Posts Tagged ‘service’

Celebration of a Life

What little I know of Richard Banham:

© May 30th, 2020, Chet Bishop

It is a little disconcerting to realize just how little I know of a man with whom I have served for nearly a decade: I know his birthdate (September 25th, 1931) and I know the date of his death (May 29th, 2020.) He would have been 89 in September.

I know he became a believer in his late teens, and still later (not sure when?) he attended Biola (Bible Institute Of Los Angeles.) I think he graduated from there in 1957. I know he served as a US Marine, and later as a Hillsboro police officer, and a Chaplain while he was on the Hillsboro police force. I know that during one period of his life, he had also served as a missionary, reaching unchurched areas of Oregon and Washington, and possibly other areas, teaching in homes and leading people to Christ.

He served as a Bible Study teacher in a wide variety of care centers, around the Portland area, teaching, preaching, evangelizing, and serving in whatever capacity he could. But we knew him primarily because of his time here at True Hope Christian Fellowship.

At True Hope Christian Fellowship

Richard first appeared at True Hope Christian Fellowship, one Sunday afternoon, in July of 2010, during a downstairs deacon’s and elder’s meeting. I held no office in the church at that time, and I was already done teaching, so I was with Ann, in the car, across the street, getting ready to leave. We saw him walk up the steps and go in, and both of us said, “He needs to talk to someone!” So I got back out of the car, and followed him inside.

We introduced ourselves to one another, and Richard began asking questions about the church, the organizational structure, our doctrinal statement, etc. He first asked mostly general questions, but became more and more specific, as he worked to ascertain just exactly who he was dealing with.

My formal training had familiarized me with all the theological terminology and phrases he was using, as he “grilled” me on what the church really believed, so I was quite comfortable with answering his questions, and I genuinely enjoyed the visit. He was finally satisfied that we were in agreement about everything that was important to him, so he slowed the pace a bit. At that point, I said, “I really think you need to meet Pat James, the pastor, here.” So we walked downstairs and I introduced him to the men gathered there, and I left. Ann and I went on home, but we were both hoping that Richard would be back.

That was the beginning of Richard’s relationship with the church, and he rapidly settled in to serve. I had been teaching both a morning adult Sunday school class and a Wednesday evening Bible study/prayer meeting, but as my vocational work at Gunderson Inc. became more demanding, I asked Richard to take over the Wednesday night meeting. (Pat James was living at the coast by then, and it was getting to be too much for him, to drive back for an evening meeting every week, though he had done so for many years.)

I had also been teaching an afternoon Bible Study at Cornell Estates, every Sunday, for ten years, and I asked him to come there with me, so that, in the event I could not be there, he would already be familiar with the group and could easily step in. We ended up taking turns teaching through books of the Bible, for nearly another ten years, after that. He was absolutely faithful to be prepared, and to teach in great detail any portion of scripture he addressed. He also went there during the weeks and ministered to the believers, which I was unable to do because of my work schedule.

Richard was ordained as an elder after a few years at True Hope, and when Pat and Jan James became sick enough that Pat could not always be at church, Richard and I took turns filling the pulpit, for a year or so, always hoping that Pat’s health would improve.

When Pat finally became too sick to continue serving at all, he asked Richard to take over the shepherding of True Hope Christian Fellowship. Richard agreed to do so, provided I would serve with him, as he and I were both aware of the Biblical standard that there should always be a plurality of leaders—elders—in each church. So I was ordained by the church, as well, and he and I began taking turns preaching every week. If one of us had a message that required more than one week, the other simply backed off and allowed the series of messages to be completed. We had good harmony in our service, though we did not always agree 100% about small points of doctrine. There was never a rift: we were both free to study, learn, and build our personal understanding of God’s Word. He was a blessing to me and to the Church.

In Sickness and in Health

A few years ago, Richard was told he had advanced Prostate Cancer. He subjected himself to all the treatments, and continued to serve faithfully. He very seldom missed a service, though he became increasingly fatigued, and weaker, month by month. A few times he fell, and could not get up, but he always insisted on taking care of his own needs, which caused some distress for his family and friends, but was it was simply part of his character, as one who came to serve, not to be served.

Richard served faithfully until he was physically unable to go on…and then He was simply called home. He came as close to “dying in harness” as almost anyone I have ever known, and he stayed lucid to the very end. I had actually asked him the previous week (Memorial Day weekend) whether he would like to take the Sunday service. He declined, saying he really wasn’t prepared, but thanked me for asking. Neither of us knew that he had only a week left on Earth.

Richard died in his own home (as he had frequently said he desired to do) with many of his family around him. He died in peace, without prolonged suffering, which we count a special blessing and an answer to prayer. He was simply called home: he answered one last call.

It was an honor to have served with Richard, and I wish I could have known him earlier in life. I learned a good deal from him in the years I knew him, and I wish that I could have continued to do so. Richard was a teacher to everyone around him, and a friend to the whole church. He cared deeply about the church and the individuals within it. He became a true pillar in our community of faith, and was universally respected for his deep knowledge of God’s Word.

Already, in the short time he has been gone, there have been questions I wanted to discuss with him, to get his input. But he’s not here for me anymore, and that grieves me, as I am sure it does many of you. We are all going to miss him, but it gives us peace to know that he is with the Lord today.

So… What do we do, Now?

1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 is a good passage to remember at times like this:

 “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout; with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

The twin reasons these words can be a comfort to us are both contained in the passage itself:

“If We Believe that Jesus Died and Rose Again”

To an unbeliever, this passage would be no comfort at all: the whole passage is predicated on the assumption that the people to whom Paul was writing were all believers! And these are the core issues of the Gospel: 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 spell out that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, specifically as payment for our sins, are the key message of the Gospel. Paul says “if we believe…” that Gospel, then these words are a comfort to us.

Romans 1:16 says that that Gospel, being believed in, is THE power of God unto salvation. Paul said, “I am not shamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the Power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

Richard believed with all his heart that Jesus’s blood at the Cross paid for all his sins, completely and permanently. If we also “believe that Jesus died and rose again,” as the 1st Thessalonians passage points out, then we can have confidence that not only we will see Richard again, but that we cannot miss the Rapture of the Church. We will be caught up with him!

2nd Corinthians 5:8 says, “We are confident, I say, and willing, rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  This was another source of confidence for Richard, knowing that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” He did not go into some sort of “limbo,” as some people teach, nor into any sort of “waiting room,” such as a “purgatory,” or any other such thing. His soul did not go into suspended animation or a “soul-sleep!” He left his body, and he was instantly in the presence of his Savior. There is no middle ground. Those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, by believing that His death and burial and resurrection are full payment their sins, personally, will personally step into his presence, just as Richard did.

“Even So, Them also which sleep… in Jesus”

It is important to recognize that our confidence is in God’s Word, and His faithfulness…not our own goodness, nor that of Richard Banham. There may be some who knew Richard long ago, and who have held a grudge against him for some cause, and who may still think, “Well, he was nothing special!” Let me assure you: Richard would have been the first to agree with them! He never considered himself to have “earned merit” with God, but only to have had the unspeakable privilege of serving Him, in whatever capacity he was allowed. His standing with the Holy God he served had nothing to do with his own worthiness, but entirely to do with the Worthiness of Jesus Himself, because God only saw Richard “in Christ!” You see, that phrase, “even so them also that sleep ‘in Jesus’…” addresses positionnot condition. Richard never stood before God in his own righteousness, but rather in the Righteousness of Christ, alone. That is his eternal position before God.

If you have received Jesus as your Savior, then the scripture says you also are permanently “in Christ!” Your confidence in Him, because of your position in Him, should move you to find great freedom in living for him. Richard was dedicated to doing just that.

Probably there are some of you who would like to share how Richard has affected your life… how he stirred you to grow in the Lord, or in other ways influenced you. Our sister, Kristen Flemmer, shared her thoughts last week because she knew she would unable to be here today. If you would like to speak, please don’t be shy: If he was a blessing to you, we all would like to share in that blessing. This is how it becomes a blessing to all who hear it.

Time for sharing

Close in more songs and prayer.


What Am I Missing?

What Am I Missing?

© Chet Bishop, April 2012 (THCF 4/1/12)

Luke 19:1-44 (whole Passage)

Luke 19: 1-10 (read it)

1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Introduction:

In the parallel passages in the other gospels, we have read how Jesus traveled through Jericho, headed for Jerusalem. We read about the blind men who were healed before and after Jericho…but what happened in Jericho?  A mob of people followed Jesus. They had heard of him, and had seen him heal people. Funny, though, these people were not encouraging those blind men to be healed, but rather were telling them to be quiet. They saw them as a nuisance. Jesus saw them as people—souls whom he created and for whom he was about to die as a life-purchasing sacrifice.

