoundly important relationship.

Next week, we will begin looking at the specifics of the marriage relationship and how it is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you change our hearts and teach us to love one another unconditionally, not judging one another, or criticizing one another, but blessing each other through your Love. Make us the men and women of God you have chosen us to be, to bring glory to yourself.

Change is On the Way!

Change is On the Way!

© 2020 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 2:1-10

Introduction:

We have begun a study through the book of first Peter: For all practical purposes, the first half of chapter one was given to a lengthy “salutation,” making it clear who were the intended recipients of the epistle (and it included us!); but then outlining their (and our) collective and individual position in Christ, our security there, and all that this position implies.

Then, in the last half of chapter one we began to examine Peter’s exhortations as to how to respond to the reality of our new position in Christ. Because we are “In Christ,” there are certain changes that are to occur. Because He is holy, His followers are to be holy. We are literally His children: members of His family, and members of His Body, the Church. Therefore we should expect to see the “family resemblance” in ourselves. And the world around us should expect to see those changes also. Remember that Jesus gave three criteria by which the World is expected to judge the Church, in this Age:

  1. Love (John 13: 34, 35): this is the supernatural Agape love between the brethren.
  2. Unity (John 17:21): this is the supernatural unity of the Spirit taught in Ephesians 4.
  3. Good Works (Matthew 5:14-16): this is the result of the Holy Spirit working through us, which is supernatural by definition, but may look completely normal, in a way, but as a whole, it is to exist as a light in a dark world, bringing glory to God the Father.

Those things are not the result of our personal piety or goodness. Unsaved people can certainly do good works in their own strength, for the purpose of advancing their religion or philosophies, or to earn merit from their gods for their good works, or simply because “that is the way they were raised,” and they think it is what “ought to be done.” But I cannot earn God’s Grace.

Grace is defined as “unmerited favor:” unearned favor from God. If we are saved individuals, we recognize that we were saved “by Grace, through Faith”, according to Ephesians 2:8, 9. And in gratitude for that Grace, we serve, out of love. That is what the world needs to see, in terms of good works.

Our unity, also, is to be a genuine outworking of Agape love and faith, not a “truce” created by “glossing over” important teachings in God’s Word. (By the way, that is “Ecumenicalism:” It is the effort to create and maintain a false “unity” by simply ignoring or ceasing to consider any teaching that may be controversial or which could offend someone. Think back: did Jesus “skirt issues,” in fear of offending the Pharisees? No! He went ahead and taught the hard doctrines! And the common folk loved Him for it!)

Now; here in chapter 2, Peter begins to be specific about what those changes should look like:

What should we “drop and leave behind?”

1 Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings,

Notice that he first lists five things that should be left behind in the darkness of our old lives:

  • All Malice: Mean-spiritedness…the desire to torment or “get back at” people that we don’t like. Taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune or discomfort.
  • All Guile: deception at every level. Presenting a false front to others, as well as saying things we know are untrue. If we are acting or speaking in such a way as to hide who we really are, that should warn us that something is amiss.
  • Hypocrisies: This goes right along with Guile. The old word “hypocrite” simply meant a “false-face actor:” those old-time performers who literally held up a smiling face-mask when playing a happy part, or an angry face-mask when playing an angry part, etc. They were just reading lines, and holding up a mask on a stick, so that the audience would “feel” the correct emotional response to the play. But when we pretend to be something we are not, we are doing just that; and Jesus repeatedly condemned that behavior in the Pharisees.
  • Envy: desiring to have the honors offered to others, not by earning them but by supplanting that person: wishing to take their place, and desiring to drag them down, because we can’t stand the fact that they are receiving honor. This is frequently the source of strife between the brethren.
  • All Evil Speakings: This is a“catch-all”phrase that at least forbids “bad-mouthing” others. It would also seem to rule out general “snarkiness,” as they call it today: taking verbal cheap-shots at others; put-downs, etc. Possibly it could even include just a complaining spirit, in general. This is something to think about and ask oneself how it might apply in one’s own life.

What should we use to replace the old ways?

Having commanded us to “lay aside ALL our old wicked ways,” he then says what shouldbe used to replace that old, evil behavior: and the first thing listed is the Word of God! I’m reading from the KJV: if your translation is different, bear with me, and we will address that difference.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

This makes it clear that if I am a believer, (If I have tasted of His Grace) the normal response is to hunger for God’s Word. Even a newborn lamb, or a baby mammal of any sort, has an instinctive desire to feed, and be nourished on its mother’s milk. Our food is the Word of God. God says that we are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby. If you ever have a question about what God considers to be proper “sheep-food,” this verse should answer that question. In Matthew chapter four, Jesus also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the Mouth of God.” This is what we are to feed on: The Word of God!

I am aware that other translations handle this differently: the Greek word here, translated “Word” in the KJV is “logikon” which could be translated “logical,” but which comes from the root word “logos.” While it can be translated in several different ways, “logos” is the word used when John 1:1 says “In the Beginning was the Word.” Possibly even more instructive is the passage in 2nd Peter 1:4, which says that by the “exceeding great and precious promises” in God’s Word, we are to become “partakers of the Divine Nature.” As we might tell a small child, “If you want to grow up to be big and strong, like Mommy and Daddy, you need to eat your healthy food!” And He just told us that the “food” we are to consume is the “exceeding great and precious promises” of the Word of God!

So the core change in our lives should begin with a hunger for God’s Word, as opposed to philosophy, politics, human logic, or human rationalization. The World offers all of these. We try to avoid any of those things and only offer God’s Word as our source of nourishment. We don’t preach politics, opinions, or current events. We preach the Person of Christ; The Word.

God says we are to center our thinking on His Word, and allow Him to reshape our outlook. And what does He say about the nature of the relationship? He says something very strange: He refers to us as “living stones,” and to Jesus as a special, precious stone, as well as a Rock of offence.

Living Stones

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

This whole passage seemed very strange to me. When the scripture refers to Jesus as a stone, it is strange enough, because I don’t think of a person as a stone, at all. (In this passage the Greek word for “stone” is “lithos”, meaning a building stone, or, in some cases, simply the material, “stone.”) I see stones as specifically non-living objects: mineral in substance, completely inorganic and, in most cases never having possessed life of any kind. So how can I see Jesus as a stone? And when it calls Him a Rock of offence, the Greek word is different: it is “petra”, which usually is a monolith: the kind of rock of which mountains are made, or upon which buildings are founded. How is He a Rock of offence?

And when he begins to address us as “living stones” I used to find it completely repugnant, as I imagined sitting forever as a “stone” in God’s temple, unmoving, and fixed in place in a wall or something, throughout eternity. That really does not sound attractive to me!  But as I was reading in Ephesians, it finally dawned upon me that the “temple” he is referring to in Ephesians is the living Church, scattered all over the World, but united in Christ. That we are the (singular) “habitation of God,” now; not just sometime in the future. I am not “sitting, imprisoned in a wall, as a non-living piece of rock,” but rather, I am a living part of a single organism called the “Body of Christ” which also happens to be the Temple of God on earth, as well as including all those believers who have gone before us into Heaven. I am only “cemented in place” in terms of my security in Christ: I can never be removed from Him. He can move me or have me stay put, according to His will, but wherever I am within the Body of Christ, I am to be an active, functioning part of the body of Christ! We are living stones, or, as the KJV says, “lively” stones.

By the way, that is the essence of “positional truth!” I am literally, permanently cemented in Christ!”  But I am an integral, organic part of the Body of Christ: not a parasite or a transplanted foreign organism. How did we get into this position in Christ? We became His children through the new Birth, being born again. We entered in by faith and are permanently joined to Him. Whether we knew it or not, we were each planted in the church-at-large, as a “living stone,” a part of His Living Temple! In 1st Corinthians 12:13, it says that the Holy Spirit “baptized” us into the body of Christ. We are eternally joined to Him in one Body.

We are part of what God presents to the World as His army of ambassadors: we each have a part in the task He has assigned the church: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel!

Further, Peter points out that the World sees Jesus as a “stone of stumbling” and one rejected by the builders (quoting Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:13-17, Romans 9:32, 33) but we also see that to those who are believers, He is precious beyond description. That puts us in a different category than those who reject Him. It clearly spells out a different response expected from those of us who see Him as Holy, and Precious, than from those who stumble over His claim to be the Incarnate God, the Savior and the Judge of all the Earth.

