What about Discipleship and Church Relationships?

Disciples and Church Relationships

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:12-15

12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. 15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Introduction

We are studying through 1st Thessalonians, and for the last three Sundays, we have examinined various aspects of discipleship. We talked about the cost of discipleship and the rewards of discipleship and the life of discipleship in general.

Pastoral Support and Care

In verses 12 and 13, Paul mentions a subject that seems a bit touchy, in today’s society. Many charlatans preach as “mercenaries,” seeing it as an easy job with a fat paycheck.

If the church were not already treating us well, I would feel uncomfortable teaching this passage, as a pastor. Some churches fail in this area: This church once failed in this area, about 15 years ago.

A “Close-to-Home” Example:

Pat James was the founding pastor, but he was poorly paid to begin with, and his pay was based on a percentage of the giving. His pay was also capped at a value they declared as a “housing allowance.” Other than that, he was on Social Security, just as I am.

But: he lived in Nehalem, an hour away by car; so, there were extra costs involved in just getting here. And, sadly, the congregational giving was pretty skimpy at that time. The church was about eight months behind on his support when he told me that he needed to address the money issue. But he was ashamed to do so. He felt as though he was “begging,” or “squeezing the congregation” for money. (And it was a shameful situation! It never should have happened!)

I told him I completely understood how he felt and that he did not have to preach that sermon. I told him to stay home, and that I would address the topic of pastoral support. As it turned out, he was so destitute by then, that he did not have money enough for gasoline to get here, anyway!

Corrective Teaching:

I taught on the responsibility of the flock (including myself) toward Pastoral care, and I asked rather sharply, “am I being too subtle?” (And I saw several people shaking their heads, “No!”) One person approached afterward, and asked, “Where is Pat today?”

I flatly told him the truth: “He doesn’t have gas money to get here!” The man replied, “This is not going to happen again!” He and another man drove to the coast that day, and put a large cash gift in Pat’s hands.

Church giving picked up for a while, as a result, but, sadly, it gradually tapered off again. That was disappointing: I thought they had actually learned something. As it turned out, they had! It just took a while to change the established pattern.

God’s Word Bearing Fruit

But since then, things have changed. The church caught up on Pat’s pay, and they continued his support until both he and his wife, Jan, passed away. Richard Banham and I continued the work. The church began supporting missions quite heavily, while, for seven years, both Richard Banham and I were self-supporting, so as not to burden the tiny church in any way. And the church was growing!

But then, in January 2020, my means of support (the job I had held for over 30 years) ceased to exist…and then Richard died. Ann and I kept serving, still attempting to support ourselves by other means, but with very slim results.

However, I did not have to approach the church, “asking” for support: they approached me, and quite firmly told me it was not ok for us to be without support.  The church offered us a housing allowance, the same as Pat had received, and not only have they never failed to provide it: they have given us “cost of living” raises, each year.

I am not a “church employee:” I cannot be accused of “just being in it for the money,” because, for the first twenty years I taught here, it was without pay. But the church has responded to us in love and mutual care, and Ann and I are truly blessed.

I have never felt that Ann and I were being judged or treated poorly: quite the opposite. The church has consistently treated us well. That is why I can comfortably teach this passage, because I am confident that I will not be misunderstood.

But: It isn’t Just About Money

Notice that it says. “esteem then very highly in love for their work’s sake.” Yes, that includes financial support, or, in some cultures it might include bringing food to their family. In a farming culture, the Church elders will probably not have enough time to tend their own gardens, as they are spending their time feeding the flock, or preparing to do so. Perhaps their people will work their garden for them.

It also might be emotional support: many pastors suffer from self-doubt and discouragement. The most encouraging thing they can hear, is that someone genuinely got fed, and is applying what they learned. Do they always have to hear such “accolades?” No! But if they feel that they are just “preaching into the void,” so to speak, and having zero effect, it can be pretty discouraging.

Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet” because the people to whom he was sent consistently rebelled against the Word that God spoke through him…and very few believed his message. He wept and agonized over Judah, for the constant rebellion of the leaders and the people, and their vicious, unreasoning attacks against him, personally.

Responding to the Word

Hebrews 13:17 says, “ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

If you actually learn from and follow the teaching you are given, that allows your leaders to report with Joy to the Chief Shepherd that the flock is thriving. Chuck and I, and all the other leaders here, are filled with joy to see the response of the people in this little assembly. Eighteen to twenty people are regularly showing up for Bible Study! That is a sign of real health, and it is a thrill, to see people feeding on the Word. They are asking questions, taking notes and using what they are learning, in their outreach to friends, and in finding victory in their walk with God.

Defending the Elders, but Holding them Accountable.

“Esteeming them highly in love” also includes defending the leaders against attack.

1st Timothy 5:19, 20 say that we are not to “hear” an accusation against an elder unless there are two or more witnesses there to hear the accusation. No gossip or backstabbing! But: if it turns out that there is sin involved, the elders involved are to be rebuked publicly, not hushing it up or “sweeping it under the rug.”

Peace among the Flock

Notice that peace among the flock is the next thing mentioned. Division, strife, and gossip are symptoms of spiritual disease: Such behaviors are not healthy! Paul encourages the believers to be at peace among themselves.

Ezekiel 34:17-22

God judges the Flock when they mistreat one another.

And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.

18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?

19 And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.

20 Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle.

21 Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad;

22 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

The verses just before this passage (v. 1-10) call for the shepherds to feed, protect, heal and comfort the flock. God judges unfaithful shepherds. But, when Christians behave in a manner that damages other believers, whether intentionally or simply through careless responses, it destroys the peace and unity that God has created. More importantly, it dishonors the Lord, personally. So, He brings judgment on the Flock.

Results of Failure to obey God

Years ago, two men asked me why, when visitors came to their church, they never stayed long, but soon disappeared, never to return. I knew nothing about their church, so I replied in the form of an analogy:

I said, “If young children invite their friends over for dinner, and, after coming once or twice, they no longer will come, it usually is due to one of three things:

  1. There was no food on the table,
  2. Older children were mistreating them, or
  3. Mom and Dad were fighting.”

They looked at each other for a moment, and then replied, “Two, out of three!”  (I still knew nothing of their church, but obviously something was seriously wrong.)

We are called to peace!

And in Ezekiel 34:1-10, the shepherds were given a list of seven definite responsibilities toward the flock. They are to:

  1. Feed the Flock,
  2. Strengthen the Diseased.
  3. Heal the Sick,
  4. Bind up the Broken,
  5. Bring back those who have been driven away,
  6. Seek the Lost, and
  7. Defend the Flock against Predators.

If the shepherds are collectively doing their jobs, in unity, and if the flock is behaving rightly before the Lord, then we can expect to have His blessing. If not, then, to whatever degree we are disregarding God’s Word, we can expect to see His blessing diminished. That is simply the truth.

Six Guidelines:

Paul listed six concepts for Christian behavior: (v.14, 15)

He exhorted us to:

  • Warn them that are unruly,
  • Comfort the feebleminded, (the “faint-hearted”—not a reference to “dementia”)
  • Support the weak,
  • Be patient toward all men. (Greek does not include the word “men:” it says “all.”)
  •  See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but consistently
  • Follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Warn the Unruly:

Galatians 6:1 tells us how to restore one another to fellowship, and warns us that our motive has to be restoration…never condemnation or harsh criticism. This is a matter of the “self-healing” of the church’s small injuries or misalignments. (Think, “over-the-counter” as opposed to “prescription.” This is to happen between all believers. It does not require an elder stepping in.

Comfort (encourage, or console) the Faint-hearted

Many believers (especially new believers) may feel quite unsure about their position in Christ, let alone their condition as a disciple. The result may be that they very timid about the spiritual battles they face. Until they understand that the war was won at the Cross, and that they are secure forever in Christ, and that they are truly born again as the genuine children of God, (not adopted like a stray dog,) they will need our encouragement and comfort.

Support the Weak

Romans 14:1-7 and Romans 15:1 spell out who the “weak” believers are: and God lays upon the stronger believers the responsibility to support (not to judge) the weaker brethren.

Be Patient toward All

We all have our idiosyncrasies, and we are all exhorted to be patient with one another, just as we are also commanded in Ephesians 4:2 to forbear one another (put up with one another) in Love.

Don’t take Vengeance!

Don’t give others a “taste of their own medicine.” Don’t “render evil for evil.”

Follow that which is Good, toward believers and unbelievers.

This has to be an ongoing, day-by-day, lifestyle choice. It is an integral part of our collective testimony as believers. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”

If we can consistently apply  all of the above, we will continue to enjoy good health as a church.

Lord Jesus, draw us into a closer walk with You, and alert us to the changes you want in each of our lives. Help us to grow strong as Your disciples.

What is the Connection between Salvation and Discipleship?

Salvation and Discipleship

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:5-8

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

Introduction:

Last week we talked about the End Times, and particularly, how the “Day of The Lord” plays out in scripture. We pointed out, from 1st Thessalonians 5:1-4 that the Church will not be part of the Tribulation, simply because we are not part of the coming judgment on the World and Israel, as seen in Daniel chapter 9.

However, that does not leave us without responsibility. The fact that we are “Children of the Light, and Children of the Day” means that we are not of the night and not judged with the world. But it also means we have certain responsibilities.

The fact that we have already been transferred into the Kingdom of Light is the security of our Salvation. But the fact that we are called to Live as Children of Light, is our call to Discipleship.

Salvation and Discipleship

So… what is the difference between “Salvation” and “Discipleship?” Is every saved person thereby also a disciple? Well…positionally, yes, perhaps they are. And, Yes, everyone who is saved is called to full discipleship.

But, relationally, and conditionally, no! Sadly, we do not always “follow Jesus,” though that is what He calls us to do! We need to see the difference, and how the difference applies to our lives.

Salvation Should Result in Discipleship

(Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.We are saved by Grace (unearned favor) through Faith (Believing God: ”He said it, we believe it!”)  The result should be that we do the good works that He has ordained us to do.

Yes, my sins were fully paid for at the Cross: I am fully forgiven now. I have redemption now. Also, I am unconditionally accepted by God, now. I have Eternal Life now. But to actually experience that Eternal life, in any meaningful way,I need to step into the other half of that transaction. He says that “We are His workmanship, created in Christ unto good works…”

Discipleship

The life of a disciple is completely committed to the service of his Master. There are good masters and bad ones in the world. The disciples of an evil master commit evil works because they are committed to following their evil master, and carrying out his will. If that is how the broken, evil world handles discipleship, how much more should we be committed to carrying out the will of our Master? He is not only Good, Himself, but He is also the ultimate source of all Good in the world?

We can easily “say” we are committed to His service, but, when it comes to choices, on a daily basis, we need to begin asking ourselves, “Will this specific choice be to His credit and honor?” This is where we “put shoe-leather on our faith.” That has to become the central question: “What would He have me to do?”

The Example of Saul of Tarsus

Saul of Tarsus, in Acts chapters eight and nine, was persecuting the church, because he was committed to destroying it. He thought that by doing so, he was serving God, so he went after it fervently. (Interestingly, in John 16:2, Jesus had predicted that the time would come when anyone who killed Christians would think they were serving God by doing so.)

But Saul was unwittingly serving the Evil One. In Romans 5:10 we see that we all start out as enemies of God. (Saul thought he was a great friend of God!) In Ephesians 2:3, we find that we all are born Children of Wrath, and we are natural servants of the Evil One. (Saul thought, as a Jew, that he was already a child of God!)

But in Acts 9:1-6 we see a transformation:

1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

Notice the Order of Events:

  1. Jesus shone the Light on Saul. (Think of it as the “Gospel Light.”)
  2. Paul responded in faith, askingWho Art Thou, Lord?” (Consider this to be the point of Salvation for Saul, as he responded in trembling astonishment and he believed Jesus!)
  3. Paul asked for orders! “What wilt thou have me to do?” (This is the beginning of Discipleship, immediately after salvation!)

