How To Learn The Humility of Discipleship

The Humility of Discipleship

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 4:8-16

Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

15 For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.

Introduction:

Remember the context, here, as we begin to study this warning to the Church at Corinth:

They were already displaying a great deal of carnality, division, and pride. Paul had already begun to admonish them regarding their sin, and this is simply a more pointed address to the source of their error.

In verse eight, Paul addresses their self-confidence and self-aggrandizement. He sounds almost as though he is mocking them, but he at least is highlighting their arrogance, by comparing their attitudes to those of the apostles.

Ye are Kings!

The Christians in Corinth had excessively high opinions of themselves: Theythought they were really something special. Possibly in their immaturity as new believers, they had simply become elated at their new position in Christ,  but it led to becoming inflated in their own minds.

They felt self-satisfied and smug, it seems. So, Paul is calling them out because of their pride. He approached them fairly gently about it, compared to some of the preachers of past ages. (Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” blasted his hearers and condemned them, saying that they were lower than worms and hanging on the brink of an eternity in Hell!)

Paul is very gently chiding these baby believers and leading them to see themselves accurately. He does something similar in Romans 12:3, where he commands the Roman believers to “not think more highly of themselves than they ought to.”

He went on to make three contrasting comparisons between the believers in Corinth and the Apostles who had actually introduced them to Christ.

Three Contrasts

  1. We are fools, but ye are wise!
  2. We are weak, but you (plural) are strong!
  3. And, we are despised, but you are honorable!

Even today, the church at large has attempted to make itself “attractive to the world” by attempting to look wise, strong, and honorable to the world around us. In a limited sense, that was what was beginning in Corinth. They felt as though they had “arrived,” and had a special “in” with God. But today it has gone further!

The organized churches of every stripe have built huge buildings, with amazing architecture, and tried to attract rich parishioners, even to the extent of rejecting those who “didn’t measure up.” James warned against this practice in James 2:1-4. He says if you are turning the poor away, or treating them differently, then you are in sin!

How Bad did it Become?

In some past ages, the so-called “church” has even taken on “military status,” literally having its own armies to back the armies of “approved” nations against those that were unapproved. The Spanish Armada (also called the “Invincible Armada”) was a classic example. The king of Spain sent it to attack England and force it to return to Catholicism. And, the Pope at that time had guaranteed the Spanish king that if the Armada made landfall in England, then the Pope would send in troops to participate in the invasion!) Providentially, the Armada never made landfall. The “Invincible Armada” turned out to not be so “invincible” after all!)

The Crusades were a similar travesty. And these were by no means the only examples.

Other Examples

The powerful “churches” of that time extorted money from the poor to fill the treasuries of their cathedrals. Then they tortured and killed those who disagreed with them. In no case did such behavior honor the Lord, and in no case did He approve of any of it at all. In fact, in many cases, that “Strong, Wise, and Honorable” organization was imprisoning, torturing, and killing His people! This powerful so-called “Church” considered as an “enemy” anyone who simply believed Jesus for their salvation, and refused to follow their teaching, So they tried to destroy them all.

We remember the Inquisition as a horrible, cruel time in history. But those people who declared themselves “wise, honorable, and strong” carried it out! Other church organizations have committed similar crimes. Jesus does NOT command believers to “attack unbelievers.” The unbelievers are precious souls for whom He died, the same as the Believers! He commanded us to take them the bread of life, and offer hope, not condemn them!

In Romans 1:22, Paul explains the problem: He says, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!

What is Our Calling?

1st Corinthians 1:26-29 says, 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

If that is the sort of people God has chosen, then why on earth do we insist on appearing to not be that kind of person? Why are we so desperately trying to show the World that we are “Wise, strong, and honorable?”

You see, that is what the Corinthian believers were doing, too!

But, Aren’t We Supposed to Be Wise?

There is nothing wrong with doing what God says is wise. There is nothing wrong with allowing God’s strength to be our sufficiency, and if it brings good results, then the honor goes to God!

And, of course, if we behave in a manner that God says is honorable, then, the result will be mixed: those who hate the smell of Jesus will despise us along with Him. Those who see Him as their only hope will be drawn to us, along with Him. If Jesus is rejected, we should expect to be rejected along with Him! And we are to accept that rejection with Joy!

Hebrews 13:12, 13 says, 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jesus calls us to join Him in the rejection the World has given Him (and still gives to Him.)

So, What was the Problem in Corinth?

Several times, Paul confronted the believers of Corinth. He condemned their pride. Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Pride always has bad results! The Corinthian believers were not only torpedoing their testimonies by conceit, but they were wrecking their walk with Jesus because God hates pride!

Proverbs 6:16-19 says,16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Over and over, God condemns pride, in both the Old Testament and the New! So, Paul begins to offer the contrast between the Apostles and the believers at Corinth. They were heading down a dangerous path.

Isn’t it odd that today the media tells us to be proud? That pride is a wonderful attribute, when God says it results in strife and discord, and war?

What about the Apostles?

What does Paul; say the lives of the Apostles looked like? He said:

  • Hunger,
  • Thirst,
  • Nakedness,
  • Physically buffeted,
  • Homeless!
  • They labored, working with their own hands: (self-supporting)
  • Being reviled, they blessed.
  • When they were persecuted, they accepted and endured it:
  • Being defamed, they intreated
  • They were made as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things.

(Wow! What a great ministry! Sounds like a “recruiting poster for servanthood,” doesn’t it?) No, it does not! From a human perspective, it sounds like a great occupation to avoid!

Jesus did not say that discipleship would be “fun.” He never said it would be a “source of pride or position.” When the twelve disciples were bickering about who would be greatest in the kingdom of Heaven (the Millennial Kingdom,) He straightened them out by saying that the greatest would be those who approached Him as a child approaches. Without any self-will or arrogance. And that those who served would be the best rewarded. “He who would be chief among you, let him be your slave.”

The Apostles seemed to be the last in line for honor, in this world. As far as we know, the unbelievers eventually executed all of them were for the sake of Jesus, with the possible exception of John. (History is unclear regarding some of them.)

And Paul’s Conclusion?

Notice that he softens the admonition by saying that he is bringing this rebuke in love, as a father to his children. He had no desire to shame them, but he had to warn them of the trap into which they were walking. He reminded them that he, himself, had led them to Christ. His heart toward them was as a father to his children.

His conclusion was, “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me”

In effect, he said, “Please follow our example! We Apostles have led you to Christ, and we have taught you how to walk with Him. Follow our example, and drop all this heady nonsense of pride and personal glory!

Some of this may sound foreign to some of you, but, if you think about it, I would expect that at least some of you may have run into these attitudes before and may even have fallen prey to them yourselves. In either case, God warns us that such conceited self-satisfaction in our “super-spirituality” is a guaranteed recipe for disaster, both as individuals and as a church.

We need to learn and embrace the humility of discipleship.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to our true condition and help us to change, as You transform us through the renewing of our minds. Teach us to walk with You in true submission and humility, rather than insisting on our own way. Make us able ministers of your truth.

Salvation or Rewards: A Gift or Wages?

Salvation or Rewards: A Gift or Wages?

© 2024 by C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 3:9-15

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry (a cultivated field), ye are God’s building (In other places this building is called the “Temple” or “habitation” of God).

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Introduction:

We have seen the difference between the ministry of Paul and the ministry of Apollos. Paul said, “I planted, and Apollos watered. But God gave the increase.” Paul goes on to use a slightly different metaphor. Remember that he used two ideas in verse nine. He likened us first to a cultivated field, and then to a building.

So, as appropriate to the first metaphor, he said that he (Paul) had planted, and Apollos had watered. But then he moves on to the second metaphor…the building…an edifice of some kind. And in verse ten, he says, “I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.”

Consider the Cultivated Field

When a farmer plants a field with seed, he doesn’t step back and say, “There is a fruitful field!” He waits and watches to see the germination take place and the leafing-out of whatever the young plants are. Finally, he is grateful to see the field bearing the fruit he hoped for.

What About a Building?

Consider how a General Contractor, specializing in concrete work, begins a project. He completes the excavation for the building site. Thinking ahead, he makes allowances for the wiring and plumbing that must also happen. He will lay down the necessary loads of crushed rock, onto which the concrete foundation will be poured. The contractor erects the plywood forms, into which he will pour the concrete. Ultimately, he will pour the concrete, making certain to leave no air-voids.

Finally, after the concrete is sufficiently cured, he will strip the forms from the newly cured concrete. Then he may hand-trowel a layer of finishing mortar onto the portions that may remain exposed. He may also apply various additives or sealants to enhance the longevity or looks of that foundation.

The Foundation is Complete and Permanent!

But at some point, he can say, “I have laid the foundation!” And, as a general contractor, he would then turn the work over to the other builders who will complete the structure in the prescribed manner, according to the plan of the Architect.

This is the metaphor Paul introduces in this passage: And the whole context teaches the result of the efforts of the subsequent builders.

Our question, then, becomes, “What am I accomplishing as I build upon the foundation which has been laid in my life?”

The Foundation

He says, “As a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.

In the case of the “cultivated field,” once the farmer had planted the seed, others completed the remaining cultivation. Those who watered that field did the rest, and God brought the increase. But, in the case of the building, once the foundation has been laid, the rest of the building is for someone else to accomplish.

In any physical building, if the foundation is of questionable quality, then the subsequent building is unsecure, regardless of the craftsmanship of the builders. If the ground under the “foundation” is unstable, then even the foundation is unsecure.

But, in this case, Paul identifies the Foundation: He explains in verse 13 that the foundation is Jesus Christ. (In other passages, we find that He is also the Monolithic Bedrock under the “foundation” in our lives.) Everything that has become “possible” in our lives, as new believers is only possible because of the absolute security of that foundation. Jesus said, “Upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (And He was not referring to Peter!) Jesus is the Rock of our Salvation, and He is the Foundation of the Work God plans to accomplish in our lives.

The Gift

Think clearly about this: You did not lay the foundation! Someone else came to you with the Gospel of Christ and eventually, one way or another, you chose to believe it. God, through the agency of  that other person, laid the Foundation of Christ in your life at that moment. Paul brought Christ to Corinth, and, in doing so, he laid the foundation there in Corinth. They did not do it for themselves. It was the gift of God.

The Foundation was a gift! Salvation is a gift! What you do with that gift after having received it, is another matter. Paul warns that the character of  resulting overall construction is up to you to decide, moment-by-moment and day-by-day.

The Warning: “Let Every Man Take Heed!”

Paul said, “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”

“Take Heed!” (Pay attention!) Listen up! There is a caveat, here! A warning: Salvation is a gift! But rewards are not! This matter can easily confused us. Some teach that salvation is the reward for good behavior. That is absolutely false! You cannot earn salvation. You can receive it as the gift of God, precious beyond price and beyond imagination, or you cannot receive it at all.

Example one

I visited in the home of a man in Mexico, many years ago. He was a coppersmith…a very good one. He had personally hand-forged a beautiful copper pan for my wife as a gift. I do not speak even semi-fluent Spanish. However, during that evening I had shared the Gospel with this man. He rejected it, saying, it is too easy: “I have to earn it!” I thought for a moment, then felt in my pocket as if for money, and said, “So, how much do you want for that copper “casserole” you made for Ann?”

