Whatsoever He saith unto you, Do it!

Whatsoever He saith unto you, Do it!

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 2:1-11

Introduction:

We have looked at the Wedding Feast at Cana a couple of times now… we have examined God’s Purpose in Miracles, and we have examined what God has to say to us about marriage…but we still haven’t touched on two other important things. Verse 5 has a treasure for us, and verse 9 has a related treasure.

John 2:1-11

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew😉 the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.


We briefly pointed out, two weeks ago, that this is the only command Mary ever gave in Scripture. She is granted no special authority, though she enjoys a most blessed status as the Mother of the Lord: Even before Jesus was born, Mary’s older cousin, Elizabeth, recognized her as the Mother of her Lord. And the baby in her womb, six months along, leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. (Now, how do we know that he wasn’t just kicking? Or that he wasn’t startled by the noise, or something else that is commonplace and mundane? The way we know that it is true, is that when Elizabeth made this statement, she was filled with the Holy Spirit—under the Holy Spirit’s direct control: she was not speaking of her own accord! Luke 1:41-45 tells us the story:

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

All these things really are special, and joyful, but Mary also experienced great tragedy in her life. She was prophetically warned of that coming grief, when Jesus was only a few days old, by an old man named Simeon, in Luke 2:34, 35.

My point is that, in spite of all the blessedness and uniqueness of her position, she was never given any special “pull” with God, and no authority. She herself admitted her own need for a Savior, in Luke 1:47…She was a sinner saved by Grace, same as each of us. She did have the privilege of bearing Him, nursing Him, and watching Him grow to adulthood, to emerge as the Lamb of God! But no one prayed to her…no one crowned her “Queen of Heaven,” or any other such thing, and she would have been horrified to know that such things would one day be said of her. So, when she “nudged” Jesus, telling Him the party had run out of wine, she was banking on her special relationship with Him, but He let her know that the choice was His, not hers. So, she turned to the servants of the household and issued her only Command: “Whatsoever He says to you, do it!”

Whatsoever He says to You

Could that have any application in our lives? “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it?” Have you heard His voice? Can you read His Word, and not “hear His voice?” He is speaking, still today, if we are willing to listen. The Bible is literally the written Word of God. Jesus is literally the Living Word of God, and He is given that label more than once in the New Testament.

The Person with whom Abraham chatted while he fed Him beef, bread, butter and milk was Jesus, in one of His preincarnate appearances! Hebrews 11:3 confirms that the Word of God created the World. And Hebrews 1:10 records God the Father, speaking to God the Son, and confirming that God the Son created the Heavens and the Earth! How does that make you feel about the Bible, which is the black-and-white written representation of the Living Word of God? If Jesus is speaking to you (and He is) through the Word of God, doesn’t it follow that you should be deliberately taking time to read it, and to learn to understand it, so that you, like those servants, can do whatever He says?

Mary’s only command happens to also be the most frequent command in the Bible: “Obey God!” So, what might happen if we learned to walk with Him in obedience? Would everything just be happy and easy, like some people teach? Not necessarily!

Those servants obeyed: they hauled the water…a lot of it! And water is heavy! Scholars tell us that those stone pots each held between 20 and 30 gallons…and there were six of them: that means they hauled between 120 and 180 gallons of water, not knowing why they were doing it. Water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon, so those poor servants, already tired from their work, were called to haul between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds of water, not even counting the weight of the jars or water skins or buckets, they used to haul it.

And then, they dipped the water into the wine containers that they were to carry out to the ruler of the feast: they obeyed! But the next morning they were still lowly servants. Except that, something had changed: Those servants, and Mary, and the disciples, were the only ones beside Jesus who knew what had happened. There was a special blessing for them: a secret joy they shared. They had hauled the water, all right, but He had changed their water into wine!

Turning our Water into Wine

There are going to be some people who have a problem with this passage: I have personally known people who vehemently insisted that “It was grape juice! Jesus would never have created wine!” Their reasoning included the supposition that He was a Nazarite (as was John the Baptist), and couldn’t drink wine…but He said, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said he was demon-possessed: the Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and He is accused of being a winebibber and a glutton!”

Besides, in Psalm 104:14, 15 the scripture tells us that God provides food for us, and wine that makes glad the heart of Man” So, that is what Jesus was doing! The word here in John 2 is “oinos:” exactly the same word as in Ephesians 5:18 where we are warned not to be drunk with wine. (It was wine! Deal with it.) Now, I can’t easily relate to any of that because I can’t stand the taste of alcoholic beverages, for which I am grateful, as it means it is never a temptation to me. And there are many in our society and elsewhere who overindulge in alcohol and it is a huge social problem. And it has been since the beginning of time. Noah started a great tradition almost 3,500 years ago: He went for a long cruise on a ship and when he got off the boat, he got drunk…on wine! Sailors have been doing that ever since! (By the way, the Hebrew word for what Noah drank is “Yayin:” the exact same word used in the Psalm we just quoted.) So, the wine isn’t the problem: our propensity for misusing it is the problem.