As Jesus passed through Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus saw the mob of people surrounding Jesus as he passed, but could not see Jesus, because he himself was very short, and evidently didn’t even know who he was. He was gripped by curiosity, though, enough to run ahead of the pack and climb a tall tree, because he “…sought to see Jesus who he was…”. This is an odd phrase, and perhaps it is just the King James language for “wanted to see who it was” but it specifically says he wanted to “see Jesus, who he was”. He could have simply asked, as the blind man had asked…but he really wanted to see Jesus, who he was.  I don’t know of anyone else of whom this peculiar statement is made. He had a God-given hunger…I will assume he had heard something of God’s word, simply because he was a Jew….

Remember that there was a whole crowd of people “seeing Jesus” as he walked along. They had seen the healings. But they were missing something.

What about Zacchaeus? Who was he? He was chief among the publicans…a Jewish born tax-collector for the Romans…a collaborator with the enemy. But he wasn’t born that way. He had his training in the synagogue school, his “bar mitzvah”, etc.  It is just that at some point he wandered from the God of Israel, and followed the God of money…he was a rich man as a result. And he had been paying the price for that sin. He was rejected by all his neighbors, so he had no fellowship with them, and no fellowship with his Creator either.

Perhaps the old prophecies that he had memorized in his youth echoed in his mind from time to time, and he wondered if the Messiah would ever come—and whether he himself would even be worthy to own him as his Lord. And then Jesus came to town…. But I don’t want to guess:

Whatever the true background, Zacchaeus climbed that tree because he desperately wanted to see Jesus, “Who he was”. And Jesus saw him “who he was”…and called him by name. Jesus said “Zacchaeus! Hurry down from there…I must stay at your house today!”

What a transformation! Zacchaeus hurried down and received him joyfully. The neighbors (ALL those who saw the transaction) grumbled, saying that Jesus had gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner. (I’ll bet that made Zacchaeus feel great…he was right there…he knew what they were all saying.) But Zacchaeus responded with works fit for repentance. He stood, during dinner, and told Jesus that he would give half of all he owned to the poor, and that if he had wrongly exacted money from anyone he would restore it fourfold. (That made him the best investment in town. 300% return. J)

I don’t know how the neighbors felt about that. I’m not sure Zacchaeus really cared—he was concerned with a relationship with Jesus. And Jesus saw his heart, because He responded in these words: “This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”

That might have raised some eyebrows too. Paul had to explain the concept later, pointing out that those who were physically the offspring of Abraham were not necessarily the children of Abraham, but that the children of faithful Abraham became so by faith. This man had just demonstrated that he believed in Jesus. Jesus said he had become a son of Abraham. Then (evidently for the benefit of those listening) he stated his purpose in coming. “…the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus had great joy, because his Messiah had come, had called him by name, had eaten at his table, and forgiven him of his sins. As far as we know, he did not see any of the healings. The others did see them, and had walked across town with Jesus. But when Jesus healed the life of “nasty little old Zacchaeus”, they were not filled with joy—they grumbled about the Grace that was extended to Zacchaeus. They missed the joy that was there amongst them—but Zacchaeus did not miss it. He received it. Am I missing the joy that is around me because I am grieved at God’s plans? Do I even have the right to question His wisdom, let alone whether I have the intelligence and wisdom to understand what it is He is doing?

Jesus turned to those who followed and issued the following parable:

A Warning

Luke 19:11-27 (read it)

11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. 27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.


This is a warning to all that were following. Most were not believers, even though they were going along with him as he went. Jesus told a parable of a ruler, a nobleman, who went to a far country to receive a kingdom. I am of the opinion that the man in this parable is Jesus Himself. He is going to his Father to receive the Kingdom. Consider the following…the servants are not in danger—the rebellious “citizens” are in serious danger. Even the least faithful of the servants is in far better shape than those enemies who did not want his reign in their lives.

From a human perspective, I understand the feelings of the people. They wanted autonomy. And, from a human perspective there is not much wrong with that plan. However, remember that Jesus is GOD, the Creator, and that he literally owns every atom of which we are made. He literally owns us body and soul—and that was true before we were saved…much more afterward. But he owns the whole world by creation. Now he owns it again by purchase, at the cross. There is no one who can accurately claim to be exempt from his claim on their life. Remember from whence comes this desire for self-will and self-rule: Isaiah 14:12-15.

The servants were each given a responsibility to discharge—some did it well, some did less well, one didn’t try. He lost his reward and the responsibility. The others gained further responsibility as a reward. The only punishment listed here is upon those who were not his servants. So what about that Servant? Since (in this particular parable) he was not in danger of death, what was the cost? He missed his opportunity.

He was given an opportunity to serve, even if in a rather humble way. He chose to reject that opportunity based on his judgment of the Master’s character, and he lost the only opportunity he would have to be rewarded for faithful service. Some of the people there were servants of God. Some were his enemies. Jesus spoke to the whole crowd. All had an opportunity of one sort or another. All had the opportunity to repent, if nothing else. Some had the opportunity for repentance and service, others the opportunity for salvation. Am I missing the opportunities for service? The opportunities to lead others to Christ? The opportunity to draw near to God and be blessed in this life?

Fulfilled Prophecy

Luke 19:28-40 (read it)

28 And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. 29 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 31 And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33 And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34 And they said, The Lord hath need of him. 35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. 36 And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37 And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39 And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.


The colt: Much has been made of this situation, but we really aren’t told enough to know how much was miracle, and how much simply the narrative of what happened. I see two apparent miracles… one is that a never-ridden animal usually has a disagreement to work out before becoming a docile beast of burden. It is fitting, though, that none was seen here, because it fits the general pattern: People—humans—and fallen angels are the only things that have ever disobeyed God. The young male donkey was acting exactly as a creature is supposed to act under the hand of its Creator.

The other issue is the fact that the owners let the animal go without an argument. J. Vernon McGee suggests that there had been a prior arrangement made by Jesus, and this was just the outworking of it, and that he had given the phrase “the Lord has need of it” to let the owners know that it was he who sent the disciples. That is sheer supposition. All we are told is that they consented. Both of the above seem highly unusual, and if a person wants to find a natural explanation, that is their privilege. But I really think if one wants to do that, they at least should try to stick to what is actually written, and try not to wander astray. Once a person feels free to inject supposition, then anything is possible.

Further, many have supposed that the same individuals that cried out “Hosanna” in the other Gospels, and “Blessed be the King!” in this chapter, are those who cried out “Crucify!”, a few chapters later. But if you will read verse 37, it says that the disciples were the ones who cried out “Hosanna” and other things, while the Pharisees were disturbed by it. The other gospels say that the whole city was stirred up over it. The Pharisees knew that the disciples were publicly recognizing Jesus as the king. They demanded that Jesus shut them up. Essentially they demanded that He deny the truth of what they were shouting. Far from denying it, Jesus strengthened it, saying that if the disciples were silenced, the stones would cry out. The disciples were rejoicing and being blessed. The Multitudes (folks from Jerusalem) were stirred up and disturbed. The Pharisees were angry. They were all missing the point:

Something was happening! Prophecy was being fulfilled in (at least somewhat) miraculous ways! The particular Psalm that was being quoted here is Psalm 118:25, 26. It is nearly an exact quote, even in English. The word “Hosanna”, in the New Testament, does NOT mean “praise the Lord” or anything like it. It means “Save us now”. That is why Psalm 118:25 says “save NOW, Lord…” That is exactly what Jesus came to do. They were all missing the point; probably even those who quoted the Psalm.

Am I missing the point? Am I out of tune with what God wants to accomplish, so that I can’t be walking in step with Him, and rejoicing at the victories He brings? Amos 3:3 asks the rhetorical question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer being “No!”)

1st John 1:7 states that “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”. I want to be in constant enough fellowship with God that I can have some sense of where He is going with things. There is a lot of peace and joy in simply watching God at work. I don’t have to “understand everything.”

A Lament

Luke 19:41-44 (read it)

41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem stated that because they had “missed the boat” as it were, having failed to recognize their Messiah, they would face destruction from their enemies. This was fulfilled, of course, in AD 70, with the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus. They missed out on the blessing of the promise of God through their willful blindness and pride, and faced destruction as a result.

Don’t Miss Out

You who have trusted Jesus Christ as your savior, who have placed your faith in Hs finished work at the Cross are not in danger of “Missing the Boat”, as those in Jerusalem did. According to Jesus’ promise (John 5:24), if you have heard his word, and believed on Him who sent him, you HAVE eternal life, and can never lose it.

But you can still miss the point of God’s work in your life. You can miss the opportunities for service, blessing and reward. And perhaps saddest of all; you can miss the Joy He offers in the daily relationship with Him.

Choose the path of Zacchaeus and the other disciples. Enter into the Joy of your Lord today— now—not waiting until you die to experience his presence.

The Lord bless you all as you choose to walk with Him.


What Fragrance do you Bring?

What Fragrance Do You Bring?


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

John 12:3 and others…

Introduction:

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

Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give this some thought…What Fragrance do you bring?

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


Believers, Place Your Bets!

Believers, Place Your Bets!

