Posts Tagged ‘saints’

Philippians: A Personal Note

Philippians: A Personal Letter from Paul

© C. O. Bishop 9/15/17 Cornell Estates 9/17/17

Philippians 1:1, 2 

Introduction:

When we read the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the church at Philippi, we can sense the relationship he had with the believers in that church:  This is a very personal letter. It is written to people who knew and loved Paul, and were loved by him in return. They were his friends! I believe it was also intended to be a “circular” letter, as all his epistles have been regarded, but the primary recipients were the believers; the church, at Philippi.

The apparent date is around A.D. 64, and it was evidently written from prison. There has been some controversy as to which prison, and even which time he was in prison, but the references to “the palace” in 1:13, and the greeting from “…they of Caesar’s household…”, in 4:22 seem to make it clear that his incarceration was in Rome, which would also agree with Acts 28. Undoubtedly there were other imprisonments, as we know from Paul’s own testimony, and, in fact, one was actually in the city of Philippi (which we can read in Acts 16). But this specific imprisonment was evidently in Rome.

One of the most impressive things about this letter is the lack of correction—these Christians were already living their faith, and Paul had no word of rebuke for them; only words of encouragement. The letters to the church at Corinth were loaded with corrective teaching, as was the letter to the churches of Galatia. But Philippi was a church whose faith had been strengthened by persecution, and which had joined with Paul in the work of evangelism, supporting him, as best they could, as he went from town to town.

Greetings:

1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
2 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the things we can notice immediately in the opening lines of the letter to the Philippians is that it is not the same opening greeting that he uses elsewhere. In other epistles he begins by identifying his office (“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God…” or something similar). In this book, he just introduces himself and Timothy as fellow-servants: this church already knew who he was; they did not need his credentials.

As we read on in this book, and compare with the other epistles that refer to this church, as well as in the book of Acts (chapter 16), we can perhaps see why this is so. Paul has had a warm relationship with these folks from the very beginning. He had personally led many of them to Christ. They had given regularly, to support his ministry, when he, himself, was far away (Philippians 4:10-18)—evidently not because he asked them to, but simply because they loved him and wanted to share in his work.

So, since they knew Paul and Timothy, and were his partners in the work, he only identified himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, and he addressed himself “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi,” as well as to the “bishops and deacons.”

It is important to notice that the letter was to the church, along with the leadership, not the other way around. Jesus is still talking to His Flock: He does not require us to go through the hierarchy of a priesthood, or any sort of ecclesiastical “chain of command” to reach the throne of God.

We approach God through the Person of Jesus Christ alone. God approaches us in the same way. We are invited to personally read and study and understand His Word… ourselves! We are not told to submit all thought and understanding to some higher-ranking church authority. We are each called, individually, to do three things, revealed later in this book:

  1. Know the Shepherd, personally
  2. Learn His Word, carefully and thoroughly
  3. Join Him in His Work, joyfully and faithfully.

Note that all three of these things are only done through the power of the Holy Spirit… they cannot be done through self-effort or Human reasoning.

To All the Saints:

Something else to bear in mind is that the word “saint” does not mean “pious” or “goody-goody”, or “self-righteous”. Nor is it in reference to people who have been “beatified” by the pope, or some other religious leader. The word “saint” simply means “holy”, or “set apart for a special purpose”. In adjectival form, “holy” can refer to a person, a place, a building, or an object. But in this case, it points out the fact that God is calling out a people for His name, and that those people, who have responded in faith, belong to Him. They are unchangeably set apart for His purpose.

Any object in the temple was holy because it was set apart for a prescribed use in the temple. If someone misused it, it did not change the fact that it belonged to the temple, and was holy. It simply had to be cleansed before resuming temple use. (There is a good lesson there, for us: how do we apply it to the individual believer? When we sin, we need cleansing, but we have already been permanently set apart for God’s service.)

