Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

What About the Future?

Making Plans: What About the Future?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:13-17

Introduction:

We humans are constantly making plans: we have “day-planners” that we carry with us, and business-plans, wherein we predict the future of a company. I am told that US businesses think they are doing well to have a five-year business plan, but that many Japanese businesses have 100-year plans. That boggles my mind, because there are so many unforeseeable changes in the world that it seems impossible to have any sort of serious plans extending more than a very few years. How can one predict market trends, new inventions, famines, plagues, wars, etc.? In reality, we have very little “control” of our lives, though we want very much to think that we are in control. James reflects that reality, and warns us to give God the honor He deserves by confessing that, in reality, He… and only He… is in control of the future. All we can control is our response to that reality.

So, James answers our ambitious, presumptuous, self-confident plans by saying, 13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

It would be an easy shift, to change our thinking, and simply acknowledge that God can confirm our plans or He can change them completely. We could simply say “If the Lord wills…” which could be just lip service. But it does require at least some humility, to say, “I hope to do thus and so, but, ultimately, God is in control, not I.”

The Problem of Self-Direction

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

We don’t think of our “grand plans” as “boasting,” but God says they are! And each of us has made such plans, at one time or another, thinking we were “taking control” of our futures…but the fact is, we do not have control of our futures. Our lives are completely under God’s control, for good or bad. My wife and I knew a Godly young woman, apparently with her whole life ahead of her. She was married, and had great things planned. But she slipped on an icy walk, and smacked her head: and the bleeding on her brain killed her. Was she in sin? Not that I know of. She was really a godly young lady, and rejoicing in the Lord. But God has the right to take his children home, and it is not punishment! She simply graduated early. She is home with Jesus. It was a surprise, and a shock, but, honestly, isn’t that what we are all looking forward to?

And God says that our “self-centered” desire to be “self-directed”, making us “self-made” men and women, is what is evil, having found its root in the sin of Satan, which we can read about, in Isaiah 14:12-15. 12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Lucifer lost his position as the “Light-bearer” (that’s what “Lucifer” means) when he sinned. What was the sin? The desire to be self-directed…to be his own master, and thus, ultimately, to supplant God.

He made five statements of self-will in that passage, all exalting himself above God.

  1. I will ascend into heaven (not by invitation, but by presumption)
  2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God (referring to the angelic host)
  3. I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north (referring to Zion: God’s chosen throne on earth)
  4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds (God’s position)
  5. I will be like the most high. (Self-direction is the only aspect in which he could be like the most high…he could not attain to the attributes of deity, but he wanted the position and honor of deity.)

What did all five statements have in common? “I will…”  This is the self-will that set in motion the sin that pervades our human sphere. He spread it to the first Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden, and they lost their position of innocence. They regained fellowship with God through a blood sacrifice, and by faith. We also enter into that fellowship by a blood sacrifice (the Cross) and by faith. But when we sin, even as believers, we emulate the self-will of Lucifer, because we defy the authority of God, and, by our actions, words or attitudes, we declare that “In this small sphere, I am the master! I will make the choices, here, and I will chart the course of my life!”

It is hard for us to think of these things in this way, because we have been taught, all of our lives, that such things are good! “Be your own person! Take charge of your life! Be all you can be! Be your own boss! Throw off the shackles of authority! You deserve the best!” Does any of that sound familiar? Those are all advertisements in magazines, as to how you can tell off your boss, start your own business, and suddenly be in charge of your own future, get rich (or at least richer), and have all the things and the relationships you have always wanted! Interesting, huh?

How does the Enemy attack us?

Do you see how, when Satan tempted and tricked Eve, he attacked through three areas of temptation? Genesis 3:6 says that “When she saw that:

  1. the fruit was good to eat, and
  2. that it was pleasant to the eyes, and
  3. desirable to make one wise,

(then) she took the fruit and ate, and gave it to her husband with her, and he ate…”  The result was the fall of the human race! Spiritually, we all died that day in the Garden of Eden. We were separated from fellowship with God! We have regained our position through Jesus’s blood at the Cross, but we still have our old Sin nature, and can still be drawn away to sin.

When Satan tested Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), he used the same three areas of temptation: food, public status, and riches. But Jesus successfully rejected that temptation, on the basis of God’s Written Word…which we can also choose to do.

There’s an odd thing, here: God calls out those specific things as how the enemy will tempt us, too! (1st John 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” )

  1. The Lust of the Eyes (what I see and find attractive)
  2. The Lust of the Flesh (what would serve to gratify the body)
  3. The boastful Pride of life (What would serve to gratify my sense of self-importance.)

Those same weapons have been used against the human race from the very beginning. And the pride issue, the part of us that says, “I did it myyy way!” (That was a famous song!) is a very common failing, virtually universal among humans. So, with that warning, we need to change how we approach life.

What can I do differently?

Is it “wrong” to make plans? When God says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding…” does that mean it is sin to make plans? Absolutely not! In fact, Jesus addressed that idea in regard to discipleship, saying we need to count the cost, sit down and calculate whether we can do the things we hope for: He gave the examples of one preparing to build a tower, or go into battle, calculating ahead of time whether they had what it took to complete the work, or to succeed in battle.

I have to plan ahead, and make time to study God’s Word, or I will not have the teaching to feed a flock. We have to plan ahead and prepare the soil for a garden, if we want to reap a crop or even have flowers. We have to plan ahead and acquire specific schooling if we want to work in certain jobs or professions. And maybe, after all, we aren’t able to do those things once we take the training. (You can’t be a surgeon, for example, if you always faint at the sight of blood! Or a commercial fisherman, if you can’t overcome motion sickness, etc.)

We each have plans we have to make, and the passage that warns us to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts” goes on to say, “…in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path!” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

So James echoes this idea; that we need to recognize our frailty at the very least: our lives are like a vapor, or a mist, that appears briefly and then is gone. We have grand ideas of things we’d like to do, but the very least we can do is realize how short life really is, and that we simply don’t have time to do them all. (I like to make things. My brother-in-law pointed out, “Chet, you can make anything! You cannot make everything!” Meaning, “You won’t have time!”)