© 4/15/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 2:12-26

Introduction:

We hear a lot of arguments regarding the twin subjects of faith and works. And that is what they really are: twins! Saving faith produces works as a rule. Works are proof of faith as a rule, but not always saving faith: they may only be proof that the one performing the works wants to please God, or even wants to be seen as righteous by his or her fellow-humans.

Here in James, the single verse (26) “26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” is one of the most misused and frequently misquoted passages in the Bible.  Why? Because we tend to isolate that one idea, and thus sever it from the context in which it is given. Let’s back up to verse 12, at least, and see what is being discussed: Remember that James is speaking to believers. “12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Behavior matters!

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We all get one chance— one life—during which to honor God, and present our bodies a living sacrifice as a worship offering. Once it is over, only that which met this standard will have eternal value. Usually, we only have one chance to make a “first impression” with those people around us, too. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be around folks long enough for them to see that we are not “stuck-up” or rude…but if that is what they really thought, when they first met us, they will probably not come back and give us another chance. Does God see us for what we really are, good or bad? Certainly He does! He is not governed by “impressions.” I am frequently amused by married couples’ testimonies that “when I first met ___, I didn’t like….” Their first impression was bad, but they grew to love one another and eventually were married. Their first impression was wrong, but could have cost them dearly. God sees the truth at all times. He is not the one we are trying to impress, or trying to not cause to stumble, or whatever.

As believers, we have already received God’s Mercy, at the Cross: We are in no danger of His changing His mind, and rejecting us. We are sealed in Christ until the day of redemption, according to Ephesians. But we need to reflect that fact, in reaching out to those around us in a merciful way. Can it backfire? Certainly it can! It did for Jesus, many times. After he fed the 5,000, in John chapter 6; the very next day, those he had fed were back for more; but he offered them the Bread of Life instead, and they immediately turned on him and began to argue, in John 6:30, saying “What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?” (What? He just fed the whole crowd on five loaves and two fishes, and you ask for another sign?)

We have had people ask for money for food, and when we gave it, we saw them immediately head for the liquor store. So, the next time, when someone asked for money for food, we took them to get food. In one case that worked very well…the woman involved was telling the truth: her husband and several children were waiting in an empty lot beside a school, and they were all very glad to see her show up with a large bag full of sandwiches and other food.

But in another case, the fellow asked for food, and we offered to drive with him right then, and buy a meal. He changed his request, saying he needed gas for his car. We offered to go with him to get gasoline…the story kept changing, and we kept offering to meet the stated need, until he was exasperated, and blurted “Can’t you just give me some money?!” He was lying! He didn’t want any of the things he claimed to need. We were glad we had not given him anything, whereas in the case of the woman with the children, we were only sad that we could offer no better help than food.

What is the Connection?

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

We need to see the connection between faith and works, then. James poses the question “Can Faith save?” The real issue is “what kind of faith are we talking about?” Saving faith seems to be the issue, but there are other things we, as humans, call faith.

In responding to this passage, I would like to relate an argument I had with an unbelieving co-worker, nearly thirty years ago: He claimed that he could “create his own reality.” He claimed that his beliefs would control the reality that he experienced.

I replied that he did not really believe that, and that the untruth of his statement was made obvious by how he lived his life: He had to live with the same reality as everyone else. He “placed his bets,” so to speak, upon the realities of this world, the same as everyone else. I said, “If you are in the middle of the road and I tell you a truck is coming, you will get out of the road, just like everyone else. You will not ‘create your own reality,’ in which the truck will somehow not hurt you: You are betting on the reality of death, and saving yourself by moving out of harm’s way.” He had no answer, and the conversation ended. But that same rule is applied here, by James:

What you really believe is revealed by your works. If you really believe your house is on fire, you try to save yourself, your loved-ones and your possessions, unless you are suicidal, and desire to die. Where you “place your bets” is the best indicator of what you really believe.

If you really believe that Jesus is your Savior, your Master and your Judge, then your actions should reflect that, as a general rule. So the logic follows: if you see someone else in need, what you really believe about your relationship to Christ and His lordship in your life will be revealed by your works. (Bear in mind the inherent question, “revealed to whom?” Does God know the truth? Or are we constantly having to again prove to God the reality of our faith?)

The kind of faith that produced a love-relationship with an unseen Savior should also produce a compassionate relationship with the visible people around us with their visible needs. 1st John 4:20, 21 agrees, saying, 2If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The demonstration of the reality of faith is to other humans, not to God. The kind of faith that does not produce appropriate works is called a “dead” faith. We are commanded by Jesus to love one another…a genuine faith should result in a genuine caring for those around us. We should love one another in practical ways, according to this passage.

And, What if we Don’t?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Such neglect is unprofitable and brings a negative shadow on the name of Christ. If we, as believers, don’t even care for one another’s needs, then how can we say we are “brothers” in Christ? Even unbelievers, as a rule, will care for the needs of their families, though perhaps in poor grace, in some cases. Usually, simple cultural norms will demand that a person care for their own immediate family members. Why, then, would it be acceptable to us to not take care of the believers with whom we share an eternal bond of kinship in the person of Christ? That lack, if founded upon a lack of concern, not just ignorance of the need, would show a non-functional faith, at least, and perhaps would give reason to suspect even the validity of that faith…leading us to verse 17, which is closing in on what we wanted to address in the first place:

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Such faith, that does nothing to move the will, and causes no change in action, is a useless, non-functional faith. Is it valid? Only God knows! You see, this whole passage on “faith versus works” is couched in the question of “How can the World see faith? How can people see faith?”

God could see the faith of Lot, though no human could see it. When I first read the account of Lot, in Genesis chapters 13-19, I would definitely have supposed (in spite of his Godly Uncle Abraham) that Lot was simply an unbeliever, whose sins finally caught up with him. But God says, in 2nd Peter 2:6-9, that Lot was a righteous man! I certainly would not have come to that conclusion by observing his works, because, except for one feeble attempt to save the angels whom he thought were ordinary men, he was pretty much invisible, in terms of faith, because his works did not reveal his faith, as a rule. Even his sons-in-law did not believe him, when he tried to warn them of the coming destruction. So, the next verse makes it clear:

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

A man, a fellow human, can only observe faith in action. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow humans. We can only see actions. God says we need works to confirm who we are in Christ, to those around us. Lot’s life was a wreckage that was not only useless as a testimony to unbelievers, but produced enemies to the seed of Abraham, lasting until today. Lot’s sons (by incest with his daughters) were Ben-Ammi and Moab. The Ammonites and the Moabites were bitter enemies to Israel from the beginning, and they still are, today, as they are the people of Jordan, and the Palestinians. It is a sad thing, but “righteous Lot” left a terrible legacy.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Doctrinal soundness” does not replace a living faith. “Orthodoxy” is simply a case of having correct opinions. One can know the truth, intellectually; accept it as fact; be able to recite a catechism or creed, and yet have no personal interaction with that truth. It is certainly possible to have “correct opinions” regarding theology, and still be absolutely an unbeliever.

But remember that James is speaking to believers. All he says, here, is that knowing the fact that “there is only one God” is not the same as having a living relationship with that one God. He gives the example of the demons, who have known God face-to-face, since before the world was created, and yet are eternally His enemies. They know all about the God of the Bible, and are terrified of their coming judgment. We know the bare facts, as we have been told them, but we are indifferent about the coming judgment, and acting as if it will never come.

Genuine Faith will Change Our Life

If our faith is a real, saving faith, it should be changing our motives, and our behavior. We don’t “make that change” in order to “prove our faith.” Genuine Faith changes us, from the inside out, and proves its own validity.

James goes on to discuss Abraham, whom God justified by faith (Genesis 15:6), but whom men justify because of his works. The scripture that says he was justified by his faith, found visible proof in his later works.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

The word “perfect”, here, means “completed”…fulfilled. If we compare Ephesians 2:8-10, we can see that while we are saved “by Grace, through Faith,” and specifically not through (or by means of) works, verse ten makes it clear that we are “His workmanship, created unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So the fulfillment of our faith and God’s Grace, in re-creating us in His own image, is that we are to walk in the good works that he ordained for us ahead of time.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Remember that the word “justified” means “declared righteous.” Bear in mind Who it is, doing the real justification, and who the observers are in this context. In Romans 5:1, Paul states that we have been justified by faith, and that, as a result, we have peace with God. So, looking again at verse 18, we remind ourselves that, in this case, the persons questioning our faith are fellow humans. We can only demonstrate our faith to other humans through appropriate works. Our fellow humans “declare us righteous” based entirely on what they can see. So, in verse 24, we are “justified” or “declared righteous,” on the basis of works, where humans are the judges. We were declared righteous entirely on the basis of Faith, where Jesus is the Judge. (We don’t even like to think of Jesus as being the Judge, but He says He is, in John 5:22) Romans 5:1 addresses our justification before God. James 2:24 refers to our justification before Man. Does it matter? You’d better believe it does! (Remember Lot!)