If you have heard of God’s judgment and Grace, and have recognized that you are a helpless, guilty sinner, and have placed your faith in Jesus’s shed blood at the Cross as full payment for your sin, then God has made you a saint.

You still sin, because He has not taken away your will, nor your sin nature, but: you already belong to Him, and He sees you in Christ, for eternity. He will never fail to see you as holy—a saint, belong to His family and to His service. When you have sinned, He will simply have to cleanse you before using you again in His service. But your position in His family has not changed…and never will! 

1st John 1:7-9 says, “When 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, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(John 13:8-11, and 15:3—notice the context of 13:30—Judas was no longer there.)

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was demonstrating this principle. He told Peter that anyone who was “washed”, was clean all over, and needed only to wash his feet, because of the dirty environment they walked through. He said that not all of them had been washed (referring to Judas Iscariot,) and later, after Judas had left, he reiterated that the other disciples were already clean through the Word they received from Him…they had become believers. Judas had not. They were already saints; Judas was not.

All a believer needs is confession, and fellowship is restored.

What about the Bishops and Deacons?

I find it heart-warming, somehow, to see that the Bishops and Deacons are part of the Church; not the other way around. The only reason shepherds exist is because there is a flock…and, the flock belongs to God, not to the shepherds. The shepherds belong to God as well. They are part of the flock they feed and care for.

It is also interesting to note that the bishops and deacons were always plural. A careful reader will see that this is the normal case throughout the entire New Testament. Paul sent Timothy and Titus, for example, with instructions to ordain elders (plural) in every church (singular). That is a subject for a different sermon. We will not address the relative merits of differing church structures and systems, beyond recognizing that this is definitely the Biblical case.

Grace and Peace

As in all Paul’s epistles, Grace and Peace are offered in that order—Grace, and Peace. It is impossible to experience the Peace of God, or even Peace with God, without first receiving the Grace of God. Both come from the source–God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is one more evidence that this book is strictly to believers: In John 8:44, Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your Father the Devil…” (So much for the “universal Fatherhood of God!”).  In all his epistles Paul only addressed believers as his brothers. (There was at least one occasion in the book of Acts where he did address his fellow Jews as “brethren.”) But he only refers to God as being the “Father” of believers: he makes no exceptions!

God does not claim the whole human race as his children, though He is certainly their Creator. It is only by birth that we enter into a human family as offspring. And it is only by the second birth that we became the offspring of God—his children. Jesus told Nicodemus that only via the second birth could he enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, ff) In John 1:12, we are told that to those who received Him (specifically, those who believed in His name) was given the right to become (genesthai—be generated as) children (tekna, meaning, literally, “born ones”—offspring) of God.

So, it is not a light thing that Paul refers to God as “our Father”—nor is it simply a title, or a term of convenience. It is a fact: he has become our real Father. And so is the fact that he calls Jesus “Lord”—it is a fact, that every child of God is under the lordship of Jesus Christ…owing Him full obedience, loyalty and love. (Do we consistently live that way? Hardly….)

The names here, too, are loaded with meaning: “Jesus” means, “Jehovah saves”—God said in Isaiah 43:11 that beside himself there is no savior, and confirms it in the name of His son. When the angel Gabriel spoke with Joseph, in Mathew 1:21, he said “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save His people from their sins.” Do you see the implication? God said, that other than himself there was no savior. Then he said “call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins…” Jesus is the savior, and his name means “Jehovah is savior.” The deity of Jesus Christ is in view, here. Jesus truly is God in the Flesh.

By the way, the name “Christ” is not Jesus’s “last name”…it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”—meaning “the Anointed One”.  So, we are greeted in the name of the Lord (master, owner, leader and teacher) Jesus (Jehovah, the savior) Christ (the anointed one). It would be a serious mistake to simply “brush over” these words of the first two verses as if they were only a polite greeting. The longer I study God’s Word, the more convinced I become that there is nothing accidental or casual about it. We need to read carefully, and consider what He is telling us, in every passage.