He instantly was furious: “No! That was a gift!

“That’s right, “I replied. “You are angry because I offered to pay for the gift you made for Ann, aren’t you?” He was still angry, so he blurted “YES!”

So I asked, “How much more angry do you think God may be, that you are offering to pay for the blood of His only Son?” His countenance changed, and his eyes went round, as he realized what he quite literally had been doing. I never saw him again, but I know that, at that moment, he understood the Gospel for the first time. What he ultimately chose to do about it, I don’t know. But I hope to see him in eternity.

Salvation is a Gift!

We have received a gift, each of us who has placed our trust in Christ. We have eternal life.

Example two

On another occasion, later, not knowing that the young lady to whom I was speaking was not a believer, I was only trying to teach her about her security in Christ. Eventually, I offered her a dime, saying, “Here: take this!”

She took it, and I asked, “Now, whose dime is that?”

She replied, “It’s mine, now!”

So, I asked, “But what did you do to get it?”

And she (bless her heart) said, “Nothing! I just reached out and took it!”  

And then she started crying! I was thoroughly confused, since I really didn’t understand what was happening. So, I finally prayed with her, and she gave me a ferocious hug, and then she and her husband drove away. That was January 9th, 1994.

Two weeks later, she explained to me that she was born again that day, as she simply believed God and received the GIFT of eternal life in Christ. GOD laid the foundation, that day, even though I did not at all understand what was going on!

And it was a gift!

But, Rewards are NOT Gifts!

The warning here is that we can receive rewards…or NOT, depending on how we respond to the Lord after receiving that gift.

I have frequently heard people say of someone who recently died that “He has gone to his reward!” And, in most cases, they were not even saying the person was a believer…only that they were dead! As an unbeliever, had I died before I was eighteen, my “reward” or “wages” would have been eternity in Hell! Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of Sin is Death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”

But, here in 1st Corinthians 3:9-15, Paul tells us that a reward is possible! And he says that the reward is commensurate with the work done, as we have either “worked with Jesus” or we have rebelled and “worked on our own…” choosing our own ideas of “how to please God,” as opposed to what His Word says.

The Building Materials

Paul continues his metaphor in verse 12, now likening the product of our lives, the “building” we are producing, as being of “different grades of building materials.” 

He chose two categories of materials: the first group, “Gold, Silver, Precious stones,” when considered as building materials, were completely outside the reach of anyone but the wealthiest of individuals. The second group were materials that even the poorest people could probably acquire, though there was still some expense, most likely, and a good deal of work as well.

It is not just about the cost of the Materials

One group implies “intrinsic value,” while the other does not! However, in verse 13, Paul tells us a far more important difference between the two groups: one is combustible, and one is not!

He says the final test of our works will not be so much upon how much work we did to accomplish it, how “important” it seemed, nor how “skilled” we are, but upon the intrinsic value of the materials and their permanence. He says that our work will be tested by fire.

So, where would a person get the “Gold, and Silver, and Precious Stones” that Paul mentions, here? Think forward a bit: In 2nd Peter 3:10, God also says that in the day of the final judgment, “the elements will pass away with a fervent heat and a great noise!” (Yes… but, “Gold and Silver and Precious Stones” are “elements,” too, aren’t they? Won’t they just be burned up?)

Materials From God are Eternal

Therefore, we are not talking about literal, physical wealth here, which none of those believers had, anyway. (Including the Apostles: Remember, it was Peter (and John) who said, addressing the lame man, “Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”)

The building materials God wants us to use, have to come from Him! That is why Jesus said, in John 15:5, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing!” The work has to be the direct result of our “pulling in double harness” with Jesus! That is why verse 9 says, “We are laborers together with God!”

The Result: Reward or Loss

Finally, in verses 14, and 15, Paul says that the result of the testing for permanence and value will be either that our work simply burns up like a barn with a haymow fire, or that it still remains, and a reward will be given. He points out that the foundation is permanent: He says that if any believer’s work burns up, the believer himself will still be saved, but “as one escaping through the flames.”

Was there a Reward for Lot?

Abraham’s nephew, Lot comes to mind as a prime example: He had already received great riches as a result of his travels with Uncle Abraham. But he squandered that fine start by moving into the City of Sodom. Ultimately, when God destroyed Sodom, Lot and his immediate family were saved, but they lost everything: The angels dragged them out of town, and whatever they dragged with them was all they had left. If it were not for the fact that, in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, God specifically names Lot as being a righteous man, I would never have guessed he was a saved man! And that helps secure my faith that He will save me, too! He laid the foundation!

But the reward is another matter! Lot came out of the City of Sodom with essentially nothing but his life! His salvation was a gift! But, there was no reward for his behavior!

Will there Be a Reward for Us?

Paul tells us that we have a choice: we can learn to “pull with Jesus in double harness,” being “laborers together with God,” thereby receiving from Him (and building with) the materials that have eternal intrinsic value, and eternal substance that will outlast this life…or not.

Let’s pursue the goal of learning to walk with Jesus, as His flock: learning to work with Jesus as His partners in the Work of God. The result, whether we follow or not, will have eternal results, for better or for worse.

Lord Jesus, please teach us to walk with You and to serve as your agents here in the fallen world in which we live. We know that we are Your ambassadors, but we want to be faithful at that work, serving with You looking for eternal results.

Learn to See The Problem and the Symptoms of Carnality

The Problems with (and the Symptoms of) Carnality

© 2023 by C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 3:1-9

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers (servants) by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

For we are labourers together with God: ye (plural) are God’s husbandry (Greek ”georgion”…a cultivated field, singular)  ye (plural) are God’s building (singular.)

Introduction:

Remember that in chapter two, Paul introduced the difference between a “Natural” man and a “Spiritual“ man. We saw that the “natural” man was unsaved…unregenerate, having only his old sin-nature. The “spiritual” man is in complete contrast. He was not only born again (“regenerate”), but also in direct submission to the Spirit of God. He not only has a new nature, but he is also in fellowship with God, and submitted to God’s direction. We chose to skip ahead to chapter three, to see that there also is a “third category.”

Paul describes the Carnal man, here in chapter three. This is a regenerate person, savedborn again, but one who is not currently in submission to the Lord. He or she is walking “in the flesh.”

The word “carnal” simply means, “of, or pertaining to flesh.”

When a person orders a bowl of “chili con carne,” in a restaurant, the name literally means, “chili with flesh…with meat!

So, Paul is introducing the concept of “fleshly living.” This idea gets treated in several places in the New Testament. It is by no means an “obscure” idea. (In Galatians 5:13-25, Paul addresses this contrast. He shows the difference between walking in the flesh (old sin nature) and walking in the Spirit, in some detail.)

The Problem of Carnality

The primary problem with Carnality is that you are separated from fellowship with God!

1st John 1:5, 6 states that “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all! If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth!

We are living a lie, when we are out of fellowship with the Holy God who bought us! Especially when we pretendi that “Everything is fine! I’m just praising the Lord!”

John goes on to show the simple act of repentance involved in restoring that condition of fellowship with God. (Your position in Christ is not in question. Your condition of either being in or out of fellowship with Him is in question.)

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confess means (“agree with God”)

This is not a “religious ritual” of any kind. This “confession,” usually, is to God, and not to others, unless others have been affected by our sin. There is no hierarchy of priests through which we must pass to approach God. We approach freely, through the Cross. No “self-flagellation” is called for. Nor is there even any “doing penance” required. (And certainly no “Hail Mary’s,” in which the penitent is actually reciting a prayer of worship to Mary.) Confession is not a “sacrament.” Also, there is no ritualistic “format” for us to follow. Confession is simply agreeing with God concerning your sins and then pressing on to walk with Him in fellowship again.

Another Result of Carnality

A carnal Christian cannot understand much of God’s Word. (And usually isn’t really interested, either, as the Word of God constantly sheds light on the life of the reader. When we are in sin, we don’t like to see ourselves as we are!) But, while we are out of fellowship with Him, we cannot understand beyond the “baby-food” concepts of God’s Word.

We struggle with the “solid food” servings. We either “choke” on them, rejecting the teaching, or we simply don’t understand it, and we walk away confused. Therefore, Paul sadly said that he could not feed them on “solid food.”

They were not able to bear the “solid food” teaching, because they were still babies. He could only feed them on “milk.”

Babies are Wonderful, But…

A newborn believer need feel no shame at being a babe in Christ. He is supposed to be a “baby Christian!” But he also is called to rapidly grow out of that status, by feeding on the milk of God’s Word! (See 1st Peter 2:2, KJV.) There is no shame in physical babyhood, either. We become concerned, however, when a physical baby fails to physically mature at a “normal” rate. We are to progress to the solid food of God’s Word, and to a mature response to God’s Word.

In Hebrews 5:11-14, however, Paul complains that the recipients of that letter should have been teachers by that time, but that, instead, they had regressed to being babes. The reason the Corinthian believers were still babies, is because they were “failing to thrive.” Paul was only correcting them, in this passage, and warning of the consequences if they continued in carnality.

The Hebrew believers, though, were a different case. Because of their Jewish heritage and upbringing, they (perhaps) knew God’s Word better than the Corinthians ever would. But they had backslidden into such deep carnality that they were having to return to baby-food, as opposed to “solid food.” They had to return to the foundational teaching of God’s Word.

Warnings to Pretenders

He scolded the Hebrew believers pretty sharply, and then (in chapter six) he warned that, if they were not really believers at all, but just “fooling themselves,” then the potential was there for eternal loss. This warning was for people who were just pretending to believe: those who were just “going along for the ride.” But those genuine believers in chapter five, who were simply “wallowing in the mire,” so to speak, he sharply admonished to “get up and get moving!”

Lost Opportunities

Later in this chapter of first Corinthians, we will see that there are eternal results for sinning believers, too, but that they themselves will be saved, though their potential rewards will be lost.

Consider what he was saying to the believers in Hebrews 5:12. If they were supposed to be teachers by now and were not, then they were missing out on opportunities to serve with Jesus! (Read 1st Corinthians 3:9 carefully!) We are called to be laborers with God!

The Hebrew believers were missing out on the opportunity to “join Jesus in double harness” and, together with Him, to do the work of God. What a tragic loss! We only get one shot at this target, so to speak: we either use the short life He gives us by investing it in His agenda, or… we don’t!

Eternity is not an opportunity for “do-overs.” We can’t “change our mind,” in eternity, and go back and do the things we should have done. We can “change our minds” now,  and choose to invest our time and our efforts, our abilities and our “wherewithal in general,” to join Him in His work.

Symptoms of Carnality

It seems odd that one of the “Symptoms of Carnality” that Paul first addressed was the pattern of division and sectarianism that was already taking root in Corinth (and elsewhere.)

Today, we still see that pattern of dividing over “who is our preferred teacher.” But, ironically, we frequently are taught to think that such “separatist” behavior is somehow a mark of maturity. The Pharisees seemed to think that way, didn’t they? Jesus called out the praying Pharisee, who claimed to be “Thanking God that he, himself, was one of the Good Guys, not like that poor slob over there!” (Luke 18:9-14) From outward appearance, the Pharisee seemed to be following the Law, but inwardly, it was just pious pride. There was no fellowship with God involved.