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

It somehow seems appropriate, in this context, to remember that “dead”, in scripture, usually has some sort of “separation” in view. A body, separated from the spirit of the person to whom both belong, is considered a dead body: no longer functional. A faith that is separated from the works that should accompany it, is considered a dead faith…not functional. It does not mean that such a person has never been accepted by God, necessarily. There are examples in the Old Testament and the New Testament, of people whose faith faltered, and their testimony was ruined, and who, in some cases, lost their physical lives because of their subsequent disobedience. (Lot, Balaam, Samson, Ananias & Sapphira, Demas, etc.) But in each case, it seems clear that they were real believers who simply fell into a pattern of disobedience… and it cost them heavily.

Place your Bets!

Remember that salvation tract (The Four Spiritual Laws) people used to hand out, which began with the statement (true, by the way) that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”? Well, here’s the other side of that idea: “Satan hates you and has a TERRIBLE plan for your life!” Now, if you walk with Jesus, staying close to the Great Shepherd, you need have no fear of the Evil One, at all: He is a defeated enemy. But the Enemy does have an agenda:

  1. Satan desires to destroy your fellowship with God, through distractions, through neglect of feeding on the Word, neglect of prayer, and through overt sin.
  2. He desires to destroy your Joy and Peace, through all of the above.
  3. He desires to destroy your testimony, as bitterness and cynicism begin to replace Joy and Peace, and your works show to others the deadness of your faith.
  4. Finally, if he can draw you far enough away from the Shepherd, he desires to destroy your life, either through the destructive results of the bad decisions made in the flesh or through the consequences of overt sin.

God does not need you to “prove your faith” to Him by works. But your works are the result of what you really believe, and are a pretty good indicator of where your heart really is today. They reveal where you are currently “placing your bets.” They should reveal to you how you are doing, spiritually, and they definitely will let your neighbors, friends and family make decisions about the reality of faith in your life.

Look in the “Mirror of God’s Word, and see yourself! Look at where you are “Placing your Bets,” and see whether that is how God wants you to respond to Him.

So you really believe prayer is important? Then place your bet that way: pray! Do you really believe Jesus is the Master? Then obey Him! Do you really believe you should be feeding on God’s Word? Then do so! Do you really believe you should share your faith with others? Then do so! Where you “place your bets”–what you actually do–reveals what you really believe.

The Lord Bless His Word, and His people as they seek His Face.


More “Problem Passages”

Discipleship versus Salvation

Luke 14:26, 27, 33; Luke 9:62 “Ye cannot be my disciple.”

“…cannot be my disciple” Several things listed, none of which have anything to do with salvation…all have to do with priorities, and choices. “Discipleship” means putting the call of the Master above all other concerns.

The God who commands that one love his neighbor as himself, love his brother as God loves him, etc. is definitely not requiring that a disciple not love his family. He only warns that the choice may sometimes be costly.

Think now; in a Jewish society, a patriarchal society, where virtually everything was governed by how Dad and Mom felt about things: what do you suppose their reaction might have been to their son following Jesus? Do you think they might accuse their errant son of “hating” the family? And, in terms of how one made choices, it might look that way, seeing a young man (or woman) turn his back on all he had been taught to love, value, and revere, and walk after an itinerant preacher who was rapidly gaining momentum as a radical.

Being a “disciple” means following after—it means “adhering to the teaching of”, “subjecting oneself to the discipline of”. It means modeling oneself after a particular teacher’s method, lifestyle or whatever is in question, to become as much like them as possible. In the eastern religions this is still a common idea, and every guru has his disciple or perhaps many such.

In the Christian experience discipleship has become somewhat of a lost concept. We still use the word, but it usually has little to do with completely setting aside whatever you did before and completely following the one whose disciple you have become. We have replaced the concept of “disciple” with the idea of a “dilettante”—a dabbler. A “Weekend Warrior:” Someone who lives whatever way they usually do, but on Sunday! vroooom! Wow, listen to those “Christian Soldiers” revving up their “Crusader GT Sports-Utility-Bibles.” Sounds almost blasphemous, doesn’t it? That is NOT how a disciple is supposed to live. We are called to forsake our old lives, and live the way Jesus calls us to live. We are called to live that way every day, not just Sundays; all the time, not just when it is convenient.

Now, is discipleship the same for everyone? No, I expect not. Joseph of Arimathea was still wealthy, as was Nicodemus, when they took Jesus’ body to the tomb. The only rich person Jesus counseled to “give it all away” and come follow him was the rich young ruler whom Jesus knew had a problem in the area of covetousness…the love of money. I wish we knew what later became of him. But Jesus did tell the rich to change their priorities.

Position or Condition:

The issue of Discipleship is not a positional question—Salvation is a positional issue—you are either In Christ or you are not, and it is a permanent crossing-over from death into life—you cannot cross back. Once you have “passed over from death unto life” (John 5:24) you “shall not come into condemnation,” period. From the moment you place your faith in Jesus as your savior, you have eternal life: Jesus says so.

Discipleship, however, is a conditional issue…you can be a disciple and walk away. You can fail as a disciple and still be God’s child. You can fail as a disciple, and be restored to fellowship and service. So, in the Luke passage (and other similar passages), the issue is service, not salvation. If you are not willing to put Him first, and to set aside your own ambitions, goals, dreams, etc., then you cannot be his disciple. Does he still allow his disciples to have fun? Sure! But diversion is supposed to be just that—diversion—not a lifestyle. We have given ourselves over to what we want for so long, in so many ways, that any tiny service seems “sacrificial.” And I know that the desired “balance” is hard to define, but I strongly suspect that none of us have never gotten “too extreme” in our commitment.

Warnings in the Book of Hebrews

Hebrews 2:3

How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation…?”

The context in this case is the whole book of Hebrews…I do not say this facetiously; the whole book seems to address a mixed group, most of whom are Hebrew believers, and all of whom are professing believers; much like the local assembly today.

There is a repeated warning, beginning with this verse (Hebrews 2:3), and gaining strength throughout the book, that those who claim to have placed their faith in the Messiah need to realize this is a one-way street…you can’t go back and “just be Jews” now…that way has ended for you. This is seen nowhere more strongly than in the passage in Hebrews 10:26, where he states that “there remains no more sacrifice for sin…” If the Jewish professing believer decides that Jesus’ blood is not God’s chosen sacrifice, he can’t go back to the Old Testament figure anymore, because Jesus is the One to whom all the figures pointed…he is the real deal! If He is to be rejected, then the figures are of no further value. There is no more sacrifice, as you have rejected the only sacrifice. Jesus is “Plan A”—there is no “Plan B.”

In Hebrews 2:3, however, the warning was against neglecting to actually place their dependence on Jesus as their full and final payment for sin. Salvation is not a rosebush, or a pet goldfish, which, if neglected, will surely die…the only “neglect” that could affect their position (remember that Salvation is a positional truth) is neglecting to enter in at all. It is possible, for example (though highly unlikely,) that Noah could have had a day during his year-long float on the Ark when everything was so calm and normal-seeming that he forgot about the Ark entirely, and neglected to tend to any of the pressing concerns aboard the Ark. The Ark was not dependent upon Noah’s faithfulness, but upon God’s faithfulness. Noah didn’t design it, God did. Noah built it under God’s direction. And the most important thing of all is that God closed the door. If there was anything for Noah to do, it was in relation to the animals, not the Ark itself: there were no sails, rudder, or oars. Noah had no control over the Ark at all! And, Noah was secure even if he totally forgot where he was. (My guess would be that he never did. That had to have been a pretty intense year.)

Can we think of an individual in scripture who did neglect the opportunity to place his dependence upon Jesus, and ultimately failed to do so? In John 13:10, 11, Jesus identified Judas as such a person: Judas was never saved, even though he had been with Jesus, along with all the other disciples. Ironically, he was a disciple, in the sense that he was chosen by Jesus, and he “followed” Jesus. But he never confessed his sin and his need for a savior. He never believed the message Jesus brought, and never was cleansed by His Word. Compare John 15:3. The other disciples were cleansed by Jesus’s Word.

So, in Hebrews 2:3, the warning is to professing believers; that they should not neglect the opportunity to secure themselves in Christ, and step on into a faith-relationship with Christ. I realize there will be many who disagree, and that is OK. Much argument within the churches is founded upon such questions, and I am not trying to further any such arguments, but rather to give some firm footing to the believers.

Hebrews 3:12-14

Interestingly, this one, though it sounds more severe, is actually less severe. Keep in mind that the remote context the writer refers to is the story of the children of Israel, as they were in the desert for 40 years. These people had all been “under the blood of the Passover,” they had all been under the cloud with Moses, and they all had crossed through the Red Sea, and had seen the Egyptians drowned. They had all fed on the manna, and had all been supplied water out of the Mighty Rock (which according to 1st Corinthians 10:4, actually was Christ). I would have to say these folks were all believers, but they still were sinners, and they frequently rebelled (as do I). And God judged their unbelief, in that they were not allowed to enter into “His rest” (the land.) Notice that this verse is definitely to believers—the brethren.