So, by application of Ephesians 2:8-10, we can read the experience of Saul of Tarsus as an object lesson.  (By the way, this Saul later changed his name to Paul: “Saul” means “asked for,” and it was the name of the first king of Israel. “Paul” means “little” or “insignificant.”)

How does Paul’s life form an object lesson to teach Ephesians 2:8-10?

  1. We can see that Grace came in the form of a blinding light from the sky and a voice calling to him, by name. (Not everyone gets this experience: in fact, it was unique to Paul!) But He was saved by Grace, just like everyone else!
  2. We can see that His Faith was instantaneous, but untaught. He simply Believed Jesus, more than whatever he had believed before. Jesus became his new standard! And that response of Faith to God’s Grace is how he was born again!
  3. The “Good Works that God had before ordained” for him to “walk in” were pretty spectacular. The remaining nineteen chapters of the book of Acts are largely about his travel and trials and ministry and the persecution that resulted.

(We see the rest of the story of Saul’s conversion, in Acts 9:8-19. In verses 15 and 16, we see Jesus saying what those good works might entail: Speaking to Ananias, who was sent to restore Saul’s sight, Jesus said,  “Go thy way, for He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.)

Paul was one of the few disciples who got to see in advance what his ministry was to be. Most of us do not. We grow in faith, from the moment of salvation, and we learn that we truly are “called to discipleship.” There are no exceptions.

Making the Call of God Personal

We grow into a deeper understanding of that rather vague, uncomfortable idea, until it becomes our life’s guiding principle. At some point, we finally fully agree, that “If He bought me and I belong to Him, then it makes sense that I should be working for Him!”

And, ultimately, we find ourselves involved in full-time service of one sort or another. I have taught Bible for 45 years, always self-supporting. Until this last three years I worked secular jobs, as did Paul, to support myself and my family, but I still devoted myself to training young believers, and raising them up to discipleship. Some went on to become missionaries, some became pastors or teachers. Some served in other ways….but discipleship was the common thread in all their lives.

In my own case, I had never “asked” to become a Pastor: but now I feel honored to be permitted to feed the flock of God. There are others among you who are also gifted to feed the flock: this is not a “one-man show.”

Jesus said, “Feed My Flock!”

Every person who is gifted to feed the flock needs to be ready (at a moment’s notice,) to “put on his Discipleship Boots,” so to speak, and go to God’s “Sheep-food bin,” (we call it “the Bible”) and dig out enough “sheep food” to feed the flock, at least on an occasional basis. (If nothing else, choose to do so, just to allow the regular teachers a break. You need the opportunity to serve, and they need the opportunity to sit down and be fed, once in a while!)

Last Sunday night, I got sick. I was hurting everywhere, and I was running a fever, so I called on one of the brothers to take Wednesday night’s Bible Study in my place, and he did! Was it easy? Nope! It wasn’t! Would it have been easier if he had already prepared a lesson in advance and was just “chomping at the bit,” hoping to get a chance to share it? Well, yes, I expect it would have been: But the point is, he rose to the challenge, and he served. He fed the flock!

The “Thessalonian Challenge”

Notice the statements that are made in this short passage:

  • All of you (believers) ARE the children of the Light, and the children of the Day.
  • You are NOT of the night, nor of darkness. (How did you get that way? You were born again as the genuine children of God!)
  • THEREFORE, (Because we have been born again, and we are children of the Light, and children of the Day,) then…what?
  • let us not sleep, as do others; (Our lives are not to be “just like everyone else:” we have a new Master, and new priorities! Jesus said we are no longer of the World, and the result will be that we can no longer hope to “fit in.”)
  • but let us watch and be sober. (The contrast is to be a constant difference in how we see the world around us, and how we respond to our surroundings. Our sobriety, and considering the eternal value (or lack of such) makes us automatic “misfits.”)
    • (For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.)But let us, who are of the day, be sober, (The world sleeps, but we are to be awake to the Spirit of God and the coming Judgment: The “Day of the Lord,” and the final judgment coming on sin. That ought not to put us to sleep!)
  • putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

What kind of person is told to “put on armor…” a breastplate, and a helmet?

Only a soldier is told to put on a breastplate, and a helmet. (Only a serious disciple is called to fight for his master.) But the call to put on the Armor of God is extended to all believers. Why? Because every single one of us is called to discipleship! Not only that, but we are called to always be on full alert! God never says, “Stand down! Be at ease, there is no threat, here!”

In fact, in 1st Peter 5:8, He says, “Be sober, be vigilant; for your enemy the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

So, stop and think: do you truly think Satan and his servants are going to “take a day off?” The truth is, they do not! And, because they do not take breaks, we cannot! Our release will come soon enough, in God’s timing. And their final judgment will come shortly thereafter. But it is usually when we decide to “take a break” that we get into trouble!

We are Called to Rest, but we are not to “take time off from discipleship.”

(Can we rest? Absolutely, we can!) We are called to continual rest: but we are to rest in Him, not rest from Him. You married folks, ask yourselves: If your spouse said, “I’m leaving for a day or two: I need a break from being around you!” How would you feel? I would feel terrible! But when we decide to take off on a tangent and pursue worldly things, that is precisely what we are telling Jesus: “I am tired of attempting to walk with you: I think will go back to my old ways for a while!” That is not discipleship. Discipleship means following Jesus.

Do we fail sometimes? Yes, we do! And I am grateful that God forgives our failures. But don’t try to tell yourself it is not important to Him! It is! And it should be important to us, as well.

Lord Jesus, draw us along as Your Disciples! Teach us to walk as You walked, and Serve as You Served. Tear down our self-centeredness and teach us the sobriety to see the Holiness of God and desire to Imitate His Love and Grace.

To Increase and Abound in Love

To Increase and Abound in Love

© C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 3:11-13

11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

Introduction:

Last week we saw that the passion of the Shepherds, including that of the Great Shepherd Jesus, is for the people of God to thrive, spiritually, and to become strong and healthy, as believers, and to consistently reflect the priorities and compassion of Jesus.

Our “prime directive” from Jesus is quite different than that of the television series, Star Trek, where the characters insist that their “Prime Directive” is that they must not disturb any other culture’s pattern of thinking, or way of life. Jesus stated our Prime directive: “Love one another as I have loved You.” That is an utterly different direction, and it has entirely different results.

It is OK to talk about the Bad News!

Notice that Jesus did not hesitate to “disturb our way of thinking,” nor to warn us of impending doom. In fact, He spent more time warning of the coming Judgment than He did elaborating on the joys of Heaven.

Jesus came specifically to turn us away from our old way of life. He did not say that “whatever we are doing is fine,” or that “all ways were equally good.” Quite the opposite: He cut across the grain of every culture in the world, by stating that Sin is what stands between us and God, and that the result will be eternal condemnation, apart from God’s intervention. But God has intervened!

How did God intervene?

God intervened through an act of selfless Love…Agapé Love. Jesus summed it up in His famous statement, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It literally says, “in this manner, God loved the World…” This is HOW God intervened. And, most importantly, His intervention included the whole world.

But Jesus cut across the smug self-righteousness of the Pharisees and Priests, and He also cut across the pompous worldly-wise self-confidence of the Gentile philosophers. He offered the absolute truth of God to Man, enclosed in Human flesh.

The One and Only:

He clearly stated His unique position as the only begotten Son. The Greek word is “monogene.” It means the “Crown Prince; the “Heir to the Throne.” He is not “one of many ways,” but the Way. Jesus the Messiah is not “one of many truths,” but the Truth. He is not “one of many sources of Life,” but the Life! His own “prime directive” was to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s Holiness on behalf of the entire human race. He fulfilled that directive by a perfect life and a perfect sacrifice at the Cross. He bought the whole World by the shedding of His Blood.

And Jesus gave us our prime directive, in John 13:34, 35. He said that we are to exhibit that same Agapé Love toward one another. We are to “intervene” by Love. We are not to allow other believers to just “slide off” into unfruitfulness and to become the wreckage Satan desires for each of us, but rather to intervene and encourage one another to press on, and walk in obedience to Christ. Remember that the command “Love one another” comes in the context of the foot-washing lesson, in John 13.

Galatians 6:1 clearly states that we are to help one another in the spiritual battle, and to restore one another to fellowship, as needed. This is all part of our “prime directive.”

What About the World?

Paul reiterates that “prime directive” of Agapé Love in 1st Thessalonians 3:12. He expands upon it to point out that the command includes extending that Agapé love toward all people: not just other believers. We are not directed to “allow people to just go their own way,” but rather, we are to warn them that judgment is coming, and offer them the gift of God.

Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death” (There is the judgment!) “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (There is the gift we are sent to offer!) This is how we are to love the world as Jesus did! It is by taking the necessary risks of rejection and possible persecution, and going ahead with the job of evangelism.

Paul’s Example

In verse 12, Paul also concludes that they could take his and the other evangelists as a working model of how to apply this concept. Paul, Silas, and Timothy had taken the necessary risks to bring the Good News of Jesus to Thessalonica. They endured the danger there, just as they had done in Philippi, though in Thessalonica, they escaped further injury.

Remember, we read in Acts 17, that they had gone to the synagogue, in Thessalonica, probably still bleeding from the wounds received in Philippi. They accepted the calculated risk that the Jewish leaders might resent the message that Jesus was their true Messiah. The evangelists (missionaries,) showed all of the people in the synagogue (from the Jew’s own scriptures,) that the Messiah was expected to suffer death at their hands. They showed that Jesus had, in fact, fulfilled their scripture by subjecting Himself to the abuse, torture and crucifixion He had endured at Jerusalem.

Some of the Jews believed the message. Many Gentile proselytes believed. And the result was quite literally, a riot. It has often been observed that, wherever Paul went there resulted a revival, or a riot, or both. In this case, it was both. And yet, he said that the Thessalonian believers could take him and his fellow laborers as examples of how to live.

What Effect Did Paul Expect in Their Lives?

In verse 13, Paul said that if they committed themselves to that “Prime Directive,” the expected result should be that they would find their hearts increasingly established and strengthened in a practical Holiness, so that at the Lord’s return they would stand blameless before Him.

Positionally, believers have already been declared “holy” by God. Positionally, we already stand blameless before Him. (See Ephesians 1:4) Our position in Him, our salvation, is a gift. Nothing can alter that position. But, in terms of reward, all the results are very much conditioned upon responding to Him consistently in obedience.

Compare Two Ministries

Several times I have compared the ministries of Jeremiah and Jonah: Jonah got great “results,” but he had begun in complete rebellion, and even in the face of a major revival, he was bitter toward God for saving the enemies of Israel. God had to remind him that those people were precious to Him, too.

In contrast, Jeremiah poured himself out for the souls of the people to whom he was sent, though they abused him. He prayed and wept for them, seeking their repentance. But, as far as we know for sure, only two of his audience responded in faith.

We do have a choice How we serve!

Given a choice, I would rather be like Jeremiah than to be like Jonah!  Consider how Jeremiah exhibited Agapé Love. Then compare Jonah. Jonah hated the people to whom he was sent, and was hoping to see them destroyed! He was bitterly resentful toward God for saving them, and said, in effect, “I knew you were going to do this! That is why I ran away to begin with!”

Yes, God rewards obedience, but He also rewards obedience from the heart: not just “outward compliance.” God knows our hearts. He honors His Word, simply because it is His Word! But he honors us for willingly joining with Him in the double harness of service that He offers.

Service is a Privilege.