Not all of the ideas we have are worth wasting our limited time on them. But if we start with the confession of our own frailty and the very brief time we have been given in which to function, then we can begin to rethink our values and our choices, and apply the wisdom of God to our plans, seeking His guidance and approval as we go. He says that we need to recognize every day that our plans are subject to His authority, and that things may change suddenly and without warning. (Remember the rich man who was planning to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his crops, as opposed to sharing that bounty. He didn’t know that he was already in his last day of life.)

I knew a Bible teacher, in 1975 (Ralph Hovland, a retired missionary,) who had spent what most would call “his retirement years” teaching the Bible to younger men and women, preparing them for service. He finally was too old to even continue that, so he was going to retire, and he and his wife were going to move to a retirement home of some sort. He was walking down the street near the school with one of his students, Scott Gutmann, and explaining his plans. He concluded with, “But, of course, the Lord could change those plans at any moment!” and at that moment, he suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead! He was called home, as a good and faithful servant. No suffering, no slow deterioration. And the impact it had on Scott’s life was profound! He went on to serve as a missionary as well.

There is nothing wrong with making plans, and we are urged by God to do so:  Proverbs 6:6-8Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

We are given ample instructions as to preparing for an uncertain future: to “…watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh.” Ralph Hovland had done exactly that: he was fully prepared for an uncertain future. It changed without warning.

How should we respond, then?

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Each of us has this warning, so, then, each of us is responsible to take heed. In so saying, James gives us one of the four New Testament definitions of Sin: “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This is where the sins of omission come in: If we know what God wants us to do, and choose to do something else; even if the thing we are doing is not intrinsically “wrong,” it is sin, because we knew we were supposed to be doing otherwise. Sin isn’t necessarily on a list of things not to do: It could simply be doing something other than what we were directed to do.

We need to be looking to God for our direction: in His Word, in Prayer, being alert to the prompting of God, by the Holy Spirit. He never leads contrary to His Word, so that is a “filter” we can constantly apply to our plans. Read the Word and find out God’s Principles!

In this particular passage, it seems that the “good”, is something “good” in the sense of moral rightness, not just “they would like it if I did this.” And, in the second place, it says, “if a man knoweth to do good, and doeth it not…” (Not, just “if a man has a great idea of how to be a blessing to the world around him.”) I do think that there has to be some sense of having been directed by God; either through His written word, or some sort of clear leading.

When Ann and I are moved to give money (for example) to meet a known need, we are both alerted to the need, and, invariably, we have the same amount in mind. We see that as God’s leading. Perhaps there are better ways to approach this, but, between God’s Word and Prayer, I don’t know of any better way.

The Key is Submission to God

The real key in making plans is to consistently be in submission to God as we read in James 4:7, so that He is able to direct our hearts and, ultimately, our paths. Apart from a conscious choice, moment by moment, to submit to the Lord, we can’t be sure we are doing His will, even though we look to His Word for direction. If I have chosen to submit my will to God, and I can see from His Word what I think he wants me to do, then I can be pretty sure I am doing right.

I knew a fellow, years ago (a believer,) who earnestly wanted to do God’s will, and daily sought to lead others to Christ. The problem was that he was an hourly worker, and was trying to lead people to Christ during times when he was supposed to be working: and the type of work (welding) precluded working and talking at the same time. He did not see that he was dishonoring God by taking time during which he was paid to weld (as were the people he was talking to) to try and tell people about Jesus. He was ultimately let go…not for witnessing, but because of not working. (He was actually off in another building, going through the garbage dumpster, looking for cans to turn in for money, when he was supposed to be working.) That is not a good testimony, and it is not being in submission to God. I don’t know if he ever admitted to himself that what he was doing was wrong, but it served to remind me that the things we do have eternal impact, for better or for worse.

In these tumultuous times we are living in right now, we have a special desire to use our time wisely, and to make Godly choices, as it truly seems we are getting closer to the Lord’s return. We don’t want to waste what little time we have left!

We will try to spend some time, soon, talking about these troubled times and how we are affected by them; but for now, regardless of when the Lord returns, the key issue is that we be in constant submission to the Lord, and alert to His direction and leading.

Lord Jesus, please draw our hearts to yourself, so that we are constantly motivated by your Word, by your Spirit, and your Love. Allow us to examine ourselves in the Mirror of your Word, and remember what we see there. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness. Make us the men and women of God you have called us all to be.


The Sources of Wisdom

The Sources of Wisdom

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:13-18

How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

The scripture says that we are to “show” or demonstrate by our lives, the result of the “wisdom” to which we claim to adhere. People need to:

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior; to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech;and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak, and the things we do, will accomplish either the one or the other.

Therefore, the results in our own lives (our lifestyle and works) are what will ultimately reveal the source of that “wisdom.” The old English word “conversation” never refers to “people chatting:” it either has to do with our way of life (as in this case: the Greek root is ‘tropos’) or, in a few cases, (Philippians 3:20, for example, where the Greek root is ‘polituema’) it means citizenship, or commonwealth.In no case it is referencingtwo people involved in verbal interaction. In this particular passage it specifically means “the way you live your life.” This reveals to those around you how they should regard your wisdom.

The Greek word (prauteti) translated “meekness” is sometimes translated “gentleness”, and it can mean just that, but it also carries the idea of “yieldedness;” being yielded to God, and being willing to yield to others, as a result. Not insisting on proving oneself right, but, having stated one’s case, willing to allow others to make up their minds about issues.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

So, then, even when there is someone who, by all accounts, is considered to be a real source of genuine “wisdom”, if any of the listed attributes are a consistent part of their life:

  • Bitterness
  • Strife
  • Envy

Then, we should not automatically consider the “wisdom” they have to offer to be “Godly Wisdom.” We should at least take it carefully, knowing that it has definitely been mingled with other sources. This begs the question, “what are the other sources?”

Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

James gives three other sources. He states that, when bitterness, strife or envy are present, such “wisdom” is:

  • Earthly, (from the Worlds way of thinking)
  • Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; soulish; from the Flesh) and/or
  • Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan.)

As a matter of fact, this is how we know that the Christian actually has three enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The World is the enemy “outside the gate”, so to speak. The Flesh is the enemy within the gate—residing within each individual. And the Devil, as always, will seek to strengthen the World and the Flesh against us, and use them to defeat us if possible. In fact, just as a military force, if unable to hold a bridge, or some other vital piece of territory, will seek to render it useless to the enemy…Blow up the bridge, fill up a well, burn down buildings, etc., our enemy, Satan wants to render you useless to God, destroy your joy, destroy your testimony, and, if possible, destroy you, physically, through slavery to sin. Take this seriously!

So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit:

  • Purity
  • Peaceable-ness
  • Gentleness
  • Approachable-ness
  • Mercifulness
  • Good fruits (fruit of the Spirit?)
  • Impartiality
  • Genuineness…no hypocrisy
  • Producing Peace, because it is given in peace.

If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.

Proverbs 2:6, 7 states that God himself is the only completely reliable source of wisdom, and that His wisdom specifically comes “from His mouth.” So, the Word of God should be our constant primary source, and the standard to which we compare whatever comes from human counselors. As long as the wisdom we receive from human counselors matches that of the Word of God, and we see a pattern of Godliness, then it is very likely sound teaching and counsel.

Further: Jesus Christ, as the Living Word, is identified as the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. (1st Corinthians 1:24)So, the more closely we can walk with Him, the more firm our grasp will be on the leading of the Lord. Without exception, His leading will always match His written Word, because He is the Living Word. (See John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13)

Some time ago, a young(er) friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs. The one couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry), and were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.

The other couple, whom she met in her home church, seemed determined to “take her under their wing”. They were somewhat dominating, and directive, and stated that she needed to get more education, so as to gain “educational credibility”, etc. They did seem concerned about her well-being, but when she mentioned the offer the first couple had made, they were quite dismissive, even suggesting that the first couple were trying to cheat her, and take her money (from support). They said all this, knowing nothing about those people, and never having met them. They did not consider her 25 years of full-time ministerial experience (specifically in linguistics, Bible translation expertise, literacy-teaching, Bible-teaching, and cross-cultural communication) to have “educational credibility”. And they seemed very sure that she was not making good decisions, though they gave no scriptural reasons.

Since both couples seemed “caring”, and both seemed “wise”, she felt torn, since she could not respond favorably to both. But hidden in the behavior of both there were clues as to where the “wisdom” originated. She called me, asking for my counsel, and we had a long phone conversation.

The exchange with my friend triggered more pondering, in my own mind, regarding wisdom: What is the ultimate origin of real wisdom? What does the whole counsel of the Bible have to say about it? What is the character and source of “false wisdom?” What is the motive? Why would someone bother to try to coerce another person with bad advice? What could they hope to gain by it?

Genesis 1:1 begins with four “packed” words, which are easy to miss, because we tend to focus on the last six words of that sentence. We are so familiar with the “Created the Heavens and the Earth” portion, and argue endlessly about the meaning, truth (or untruth) and limitations (if any) of that portion that we ignore the first four words: In the beginning, GOD! He is the origin of all things—He existed before all things; the causeless cause, the ultimate fount of literally all things. He exists outside of time and space, without limits except those imposed by His perfect character and wisdom. Nothing is too hard for him, yet there are things He says He cannot do, because of His perfect character.

So, if He is the ultimate source, but, as we see in our own experience, and read in the Scriptures, there is also “false wisdom” out there, waiting to trip us up, we need a pattern of thinking or a litmus test or something, by which to determine which is which.

James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next chapter (skipping ahead) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

What was there in the behavior of the friends from her church that might give us a clue as to the source of their wisdom?

They were somewhat domineering, and were not open to her thoughts: they dismissed her training as not having been worthwhile, though it had definitely been from God, and had been used in service already for 25 years. They were suspicious of the motives of a godly couple whom they had never met, suggesting that they were somehow trying to rob my friend. (The support-structure of that mission was actually set up in such a way that no one but the intended recipient of the funds could touch it.) Their behavior was neither producing good fruits, nor acting in a loving manner. They were not “easy to be intreated,” as James said. So…we had to conclude that their counsel was at least “not necessarily from the Lord.” No accusations were leveled at them, or anything. She simply thanked them for their concern and went on to make a decision based on God’s Word.

I had a Bible-teacher, more than 40 years ago, who had more of the scriptures memorized than anyone else I have ever known. More than that, he had a better understanding of how it all fit together than anyone else I have known. During a Bible-study, one evening, there was a man who had an argument. The teacher answered his questions with scripture, but that was not enough. The man kept insisting and arguing. Rather than asserting his superior knowledge and considerable pedigree in any way, the teacher began answering with a simple “OK…” to every accusation and argument. Finally the dissenter quieted down and the study could continue. This teacher had a gentle spirit, and was “easily intreated.”

I was in a different meeting once, when a much younger person raised their hand and questioned something that same teacher had just said, bringing up a scripture to back their question. He immediately answered, “You are right! I was wrong, and the change will be in the next revision of my book!” Now, that is being approachable! His wisdom was from God’s Word, and he proved it by his responses. There was no “vying for position,” no envy, no strife, and he was a man of impeccable purity, and proven integrity. I wish he were still alive and teaching today, as we certainly need such teachers.

What about those other Sources?

The World

Frequently the argument is offered, “Well, look! This is what all the scholars agree to be true!” Hmmm… So there has never been a case where “everybody” was wrong, and one person, the dissenter, was right? Even in secular history, there are countless times when a researcher or an inventor proved that “everyone” was, in fact, full of baloney, and that (for instance) the earth really does orbit the sun rather than the other way around; or that, in fact, it is possible to achieve true flight by means of a machine, or that it is possible to travel faster than sound…etc.