The Land is not figurative of Heaven, but rather the normal Christian Life, here on earth. We are supposed to be living a fruitful life, victorious in battle (no fights in heaven, today, folks…but there are lots of them here on earth….), reproducing spiritually, and honoring the Lord with our lives. But we are all still subject to failure. The Land (the fruitful life of the disciple) is something that Believers desire to enter into on a daily basis. Heaven is something every believer will enter into, ready or not. In Heaven, there is no chance of failure, no further cause of fear. Our sin natures will be gone forever, and we will never sin again. We will be completely like Jesus in character.

Departing from the living God is not something that you can literally do, as a believer, according to Romans 8:35-39 (…remember that you are a created thing—a creature—you cannot separate yourself from Him.) But in terms of fellowship, it is not only something we can do, we do it frequently, because of sin. Most sin is based on unbelief, pride, or self-will. all sin has the capacity to break fellowship. If we allow bitterness to creep in, because of circumstances, then we question God’s character, and the seed of unbelief begins to bear fruit. At that point, we are no longer feeding on the Vine of Christ (John 15:5), and cannot bear his fruit. We will only bear the natural fruit of our sin nature, until we return to fellowship, via confession. (1st John 1:9)

Hebrews 4:1

Therefore, on the basis of Hebrews 3 and all the history to which it referred, Hebrews 4:1 is an admonition to not fail to enter into the rest God still offers. We see in verse eleven that it takes work to enter into God’s Rest! We labor to enter into His Rest. Jesus completed all the work of salvation at the Cross. The Old Testament word “shabbat” meant “rest,” but specifically the “give it a rest” variety… “stop working.” The Jews had to stop working because God told them to do so: Jesus stopped because the work was complete! (Remember? “It is finished!”) So how do we enter into that rest? We enter in by faith, recognizing that the work of salvation is complete, that we have eternal peace with God, and that our position in Christ is secure forever!

Jesus is our rest…our true Sabbath! We do not want to miss out on the day-by-day Peace and Rest of walking with God in Christ. That is the admonition of Hebrews 4:1. But the one that really scares everyone is in Hebrews 6…so let’s go there.

Hebrews 6:4-8

This is a perfect example of a place where it becomes terribly important to read the whole context: When I just read the problem passage (6:4-8) I could easily conclude that it is possible to lose one’s salvation, and, that having done so, it is impossible to be restored. (Many people come to the first of these conclusions, but miss the point of the second.)

But when I begin in Hebrews 5:10 and read through 6:12, I see some serious differences:

The recipients were believers, whom the writer (Paul, I believe) was taking to task for having failed to mature as believers should: he says that they should have been teaching others by now, but instead, he says that they have actually regressed into spiritual babyhood, and need to be retaught, from the beginning. He says they can’t handle solid food, but are reduced to needing milk again.

Then, in chapter six, he begins to state the foundational things they should have already grasped and from which they should be moving on. (All of them sound fairly advanced, from our point of view…but he says those are baby-food!)

Then the writer changes the pronoun regarding whom he is talking about: In 5:11-6:3, the first and second-person pronouns are used, denoting the writer (though he uses the first person plural…perhaps there were others with him?) and the recipients.

But in verses 4-8, the pronoun changes to 3rd person: “those, they, themselves, it, etc.” He describes some person who is evidently not a believer at all, but who has joined with the believers, and has become saturated with the teaching, but has never owned the Savior for himself. He agrees, perhaps, that “Jesus died for the sins of the World,” but can’t clearly state that “He died for ME!” Judas was in this category, by the way, and there have been many other such persons throughout history. Jesus himself confirmed that Judas had never become a believer, in John 13:10, 11.

The description of the apostate in Hebrews 6:4-8, at first reading, sounds like a believer who has failed. But there is no mention of faith…only experience. Remember that Judas was sent out with the other disciples, two by two: he healed sick people! He cast out demons! He may have even raised the dead! He was there amongst the other eleven, and he not only saw the miracles, but was given authority to partake in them! He tasted of the good word of God; he tasted of the powers of the world to come! But he never trusted in Jesus as his own savior. After he left to go and betray Jesus to the Jewish leaders, Jesus told the remaining eleven disciples that “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3) Judas had heard all the same words the others had heard: but he had never responded in faith!

So, what is there in this context that lets us know this is a true understanding? Read verses 9-12! The writer changes the pronouns again, and goes back to “Ye, you, we, etc.” He calls the recipients “brethren,” and says that he is convinced of better things concerning them “and things that accompany salvation” (meaning that what went before did not necessarily accompany salvation.) Then he goes on to assure the believers that God has not forgotten their faithfulness and good works…and encourages them to not be lazy about their relationship with God, but to press on!

There are several other passages the enemy frequently uses to trip us up, but these are a few that are commonly encountered.

We will try to come back and address the remaining “frequently misused passages at a later date.


Good News…and Bad News

There’s Good News…and Bad News!

© 2013 C. O. Bishop THCF 9/15/13 Revised 2019

Introduction:

The phrase, “there’s good news…and bad news…” has come to be a frequent joke in our culture. It invites the listener to reply “Ah…give me the bad news first…” (Or, in some cases they want the good news first.)

But the reality of any Good News is that it virtually always implies the possibility of some contrasting Bad news. For example, “Well, the good news is that I found a job…” What’s the bad news? Is it only the fact that the speaker was previously unemployed, or is there some hidden feature of the new job that the listener will not like? Is it a split shift, extremely low pay, long commute, or what?

We mentioned some time ago, as a real-life example, that there was an antivenin developed in Australia that covers about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes. Wow! That’s great! So, what’s the bad news? Obviously, Australia has about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes! (Actually, it turns out there are far more: about 140…so, it was really bad news!)

What’s the Bad News and Good News for Believers?

So, what is the “bad-news/good-news” issue for believers? The good news is that there is lots of it; so much good news that we haven’t even learned it all. The bad news? It is that we have to learn that good news so that we can make use of it. A friend of mine, not a believer, made the comment “You can only connect the dots you have.” That is a fairly profound statement. It really applies to nearly every aspect of life. In 2 Peter 1:4, it says thatGod has given us “exceeding Great and Precious Promises” by which we are told we can “become partakers of the Divine Nature.”  Wow! That is good news! How can there be bad news in that verse?

The bad news is that largely, either we are ignorant of those promises, or, worse, we are ignoring them. You can only connect the dots you have. Jesus said (John 14:26) that when the Holy Spirit came (remember he was speaking to his disciples before his crucifixion) that He (the Holy Spirit) would teach them all things, and “bring to their remembrance” all things whatsoever He (Jesus) had taught them. Can I apply that promise to myself? Yes, in a limited sense: limited only because I do not have to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer at the moment of salvation. But the “catch” is this…if you never allow Jesus to teach you anything, because you are too busy watching TV, working on projects (guilty, Lord!) or socializing, working, whatever…then the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much to work with. He can’t “bring to your remembrance” things you have never learned. There is no promise that God will mystically reveal all things to each of us individually. Quite the opposite: He has revealed himself through the Written Word, for over 3,500 years of history, and commands us to go there to learn from Him.

Notice that when Jesus addressed the issue of spiritual thirst, he did not say, “Thirsty? Just stay right where you are, and I’ll bring you a cold drink!”  No! In John 7:37 he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!” If you want wisdom, you go to God and get it. If you want peace, you go to God and get it. In fact, virtually all the “exceeding great and precious promises” alluded to in 2nd Peter 1:4 are such that they require the believer to seek the face of God in order to appropriate those gifts.

Hebrews 11:6 states that “Without Faith, it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” If you want a relationship with God, it requires some diligence. He requires that you come to Him, personally, to receive his blessing. That is not the same as just attending church, by the way. Any unbeliever can attend church. But only a believer, who has not only been born again, but who has currently confessed his/her sins (1st John 1:9), and is deliberately seeking fellowship with the living God (1st John 1:7; “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from all sin.”) Only that person can enter the Holy Place by way of the Person of Christ (Hebrews 10:19, 20; “having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh…”), and approach the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16; “let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”).

Yes, the privilege is there for each of us who has received the Lord Jesus as our Savior. But it takes work to use it effectively.

The Good news is that we have that privilege of approaching the Throne of Grace. The Bad news is that we don’t use it much. Our relationship with God is supposed to be a very personal thing… and by that I do not mean “private,” so much as underscoring the fact that it is the Person of Christ we are relating to; not just a concept. So, as we are reading His Word, we can talk with him about it, and ask for insight, confessing that we really don’t understand much about it. We can study his Word, knowing that we have an assignment to apply it, as his ambassadors.

If I am assigned a job at work that requires some study, then my reading is not casual, nor is it just “skimming” to get the gist of a story, but it is focused, and intent upon learning my new job. Part of our new relationship with Jesus is the fact that we have a new job. How are you going to respond to the new assignment? Are you taking it seriously, and striving to learn how to faithfully discharge the new responsibilities? Or are you just kicking back, watching the clock, and waiting for the lunch whistle? Do you even have a clear idea of what the job entails, and where to find the instructions as to how to perform your duties?

What is your assignment, anyway?