Water to Wine?

So, how can this part apply in our lives? If we are a bunch of teetotalers (as I am) is there any application for us? Or is this verse just for people who like wine?

Let’s consider: Is Wine necessary for our survival? Of course not: it was given by God as something special to “make glad the hearts of men.” It is one of the thousands of things that God did not need to do for us, but He did it as a gift. (Yes, I understand the danger therein! Many of His gifts can be wrongly used…but we aren’t going there today.) But Water is absolutely necessary for our survival. So, why didn’t He just leave it at water? Why provide alcohol at all? He already explained that! It was to “make glad the heart of Man!” And that fits with the party Jesus attended.

Let’s back up to another story: In the Book of Ruth, Ruth and others were gleaning in the field of Boaz. They had a legal right to do so. The Law required that if the reapers dropped stalks of grain, they were not allowed to pick it up: it was left for the gleaners. And they could not reap the corners of their fields…that also was for the gleaners. But Boaz commanded his servants that when Ruth was near them, they were to drop extra handfuls of stalks of grain on purpose, so that she would have a good harvest! That was pure Grace! Was it necessary? No! The story of Boaz and Ruth is a picture of Christ and the Church! And Jesus does not just give us the minimum: He pours out His Love and Grace to those who love Him and who walk with Him.

That is what Romans 8:28 is about! 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

If we walk with God, and are looking for His “fingerprints” in our lives, we will learn to find them: He has big hands and He leaves His “fingerprints” everywhere for us to find, in answered prayer, in special Grace by which to overcome the trials of Life, and in the secret Joy of simply walking with Him in Fellowship. He turns our “water” into “wine!”

We thank Him for our daily bread, and humbly trust Him for our sustenance: but He invites us, in Isaiah 55:1, 2, saying “1Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

He says this is not going to be a barren relationship: He will provide joy to the believing heart and grace by which to live…even in hardship, in famine, in disease and even in death.

All we have to do is take personally the command, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it!”

Walk with Him…that is pretty much the bottom line. Micah 6:8 says, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

John 13:34, 35, Jesus gave us a new commandment by which to walk: “Love one another, as I have loved you!”

If you want God to turn the “water” of your survival needs into the Wine of His Joy, you need to learn to walk with Him, in faith and obedience. That is what those household servants did, hauling a half-ton or more of water, by faith. They filled those pots to the brim, it said. And their reward was the secret joy of having seen the first Miracle Jesus did in His earthly ministry.

The Joy we receive can often be shared…but still, only believers will receive that joy. You can share it with unbelievers and it will be a very strange thing to them. They may be attracted to that joy in your life and become believers, or they may accuse you of hypocrisy, as the pharisees did toward Jesus and the disciples. Either way, the Joy can be yours, if you are willing to patiently walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, lead us into a transparent walk with Yourself, and teach us to look for the Joy You supply in life. Open our hearts to the teaching of Your Word and the leading of Your Holy Spirit. Draw us along to see the transformation You have promised.

What do we Know about Marriage?

What do we Know about Marriage?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

Genesis 2:22-24; John 2:1-11; John 4:17, 18; Ephesians 5:21-23; 1st Peter 3:1-9; etc.

Introduction:

In light of the fact that we “just happened” to be studying John 2:1-11 (the Marriage feast at Cana) at the same time as Brennan and Addie were getting married, it seems appropriate to talk about Marriage as a concept. But not much is really said about the subject, here, in John 2:1-11.

There are certain passages which are “traditionally” quoted in regard to marriage as a concept, pointing out the fact that it is not only designed by God and ordained by God, and blessed by God, but that it is Holy to God. It is important to Him! I’d like to explore why that is the case: Why is marriage so important to God?

Origin of Marriage

One of the passages frequently cited is the actual origin of marriage, as part of the Creation. It was not a simple “mating” of two members of the “animal kingdom,” as humanists would have us to believe: there was something special that God ordained, here in Genesis 2:22-24. KJV

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

That passage is cited in virtually every Christian wedding, as evidence that marriage is God-ordained, and blessed by God, etc. But we seldom discuss why it is something special to God.