When we separate ourselves from other believers (even secretly) over non-essentials, we are in sin. The result will be carnality, and everything we do while out of fellowship is empty of eternal value. Jesus said the tax-collector in Luke 18:13 (“publican” in the KJV) went home justified ( it means “declared righteous”) by God, and the “self-justified” Pharisee, who declared himself to be righteous, did not! God did not approve of his self-righteousness!

There is a “self-satisfaction,” and a “self-justification” rooted in all “I know more than they do,” or, “I serve more than they do,” or even “I listen to a better teacher on the radio than they do….” You see, all of those things come from the flesh. It is carnality!

In Contrast

Paul had the humility to see that Apollos, far from being a “Johnny-come-lately,” was a powerful tool in God’s hand, just as he himself was. He said, “We are both just servants! God is bringing the results!”

Paul pointed out that while he and Apollos did not have the exact same assignment, they were both being used by God to achieve the same goal. Paul was taking the Gospel where it had never gone, as he says in Romans 15:20.

Apollos was being used to teach and to powerfully convict the hearts of those who had already heard the Gospel, but were still unconvinced. (See Acts 18:24-28)

And Paul recognized that neither he nor Apollos was anything “special.” He simply counted it a privilege to have his life be used by God to do the work of God. He lived by Grace, which is “unearned favor.” Some teachers attempt to make “grace” mean “power.” It does not: it means “unearned favor:” a gift. But it is by the gift of God that we are allowed to serve and given the wherewithal to do so.

Future Reward

Paul also knew that a reward for faithfulness was coming. He said, “and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” That word “every” is pretty important: It means that every single believer has the opportunity to serve. And it means that every single believer who consistently seeks to serve will also receive reward for his or her service.

What an amazing thing! In John 15:5, Jesus said, “apart from me ye can do nothing.” In Philippians 2:13, Paul confirms that “it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” And, here, in 1st Corinthians 3:7, Paul says that “God giveth the increase.”

But: the very next verse promises us that the “tools” through which He accomplishes His work will be rewarded as if they themselves had done it! That is a mind-boggling truth! We are not sent out to work “on our own,” at all! We either serve with Jesus, or not at all! But if we serve with Him, despite the fact that He is the One doing all the work, He promises a reward to us for simply “cooperating” and allowing Him to work through us!

Working With Jesus

He goes on to say that “we are laborers together with God!” God is doing the work. We have the privilege of “going to work with our Heavenly Father,” and doing with Him whatever He “sends us to do.” But he rewards us, as if we were the real workers. And He blesses us as we serve. We are not “blindly slaving away,” hoping what we are doing somehow has eternal value.

In terms of salvation, Jesus did every bit of the work, at the Cross!  But in terms of service, we always have a moment-by-moment choice: “Will I serve the Savior, by serving with Him, or will I just serve myself?

An Example of “Serving Self”

Years ago, when New Tribes Mission was first setting up one of their woodland “Jungle Camp” training programs, in Eastern Oregon, one of the necessary tasks (obviously) was to dig the pits for the various outhouses, there in the woods. It was a hard, thankless task, but it was divided between all the men, so that no one person was bearing the burden alone.

One of the trainees, that year, had been a pastor of a church somewhere before entering the mission. He evidently thought that was “special.” Another man, a friend of mine, when walking past the pit where this man was taking his turn digging, overheard him complaining, over and over, that This is no way to treat a pastor!”  

Do you see the difference between his attitude and that of Paul and Apollos? It was not a surprise to my friend when that man, shortly thereafter, dropped out of the training program. You see, he did not want to be aservant.” So, he was disqualified by God from serving.

How can We Follow Jesus’s Example?

Jesus said, in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many!” We need to examine our own motives and ask ourselves, “Who am I really serving? What would He have me to do? Where is my heart attitude in all of this?

Lord Jesus, please open our eyes to the difference between spirituality and carnality. Lead us to repentance, so that we can serve You in the newness of the Spirit, not allowing our old sin natures to undermine the work of God in our hearts.

What Were They Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/2016  C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016; Revised 12/2019, Revised 12/2023

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I used to take some time off work, every year, to spend Christmas with my family. When I got back to work, people greeted me in a friendly fashion, and several always asked, “Did you have a good Christmas?

That is almost just a “rhetorical question,” since the expected answer is always “Yes,” though “qualifiers” are acceptable. Expansion on what was good (or not so good) is also acceptable, to some degree. But what we are always expected to do, at most, is to tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who actually were present the Night of the Lord’s Birth. (By the way, I cannot prove that His birth was on December 25th, although there are some reasons suggesting it might have been. But the weather was not a deterrent. It is pretty warm in Jerusalem right now. Probably it was, that night, as well. So regardless of “when” the Lord was actually born, let’s just consider who was there, and then pose that same question regarding them:

What were They all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, “Angels we have heard on High, sweetly singing o’er the plain!” But… were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings, etc.” and we usually forget that the wise men (however many there were) were possibly as much as two years away, on Christmas morning…they were not part of the birthday experience at all.

We say, “Shepherds quake at the sight” (which was true!) But we sing all sorts of nice songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and lambs, and oxen, and Mary, and Joseph, and…honestly, most of that is just very pleasant fiction. So, let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?” Let’s take it one group at a time:

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!)

To Begin with: Which Angel?

Let’s read and see: Luke 2:8-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a lot of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the LORD? In the Old Testament, it was the preincarnate Christ!) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds.

The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them glad tidings (good news) of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people.” (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?” It is the Gospel!)

He went on to announce the birth of the “Savior; Christ the Lord.” He told the shepherds to go and find the Baby  (Not Mary; not Joseph …the Baby!) and He told them where to look, and He told them how to recognize Him.

What about the Other Angels?

Immediately there appeared a multitude of other angelic beings (“the heavenly host”—the heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!” (Could they have been singing, as well? Surely they could! They were singing at the Creation! See Job 38:7 But the question always comes down to “What does God’s Word actually say?”) And then they were gone! They just disappeared into the sky!

But, by God’s command, what were the Angels doing? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6; “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the Baby!)” The Angels were worshipping the Baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, nor anyone else.)

How Important is Worship?

Now, think: who is the only one (according to God) who can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So, this is part of how we recognize and teach the deity of Christ. He is God!

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we really were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger!

They knew Him for who he was! The angels were not distracted by His infancy, nor his appearance of helplessness. They knew who He was! They worshipped Him as their Creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! It says, “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) Those angels were not impressed by the surroundings, for better or worse, nor by the other people that were present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

But…What was Mary doing?

Well, what should she be doing? Mary was just a very young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby, her firstborn Son! She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, who was caring for her, but she was probably feeling pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told whether she even saw (or heard) the angelic host worshipping her Baby. She evidently heard about those events through the shepherds, because we can see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

But, how did she “feel” about the surroundings? Well, we aren’t really told…but even in that culture, women wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, in that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal, even then.

How “Special” should “Signs” be?

Some people today argue that the manger bed and the stable birth were commonplace for that era, and even preferable. I think we can safely say that is not true: How do we know that the manger bed and all the rest were not normal…not commonplace? Because the Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherds as being the specific signs by which they would recognize the baby.

Why would he give the shepherds “clues” that were completely ordinary, as “signs by which to recognize the Savior?” The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the Savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told! The songs speculating about her feelings are just that: Speculation!

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her Baby. The visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group—just trying to figure out what they were going to do next.

Suddenly these “grubby shepherds” came bursting in the door, looking for a baby, “dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” And there he was!

Did they give Mary “special attention?” Probably so, yes! Most people do give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph, and they saw the Baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the Baby was who they had been sent to find, and He was the One with whom they were primarily concerned…The Savior, Christ the Lord!

And What was Joseph doing?

Well…we really are not told that, either. But consider this: He was evidently an older man, as we see later that he had apparently died, well before Jesus began His ministry. Joseph was an older man and freshly out of work. He had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, (in Galilee, where he had lived and worked,) due to this new “decree” from Caesar. He was eighty miles from home, on foot, and a very poor man. Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work.

He may also have been thinking back to the visit he had experienced, from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée, Mary, had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior.

That must have been a difficult time for both Joseph and Mary: The neighbors were undoubtedly looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant. Or worse, that she herself was immoral and that he had simply chosen to “cover for her.” The stigma was there, and it was not going to go away.

Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but no one there offered him and Mary a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were there no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even openly ostracized him. We really don’t know. All we know for sure are the facts, as revealed in scripture.

So, What were the Shepherds doing?

That is the one question about which we are told a fair amount: They were just “minding their own business,” caring for their flocks at night, in the open fields. Possibly they were having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or perhaps walking around, watching over the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit.

Remember: When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate statements in all the hymns about the birth of Christ. They were frightened, nearly to death!

Isn’t it interesting that all the people in the Bible who really saw angels, or who really met the pre-incarnate Christ, or somehow saw the Lord in his glory, were not “feeling all happy and blessed:” they were afraid!

With or Without the Fear of the Lord?

Why is it that today, all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a “wonderful, peaceful experience” it was, just “flooding their souls with Joy?” My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they say they experienced, becvause the ones who really did experience it were terrified, pretty much without exception. (Especially the men: Jesus seems to be pretty gentle toward the women.)

Calming the Storm and Revealing His Identity

When Jesus calmed the storm, for example, the disciples in the boat didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! We didn’t know you could do that!” They had already been afraid that they were all about to drown! These were seasoned, commercial fishermen, who were expert small boat handlers, and they all had been in storms before. But they were seriously expecting to die in this storm!

However, when they woke up the Lord, and asked Him to take a hand, He calmed the storm! And far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the true presence of God than they were of death itself!

A Supernatural Confrontation

So, when the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night, all their lives. (How would you feel if your job was to protect yourself and the flock, but you were dealing with large, wild predators at night, armed with only a stick, a sling, maybe a sword, or some other rather “primitive” weapon?) They were already experienced and courageous, or they could not have done their jobs!

But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel of the Lord! His first words were to calm their fear, so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the Person of Jesus.

Supernatural Obedience, by Faith

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! (If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd!) But they were commanded to do so, and they did. (Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock. And evidently they did!)

The shepherds went to Bethlehem, and they hunted through the stables until they found the Baby and Joseph and Mary. They told other people around the area what had happened. They told about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally…they went back to their flocks. But they left behind them an amazed village, and within themselves, they had Great Joy for the privilege they had shared. (No vacation, no Christmas dinner, no stockings hung by the chimney…just “Great Joy!”)

Fulfilled Prophecy

Why the Joy? They were Glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and the fact that everything had been exactly as they had been told to expect. In other words, they thanked Him for His fulfilled prophecy.

I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Consider Micah 5:2 for example: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the primary witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise, and others. If they had expanded upon that beginning, and considered Who that Baby was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, either, really.

Finally…What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a “time of joy and peace”…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded His people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating…they didn’t forget why they were there!

It is important that we take time to consider who Jesus really is. Consider the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, He was the Creator! He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know…,” I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We look back, from the vantage point (and the safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it.

How do we see Jesus?

If Mary had seen Jesus the same way as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been “snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby?” She couldn’t have seen Him that way!

But it is imperative that we do! It is vital that we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and that we be blessed by the Grace which God has extended to us.