The New Assignment

When Jesus left this world, his last words, repeated several times in different locations, and different circumstances, were “Ye shall be witnesses unto me…”; “Go ye therefore and teach…”; “Go ye into all the World, and preach…”, “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” 

When a human supervisor gives an assignment, we take heed—we take steps to get it done, knowing that we will be held accountable for how we spend our time. Usually, too, with human supervisors, we are held accountable for the results. But in the case of our assignment from God, we are only being held accountable for the obedient response, not so much the result. Jesus did say that the Father is glorified when we produce fruit. It is evident that he was speaking of the fruit of saved souls and changed lives, because he specified that the fruit would remain. But Jeremiah, who saw very little fruit in his ministry (possibly only two people), had a much better walk with God than did Jonah, who unwillingly instigated a huge revival in Nineveh.

Consider, too, that when a human loved one, or a close friend, dies and makes a dying request—a “last request”—we consider it a priority to go and complete that request if it is at all possible. Jesus gave His last request about five times. Is that request a priority, to you?

Our instructions regarding that task are fairly simple—go tell people the Good News regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the fact that His blood completely paid for the sins of the human race. The Good News that any person who will place their faith in Him can have the free gift of eternal life now, today, not waiting, while doing religious things until they die, hoping they can be “good enough” to receive eternal life. Eternal life is a gift; not a reward.

You know how you received Jesus as your Savior, or you certainly ought to; and you can tell that much, at least. You can learn a few key scripture verses to show a person, so they can see for themselves, in the Bible, how to be saved. And, the fact is, you can tell them that “there is Good news…and Bad news.” That is a concept they can relate to: they run into it often, in daily life.

Good news and Bad news of the Gospel

The bad news is that the whole human race is guilty before God, and headed for destruction. The Good News is that Jesus has purchased a pardon for the whole human race, with his own blood, at the cross. God’s righteousness is satisfied with the sacrifice Jesus offered. The work is done!

Let’s look at two scripture passages, both spoken by Jesus:

John 3:17, 18 “For God sent not His Son into the World to condemn the World, but that the World through Him might be saved. He that believeth in Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Can you see some good news in that passage? God did not send Jesus here to condemn us! That is good news! The bad news is that we are already condemned as a race, because of sin, and even though Jesus fully paid for the sins of the whole world, the current condemnation remains because we have not placed our trust in the name of Jesus. So, there is good news and bad news…both very simple and clear.

How about this one: John 5:24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my words and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

There is a lot of Good news in that one: it says we can have eternal life now (notice the tenses in this verse). It says “has everlasting life,” not “will have”. It also says that the person who has received this promise will never be condemned (that’s future tense.) It also says that the person who has received this promise has passed from death into life (in English that reads as if it were a simple past participle, but it is actually even better—it is “perfect tense”, meaning that it is an event that occurred in the past, and has permanent future results.)

So where is the Bad news in that verse? The only bad news is that if you have either not heard the Gospel, or, having heard it, you have not believed it, then the three “good news clauses” of that promise are not yours. You do not have eternal life, you are still under condemnation, and you have not crossed over from death to life.

Isn’t that a pretty simple concept? Can’t we offer it to those around us? It seems to me that it is so simple we have no excuse not to do so. So: if the message is that simple, why are we given a whole New Testament from which to learn the job?

Laboring to Rest

Remember back in the book of Joshua, when the people were to enter into the land? These folk were the offspring of the ones who had not entered in, because of unbelief, and God had referred to that entering in as “rest”. He said they “could not enter into his Rest, because of unbelief.” The land was the rest, in that context. The land was given to the next generation of the people of Israel, but they had to fight every step of the way to lay hold of it! People frequently misinterpret this “crossing over the Jordan” as being analogous to dying and going to Heaven. It is not at all referring to heaven. Heaven will be the cessation of all strife: the Promised Land had to be fought for, to gain entry at all, and then they had to fight to take possession of every hill and valley, after they entered!

We have been given a whole New Testament because the majority of it is telling us how to live as God’s people. The “job” itself is fairly simple. But how to live in such a way as to consistently honor God, and to walk in constant fellowship with the living Christ, is anything but easy. There is a battle going on, and the enemy does not want us to enjoy our “rest” in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 says you have already been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. But Ephesians 6:10-18 says if you want to experience those blessings in this life, you have to deliberately engage in the spiritual battle that surrounds the Christian reality. We are to feed on the written Word; feed on fellowship with Jesus the Living Word, and to live by faith, obedient to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 4:11 says that we are to “labor to enter into His rest.” That is the character of the Christian life: laboring to enter into rest. Jesus completed all the work of Salvation at the Cross, and He offers us tremendous blessings. But it will take continuous work to see the full blessing of God in our daily lives. Why continuous work? Because it is an uphill battle. Our old sin nature is still with us, and the World around us is still at odds with the purpose of God, and Satan is still alive and well on planet Earth. The Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible, unless we allow Christ to live through us. And to do that requires a constant struggle against our old sin nature.

But Galatians 5:16, referring to that old sin nature, makes it clear that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.

Just take it one step at a time. Seek the Face of God, through Bible study and Prayer. Learn the job: read your “Employee’s Manual” (meaning your Bible, of course), and take seriously the living trust that has been given to you, to tell others about Jesus.

Let’s start becoming the Men and Women of God that we are called to be, serving as the ambassadors He has ordained us to be. This is the Call of God for every believer!

Lord Jesus, draw us into a closer, more personal relationship with yourself, and allow us to see the people in the World around us through your eyes: to see all of them as precious souls for whom you died. Fill us with the Love of God, so that we overcome our reluctance to share your gift of eternal life with others. Make us fruitful in your Grace, in Jesus name.


The Call of God

The Cleansing and Call of the Servant of God

© C. O. Bishop, 6/29/2019

Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction:

Last time we met, we discussed the coming Judgment, and how it will affect Jerusalem, particularly; but how it will affect the Gentile world as well. The scripture transitions directly from God’s pronouncement of Judgment upon Jerusalem, Judah and Israel, into the cleansing and call of Isaiah the Prophet. We find this passage exciting because it gives a glimpse into the unseen world of angels, and to the throne of God. And we ought to find it so—it is exciting. But there is much to learn here, too.

This is apparently the personal call of Isaiah. It would be nice if everyone got this sort of dramatic call, I suppose…but we shouldn’t get clamoring too much to get what Isaiah got—tradition says he was executed, by being cut in half under a crosscut saw. The prophet’s life was not easy. Most of us have simply the general call of God’s Word (which He says is personal to all those who believe) and we have the Great Commission, which is also to all Church-age believers.  Isaiah did not have those things, so he got what he got. Let us learn from it what we may.

How did Isaiah see the Lord?

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

In verse 1, we get the time-frame—“the year that King Uzziah died” (in some passages he is called King “Azariah,” too, so don’t get confused if you run into that name). So, in the year King Uzziah died (approximately 758 BC), Isaiah saw the Lord. Notice it is NOT all caps—this is the Hebrew word adonai, meaning “master,” or “lord.” It was definitely God he was seeing, as the next verses will make clear (God the Son, in fact, as we learn in John 1:18), but the reference in verse one says that He was the Lord— the Master— and it has not yet mentioned His name. It describes Him as being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. We need to see Him this way! Primarily the fact that He is “High and lifted up!” We have been taught to see Jesus as our “buddy,” or our comforter, and protector, and, He is all of those, but we tend to forget the fact that He is the Almighty God who created us, and the Judge of all the earth, who is above all, and who knows all, and who understands the real thoughts of our hearts, not just the ones we pray. We need to see Jesus in his supremacy!

How do the Angels see Him?

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Verses 2 and 3 tell of angelic creatures called seraphim (plural of seraph, which means “burning one.”) This is the only place they are even mentioned, but they are evidently powerful spirit-beings, angels of some sort, worshipping God, and yet unable to look on His face.

They hid their own faces (and feet—what is that about?) and cry out… what? “Love, love, love, God is Love”? No! So powerful are they, that their voice moves the doorposts of the temple, and fills the house with smoke: and, yet, what do these mighty six-winged creatures see as the primary attribute of God? What impresses them so, that they hide their faces and cry out one to another exclaiming about it? His HOLINESS! (“Holy! Holy! Holy, is the LORD of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory!”)

It is interesting that in our culture we have focused on the Love of God to the exclusion of His holiness, His righteousness, and His judgment…which may explain why we do not fear the judgment of God, nor worship Him for His righteousness. We fail to understand the enormity of the Grace of God, because we also fail to understand the Holiness of God, and the depth of our own depravity and sin. How can we see Grace as a marvelous thing, when we take lightly the Holiness which calls for justice, and the sin which calls for judgment? If we take sin lightly, then we must also take Grace lightly.

How can we turn this around?  How can we regain a proper view of the attributes of God, the Creator and Judge of all the earth—The Ruler of the universe, both seen and unseen? The only way I know is to go to God’s Word and continually see Him as the Master, High, and lifted up, then confess our blindness and foolishness, and pray God will open the eyes of our hearts.