John 7:40-53 tells of a time when people were beginning to draw conclusions about Jesus. Some were convinced that He was the Messiah. The argument of the Pharisees was that “Nobody who knows anything would believe that! These people who obviously don’t know God’s Word are under a curse! The Messiah isn’t going to come from Galilee, nor does any prophet!”

Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least…the prophet Jonah was from Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and stalked off, feeling triumphant.

In some circles, this is known as “argumentation by sneer!” If you don’t have a rational answer, then you try to intimidate the other person by shaming them or by pointing out that they are alone in their belief. Neither is a valid argument.

We are to find our truth in God’s Word. If someone has a clear argument from God’s Word, then we are to carefully consider it, as it might very well change our outlook. The people in Berea (Acts 17:10, 11) responded correctly, in that they listened to what the Apostles had to say, and then went and “searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And they were commended by God for so doing.

The Flesh

There have certainly been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!

The Devil

2nd Chronicles 18 tells us the story of a wicked king (Ahab) who was planning to go into battle, and had convinced a good king (Jehoshaphat) to join forces with him. Ahab had a multitude of “prophets” who all unanimously told him he would be victorious in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not so sure, and he wanted counsel from God. So, they called in Micaiah, a prophet of God, and he told them in effect, that this was from God, for the express purpose of bringing about Ahab’s death!  Verses 18-24 tell how God chose a “lying spirit” to speak through Ahab’s “prophets,” to convince him to go into battle! (This is Ahab’s final warning to repent!) And what was the response of the false prophets? One of them walked over and punched Micaiah in the face! (Real “spiritual response,” there, bud! No envy, bitterness or strife there!)

But Ahab went on into battle, and died, as Micaiah had prophesied. Jehoshaphat survived, but on the way back home, another prophet of God met him on the road, and Jehoshaphat got a scolding from God for joining forces with someone who was an enemy of God. (2nd Chronicles 19:1-3)

The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

Ahab listened to a lying spirit, just as Eve did, in the Garden of Eden, and it cost him his life. When Adam went along with Eve, and fell into sin, it cost us ALL our lives! (Romans 5:12)

Whenever we choose to follow some other counsel, rather than that of God’s Word, we are, at the very least, “straying from the Shepherd,” and we are in danger of attack from the enemy of our souls. It could seem a minor issue, and we may excuse the wandering astray in our own minds. But if we persist in such folly, it will destroy our walk with God, it will produce irreversible results in our lives, and ultimately, it will render us fruitless in God’s Service.

I pray that we will all repent of our frequent folly, and look to God for our leading, so that we may be the men and women of God whom He has chosen us to be.


Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

Paul’s Concerns for the Churches

© C. O. Bishop 8/25/18 Cornell Estates 8/26/18

Colossians 2:1-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly studying through the book of Colossians, and have finally begun chapter two: In it we begin to see some of the pitfalls for faith, and the concerns that Paul held for the infant churches. He addressed the church at Colosse, and the church at Laodicea as examples. We tend to think of the church at Laodicea only in terms of their eventual failure, as recorded in Revelation chapter 3, but the fact is, they began as a vibrant, healthy church, just as did the churches at Colosse, Philippi, and other cities. His concern for all the infant churches was that they grow strong and stable in Christ, and that they be the testimony of the Living Christ to the World around them, rather than being dragged down by that World. Paul gave us, in his prayer, a “prescription” to protect us from the design of the Enemy against our souls.

The Prescription of Prayer

1For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

There is an interesting word used, here: The Greek word “agona” is almost always translated “fight, or conflict” but frequently in the context of prayer, not a physical battle. We are told to labor fervently” in prayer, and this is the word used. In this context, I believe that is the intended application. Paul has not met some of the churches face-to-face, but has the same concerns for them that he has for the churches he actually planted. He is “fervently laboring” for them in prayer, for what things?

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

Paul lists at least three things, here: (again, it is instructive to see the things on Paul’s prayer-list.)

  1. That their hearts might be comforted.
  2. That they would experience true unity, brought about through Agape love, and,
  3. That they would collectively experience all the riches in a full assurance of understanding, through the knowledge (Greek epignosin) of the Trinity:
    • The mystery of God
    • Of the Father, and
    • Of Christ.

 

These are not light, casual things: Paul is not just praying that they “have a nice day.” He is praying that they will be comforted by the Word of God, through the experiential knowledge of the Savior. The word “epignosin” has to do with a complete, full, experiential knowledge of a person, place, thing, or condition. It is not just being able to recite some facts about a person, a place, a thing, or a condition. It requires personal experiential knowledge.

The more we experience God’s Grace and Love in our lives, on a day by day basis, the better-equipped we are to deal with the hard times and the trials and temptations in life. Remember, back in Proverbs 2, we saw the source of wisdom and understanding to be the LORD (God’s personal name in the Old Testament.) And, through our study of the Old and New Testaments, we can see that the particular person of the Godhead who showed up in human form, to give personal attention to believers was none other than God the Son. (W will see more about His Deity, in the verses to come.) So it is literally true that the knowledge of the mystery of the Father and the Son, along with the indwelling Holy Spirit, is going to be the source of comfort, and unity, and wisdom, and understanding. Paul confirms this, in the next verse:

In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Jesus is the one we need to cling to, and to learn from, in order to have the comfort, unity, and understanding that we so badly need in life. Isaiah 40:11 says, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd! He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead them that are with young!He is the one to do all these things! There is a reason Jesus declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd, in John 10:11.

I find comfort, seeing the Shepherd in the Old Testament; how he dealt with those who trusted in Him. I find great joy in the figure of Christ, in the book of Ruth: Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth, reached out to Ruth in grace, going beyond the scope of the Law, in directing his workers to “drop extra handfuls” of grain, when she was near. He spoke to her personally, inviting her to come and eat with his workers. She was overwhelmed by his grace, but accepted the invitation. And, as she sat to eat with the workers, it turned out that Boaz himself was there among them, and that he, himself, personally passed her the food. Ultimately, he turned out to be the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. (He and Ruth produced a son, the grandfather of King David, and the great-g-g-g-grandfather of the Lord Jesus, who is our Kinsman-Redeemer!)