First, it is a privilege reserved for those who have been born again, into His family. Secondly, it is reserved for those believers who willingly respond to the call of God.

In Isaiah 6:1-8, the prophet Isaiah heard that call: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” (We might call that a “rhetorical question,” as the call was being directed to Isaiah!) But Isaiah responded as though he were a volunteer, saying, “Here am I, Lord! Send me!” He was eager to join Jesus in the Work of the Gospel.

What about Counterfeits?

Do some people imitate the service of God? And are they possibly even earnestly coveting His favor and reward? Absolutely they do, and that may be their earnest hope. But if you circumvent the Cross, refusing to deal with your sins, then you are impersonating a child of God. As a lost person attempts to serve God without His approval, they are similar to the people we sometimes hear about who impersonate police officers. Some of them even buy uniforms, and paint their cars to look official, and then go out and attempt to arrest “bad guys.”

The problem, of course, is that it is a crime to impersonate a police officer. Thus, even if what they are doing while wearing that counterfeit uniform is technically a “good thing,” they will not be rewarded for their supposed “good deeds.” They will be punished for the crime of impersonating an officer of the law.

Jesus knows the Difference!

Jesus said that there will be people under judgment, who protest that they are the “good guys!” They will say, “But we did all these great things in your name!” And He said that His response will be “…but I never knew you! Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!

He will not say that to any of His “born ones.” (By the way, the Greek word translated as “children,” in reference to those reborn into the family of God, is “teknoi,” meaning “Born Ones.”) He will not reject you for wrongdoing, though your rebellion or neglect may cost you much of the reward you had hoped to earn.

Practice, Exercise, and Growth

As with everything else in life, this new life in Christ takes practice to gain any stability. It is not something “natural” we are attempting, any more than it was “natural” for Peter to walk on the water with Jesus. It was impossible unless Jesus enabled him, and even then, the moment he shifted his focus to the surroundings, he began to sink. The same holds true for us!

It requires practice and exercise to gain experience and stability in a walk with Jesus. And it requires spiritual food to grow strong and healthy. In 1st Peter 2:2, we are told, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.” If we are not feeding on God’s Word, and practicing the application of His Word in our lives, then we cannot hope to grow strong and stable as believers. And we certainly cannot hope to become proficient at walking with Him if we do not consistently practice doing so.

Learning to Walk

When you were physically learning to walk, as a baby, success meant always getting up one more time than you fell down. As we are learning to walk with God, we often find that we have stumbled and fallen into sin. We confess it to God: (That is how we get up!) He forgives us, and we again set out to walk with Him.

Paul says that as we continue to practice exercising the Agapé Love in our relationships with others, including our outreach to unbelievers, we will become stronger, more effective, and more fruitful in our walk with Him. That growth and experience gives us great confidence as we go to meet Him, or, even just on a day-by-day basis, as we anticipate His return.

Perhaps this phrase seems small and unimportant, in the context of the things in the coming chapters, but since the Lord’s primary command is in view, we need to take it seriously, and consider how to apply it in our lives.

Lord Jesus, please open our eyes to the state of the World around us, and help us to see the people of the world as You see them: rather than seeing them as servants of the enemy, let us see them as victims of the enemy. Give us a heart of compassion to reach out to the lost around us, and to encourage one another as we see Your return approaching.

The Passion of the Shepherds

The Passion of the Shepherds

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 3:6-10

But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:

Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.

For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; 10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

Introduction

Paul had sent Timothy to Thessalonica to find out how the church was doing. He had feared that because of the heavy persecution against the infant church, they might have collapsed under the load of abuse. But he was thrilled to find out that the Thessalonian believers were not just “doing well,” but truly flourishing! Back in chapter one he had alluded to that, saying that wherever he went, now, he was hearing about their rich testimony of grace, faith, courage and Agapé Love.

But there had been a time when he was unsure about them. That is understandable, since he had only been with them for three or four weeks at most. From a human perspective, that was simply not enough time to gain any stability in the Lord. But God was the One in control. Human strength is very limited, but God’s authority and ability is truly unlimited.

Fire on the Mountains

There is a book (no longer in print, but still available on the internet) called “Fire on the Mountains” by Raymond Davis. This book chronicles the beginning of the evangelical church in Ethiopia; before, during and after World War II.

In 1937, Mussolini’s armies invaded Ethiopia, and the missionaries were forced to leave both the country and the fledgling church they had led to Christ. Their years of labor and love had only resulted in 48 believers, who were scarcely trained in the scriptures at all, as not much of the scriptures had yet been translated into their language. The missionaries were heartbroken, of course, because they were sure that the church would fail under the extreme persecution, and especially without the careful teaching the missionaries themselves had been providing.

God Was at Work

The war ended in 1945, but it was another two years before the missionaries were allowed to return. So, they went back, expecting to have to start over and rebuild all the work that was lost during the war years. What they did not know was that God had protected His Flock, and He had caused it to thrive under the persecution!

They had left behind 48 believers who had only small portions of the scriptures in their own language. But, when the missionaries returned in 1947, they were met by a church numbering over 10,000 believers! Obviously, there were some serious needs for teaching and training, but, instead of a tiny group of fearful saints, there was now an army of enthusiastic, committed Christians!

Paul may have felt the same joy and amazement those missionaries felt. He knew how terribly the new believers had been treated by their unbelieving neighbors and fellow-citizens, and was fearful that his own work had gone to waste. But He didn’t know that God was at work in Thessalonica!

Human Doubts

We might say, “Well, he should have known!” But bear in mind that Paul was just as human as we are, and he was there to see the horrific treatment the believers received. I can easily see how he could begin to doubt the Grace of God sustaining the believers in his absence.

Pat James was justifiably fearful for the future of this church, here at True Hope. He had planted the church, and worked for years, teaching and encouraging and praying, and investing his own life for the future of the believers, here. Especially later, as Pat began to suffer from the disease that eventually killed him, he despaired of the future of the church he loved. The church was his passion, and his calling. Feeding the flock, and praying for the believers, and defending this flock against false teachers was what he lived for! So, he was heartbroken to see the church dwindling and then to know he was getting too sick to even continue the work!

But God had good plans for the church. It stabilized, after the initial shock of losing the founding pastor, and it began to get healthier. Finally, during the Covid pandemic, it began to grow, numerically. It was growing spiritually, as people became hungrier for the Word of God, and began to study on their own. God was tending to His flock, just as He did the church in Thessalonica, and in Ethiopia. And, in the last few years of their lives, Pat and Jan James had the joy of seeing the church prospering and growing.

Now We Live!

Paul said, “For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord!”

He felt that “life was worth the hard times” if the result was the stability of the believers and their firm walk with God! I’m sure Pat James felt the same way, seeing that the church he loved was growing and thriving, after he had thought it would fail and die.

I know, in my own life, it thrills my heart, too, when I see more than half the people in the church also showing up for Wednesday night service. I remember when it was difficult to get more than half a dozen people to attend on Wednesdays, and they seemed to mainly be there to “support the cause.” Now I see people who are eagerly feeding on God’s Word and anxious to understand it for themselves. That is the sort of thing that makes all the hard times and sad times worthwhile!

Easing our Fears

And, from a committed Shepherd’s point of view, it eases the fears of “what will happen to the church when I die or when I am forced to abandon the work?” The missionaries in the case of the Ethiopian church were convinced that all their work had been in vain. They were heartsick for ten years, praying for the fledgling church and the 48 believers they had left behind. They did not know whether they would ever be allowed to return. (Remember that, at the beginning of the war, all the battles seemed to be going in favor of the Axis powers.)

Had those dictators remained in power, the missionaries might never have returned. But, again, God was at work. Ten years is a long time, from a human perspective, but it is less than a blink of the eye, to God! And, in the absence of the evicted missionaries, He had worked miraculously. The church blossomed, strictly because of God’s Work, not their own.

The Passion of the Shepherds

Every shepherd who is earnestly responding to the call of God to feed and strengthen the flock is gripped by the sense of urgency and vital importance of feeding the flock on the Word of God. And, since God gave us the Written Word of God as the “designated sheep food,” we also reasonably expect and anticipate spiritual growth and health to result from that food.

Sometimes it takes time for people to thrive, as was the case in Ethiopia and in the Dom people of Papua New Guinea, where Jim and Judy Burdett invested their lives. Other believers may thrive immediately, as did the churches in Thessalonica, and Philippi..

Corinth was one of those cities, where despite the initial positive reception of the Gospel, there was a thick “layer” of carnality and worldly behavior to be “peeled away” before they could begin to flourish. Paul was there for about eighteen months, but both of his letters to that church are almost completely devoted to corrective teaching. They had problems!

Paul was in Ephesus for about two years. and they seem to have done well. I do not know why one group of people will respond well and another will respond with only moderate interest, but it seems to be more dependent upon the recipients than upon the messengers. Paul brought what was effectively the same message, everywhere he went, but the responses varied wildly.

How will they Respond?

His heart’s desire in every case, though, was that the people would feed on the Word and thrive on that clean food. When I worked as a teacher, in the industrial trades, one concept I held to is that “teaching has not been accomplished until learning occurs.”  It is not sufficient to “recite” a great pile of facts or theories: if your audience is either not grasping what you are saying, or cannot see how to apply them, then “reciting” is all you accomplished. When learning has truly occurred, your students can put into practice the concepts you have taught, and use them in everyday life. That is the result of teaching.

When I taught the principles of welding supervision, most people seemed to respond well, but when I heard reports back from the shop floor, how at least some of them were applying what they had learned in class, it brought me great joy. Because then I knew that “teaching had truly been accomplished!”

Since the learning and spiritual growth of the church is the whole goal of the shepherd, it becomes the driving passion, taking precedence over virtually everything else. We want to know that the principles of God’s Word are not just being placed in the mental “library shelves” of believers, but are being implemented in the “Living Room.” They are no longer just head-knowledge, nor just “fun-stuff-to-know-and-tell:” They have become a living, working reality.

That is what Paul was anxious about, and that is what brought him great joy, when he heard the answer!

Who are the Shepherds?

There are a wide variety of “shepherding jobs” that a believer can step into. It is not just the “Pastors, Elders, Deacons, etc.” It can include any believer who matures to the point that they devote themselves to feeding the flock around them. It can be simple mentoring, as several people in my life have served. It can be formal teaching. It can be just drawing alongside a younger believer and being an encourager.

When your heart is exercised to “do the will of Him who sent you and to finish His Work” as Jesus said, then you are becoming “one of the shepherds,” in a practical sense. You are joining with Jesus in that job, and He will assign you tasks as He sees fit.

If you are interested in what the work of the Shepherd entails, please read Ezekiel 34:1-10. If that passage stirs your heart and sounds to you like a “call to action,” then you should consider whether God is directing you to join with Him in the job of feeding His flock.

If you are devoting yourself to praying for the believers around you, and seeking their stability, growth, and blessing, then you probably are one of the shepherds, even if you don’t see yourself that way.

How does God see the Matter?

In Hebrews 5:12, 13, the writer admonishes the believers, saying “You should have been teachers by now, but instead, you now require someone to re-teach you the things you should have mastered long ago. Instead of maturing, you have become babies again!” What a sad thing to have to say to a flock! What a hard thing to have to hear about yourself!

How should We See it?

But what we can “take away from” that passage is that all believers are called to grow at least to a level where we can function as examples and mentors for younger believers and encourage them to grow up too. Does that mean you have to teach? Not necessarily. But it does mean that we are called to bear fruit, in the sense of spiritual reproduction, and that new believers ought to find us to be faithful examples of the Love of Christ as well as faithful Ambassadors, and handling His Word in a faithful manner. We are not to stagnate in babyhood, as believers. We are to grow to maturity.