By the way, while we are talking about Christ as a stone or a rock, I want to point out that when we read about the children of Israel wandering in the desert, and Moses bringing water from a Rock in that desert, we need to look just a little further: in 1st Corinthians 10:4, Paul clearly states two incredible truths:

  1. The “Rock” from which they drank followed them in the desert, so that they found water wherever they went, and,
  2. That “Rock” was Christ! (Exact same Greek construction as when John 1:1 says “The Word was God”)

How’s that for a mind-boggling truth? The physical Rock that the people approached, and from which Moses demanded water, was literally Christ! (In fact, it says, “the Christ” in Greek.) This is not stated as a metaphor: it is stated as a truth: they were followed by a spiritual Rock, in physical form, and they drank fresh literal water from it. Remember, too, that there were around 2-1/2 million people in that group, plus all their livestock: and all of them had to get their water from that Rock. We aren’t talking about a little “stream:” it had to be millions of gallons of water coming out! And this is the Rock to which we have come as well, seeing Him as our true source of sustenance, both physical and spiritual!

God says that He is also the Stone (lithos, again) rejected by the builders. Jesus was rejected by the religious authorities of His day, but He turns out to be the foundation and the cornerstone for all of both Judaism and Christianity!

But You!

So, what else is true about us?

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

These all were quotes from the Old Testament, and initially were specifically stated about Israel. But a change has happened: Yes, Israel was to be a priesthood and a “kingdom (singular) of priests” standing before the Lord according to God’s promise in Exodus 19:6, and they still shall be, according to Isaiah 4:3, Isaiah 61:6, and others.

But there is a similar and yet different promise to the Church Age believers: we are called “kings (plural) and priests,” in Revelation 5:10, which is not the same thing as a “kingdom” (singular) of priests. The Body of Christ is never called a kingdom: it is a Body, with a Head, not simply a Kingdom, with a King. We, as the Body of Christ are part of the greater Kingdom of God, but we are there as part of the King, not simply subjects in the kingdom. We are the Bride, whereas believers from other ages are the guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Peter, speaking to Jewish believers, quoted passages that were familiar and precious to them. They knew of the old promise from Exodus, but they also knew that it has never yet been fulfilled. During the Church age, it is partially fulfilled, in the sense that every believer, Jew or Gentile, is declared to be a priest in the Body of Christ: we can stand before God and pray for others, and offer “sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving.” But, in the Millennial Kingdom, it will be completely fulfilled, in that every Gentile nation will come to Jerusalem to worship the King, and Israel will literally be a “kingdom” of priests. But we will still be the Bride of Christ, seated in the throne with Him.

Even the passage about not having been a people, etc. were from Hosea chapters one and two; messages originally directed to Israel; not the Gentiles, but they now apply to us according to Ephesians 2, where we are described as having been outcasts, and foreigners, lost, without Christ in the World. That is a fact! We have to be very careful when we attempt to apply promises or commands to ourselves which were actually directed to someone else. But if God says they now apply to us, then we can apply them with confidence. In this case there is a direct application to the Church Age believers. This is reiterated in Revelation 5:9, 10, where the Church (which is called out from every nation, every language, every ethnic group and every tribe on Earth) confirms that they have been made “kings and priests” and that they shall reign on the earth.

Yes, we have obtained mercy, and yes, we have been called out of darkness, and, yes, we are now filled with His marvelous light, because Jesus, the Light of the World, indwells us! And the result should be that we will demonstrate His Glory and honor in our lives: “…showing forth the Praises of Him who called us!”

So, perhaps we can each individually consider this small verse as a “standard” or a “measuring stick” against which we measure our behavior. We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Am I living in such a way as to “show forth the Praises of Him who called me?” Or am I pretty much living the way I have always lived?
  • Does the Agape love shine as a central motivating factor in my life, or do my motives seem to be pretty much the same as everyone else’s motives; self-centered, rather than pouring out the Love of Christ to others?
  • Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood, and then value them as He does? Or are they primarily irritating, contrary “blockheads” who only exist to annoy me? There is an old ditty that says, “To dwell in Love with the saints above, O, that would be Glory! But to live below with the saints I know; well, that’s a different story!” Can you treat the believers around you as the holy, precious saints that Jesus says they are?

I can’t answer any of those questions for you: each of us has to stand before God, and, along with David, say “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

This is a direct quote from Psalm 139:23, 24. You can go and read it in your Bible and spend some time dwelling on it, allowing God time to speak to you. This is what we call “meditating on God’s Word”…it is not “blanking your mind and leaving yourself open to any vagrant thought:” it is specifically shining the light of God’s Word on your heart and allowing Him to speak to you through His Word and by His Spirit. We all need God’s Word to speak to our hearts and change us into His likeness.

Lord Jesus, take charge of your people, the Body of Christ! Train us up in the way that we should go, as your children. Send us as capable ambassadors, to do your work on Earth! Allow us to serve with you.

A Warning to the Wealthy

A Warning to the Wealthy

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

Interpreting James Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unbelieving Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how should we respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circumventing the Cross

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the Creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a Savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond their own that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

They think it foolishness for a host of reasons: I read a newspaper comment by a man who said that he was not about to take seriously “…the world-view of a ragged band of goat-herds from 3,000 years ago!” Hmm. There are a lot of misconceptions, there!

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12)

Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as the human race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they? (Read Galatians 1:6-9)

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works (penance, alms, service) to expiate all the bad works. God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; If you trust in a failing bridge, you lose your life. If you place your faith in a false God, a false religion, a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment. Romans 3:25 states that our faith is to be in the Blood of Jesus, specifically.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can make that choice. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. “The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.”

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same: Preach the cross of Christ! Do not attempt to make the Gospel more “palatable” by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they most desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The “real” (original) Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross was the salvation God prescribed, even 1500 years before Christ. Do we like that idea? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either

  • echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or
  • we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners.

Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. This sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.

What Fragrance do you Bring?

What Fragrance Do You Bring?


© C. O. Bishop 2011
THCF 11/20/11 (Not a Recent Sermon…but appropriate for the times.)

John 12:3 and others…

Introduction:

The concept of smells comes up throughout the Bible—sometimes for good, sometimes evil, sometimes simply a matter of fact—identifying something or someone by smell. The first mention, though, comes in Genesis 8:21, just after the abatement of the flood. Noah erected an altar and there offered a sacrifice, a burnt offering of every type of clean animal (remember, the preparation had been made—there were seven of each), and the writer, Moses, states that “The LORD smelled a sweet savour…” and stated that he would never again destroy the world by flood. The literal smell, in this case, was burning flesh…does this tell us God like the smell of death? No—it was the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and worship that provided the pleasing fragrance to God. How do I know? I read the rest of the story. Let’s take a look:

Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17

Notice in these verses, that the blood was dealt with separately. The fat or other specific parts were offered as a worship offering. The blood was for the atonement of the believer—the covering of his/her sins. The burning of the rest of the animal (or in some cases non-animal offerings) were worship…giving God his due. In like manner, Jesus’ blood, alone, is what paid for our sins. His perfect life, and matchless service not only were proof as to who he himself really was, they constitute the perfection into which WE enter by faith. He was “made to be sin for us, (he) who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God, in him.” His righteousness has been made ours.

Virtually all the uses of the words for “an odor” have to do with the temple worship. The Hebrew words, “reach” and “nichoach” both have to do with a sweet smell, and in scripture are used almost exclusively in relation to worship and sacrifices. There are a few exceptions in the case of the Hebrew word, “reach”, as it is used in about eight places as simply an identifier.  In Genesis 27:27, Isaac said that Jacob, in Esau’s clothes, smelled like the field that God had blessed. In the Song of Solomon, over and over, the sense of smell is invoked in blessing one another…either that perfumes of some sort have been deliberately provided to increase attractiveness, or that the smell of the beloved is being compared to some good smell. In Daniel, the comment is made, (after Daniel’s three friends have been brought up out of the fiery furnace) that not even the smell of the fire was upon their garments.

So, where is all this leading? How does the smell of a burnt offering, or a blessed field, or the deliberate application of perfumed ointment apply to us as believers today?

We are called to function as priests in the body of Christ. We are to offer sacrifices, as priests. The sacrifice already offered by the High Priest, Jesus, has already made us clean. But we can still make offerings of service, love, thanksgiving, hospitality, generosity, and praise. The blood sacrifice has been made—the worship offerings are what is left for us to do.

Consider the fact that the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8 had an effect on the object of worship, God, as well as having an effect on the worshipper, Noah. In that particular case, God’s justice was satisfied, and he determined that He would never again destroy the whole world by flood.