Examples of Marriages…Good and Bad

We also tend to cite John 2:1-11 as evidence that Jesus honored marriage, and we correctly point out that He performed His first public miracle at a wedding feast.

What about the example cited in John 4:17, 18…”the Woman at the Well?”

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.


You see, just “living together” does not constitute marriage. Jesus did not say, “you have had five husbands and you are working on a sixth:” He said, “the one you have now is not your husband.” So, we see that there is a standard for marriage, and apparently it varies wildly across the thousands of different cultures in the World. Some cultures require lots of ceremony: others require a simple statement of intent. Some have laws protecting women, whereby, if you spend the night with them, you are married, like it or not. Some are even more strict…if you lure her away with you, and she goes, you are married, even though you never even got out of sight of the girl’s family!

I remember reading of a missionary’s account of such a situation: A young man was interested in a young lady, and evidently believed she was also interested in him. The young fellow crept through the underbrush of the jungle, to the edge of her family’s garden and beckoned the young girl to follow him: and she did, but before they had escaped into the jungle the girl’s mother spotted them and furiously ran to catch up with them. She raged at them, and beat both of them savagely with her digging tool, but she finally went back to her field alone: they were married! So the standard exists everywhere, but it varies a great deal, in appearance.

A Hidden Purpose for Marriage

The Genesis passage is also quoted by God, in Ephesians 5:21-33, almost as a footnote, as the Apostle Paul gives revelation as to how husbands and wives are to relate to one another:

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.

We usually use this passage along with other similar passages, to teach about the marriage relationship. That is a good thing to do, and that is the intentof those verses. But look more closely at what was said, here: Remember that this is God’s Word, not just Paul’s opinion: and He says that the verse He quoted from Genesis demonstrates that marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and the Church! We know that; it has been taught many times over. But look at when that pattern was given: it was given before sin entered into the world!

God knew ahead of time that humans would fall into sin, and that Jesus the Messiah would die for the sins of the whole human race, and that those who trusted in Him would enter into a relationship that is unmatched anywhere in the Universe: That the Holy God who created them would actually indwell those who trusted in Him; that they would become one with Him, as a body is One with the Head. And we can see that He was already committed to that relationship before sin became an issue. He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” (Revelation 13:8) And, we knew that! But He was also already committed to being the Bridegroom, long before the Bride existed!

In 1st Peter 3:1-9, we see an amplification of the commands given in Ephesians 5, along with a warning to the husbands that if we ignore this command, it will affect our relationship with God.

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.

A Two-way Relationship

So, when we choose to respond to one another rightly in marriage, as God teaches, we are demonstrating that Holy relationship between Christ and the Church. Consider the implications of that statement. It goes two ways: it means that the love and respect spoken of here are supposed to be in our relationship with our spouse; but it also gives some insight as to what is available in our relationship with Jesus! It means that, as we learn to walk with Him, there is a partnership being built with Him: one which can actually be enjoyed on a daily basis, and one which we can be excited about, as we work with the Bridegroom, doing His work.

Wives working with their husbands to build a physical house are excited to see it growing into a habitation for the two of them and their family. And usually, they are excited about decorating it, furnishing it, and making it a home, not just a well-built structure. That is why we sometimes refer to such a person as a homemaker…Most men do not naturally think in terms of “making a house a home.” They want it solid, functional, code-compliant, attractive, etc., but they frequently have little imagination beyond that. I do not think I am unusual when I say that, without Ann’s touch, our house would not be nearly so much a “home” as perhaps a “cabin,” or a “hunting lodge,” or something. Possibly even just a “workshop with living quarters attached.” But Ann works constantly to make it a pleasant habitation for us: because of her, and her work, it is a home.

Proverbs 14:1 says that “every wise woman builds her house.” She works to strengthen her household, her home, her family. It goes on to say that a foolish woman “plucks it down with her hands.” She behaves in such a way as to tear down the relationships that make for a secure home environment for all of her family.

Proverbs 31:10-31 describe a woman who is wisely, diligently building up her household. But, if we consider the fact that the Church is compared to the Bride, and that the Marriage relationship is specifically called out as a picture of Christ and the Church, then we can gain some insight as to how the Church is supposed to be carrying on the business of God, here on earth, and pursuing the agenda He has laid out for us.

God says that He is building His Church, and that He involves us in the building process. He says “That which every joint supplieth” is what is strengthening and building up that “Habitation of God” that He has designed us—The Church—to be, for Him.

So, Why is Marriage Holy to God?