We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. As born-again believers, we are not “dragged in as an orphaned waif,” and simply “called” His child: We are born into His family by the new birth, and we live eternally as His child…His real child, born of His Grace.

Looking Beyond the Manger

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene.” (Look far enough ahead to see the Cross, and the Tomb, and the Resurrection. Look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign.)

We need to look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was really going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels, and they knew it better than anyone: They worshipped the newborn King! They guarded his humanity (though He surely needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God!

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our Savior! He is God in the flesh, and our only Advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, of course, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. You see, in our case, relationally, the fact that He is our Savior takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace. This is not a “seasonal” thing. His Grace has been conferred as a permanent gift, in Eternal life!

So… Now What?

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too: especially because we know who He really is, whereas the Shepherds only knew a little. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas. And we can be a part of extending that joy to the rest of the world around us. If we really know Him for who He is, and really believe the true Christmas Story, then sharing it with others should be the most natural thing in the world.

Also, none of the people in the Biblical, historical account just “went back to normal” after that night. It was not a “seasonal thing.” It changed their lives forever, and they shared it with others, just as we are called to do.

We need to rise above our “seasonal pattern” of just “putting away the decorations, and getting on with life.” He is the Life! We are not supposed to just “get over” what He is doing in our lives: Rather, we are to grow deeper into that relationship, and allow it to bear eternal fruit!

God grant that we will do so!

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see You in your Glory, and to worship You as God. Allow us to love You in your humanity, but also to look beyond Your humanity and to worship You, and love You as our faithful Creator. Let us serve as witnesses to Your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts, as You transform our lives.

“The Mind of Christ,” and “He that is Spiritual”

“The Mind of Christ,” and “He that is Spiritual”

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 2:9-16

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

Introduction:

There are a number of questions that ought to come to our minds as we read this passage.

  • Who is the “we” and “us” in this passage?
  • What does it mean to be a “natural man?
  • How can we be “spiritual?” (What does it mean?)
  • How can we “have the mind of Christ?
  • (What other possibilities exist?)

Last time, we ended with verse 9. It says, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”  We noted that some modern writers claim to tell us, in great detail, “what Heaven is like.” There are several books on the subject.

However, the Bible indicates that they have either deluded themselves, or they are simply lying. God says we do not know, and we cannot even imagine it. He says that no one has seen it or even heard about it from any reliable or authoritative source. (Paul was quoting Isaiah 64:4, here!)

But, in that case, verse 10 seems strange, because it says God has revealed them by His Spirit. God reveals what He wants us to know. He revealed them by the Holy Spirit, in the Written Word. And it isn’t very much. He has told us some very confusing details in Revelation chapters four and five. Those details are very interesting, but not very enlightening. Why? Because what He has in store for us is a surprise!

What is a “Mystery,” in the Bible?

The Bible calls a number of things “mysteries.” In the Bible, a “mystery,” means “something that has not yet been revealed, but (usually) is about to be revealed.”

This is not like an “Agatha Christie murder mystery.” Agatha Christie truly does give you “all the clues.” In her case, (if her readers are reading carefully enough, and not missing her clues,) they can “deduce the identity of the killer,” before the end of the book. Unfortunately, I am too oblivious to catch more than a few of the clues she plants in her story. I can read and enjoy the book, but I will not solve the mystery.

But in God’s case, the “clues” for what awaits believers after the end of measurable time, have never been given. He says the knowledge has never been accessible even by our greatest flights of imagination and fancy.

God does Not Revealall” Mysteries to us.

There are some mysteries in scripture that are simply too deep for humans, though we don’t like to admit it. We think that we should be able to “ferret out all the facts!” We think we should know about all of the universe, including the nature of God. And we think we should understand it all! Consider what folly that assumption is, and what arrogance it reveals in us!

We don’t even understand the physical world around us. But we think we should be able to grasp the deepest knowledge of the One who Created all of it! Only by revelation can we can even learn to know Him. It is only through His Word, as He reveals Himself to us. In our physical lives, much of what He does is invisible, just as He is. We only see the results. Then, we may rejoice in His wisdom and kindness, or, we may scoff and thereby become blind to His presence.

We make up very silly (and dangerous) video games about “fighting demons”…shooting them, as if they were physical beings. They are unseen. they are invisible, just as the Father and the Holy Spirit are unseen, and invisible.

We make such foolish mockery of the unseen world, mostly because we are utterly ignorant of its reality and the danger it poses to the ignorant soul. God takes pains to correct that thinking and to let us know the reality and the danger involved. But He also indwells every believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, so that we do not remain unaware.

Who is “We?”

This one is pretty simple: Paul is speaking “to believers,” as we saw in the first few verses of the book. And, he addresses them as being fellow believers. Therefore, all the time Paul speaks about the revealed Mysteries, he uses the inclusive “we,” and “us,”

When he talks about the unbelievers, he shifts his pronouns to “they” and “them.” It is important to know who the writer is talking to. (Also, who he is talking about, when that is the case.)

How does God reveal the “Things of God” to Human Believers?

Every week, we stress the necessity of learning the things of God as He reveals them in the Word of God. Last week we saw once again the link between The Lord Jesus and the Word of God. We saw in John 1:18 that “No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”

Jesus, the Only Begotten Son, is the One Who declares God! But in John 1:1, a few verses earlier, we can read that “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.”  In John 1:14, we read that “the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His Glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth!”)

In Hebrews 1:1, it says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by whom also He made the Worlds.”

Jesus is literally the revealer of God! He is the only member of the Godhead who shows up in human form to communicate the truth of God to fallen Man. He was the One in the Garden, calling, “Adam, where art thou?”

The Word Declares God

And God calls Jesus “the Word:” the “communication of God.” The declaration of all that He is! Finally, in Revelation 19:13, He is labeled “The Word of God.” So, how does God reveal to us “the things of God?” It is primarily through His Word! Jesus is the Living Word, But He has given us the Written Word and He calls us to read it, to memorize it, to meditate upon it and to learn to use it as the “Sword of the Spirit.”

He is the Living Word, said to be “sharper than any two-edged sword.” But He tells us to master the use of the Written Word, which is the Sword of the Spirit.

His sword, the Written Word of God, is the only effective weapon against our unseen enemies. All that stuff about “zapping demons with faith-bolts” is strictly comic-book stuff. (You can play those video games if that is what you want to believe. But I truly do not recommend it! They are utter folly!)

Not By the Spirit of the World

Notice that Paul says in verse 12, that the only reason we can even receive this sort of communication is that we have received the Spirit of God and are no longer led by the spirit of the world. He will explain this concept in verses 14-16.

An unbeliever can receive the initial message of the Gospel. He or she can make a decision based on that message. If they decide to “Believe God…” to “take Him at His Word,” then at that moment, whether they are aware of it or not, they also receive the Holy Spirit. He will permanently indwell them, and He immediately begins teaching them. After that point, they find that the Bible is increasingly becoming an “Open Book.”

Not by the Wisdom of Man

And in verse 13 he tells us not to take the received message, and try to pass it on to others using the “wisdom of man,” but rather, by the “Wisdom of God.” We are to compare scripture with scripture, so as to compare spiritual things with spiritual things. Remember, in Acts 17:11, God commended the Berean people for their response, “in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” That is a good response!

But, if we, as the messengers of God, are not “comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” and using scripture to explain scripture, then the listeners cannot hope to “go look it up.” They have no “standard” by which to measure our message. But if we stick to God’s Word as closely as we can, then they can check our messages against the Bible and find assurance that we have faithfully declared the Savior and His Word.

What is “The Natural Man?”

The Natural man is the unbeliever in his “natural state,” whatever it may be. He could be an ignorant laborer or tribal farmer, or hunter-gatherer, with zero formal education, or he could be a highly trained professional of some sort: engineer, scientist, philosopher or theologian. But without the Spirit of God indwelling him, he remains a natural man. He cannot receive the truth of God, and the majority of God’s Word seems to him to be foolishness.

If we reject the “entry-level truth” of the Cross of Christ, then we disqualify ourselves to move deeper into a personal knowledge of God. That is what God says: if you have a problem with that, or if you think it is somehow elitist or exclusive, you would have to take it up with Him. The fact is, the Gospel is the opposite of “Elitist or Exclusive.” Jesus said He came to offer salvation to the whole world. He died for the sins of the whole world. He says, “Whosoever will may come!” And the invitation is to anyone willing to respond in faith.

The Spiritual Man

The Spiritual Man has received the Holy Spirit by faith and is currently in submission to Christ by His Word and by His Spirit. So, it does not include “all saved people:” it includes all saved people who are walking with Jesus, in obedience to His Spirit and to His Word.. There are many examples in scripture of people who were genuine believers, but they ignored God’s Word and “became blind” and in the end, were found to be “working for the Enemy.” (We just recently studied Samson in the evening Bible Study…he was the perfect example of such a person!)

The Third Option

In 1st Corinthians 3:1-3 (we are not going there, just yet: we are just peeking ahead) we will read of a third kind of person: the Carnal Man. He (or she) is living in the flesh: allowing his/her old sin nature to rule. Such a person is living for self, and not in submission to Christ. And it can occur in the life of any believer at any time.

We choose to make decisions in the absence of God’s counsel, just because that is what we desire. The consequence is that we have “re-submitted ourselves” to the tyranny of sin, and, until we repent (change our minds) and confess our sin, so that we can be cleansed, relationally, we cannot “move on with God.” Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (the assumed answer is “NO!”)

As long as we remain in that state, we cannot understand God’s Word, we cannot grow as believers, and we retreat further and further into spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12-14 complained that those believers had (again) become babes. The ones in 1st Corinthians 3 were still babes, they were failing to grow. The ones in Hebrews 5 were going backward!

The Mind of Christ

This is an odd statement, but Paul says the spiritual man can “discern all things” (KJV says “judge,” but the word actually means to discern.) But then he says that others (unbelievers, perhaps?) cannot discern him. Perhaps it means they cannot understand his motives. I have seen that on several occasions, where I was making a decision by God’s direction, that would be totally clear to any believer, but unbelievers thought I was doing something completely crazy.

Why would that be likely? Paul quotes an Old Testament verse, Isaiah 40:13 to point out that no human is capable of understanding God’s Spirit or His thoughts. That is the reason! He gave us His indwelling Spirit, and He explains His thoughts and causes us to think as He thinks!

Spiritual Transformation!

This is what we saw in Romans 12:2, where we are commanded to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” If you focus on God’s written Word, and look to His Holy Spirit to make it a living reality in your daily life, then you will truly be “thinking the Thoughts of God” and making decisions the way He would have you make them. In so doing, we literally have the mind of Christ! And the World will see us as strange and mystifying people!

They will see that we are doing right things: good things, even when it is to our disadvantage. (Psalm 15:4 “…he that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.” You keep your word even when it hurts you! How about Proverbs 25:21, 22? “If thine enemy be hungry, feed him…” You are consistently kind, even to people who hate you!) Yes, they will think you are strange!

Lord Jesus, Raise us up as students of Your Word, and let us feed upon the Living Word until we truly have the mind of Christ! We know that we are strangers in this World, but we are Your Ambassadors as long as we are here! Teach us to honor you by our lives!