In the case of all the Old Testament sacrifices, some aspect of God’s character found satisfaction in the sacrifice, and he was pleased with the offerings. There are Old Testament counter-examples, however, wherein a sacrifice was made, but there was no acceptance found with God. Cain was the first such example—and in his case, the issue was evidently twofold. The first problem was that he had not brought a blood sacrifice. (Non-blood sacrifices were fine, but not until after the blood-sacrifice had been offered.) Worship is only acceptable from clean hands, and the cleansing begins at the Cross. The blood sacrifice, in all ages, looked forward to the Cross. Our communion looks back to the Cross…but faith is what applies it to the heart. Evident from Cain’s response to God is the self-will and resentment against God that eventually led him to murder his brother, and which, we can surmise, initiated the wrong offering as well. In the New Testament we are told that the sacrifice was wrong, but that his heart was wrong as well.

Other examples are given where, on the surface, all was well—the sacrifice was technically correct. But God rejected the sacrifice because of the behavior of the “worshippers” and, in other cases, because they had deliberately skimped on the offering, bringing him sick or damaged animals, or the culls from their flocks.

Still, how does this apply? We don’t bring lambs, today. I’m not even sure I would know a good lamb from a poor one. So what about the offerings we are supposed to bring? Do we actually consider what we are saying when we pray? Are we really thankful for God’s provision in our lives? What about the Cross? Always assuming that you started off there, do you know your way back? Do you ever return to Calvary to give thanks, just for the fact that He voluntarily died there, in your place? Remember the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed. All were Jews except one, evidently, and all were healed by faith, as they went to show themselves to the priest. Jesus extended his healing to them, with his only command being to go and show themselves to the priest. They went, and they were healed en route. Nine went on their way rejoicing, but one, evidently the only Samaritan in the bunch, made it first priority to go back to Jesus and give thanks. In fact, it says he loudly praised God, and fell at Jesus’ feet in worship. Jesus commented on that, and said, in effect, “…funny, I thought I healed ten lepers…but the only one to come back and give glory to God is this stranger.” But then he said “Go thy way. Thy faith hath healed thee.”

And what about our service? Our giving? Do we serve and give joyfully or grudgingly? Or is it a mix? Sometimes I really don’t feel like coming to church Sunday morning…Maybe I just feel like I want a break, or I’m tired, or maybe I am out of fellowship about some unrelated thing, and don’t want to confess it and “wash my feet,” as it were, and then come to the table to feed with the saints. Sad, but that’s the truth. Usually, as soon as I repent and get moving, God adds His blessing. But I have had times that I got there, and was still not OK.

Think about the prodigal son. Bad kid, huh? Ran off and spent up his inheritance, then wants to come back and eat up his brother’s as well, huh? Funny: that is not how the Father saw it. He knew of the failing, but desperately loved his son, and wanted him back. BUT! The older son? That is exactly how he saw his younger brother. And the result was that he would not go in where the welcome home party was going on. The father came out to reason with him, and it turns out that, though the older son had been serving, he was doing so grudgingly (at least ever since “bubba” left home), and not out of a clean heart of love for the Father. The inheritance was still his, but fellowship with the Father demanded fellowship with his brother. Good thing to remember, hmm? Over in 1st John 4:20, it points out that anyone saying they love God, but who is simultaneously hating his brother, is a liar, for a man who does NOT love his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen.? Good question. But we still try to do it, every now and then, don’t we?

Romans 12:1, 2 tells me that I am to offer up my body as a living sacrifice to God. The problem with living sacrifices is that they don’t necessarily “go along” with the plan. Our old sin nature is still there, and still strong, though it has no more authority. I have to daily reconcile myself with the decision to live for God. The Proverbs tell me to cease from my own wisdom. Hard to do—I have all sorts of ideas as to how things ought to work, but they frequently don’t match God’s plan.

Ephesians 5:1, 2 says that we are to be followers, or imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and has given himself to God an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. There’s that thing about “smells” again. And this time, it is directly connected with a command to imitate…to follow his lead. To do as he did.

Revelation 5:8 In the book of the Revelation, the prayers of the believers are depicted as odors.

Philippians 4:18 “ But I have all and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet sacrifice acceptable to God.”  So let’s think this through. Paul was an apostle—a missionary, if you will, out on a hard journey, and, in fact, was at that point, bound in a Roman prison. The believers at Philippi, who loved him deeply, as he had led them to Christ, and had suffered with them, had sent a gift to him…we don’t even know what it was, except that it was “things”…and this was called “an odor of a sweet sacrifice, acceptable to God.” Interesting. No lamb, no prayers, no trips to the temple. Just sending a needed item to a friend in prison. Nothing even “religious-sounding” about it, really. But God said that was the real deal. That pleased God. They were supporting one of the brethren who was doing God’s work. And God liked it!

John 12:3 (also Matthew 26, Mark 14)

I’d like to consider the story in John chapter 12, specifically verse 3. Mary of Bethany approached Jesus while he was at the table with the twelve, Judas included, and proceeded to anoint him with an extremely expensive perfumed oil…evidently a year’s wages worth, in fact, because Judas spoke up and complained that this was a blatant waste, and should have been sold for that much, and the money used to feed the poor.

There are more sermons in this passage than I can count. Thousands have been preached from this passage already. Frankly, I am going to deliberately ignore most of what is there, because I want to point out some things about this offering.

  1. It had no particular practical purpose, except the fact that Jesus said it was presaging his burial. It did NOT feed the poor, or send something to an apostle in prison, nor lead the singing in church, or anything else pious-sounding. It was ministering directly to Jesus. Directly to God.
  2. It was NOT a corporate act—she didn’t form a committee, and announce ahead of time, so everyone could watch. She just did it, in as simple and worshipful a manner as possible. Some of the gospels say it was his feet that were anointed, some say his head…I assume both. But it was his feet she wiped with her hair. This was from her alone.
  3. Though it was not directed at anyone else, everyone there was indirectly affected…some in negative ways, as they were offended. (Some of the Gospels specify that Judas was the one complaining, but others point out that he was only the spokesman—the others agreed with him.) But all of them saw it, and all of them shared in the smell.
  4. The odor filled the house. It affected Jesus. It affected Mary of Bethany. It affected everyone in the building, to one degree or another, and is affecting you today. Jesus was so impressed by this simple act of adoration that he said “Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached, in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told as a memorial of her.” (Matthew 26:13) That has literally been fulfilled, wherever the Gospel has gone.

The acts of obedience, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, praise, and worship that you bring to God are a sweet smell to Him. Sometimes they are practical, as the Philippian gift was. Sometimes they are religious in nature, as the gifts in the temple. Sometimes they are as simple as gratitude, like the Samaritan Leper who was healed. But the fragrance of what you do will affect you, God, and others. For better or worse, the things you do affect others.

In Romans 2:24, Paul rebuked the Jews, saying that through them the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. In Genesis 34:30, Jacob rebuked his sons Simeon and Levi, saying “You have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the land”.  It is entirely possible to bring a bad offering of our lives, and leave a bad smell in the nostrils of those around us, believers and unbelievers alike.

But God says he wants us to smell like Jesus. Read 2nd Corinthians 2:14-16. We are to be a fragrance of Christ, to believers and unbelievers. To those who are receptive to the Gospel and those who flatly reject it. In both cases, we are to smell like Christ. To the one category, we bring the smell of hope and of life. To the other, we bring the smell of judgment and death, even when we say nothing about such things. The world can see the coming judgment in the righteousness of believers. It convicts them.

Consider what things God says about the smell of our lives:

  1. It has to do with our relationship with him.
  2. It can relate His character to the rest of the world (rightly or wrongly).
  3. It is an accurate depicter of our relationship with God, and the character of our worship.
  4. God is the one who declares, ultimately, how things smell.
  5. ALL of us are bringing some sort of fragrance to God, to the church, and to the world.

What Fragrance do you bring? How is it affecting God? How is it affecting You? How is it affecting others? Does it fill the House of God? (Remember that the church, proper—the people of God—are the “house of God”.) Does it fill the sphere within which you live and move? Do you really smell like Jesus? Does your worship please him? Does it please you?

Consider this, as well—had Mary just walked in, and dumped the stuff on Jesus and walked out, it would not have been received in the same way at all. HOW are you bringing your offering? Is your love relationship with God growing stronger, or is it something you have to remind yourself of or you will neglect it entirely?

Give this some thought…What Fragrance do you bring?

I pray that our lives, collectively, will offer the Fragrance of Christ, growing stronger and stronger, as we draw near to Him.

Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

© C. O. Bishop 7/22/2019 THCF 8/11/19

Introduction:

Probably most people, hearing the term “Cat’s Ear” would normally assume I was talking about the feline auditory system…but, in fact, I am referring to something even more arcane—the plant (or weed) called “Cat’s Ear”…sometimes called “False Dandelion,” though that is not its name.