Marriage is Holy to God, because it is a living demonstration of the relationship He wants with every believer. So, we need to think about what we are demonstrating: He says we are to Love one another, and that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We see one another as fellow-heirs of the Grace of Life in Him. We love one another with the Agapé Love, in Him. God describes that Love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

Please notice that not one word in this passage has anything to do with “feelings:” this is not about romance; it is not about emotions, or how we feel, at all. Every single descriptor in that passage is an action word: a verb. They are things we can choose to do. That also means they are things we can fail to do. Every moment, we either choose to do them or we fail to do them. And it is a choice, whether a conscious choice, or not.

Ephesians 4:1-3 tells us how to relate to one another, knowing that we are not perfect. It says we are to “Forbear one another in Love.” It says we are to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” God created that unity: all we can hope to do is to keep that unity. We are to accept one another as the imperfect humans that we are, looking through the veil of human frailty to see the beauty of the Person of Christ within. God has chosen to set aside our sin, nailing it to the Cross with Jesus. He no longer sees us as sinners, but as His precious saints: holy, and members of His Bride. We need to see one another in that light as well.

Marriage is Permanent, just like our Salvation

Jesus assures us over and over in the Bible that our position in Him is secure forever: His Blood at the Cross has forever made us holy to God. In light of that, your marriage is to be secure for life. Never leave one another, nor even “threaten to leave:” that is a gross denial of Christ.

We may be angry with one another sometimes (hopefully it is quickly resolved, and peace is restored,) but we are never to even imply that we might sever the relationship as a result. That is what our vows are about in marriage. That is why we say, “as long as we both shall live.” Jesus will never abandon his saints. We are never to abandon our loving commitment to one another.

Jesus Himself addressed the permanence of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6.

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.


Jesus made that pretty clear, didn’t He? But, are there exceptions?

Exceptions

There are passages that seem to make exceptions: Jesus said “Except for the cause of fornication…” Well, there are two different words in Greek, just as there are in English, for premarital sexual sin, and extramarital sexual sin. One is called “fornication” in scripture, the other is called “adultery.”

You see, in their culture, “betrothal,” or “engagement” was such a serious agreement that it required a divorce to break an engagement. (We take engagement pretty lightly by comparison.) Sexual sin during the betrothal period was called fornication, just as it would have been without that engagement. This was the only exception Jesus gave.

This, by the way, is the reason Joseph was about to seek a quiet, secret divorce from Mary, when he found out she was pregnant: He thought she had committed “fornication.” And, he would have been behaving correctly, as Jesus said; but God sent the angel Gabriel to clear up the matter: Mary had not sinned.

Joseph believed God and, by faith, he went ahead with the wedding. (Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.)  Joseph lived the rest of his life with others believing he had sinned. Mary lived the rest of her life with others thinking she had sinned. Only the two of them knew the real truth.

Conclusion:

How you view marriage as a concept will affect how your marriage actually functions. If you (both Husband and wife) see it as God sees it, you will find it a total blessing, as you work together in partnership with the Living Christ. If you do not see it that way, nor choose to live that way (and, yes, it takes two,) then, to whatever degree you vary from His plan and purpose, the marriage will suffer accordingly. The World has long abandoned God’s values, and rejected them wholesale: so, marriages and husband-wife relationships suffer, everywhere in the world.

We are to demonstrate the reality of Christ to the World through our marriages, as well as through our spoken testimony and our overall behavior. This is a key example of what it means when Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love one to another.” The love that others can observe in action between you and your spouse is one of the two criteria Jesus gave to the World, by which to judge the church. Love is one, and Unity is the other. How you respond to your husband or wife will proclaim to the world the nature of your relationship with Jesus. Give that some thought!

Lord Jesus, all of us desire to have fruitful lives and peaceful, joyful, loving marriages. Grant us the wisdom to apply Your Word to our lives in such a way as to build that reality in our lives. Make us the men and women You have called us to be, and enable us as Your ambassadors.

The Word Became Flesh

The Word Became Flesh

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

The Incarnation (Part Two)


John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8

Introduction

Last week we introduced the subject of the Incarnation, going all the way back to Genesis, showing that while God the Son had appeared repeatedly throughout the whole Old Testament, until He was actually born as a human, with the express purpose of having a mortal body, so that He could die for us, He could not be the Savior; God’s chosen sacrifice for Sin.