Do you see the pattern there? Jesus reached out to us, as poor, lost sinners, in Grace, paying the price of our sins, by His own blood. He invites us, as believers, to come and be fed by his Word. And then, “Where two or three gather in His name, He himself is in the midst of us,” and He himself feeds us on His Word, and by His Spirit.

We need the knowledge of the Holy God on an experiential basis, not “just the facts”. The facts have to lead us to the Person. When I read the Scriptures, I could be looking for just the facts, and, sometimes I am. But, in reality, I am always trying to reach beyond the printed page, to see the Living Word, beyond the Written Word. How we respond to the Written Word, is usually a good indicator of how we are responding to the Living Word, Jesus. If we are not actively pursuing the relationship with the Living Word, then we can easily be swayed by the enemy.

The Purpose of Knowledge

And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

The World around us is one of the three enemies named in scripture. And the World produces countless sources of “enticing words”, through advertising, through false teachers, through political speakers, and, especially through the various mass-communication media. Television, radio, and the internet could be wonderful tools for Good, but, they have become terrible tools of Evil, as they have largely been taken over by those who are enemies of the Gospel.

How did the Serpent beguile Eve? Through enticing words! And we are still susceptible to the same temptations, today. We are easily confused, and easily persuaded to follow bad leaders. We desperately need to know the Savior, well enough to recognize when the “voice” calling us is not that of Christ.

It is interesting to me (and I have confirmed this with bank tellers) that bank employees are trained to recognize counterfeits, not by looking at the various counterfeits, but by being trained so thoroughly in the recognition of the genuine currency (or real identification cards) that a false bill, or fake I.D. card is immediately seen as false. I knew a young woman who worked as a bank-teller, and she excitedly told me, one day, how she had “caught” a bank-fraud in progress. She noticed that an identification card simply “looked wrong”, and she excused herself while she took it to her supervisor. The supervisor also spotted it as false, and she had her keep the “customer” busy while she called the police. The police arrived in a few minutes, and blocked the thief’s car from front and back, and made the arrest. (Good catch!)

We are supposed to be growing in our understanding of God’s Word, too, so that a false teacher will stand out immediately, as being suspect, and we will listen carefully to see where the doctrine is leading. We then compare scripture to scripture, to check our intuition.

The Progress of Faith

Paul was impressed with all he had heard about this church, and prayed that they would continue to learn to walk by faith.

For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

How did you receive Christ? Through works? Through intensive study and learning? Or was it by faith, because you heard the Gospel and chose to place your trust in Jesus as your Savior? Of course, each of us, as believers, share that testimony in common: regardless of how we arrived at that point of decision, each of us eventually had to make a choice by faith.

Having made that choice, and having received the Savior by faith, we are now exhorted to learn to walk by faith. Growing in Christ does require learning and growing and being built up in our faith, through the continual application of God’s Word to our lives. Psalm 119:9-11 says, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto, according to thy Word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy precepts! Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee!

Nothing has changed, regarding God’s Word, and the feeding of God’s Flock. We are strengthened and stabilized by applying God’s Word to our own lives, personally. This is something I have to do myself: no one else can do it for me. They may help me along, through good teaching, or by sharing with me, personally, but I do have to respond, personally, in faith.

The Product of Faith

Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

We are called to be rooted and built up in Christ. We are called to be established (stabilized, and solid) in the faith as we have been taught, abounding in the faith with thanksgiving.  We build on the foundation of scripture. Once in a while, especially when we are new believers, we may have a misconception, and, if we are committed to the truth of God’s Word, then He, by the Holy Spirit, will quickly correct the error, and help us to see how things “fit together”.

A sister recently shared with me how she felt that she was like a child, trying to put a puzzle together, under the supervision of her Father: once in a while, she tries to force a piece into place, where it does not belong. He quickly lets her see that it is not a good fit, but that does not mean that she immediately can see where it does fit. So she is learning to trust God to show her in His time, how things really do fit together, within the framework of sound teaching.

I have had to do the same thing, as, occasionally, there were passages by which I was so frustrated, that I had to stop reading them; confessing that I could not understand, them, and waiting on God to bring me to a point of maturity wherein they were understandable to me. Had I tried to force the issue, I likely would have come up with some wrong conclusions. And, sometimes those wrong conclusions are the deliberate work of an enemy:

The Pedigree of “Wisdom”

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Notice that the three-fold attack of the Enemy here, is through

  1. Philosophy and vain deceit (Who is the Deceiver?)
  2. After the traditions of men (Human reasoning)
  3. After the Rudiments of the World (elementary concepts, not embracing spiritual realities)

And he says that, collectively, these three are not “after Christ.” They are not from God.

We tend to like “philosophy”…in fact, the word means “loving wisdom”. But the problem is that there are multiple sources of such “wisdom,” and not all of it is from God. Remember that one of the things that attracted Eve to eat the Fruit, was the fact that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But that “wisdom” was not being offered by God, and it was a deadly trap!

James 3:13-18 points out the three other sources, all of which are in opposition to God. He lists the “works” that are associated with such “Earthly, Sensual, or Devilish wisdom”, and then contrasts it with the “fruit” of Godly Wisdom.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

So, the wisdom we are looking for must come from the only good source: God says that His Word is the proper source. Do we have a teacher we like to hear? We still need to read on our own, and measure his words against God’s Word.

Just because things sound good, they are not necessarily good teaching. Compare scripture with scripture on a daily basis. All scripture has to agree with all other scripture. If we are being taught something that we think is in contradiction to the rest of the Word of God, it is time to stop and read carefully, as something is definitely wrong.

The Primacy of Christ

Verse 9 is an important truth regarding the Deity of Christ. This is a crystal-clear statement that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” We have a very human desire to “reduce God” to a humanly understandable level. That is not a good thing to do: He is not a human, except as He has chosen to appear in the person of Christ. He is the immortal, immutable, all-present, all-powerful Creator, and the God of all time and eternity! Why should I expect him to be someone I can casually read about, consider for a moment, and grasp completely? There are so many small things within the creation itself that we can study all our lives and still not understand; why would we expect the Creator to be simpler than His creation?