You might ask, “Why would I try to take a lesson from a weed?

Good question! In fact, I would not have thought to do so, either, except that one morning, recently, I was driving off somewhere, early in the morning, and (because my lawn mower has been down for repairs, for a while), I could see thousands of weeds blossoming in my yard. Most of them looked like dandelions, except they all possessed branched, wiry stems with multiple blossoms, unlike the hollow stems with single blossoms that characterize true dandelions. And, what caught my attention, as I headed due east, out of my driveway, was that every single one of those little golden flowers was twisted around to face directly at the rising sun! I remembered a song about sunflowers turning their gaze upon their god (the sun, in the song), at morning as well as evening, and wondered whether these little blossoms would do the same, following the course of the sun, throughout the day.

When I came back later in the day, they had all turned to follow the sun, as many plants do. But these are not stately sunflowers…these are weeds, from nearly everyone’s perspective. But something about them caught my attention, and I began to wonder what else was true of them. We frequently hear people admonish believers to “blossom where you are planted!” Well, no human planted these hardy weeds…but neither did they have a choice in the matter. They are a wind-borne seed, producing seed-heads chock-full of little parachute-like seeds, which blow and disperse on the breeze, and, wherever they fall to earth, they simply take root …or die.

Now I was beginning to think more clearly, remembering the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) as I considered what other lessons might be in this little weed. Consider:

  1. They have no choice about where they are planted.
  2. Wherever they land, provided there is soil and water (and not necessarily an abundance of either,) they dig in, and put down roots, aggressively reaching for water and nutrients.
  3. They persistently try to bear fruit and reproduce after their kind, hoping to send a fresh crop of Cat’s Ear seeds blowing in the wind, thus fulfilling their mission, to “be fruitful and multiply”…and most generally, they eventually succeed!
  4. No one particularly wants them, wherever they are: they are nearly universally scorned and rejected, and every attempt is made to discourage them. But they persist…they persevere!
  5. Mowing does not kill them: it only postpones their reproduction.
  6. To those who are willing to see it, they actually have a beautiful, vibrant yellow blossom…but few see it that way.
  7. And, finally, they constantly focus on the Sun. Their faces are turned toward Him, regardless of circumstances.

Parallels in Faith

Probably most of you have already seen the parallels to which I am alluding. But let’s consider them anyway:

Choices—mine, or God’s—or both?

I did not get to choose my place of birth, nor the gene-pool from which I was drawn, nor a host of other circumstances which set me on my way in life. God chose all these things for me.

But I did get to choose how to respond to those circumstances. I was not born to affluence, nor was I reared by a godly father. My mother did her best to set my feet on a right path, but like many young boys, I rebelled. No one forced, me either way. But there were “voices,” all along the way, of relatives, friends, writers, evangelists, and so forth, who kept shining the light of God’s Word into my life, at one level or another. And, I know that there were people praying for me, too, so that my heart was being moistened by the prayers of the believers, and the kindness of the believers who loved me in spite of my unloveliness. In Acts 17:26, 27 Paul preached that each of us has been placed by God so that we have an opportunity to respond to the call of God at some level.

So, within the circumstances in which I was planted, I had to make choices based upon the information I had. Eventually, I “chose life,” as God begs every person to do. Deuteronomy 30:19 says that we have a choice between blessing and cursing, between death and life…and He concludes, “Choose Life!”

Growth is also a Choice

How I responded was up to me. God does “cultivate” the seed, and encourage us to take hold and grow, but we have to make a choice. In 1st Peter 2:2, Peter commands the new believers, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” This is a command to all believers. We are to choose to hunger after God’s Word, and feed upon it so that we may grow thereby. We grow by feeding on God’s Word!

And it is by choice that we dig into His Word, “putting down roots,” as it were. Colossians 2:7 admonishes the believers tobe“rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith…” Ephesians 3:17, 18 addresses that same concept, being a little more specific; that we are to be rooted and grounded in Love, so that we will be able to comprehend along with all the believers, the full magnitude of our relationship with the Lord, and to fully experience His love, which surpasses the bounds of knowledge. Even the Proverbs make it clear (Proverbs 2:1-8) that unless we hunger after God’s Word, and His Wisdom, we will not understand Him, nor His provision in our lives.

It is part of the normal Christian life that we hunger for God’s Word, and deliberately choose to feed deeply upon His Word. It is fascinating, to me, that He refers to Himself as being the “Word.” Not just once, but several times. John 1:1, 14 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” and later, when He returns to Earth (Revelation 19:13,) He is called “The Word of God.”

It seems to me that how we respond to the written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately the way we also respond to the Living Word of God, Jesus, the Savior…our Master.

Consider how those little weeds all put down a deep taproot…and when drought comes, they survive, where other plants dry up and die!

We are called to bear fruit!

Jesus said that this was what we are ordained to do: (John 15:16) “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (By the way, lest you think that this “ordination to bring forth fruit” was only for the apostles, remember that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) told them to teach us to “observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them!”) (In science, we call that a “chain-reaction!”)

So, these little cat’s ear plants don’t have to be told! They just dig in by their nature, in harsh circumstances, and force that little taproot down between rocks, or clay soil or even in cracks in pavement, and find the nutrients they need, so that they can grow, so that they can bear fruit, and multiply! And, that is what we are called to do, as well! The problem is that we have a choice to make, but they just do it, because that is their nature! We are afraid of public opinion, and so we close our mouths, rather than sow the seed of the Gospel.

But we are definitely called to “be witnesses,” to tell what we know about Jesus, the Savior. To share the bread of life with anyone hungry enough to receive it! To pour ourselves out as living sources of the water of life, so that anyone who thirsts will be drawn to Jesus. Jesus Himself made that offer, in John 7:37, 38, saying “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (That’s us!) Are you looking to share that bread of life, and extend the living water to other thirsty souls? Or are you holding back? Remember who sent you, and what He told you your purpose is: to bear fruit and bring glory to the Father by so doing.

The World will hate us, just as they hated Jesus!

1st John 3:13 Says, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate thee!” This echoes what Jesus said, earlier, that the World will hate the believers. (John 15:18) says that “if the World hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” You see, we are “weeds”, to the unbelieving world! We are an “invasive species” from their perspective! And, indeed, we are “in enemy territory!” The adversary of our souls, Satan himself, was cast down to the earth. He knows that his own eternal destruction is coming, and he is determined to take the human race with him.

Jesus said that we are “in the world, but not of the world.” We are a foreign irritant to the world system of thought. If they could be rid of us, they would do so. I saw a bumper sticker, a year or so ago, saying “Come the Rapture, we’ll have the whole Place to Ourselves!” It was very sobering, and sad, to see it, because it was clear that the writer knew of the New Testament teaching that the Church will be removed from the Earth, and that he or she not only rejected it but mocked it, saying, in effect, “Good riddance! We will have a great time after you all are gone!” Sorry, no! It is going to be the very worst period of time in the history of the earth!

Notice, however, that “hating the weeds” does not eradicate them. Poisoning the weeds works, but it is dangerous, as we frequently kill desirable plants in the process. We are an irritant to the World, and they will continually try to eradicate the Gospel.

Someone recently pointed out to me that if the Bible was just a myth, or a fairy-tale, no one would have a problem with it. No one burns people at the stake for the sake of Cinderella, or Snow-White, or even Santa Claus! They went on to say that there are currently 52 nations on Earth where the Bible is a forbidden book. There is a focused attempt to eradicate the Person of Christ from all public fora, even here in the United States, as well as from schools, and social media. It’s strange: you can spout off about any sort of conspiracy theory you want, and no one will bother you. Join the “Flat Earth Society”, and, though people will mock you, no one will persecute you for that belief, though it is patently false.

You see, the problem is Jesus! He is the actual object of their hatred. So, if you are being hated along with Him, you are bearing the Cross along with Him. Be blessed! You are right on course! Does that mean it will “feel good” to be rejected and maligned as fools and falsely accused of all sorts of wrong? Nope. But, like the Cat’s Ear weed, we persevere! We persist. We “soldier on,” knowing that we are indeed the soldiers of Christ, and, as good soldiers, we are called to endure hardness. (2nd Timothy 2:3)

Persecution has always strengthened the Church

We don’t like persecution, and we fear it…but, historically, the persecution always had two very positive effects:

  1. Persecution scattered the Church, as they fled the persecution, but every believer, wherever they went, spread the Gospel to their new surroundings, just as weed seeds are scattered by the wind, and spread the weeds to new locations. Acts 8:4 concludes the account of the first persecution, saying “therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.”
  2. Persecution purged the church: Jesus predicted this in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:21), saying that there are people who gladly respond to the Gospel, but in whom there is no real root, and when persecution arises because of the Word, they are offended. He actually demonstrated the “falling away” idea in John 6:60-66 where He had concluded his teaching about the Bread of Life, and many of those who had been following him said “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” and they went away. He asked his apostles, “Will ye also go away?” and Peter said, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” You see, the apostles persisted! They pressed closer when things got hard. The false brethren will usually drop their pretense when things get rough. So, the core that is left are the real believers, and to them will be drawn others who see the light of their lives and respond in faith.