We talked about the concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer, (pictured in the person of Boaz, in the Book of Ruth) who had to:

Jesus became our relative by being born: a genuine human, in a genuine human body, lacking only the sin nature. (Evidently the Sin Nature is passed through the man, as we are all called the “seed of Adam.” But Jesus was born without a human father, as “the Seed of Woman,” sired by the Holy Spirit, and so lacked the inborn slavery to sin—He was Free!) Having that clean Human body, unencumbered by Sin, He possessed the price to be paid. And, finally, He went to the Cross willingly. He told his disciples, “No Man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:18)

Without the Incarnation, as spelled out in the Scriptures, Jesus could not be our Savior…nor could he be the Messiah, nor the King of the Jews as promised in scripture. But “The Word was made Flesh:” the full, Biblical Incarnation is critical to God’s entire plan of Salvation!

So, we need to consider how that affects our lives. What resources does the Incarnation of God the Son, the Living Word of God, provide for our lives?

The Resources of the Incarnation:

What impact does it have in our lives?

We know Jesus really lived and died, and we know that He really was God in the flesh. So…What now? Is this just “good, fun stuff to know and tell?” No!

The Rebuke of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation, as spelled out by the entire Bible, stands as an eternal rebuke to our wayward hearts, because we have no excuse for our bad responses to our circumstances, or our bad responses to those around us. Our irritations, angers, jealousies, vengeful thoughts, and general self-centeredness have to be set aside if we will embrace the Incarnation of Christ.

His perfect life stands as an eternal challenge to those who follow Him. We cannot surpass Him, but He calls us to emulate Him. Ephesians 5:1 says “Be ye therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children.” And, 1st John 2:6 says that he who says he abides in Christ “ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.”

So, when I am finally able to recognize that my anger, my impatience, and my self-centeredness are all sin, what can I do to change it? If I had been able to clean myself up, by my own efforts, by self-abasement, self-flagellation, self-denial, or other religious works of “do-it-yourself” piety, then I would not need a Savior! Paul said, in Galatians 5:21, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness is come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

In fact, Jeremiah 2:22 says that no matter how hard I scrub, and no matter how harsh the cleansing agent is, my sins will still be with me. But Isaiah 1:16-18 says that I can become clean! Psalm 51:7 tells me how: David said, “purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

God has to do the cleansing… the “hyssop” refers back to the Passover, where the blood was struck upon the lintel and the two doorposts, using a bundle of hyssop to apply the blood. The means of our cleansing is still through the blood of the Cross. 1st John 1:7 (speaking to believers only)says that “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”

In John 13:8, Jesus told Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” Jesus has to do the washing. But then, restored to fellowship, we are free to stand up and walk in the Light with Him again. And that is what we are exhorted to do!

The Exhortation of the Incarnation: Following Jesus

Paul addressed this truth in Philippians 2:5-8

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


This is the eternal challenge, or exhortation of the Incarnation: Paul first described how we are to live, in verses 1-4,

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.


Notice what Paul did, here: He spelled out the key issues of self-centeredness and pride, but contrasted then with the Love, and Mercy, and Comfort, and Consolation, and Fellowship, and Unity in Christ, resulting in peace, humility, and unselfishness. Then he capped the argument in verses 5-8 by saying that we are to live the way Jesus demonstrated in His Incarnation:

I have no idea what the future holds for any of us, whether individually, or as a church, but God says that we are to embrace the mindset of Christ, in His incarnation.

Every single child of God is also called to be His full-time ambassador. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called, according to His purpose.”

You know, it is strange: I have never heard anyone quote that verse and then say, “Well, yeah, but I don’t feel called!” Furthermore, we often forget the next two verses which clearly state that if you belong to Him, then you are called! There is no “special” order of believers who are “the called” and others who are just saved, but not called to function. We are all called to grow into the full stature of Christ, to become His hands and His feet in this sin-ruined World, and to offer Him as the living Bread and the Living Water to all who will receive Him. We are all called to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is called our “reasonable service of worship.”

Answering the Call of the Incarnation

If you can grasp the fact that you are called by God, then the only remaining question is “How will I respond to the Call of God?”

Isaiah responded (in Isaiah 6:8) with the famous “Here am I, Lord, send me!

Jonah, of course, ran away, and tried to hide: God gave him a “free water-taxi ride” back to the beach, so he could reconsider the call.

Balaam obeyed, initially, but then went and acted as a traitor to God’s priorities, trying to make money in the bargain, and sell out the nation of Israel.

Jeremiah was called by God, but tried to beg off, saying he was too young to serve. God told him, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee and ordained thee as a prophet to the nations.” And Jeremiah reluctantly obeyed the call. He had a rough ministry, too: very few responded well to his ministry.