Conclusion:

We have been addressed as the holy ones (the saints) of God, in the name of our real Father, the Creator God, and specifically, the Name of our Master and Savior, The Anointed one, Jesus, the Messiah. In the coming weeks we will go on to read what the Lord has to say to us.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves as you see us, holy and blameless before you. Help us to learn to walk in that reality, and to be the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


No Condemnation (Part Three)

The Spirit of Adoption

© C. O. Bishop 1/21/16 THCF 1/24/16

Romans 8:14-27

Introduction:

We have studied the book of Romans over the last several months and we are currently in the middle of the eighth chapter. The key point in Romans eight is that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus….”

But there are various ramifications to the fact that there is no condemnation awaiting us. One is that, as believers, we are all indwelt by the Spirit of God. Another is the fact that we still have our old sin nature, and a constant battle of vigilance, as we learn to walk steadfastly with Christ.

But a third aspect of our new life in Christ is a subject that sounds familiar (because we use the same word in our culture) but which actually is much more profound than seems immediately obvious. This is the subject of Adoption, and along with it, the Spirit of Adoption.

There are numerous points made in verses 14-27. I am going to touch on just 15 of them:

  1. We are already the Sons (Greek huios… “heirs”) of God.
  2. We have …present tense… the Spirit of Adoption.
  3. The Spirit assures us that we are the children, (Greek tekna: born-ones) of God.
  4. Because we are the offspring of God, we are his heirs, but specifically “joint-heirs” (as opposed to co-heirs; which we will discuss later.)
  5. We believers will all inherit in Christ; but how much we inherit is conditional upon how we serve and “suffer” with Him. (This is not asceticism, by the way. The word “suffering” is associated with the concept of submission, not specifically pain.)
  6. There is Glory coming for all re-born believers, to one degree or another.
  7. That Glory will be revealed when the Sons of God are announced and presented publicly.
  8. The whole creation is waiting for that moment, because the whole creation labors and groans under the curse of God, and cannot escape it until the time appointed by God.
  9. The World will enjoy freedom from the curse after the “Adoption” (Greek huiothesis: the placement of sons) which will occur at the redemption of our physical bodies.
  10. We live and suffer through the indignities of this life in hope of the coming release.
  11. That release is NOT yet seen …we live by faith, hoping in the promise to come.
  12. The Holy Spirit indwells us, helping us to bear the infirmities of this life, and its trials.
  13. We don’t even know how to pray, or what to ask, in prayer.
  14. The Spirit prays for us, speaking the true needs of our hearts before the throne of God
  15. God calls us Saints!

Now! That is a lot of information! Let’s break it down, idea by idea:

Who or What is the “Spirit of Adoption?”

The “Spirit” of whom Paul speaks, in the context of Romans chapter eight, is the indwelling Holy Spirit, not the human spirit (compare verse 16), nor our modern usage of, say, “getting into the spirit of things”. He says, in verses 14 and 15;

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

He is talking about the same thing that he said in Ephesians 1:13, 14, where he says that we have been sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest, (or “down-payment”) of our inheritance until (there’s the “time clause”) the redemption of the purchased possession…” There in Ephesians, we can see that we are not yet in full possession of our inheritance, in the most practical sense; but we have the indwelling Holy Spirit as a continuing token of the coming fulfillment. Here in Romans, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit as a promise of our coming “placement as sons”. It is the same idea, but in a different context.

Galatians 4:6 echoes this concept, too, stating that “…because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’” Here in Romans 8:16, 17 it says,

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

We are sons, and heirs, but we are not yet in a position to use all of our prerogatives as sons. Galatians 4:1 says that “the heir, so long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant.” Until the day when God places us in full authority and honor, with Himself, we’re going to struggle along in this flesh, looking and feeling just like all the other people in the world.

The Holy Spirit keeps us safe until that day, and He reminds us constantly of who we are in Christ. So, then; why is he called the Spirit of “Adoption?”  I thought we were to be born again as the children of God, not adopted, as if we were homeless puppies at an animal shelter. Well, unfortunately, we haven’t got an appropriate word in English to serve as the equivalent of the Greek word that is translated “adoption.”