The Passion of Jesus, the Great Shepherd … is to see us grow to be like Him! That is called “discipleship!” We are to follow Him and learn to be like Him. That is the result of choosing to join Him in double harness and to learn from Him as we work beside him.

Lord Jesus, raise us up to walk in Your footsteps, and to serve with you, caring for the scattered flock in this world.. Give us Your Compassion and commitment to Your Word. Make us the disciples You have called us to be!

The Joy of the Shepherds

The Joy of the Shepherds

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 2:17-20; (Comparing Matthew 11:28-30; Acts 20:28-31; Hebrews 13:17;  1st Peter 5:1-4; John 4:34)

1st Thessalonians 2:17-20

17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. 18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and joy.

Introduction:

At various times, over the years, we have examined the scriptures that explain the “Work of the Shepherds.” We will do so again, in the near future, but today we will address a parallel idea: What brings Joy to a Shepherd?

In 1st Thessalonians 2:17-20, Paul first says that he has tried more than once, to go visit the Church in Thessalonica. He misses them, and longs to see them again. He says that Satan was the culprit who prevented his return to Thessalonica. (How did Paul know? We are not told.)

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that Satan is personally involved when you don’t get to do the things you want to do. Satan is not omnipresent (he is not “everywhere at once,”) nor is he omniscient (he doesn’t “know all things.”) He does not “cause you to sin:” You are perfectly capable of sinning without his involvement. (However, he definitely approves of your sin, so, if you want to “please the enemy,“ just keep it up!”

But, in this case, somehow, Paul was aware that there had been Satanic intervention, preventing his return to Thessalonica. We are not told how he knew. It is just a fact.

Glory and Joy in Working for Jesus

But, in verses 19 and 20, Paul says something pretty important: He says that the believers, there in Thessalonica, were his Glory and his Joy. He specifies that they are his hope for blessing, and honor, at the coming of Christ.

They will be his Joy, to see them standing before Jesus, and knowing that he had been a co-laborer with Jesus in getting them there!

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said some odd things:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I am told that the Greek word, here, translated as “yoke,” was specifically the double-harness made for two people to pull together. It allowed two workers to unite their strength and move a much heavier load. Jesus was inviting those who were wearied by their own attempts to serve God, in their own strength. He invited them to join Him in double-harness and find rest, because of His strength. And He promised they would learn to walk with God and learn to join Him in His Work. He said that the burden would be easy and light, compared to what they had been attempting alone.

Choosing Partnership With Jesus

But the bottom line is that, when we choose to join Jesus in that double harness, we become co-laborers with Jesus. We are seizing the opportunity to serve with Him! This is true, whether we are in an official position of “working for God” or serving, unseen, and just faithfully doing what He asks us to do. (This is not something “reserved for church leaders.”)

As we walk with Him and serve with Him, we learn His priorities, and gain His perspective. He changes our thinking about essentially everything. Things that once seemed important to us have become rather trivial from our new perspective. Goals we once felt strongly about may become irrelevant. And, yes, the result is “rest to our souls.” Our anxieties over the fears of this world begin to fade away, and the very temporary, shallow “joys” of this world are becoming less attractive to us.

Are You “Called to service?”

Whether you know it or not, the short answer is “YES!” If you are a believer, then you are called to be a disciple. You are called to work with Jesus and to follow Him in all things.

For three decades, I frequently wanted to leave the vocational job God had given me. But Ann and I were both aware that God had provided that job. Unless He directed me elsewhere, I was to “stay put!” So, I stayed there, and worked, and taught, and took opportunities to counsel and encourage believers, there at work.

I was working with Jesus there, just as much as I was working with Jesus in the churches I served. But I was grateful when the time came to leave. Being laid off after that long in service was not a grief to me: it was a relief!

Job Security for Believers

There are no “layoffs,” though, in God’s service. He has called us to serve. We may remember Samson, and ask, “but wasn’t Samson ‘laid off?’” Yes, Samson was in trouble because of his careless attitude toward the calling of God: He suffered losses because of his sin. (In the game of Hockey, they have something called a “penalty box.” Samson was in the “penalty box,” but he was still on the team.) And God chose to use Samson again, one last time, before he died.

All Believers are Called to Service

In Romans 8:28-30, we see that every believer is called to service. Revelation 5:9, 10 and Hebrews 13:15 teach us that every believer is called as a priest in the Body of Christ. We are called to serve Jesus as did the priests in the Old Testament, bringing sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, interceding for others in prayer, and acting as His ambassadors to those around us, This service is both in blessing and serving them, and in offering His grace and forgiveness through the Person of Jesus.

We are called to be His hands, feet, and voice, as His Ambassadors. But we are working with Jesus. Jesus said, in John 15:5, “apart from me ye can do nothing.” That is the literal truth. The things God has called us to do are impossible on our own: but He does not ask us to do them on our own. He says “take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.”

And the Joy we will receive in hearing “Well done, thou Good and faithful Servant,” will surpass all the hard things we have experienced along the way. If you have led others to faith in Christ, then they will be a special, personal joy to you at his coming. If you have drawn others to walk with Him, then their lives, in which they honored Him, will also be a joy to you.

Daniel 12:3 says, “…then they that be wise will shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars, for ever and ever.” There is a reward for a faithful walk with Christ. And part of that reward is sharing in His joy.

So, going back to the original question…:

What brings Joy and Blessing to Shepherds?

In Acts 20:28-31, Paul gave some instructions to the elders of the Ephesian church. He addressed them as “overseers” and as shepherds. He exhorted them to do the work of tending to God’s flock. Paul warned them of the hidden dangers to the flock. He told the Ephesian elders that they were to “stay put,” in Ephesus, and tend to the flock they shared as their responsibility for oversight and teaching.

He warned them that predators would come (“grievous wolves”); false teachers, attempting to draw away disciples after themselves, and not concerned for the flock. But they were to feed the flock, and to guard against those predators. Nothing was said in that passage about “joy.”

In 1st Peter 5:1-4, Peter did much the same thing, but not to a specific group of elders: rather, to all elders of churches throughout the church age. He told them that they were to feed the flock, and care for them, providing a spiritual and physical example for the others to follow. They were not to allow the question of payment to be their motive for service…money was not the point of their service.

No Hierarchy in the Church

They were told that they are not “the bosses.” Not “lords” over the flock, but serving as examples. And he concluded that there would be specific reward for having served well in that capacity. He calls it a “crown of glory that passes not away.” And when will they receive it? When the Chief Shepherd comes. When Jesus, the true Shepherd, returns to claim His own. They have joined Him in His Work, and will share in His Joy.

There are five such “crowns” mentioned in the New Testament, but we need to keep in mind that the Greek word translated as “crown” in all five cases, is the word “stephanos,” meaning “a victor’s crown,” (not “diademos,” meaning a royal crown.)

The Olympic champions were crowned with laurel leaves, honoring their accomplishments, But laurel leaves wither and fade. This crown, and the others, like it, are said to not fade away. We are not told much more about any of these “crowns,” so I am not going to attempt to elaborate on them.

Future Reward

But we can see, that one result of faithful service is the joy of God’s pleasure in our work.

Jeremiah had a very rough ministry. And, in spite of his suffering, as a prophet, as far as we know, only two people believed his message during his lifetime. So, did he receive the joy of Christ, saying “Well done!”?  I expect he did! He served absolutely faithfully, weeping for the grief he felt, at the constant rebellion of his countrymen.

How about Jonah? Thousands of people were saved through his ministry. So… does he get a better reward? I seriously doubt it! Why? Because he served in a very poor attitude, hoping the people to whom he brought his message would reject it and be condemned!

So, is it possible for a servant of God, serving as a shepherd, to not experience that joy? Evidently it is!

Missing out on Joy

Hebrews 13:17 gives the general warning to all believers, regarding the leadership of the churches: (This is not in regard to civil leadership: it has to do with “those who keep watch over your souls.” Civil leaders are not in that category.)

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Leaders whose flocks rebel against the Word and which follow the world’s patterns of beliefs and behaviors still have to give account to God, for “what happened on their watch.” They feel personally responsible for the results of their teaching and or leadership. The leaders of the failed church at Laodicea (for example) will not be joyful at the Lord’s return. They will grieve the loss of blessing and honor that should have been theirs to share before the Lord, with those people.

Finding Joy as a Shepherd

A shepherd feels joy to see the spiritual prosperity of those he has been called to feed. He feels joy in sharing that work with his fellow shepherds and in seeing new leaders growing up from within the flock. He rejoices in the spiritual health of that flock. Numbers are a side issue. The primary concern is the spiritual health of those he serves.

A shepherd can miss out on joy in this life because people reject his teaching. (That was the case for Jeremiah. But he has eternal joy in Jesus’s satisfaction with his work.)

Or he can miss out on joy in this life and the life to come, because he had wrong motives in service, (as Jonah showed us.)

But if the shepherds over a flock are missing out on Joy, for whatever reason, it also affects the flock. Speaking to all the flock, Hebrews 13:17 says, “it is unprofitable for you,” if the shepherds have to report failure in their ministry.

Feeding on God’s Work

In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My meat (my food) is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work!” A faithful shepherd echoes that central purpose and passion. He finds his sustenance in the Person of Christ, and in obedience to Him. He looks for satisfaction and Joy in the service to which he is called. (This is true for all believers, not just the shepherds.)

In Matthew 25:21, Jesus said,   21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.We seek to join Jesus in the work, and to share in His Joy!

But the greatest joy a shepherd can have, in this life, is to see God’s Word taking root in the lives of the flock, and to see their lives reflecting the Glory of God, as they are transformed by His Word. To see new leaders being raised up by the Spirit of God, so he does not feel fearful about what will become of the flock when he himself is no longer able to serve.

Pat James, the founding pastor, here at True Hope, became too sick to serve, and he feared that this church would fail. But Richard Banham and I reported frequently to him, letting him know that the church was flourishing again, and Pat and Jan James rejoiced in that news. They had Peace and Joy, knowing that the flock was doing well.

This is the Joy of the Shepherds!

Lord Jesus, teach us to follow You in such a way as to bring Joy to You, and so that we may share in Your Joy.

“That You Would Walk Worthy of God:”

That You Would Walk Worthy of God

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 2:1-12

1For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:

But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.

For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:

But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.

For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:

Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:

So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.

For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:

11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,

12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Introduction:

In chapter one, Paul said he was thankful, that wherever he went, even in other nearby countries, people told him what they knew about his own ministry in Thessalonica, and the resulting transformation in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. That would be a thrill to any teacher!

Lost Protegés

When I was teaching welding and other classes in my vocational career, it was very frustrating that our company refused to adequately pay our trainees for the skills they had, after completing our training. Rival companies would routinely offer them a starting pay of $10/hr. more than we paid our trainees, specifically because they knew our training was superb. The result, obviously, was that we frequently lost those employees, and no one could blame them for leaving.

On the other hand, we teachers had the satisfaction of knowing that the people we trained were superior workers, and in demand among all our rivals! Recruiters often stood on the sidewalk outside the plant, offering job opportunities to all our employees as they left at the end of work.

But God’s children are His forever: He has never lost one of them. There is an Enemy, seeking to “derail” the life of any believer who is careless enough to be ensnared by him. But we cannot be “taken away.” Romans 8:38, 39 assures us that nothing can separate us from the Love of God. What Paul was thrilled to hear, in the first chapter, is that his “pupils” were genuinely walking with God. Their testimony preceded him, wherever he went!

Reminder: How the Gospel Came to Thessalonica

We had to read Acts 17:1-10, to see how the Gospel came to Thessalonica. But the Thessalonian believers were there! All Paul needed to do was to remind them of the traumatic situation surrounding his ministry in Thessalonica, and his departure from there. They had experienced it with him.