Saul of Tarsus got “slapped off his mule” by the vision of Christ and the brightness of his glory: But, when Jesus identified himself, Saul gave the straight-forward reply, “What wouldst thou have me to do, Lord?” He committed himself to obedience, carte-blanche…sight-unseen. He accepted the call unquestioningly and took his marching orders immediately thereafter. He eventually became the Apostle Paul. (Incidentally, the name “Saul” means “asked for:” He was named after the first king of Israel. But he abandoned that name and was called “Paul,” meaning, “little” or “insignificant.” That is an interesting transformation: Paul never sought personal glory or pay for his service: He obviously remembered that it was Jesus whom he served.

So…How will you respond? Like Jonah? Like Jeremiah? Or like Isaiah and Paul? One way or another, each of us have been called to serve the Risen Christ. You have to choose how to respond. God help each of us to consistently respond in such a way as to become the men and women of God we have been called to be.

Lord Jesus, add Your divine Mercy and encouragement to the preaching of Your Word, and raise us up as disciples, honoring you in our lives, acting as your ambassadors, Pouring out your Grace to the World around us.

Gifts and Goals

Gifts and Goals

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:1-15

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

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

Introduction:

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

The Gifts and the Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goals

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

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

So there are seven things to look for:

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter’s Closing Admonition

Final Encouragement

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 5:5-14

Introduction:

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

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

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Agape Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoicing in Persecution

Rejoicing in Persecution

© 2021 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 4:12-19

Introduction:

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

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

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

Don’t be Surprised!

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

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

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

Rejoice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.

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

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

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

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

What is Sin?

Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:

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

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

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

If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allow God to Work!

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

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

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

How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Abstain from Fleshly Lusts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honoring Man, while Honoring God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the “Goal” of our Salvation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security of the Believer (Pt. 1)

Introduction to Peter’s Epistles:

Security of the Believer (Part 1)

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:1-5

Introduction:

We never want to forget that the Author of any portion of Scripture is God, but I think it is important to remember the identity of the writers as well: The writer, in this case is the Apostle Peter, and it was written probably about A.D. 60. But let’s give some thought to Peter: This is Peter, the companion of Jesus, the commercial fisherman, the one who openly struggled with his humanity, and truly desired to overcome it and walk with Jesus. This is the Commercial fisherman who absolutely knew the danger of going overboard in a storm but was willing to deliberately step out of the boat, to “go for a walk on the water” with Jesus.

This is the same Peter who was sternly rebuked by Jesus for trying to prevent Jesus’s journey to the Cross; the same who swore he would be true to the death, but a few days later, denied he even knew the Lord. The same Peter who ran to the gravesite, and barged right into the empty tomb, seeing for himself the empty grave-clothes, and the folded face covering. This is the same Peter who loved Jesus with all his heart, as a human, and knew his own shortcoming: he couldn’t profess a greater love. The same Peter, who tradition holds was crucified upside down, by his own request, as he didn’t feel he was worthy to die just as Jesus did. We don’t know the manner of his death in detail, and I can’t prove the traditional tale true or false. But all the other notes are directly from scripture.

Remembering who Peter was, as a human, leaves me a little surprised at his understanding of “heavy doctrines,” which may explain why it astonished the Jews of the time as well. What you and I need to remember is that it was a supernaturally-supplied understanding. In the first place, his personal tutor was God the Son! In the second place, when he began his preaching ministry in the book of Acts, he was not only indwelt by, but also “full of” (under the influence of) God the Holy Spirit. The Jews were amazed (Acts 4:8-12), and said, “How could an uneducated man learn these things?” Let us not make the mistake of judging the authorship by what we know of the writer: Peter was just “the guy carrying the bucket!” The one who filled it was God. God is the Author of this epistle, just as He is the Author of the rest of the Bible.

This epistle was to a large group of scattered individuals, not to an individual, nor to a specific assembly in a given town. But the way he describes them in the first five verses allows us to realize that we are also included. Like the other epistles, this is to You.

Security of the Believer

Chapter One

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Key Words and Ideas in the first five verses of this epistle:

I have underscored about 30 words or phrases in these first five verses. If we can grasp the significance of these few words and phrases, we will be well on our way to studying the whole epistle:

Peter (Greek ‘petros’): This is not just “the man’s name:” it is the new name given to Simon Bar-Jonas, by Jesus, and it means “a rock”…a stone, such as one might pick up and move, to be used for some purpose. This is not to be confused with ‘Petra’ which meant an unmovable bedrock: the kind a building is founded upon, not to be moved. Peter is not the “rock” upon which Jesus was to build His church. The Truth about Jesus is! (Matthew 16:18)