Paul’s One Message was Jesus Christ, and His Crucifixion

Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

Paul Preached the Message of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.

1st Corinthians 2:1-9

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Introduction:

It encourages me to know that Paul saw simplicity and direct reference to God’s truth to be of great value. Paul saw simple, direct truth was more vital than all the human reasoning that he could offer. Paul’s great education qualified and equipped him to contend with the world’s philosophers on their own terms. But he recognized the trap therein, and knew that approaching evangelism in that way would seldom or never bear fruit.

Remember: it says that “the World by Wisdom knew not God.” I

t does not say, “human wisdom was insufficient.” Nor does it say that “Sometimes it worked, but not always.”

It says, “After that, in the wisdom of God, the World by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.” (1st Corinthians 1:21)

He warns us that our “clever approaches” don’t help. Rather, they can actually render the true message ineffective and fruitless.

Paul’s Response to the “Lesson”

Remember that, immediately before coming to Corinth, Paul had preached in Athens. Paul went to Corinth. He was feeling pretty beat-up and discouraged. The unbelieving Jews of the last three towns in which he had preached had run him out of town. Possibly he felt this was a great opportunity to “speak his own language” so to speak.

The world knew that Paul had a very good education, from human perspective. He attempted (just this once) to approach other such“educated men” by appealing to their sense of “reason.” And it simply did not work. He established no church in Athens. They saw themselves as “too smart for God!”

Are they “too good” for God, or “too smart” for God?

1st Corinthians 1:23 shows that the Athenians demonstrated how the message of Christ affected the Greeks. The Gospel offended the Jews (as Paul had seen in Thessalonica.) The Greeks just laughed at it. The Jews thought they were “too good,” or maybe “too religious,” or something, to even consider (let alone simply accept) the message of the Cross. And the Greeks often thought they were “too smart” to accept it!

Paul reflected on that experience, and he commented, “But we preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks, foolishness.”

And we still run into that problem today. Some people utterly reject the idea that they need a Savior. They believe in their own “moral superiority”. Even more numerous are those who believe in their own intellectual superiority. And they reject the concept, out of hand.

Confronting this truth in Person

I remember rejecting the message of God, myself, because I thought it was folly. Back then, I thought I was pretty smart: I thought I had all the answers. But I eventually discovered that I could not free myself from sin. I could not “be holy.” And I continually made errors in judgment! I was neither too good nor too smart: I was a condemned sinner.

For his own account, Paul had already known that truth. But in Athens, for some reason, he attempted to appeal to human reasoning. However, he quickly observed that it was not only ineffective, but it was truly counterproductive. He said such an approach could make the Cross of Christ be made “of none effect.” Paul was determined never to make the same error again!

How did Paul Approach Corinth?

He said he was determined to “know nothing except Christ and Him Crucified.”

He also said, And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Why was Paul in fear?

It could have been partly because of the beating he had received at Philippi. That natural fear may have been compounded in Corinth, when he was dragged before the magistrate, Gallio, until Gallio turned on the Jews and threw them out of the court.

But, he also may have been fearful of producing another failure before God. Athens had been a total bust where evangelism was concerned. Every faithful teacher or preacher of God’s Word is careful and anxious to not teach wrongly. We understand the potential for eternal impact upon the lives of others.

Paul strove to demonstrate the power of God in his own life, and in the Word of God as it transformed the lives of believers.

Why no “Enticing words?”

Paul concluded that his reason for the very careful teaching and his abstinence from “human wisdom” and “enticing words” was for one eternal purpose: “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

An evangelist may preach a brilliant message, and people may flock to hear it. But if they are just “persuaded by his brilliant rhetoric,” then those people may have only become “acolytes” of that particular teacher. Those who responded to the message may not have responded to the Gospel at all! And if he is an honest, sincere man, he would be dismayed to discover that result.

But that is actually the deliberate goal of many false teachers: In Acts 20:30, Paul warned that they will “seek to draw away disciples after themselves.” Paul referred to such people as “grievous wolves.” And Jesus referred to them as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Godly Fear and the Light of God

Paul desperately desired to not commit errors that might produce false believers…false fruit. So, his earnest desire was that no one would be impressed with his articulate, well-reasoned and erudite speech. He wanted God’s light to come through unshaded and unfiltered by himself.

When we shine a physical light through a glass or plastic lens, we usually want a clear lens, so as to see clearly. Can there be a reason to want to filter physical light, or to reduce its brightness? Yes, of course there are many reasons we might need to do that. But under what circumstances should we want to filter or dim or color the Light of God’s Word? I hope we can agree that we would prefer to see His light clearly and without artificial colors.

As teachers, we want to transmit the full spectrum of God’s light. We want His light to shine without restriction. In the past we have pointed out that when the headlamps on our cars are covered with road grime, It becomes difficult to see the road at night. The light inside the headlamps has not grown dim, but the lens through which it shines is failing.

We do not want the failures and dirt in our lives to diminish the Light of God for others. That may have eternal consequences in their lives. And, that alone should be a major source of “Fear and Trembling” for any honest teacher. And Paul was no exception.

What about Teaching for Mature Believers?

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

At this point, when a believer is becoming very solid in his or her faith, Paul says he could go ahead and use logic and grammar and all the “proofs” for which people hunger. But it is still not to be the World’s “wisdom.” We are not “going along with the World consensus” as to the meaning of the Bible. Truth is not derived by popular opinion.

We use scripture to interpret scripture, and we show believers how incredibly well the entire Bible fits together as one book. As those entrusted to feed the flock, we teach the truth of His Word, and believers are delighted. We are thrilled by the way God’s Word is deeply and eternally true, not just superficially or temporarily. So we are called to feed the flock, and the specific food is called out.

Sheep Food Only, Please!

We do not “feed the flock” on philosophy, or politics, or current events, or personal opinions. As God commands, we feed the Flock of God on God’s Written Word.

We show the hidden wisdom in the Word of God, to which the unbeliever is blind. God gave us believers only a little of what went on before the creation: just a few solid facts and not much more.

And after the end of time as we know it, we have also been given very little. Just enough that believers can rejoice but nothing to satisfy the rebellious, demanding heart.

Paul points out that had the religious rulers understood the real truth, they would not have rejected Jesus and crucified Him. Their actions proved their position, as emissaries of evil, not of God. The rulers of this world still completely miss the eternal realities God teaches in His Word. World religions make up traditions and lore to explain their own existence and to justify their philosophical position. But there are many questions God simply does not answer.

What is the Alternative?

As a result, many of the religious leaders exercise their imaginations and answer such questions from their own point of view, not the authority of God. They come up with false and dangerous teachings. They tell us all sorts of things regarding the eternal state. Even so-called Christian bookstores, for example, frequently have various books spelling out all the details of heaven. (Where did the information come from? I don’t know! But God says it didn’t come from Him!)

Verse nine says “…as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man…:”  God has not been revealed it at all, nor has anyone ever been able to guess or even imagine what God has in store for His children. So, when people say such things, telling all about the unseen things, you should feel free to ask where that information is found.

If it isn’t clearly laid out in God’s Word, you are under no obligation to believe it! In fact, all the writers warn us to not believe it. Jesus warned against false revelations, in Mark 13:21. He warned specifically of those claiming to have identified some person as the second coming of the Messiah. He said, “Don’t believe them!”

What about Us?

We will do our best to continually feed the flock on God’s Word. We will study carefully;searching anxiously, to be sure we lead no one astray. We have no hidden agenda, and we are accountable to God for the outcome.

This epistle addresses each of you personally. Paul encourages us to feed heavily on God’s Word. We learn to search the scriptures to be sure the teaching is correct. We each are accountable to God for our response to His truth.

Lord Jesus, please raise us up from babyhood, as believers. Teach us how to become the men and women of God that You have called us to be!

The Humility of the Cross

The Humility of the Cross

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 1:25-31

25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

Introduction:

Remember that this book is to all people who have responded to Jesus Christ in Faith…not just some specific group. (See verse 2.) That does not change the fact that some passages address things that were specific to the Church at Corinth. It simply reminds us that such passages are the exception rather than the rule.

In verses 10-13, we saw the warning against the arrogance that was already polluting the local assembly, as they divided themselves over who their respective mentors had been.

Paul made it clear that such divisions were wrong, and he begged them to knock it off. He went on to point out that the Gospel is always “counter-cultural.” There is no culture among the human race that will not find themselves condemned by the “bad news” of the Gospel: But the “bad news”  is what makes the “good news” become truly GOOD NEWS! And the result is clear: The ground at the foot of the Cross is level. There is no room for pride there!

How was Pride Set Aside?

Paul says that God has already destroyed the “wisdom” of the “wise men” of this world. He has brought to nothing the understanding of those who think they “know it all.” He has made their collective “wisdom” utterly foolish. It is a “fatal brand” of foolishness.

The key reason that the “wisdom” of this world turns out to be foolishness, is that, at no point does it actually address the true need of the human race. At no point does it admit, “We cannot solve our problems: We need the Grace of the Creator to straighten out this mess.” Thus, in verse 21, God points out that the “wisdom” of man failed to lead people to saving faith. In fact, it universally turns people away from the Savior! It is a shameful thing, not a good thing!

So, God decreed that the way He would reach the Human Race is through the “foolishness of Preaching.” (Never through human wisdom!)

How is Faith Connected to Preaching?

In Romans 10:13-17, We see that “Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord (in faith) shall be saved.” But then it asks a series of logical questions: “How shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?…how shall they hear, without a preacher (someone to “declare His name” to them.) And how shall they preach except they be sent? Then, verse 17 concludes that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

But that also means that we who preach are “tarred with the same brush” as those to whom we preach. We are not better than the people we try to reach: We are sinners who have received forgiveness and who, as a result, have become the Ambassadors of Christ.

We are beggars who have been fed and we now tell other beggars where to find that free food! But, in that foundational transaction of Grace and Faith, we have also become literally the “children of God.” (Not by adoption, which will happen in the future, but by the New Birth, which has already happened, and by which we now legitimately address our Creator as “Father.”) (There is no “Universal Fatherhood” of God. Jesus told the Jews (John 8:44) “Ye are of your father, the Devil…”) We have become His children through the New Birth!

What is The Foolishness of God?

The world sees the Gospel as foolishness. They hold the whole Bible in disdain, except for portions they think might be socially productive. They advocate a teaching that builds “morality and peace,” but they want to leave out the God whose Holiness demands Morality and whose Blood paved the way for Peace. Such people claim to desire peace, but they reject the Prince of Peace.

A man once told me he would like to see two church services: one for those who only want to embrace the social mores and ethics and Judeo-Christian values, and another for those who want to talk about “God and Jesus and that stuff.”

I told him that I would want nothing to do with a church like that. He was offended, and demanded, “Why??”

I replied, “If you take Christ out of Christianity, all that is left is a gutted, rotting corpse!” Jesus Christ is not only the “historical source of the name, Christianity: He is the only reason it works at all!

He alone has the power to change us from the inside and to make us into the Men and Women of God He has called us to be! He is the only one who can give eternal life to sinners and make us into His Saints… His personal property, to be used by Him alone!

What is The Weakness of God?