They also knew what had happened in the previous town, at Philippi. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, he and Silas bore the recent wounds, still unhealed, from the beatings received at Philippi,. The Thessalonian believers knew exactly what had happened.

The Example of Paul and Silas

They also knew that, rather than being hesitant, or fearful about preaching in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had plunged right in, and boldly shared the truth of Jesus with the Jews and proselytes at the synagogue. They were fearless in the face of sharp resistance, and even the eventual riots that drove them out of town. Why?

Because (as Paul explains in verse three) their message was the straight truth, and they had no “hidden agenda.” There was nothing in their message that might shame the Messiah. No deceit, no uncleanness, no guile. They had nothing to hide. Paul lists several things that were missing in their lives that were common among false teachers, who had a definite hidden agenda.

What was Missing?

  • No deceit
  • No uncleanness
  • No guile
  • Not trying to please men, but God
  • No flattery at any level: they told the straight truth.
  • They were not “acting pious, to hide their greed for gain.”
  • They were not seeking personal honor, either from the believers or from anyone else.
  • They were never a burden to the believers: they did not seek “handouts,” as Apostles.

In Contrast to the False Teachers::

  • They were gentle toward the believers, not arrogant or judgmental.
  • They freely gave out the Gospel of God…there was no “Cover Charge.”
  • They freely “poured themselves out” for the benefit of the new believers.
  • They found temporary work, by which to pay their own way. (see verse 9)
  • They behaved in such a way that any witness could confirm their personal
    • Holiness,
    • Righteousness ( In Old English, the word “just” means “Righteous.”)
    • and Blamelessness.
  • They exhorted and comforted the believers as a father would his children, and encouraged them to live in a manner worthy of their new calling: the Calling of God, unto His Kingdom and His Glory.

What Can We Learn for Today?

There are two ways to look at this passage, as believers:

  1. We can see the contrast between false teachers and faithful teachers of God’s Word, and learn to be watchful and careful about what kind of teachers we allow to influence us.
  2. We can see what sort of people we ought to be, as we emulate the faithfulness of Paul and other leaders whom God has sent (especially those we can see in God’s Word.) In that case, we learn what to eradicate in our own lives and what to emulate, as we seek to be disciples of Christ.

All of the values listed in this passage, both negative and positive, are taught elsewhere in the New Testament, as specific directives to Church-age believers. The warnings against false teachers and their danger to believers are also expanded upon there.

Warnings against False Teachers

2nd Peter 2:1-22 gives us the most descriptive warnings against false teachers, but it requires careful reading to keep in mind who the passage refers to. The entire chapter is about false teachers and those unbelievers ensnared by them.

Paul warned the Ephesian elders against false teachers, in Acts 20:28-31. He reminded them that such “wolves” would arise even from among the leadership of churches. He said their goal would be to draw away disciples after themselves…that is, away from sound teaching and a core commitment to Jesus. And Jesus said such men were “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Matthew 7:15-23

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Notice that He does not say, “I once knew you, but you wandered off and got lost!” He says, “I never knew you.” In Luke 6, Jesus also said that the “fruit” He addressed was their teaching, not just their lives. A man can look good on the outside, but be hiding something evil inside.

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.

The fruit in question is both their lives and their teaching! Both have to be good.

A Sad Example:

Ann and I once knew a church leader who seemed an absolutely stellar pastor. His behavior was blameless: he was full of good works. If there was physical work to be done, he was “first in and last out.” If someone was hurt or sick, he was the first one there to help them, or to visit them in the hospital. He seemed to be a wonderful and gracious shepherd.

But there was a persistent pattern of bad teaching, both privately and from the pulpit. He frequently cast doubt on the truth of God’s Word. He gave people books written by pagan philosophers, without warning them, that “This is interesting, but it directly conflicts with God’s Word!” Other times, in a Bible classes, or from the pulpit, he clearly stated that some portion of the Bible was “just mythology:” not to be taken literally.

When he was pressed for a firm answer, he finally admitted that he did not believe the Bible was the Word of God. You see, he “did good things,” but he turned people away from God’s Word. He was a false teacher.

The Imitation of Christ

Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.” We are to take Him as our example, for our values, our priorities, and our practices.

The Hebrew Christians were exhorted to see Jesus as their example and leader, and follow Him.

Hebrews 12:1-41 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

They knew that the Judgment of all the World was coming. Peter addressed these same believers, in 2nd Peter 3:11, and said, “…therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…?”

A Fragrance of Christ

Our lives are to reflect the presence of Christ. In fact, we are said to be a “fragrance” of Christ.

2nd Corinthians 2:14-16 says that we are a “sweet savour” or “fragrance” of Christ, to the saved and unsaved, alike. Believers will recognize the Holy Spirit in our life, and rejoice. Unbelievers will see the difference as well, but resent it as the smell of coming judgment. They will assume that we are judging them, though we are not. We earnestly desire their salvation and blessing because we also see that coming judgment, and we do not want them to be destroyed by it.

To Review, Then:

What kind of behavior should we desire to emulate?

  • Being gentle toward other believers, as well as to unbelievers.
  • Freely giving out the Gospel of Christ to unbelievers
  • Freely “pouring ourselves out” for the benefit of other believers.
  • Being productive, working to pay our own way, and to help those truly in need.
  • Living so that others can recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives, by personal:
  • Holiness, Righteousness, and Blamelessness.

We hope to exhort and comfort other believers. We hope to encourage one another to live in a manner worthy of the Calling of God, for His Kingdom and His Glory. We do not seek to be honored by other people, but rather to bring honor to Jesus.

We try to avoid any behavior or words that would dishonor Him. The epistle to the Ephesians is largely given to teaching believers how to live for God.

Ephesians 4:25-32 says:

25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

27 Neither give place to the devil. 28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Following our Leader

In those seven verses, we see the same characteristics listed for us as were listed in the lives of the Apostles. In fact, in 1st Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” That is a pretty bold thing to say, as a human “follower of Jesus.”

But the key words, there, are “…even as I also am of Christ.” Paul was not some “cult-leader,” demanding that everyone just blindly follow him. He said, “As far as you see me following Jesus, you can follow me.” The Corinthian believers were with Paul for much longer than these people in Thessalonica, and they still had very messed-up lives. In their case, Paul effectively said, “OK, look! Do you see what I am doing, in following Jesus? Do that!

A Hard Task?

Personally, I would hesitate to tell someone, “Follow me, as I follow Jesus,” because I am keenly aware of my failings. But that is how we are told to live: Our lives are to reflect the light of Christ in such a way that others can confidently follow our examples.

That is a tough assignment! But that is the same assignment we had when we raised our children, and we seldom thought, ”But, I don’t know if I can do this!” We just raised our kids as best we could, living day by day. We tried to set a consistently good example, as well as giving clear direction to our children in their growing up years.

That is how we are to approach the Christian Life, as well. It is not “hard:” it is completely impossible, apart from the Holy Spirit presiding over our lives. Remember that Peter had to “get out of the boat” to begin to walk on the water with Jesus. But he had to focus on Jesus every moment to stay on top.

Lord Jesus, we ask that You keep our attention focused on You, so that we are not entangled and weighed down by the distractions of the World around us. Raise us up to be the Men and Women of God you have called us to be.

After the Resurrection: What Now?

After the Resurrection: What Now?

© 2023 C. O, Bishop

Matthew 28:11-20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:45-53; John 21:1-24; Acts 1:1-9

Introduction:

Last week we spoke of the Resurrection and the effect it has upon believers. Some of those effects are what we call “positional truth:” They are permanently true because of your position in Christ, from the moment you trusted in His shed blood as full payment for your sins. Others are conditional truths, that should be true of every believer, but, in reality, are only true as far as believers are willing to walk with Jesus by faith, and obey Him.

After the Resurrection

In Acts 1:3, we are told that Jesus spent forty days with the disciples, teaching them, and making final preparation for His departure at the ascension. In Matthew and Mark, not much is said about this time period between the resurrection of Jesus, and His ascension.) Both simply point out that the Lord gave His last request, that they are to go out as His ambassadors; His witnesses, and “Preach the Gospel to everyone; make disciples in every nation, and His promise was that He Himself would be with them, empowering them to serve.”

Mark concludes that they did so, but he leaves out the fact of the Holy Spirit’s arrival (in Acts chapter two;) that it was after the coming of the Holy Spirit that they became fearless evangelists. They were hiding until that day.

In Luke, some important details are added. These details happened in the room where Jesus proved to His disciples that He was not a ghost, by eating some broiled fish and honey. But after he had convinced them that He was truly alive, He said some things, that reveal to us an important key to understanding the Bible. Please open your Bibles to Luke 24, verses 44-53.

Luke 24:44-53

44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

46 And said unto them, [Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And ye are witnesses of these things.]

49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.

52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: 53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Notice that in verse 44, He reminds them that His life had been completely devoted to fulfilling the prophecies about Himself. Everything from the Torah (The books of Moses) and all the Prophets, including the Psalms, that had referred to Him, either openly or obliquely, had been fulfilled.

Then it says “He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures…” Our tendency is to read that verse as if there were a period, after the Word “scriptures.” But there is not! There is a comma, as the next three verses tell how He opened their minds so they could understand the scripture. If we read that sentence with an inserted period, a full stop, then it seems that Jesus performed some miraculous “brain augmentation” that supernaturally enabled the disciples to understand the scriptures.

But the key to understanding, that Jesus gave them, was to see that the Redemptive Plan of God, fulfilled in the events of the last few days, including the crucifixion, and the resurrection, and their subsequent outreach to the entire world, is the central theme of the whole Bible.

And He told them that they were the witnesses He intended to use. He also reminded them that the Holy Spirit was the One who would empower them as His witnesses, and that they were to wait in Jerusalem until The Holy Spirit came. (They did not know God’s timing. When Jesus ascended, there were still seven days left before the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover; Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, as predicted, and forty days with the disciples. There were seven days left before Pentecost.)

The last two verses are interesting, too, because they skip the forty days that Jesus spent with His disciples, teaching them, and preparing them for the task before them. They skip straight to the ascension, and His final blessing. It is also interesting to see that His final blessing (which, as we see in the Old Testament, is prophetic of their lives to come) turns out to be the final issuing of the Great Commission, as we see in Acts 1:8, 9. The Great Commission is the Blessing!

The Gospel of John is the only record of the time Jesus spent with the disciples before the ascension. And not all of it is what we would expect. Please turn to John 21:1-24

John 21:1-24

1 After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.

There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

 (Seven of the remaining eleven Disciples were there.)

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? 24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

Lapsing into the Old Life

At least seven of the Disciples, with Peter leading the way, were lapsing back into their old way of life. Jesus had specifically called them away from that life, saying “henceforth ye shall fish for men!” Bear in mind that most of these men had a commercial fishing background: they were not just deciding to “go catch a few fish” for dinner, or go there for recreation: they were reverting back into their old way of life!

So, when Jesus revealed Himself to them as we read in this passage, they were like children caught in some sort of mischief…afraid to talk to Jesus. But Jesus only addressed Peter:

He called Peter by his old name, Simon Bar-Jonas, since he had dropped back to his old job. Jesus asked whether Peter was more committed to Jesus than He was to the fish. (The “Love” he asked about in Greek, is the Agapé love—the fully committed, unconditional love we are commanded to have toward one another, in John 13:34, 35.)

And He was not asking “whether Peter loved Jesus more than he loved the other disciples,” as He had already commanded them all to love one another in the same way He had loved them. The issue was the fish. “Are you more willing and more committed to pouring your life into my priorities than you are to catching fish for the market?” Or is it just, back to “business as usual?”