I can’t even grasp all the things that humans create: I use computers and cell-phones on a daily basis, but, when technicians have attempted to explain to me how they work, I can only understand in the most general terms. When it gets to the specifics of why something isn’t working, I have no idea what is wrong.

We have to recognize the Deity of Christ in our daily lives: He is not just our “Best Friend”…He is God! He is the Judge of all the Earth! We owe Him our Love, surely, for the relationship’s sake, but we owe our faith and obedience, because He is the Master…He is the Creator: He is God! We must turn to Him for all things, whether sustenance, wisdom, guidance or protection. Remember who Jesus really is, and respond to Him accordingly! Read His Word with that in mind, and treat His Word with the proper respect and reverence. Read for understanding, for comfort, and to experience true Worship and obedience.

Blessings upon you all as you seek to know the Lord better every day.

Lord Jesus, grant us your wisdom: we see you as the only sure source, and we desire to know you day by day, as our Master and our shepherd. Lead us to green pastures, and Still waters, and allow us to serve you faithfully as your ambassadors.


Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

© C. O. Bishop 9/27/17 Cornell Estates 10/15/17

Philippians 1:9-11

Introduction:

Last time we were together, we began looking at the kind of prayer Paul offered for his fellow believers: and the very first thing we saw, was his heartfelt thanksgiving, partly that they had been the recipients of God’s Grace, and partly that they had been participants in the work of evangelism and discipleship with Paul. He went on to say how much he missed them, and recognized that it was God’s love that stirred his heart toward them. They were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and, on top of that, they were his dear friends.

So, when he prayed for them, his prayers were in earnest, and they were aimed at God’s very best blessing appearing in their lives. He did not pray for their physical or financial well-being at all, it seems, which is interesting, because they had all the same needs that we have today. We can learn from this passage, and others like it, what our priorities in prayer ought to be.

Priorities in Prayer

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

It is important, throughout the epistles, to see what the “prayer-list” of the various Apostles contained. It does not seem to bear much resemblance to ours, usually. Paul does not pray for us to get a raise, or get over the flu, or anything like that. There is nothing wrong with either of those, by the way, but in terms of priorities, I think we should see what is on the collective “list” of the apostles.  On this particular “short-list”, the Apostle Paul prays:

  1. That our Love may abound more and more,
  2. In Knowledge (Greek, epiginosko), and
  3. in all Judgment (Greek aesthesis),
  4. That we may approve things that are excellent;
  5. That we may be Sincere (from “eilikrinea”—“clarity, purity, sincerity”) and
  6. without offence until the Day of Christ,
  7. That we may be to the Glory and Praise of God.

Seven little items…all of them having to do with personal and corporate growth in the Grace and Knowledge of God. Notice that the first three on the list are the foundation for growth, while the remaining four are the result of the first three.

Foundation for Growth

I like the fact that the very first thing on Paul’s “list” is the same as the first thing on Jesus’ list (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another…”). Over in Galatians, Paul confirmed the point Jesus had made in the Gospels, that Obedience to that “Law” would cover every other law.

It is also interesting to see that he points out the need for increase—for growth—Yes, we are perfect in Christ, but as a practical matter, there is a need for us to grow in that relationship. When a new mother declares her newborn baby “perfect”, she is not saying that she does not expect that child to grow…only that this is her perfect child and that she is eagerly anticipating watching that growth. God has declared your new nature to be perfect, (Ephesians 4:24 says it is created after God (in His likeness) in righteousness and true holiness.), but He urges us to grow in our relationship with Him, and, thereby, in our relationships with those around us, whether believers or unbelievers.

Three key elements needed for that growth include:

  • Love (Agapé,) as an over-arching life principle,
  • Knowledge: our personal knowledge of God and knowledge of his written Word, and
  • Judgment (Wisdom): Godly discernment and good decision-making.

The Agape Love is the motivation to do what is most profitable for the other person, the recipient of that Love, regardless of how it affects oneself. Jesus demonstrated this Love, by enduring the Cross for the Human race.

Knowledge and Wisdom are closely linked, but are not the same: One can know God’s written word intimately (even as an unbeliever) but be utterly lacking in the wisdom required to correctly interpret and apply it in one’s life. It is just a “piece of literature” at that level, and unlikely to bear fruit. But in fact, this “knowledge is not even a matter of just knowing facts, but rather, the “epiginosko” knowledge, which means an experiential, ongoing relational knowledge, as in, knowing a person completely, because of a long-term committed relationship.

On the other hand, given some knowledge, God can bring conviction, and turn knowledge into wisdom; thus, over a period of time, producing genuine discernment and good judgment.

Evidence of Change

The result should be that our beliefs begin to change in other areas as well. Beginning with the change of belief, by choice, to trust the shed Blood of Jesus as my only hope for salvation, and having placed my dependency therein, I am free to see the whole world differently, as well.

  • I can now approve things that are excellent. Paul points out to the Roman believers (Romans 1:32) that the unbelieving heart not only is itself given to sin of every kind, it gives its approval to those who also pursue the same sorts of sin. (Consider this: Why are the most popular movies always those centered upon themes of immorality, treachery, rebellion, self-will, violence, theft, etc.? )
    It is because all of us, by birth, are those who feed on sin, and that sort of story feeds our old sin nature. But according to this verse, with my new nature, and, by the Holy Spirit, I am capable of separating myself from my old “haunts”, as it were, and approving good things: righteous things, and things that are pleasing to God, as well as being a blessing to those around me. It will likely result in a change in my speech patterns, as well as my interests, and my desires, so that my new nature, more and more, is what makes itself evident in my life.In my flesh, this was not a real likelihood, because, though I might agree, academically, that such things were “good”, I would privately feel that they were “boring”, and I would yearn for the old “hog-wallow” of sin, because that was what I really approved of, regardless of what I might have said.

    My new nature feeds upon God’s Word and yearns for the presence of God, and the fellowship of other believers. So, the fact is, yes, I can now approve the things that are excellent.