Throughout our study of the Old Testament, we have seen that the leaders God chose were frequently very flawed individuals. We saw that His power is what won battles and overcame evil and even death itself. All this, though He chose to use such weak vessels. And, He chose to do so especially so that the world could see that it was His Power, not that of the people through whom He chose to work.

What is Our Calling

Paul pointed out that not many Christians were noted “wise men,” before they were saved. Not many were “mighty” from the world’s perspective. Not many were “Noble” from the world’s perspective. (Queen Victoria is said to have commented “I am saved by the letter ‘M.’ If Paul had said ‘not any noble,’ then I could not be saved…but he said, ‘not many noble. Thus, I am saved by the letter ‘M’!”)

But the point Paul makes, in all of this, is that we have nothing to boast about on our own.

Foolish Things, Chosen by God

He says that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” He does not usually work through the “highly educated,” so much as through the “highly humble:” Those who recognize that they have no wisdom of their own and who yield themselves to God, come what may, so that He can work through them. They are consistently able to “get out of God’s way and let Him work.”

John Bunyan, the author of the classic “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” spent more than twelve years in an English jail because he preached without approval from the Anglican Church.. He did not attend their school nor did he preach their message, so he was silenced under English law. Many other “heroes of the faith” were persecuted or executed for serving God without human approval.

Weak Things, Chosen by God

Remember how God used Gideon? Gideon was not a leader or a soldier: He was a scared young farmer trying to hide some grain from the Midianites. But God used him to defeat the Midianites. God used the Woman at the Well, in Sychar (John 4:7-39) to witness to many in her community. Not because she was “highly respected,” highly educated or a powerful speaker: She was a social reject: an outcast! But God chose to use her, and He received the Glory! She received Eternal life and the blessing of God. (She was also among the “things despised” mentioned here.)

Base Things, Chosen by God

God chose fishermen and farmers, tanners and itinerant fruit pickers to take His message to His people. Did he ever use kings? Surely, He did! But remember that the most famous king he used (King David) began life as the youngest in a family of shepherds. God delights in using the lowest members of human society to bring down those who think they are the “elite.”

Things Which Are Despised, but Chosen by God

This included the “Woman at the Well,” as we noted earlier. But it also includes the people in our own society who are scorned as “religious fools” by virtually everyone, but who have given themselves to the preaching of the Cross. They have steadily been winning souls to Christ. I have known some serious soul-winners who are taken lightly by others, even other believers, but who have been consistently used by God to draw others to safety in Christ.

What are the “Things Which Are Not?”

This might include prophetic utterance about things that currently do not exist. There is no “river proceeding from the temple mount in Jerusalem” today…but Ezekiel 47 says there will be one! When Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28) named Cyrus as the instrument of God who would provide for the rebuilding of the temple, that man did not exist. He was not born until nearly 180 years after the prophecy was given…but he did what God said he would do! (God used him!)

Why? That No Flesh Should Glory

One of the attributes of God is that He gives credit where credit is due, and does not give away the credit that is His alone. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The created things (including the Human Race) never take precedence over the Creator!

When an architect designs a new building, and it proves to be a magnificent edifice, that architect expects to get the credit. (It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the wealthy people who paid for the construction take credit as if they thought of all the innovations and special features, and designed it all by themselves.)

But God says that He is a jealous God. In Isaiah 42:8, He says, “My Glory will I not give to another!” And the first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” He forbids idolatry at every level: Even our attempting to take credit for what He alone has done, is an arrogance and a foolishness that is forbidden by God.

Romans 3:27 “Where Then, is Boasting? It is Excluded!”

There is no place left where pride is appropriate in our lives. We are fully aware that all we have has been provided by our Creator. All we are, as believers, is due to His Grace and His Power. All we have to offer to anyone else is that which He has already provided to us! There is no place for Pride. Pride is universally condemned as sin, throughout the Bible. That is one reason the World hates God’s Word: it condemns human pride.

Romans 3:9 says, “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.

There is a place for boasting, but not about ourself or any other human. It is “of Him” that we are in Christ! I did nothing to earn that position: it was offered as a gift, and I received it as a gift.

Verse 30 goes on to explain that Jesus (by God’s design) has become unto us Wisdom and Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption. Jesus Christ is our source of Wisdom. His righteousness was transferred to us the day we trusted in Him as our Savior. It is only through His sacrifice that God has declared us to be holy. (That is what “sanctified” means!) And it is only through His sacrifice that we now have redemption. Some people think we are waiting for redemption. Our bodies are waiting for redemption, but we ourselves are already redeemed. (How do I know?)

Ephesians 1:7 says so! (It is written in the present tense: “In whom (in Christ) we HAVE Redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His Grace.”)

So, what is left for us, about which we can boast? Only Jesus!

He that Glorieth, Let Him Glory in the Lord!

How do we “Glory in the Lord?”

When we “boast” of the glory of God, and tell of His Omnipotent Power, and His All-sufficient Grace, what are we really doing? We are telling people about Jesus! We are being a witness to others regarding the person and work of the Savior. Which is precisely the occupation to which ALL of us have been assigned! We are called to rejoice in His person and His presence. And we are called to tell others about it!

It seems appropriate that we should be thinking of these things constantly, as well, so that they will naturally overflow from our lives.

Lord Jesus, please fill us with the Joy of Your presence, and constrain our hearts to obedience to the Great Commission. Let us see the world around us through Your eyes, and care for the souls around us as You care for them.

Brief Introduction to Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Corinthians

Introduction to 1st Corinthians

© 2023 C. O, Bishop

1st Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s:

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;

That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;

Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:

So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Historical and Geographical Background: What do We Know About Corinth?

Corinth was an ancient city positioned at a very narrow isthmus in the southern end of the Grecian Peninsula. That Isthmus separates the Ionian Sea on the West from the Aegean Sea on the East. It is such a low, narrow isthmus that it was actually cheaper and safer to pull the old wooden cargo boats out of the water onto log rollers, and use teams of oxen to transport the ships across the isthmus, than to simply sail around the headland.

Thus, Corinth had several booming businesses going: Ship’s masters paid the owners of the transport service for their services. Furthermore, the Ship’s quartermasters doubtless bought supplies while they were in port. And, finally, the sailors themselves, if allowed a port leave, did what sailors have done throughout the centuries. They ran into town and blew their wages on sin of various kinds. (What kinds, you may ask? In the interest of honoring God, we will not delve into particulars, except to point out that the town’s biggest “business” was the Temple of Aphrodite located there.

As a matter of historical interest, I looked this up in our old Britannica Encyclopedia. I read there, that, in its heyday, that temple employed 10,000 temple prostitutes, both male and female. So, effectively, the entire town was a pit of evil! Therefore it is not surprising to see that the church that was planted there faced many problems associated with carnality.

How Did Paul Happen to Come There?

If we go back and read through Acts 16 and 17, we see that Paul planted a small church in Philippi, but it cost him and Silas a public beating and a brief imprisonment. He left there and he and Silas ended up in Thessalonica. He planted a church there, too, but again was driven out by the violent response of the unbelieving Jews: they were his kinsmen according to the flesh, but they were enemies of the Gospel.

Then he and Silas went to Berea, and they were in process of planting a church there, when the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica caught up with them (Paul, Silas and Timothy by this time) and Paul was again forced to leave. (Silas and Timothy stayed and taught.)

Paul went alone to Athens, a place already famous for worldly wisdom, learning, and philosophy. The sermon he preached there has been praised ever since, by homiletics teachers and modern preachers. Why? Because it did such a “slick” job of “sneaking the gospel in there, sideways,” But that sermon had nearly zero fruit, and Paul left town without planting a church. He went directly from there to Corinth, just about three miles away. And, he had learned something!

What was Different when Paul Preached in Corinth?

Paul says in 1st Corinthians 1:17 that he was sent there “…not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect!”

He took to heart the poor response at Athens, and rather than blaming the hard hearts of the Athenian philosophers, he saw that he had made an error in judgment: In 1st Corinthians 2:1, 2, he said, “1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

So, his approach was different, and the result was different. The Corinthian church was still riddled with sin, as a direct result of the environment in which they lived and everything they thought was “normal.”

The result, for us,is two fairly lengthy letters. And the content of both letters is nearly all some sort of corrective teaching.

Introduction to Chapter One:

Notice how Paul introduces himself and his co-laborer, Sosthenes: “Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,”

You may notice in your Bible that the words “to be” are in italics. That indicates that the italicized words are not in the original manuscript, but were added by the translators, to make the passage fit English grammar and usage. This is a good example of such a thing, and we can easily see the reason they were added.

In English, if I said, “I am called a pastor.” It might mean, “that’s what people say about me, but it isn’t necessarily true.” But the sense of the word “called”, in Greek is not “that’s what people say,” but rather “God called me to do this: I didn’t appoint myself!” He was called by God, through the will of God. We will see a similar thing in verse two, where we find that all believers are called by God to be Saints…His holy People.

What about Sosthenes?

Notice, too, that while he includes “Sosthenes,” as a believing brother and implies that he is his co-worker, he makes no further mention. Paul was the apostle, writing the epistle. He simply acknowledged that he was not alone in the work: Sosthenes was with him. Why would that be important? Because, if we read Acts 18:17, we see that Sosthenes had (briefly) been the chief ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth. Why “briefly?” Because the previous “Chief Ruler of the Synagogue,” Crispus, according to Acts 18:8 had become a Christian, a believer in Jesus!

Evidently that disqualified Crispus as leader of the Synagogue! And, in Acts 18:12-17, we saw that as an unbelieving Jew (at that time) Sosthenes (the new leader) was part of the widespread insurrection of the unbelieving Jews in Corinth. They seized Paul and dragged him into court, before Gallio. But it turned out that Gallio was not at all sympathetic.

What happened to Sosthenes?

Sosthenes, along with his fellow leaders, were driven out of the court by Gallio, because Gallio, as the Roman governor, had zero interest in Jewish Law! And the unbelieving Greeks, there, savagely beat Sosthenes, right in front of the judgment seat…and Gallio didn’t care!

So, this man Sosthenes had gone from being the leader of the unbelieving Jews in Corinth to being a disciple of the Lord Jesus and a co-worker with Paul! Did the beating somehow “wake him up?” We don’t know. But that specific testimony to the believers at Corinth had great importance, and it glorified God immensely, as Sosthenes had once been their enemy!

To Whom is the Epistle Addressed?

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s:

Notice the people listed:

  1. First, it is not to “the pastor,” nor to the “leaders.” It is to the Church of God at Corinth.
    1. Church, singular.
  2. But it includes…
    1. Them (plural) that are sanctified (set apart for God’s private use!) who are
    1. Called to be Saints! (Declared to be Holy to God!) AND
  3. All (everyone!) that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord
    1. Their Lord and Ours!

Do you see how the entire Body of Christ is included, for all time? If you have placed your exclusive trust in Jesus Christ as “God’s chosen sacrifice” for your sins, then, according to this verse, this letter is most definitely to YOU! Please take it as God speaking to you! Are there some passages that were specific to just Corinth? Absolutely, there are! And we will come to them. But this letter is to the entire Church, the Body of Christ at large! (Keep that in mind!)

And What is the “Wish of God” for Us?