Apostle: The word simply means a “sent one.” There is a gift called “apostle,” and that gift is a person. Peter was one of those gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16). Are there others beside the original 12? Well, there at least were others: Paul was one, for sure. Some think he was the only other one, but in Acts 14:14 both Barnabas and Paul were identified as Apostles. There is some evidence that Apollos was recognized as an apostle. It is possible that the number even included Priscilla and Aquila, but all it says is that they were “of note among the apostles.” At any rate, that is what the word means, and as far as I can see, their primary task was to plant the churches. There are people who argue that they also had to write scriptures. The problem with that idea is that there are only eight writers of the New Testament, and only four of them were called apostles. Mark was not an apostle. Neither was Luke. The “James” who wrote the epistle of James is almost certainly not James the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, but rather one of the brothers of the Lord, who was not even a believer during the Lord’s earthly ministry. And Jude did not claim apostleship, but only said he was James’ brother. Just something to consider.

Jesus: this is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name we pronounce “Joshua.” It means “The LORD (YHWH) Saves;” which is especially significant because the angel Gabriel announced that his name should be called Jesus because He would save his people from their sins. This is the name before which it is said “every knee shall bow, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the name of which it is said “…there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This is His personal name, as the Savior, and not just during his earthly ministry. It is his chosen name forever, regardless of into what languages it is translated. Not the pronunciation of it, but the name itself: the “content” of the name.

Christ: This is a Greek word, too, meaning, “the anointed one,” which is what the Hebrew term “Messiah” means.  That is His “office”, as being “chosen and sent by God”…it is not his “last name.” When we refer to Jesus Christ, we are referring to Jesus as the “anointed one” from God, who was sent as our one and only Blood Sacrifice by which the sins of the entire Human race were to be washed away. It means, Jesus the Messiah: Jesus, the Anointed One. The world uses it as a curse, when, in fact, it is a point of worship. He is “The Anointed One!” There is no other!

Strangers: This epistle was especially addressed to the “dispersion:” the Jews who had been scattered among the nations, but specifically the Messianic Jews—the believers among the dispersion (perhaps specifically those who had been scattered after the persecution in Jerusalem)…not just any foreign-born Jew. Remember that the scattered tribes had been gathered in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost, for the feast of tabernacles. Those who became believers in Jesus stayed in Jerusalem because of the Gospel. When persecution arose, they were scattered again (Acts 8:1) and possibly began drifting back to their homes among the nations. But we are told that wherever they went, the Gospel went. They shared their faith! These are the original recipients of this epistle. But we are to be that sort of person as well.

Elect: This word means “chosen.” A lot of controversy comes over the understanding of this word, so we will address it later, except to point out that it does not always have anything to do with salvation. Aaron’s rod was called “elect,” too, as were the vessels in the temple. It simply means “Chosen.” Rather than spending a lot of time on the subject right now, I would like to point out that the whole Gospel is addressed to “Whosoever Will.” (Revelation 22:17) We see the invitation on the outside of the “gate” or “door,” so to speak, saying, “Whosoever Will May Come! “ Then, by Grace, through faith, we step across that threshold, entering into a permanent relationship with the Creator, through Jesus’ Blood at the Cross. But later on, we begin to learn more, and we look around; finally turning to look back and ask “How did I get in here?” And, on the inside of that same door, we see the sign, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the Earth!” God chose in Eternity Past, to save all those “In Christ.” Those who respond in faith are automatically part of that group. There is nothing in the scripture to indicate that God deliberately chose the majority of the Human Race to end up in eternal punishment. We choose that ourselves.

Foreknowledge: This goes right along with “election:” we have no doubt about the absolute foreknowledge of God. That’s the way He presents His “Credentials” in Isaiah 46:10. He “declares the end from the beginning.”  We will address both of these ideas more thoroughly, later in this study. Yes, God knew from Eternity Past who would choose to believe Him, and who would not. But He also chose to go to the Cross and die for the sins of even those who rejected Him. You will never meet a person for whom Jesus didn’t die; a person whose sins were not under His Blood. 1st John 2:2 specifies that Jesus did not die “…for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God knows in advance who will come, but the offer and the promise is genuine.

God: The Greek word is “Theos.” It is His “office”…” it is what He is.” This is not His name. The name he offered to Moses, to give to Israel, was ‘I AM.” The name by which Abraham knew Him was what we call the “Tetragrammaton:” the “YHWH” four-letter “puzzle,” which no one seems to know how to pronounce. (I think Acts 4:12 is a good answer to that puzzle, by the way.) But this passage specifically refers to God the Father.