  • I can be sincere. The old nature does not have the capacity for sincerity…only the appearance of it. Jeremiah 17:9 states that the heart (the unregenerate heart is implied) is “…deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Ephesians 4:22 states that the “old man…is corrupt (actually, ‘being corrupted’… the word is a present continuous verb) according to the deceitful lusts.”As an unbeliever, even when I intended to “do something good”, it was always for an ulterior motive—to be seen as a hero, or to gain some sort of social approval. It was never, ever, simply to be obedient to a Holy God. Such a thing never entered my mind, and if it had, I would have rebelled against the very idea. Submission to a Holy God was utterly repugnant to me. Self-centeredness was my only mode of operation, even if I tried to prove otherwise. I wanted to be seen as honest, unselfish, and “good”, but, in reality, I was completely the opposite. I was deceiving myself.

    But today, something has changed: I have a new Ephesians 4:24 says my new nature “…after God (in the likeness of God) is created in righteousness and true Holiness.” Notice that the new nature, or “new Man” as the KJV words it, is a created thing…this is not the Holy Spirit, but a new Creation: a new Me.

    The Holy Spirit is God…He is not a created being. But this new creation, the new Me, the new nature, the new man, is capable of genuine Christ-like motives and is, by nature, sincere: pure, transparent.

    There is sometimes a little confusion over this word—the Latin root for the English word “sincere” is “sin ceros”…”without wax”, and I remember being taught that the ancient potters would place their wares in the sun, to warm them, thus demonstrating that there were no wax-filled defects in the glaze. That is true, and all very fine, but the New Testament was not written in Latin: it was written in Greek. The word here means pretty much what we mean by the word sincere in English: “devoid of deception, pure, transparent, honest.” The Latin “sin ceros” was an entirely appropriate translation, as that glazed earthenware pottery, warmed by the Mediterranean sun, would certainly demonstrate the honesty of the potter or tradesman. It was a means of demonstrating honesty, purity, and transparency. That works for me. It’s just that for years I thought that the original word was “sin ceros”…and it is not: the root is “eilikrinea”—“pure, honest, clear”. And that pretty well describes the character of the new creation…the new nature of a born-again individual. Transparent: no hidden agenda; no “murky”, dark behavior.

  • I can be without offence. This sounds like a tall order, because there is always someone who is offended by some But the issue is that I personally am not to be the cause of someone else sinning. Particularly, that no one reject Christ because of me. If they are offended by the Gospel, then that is a different matter. Jesus warned us ahead of time that the Gospel would cause an offense. But we are not to cause the offense.Remember in Galatians we read that the nine-fold fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness Temperance. Those sorts of behaviors do not cause an offense against either the Law, or another individual. We question whether we can actually live that way: Paul makes it clear that we can…but that it takes practice to become consistent in it.

If even our enemies can find no real fault in us except that we are Christians, then probably we are “without offense”. But, if there are other things that are causing others to think evil of the Gospel because they see those things in our lives, then we need to repent, and change our ways.

Is self-righteousness an issue? Pride? Gossip? Complaining? What sorts of things might we be doing that make us a bad testimony of God’s Grace? Those things are what must be changed.

Repentance means “turning around”…going the other way…doing what ought to be done instead of the wrong we have been doing.

  • We begin the cleanup with confession: Admit to God that those things are sin.
  • Repair the damage in relationships by apology if called for—righting wrongs that can be righted…admitting to the wronged individual that we were wrong to have mistreated them.
  • Then we DO the things that God calls for, treating others kindly, not talking behind their backs, not secretly despising them, but praying for their salvation and blessing from God. Be a blessing to them.

This is how we learn to be “without offense.”

  • Finally, I can be to the Glory and Praise of God. The result of all of the above should be that our lives begin to bring honor to God. That people watching will have to conclude that something genuine is going on in our lives, and that either we are wonderful people (we are not, and honesty demands that we say so) or that we serve a wonderful God. The former is not true, the latter most certainly is.

We want to live in such a way as to be a blessing to all around us, not a cause for cursing. We hope that even those who are enemies of the Gospel know that we can be counted upon to tell the truth, to share, and to treat others well. Doesn’t this open us up to people taking advantage of us? Yes, of course, it does! So, we have to be wise, as well. We have to be discerning about how we share, and how we help. Do we always give freely? What about when we can see that the money will not go to the perceived need, but rather, to buy alcohol or drugs? Might we not be better to give food or clothing, in that case?

This is where Wisdom and Judgment come into play. We do not want to be enablers to those who are continually making destructive or self-destructive choices. We do not want to help others to sin. On the other hand, wisdom often tells us to keep our foolish mouths shut, sometimes, and allow God to teach a person, instead of injecting our own thoughts into the existing mess.

But, when a person seems to be open to the Gospel, wisdom tells us how to present the truth to them in a non-judgmental way, so that they can make a clear choice regarding God’s Grace. We are to be a light in the darkness of this world. That light is to be characterized by three things:

The Love of God, the Knowledge of God, and the Wisdom of God, all flowing through us to produce the Light of God…not our own light, but only His light reflected in our lives.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your Spirit, and change us into your likeness, so that we can reflect your Light and Love in the dark world around us.


Living with these “Saints below”

Living with the “Saints Below”

Mutual Service and Care: Galatians Chapter 6

© C. O. Bishop 5/22/15 THCF 5/31/15

Galatians 5:25-6:5

Introduction:

Paul has pretty much completed his defense of Grace as a life-principle, and his explanations of how to put Grace in the driver’s seat, so to speak. He completes the letter with a series of observations regarding how Christians are to get along with one another. He says:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Effectively, he says, “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and, in fact, you are already seated with Christ in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?” Then Paul begins to address the question of “what would that look like?”

He says we are not only to live by Grace, ourselves, but we are to extend God’s Grace to those around us, as well. (Remember Jesus’ command? “Love one another; as I have loved you, love one another”.) So, verse 26 says:

  • Don’t live for pride and self will…that is the source of envy and provocation.
  • Do practice Agapé Love and Unity. That will provide a lasting bond, and eradicate sinful relationships.