What’s Hard to Understand about Adoption?

Let me preface my answer with the fact that “It isn’t what we might have expected it to be!”

Remember that, from God’s perspective, we are the Sons of God now (Greek huios) …already heirs, and already in perfect standing with Him. But we have very little authority, with good reason. We are too immature to safely use the authority of God, so He measures it out carefully, in small doses, and we live by faith, relying on His Wisdom, His provision, and His Grace.

Notice, too, (verse 16) that we are the “children” (“tekna”: off-spring…born-ones) of God. We are not waifs whom He has graciously rescued off the street, bathed, fed and clothed, and accepted as simply being his wards. “Offspring” (born-ones) means that we are his own progeny. That is what the new birth is all about. We are His legitimate children, not someone else’s kids for whom He has simply accepted responsibility.

Adoption, Then and Now:

In our culture, “adoption” virtually always means “legally taking charge of someone who is NOT your offspring, and accepting all future responsibility for their well-being, as well as (usually) affixing your name to them.” That is all great, and a wonderful, honorable thing, but, in most cases, a simple glance makes it obvious to anyone that the adopted child is not your “offspring.” (They don’t look like you!) But here’s the contrast: anyone who has been “born from above” is literally the offspring of God, whether they are really cognizant of that fact or not. To one degree or another, we will look like, act like, and smell like Jesus!

The New Testament word translated “adoption”, here, is the Greek word “huiothesis”. It means the “placement of Sons.” It is a reflection on the Greek and Roman practice of publicly recognizing one’s heir, so that all the people would know that that particular Son held the authority (and riches) of the Father. There was usually only one “heir”. All the others were “sons,” in the usual sense, but this one was the head of the family. With very rare exceptions, the heir was a natural son of the father. Adoption, as a rule, was only applied to one’s own offspring. And, in fact, in the Biblical sense, God only “adopts”, or, “recognizes as heirs”, those who have already been born as his children. No one else is eligible. (Remember, back in verse 9, he said if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are simply not his.)

No “Universal Fatherhood of God”

Here’s something else to consider: we were not children of God before being born of God. (How can I say such a thing? Aren’t all people the children of God? Everyone assures us that this is the case.) Well…not everyone! Jesus told the Jews of His time (who called themselves the children of God) that they were not the children of God, but of Satan! He said (John 8:44) “Ye are of your father, the Devil!” That is pretty strong language! But Paul echoes it in Ephesians 2:2, 3, saying that we were “the children of disobedience”, and that we were “by nature the children of wrath, even as others”. The Bible does not teach the “universal brotherhood of man”, nor, most emphatically, the “Universal Fatherhood of God” Those are pious-sounding falsehoods taught by false teachers, to blur the perception of our need for redemption. Jesus said “Ye must be born again!” and “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We have a terrible need, with terrible consequences for failure to meet that need.

All the “predestination” passages we can read are only true of us because we have been born again. We are now predestined to become like God. We are now predestined to be glorified as the heirs of God. We are literally His children, and (though it is not always readily apparent in this life) we are joint-heirs with Jesus. I am told that the word “joint-heir” is a legal specification, and is different than “co-heir.” I was a “co-heir” with my brother and sister. All the inheritance from my Mother was divided equally between us. But being a joint-heir means that all the inheritance in Christ is equally mine…not to be divided. All that the Father has given to Jesus is mine in Him. That is the advantage of being a “joint-heir.”

In terms of “glory” and “rewards,” though, it is apparent that equality is not the norm. When “awards ceremonies” occur in school sports programs, not every player gets the same awards. But: every player has the recognition of having participated. They were on the team.

1st Corinthians 3:10-15 makes it clear that not everything we build into our lives will stand the test of the “refiner’s fire.” Much of what we count valuable will simply burn away, leaving only what was done in us by the Holy Spirit as having lasting value. There is a bit of a rhyme, saying:

            Only one life; ‘twill soon be past! Only what’s done for Christ will last!