Self-Judgment

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

What was Isaiah’s response (verse 5) to having seen God? Did he start a televangelism program, and strut around on a stage, telling everyone what a wonderful experience it was, and describe in great familiar detail all that he saw, and all the intimate things God told him? Did he boast of his own special relationship with God, as witnessed by his vision? No! He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a dead man, because he, an unclean sinner, had seen God. This is the true response of those who have seen themselves in the light of who GOD really is…they drop all pretense of personal worthiness, as they are completely overwhelmed by the Holiness of God.

It is interesting too, that what Isaiah was most concerned about at that moment is the fact of his “unclean lips”—now, I don’t know specifically what he was guilty of, but I know that I fall down in that area, too. I frequently say unwise things. And James 3:2-12 tells me that the whole human race has the same problem.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Evidently it is a more serious matter than we tend to think it is, too—in Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things He hates—and three of them have to do with the mouth.

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.

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaks lies
  • He that sows discord among brethren

Notice too that it isn’t just what comes out of the mouth, but the root of the matter, which is our corrupt heart: “A heart that devises wicked imaginations…” Give that some thought: What comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart. Jesus said that, too: (Luke 6:43-45)

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

We may make our excuse that “we live in a corrupt world,” and that “we are constantly affected and influenced by what is around us:” Remember that Isaiah lived in a sinful world, too, just like you and I. But God could still cleanse him and use him. He can do the same with you and me!

God’s Cleansing

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Remember that Isaiah was already a believer. He had depended upon the blood-sacrifices, as God’s chosen means by which he could be saved. This traces all the way back to Genesis chapter 3, and the covering God provided there, and to the Passover Lamb, under which all of Israel huddled, to be saved from the Judgment of a Holy God. So this passage is not about Salvation: it is about the sanctification of a believer.

Verses 6 and 7 say that an angel flew with a coal from the altar, and laid it on his mouth. Remember that the altar was where God’s chosen sacrifices died. Compare it to the Cross of Christ, where God’s Chosen Sacrifice died, once for all time: Has God been allowed to cleanse your mouth, via the Cross? Is the truth of the Cross having enough effect in your life to transform your speech? To eliminate gossip, foolish talk, coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)—and cruel, mocking comments? Perhaps the cutting humor that we call “banter” might be displeasing to God. We certainly don’t see Jesus talking that way.

Consider how a “coal from that altar” might affect you. In Isaiah’s case, it purged his sin; whatever the sin of his mouth was, God said he was cleansed by the coal from that altar. Shouldn’t it do the same for us, who are actually indwelt by the living God? So far as we know, Isaiah did not have that privilege. We need to allow the Cross of Christ to cleanse our hearts, and change what comes out of our mouths. He said He came to save us from our sins; not just from the penalty of our sins. Shouldn’t His blood begin to cleanse our thoughts and words, as well?

God’s Call

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Then, Isaiah heard the call of God—not before. If you want the call of God in your life; if you wish to be used of God in a meaningful way, first allow the Cross to cleanse you, transform you, and prepare you for service. Verse 8 says Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (A little glimpse of the Trinity there, see it? “Who will go for Us?) Isaiah didn’t wait to ask what the mission was—he wanted to be used by God, and he immediately volunteered.

This is the kind of volunteer God wants and can use: one who has come to the Cross for cleansing, and who does not ask what the task might be before deciding he wants to serve the living God. He chooses service, and then asks “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

How About You?

Is your life something that God can use? And if not, are you willing to confront that fact at the Cross, and repent? Are you willing to drop all reservations and ask God to make you usable? If you are, then the path to fruit-bearing is open to you. If not, then the path to fruit-bearing is filled with obstacles, and you cannot expect to see God use you. God uses those who are willing to be cleansed, even though they live in a sinful world.

God’s service has the reputation of paying low wages. In Hebrews 11, God lists the “heroes of the faith,” but he reserves his highest praise for those who lost everything in His service, and were left destitute. He said “the World was not worthy of them.” It is true that sometimes the “wages” in this world, for serving the Living God, seem paltry. We look at the lives of the various prophets, and see that they were not only not wealthy, they were not even comfortable, as a rule. We have to consider the end of the story, though. In both the case of the “successful” sinner, and the case of the impoverished servant of God, the apparent prosperity or lack thereof is fleeting, when compared to eternity. Think of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke chapter 16: Which life would you rather have? We want to have it both ways: we want to be prosperous in the World, and prosperous in ministry. It isn’t impossible, of course, but it is truly uncommon; as the World rewards its own, as a rule and we no longer belong to the world. Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that they hated Me first.”

(John 15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

So we needn’t expect the world to reward us for behaving like Jesus…they hated Him, and will hate us, too, for belonging to Him. Remember who you belong to; remember who you serve. We are not supposed to be looking to the World for approval, or recompense; nor, especially, for direction, or guidance. Our Master is the Living God, just as Isaiah’s was, and all the prophets. And, no, the “salary” in this world may not seem particularly impressive: But the “retirement” is literally “Out of this World.” We live in hope of eternity, not a comfortable, easy life, here.

There is no question whether you are called to serve God. Every single believer has that calling. How do I know?

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The only question is whether we will choose to heed that call. What can we do, then, to choose the calling of God?

Choosing the Calling of God

Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” We need to change our minds regarding our life expectations, and what we call our priorities. We need to change our minds about who is really in charge: If Jesus really is your master, then His priorities should be your priorities.

Jesus said, in John 14:21, He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, if you place yourself into that promise, by choosing to live in obedience to Jesus’s commands (love God, love one another, offer that love to those around you…etc.) then Jesus has promised to make Himself known to you on an ongoing basis. If on the other hand, you choose your own priorities over His, then He will seem quite distant, and your vision of His will may become so dim that you no longer are sure of the path before you.

Begin by confessing where you really are, in your life: Go to God’s Word. See His Holiness. Confess your sins, and receive His cleansing. Then; allow Him to make you useable in His service, not holding back for the sake of security and comfort. Truly, the rewards are worth the hardships.

Lord Jesus, give us the Wisdom to understand your word, to confess our sins, recognizing that we have no worthiness in our own flesh, but to hear your call, and respond in faith, saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” We desire to walk with you, in fellowship, and in service. Please draw us into that reality, so as to glorify yourself in us.


Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

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

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Sent From God –To You!

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

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

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

Position and Condition

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

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

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

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

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel and the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith and Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Paul’s Ministry and Motivation

The Mission and Ministry of the Apostle Paul

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/16 THCF 11/20/16

Romans 15:14-33

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Romans, and for the last several weeks, the topic had to do with church unity, and how to deal with the normal, healthy diversity in the church. The point was that the diversity is a good thing, designed by God, but that all of it had to fit within the holiness of God. God makes no provision for sin, beyond the Cross. Paul rebuked virtually every church he wrote to, in one area or another; not harshly, but in corrective teaching, designed to help them walk with God. The only church letter (epistle) in which there was no corrective teaching is the book of Philippians. The two epistles to Corinth are virtually all corrective teaching. So some of the things that were wrong in Corinth had nothing to do with “diversity”, or being “seeker-friendly”, or “relevant to the World.” Some of the issues were simply sin, and Paul addressed those things directly, and unapologetically.

The diversity had to do with different cultures, and different gifting; not morals, or idolatry, or any form of unrighteousness. We would be wise to frequently review Romans 14 and 15 to remind ourselves how to get along with those we find uncomfortable, as well as how we are to become less uncomfortable for others.

Romans is a very well-balanced book, as Paul lays the foundation for faith, and for a stable walk with God. Having done so, Paul goes on to begin to share his own heart; his own way of thinking regarding the gospel, the work of the ministry, the Gentiles, the church, etc.

Paul Shares His Own Heart

14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

In verses 14-16, Paul expresses his confidence that the goodness of God was already having victory in the lives of the Gentile believers in Rome. He acknowledges that they were completely capable of teaching or correcting one another, as needed. Why?

How could he be so sure that they were able to continue the Christian life without his assistance? What two things did they have that assured them of it?

They had the same two things we have—the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the written Word of God. Did they have the New Testament? No, it wasn’t completed, yet, though it is possible they had seen portions of it. Romans is evidently the sixth of Paul’s epistles, and the book of Matthew was almost certainly completed and circulating. Possibly the book of Mark had begun circulating, as well. (Remember that there were no printing presses, so copies were written out by hand, and passed around to other believers.)

They had all of the Old Testament, and, as we have seen in our previous studies, it is completely in agreement with the New Testament, where they overlap. The Old Testament laid a firm foundation for the New Testament, so that the believers who were well-taught in the Old Testament were easily able to grasp the teachings in the New Testament, because the two dovetailed perfectly together. The prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled in the New Testament, and the New Testament gave clear explanation to the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit was perfectly capable of teaching them from the Old Testament Scripture, and, if necessary, by additional revelation. But, in this case, Paul was that additional revelation. He was sent to do a particular job, and this letter is part of it. He was used to write at least 13 of the New Testament books…probably 14, though we have no proof regarding the writer of Hebrews.