There is a Beauty in the Church

Not everyone sees the believers as fools or hypocrites. There are some who see the transformation of our lives, and recognize that something real has happened. And they are drawn to it, because they see the person of Christ reflected in our lives. But not all will see us that way. Don’t expect people to respond kindly to your kindness, or respond lovingly to your love. The fact is that most will not receive us well. Consider how they responded to the Lord Himself.

But Jesus is working a transformation in His Bride, the Church, and there will come a day when all will see the beauty of the Bride. The reason we don’t see the beauty of the Cat’s Ear blossoms, as well as that of the Dandelions, and the European daisies, and the Clover, etc. is because they persist in growing in places where we would rather they did not grow.

The Church, regardless of the blessing it bestows upon the world around it, will never be welcome. We are “not of the World!” Try to not allow the World to coerce you into seeing the Church as a whole, through their eyes. Does the church have faults? Yep! It is made up of saved sinners, and every one of them has faults. Also, there are those who have infiltrated the church, and pretend to be believers, but, in fact, they are not. So some of the sins that we are accused of are actually committed by those who have no connection with the head at all. In biological terms, we might call them a parasitic organism, or, perhaps a cancerous growth. But the World sees them as “Just another Hypocrite!” and condemns the entire church and Jesus with them. Try to avoid being influenced by such thinking. You would not reject your precious child because she contracted head-lice. You would deal with the lice, and love the child.

Focus Your attention on the Son!

This is the bottom line for each of us! We are to follow Jesus, not each other. We are to focus our attention on the person of Christ and allow Him to deal with the circumstances around us. Even other believers are not to be our focus. Peter asked Jesus (regarding John) “What shall this man do?” (John 21:21) Jesus effectively told him that it was none of his business, and that he (Peter) was to follow Jesus!

It was such a powerful testimony to me, to see the dawn breaking over the weedy lawn, and to see that, without exception, the army of Cat’s Ear blossoms were turned to greet the rising Sun. They did not do it as a “group exercise:” every single one did it because it was in its nature to do so, whether in a group or alone.

How would it affect the testimony and behavior of the church, if every member of every assembly was as fully focused on the person of the Risen Christ, as those simple little weeds are upon the rising sun? Give this some thought, and meditate upon God’s Word. See if you can be drawn, as they are, to set your affections upon Him, instead of all that surrounds you here on Earth.

Lord Jesus, fix our hearts and minds upon yourself, so that we no longer see ourselves as the center of our existence, but readily, continually recognize our utter dependence upon you. Change us into your likeness, and lead us to follow in your footsteps, in Jesus name.

Ultimate Blessing

Ultimate Blessing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

To Whom is this written?

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

Where will it happen, and When?

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will happen?

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

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

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

Are there Applications for today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revelation Confirms It!

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

Revelation 1:10-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God help us to do just that!

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

Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

© C. O. Bishop 5/25/2018 Cornell Estates 5/27/2018

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

The epistle to the church at Colosse is written by the Apostle Paul, as were more than half the books of the New Testament. It was written about the same time as the epistles to Philemon and to the church at Ephesus, evidently, as it was carried by the same messenger(s). We must bear in mind, though, that, while the human writer is Paul, the true Author is the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. So, this is the Written Word of God, and we will approach it with that in mind. All scripture must agree with the rest of scripture. Whenever we think we may have found a contradiction, we can rest assured that, with more careful study, we will confirm that the discrepancy was just due to our own misunderstanding.

Are there different styles of writing from one human writer to another? Certainly, there are, just as the marks left on wood by my hand-plane are different than those left by a drawknife or a scraper…or a saw, for example. But my hand was the one guiding each tool, and I can accurately claim to have “handcrafted” the resulting project, regardless of what it is. I’m the maker!

God’s Word bears the stylistic and vocabulary-related marks of his various chosen tools, the writers of the Bible. But it is truly all “One Book, by One Author.” And it has one central theme, the Person and Work of Christ. In fact, the entire Bible is structured around God’s redemptive plan for the fallen human race: and Jesus is that plan.

This epistle is not nearly so personal as the one written to the church at Philippi, as Paul did not know the people in this church as intimately as he did those at Philippi. He knew them mainly by reputation, evidently, through Epaphras, who, it seems, may have planted that church. The result then, can be seen even in the opening greeting: it is not nearly so tenderly, and passionately worded as is the letter to the believers at Philippi. The people at Philippi were his intimate friends and fellow-laborers. That church was his only regularly supporting church, even though, ironically, it was not his “home-church” He was initially sent out from Antioch, but his relationship with Philippi seems to be the closest he had with any individual church.

So, while the greeting to the church at Colosse is not “cold,” or impersonal: it is simply to a group with whom he had less close ties, so it is a little more reserved. Paul begins by introducing himself and Timothy to the believers at Colosse:

Sent From God –To You!

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul introduced himself simply as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ (a “sent one”) by the will of God (not self-appointed), and Timothy, our brother. No special accolades, no boasting about his great education, or his other credentials, nor even a list of all the churches he had personally planted (and there were many): He was “sent by God”…and that was it. The same was true for Timothy: He was just a faithful brother. Do you see the simplicity of service, here? It is a privilege to serve: just do it!

I think it is noteworthy that the letter is not addressed to the “Pastor”, nor to the “Deacons and Elders”, nor yet to the “Church Board of Trustees”, or any such thing. It is to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” It is to the Church, proper. All the church epistles are addressed to the churches, not to the leaders, nor any sort of authority figures. By the way, the Bible knows nothing of friars, abbots, sextons, monks, cardinals and popes, etc. They are entirely invented by humans.

Position and Condition

The letter was to the “saints” (the word “saints” means “holy ones”…they were made holy by their position in Christ) and the faithful (believing) brethren “in Christ.” That is a key phrase: our position in Christ along with His indwelling Holy Spirit in us, is all that sets us apart from the World around us; just as Noah’s position inside the Ark was all that set him apart from his neighbors who were outside. Consider the end result of our position, and that of Noah. All in the Ark lived because of their position inside the Ark. All in Christ live (eternally) because of our position in Christ.

What does it mean, to say that the believers, the saints, the “holy ones”, are “holy” before God? It literally means that we are “set apart” for God’s service. It means that we are His private, personal property, and that we are for His service and His pleasure. We often forget this truth, and think that we are here to please ourselves. We forget that we are called to “be holy as He is Holy.” It does not mean we wander around with a halo over us, and our palms pressed together, or any such silliness: it means that we belong to Jesus Christ; and it makes perfect sense that we should actively seek to serve Him, as His chosen vessels for the Gospel; His ambassadors to the lost World around us.

Paul focused on that one positional attribute that all believers share: We are in Christ. And, as we can observe in Colossians 4:16, this epistle was intended to be a “circular letter:” It was to be read in other churches as well. It is to us, as believers in Christ. We are in Christ, by the new Birth, through Faith, so this letter is addressed to us, personally. As we study, try to keep in mind that this is literally God’s letter to you! Take it personally!

Also, consider this: Paul’s position in Christ was more important than his specific task, as an Apostle. And, an Apostle was not more “in Christ” than any other believer. The first concern is our position. But once that position is secured (and it is a permanent change), our condition before the Lord becomes our first concern. Am I walking with Him? And, finally, am I exercising my gifts? Am I doing what He has called me to do? Part of being “faithful” is being committed, and reliable. Yes, the word “faithful” means “the believers”, but the kind of faith God calls us to exercise is also intended to produce “faithfulness”, in the sense of reliability. Can God count on you to obey Him on a daily basis? Can others count on you to be the man or woman of God you are called to be? Can they trust you to live a Godly example for them, both in words and actions?

Grace and Peace

In verse two, as in virtually every Pauline epistle, is Paul’s opening blessing, praying for God’s sustaining Grace in the lives of the believers, resulting in His abiding Peace. These two ideas always come in that order: Grace, then Peace. In Salvation, we received saving Grace, through faith, and it resulted in Peace with God. On a daily, living basis, we receive God’s sustaining Grace, again through daily renewed faith, and it results in the Peace of God. Both flow from the Father and the Son, to us. “Grace be to you, and Peace.” Always in that order!