Peter definitely understood the question as it was asked, because he chose a different word for “Love,” to give his reply. He did not use the Agapé word for love, but Philéo…meaning, “Yes, Jesus, You know I am fond of you! I have affection for You! I like You!” This is a totally different idea, not even addressing Jesus’s question. Jesus did not respond to the verb change: He just said, “then feed my lambs!” (The Greek word, here, translated as “feed” is boskō, and it simply means “feed.”)

Jesus asked the same question a second time, using the same verb, Agapé, and Peter answered, again using the word for affection; not a fully committed, unconditional love. Jesus again ignored the verb change, and said, “then shepherd my sheep!” (This word, poimaine, is a different view of the job… not just feeding. Some Bibles translate both as “Feed.” But the poimaine word means the whole job of caring for a flock, as described in Ezekiel 34:1-10.)

Jesus spoke a third time, this time using the same verb Peter was using: “Simon, son of Jonas,  do you even like me? Do you even care??” Now we see that Peter was grieved, because the third time, Jesus used the same verb he himself had used. He answered, and said “Lord (master) You know all things! You know that I like you! You know I am fond of You…that I have affection for you!”

Perhaps Peter was simply unwilling to profess “unconditional love”, as he had previously done, knowing that the last time he had done so, he also utterly failed, and denied he even knew Jesus. But Jesus simply answered, “then feed [boskō again] my sheep.” (“Take the job seriously, and do what I have asked you to do!”)

He then told Peter, “Follow Me! (Keep being the Disciple you were called and trained to be!)”

Peter looked around and saw John, and asked “What about him? What do you want him to do?” Jesus answered, “What is that to you? You follow me!”

This is either the third or the fourth time Jesus had to call Peter away from the fish. Scripture tells us that Peter served faithfully, after this, and that he was eventually martyred for his faith.

We can see the transformed lives of all of the disciples after they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. All of them were faithful, and history and tradition (hard to sift out which is which) tells us that most (or all) were eventually martyred.

What about Us?

I don’t want to get too specific, here, because obviously, I don’t know the future, nor do I know God’s will for any individual. But what we can see, here, is that we are to leave our old way of life behind, to whatever degree we are called to do, and remember that we now live for Him, not for ourselves. The fact of the resurrection has made some definite changes in our lives, simply because we have been placed into Christ. We can read about those changes, among other places, in Ephesians 1:3-14.

Some people simply live out that changed life in the same place they were when they were first born again. They may do the same job, and associate with the same people. But Jesus expects that how they do that job, and how they interact with the people around them is definitely to change. We are no longer part of the world. We are part of Jesus, and we are called to act like it.

We are called to lay aside our old priorities and embrace the priorities of Jesus. In John 4:34, He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!”

Embracing His priorities, and His values, is the essence of discipleship. And, just as it was impossible for the disciples to do the job apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, it is also impossible for us to live that life apart from Him doing it through us. Every believer today receives the Holy Spirit at the moment they trust in Jesus as their Savior.

But we still have our old sin nature, and we are engaged in a lifelong struggle to maintain submission to Christ so that the new nature is in evidence, and the old self is set aside. We are secure in Him, but the fight is real. We cannot “just coast.”

Peter finally left behind his beloved occupation and identity as a commercial fisherman, and he never went back. He had something better, and something more important to do.

And, so do we! We need to examine our own lives and ask how the Lord would have us to change, in order to honor Him.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of Your Word and allow us to feed upon it as Your disciples. Help us to walk in Your footsteps and be the men and women of God that You have called us to be; Ambassadors for Your Grace.

Are You a “Draftee” or a “Volunteer?”

“Draftee” or “Volunteer?”

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

Isaiah 6:1-8; Jeremiah 1:4-8; Jonah 1-4; Acts 9:1-16

Introduction:

There is a tendency to think, “I will do this for you, Lord!” This is especially true among religious people who think they can earn God’s favor, but have never received His Grace. Unfortunately it is not uncommon among saved individuals, either, as it is a product of the flesh…self-will.

On the other hand, there are those who shrug, and say, “Well, if God wants something of me, He will tell me…” That is a confession that they have not read God’s Word, where He says that He does want something from us, and for us!

Is there a balance between these two ideas? Are we simply “Draftees?” Can we not volunteer? Is our whole life predestined to the extent that we have no choices? Is there no room for volunteerism as a form of worship and thanksgiving?

Who is in Charge, Here?

There is no question that the Lord is the supreme authority in all things. If there is any doubt about this matter, Psalm 24:1 should put it to rest. “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.”

I realize that some teachers claim that Satan somehow gained all authority when Adam sinned. Please remember that when Satan claimed (In Luke 4:6, 7) that “all this…is delivered unto me and to whomsoever I will, I give it!” He was lying! Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies! (John 8:44) Satan is a Liar! The earth was not given to Satan.

Born Sinners

To be sure, the people born to Adam (the whole Human Race) are born sinners, with a bent toward slavery to Satan. But Jesus came to free us from that spiritual slavery. That does not make Satan the owner of the world. He is a pretender to the throne at best, and they that serve him claim more authority for him than he actually possesses, because they follow in his footsteps as his children (John 8:44, again.)

That is Why We Need to be Born Again

But God has never “abdicated the throne,” and He never will. We still belong to Him, body and soul! “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.”  If we continue in our rebellion, as unbelievers, we will face the same judgment as Satan. But if we accept His Grace, offered through Jesus’s Blood at the Cross, we enjoy eternal life with Him. We are born again, into God’s Family…separated from Adam!

So, Having Received His Grace, through Faith, What do we do, Now?

Consider Isaiah

There is an interesting passage in Isaiah 6:1-8, where we see what may be Isaiah’s conversion experience, or, at least his call to service. He saw the LORD, and the seraphim worshipping in the temple. He was dismayed at his own sin, and he was sure that he was in trouble, but God cleansed him with the result of the sacrifice—a coal from the altar, and then Isaiah heard what we see as his “call.” But notice, that the Lord framed it as a question, not as a command. He asked, “Whom shall I send, and Who will go for us?”

Isaiah’s instant response was “Here am I, Lord: send me!” That sounds an awful lot like God “calling for volunteers,” and Isaiah jumping to “volunteer” for whatever the mission was. (Notice that Isaiah did not ask what the job was: He jumped at the chance to be sent by God.)

So, Which is it? Are We Draftees, or Volunteers?

In a sense, we are both!

Isaiah heard the call and jumped to “volunteer.” Is it possible for God to call someone to His service and they really are not interested? Perhaps they even refuse? Certainly, it is possible!

Consider Jonah:

In Jonah 1:1-3, God gave a very direct call—a command, and Jonah tried to run away from God! What amazing folly! If what we read in Psalm 24:1 is true, then to where could you hope to flee? In Psalm 139:7-13, we see the hopeless folly of attempting to flee from God. He is the Creator, and He is Omnipresent! Wherever we could travel, on the land, on the sea, under the land, under the sea, in the place of the dead, or even in outer space, God is there!

Yes, Jonah rebelled, and tried to run away. But God intervened with a supernatural storm. It got the attention of the professional sailors on the ship in which Jonah was a passenger. They cast lots to see which among them was the “cause” of the storm, because they could see this was a supernatural storm, and they had no idea what “god” had brought the storm.

The lot fell to Jonah, and they asked him what he had done. He confessed that he was a servant of “the LORD, the God of Heaven and Earth.” They already knew he was fleeing from his God, so now they were terribly frightened, and asked what they could do to appease that God: He simply said, “Throw me overboard!”

They couldn’t agree to do such a thing, so they rowed frantically, trying to get to land. But the wind fought against them, and they finally gave up, and prayed to Jonah’s God, asking that He not condemn them for throwing Jonah overboard.

They Obeyed by Faith

Ultimately, they complied with the word Jonah had given: They threw Jonah overboard, and the storm immediately ceased! Then they were overcome with respect and fear toward Jonah’s God, and they immediately made sacrifices to Him, and made vows to Him.

We don’t know what happened to those sailors, after that, but we do know what happened to Jonah: God had prepared a great Sea-Creature (KJV says “fish,” here ) to swallow him and give him a “Divine water-taxi ride” back to land. (He did not get to “travel first-class!”)

Some teachers believe Jonah died, there in the belly of the sea creature, and that he was revived to serve. But, read carefully: in Jonah 2:1 it does not say “Jonah prayed from Sheol;” (the place of the dead) but rather, “Jonah prayed from the belly of the fish.” If he had been dead, he would not have been “in the fish,” but rather, in the place of the dead.

And, in Matthew 12:39, 40, Jesus confirmed that Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale [great sea creature.]”

Languages and Translations

(Yes, the King James Version says “whale,” there in Matthew, but the original language simply means a “great sea-creature.” Possibly a whale; perhaps even probably so, but we need to realize that not all languages are precise in the same fields. In English, we make a sharp distinction between “whales,” which are air-breathing, warm-blooded mammals, and “fish,” which are cold-blooded, have gills, and obtain their oxygen through the water.

The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages are not as specific as English in some areas. We may find that frustrating, but we have to accept that some of the original words are not specific enough to be clearly translated one way or another into English. Choose to be at peace with that!)

A Famous Draftee and Deserter

The point is, Jonah was clearly being “drafted.” He was being called to serve, and he was not given the option to just “go do something else.” He ran away! Deserted! Had he persisted in his rebellion, he would have died right there, in the belly of the sea-creature, and that would have been the end of the story. He would have been saved, but dead.

But he repented, and the rest of the story tells how God used Jonah to reach the people of Nineveh. Did Jonah volunteer? Not exactly. He rejected the call, initially, but he repented under duress. He changed his mind. That is what “repent” means. Change your mind about something. Turn around, and go do what you were told to do! Was he “forced to do it?” Not exactly: it’s just that God made the alternative results very clear, and Jonah confessed his rebellion and chose to obey.

Two Results

There are two results of his repentance, beyond the simple fact that Jonah survived the ordeal:

One result was that the people of Nineveh were spared destruction. (A full-scale revival resulted, in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria…the mortal enemies of Israel! That is why Jonah didn’t want to go, in the first place! He wanted God to destroy the people of Nineveh!)

But the other result is that, today, we have a specific prophecy regarding the resurrection of Jesus! You see, Jesus treated this as history, not a myth! You can either trust Jesus to know the truth about Jonah, or rebel against God and disbelieve. But Jesus said it was true! He said it was given as a picture of His own resurrection: that “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

What about People who do not “Feel Qualified” to Serve?

Consider Jeremiah

In Jeremiah 1:4-8, we see that the prophet Jeremiah was a reluctant witness. He protested that he was too young to do the job God called him to do.

But, to begin with, God pointed out that He, God., had foreknown Jeremiah, not only before he was born, but before God “formed him in his mother’s womb.” God sees every human as a direct creation, procreation notwithstanding. God told Jeremiah that He had chosen him for the job of being “a prophet to the nations” before he was conceived.

The Weeping Prophet

So, Jeremiah reluctantly accepted the assignment: it was never a case of outright rebellion as was Jonah’s case:Jeremiah simply did not “feel qualified” to serve. But God enabled him, and he proved a very reliable man of God, serving in an exceptionally difficult ministry. He acted as a spokesman for God to people who hated him and who rejected everything he said. They publicly mocked him, they beat him and threw him in a pit, and they planned to kill him.

He had a Very Difficult, unfulfilling ministry!

Ironically, he had been telling them of the imminent conquest of their nation under Nebuchadnezzar: when it finally happened, exactly as predicted, the enemy captain treated Jeremiah more courteously than did his own people. Further, the enemy captain plainly stated that the reason they had been sent to conquer Israel was that the people of Israel had abandoned their God!