He says that he was “bold” in writing to them because of the peculiar gift of God with which he himself had been entrusted—that he was the servant of Jesus Christ, sent specifically to the Gentiles. (The word “Apostle” means “sent one”.) In another passage (Romans 11:13) Paul says that he is “the Apostle to the Gentiles,” and that he takes it seriously; he “magnifies” his office. He says that his specific job was to ensure that the “offering up of the Gentiles” would be acceptable before God, being sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit.

When I first read this particular passage (v. 16), regarding the “offering up of the Gentiles”, I assumed that he meant that the offerings the Gentiles made would be acceptable; but it turns out that it means that the Gentiles themselves are the offering—a worship offering—and that he wanted them to be an acceptable “worship offering” to God. I like the mental image this evokes…that the lives of the Gentile believers were to be an acceptable, pleasing act of worship to God. I’m a Gentile believer, too…can this apply to me? Yes! We can take this promise and apply it to ourselves. This is a Church Epistle, and it is “To Us.”

Paul says that the result of applying these truths (the whole book of Romans) to our lives is that our lives will be an acceptable worship offering to God, made holy (sanctified) by the Holy Spirit. That makes the Book of Romans a pretty important passage to learn to apply. Possibly a place to start for serious personal study…meditation…memorization.

Paul’s Motivation: To be Used by God

Paul goes on to explain “what makes him tick”— what his motive in life has become. (Not surprisingly, it matches what Jesus said, in John 4:34—“My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”)

17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,

Paul says that this is his only boast: the effect the Gospel has had in the lives of those to whom he preached. Not in the work of others; just his own. And even this “boast” is only the satisfaction of knowing that his life has been used by God to achieve something of eternal worth. He says that he can boast “through Jesus Christ, in those things that pertain to God.” And that he will not boast of anything that “Christ did not do through him.” This gives us a clue as to what sort of things are reward-worthy, to God. The things Christ does in and through his people are the things he will reward as being of eternal value. Paul hungered for that reward, and the continuing experience of knowing his life was useful, as a tool in the hand of the Savior. God help us all to hunger toward that end, that we may be useful as tools in His Hand.

We often tell people, “Well, God needs (insert professions here; hair-stylists, shoemakers, welders, truck-drivers, laborers, etc.) too!” The fact is, that is not true! God doesn’t “need” anything! We need Him. We need to be in His will. Now, does his will have a place for all of those seemingly “common” professions? Yes! It does!

Tentmakers were nothing dramatic or glorious, in the time of Christ, but God certainly had a use for a couple of them in Acts chapter 18. The tent-making couple, Priscilla and Aquila, had Paul work with them for a while. Later, they took aside the “powerhouse evangelist,” Apollos, and “straightened him out!” It seems he only knew what John the Baptist had taught, plus the Old Testament. They filled him in on the “rest of the story,” as they had been taught by both Paul and the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, Apollos not only received it, he put it to use in his public ministry, and was mightily used by God, to refute the false teachers in that area. How frequently a powerful teacher, who has been used by God in great ways, is too arrogant to listen to the quieter, simpler folk through whom God may choose to speak. (It is well to remember that, on the occasion when He chose to do so, God was able to use a donkey to straighten out a prophet. It is not too much to ask, to listen to the voice of the less prominent. In the case of Aquila and Priscilla, it made a huge difference. They were used by God, and it made a difference!

Pauls’ Pattern of Evangelism

19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
22 
For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.

Verses 19 and 20 are interesting and educational passages: Verse 19 says that he, Paul, “through mighty signs and wonders by the Power of the Spirit of God,” had “fully preached the Gospel” from Jerusalem to Illyricum. What does that mean? Does it mean that he tracked down and preached to every single human in that area?

You can look at the maps of the Mediterranean area, and find all the towns in which he preached, and you can see that what he was describing was a pretty large chunk of territory. But we can read the account in Acts and see that he went from town to town, and preached in civic and religious centers, including market-places and synagogues, so that the news went out from those centers. Once he had believers in an area, he left it to them to find those who had not heard the Gospel and to share it with them. But Paul moved on to an area where the Gospel had never gone. “V. 20 “Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” That was Paul’s three-point mission plan:

  1. Preach in centers from which the message could spread and continue to grow after he left.
  2. Try to concentrate on taking the Gospel to places where it had never been before.
  3. Feed those that are hungry, and don’t waste time on those who are not. (See Acts 17)

Pretty simple, isn’t it? And yet we have huge organizations today, some doing great work, but “over-organized” to the hilt. Every believer can take this attitude toward the Gospel. Evangelism is really pretty simple—it is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food. And Paul had been so busy doing just that, that he had never been free to visit the believers in Rome

By the way, the above pattern is what Jim and Judy Burdett, with New Tribes Mission, have been doing for the last 32 years, while translating the scripture into Dom. They established three small churches, which are mostly self-sustaining, now, from which Bible-teachers are going out into neighboring villages and clans, sharing the Gospel, and teaching the Bible. Jim and Judy can only do so much. But they have taught in those three areas, and the ones they taught have the freedom to go wherever they will be received. They can go to places Jim and Judy could not go.

Paul’s Personal Plans

23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.
29 And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Paul begins his closing remarks, here, with his personal desire to visit Rome. He says “I have no more place in these parts…” Why? Not welcome there? He was never completely welcome, anywhere he went—he had a ministry that was sometimes very uncomfortable. He preached the Cross; Jesus Christ and Him Crucified: and, while it resulted in salvation for many, there were far more who totally rejected the message, and frequently were violently opposed to it and him.

But that is not what is in the context, here. In light of verse 20, what does “I have no more place, here…” mean? He was simply stating that there were no more untouched areas around him, and he was looking as far away as Spain, in order to fulfill his prime objective—take the Gospel where it had never been before. He had already done so where he was (see verse 19).

I knew a retired missionary couple, Roy and Linda Milton, who had worked in Indonesia. There is an area of Irian Jaya (the other half of the Island of New Guinea) called “The Bird’s Head”, because of its shape, that had never been opened to missions. I remember the way Linda’s eyes glowed, when she stated positively, “If they open up the Bird’s Head, we’ll go back!” Their health is no longer good enough to permit such a thing, and I am not sure whether that area was ever opened, but that was her heart’s desire, to take the Gospel where it had never gone.

Does this mean that we should never tell someone the gospel twice? Of course not! But it does mean that we have a greater debt to those who have never heard than to those who have already heard and rejected the Lord. If people aren’t hungry, move on and find someone who is hungry. It is impossible to feed those who are not hungry. Back in Romans 1:16, Paul stated that he was a debtor to both Jews and Gentiles, because of the Gospel. In Romans 13:8 we are told to not be in debt to anyone except for this abiding debt of Love. I was not immediately receptive to the Gospel, so if I had only heard it once, I would have been lost. I remember the first time I heard it and understood that all the necessary work was completed at the Cross; that all God was asking me to do was to place my faith in that single completed work of Jesus…His shed blood for my sins. It still took about six months for me to come around. I was eighteen, and I know I must have heard the Gospel many times before that and simply ignored it. God was gracious and patient toward me. But there does come a time when the evangelist must kindly say, “Well…I hope you will think it over and change your mind!” and then… close your mouth! There are others who will respond. You need to pray for their soul, continue to love them, and pray for guidance to find someone else with whom to share the Hope of Eternal Life.

Paul planned to go to Spain, but he had to make a trip to Jerusalem first. He asked for prayer, as the people to who he would go were not at all friendly toward the Gospel, nor, especially, to him. But he promised that en route to Spain, he would stop over in Rome and be a blessing to them, as well. We do not know whether he ever made it to Spain…we have no record of it if he did. And the only recorded time that he went to Rome, he went as a prisoner. V. 29 seems to make it clear that he fully expected to go to Rome as a visitor. If there was another visit, outside of the time he went there in chains, we are not told of it. We simply don’t know.

Conclusion: Paul’s Prayer Requests and Benediction

30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Paul begged the Roman believers to “strive together”, in prayer for him. The Greek word is “agonizo –the word from which we derive “agonize”. Paul asked that they pour themselves out for him in prayer, so that he would be delivered from the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem (who desired to silence him), and that his service toward the church in Jerusalem would be well-received. He asked for these things so that, when he came to Rome they could be a blessing to one another, and be refreshed by mutual fellowship.

Paul prayed for them that the God of Peace would be with them all.

Keep in mind that this epistle is to the Church as a whole. God wants his Peace to reign in our lives as well. As we study His Word, and align ourselves with His Will, we find that we are increasingly filled with His Peace. And, honestly, that is about the best thing we can experience in this life: His Peace, and His Joy, and His personal presence as we walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, teach us to align ourselves with your stated will so as to discover your specific will, operative in our lives, and to be filled with your Peace and your Joy. Teach us to practice evangelism the way Paul taught it, and to leave the result to you. Make us continually aware of your presence with us, as we seek to serve you.