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

Paul may not actually have known these people, personally: but he said that he and Timothy had been praying for them, and giving thanks for their walk with God ever since they had heard of their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and their love for the believers around them.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

This is how we are supposed to respond to other believers, based on our faith in Christ, and our position in Him. Jesus gave us the commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us. These believers were doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and Paul and Timothy were overjoyed to hear of it. Keep in mind, too, that Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Faith in the Gospel brings Salvation, which gives us Hope. Obedience brings reward.

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

Paul and Timothy gave thanks especially because of the Hope that was secured for these believers, including the reward that was in store for them in Heaven. Paul reminds them that they (the believers) already knew about this, too.

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

What is the “Hope that is laid up for us in Heaven?” Our hope is eternal life with Christ; being finally separated from our sins, and the trials of this life. We hope for a new body, free from the ravages of age and disease, and for the literal, physical presence of the Lord Himself, the fulfillment of all the promises of God. We look for a new heaven and a new earth, where the damage done by man is all in the forgotten past, and Joy surrounds us like the air and the sunlight.

All this and more is “laid up for us”…it is on deposit, credited to our account, since the moment we each trusted Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for our sins. Eternal Life is already ours. Reward is accumulated as we allow God the freedom to use our lives.

I remember, when I had first trusted Jesus as my Savior, but still knew almost nothing about the rest of the Bible, a friend, who knew I was just recently saved, asked “Are you looking forward to going to heaven?” I replied honestly that I wasn’t even sure whether I believed in a heaven or hell; I only knew that I needed Jesus now! But as I began to read His Word, I soon came to see The Bible as “first and final authority,” in all things, so that I eventually saw that, “if God says it; that settles it,” whether I personally believe it or not. And, as it happened, it turns out that the Bible does have a fair amount to say about both heaven and hell, so that I gradually came to understand a few things about eternity. And, yes, I eventually understood that my “hope” had been “laid up for me in heaven,” immediately, when I first believed, though I knew nothing about it. Later, I learned that there was a reward involved, too, though I still don’t really feel I know much about that part.

The Gospel and the World

Paul also says that that Gospel had been going out to the whole world just as it had come to Colosse. The Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone has heard it.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

What is the “Gospel”? We hear the word used in a lot of ways, including the idea that “gospel” must mean “truth,” because people say, “No, really, that is the gospel truth!” when talking about things that have nothing to do with the Bible, but which they believe to be absolutely true. The Greek word translated “Gospel” is “euaggelion”, which means “Glad tidings”—good news. The Gospel of Christ, as it is presented in the Bible, has to include at least the following things:

  • The fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in fulfillment of scripture (fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.)
  • The fact that he was buriedreally dead, pierced through by the Roman spear, after dying on the Cross. Dead and buried, wrapped up like a mummy, and interred in a rock tomb with a heavy stone for a seal. This also fulfilled prophecy.
  • The fact that He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb, also in direct fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, and the fact that he was seen alive by many witnesses, over a period of forty days after his resurrection.

Why do I list these three things? Because, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul listed them in that order, as being the core truths of the Gospel of Christ: the “Good News” which, being believed in, has the power to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) When I review, in my own mind, any recent conversation in which I attempted to share the Gospel with an acquaintance, I’m questioning whether I really offered that person “the Gospel:” Did I really include the death, and burial and resurrection of Christ, or did I just tell them “how wonderful the Christian life is?” (Sorry, that is not the Gospel…and not really even true, in many respects: Paul says, over in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on his name, but also to suffer for His sake.” That doesn’t sound very “wonderful” to most people.)

The Gospel is the Good News of Eternal life in Christ, and how it was purchased for us by the death, and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. And, being believed in, it is the Power of God to save sinners…and it is the only thing so described in the scriptures. If I leave out the necessary ingredients, is it still the “Gospel?” Can I still expect it to work to change lives, if I leave out those key points? The answer to both questions, is “NO!”

Faith and Responsibility

So, why did I mention that “not everyone has heard the gospel? Because Paul pointed that out, too, over in 1st Corinthians 15:34, saying “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Our faith brings responsibility.

Paul is only reminding these believers, at Colosse, of things they had already been taught: He says that Epaphras taught them these doctrines, earlier. And that he (Epaphras) was also the one who told Paul and Timothy about their vibrant faith:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

So, evidently Epaphras is the one who led them to Christ, and who planted that church, and who had continued to serve them, teaching and encouraging and helping them mature in their faith…and the church was doing well. Notice that Paul uses Epaphras as an example: he calls him a “dear fellow servant” and reminds them that Epaphras has been a “faithful minister of Christ” to them. He was a faithful servant of Christ, bringing them the message of salvation, and training them up as men and women of God. The word “minister” means “servant.” It is not a special “religious” term. It was and still is used in many walks of life to mean a servant. Epaphras served Christ by serving them with the Word of God.

Now, he had the opportunity to report to Paul and Timothy what GOD had been doing in Colosse. He was not claiming personal credit for the changes in their lives. Only the Holy Spirit could make those changes happen. And Paul and Timothy were rejoicing with Him for God’s victory at Colosse.

Paul was very encouraged to hear of the inroad of the Gospel in that town. He wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them to become more established in their faith. He goes on to say that, ever since he heard of their new-found faith, he had been praying for them: Next time, we will see what sorts of things Paul prayed for, in the lives of these believers.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your word. Fill us with your Spirit, and let us grow in faith, as these believers were growing in faith. Teach us the meaning of practical holiness, and remake us all into your image. Allow us to serve as your ministers, bringing your Grace to those around us.

 

Instructions to Believers: Part One

Instructions to Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 1/10/2018 THCF 1/14/2018

Hebrews 13:1-6

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews for many months, now: there have been seven comparisons made, comparing Jesus to all of the important facets of Judaism, with the constant conclusion that “Jesus is better”, because He is the fulfillment of all the promises, the real sacrifice, the real temple, the real Sabbath. Indeed, the central theme of the whole book has been that “Jesus is better.”

There have also been seven warnings, in increasingly stark terms of judgment to come, for those who have pretended faith, but never have made Jesus their Savior on a personal basis. Those who have “gone along for the ride”, giving lip-service to belief, but who have never seen themselves as guilty sinners, needing a Savior, and who have never claimed Jesus’s blood as the full payment for their own sins, are facing eternal loss. We are warned to examine ourselves to be sure that our faith is personal: that we have seen ourselves as guilty sinners before a Holy God, and that we have placed our dependence on Jesus as our only hope for redemption.

The writer (Paul, we think) addresses several seemingly unrelated issues, in closing. He raises no more points demonstrating the superiority of Christ, now, nor any further warnings against false or partial faith. He simply addresses the believers and the need for practical holiness in their lives, as well as the practical outworking of the Love of Christ.

Love is the Foundation

 1Let brotherly love continue.

The phrase “brotherly love” in this verse is actually the Greek word “philadelphia”. Contrary to popular wisdom, the word “Philadelphia” does not mean “The city of brotherly love.” It just means the “love of the brethren”. The city in Pennsylvania is simply named “brotherly love”, though the reality, there, as is true in most cities, pretty much makes a travesty of the concept.

The believers are to love one another as family. This is one of the only two places where “love” is used as a command, and it is not the Agape love in question. Every other place where love is commanded, it is the fully committed, altruistic Agape Love that God demonstrated at the Cross. When John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…” it does not mean “God loved the world SO MUCH…”, but “In this manner God loved the World: that He gave His only Begotten Son.”

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

It is interesting to me that the very next idea mentioned is the strangers…the word usually translated “hospitality” is “philoxenia”, meaning the “love of the stranger”. It means taking care of the needs of those with whom you have no natural bond of friendship, doing so simply because of your relationship with Christ. Here the word for hospitality has been spelled out, as a phrase: “entertain strangers”—love those, care for those to whom no such favor is due from a natural viewpoint, as there is no relationship. They are a stranger to you.

The only two examples I can think of when humans actually fed or cared for angels were Abraham and Lot. And in those cases, it was the same two angels. (Abraham had three, but one was the “Angel of the LORD”—actually the pre-incarnate Christ. The other two left Abraham and went to find Lot.) It’s possible that there are other examples, but those two stand out in Biblical history. Sampson’s parents could be another, I suppose, but that was a little different.

Quite honestly, I have never practiced hospitality with this in mind; I have never “hoped to see an angel.” I have simply met the need because there was a need to be met. As far as I know they were all bona fide humans. I do not think, either, that there is any doctrine here that “angels are all around us, masquerading as humans,” though many popular Christian books hint at that idea. Is it possible? Certainly…but, in general, what would be the point?