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is always given in that order: Grace, then Peace. It is impossible to experience the Peace of God, or even Peace with God, apart from first being the recipients of His Grace. In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: Not as the World giveth, give I unto You. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (How important is that Peace to you? This verse tells us the beginning of how to receive it. Receive His Grace!)

Paul thanks God for the Church:

Why? What is he thankful for? (vs. 4-8)

“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;”

  1. That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge. (v. 5)
  2. The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, (v. 6) so that
    1. Ye come behind in no gift (v. 7) (and you are….)
    1. Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: (v. 7)
  3. (The Lord Jesus Christ) Who shall also confirm you unto the end, (v. 8) that
    1. ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s Break that Down, Point by Point:

As we have already observed, this letter is to you: It is to us! That means that this verse says we are not lacking any gift that God has offered: He is the One True Shepherd, and He is protecting and feeding His Flock! He sends under-shepherds (such as myself and the other leaders, here) to “carry the buckets of Sheep Food,” and to work as His servants, protecting and guiding the flock, but the flock is always to be under His hand…we are not free to just expound our own ideas. They have to come from Him, through His Word!

How was the testimony confirmed? The believers at Corinth saw the transformed lives of those who believed, and they saw the miraculous defense God gave the newborn church through an unbelieving Governor. They saw the transformation of Sosthenes, and the growth of the Church, there at Corinth. They saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit beginning to be evident in their assembly, and they saw that God was giving the knowledge of His Word, to feed them.

How About Today?

The Testimony of Christ has been confirmed here in our little assembly in similar ways. When our unbelieving governor said that because of Covid, Oregon churches could have no more than 30 people in attendance, we called the Chief of Police in our town, and he stated that the only reason he or any of his officers would be coming to our church is to worship with us! That is a prety amazing response!

We, too, have seen the transformed lives, and the answers to prayer!

As he wrote to them, they were joyfully pressing forward, waiting for the Coming of the Lord. (So are we!)  And they knew that HE is the One who will cause them to appear before Him, blameless, in that day. (So do we! That is our hope, too!)

Were they “Perfect Christians,” then? (Had they “Arrived?”) Most emphatically, NO! They were one of the most carnal churches Paul ever dealt with. But they were eternally secure in Christ, because Jesus was the One who promised to “confirm them to the end.” The result is that they WILL “be blameless in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that is our confidence as well!

Paul’s Conclusion:

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

The same God who called you to faith in Jesus is the One who makes these promises. He is utterly faithful, and He will draw you along to walk with Him, and to serve Him in fellowship and partnership with Jesus.

Yes, He does call us to Service and to Holiness,  but His promise is sure: We will appear before Him, dressed in His righteousness, not our own, and we are bound to Him eternally by His Love, not by our own feeble efforts, or by our own vacillating love and faith. He is the Faithful One!

We need to keep these promises in mind as we study this epistle, and every day realize that these promises are to us! To you! To me! Don’t lose sight of the Faithfulness of the God who has called you into the light of His Son!

Lord Jesus, we ask that you secure our hearts against the attacks of the evil one, and stay our minds upon the Promises of Your Word!

The Question of Religion, You, Me, and Jesus Christ

Religion, You, Me, and Jesus Christ

© 2023 by Randy Olsen

Passages Cited, in the Order Used:

Romans 5:1-4; Acts 25:19; Acts 26:5; Amos 5:21; Amos 8:10; Acts 17:22-23; Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 10:11; James 1:26, 27; 2nd Peter 3:15; 2nd Peter 3:9; 1st Peter 3:15-16.

Introduction:

As we find our way through this rapidly changing world, what we knew as reality, 20 or 30 years ago, is vastly different today. Let’s face it: ten years ago, the landscape we faced in our everyday society was foreign to what we see today. (Remember that I am communicating this to you from the viewpoint of a grey-haired, slightly past middle-aged man.)

Think about what we see on a daily basis. There are more tents along our highways and even on city sidewalks than we have in our forest parks! The State of Oregon, (and, in particular, the City of Portland) has made it legal to use hard narcotics right on our city streets. It is no wonder that the young people of today are having problems getting the footholds in today’s society, that most of us were able to attain at the same age.

Old vs. New

Many of us were born and raised in Northwest Oregon, where, as teenagers and younger, we picked strawberries and other crops for summer employment. This is how we purchased our school clothes for the next year. I’m not sure precisely what today’s employment laws are, but I know, today, a pair of Levi’s jeans can cost $50 or $60, and they already have holes in them!

So, I have said all this to show compassion for the “twenty-somethings” of today, and when they show up in church, my heart goes out to them immediately.

What Else has Changed?

I have been lucky enough to have received 98% of my Bible teaching at True Hope Christian Fellowship. I have been to a few other churches, where I was always greeted by a charming and charismatic person, and they were always polite and “bubbly.”

Then, after we sang some songs, I waited for the teaching; but it never materialized! We were told of the great expansion of their church buildings, or how they were saving money to send a few lucky individuals to the Holy Land. But never about spreading the Gospel. I can look back, now, and see that we were not being taught the words of Christ, but rather, how to be a prosperous member of their congregation.

What was Missing?

Christ calls on each of us to be people of strong and upright character, regardless of our financial status. We are to put our faith in the Grace of God. In Romans 5:1-4, Paul tells us this: 1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Now, by “sufferings,” does he necessarily mean “suffering physical pain?” I don’t think so: He is referring to the trials and issues we deal with in everyday life. I believe we come out the other side stronger for it all.

Brothers and sisters, I do not mean to use this time to give “my life’s testimony.” But, my life is the best example I know of someone starting as an adult, and so completely ignorant of God. So there will be a reference or two of my experience. Please bear with me.

What About “Religion?”

I actually began this study, months ago, to better understand the word “Religion, and how it was used, Biblically. There is no word used in the Old Testament, that actually means “religion.” In the New Testament, as I read the NIV, there are five occurrences of the English word, religion.

The Latin root of the English word, “religion” is “religare” which means “to hold back” or “to restrain.” (What are we being held back from?)

In Greek, the root word is “threskeia” meaning “an outward expression of spiritual devotion.”

How is the Word used?

The word first appears in Acts 25:19 where Festus used the word describing to King Agrippa the accusations against Paul, and again in Acts 26:5, where Paul was defending himself before Festus and King Agrippa. He used the word, describing himself as an upstanding member of the Pharisees (prior to his conversion,) giving credibility to his testimony concerning Jesus Christ.

There are three more occurrences of the word Religion: all have reference to simple worship, and they are mostly in the NIV.

And What About “being Religious?

My study became much more interesting when I moved my focus from “Religion” to “Religious.” Again, in the Old Testament, the KJV does not include a single use of the word. NIV has two, both in the Book of Amos. Both times, God was reprimanding Israel, for idol worship, ultimately. Amos 5:21 reads, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals. Your assemblies are a stench to me!” And Amos 8:10 says, “I will turn your religious festivals into mourning, and all of your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads.”

Now, through all of the Old Testament, we came to know that sackcloth and shaved heads were not signs of joy. (And idol worship does not sit well with God, ever!)

How was this Word used?

In Acts 17, Paul was brought before the Areopagus council in Athens. The “powers that be” in Athens, viewed Paul as nothing more than a babbler, advocating foreign gods and strange ideas. In Acts 17:22, 23, addressed the council, saying, “People of Athens, I see that in every way, you are very religious (KJV says “too superstitious”), for, as I walked around, and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship.

Paul went on to tell them that the One True God (who is Jesus) makes Himself available to them, but that they must come to know Him as such: The One True God. Paul tried to delineate between truth and superstition. Some of his audience believed, but most just sneered.

There are four more occurrences of the word “religious” in the NIV. You can find them in Colossians 2:16, Hebrews 10:11, and James 1:26, 27. All are in reference to unnecessary actions during festivals and rituals of repetitious prayers to gain attention.

God’s Call

Our Lord calls us to use His Word as a blueprint for our lives and families. Not all of us came to Christ at an early age: I had 40 years to learn how to be self-reliant, self-serving, and really proud of all that I was.

Our Lord is very patient with all of us. 2nd Peter 3:15 says, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

Just how patient He is, is spelled out in the KJV, in 2nd Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, (to each of us) not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

What Changes Should Occur?

Brothers and sisters, Our Lord is never going to change. He is the same today as He was yesterday, and the same as He will be tomorrow. In order for us to experience the true measure of the Love He has for us, it is you and I who need to fit into His mold, not the other way around.

We all have differing testimonies as to how we came to faith, but I am lucky enough to know at what moment it took place. And, like all of you, I was made to be a new creation, having a new character, and a very new eternity!

What Makes the Change?

I came across a quote by Oswald Chambers, saying, “It is not the Baptism of the Holy Ghost which changes men, but the power of the Ascended Christ coming into men’s lives by the Holy Ghost, that changes them.” (AMEN!)

Let’s think about that for just a moment: We have the power of Jesus Christ in us. Obviously we cannot perform miracles or walk on water, but we can communicate with the Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

In the course of my study, I came across a statement by J. Vernon McGee: He told of a pastor friend who said, “When I came to Christ, I lost my religion!” (I agree!) I have seen, many times, that when a person labels someone else as “religious,” he himself has no faith.

What’s the Difference?

We are all well aware of our Lord’s command to share the Gospel. Maybe we could use the discussion about “religion” as a springboard to the Gospel, and explain what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ.

1st Peter 3:15, 16 tells us, “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Verse 15 says to share the message with “gentleness and respect,” not with a bunch of screaming or yelling, such as we may see on some platforms, or on television. Not all people are going to respond to the Good News in the same way. Evangelism is a process. It may be a different process for each person to be reached. That process may take five minutes, five days, or five years. The end result is worth it!

What is at Risk?

I recently lost a close family member…a cousin with whom I was very close. I had made several attempts to lead him to a discussion of eternal security. No matter what my lead-in was, his response was the same: He would tell me he believed in God, he believed in Jesus, and he even attended midnight mass a few times on Christmas Eve.

But if I asked him about a personal relationship with Christ, he would raise his hand, and start talking about his favorite sports team, of the week, or last year’s elk hunt, which are both good topics, but they do not remove you from your sins. I continue to have a weight on my shoulders, not knowing whether Steve will be waiting for me in Heaven.

What can be Gained?

I have a friend with whom I have spent countless hours and days, after more than 50 years of friendship. After losing my cousin, I was determined to know whether Dan knew Christ in an intimate manner. Dan is a Catholic, as was Steve. He and I speak of God often, but up until this time, we had never spoken of eternal security.

So, one day, when we were cutting firewood, I asked him directly, “Do you have Jesus, leading you to heaven?” He looked at me with a blank look on his face, and finally replied, “Randy, Jesus is all I’ve got! What else is there??” We both wept, and hugged one another.

I have read that “Religion is Man’s search for God, and the Gospel is God’s search for man.” That statement is one reason why, when someone asks me “what religion I am,” I respond that “I have no religion! I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!” I explain that I have put my faith in the Savior of the Bible. HE is the reason I attend Wednesday Bible Study, and Sunday morning service. HE is the reason I am standing in front of you now…(with my blood pressure way too high!)

What is the Result?

Almost all of you know that Cheryl, my wife, has terminal cancer. We have “put all our eggs in One Basket,” Jesus Christ! Yes, we still see a lot of doctors, but she nearly died from their answer to the cancer. I made them quit. They argued, but I refused to allow them to continue the chemotherapy and radiation. Those treatments work great for some, but for her, it took six weeks in the hospital to recover from the treatments.