At this point we are beginning to touch upon the doctrine of the Trinity. In Isaiah 9:6, 7, we are told that “the Son”, the long-awaited Child, of whom we sing at Christmas, “…shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father!” So, at that point I gave up. Jesus confirmed that the Father is greater than He, but this scripture says Jesus is the Father. And, in Acts 5 and in Acts 13, we see the Holy Spirit identified as God, as well. So…I will drop it right there. I think the Trinity is a true “mystery,” and I seriously doubt that it is decipherable by human intellect.

Sanctification: the word means “being set apart for a special purpose.” Like the word “elect,” it can be used for inanimate objects, not just humans. But in the case of humans: saved individuals have become the Lord’s personal property, and are for His use and His honor only. We have been declared holy! Give that some thought, as to how it may apply to your own life. When the vessels from the temple, which were declared Holy, were defiled by enemies who stole them and used them in idolatrous feasts, did they lose their “holy” status? No! They had to be cleansed, and restored to proper use, but they were still God’s personal Property. So are we! So, when we have sinned, and are out of fellowship with God, we are no less holy, positionally, but we are defiled, in terms of condition. We need to be cleansed and restored! That is what 1st John 1:9 is all about: the restoration of a sinning believer.

The Spirit: This is in reference to the Holy Spirit: there is not as much information about the third member of the Godhead as we might like there to be. There is enough, however. He chooses to not speak of Himself, but of Jesus. The bookstores are loaded with extrabiblical books about the third member of the Godhead which are largely false. But there is sufficient information in the scriptures for our use, and Jesus specifically said that the Holy Spirit would not glorify Himself, but only Jesus. We need to keep that in mind, when we are trying to gain “greater spiritual experiences.” Does it really glorify Jesus, or do we simply want a thrill?

Obedience: The Greek word here, is “hupakoe”, meaning to “hearken submissively” or, along with that idea, to “set in order below”…in other words, deliberately choosing for ourselves the “lower rank,” where Jesus is concerned, and taking His Word as authoritative. Interesting concept, isn’t it? Notice that both the word “Obedience” and the following phrase, “the sprinkling of Blood,” are both in reference to the Lord Jesus.

Sprinkling of Blood: This refers back to the Old Testament sacrificial system, under which an object was declared holy through the sprinkling of the blood of a holy sacrifice: a priest or other believer was declared holy (as well as cleansed) by the same sort of sprinkling. This was completely fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ, whose Blood did not just “cover” our sin (which is what happened at the day of Atonement, each year) but “takes away the sin of the World,” according to the statement made by John the Baptist, in John 1:29. These Jewish Christians were quite familiar with the Old Testament teachings regarding Blood. They had no trouble understanding what Peter meant. He stated it fully, though: “…Obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”…so this is not some generic requirement of obedience, nor of any “other” blood. Both are about Jesus. And all of these people had heard Jesus, and had “hearkened submissively.” This is the “obedience to the faith,” called out in Romans 1:5. Paul made it more clear a few verses later, in Romans 1:16, where he stated that the Gospel, being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. This is Obedience to the faith. Does it result in more “physical” obedience? Surely it does, yes, but the initial choice to place one’s dependence on the shed blood of Jesus at the Cross for salvation, is the “obedience of faith” that resulted in the “Sprinkling of Blood” upon that believer’s soul, and which cleanses him or her before God, forever!

Conclusion: (Yes it means You!)

If you have heard the Gospel, the “good news” that Jesus’s blood was the full payment for your sins: If you have believed that news, and placed your trust in His shed blood for your salvation, then according to Jesus’s personal promise in John 5:24, all of the things we have been talking about are true of you!

You have been “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the earth!” You have been declared Holy, by the “sprinkling of His blood” and You are His personal Property, forever!

Yes, you entered in because you saw or heard the invitation, “Whosoever Will may Come!” But you can now look back and see that you were chosen in Him, specifically because you were “one who would respond in faith.” So, now, when you read the first chapter of Ephesians, and see all the amazing “positional truths” laid out there, you can know for sure that all those things are true of You, not just some “theoretical person.”

Next week we will continue in 1st Peter, and see the remaining concepts concerning our eternal position in Christ.

Lord Jesus, please secure our hearts against the fear that the Enemy sows in us. Let us rest in your Promise, not in our own wisdom or reasoning. Help us to obey out of Love and confidence, not fear, as we rest in your promise and your Love.

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.

Looking for the Lord’s Return

Looking for the Lord’s Return

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

The Disciples wanted the Kingdom!

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

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

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

Looking for and hasting unto the Day of God

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

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

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

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

So What about all the rumors and attacks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other “Conspiracy theories”

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

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

What about the Mark of the Beast?

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

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

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

What about the “One World Government?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Famous Historical Example of Satan’s Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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