The word for “angels” (Greek “aggelous”) just means “messengers.” In Hebrews chapter one, they are described as spirits, specifically ministering (serving) spirits, sent out “…to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.” I do not think I understand much about angelic beings, mainly because the Scripture does not tell us very much. I also do not trust extra-biblical sources about such subjects, simply because there has been so much folklore about angels and the spirit world, from the beginning of time, which is virtually all false. I prefer to take God’s Word alone on such subjects, and leave the speculation to others. God tells us to cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. (2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5)

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

The Writer brings up some specific needs, here. Persecution had already begun against the Church. The believers were already being arrested and imprisoned for their faith. God reminds the Hebrew believers that the Body of Christ is one Body. (Compare 1st Corinthians 12:12, 20-22) We need to see one another’s needs as being our own needs. We should be as fervent in prayer for another brother or sister as if we ourselves were the one experiencing the adversity.

What about Marriage?

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

God has always rejected Promiscuity. Marriage, although it has been the center of much debate in recent years, was the only relational gift God gave to the human race before sin entered into the world. It was, and is, literally, undefiled. It is not a human invention or tradition, though it has been overlaid with thousands of years of human traditions, differing wildly from culture to culture. It was not inaugurated by humans at all, but only continued in one form or another, sometimes quite corrupted, sometimes not. We are to preserve it in an uncorrupted form.

I have had people tell me that if a man and woman cohabitate, then “they are married, in God’s eyes.” That is not true: remember what Jesus told the Woman at the Well: “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband:’ for thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that thou saidst truly.” (John 4:17, 18) There are several things we can get from that comment, beside the obvious fact of His supernatural knowledge (which in itself is not surprising when one considers that He is God, in the flesh.)

The first thing I can see is that Jesus recognized both divorce and remarriage: though he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and considers the whole practice of divorce and remarriage adulterous, he recognizes it. He did not say, “You have had one husband and have been committing adultery with five men since then.” He said “you have had five husbands.” Those were legitimate marriages. Jesus himself said so, though he did not approve of the divorces.

But the other side of that fact is that He definitely does not recognize “living together” as marriage. He said “…he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” So cohabitation is definitely not marriage. Then what is marriage?

Marriage is a social contract between one man and one woman. (Yes, God recognizes polygamy, too, but does not approve it as a practice. He said it was intended as one spouse, and is to be a lifelong commitment.) Marriage is that state in any given culture (not just a fringe sub-culture) within which a man and a woman can, because of that social contract, live together with the full approval of the whole culture.

In some cultures it is pretty simple. In others it is quite a complex problem. In Mexico, (I am told by friends who are Mexican citizens) the state does not recognize a marriage by the church, and the Church does not recognize a marriage by the state. You have to have both authorizations, in order to be recognized by both. (Something wrong with that picture, I think, but that is how it is.)

In at least some (of the many) tribes in New Guinea, if a woman leaves with a man, for the purpose of becoming his wife, she is married to him. For example, I was told of a situation where a young man crept out of the jungle near the sweet-potato field where his sweetheart was working with her mother. He managed to attract her attention, and persuaded her, through gestures, to run away with him. She left the field, and headed off with him. The mother realized what had happened, and chased after them with her digging stick, caught them, and beat them both quite savagely…but eventually she went back to her field alone. They were married. She absolutely did not approve, but she recognized that the commitment had been made.

In our culture (USA), one needs a “marriage license” in order to have a marriage that is recognized by (for example) the IRS, but I have never heard of a church not recognizing a civil wedding as being valid, though, as a culture, we may prefer church weddings.

In some cultures, a dowry is paid by the bride’s family to the groom. In other cultures that is reversed, and a bride-price is paid by the groom to the family of the bride. In our culture neither is practiced, but there are cultural norms as to “who pays for what.” (Weddings, Receptions, etc.)

The Results of the Promise of God

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

#1 – No Fear of Loss

There are some words in Old English which have pretty dramatically changed meaning: “Conversation” is one of them. The Old English word “conversation” invariably meant “way of life”, “lifestyle”, and “behavior”, or some related idea. In one instance it comes from a word meaning citizenship—where we live—but in all the others it means “how we live”. In this particular instance, alone, the Greek word is “tropos,” meaning “way, or manner, or lifestyle.” Several of the other occurrences are related words.

So the Writer warns, here, against avarice, or greed—specifically the “love of money.” The word for “covetousness”, here, is the Greek word “philargurion”; (literally, “the love of silver”). And on what basis does he say that we are to abandon our fixation on money? The fact that we have the promise of God that he will never abandon us, but will continually sustain and uphold us.

The love of (or obsession with) money is not limited to misers, greedy capitalists, or whomever: It is not limited to the wealthy. Once, early in our marriage, I was out of work because of huge layoffs, and my wife was newly pregnant with our first child. I was absolutely consumed with the fear of failing to provide for my little family. During that time, my very first waking thought, each morning, and my last waking thought at night was “What can I do to make some money?” I was not trusting God at all! When it comes to fixating on money, it does not have to be riches: it could only be the rent. The one, we condemn; but the other we commend as “being responsible as a Man,” etc. But when that passion for earning, saving or possessing is all-consuming, and it has turned your heart away from a steadfast faith in a faithful Creator, then it is sin, whether great or small. The amount of money is not the issue; the heart response is. The root is unbelief.

#2 — No Fear of Abandonment

“…for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

There is a very interesting translation “glitch” here in this passage. There is nothing at all wrong with the translation: just with the language. In English, if we use a “double negative,” technically speaking, it renders a positive. For example, if I said, I will not never leave you, and will not never no-how forsake you”, in English, it would be simply laughably poor grammar, and there would be real question as to whether I was promising not to leave, or promising to leave!

But in Greek, you can strengthen a negative by compounding negative prefixes…and that is what is done here, in Greek. The Writer does not employ separate words of negation, but rather he uses multiple prefixes which each further negate the verb, so that the literal translation would be something similar to, “Let your life be free from the love of money, for he himself has said (and it stands on record) ‘I will not, I will not ever leave you! I will not, I will not, I will NOT ever forsake you!” It is an emphatically strong statement of commitment!

#3 — No Self-Dependency

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

Because I had turned my heart away from God’s supply, and I saw my sustenance as being only my responsibility, and so I was far more concerned with earning money than pursuing the imperative of my dependence on the Grace of God, I could not confidently say, “The Lord is my helper”, and I very definitely feared the possibility of losing our little home (a single-wide mobile home.) Yes, there were extended family members who, undoubtedly, would have stepped in and rescued us (and in fact, did, at various times and to various degrees, during that year,) but I saw it as being entirely my responsibility, and I bitterly desired to carry that load myself.

But sometime during that time of near-poverty, I recognized the meaning and practical application of 1st Timothy 6:9, 10 “But they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown man in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil, which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” I saw myself as being in danger of doing just that. I saw other related verses, such as the passage here in Hebrews 13, and I recognized that, while I had always thought of “covetousness” as being primarily a “rich man’s disease,” it is, in truth, a human failing. I am guilty, simply because I do not trust God for my financial and physical well-being, nor for the well-being of my family. I want a “do-it-yourself” security. I have to confess it as sin.

The roots of this sin go deeper than just our human frailties: Isaiah 14:12-14 tells of Lucifer’s fall into sin, completely rooted in self-will, self-importance, self-expression, and self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we attempt to dethrone God, and declare ourselves to be the fountain of all we are and have. People boast of being a “self-made man”, and the like. There is even a poem, Invictus, whose closing lines declare “I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!” (What arrogant folly!) But am I not doing essentially the same thing when I turn away from an active dependence on the living God, and attempt to be self-sufficient? Yes, I am!

There is nothing wrong with working: we are commanded to do so. There is nothing wrong with seeking to care for our families: we are commanded to do so. But we are constantly warned to remember the True Source of all things. 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 paths.” We glibly quote that passage, but don’t we consider the real implications.

This is something for us to think about! So, ponder it! Meditate upon this passage, and consider how it may apply to your own experience. Next time, we will expand further on this passage.

Lord Jesus, Free us from self-will, from self-sufficiency, and from self-reliance. Teach us to walk with you in faith, trusting you for all things.

 

What Child is This?

What Child is This?

© C. O. Bishop, 12/22/2017 THCF 12/24/2017

(Comparing the lyrics of the hymn to the scriptural promises from which it sprang.)