Yes, she still has the cancer, and it is growing, but she is alive and at home. Had she continued the chemotherapy, she would not have recovered. Her oncologist is amazed at how well she is doing. She is alive, and we are together! The Oncologist knows what part we want him to play, and he is good with it.

You who are sitting in front of me now are a huge part of my therapy! I would not do well without you. Many times I have walked through the doors of this building, and it is almost as though I can smell Love! I nearly always arrive early, because I know I have some burdens to shed, before I go before the Lord. I know that greeting my brothers and sisters in Christ is so much sweeter after I have “had a drink of Jesus!”

Who is the Master?

As I go on with my words, some of you may think I am “really a godly man.” Far from it! I am very, very human. My choices have led me to some really dark places. Believe me when I tell you, “I have seen the pit!” But, for some reason, unbeknownst to me, Christ reached out and plucked me from oblivion. And this was many years before I even knew that I needed Jesus Christ! But I can look back now, and see it for what it was. He had a place, in His will, where He wanted me: and I found it! At least for right now, He wants me at True Hope Christian Fellowship.

Channel Markers

God will give you “channel markers” to follow in your life. Just as you would follow such markers when navigating a river, in a boat, you should follow His leading. If you look, you will find them in the scriptures. But as I have found, you will not “absorb them through osmosis.”

You must be in the Word, to find your way! You must follow the light of Christ, and learn to skip over the pitfalls that the enemy sets for you. The Word of God will give you inspiration in times when your life seems empty. It will give you solace and comfort when your world seems full of bitterness and pain. God’s Word gives us a place to gather as His children, and in the Love that is the Person of Jesus Christ.

One last thing: Just as Peter did (and as I have done today,) “Get out of the boat, and keep your eyes on Christ!”

Thank you all!

We are Called to Prayer and Service

We are Called to Prayer and Service

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

2nd Thessalonians 3:1-5

1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.

Introduction:

Last week we ended our study of 2nd Thessalonians 2, We were looking at the last three verses. We asked, “What should be the result of our having become chosen in Christ?”

As you know, this epistle was a letter to the church at Thessalonica. It had no chapter or verse divisions. So, whatever was being discussed at the end of one chapter usually led into what would begin the next. (For example, we read the teaching about the Rapture, back in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18. But it leads directly into the Tribulation, in 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11.)

So, let’s go back and see the transition between the end of 2nd Thessalonians chapter 2 and the beginning of 2nd Thessalonians chapter 3:

What Should the Result Be? (2nd Thessalonians 2:15-17)

15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. 16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

He says we are to stand fast, and to hold to sound doctrine. We are to be obedient to the Word of God as we have been taught. We are taught by the Holy Spirit, by Christ Himself, and by whatever teachers He has sent to us.

Ephesians 4:14, 15 says we are to “grow up into Him!” We are to grow to be like Him!

And Ephesians 5:1-20 tells us what that “looks like.” We are to leave behind our old ways, along with all the “unprofitable works of darkness.” We leave the darkness behind, because we now are “children of the light.”

Children of Light

He says that because we are children of the light, we are to walk as the children of light. Behave like a child of God because you have become one, by the new birth. You were born again through placing your full trust in His blood alone for redemption. (Behaving that way as an unbeliever will not save you. But if you truly are a saved child of God, then the results should begin to show in a changed life.)

And (v. 17) as we continue to learn to walk with Him, we can expect that He will “comfort our hearts and establish us in every good word and work.” The result will be that our work and our words will all prove to be to His Glory.

2nd Thessalonians 3

Prayer is Part of That Result

Paul said, 1 Finally, brethren, pray for us.” But, take note of what Paul asks the Thessalonian believers to pray for his sake:

“…that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:

He asked prayer that the Word of the Lord would have “free course,” and be glorified. Flowing water, as in a river or a stream, when unrestricted, is said to have “free course.” The stream’s course, or water-way is not obstructed by anything.

Numerous farmers have had to remove beaver dams. The dams had stopped the flow of water in their irrigation systems. (I am thrilled by God’s creation: that a rodent could instinctively know how to build dams of sticks and mud. And I’m amazed that the dams can hold back thousands of tons of water!) But… I can sympathize with the farmers, who only want the beavers to go somewhere else!) All the farmers hoped to do was to restore the “free course” of the water. That way, the water could freely flow to their fields. In some cases, they needed the water to flow away, draining their fields to prevent flooding.

Praying for “free course” for the Word of God means Paul asked for the obstructions to be removed. He desired that the effect of the Gospel would not be diminished. Also, he said that the unrestricted Word would be glorified in those who heard it. He said, despite their persecution, that the Gospel had  “free course” in Thessalonica.  So, we can see that persecutions are not the “obstructions” to which Paul referred. The obstructions are the arguments of “unreasonable and wicked men.”

And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.”

Looking Back to Berea

Remember what happened in Acts 17:10-14…

10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. 14 And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.”

The Bereans

We can see in Acts 17:11 that the people of Berea were receptive. The Word had “Free Course” there. The people “received the Word with all readiness of mind and they searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” That is what we call “free course.” That is the best we can hope for. We want people to hear the word, and go check their Bible to be sure we told them the truth. (Wonderful! That is exactly what we want!)

But, in Acts 17:13 we see that the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica were not content to have “run Paul out of their own town.” They sent a delegation over to Berea, to do the same thing there! And it worked! The “unreasonable and wicked men” were able to stir up the unbelieving Jews of Berea, just as they did in Thessalonica. So, Paul left town, because he was the one they were mostly clamoring against, but he left Silas and Timothy there to continue teaching the new believers. Paul moved on to Athens, and then to Corinth.

So, How Do We Respond?

Some churches, still today, name themselves after that little town, calling themselves the “Berean Bible Church,” or the “Berean Baptist Church,” or the “Berean Brethren” or some such thing. Why? Because they want to be associated with, and (hopefully) to emulate those who were “noble” in their behavior, at Berea.

Do they actually maintain that attitude? Well…I’m sure it varies. It is easy to start off receptive and obedient to the Written Word. But the tendency is to gather together and work out some sort of  “set-in-stone, no-longer-to-be-questioned DOCTRINAL STATEMENT.” That in itself is not a problem, provided that all it really says is “this is what we have gained so far.”

The problems begin later: The believers may become complacent in their “solid teaching.” And, after that, they frequently quit being receptive. They just “drop anchor” on that document, saying, “This is what WE believe,” and they neglect to “search the scriptures daily, whether these things are so.” At that point, Jesus, the Living Word, no longer has “Free Course” in that assembly, even if the “doctrinal statement” is completely correct. They feel they have “arrived,” and that they no longer need to “Feed on the Word of God.” They have set Jesus aside!

The Hidden Trap of Being “Orthodox”

The word “orthodox” just means having “correct opinions.” But you can have “correct opinions” and still be dead. The whole point is to have those “correct opinions” because the Living Word of God has free course in your life! We need to have those “correct opinions” because we have been born again, and because the Holy Spirit has had the freedom to teach our hearts, not just our minds.

Remember, some time ago, we talked about “having the truth in our library, but not in our living room.” It is entirely possible to “mentally agree” with correct Bible teaching, but not be willing to apply it to one’s own life. Some people claim to “believe the Gospel,” but when they are questioned, it becomes clear that they have never applied it to themselves, personally. It is a good thing for everyone else!

I pray the Lord will grant that we do not make such an error as to become complacent in our “doctrinal correctness.” We must keep feeding on the Word, and searching the scriptures daily. In this way, as we study the Written Word, the Living Word will have “free course” in our lives. We want to eliminate the obstructions in our lives, so that the Holy Spirit is free to flow through us to the world around us.

So, How Can We Avoid the Traps?

3But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.

Our only Hope is in the Person of Christ! In Philippians 2:13, Paul said, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” God both gives us the desire to do His will and carries us through to the doing of it. All we need to do is to be willing, and to make ourselves available to Him for His service, so that we follow Him and obey Him.

Here, in 2nd Thessalonians 3:3, 4. we see the same Hope. Our Hope is in the Person of Christ. As we feed on Jesus, the Living Word, it says, “the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you and keep you from evil.” He is the one to build our “solid teaching” and our “sound doctrine,” and He is the One to continually guide us into deeper truth, and safe relationships and behavior.

We Are Not Alone

We are not left on our own to “build the Church.” In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my Church.” Yes, He will use us to accomplish His will, as we submit ourselves to Him, but it is His Church, and He will build it!

In Psalm 23, it says that He makes us lie down in green pastures, and He leads us beside still waters. I am told that sheep only lie down in the pasture when they have been fully fed. They were eating that green grass, and now they are resting in it peacefully. We can rest peacefully because He has fed us on His Word. He “makes us to rest” in that “green pasture.”

Also, we are led by means of His Holy Spirit, the Living Water, because He “leads us beside still waters.” The Holy Spirit does not stir up fear and resentment and chaos among us. There are many loud voices in the world, demanding that we be alarmed. We need to realize that the voice of God brings peace.

The Spirit of Fear or the Spirit of God?

The Holy Spirit does not bring fear and timidity. 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.” Remember this when you “hear news” that disturbs you. We are “called to action,” but we are called in Peace.

Gideon was called to do something that would have been terrifying to anyone, in their natural strength. But God provided Strength and Peace. In Judges 7:15, He sent Gideon into the enemy camp at night, along with his servant. There he heard a message from God, through an enemy soldier! That message caused him to worship the Lord for having given them the victory. As a result, he was in complete peace, as they launched an attack against a vast enemy force. He was only allowed to use three hundred men, and all of them had their hands full so that they could not use a weapon!

They were given the same three-fold task as we are given!

  1. Stand fast,
  2. Shine a light, and
  3. Sound the Alarm!

We are to stand fast in Christ, shining the light of transformed lives, in the midst of a dark world. And, as we shine, we are to sound the alarm that Judgment is coming, but that Jesus Saves! And as we do those three things, we can rest in Him.

Current Events and Our Future

Many of you have heard terrible news in the last two days, and we may feel fearful about the outcome. But they had much worse news back then. What did Paul say about responding to their circumstances?

And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.

We are not called to fear the future, but rather to delve deeper into a loving relationship with the Holy God we serve. We are to live in cheerful expectation of His soon return. That is it! And this idea was not new.

Old Testament Truth

Habakkuk expressed this truth in Habakkuk 3:17-19, His “current events” were far worse than ours! In his case, there was no “warning that judgment might fall.” Instead, it was God’s promise that Judgment would fall, and very soon, at that! But Habakkuk chose to find his Peace and Joy in the Person of Christ. He said, “Yet will I rejoice in the LORD. I will joy in the God of my Salvation!

We are called to that same Peace and Joy, regardless of our “current events.” We are called to live every day knowing that He could return today. The only way to do that is to feed daily on His Word, and walk with the Shepherd daily, as His flock, and as His servants.

Lord Jesus, please call us to the three-fold action of Bible Study, Prayer, and Discipleship. Make us aware that the time is short, and that we have only this one opportunity to work with You. Thrill our hearts with the privilege of that opportunity and move us to do Your Will!