The enemy soldiers understood the matter more clearly than did the “chosen people of God,” who were in rebellion against God. What a shameful state of affairs! (Sometimes we find that unbelievers today have a better idea of what Christians are supposed to do than the believers do.) And Israel still continued in their rebellion, despite their defeat under the Babylonians (also called the Chaldeans.)

What About Us?

I have frequently heard people say words to the effect of, “I don’t feel called!” I can understand their “feelings,” but feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality.

Romans 8:28 is a popular verse, and people usually quote the first clause, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,” but they forget the rest of the verse:  “…to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Yes, you are called! If you still doubt it, read the next two verses there in Romans 8:

 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. 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.

If You are a Believer, You are Called to His Service!

So…every believer has been “called” to God’s service. We all have received our “Draft Notice.” And the only question left is, “Will we respond with joy, eagerly volunteering for the mission, (whatever it is,) or will we hold back, trying to bargain with God for a job we like better?”

That is something that each of us has to decide personally. If we respond as did Isaiah, volunteering for the “mission,” saying “Here am I, Lord, send me!” Then He is free to have us serve wherever He wants.

If we “volunteer,” but with restrictions, and reservations, saying,“I’ll serve, but only if….” then we are no better than Jacob, who said, (Genesis 28:20-22) “If you bring me along safely, and if you provide for all my physical needs, and if  you bring me safely home, again, then you can be my God, and this rock can be your house, and I will give you ten percent of whatever you give me!” (Such a deal! How could God fail to be impressed?)

The Privilege is to Serve!

Jesus said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” That work included evangelism, for Jesus, but it also included the Cross. We can look and see what God calls us to be, for Him (Ambassadors, in 2nd Corinthians 5:20; Lights, reflecting His light, in Matthew 5:15, 16 and Philippians 2:15… and others.)

We will either emulate Jesus and Isaiah, counting it a privilege to even be invited to serve with Jesus, or we can count it an unreasonable burden, and reject His offer.

Remember that the result of faithful service is eternal reward (don’t misunderstand: salvation is a gift, not a reward.) The things we do, as believers, are either of eternal value, and thus eternally relevant, or eternally a waste of time, and ultimately, without value. Working with Jesus (no matter how simple the task) is always an eternally good investment.

Working on our own, without His direction and blessing, regardless of how “famous” we become, how “impressive” we are, in the eyes of other humans, or how “great and important” our work looks to others, is still an eternal waste of time!

Do I Have to Know God’s “Whole Plan?”

James indicates (James 4:13-16) that we do not know the future, and that we are fools to make our plans as if we do know it. He says that our plans need to be subject to God’s approval.

Psalm 37:3-6 tells us that we need to allow God to direct our paths. Proverbs 3:5, 6 says something similar. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him. and He shall direct your path!”

God Doesn’t Make “Deals,” as a Rule

So the idea of trying to “make a deal with God,” as Jacob seemed to do, as opposed to simply accepting what He has given us as His will and looking to Him for further direction (as Joseph did, in Genesis chapters 39-50) would be really a bad decision. Joseph served faithfully in bad circumstances and was rewarded by the God he served. Jacob tried to “make deals” and he had a pretty rough life.

I do not know the future God has for me. Every day, I hope to choose to respond to His call, regardless of the “mission.” I want to respond as Isaiah did, not as Jonah did.

In the Church age, we could make consistently good decisions and still have a “rough life,” as Jeremiah did, but we also look for eternal reward, as he did. Philippians 1:29 says that “suffering for the sake of Jesus” is part of our calling.

Embrace Reality!

Not all of life will be the way we “want things to be.” We truly need to remember “Who is In Charge.” (It is not us…)  Yes, you have been “drafted,” but God asks that you respond as if you were eagerly “volunteering.”

That is how we find His richest blessings.

Jesus Prepared His Disciples for His Departure

Preparing His Disciples for His Departure

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

John 13:31-16:33

Introduction:

Judas received the sop from Jesus and was possessed by Satan. From that moment, there is a countdown, headed for the Cross. Jesus only had a few hours left with His disciples, and He had to accomplish several things:

  • Jesus had to prepare the remaining eleven disciples for His departure. He assured them of His return, so they knew that they had not simply been abandoned.
    •   He had to teach His prime commandment, which covered all the others.
    •   He had to prepare them for His death, to prevent despair when he seemed to be defeated.
  • Jesus had to teach them what to expect, regarding the Holy Spirit who would soon indwell them (Who is He? What will His ministry be? How could they know His influence as opposed to that of other spirits?)
    • He had to make sure they understood that His commands could not be carried out in their own strength, but that He would have to work through them.
  • Jesus had to pass through Gethsemane and betrayal by Judas, to face the trial and the Cross.
    • He knew his disciples would flee, and abandon Him in that event, and He had to prepare them to know that their failure was not a surprise, but only proof that they could not function without Him.

The Prime Commandment

John 13:34, 35 teaches the undergirding strength of the whole Church. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are commanded to continually relate to one another in the Agapé Love. He had already taught that the Agapé love (being committed to the well-being of those around us) is the single most important evidence of the Truth of the Gospel, and its reality in the lives of Believers.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto You, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Do you suppose they truly understood Him at that point? It is possible, but, I rather doubt it, because they had not yet been indwelt by the Spirit of God. They heard the words, and they understood the meaning, but probably could not imagine how the command could be carried out.

Preparing to Leave

Peter caught on immediately that Jesus was getting ready to depart, but he did not understand what was happening. He asked, “Lord, whither goest thou?” Jesus understood that Peter genuinely desired to go with Him, and He gently replied, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.”

Of course, Peter was confident of his strength and abilities. He assured Jesus that he would gladly lay down his life for Him. But, Jesus knew the truth: He knew the limitations of His human followers. He said, “Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou has denied me thrice.

Preparing them all for His departure

Jesus did not belabor the doubts Peter had, but told the whole group they should not be disturbed by His departure: He assured them that He was going away to prepare an eternal dwelling place for them all. He promised that he would return and take them to Himself; so that, wherever He was, they would also be. He also said they did know where He was going, and how to get there.

Thomas was thoroughly confused: he said, “No, we do not know where You are going, so how could we know the way?!”  Jesus replied with the famous statement, “I AM the way, the truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” (Did they understand His meaning? Possibly so, but I suspect they simply accepted it by faith, and they waited to learn the meaning.)

Assuring Them of His Deity

Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replied by saying, “Philip, you have known me all this time! How are you now asking me to show you the Father? If you have seen ME, you HAVE seen the Father!” I’m sure that rattled their brains! It certainly rattled my brain for a few years, as I tried to grasp the Deity of Christ.

I can accept the fact that Jesus truly is “God in the Flesh.” I hear His words, saying “the Father is greater than I.” But when I see the prophecy saying that “the Son shall be called the Everlasting Father,” I find that it is beyond my comprehension. I expect that it was a struggle for the eleven disciples, as well.

The Promise of the Spirit

We will not spend much time on the Holy Spirit, in this message: He is the subject of many messages.  Next week, we will concentrate on all that Jesus said about the Indwelling Holy Spirit. For now, take a look at John 14:16; “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever.”

The Holy Spirit will be with you forever. In this passage, He is also called the Comforter…the Greek word is “paracletos,” meaning “One called alongside to help.” He is our Comforter and our Guide, who helps us through all of the tough, hard, painful times in Life.

If you remember the story of Abraham’s Servant, in Genesis 24, bringing home the Bride to Isaac, you can rest assured, that in the same way, the Holy Spirit is “Bringing home the Bride,” to Jesus: He will not leave you, and He will not lose you!

A New Relationship

Jesus said, in John 16:15-17 that He would no longer address the disciples as His servants, but rather, as His friends. He said that servants do not know the plan of the Master. But Jesus was revealing the plans of the Father to His disciples, as friends, and partners in the work.

He reminded them that they did not choose Him, but that He had chosen them, personally, and by name. They were intrigued by Him but, until He revealed it, they had no idea what He was going to do in their world. He chose them for a purpose. Verse 16 says that He chose them and ordained them to go and bring forth fruit…and that their fruit should remain. (Notice that this is not about the Fruit of the Spirit, which has lasting value, but it can easily be set aside by our sin.)

Eternal Fruit

Jesus wanted the disciples to “bear fruit” in the sense of reproducing among the peoples of the World. He reminded them that they were to Love one another, and then He warned them that the World would not respond favorably.

He said, “If the World hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” He said they were no longer “of the World,” so it was impossible for them to “fit in,” now. Because we are “no longer of the World,” we can expect that world will reject everything we teach, and all that we stand for: it will reject us because it rejects Jesus Christ.

He warned that His disciples would be persecuted for the sake of their relationship with Him. He said whoever hates Jesus, hates the Father, too. In John 5:23 we saw that the reverse is true as well: Jesus said, “He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father who sent Him.”

A Dangerous, but Priceless Association

Because the Disciples were now “in Him” (as we will see in John 17:21-23) and He was to be “in them,” the World would reject them in the same manner as they rejected Him. He warned them that the time would come when anyone who killed a disciple of Jesus would imagine that he was doing service to God.

This was fulfilled in the person of “Saul of Tarsus” (who eventually became the Apostle Paul”) and in the lives of other unbelieving Jews who violently attacked the believers, and who assumed that, in doing so, they were “fighting the good fight,” and honoring God. God eventually took hold of Saul, and He used him (as Paul) to lay the foundation of the Church throughout the Mediterranean world.

But all down through history, the false churches and world religions have frequently taught that “torturing and murdering Christians is a good way to serve God.” Thousands of persons whose only offense was to confess that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was their Savior, were tortured to death, burned at the stake, and fed to savage animals for the entertainment of the World.

And such treatment is on the rise again, worldwide. This was not some “passing fancy” that only the first-century believers might endure. It is the “conflict of the ages,” and it will culminate in the Great Tribulation. Yes, we know who “wins,” but in the meantime, we need to be prepared to “suffer the consequences of Faith.”

The Legacy of Peace

In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My Peace I give unto you: not as the World giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

This legacy of Peace that Jesus gave is a two-part package: We gain Peace with God, as we place our trust in Jesus, and are declared righteous by God. (Romans 5:1) The Disciples already had this peace: God declared them righteous by Grace, through faith. So, they are eternally at peace with God. But they still suffered doubt and fear, and Jesus moved to heal that fear.

We are called to experience The Peace of God, on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. That is what Jesus was bequeathing to His disciples. They would not fully experience it until the Holy Spirit came, in Acts 2. They feared for their lives and were hiding, until that time. But that was before the Holy Spirit was given. The new relationship blossomed on the day of Pentecost.

Before the Spirit was given, the eleven disciples fled when Jesus was arrested, and they were in grief: hiding, fearing that they would be the next victims of the evil leaders in Jerusalem.

Transformation

But afterward, they boldly preached the News of Jesus: When they were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned, they counted it a privilege. They were not at all discouraged by such mistreatment. The result of their collective, courageous testimony was that thousands of other people received Christ as their Savior, and the ancient World was “turned upside down” by the change.

Since that time, everyone who believes is immediately indwelt by the Spirit of God, and that Legacy of Peace is immediately available to all who will lay hold of it by faith.

They Were Prepared, though they did not “Feel” Prepared

Jesus had given them the information and the encouragement that they needed. However, until the Spirit was given they were not able to put the teaching to use.

That is the case in our lives as well. Most of us know a good deal more of the Word of God and the promises therein than we can put into practical use. We find ourselves powerless to apply it in practice. But we were told in advance that apart from the Holy Spirit using us to reach into the lives of those around us, it simply cannot be done.

When Jesus said, (John 15:5) “apart from me ye can do nothing,” He was not exaggerating. He was speaking the simple truth.

We have been Prepared too: Now we are called to Walk!