Introduction:

One of the reason I really love the Christmas hymns is that they so frequently carry a pretty faithful representation of the facts of the Gospel, along with a fairly faithful representation of the facts of Christmas. Certainly, one may protest that there are facts overlaid by legend and mythology. That is true. We go to God’s Word to sort out the truth, and frequently still can see that the intent of the author was to honor God, and to reflect the truth of His Word. And, of course, there are glaring exceptions…but those are not the ones I am drawn to. A year or so ago, we took “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an example and found that, actually, the original words were quite accurate, and that the only questionable line in the lyrics was changed by a later hand (and, ironically, became the title of the hymn.)

This Christmas I would like to examine some of the core questions posed in a different Hymn: Today people try to recreate and re-invent The Jesus of the Bible. Even in his day, people denied that He was who He said he was, and within the first century, unbelievers were trying to change the Gospel to something more comfortable. It is not comfortable! The uncomfortable portions of the “Good News” of the Gospel are that way because of the unthinkable wickedness of the Human Race…because of our sin.

Today, as then, the appropriate question is “Who is this Jesus?” Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “who he was”.  Jesus, himself, asked “but who do you say that I am?”

A Little History: In 1865, in Bristol, England, an insurance company employee named William Chatterton Dix fell ill, and became extremely sick. He gradually recovered, and during that period of convalescence he went through some pretty deep depression, during which time, he read his Bible a great deal, possibly for the first time with comprehension. The result was that he went through what he called a “spiritual renewal.” I can’t say whether that was when he first received the Lord Jesus as his personal sacrifice for sins, or whether this is just the time when it deeply impressed him. He wrote a poem during that time, called “the Manger Throne”, from which three stanzas were later lifted when he wrote the Christmas Hymn, “What Child is This?

“Who do the People say that I am?”

Jesus asked the disciples this question, before asking them about their own answer to that question: They said “Some say that you are John the Baptist, and some Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” We can see that there was great controversy, even at that time, as to who Jesus really was. Each person was to be held accountable for their own answer to the question. Pilate later posed a similar, essential question: “What then shall I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” We are each held accountable to the answer to that question, as well.

Every year, for the last several decades, people have gathered for the “Jesus Symposium” or some similar name, where they essentially “reinvent” Jesus, according to their own tastes. But the Jesus of the Bible was a historical person, and is easily proven to have been so. What becomes more difficult is the fact that only the Bible gives us an accurate view of who He really is, because the whole rest of the world has “an axe to grind,” in that, the entire human race is antagonistic toward the holy God of the Bible. We want a God who is more to our taste…so we re-create God in our image, according to Romans 1:21-23.

When William Dix confronted this question from his sick bed, he asked

What Child is This?

We need to address the same question: Who is He really? So let’s look at William Dix’s approach:

What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Where was He to be born? In Bethlehem…fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2. (read it!)

Where was he to be found by the Shepherds? In a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, fulfilling the word of the Angelic messenger to the shepherds as a group. And who were those shepherds told that the baby really was? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” They were not told that he was the king, in that particular context, but, if they knew the Old Testament prophecies (such as the one in Micah 5:2), they would have known that the Messiah (Christ) was to be the Eternal King, as well. So they left their flocks and they hurried into Bethlehem; they made haste, the scriptures say, to go see the newborn king. And they found him just as the Angel had said, along with Joseph and Mary. They went back to their flocks with Great Joy. Did they understand it all? I doubt it…but, then, I don’t really claim to “understand it all,” either.

But, why was he in a manger, and not in some hospital ward or maybe in a palace? Philippians 2:5-8 sheds some light on this: “…he humbled himself.” He not only became part of His own creation, but he became a man, not an angel. He not only became a man, he became a poor man, in a nation that was already a slave-state to Rome, a cruel, ungodly, polytheistic nation. A place where life was cheap, and righteousness was foreign.

He came, not as a conquering hero, but as a tiny, helpless infant, enduring all the hardships of life with the people he had called his own. Did they bring him honor? Not so you’d notice. The shepherds were the only witnesses. But, in that manger bed, all the Promises of the Ages were being fulfilled. He came to save sinners…and his entire life was poured out to that single end.

Take it Personally!

The hymnist recognized what was happening, there, and it shook Him. He was moved to a Godly fear, and he became a true believer, if he had not been one before then. He pondered the fact that those tiny, curled-up baby hands would be the same ones later pierced by spikes, as he was tortured on the Cross. That this tiny, helpless body, when full grown, was the same one which would be pierced through by the Roman spear, as his blood was poured out at the Cross. And he knew it was for himself, personally. “Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through…His blood be shed for me, for you!” Take it personally!

He also realized that this was the fulfillment of John 1:14, where it said that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory…)” We, too, can either embrace that truth, knowing that the Word, which was God, is also the Word which became flesh…and thus we can see His glory…or we can go back to seeing Jesus the way the World sees him: just another dead Jew…or perhaps a tragic martyr…or, even just a myth.

He winds up his hymn, encouraging the listener to join in worshipping the God-in-flesh Savior. To say “bring Him incense” is a call for worship. The incense burned in the temple was only used for that purpose…it was not used to make the home smell nice, or any other common purpose. It was a picture of the prayers, and praises, and worship being offered by believers. How do I know? God says so! Revelation 5:8 says that the incense (odours, KJV) in the vials of the elders (the church) were “the prayers of saints”; saints are the “holy ones of God”: believers! If you are a child of God, God says you are a saint! You may not feel that way (nor do I), but our feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. It is a fact. But he says “Bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” Who did that? It was the wise men. Why did they do it? Remember, they weren’t even there, that first night.

Later, within a year or two, the wise men came from the East, and sought “him who is born King of the Jews”. These wise men were not Jews—these were from the area we now call Iraq, most likely, near what was once ancient Babylon, and may possibly have been some of the last surviving disciples of Daniel, the prophet. He had become one of the head wise men (later called Zoroastrian seers) in Babylon, some 500 years earlier, and he had prophesied of the coming Messiah (Daniel 9:26). They did bring him honor, but later…not at his birth. And the things they brought were appropriate: they brought gold, which was an appropriate gift for a king (and which would be needed for their escape into Egypt); they brought frankincense, which was appropriate to a priest and a sacrifice. They brought myrrh, which was a costly resin, used in medicine and in embalming…appropriate to His death. They recognized him for who He was. We need to do the same thing, and not take lightly the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The hymn-writer says that the way is clear, now, for the lowliest of human slaves, to claim the Savior, as well as for any nobleman willing to humble his or her heart. Queen Victoria was one of those monarchs who humbled her heart and by her own testimony, she was saved. Jesus echoes this, and says, “Whosoever will may come!”

The issue, then, becomes “What will I do with this Jesus, who is called Christ?” That is what Pilate asked, in Matthew 27:22…but then he went on to condemn Jesus to death. He claimed to be innocent, himself, but he was not. He had the authority to do right, and did not do it. God says that is sin (James 4:17). “Therefore, if a man knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Pilate was guilty. We have to choose, as well, what to do with Jesus, the Messiah.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Jesus directed this question to His disciples. Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for that answer. But later, as you remember, Peter denied Jesus…and later still, he went back to commercial fishing…Jesus had to call him again. But God didn’t give up on Peter; He had a use for Peter’s life. And He has a use for yours and for mine.

So… just like Peter, I know who He really is, too …but what am I going to do about it?

The hymn-writer said, “The King of Kings Salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him!” Is that what I will do? Allow him to reign in my heart? Or will I just live life as usual, and let one day follow another for whatever is left of my life, not honoring The King much more than does the World: (“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!”) But no real thought given to the reason we celebrate. Every day of my life, I wake up with one more chance to serve: one more chance to work with Jesus, offering my body a living sacrifice to His glory. Every day I have to choose how to spend my time, how to spend my money…and whether to serve Him, the King of Kings, or to just go ahead and serve my flesh, just doing what I want, to bring honor to myself. And, too frequently, I choose badly.

“Raise, raise, the Song on High!” When we sing together, do you really hear the words? Do you consider the importance of those teachings? Do you sing the words as a song from your own heart? If you do, then the last line says what should be the result:

“Joy! Joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!” We can see Him as the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan and all of His promises to Israel and the World! We can see that the perilous times coming are not directed at us, but at the unbelieving world. We can see that our Savior is coming to take us home, to safety and eternal joy! We can experience, every day, the joy of knowing that He is truly in control, and that, regardless of how bad things look, we are headed for a good conclusion.

Lord Jesus, draw us along into Your Joy. Mature us through the teaching of Your Word, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, re-shaping us into Your own likeness, that we can be able ambassadors of Your Grace and Love to a dying world. Please lift us up, as Your tools, Your hands and Your feet, and use us to Your glory.