Our salvation is never at risk: That is definitely something the Holy Spirit has done in us. But our reward and eternal honor may very well be endangered by sloppy living as servants of God.

What About Suffering?

“…We suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

The Biblical word “suffering” does not mean “pain”, necessarily: it means “allowing Jesus to do in us the work He needs to do.” When Jesus came to John the Baptist, and John hesitated to baptize Him, Jesus said “Suffer it to be so for now…” The meaning, of course, was “submit to this: allow it to be the way I say.” We are to allow in our lives the things God decrees, and accept them as a way of glorifying The Savior…willingly accepting the burdens He assigns, and glorifying Him in them. Paul says,

18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

We do already have the first-fruits of the Spirit (because He lives in us), but we are waiting for the “Placement of Sons”—the “adoption”—which will only occur when we get our new bodies.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature
[creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body
.

The reason the whole earth is waiting for that day, is because, from earthly perspective, it will occur at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom: When Jesus finally reigns on Earth the curse will be lifted. Peace will reign for the first time since the fall of man. Predators will become herbivores. That’s what we will see the “leopard lying down with the calf,” and the “lion eating straw like an ox,” etc. We will receive our new bodies at the beginning of the tribulation, or thereabouts, actually, as far as I can tell, but the tribulation is anything but peaceful. The world will see the heirs of God for the first time at the beginning of the Millennium.

Therefore, in this life, we go ahead and suffer, to varying degrees. Philippians 1:29 says “for unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name, but also to suffer for His sake.” In this country we have had a pretty easy time, whether we recognize it or not. But all believers, wherever we live, are looking forward to the same Blessed Hope. We are hoping to see the return of the Bridegroom, and we lift our heads expectantly, trusting in His Word, as opposed to our own eyes or public opinion. We see the increasing ruin around us as a symptom of the approaching Day of the Lord, and we hope more strongly in His imminent return.

24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

And we don’t wait alone: we are not left to our own devices: we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. We can count on Him to know what is really best, and to pray for us and with us as we struggle to walk with God. Paul says,

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Notice that it does not say “groanings which cannot be uttered in English”. It says “…cannot be uttered!” There are people who attempt to use this passage as a justification for “tongues” being used as a prayer language: Sorry, but, that is not what it says. The Holy Spirit knows the real needs in our lives, and He prays accordingly. I am honest enough with myself to admit that I frequently don’t even know what to pray. This passage confirms it, and tells me that it’s OK: God the Holy Spirit does know, and He takes over and gets the message across. I don’t hear it, or see it, and it does not result in my speaking in some other language. It is the Spirit of God, interceding before the Throne of God, on behalf of a Child of God. And he identifies those children—all of them—as Saints. That’s pretty deep stuff. God declares that you are Holy before Him, and set apart for His Service. Take that seriously, please! It is a precious truth.

Conclusion

What can we do with all this? Perhaps the only result of this teaching is that, as believers, we may accept the truth that we have each individually been “born from above” as the literal children of God, through faith in His shed blood. We have been created anew in His likeness, and we should expect to begin seeing His attributes in our lives. We should expect to resemble our Father. He says we are already holy to Him, and we are each, individually, called to His service.

We are frustrated, as was Paul, by the sin that still so easily besets us, but we can recognize that God has made a separation between ourselves and that old “Sin nature”: He is no longer concerned with it. He wants our new nature to come walk with Him, and learn His ways.

We can trust in God’s Holy Spirit to continue to lead us, and comfort us as we struggle and learn, and as we are grieved by the sin in ourselves and in the World. But we can also live in Hope, looking forward to our final release, relief and reward, in Him.

Lord Jesus, make real in our hearts the truth of Your Word, and teach us to live by faith. We look to You, moment by moment, for our strength and sustenance, as we live by faith in Your Name.