We who have placed our trust in Jesus as our Savior, are already indwelt by His Spirit. But, as believers, we are commanded to “walk”in the Spirit. Day by day, and moment by moment, we are to ask Him to lead, and then follow His leading. It means, moment by moment, confessing when we sin, receiving His promised forgiveness, and then walking with Him again.

Next week we will spend more specific time reading about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, both in the World and in the Church. In the meantime, let’s try to apply what we already know. Step out by faith to live in obedience to your Savior.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts to receive Your gift of Peace on a daily basis and to trust Your Holy Spirit to work through us to reach the World around us. Raise us up to serve You in the Newness of Life.

“If I Wash Thee Not:” (What did Jesus mean by this?)

“If I Wash Thee Not”

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

John 13:1-11

Introduction:

1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

Chapter thirteen begins with a peculiar comment: John 13:1 concludes, “…He Loved Them to the End.” We might take that in several ways, I suppose, but we must consider the context, that He was about to be offered up as our sacrifice: we can see that He did not just say, “All right, fellows: I’m going to be preoccupied for the next few days, being tried, crucified, buried and resurrected! You all can just take a break: I’ll meet you in Galilee next week!

No; He loved them to the end! He included them in everything right up to the point where they were separated from Him by force. 1st Corinthians 13:8 says,Love never fails.” The Agapé Love personified in Jesus did not fail, at any point. (It never has!) But in the next several verses, we see something else that is rather strange:

Why did Jesus Wash the Disciples’ Feet?

And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

From a historical, Biblical perspective, and especially from the disciples’ point of view, it was culturally and relationally out of place for Jesus to take on the clothing of a servant, and to wash the (dirty) feet of the disciples. (Keep in mind that, without “indoor plumbing, closed sewers, concrete sidewalks,” etc., all city streets were truly filthy, and anyone walking anywhere arrived there with dirty, smelly feet.)

How did they Deal with Dirty Feet?

As a rule, then, a courteous host at least supplied water, with which a guest could wash his own feet. In a wealthy household, the homeowner might assign their lowest servant to do the “dirty work” of washing the feet of the guests.

But one would never expect a respected Teacher to set aside His position as “Master,” and take up the position of that lowest of servants. Peter saw the “discrepancy,” there, and he tried to refuse. But Jesus told him that submission to this cleansing was absolutely necessary.

Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

How could He deal with Peter in such a “harsh-sounding” way? What was really going on, here?

Why does this passage begin with the fact that Judas had already received the notion to betray Jesus? It says Satan had given him the idea…perhaps he wasn’t committed to it, yet, but he was getting there. (…the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;)

 Why was that even part of the story, here? And why does John remind us, in this place, that Jesus knew He came from God and was about to return to Him? This whole passage raises some questions!

Context is Important:

Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of His disciples. He knew which ones had believed, and which had not, as we saw in John 6:64. He also knew that Judas had received from Satan the notion to betray Jesus, and that he was already beginning his plans to do so. Finally, He knew His own origin, and His own destiny…which is more than we can say.

So, within that context, Jesus set aside His position as “Teacher” and “Master,” and took upon Himself the form of the lowest of servants. (That is nearly an exact demonstration of what we see in Philippians 2:5-7.) Then, He began to cleanse the disciples’ feet; removing the accumulated dirt of their journey, however small or great. He was not suggesting that they were unclean, as a whole, but just that, in the process of normal living, they had picked up something unclean. They needed to clean their feet.

Understanding the Cleansing

Peter resisted the offered service, saying he would never allow Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus said that without such a cleansing, he could not share in the walk with Jesus. Then Peter reversed his stance, and asked that he have his head and hands cleansed as well. Possibly Peter was beginning to understand the cleansing…that it was in reference to sin, not “just dirt.” Maybe he realized that his thoughts and actions were faulty, not just where he had walked. We can’t be certain, but that seems to fit what Peter said.

Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

But Jesus corrected that thinking, as well: The believers did not need a bath, again…they only needed to wash their feet. So… let’s think through what that means: You see, Jesus went on to say that not all of them were clean.

10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye (plural) are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

How are We Cleansed?

As we read in John 6:64, Jesus knew who believed, and who did not. And that faith is what made the believers “clean.” But unbelief had left the unbelievers “unclean.” How do we know? Skip ahead to John 15:3… (after Judas had left, in John 13:30), Jesus told the eleven remaining disciples, that they all were clean. How were they clean? He said “Now ye (plural) are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” They were cleansed through the Word!

In Ephesians 5:26, we see that Jesus cleanses the Church with “the washing of water by the Word.” And Psalm 119:9, says that the way a young man can “cleanse his way” is to “take heed thereto” according to God’s Word. No matter whether the Word is applied by another brother or sister, or by our own reading in the Word, Jesus, as the Living Word, is still the One doing the cleansing! This is not a “physical process,” such as soap and water, nor is it truly “self-help.”

What is our Part in the Cleansing?

Yes, we are told to “go to God’s Word,” for wisdom, and we are told to “apply God’s Word to our own lives” and to “take heed to God’s Word, as unto a light that shines in a dark place.” (And the World is a very dark place! We need His Light!)

But, regardless of how we go to the Word, or the Word comes to us, Jesus is the One who cleanses His Church. Why? Because He is the Living Word, and He uses His Written and Spoken Word to cleanse His Church.

What is the difference between “Washing” and “Foot washing?”

All the disciples in John 15:3 had been cleansed (fully washed) by the Word. Yet, in chapter 13, He said that though they had been washed, and thereby they were clean, they still needed to wash their feet. (One did not usually sit down to a meal in someone’s house with one’s feet still reeking of filth from the street.) What is the significance, then, of that comparison?

Jesus said they had been cleansed by the Word which He had spoken unto them. He spoke all the same words to Judas Iscariot! Judas was there for all the miracles, and he heard all the same teaching that the other disciples had heard. So, why was Judas different?

Judas did not believe in Jesus as his Savior. He did not believe that Jesus was really who He claimed to be. So, he had never been “washed” by the Word and he was “not clean.” He had one last chance to repent, in chapter 13, but he pressed on to his destination, and finally, in John 13:30, we see him committed to the betrayal of Jesus, and he left. And the scripture says, “…and it was night.

But the other disciples, though they had all been washed by the Word, through faith, still had a sinful nature, and they would continue in failures, both small and great. Peter wept bitterly over his terrible failure in denying the Lord, after he had boasted that he would die before he would deny the Lord. So…was Peter still clean? As a matter of fact, yes, he was! But he had dirty feet!

Where do we find answers to our questions from John chapter 13?

In 1st John 1:5-10, we see a passage, dealing with “sin in a believer’s life.”

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

But 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. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. (The Holiness of God is pointed out, here, compared to light. Sin is compared to darkness in contrast to the Light of God.)

Contrasting Light and Darkness: Righteousness and Sin

The result of seeing the moral and Spiritual Light of God’s Character, is that if we “say” that we have fellowship with Him (Meaning we are walking in light) but are clearly walking in darkness (sin) then at best, we are fooling ourselves. He does not sugar-coat it, though: He says, “we lie, and do not the truth.” (Whether it is only lying to ourselves or to another person, it is still a lie.)

Then He says, “if we walk in the light, as He is in the Light, then we have fellowship with one another, and his blood cleanses us” on an ongoing basis. But he says, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

So, if Peter had continued to deny that his feet needed washing, he would be deceiving himself, and contradicting Jesus. The result would have been that fellowship was broken. He had already been cleansed, and that was not in question. The fellowship was the issue. A sinning believer, though eternally secure in their position in Christ, cannot have fellowship with Him and is acting just as if he had never been cleansed.

Salvation and Fellowship

Verse nine says, “If we confess our sins (agree with God about them) then He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Peter agreed with Jesus about his need, and submitted to cleansing, on a fellowship basis. He had already been cleansed positionally. His condition was that he needed his feet washed.

What about Judas? Evidently he fell under verse 10: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” Believers are permanently indwelt by the Living Word of God! Judas did not believe. He was not cleansed. God’s Word was not in Him.

Years ago, I had a friend, right here in church, crying in pity over “Judas losing his salvation.” But Judas did not “lose his salvation;” He was never saved! Jesus said so! Furthermore, in John 17:12, during His high priestly prayer, Jesus called Judas “the Son of Perdition.” The only other person in the Bible called “the Son of Perdition” is the Antichrist! (2nd Thessalonians 2:3)

If you have heard the Good News of Jesus’s completed work at the Cross, and if you have believed God’s Promise: you have trusted in His shed Blood as the full payment for your sins, then according to Jesus’s promise in John 5:24, you are already cleansed, Your sins already have been taken away. You are already saved. So, you have eternal life now! You do not need to wait until you die to “know for sure.”

But How do we regain fellowship when we have sinned?

1st John 1: 9  This should be a “memory-verse” for every believer.

This is how we regain fellowship when we find that (again) we have sinned. There is no need to remain out of fellowship, feeling the burden of guilt. Confess your sin to Jesus and be cleansed!  If you have wronged someone else, then you may need to deal with that, as well: But there is no “waiting for an appointment,” with God. Go to Him immediately, and be freed from guilt! Go back to enjoying your relationship with your Savior!

Do you think Peter was “feeling good” about his relationship with Jesus, after he had denied that he knew Him? Of course, not! He went out and wept bitterly! But, in 1st Corinthians 15:5 we see that Jesus had a “private talk with Peter,” before he met with all the disciples together. (What did they talk about? Evidently it was private, as we are not told anything about that meeting beyond the fact that it happened.) But after that, we see Peter in fellowship with Jesus again… at least until the next time he needed correction. And the same is true of each of us!

So,  How do we “wash one another’s feet?”

Looking ahead to verse 15, we see that Jesus told us to imitate what He had just done. Does that mean we should physically get soap and water, and go wash people’s feet? (There are churches that practice this, but it misses the point.)

No, we go to another brother (or they come to us) in full humility and gentleness, showing a sinning brother or sister that he or she needs his or her “feet washed;” That they are out of fellowship. That they need to confess their sin, repent of their hardness of heart, or whatever the issue is. (This is not attacking or criticizing one another!)

A Personal Example:

I had a brother come to me in Bible School, when I had become bitter and cold toward God. In total gentleness and humility, that young man begged me to repent. Initially, I rejected his plea, but I knew it was God speaking to me, and after a few more minutes of conversation, I was convicted by the Word, and my stubborn resistance crumbled. I finally prayed with him, confessing my bitterness and anger, and I was restored to fellowship.

Jesus says that we are to do this for one another. And we have already seen the need in our lives for such cleansing. So, we need to be receptive when someone shares a concern with us. Will “they always be right?” Not necessarily, but if our hearts are closed to them, then, just as Peter was initially wrong to reject Jesus’s ministry toward him, we will “always be wrong.”

What is your Motive?

This is a matter of mutual care: we are not to be “attacking one another.” And both parties need to see it that way, or it will have no fruit. Galatians 6:1 makes this abundantly clear: we are to seek restoration. We are not there to “Straighten each other out.”

Humility, gentleness and a genuine desire for restored fellowship are the key…and we need to constantly be aware that we could be mistaken. Perhaps we are wrong in our perception. This is not a “sly way” to criticize others, camouflaged by “pious concern.” Check your heart. Why are you really wanting to speak to them?

This is a tough subject because we are proud people. We are touchy and oversensitive, and usually quite blind to our own faults. But Jesus said we need to deal with our own issues, before trying to correct someone else. So, take this teaching cautiously: Don’t seize upon it as a license to go around “policing” other people. They have the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the convicting.

Lord Jesus, correct our proud hearts and give us a deep, genuine love for the believers around us. Help us to pray for one another, and not to criticize. Fill us with Your Love, for Your glory and honor.