This is the only way we can present a testimony that unbelievers cannot condemn without clearly rejecting Christ as well. Remember that Jesus gave the World two ways to judge the church:

  • “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (agapé) one to another.” (John 13:35) and
  • “…that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21)

Love and Unity—those are the two criteria by which the World is to judge us. Without the first, they will not believe we are his disciples; without the second, they will not believe that He is the Messiah. Is either of those results acceptable to us? If not, then perhaps we need to take seriously the command to Love one another and pursue Unity.

So, what does it look like when we “get along” the way God says we should? We proactively take care of one another’s needs, but also work to carry out our own responsibilities.

Cleansing and Restoring One Another

1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

This is what we might call a “packed” verse: It is loaded with meaning.

Who are the recipients—those expected to respond? “Brethren”—believers—you and I, as well as all believers who have ever read the scriptures, are addressed by this command one way or another. But he specifically addresses the believers “which are spiritual”; so not all of them are qualified to respond. Remember that it is entirely possible for a believer to be carnal (1st Corinthians 3:1-3). We are not to shun such a person, or gossip about him, but to “Restore such a one”. And being “spiritual” does not mean “pious”…it means that the Holy Spirit is currently presiding in your life. If you yourself are out of fellowship, then you need to address your own sin before trying to “straighten out” someone else. The Holy Spirit is residing in every believer…the question is, “Will you let Him do more than just ‘reside’?” If He is allowed to preside…to rule in our hearts—then He will over-rule the sin-nature and we will not only bear the “fruit” of the Spirit, listed in chapter 5, but, when we are called upon to help another brother or sister, we will do so without a critical spirit, and without judgment.

“If a man be overtaken in a fault”—this is talking about someone who has fallen into sin of some sort. It could be anything…the point is that they have been “overtaken”—they have stumbled, and have fallen. Christians, unfortunately, have the reputation of “shooting their wounded”—far from restoring them, we tend to abhor them. But here we are clearly told that the object of the correction—always—is restoration. If you are coming down on them as a judge, you are not the “spiritual” one that you think you are.

I remember a church where the young pastor fell into sin (petty theft, of all things), and was reproached by a coldly angry (and much older) deacon, with: “We don’t need your kind, here!” Somehow I doubt that this response helped much toward restoration. The younger man was promptly and permanently out of the ministry. No restoration, no forgiveness, no counseling—nothing. The last I heard, he was driving a truck, somewhere, and lucky to have a job at all.

Consider further: if you see a person physically sick or in pain, for example, you try to find out what is wrong before jumping to conclusions. They may have something wrong that will require medical care—or perhaps they just stubbed their toe. There may be a need that you can meet, or perhaps you may simply offer comfort. It pays to find out for sure what is going on before you jump in to straighten someone out.

However, emotional and relational things are not quite so easy to pin down, and frequently cause a rift, if left untouched. Let’s say someone has acted “snappish” toward you…and you are offended. Then probably you are not “spiritual” at that point…you are miffed, or hurt, and seeking self-satisfaction. So you have to deal with your own response first.

If (rather than being offended) you have concluded that something is wrong, and that they may need help, then possibly you are on the right track. Your desire, at least, is to restore or to help. So you go to them (privately) and ask whether everything is OK. Perhaps you are convinced that they are at odds with you, and you don’t know why, so you ask “Have I offended you in some way? You seem uncomfortable around me, and that worries me.” If they continue to insist that all is well, then you have to back off and let them deal with it, but you can pray for their deliverance. (And it is completely possible that they are telling the truth; that there is nothing wrong, and they are simply tired or not feeling well. I used to keep after my wife when she was just not feeling very good, asking her what was wrong, until I angered her, and then there really was something wrong… it was me. I was a slow learner, I guess.) My motive was restoration, but I was not applying the portion about a “spirit of meekness.” Meekness means “yieldedness”; it is sometimes translated gentleness, but I think it goes further than that. If they say, “nothing is wrong” then I need to back off…or maybe explain why I asked, what I thought I observed…but if they say that I am mistaken, “but thanks anyhow”, then it is time to stop asking.

So, what about a situation where sin is definitely involved; and you are trying to restore a fallen brother to fellowship? Then gentleness and yieldedness are critically important.  Further, the enemy can use a wounded soldier as bait to wound or destroy others. So we are admonished to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.  Can he drag you into his sin? Maybe…or perhaps he can aggravate you to the point that you are in sin yourself—a different one, but just as fatal to fellowship.

I have read that in a jungle tribe in Indonesia, when a man goes to the forest to cut wood, he takes a live rooster along, and tethers it to a stake, with string, then sprinkles seed on the ground, and sets snares  in a broader circle all around him. As soon as the rooster decides that he is not hurt, and sees that there is seed to eat, he begins scratching the dirt, and calling his hens. Of course, his hens are miles away, but other wild roosters hear him calling, and come to fight him, thinking they are driving off an interloper. When they get there, and start strutting around trying to pick a fight with the captive rooster, it is only a matter of time before they find themselves snagged in one or more snares. So, when the wood-cutter is ready to go home, he carries several roosters home to eat, but his captive rooster lives to strut another day.

When a Christian is in bondage to sin, we need to be vigilant, knowing that while they themselves may not intend to snare us, the Enemy surely may be looking to trip us up. We are called to offer restoration, but God warns that it may be hazardous duty. Along this line, I think it is fair to offer this warning: Men: as a rule, help men! Let a Godly woman deal with the sisters, as a usual matter of course. More men have fallen prey to sexual sin than any other thing, I think, and it is easy to confuse the tender Love of Christ with other feelings, and get confused about why you are there. Stay far back from the edge, and you won’t have to worry about losing your balance. I have read that the most common “last words” of people who die at the Grand Canyon are “Hey, look at me!” and “Hey, watch this!” People get too close to the edge, and a single mistake becomes fatal. Just a word to the wise….

Supporting One Another

2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This is a command, too, and it is a little confusing in English, because we tend to compare it with verse 5, below, and say, “Well, that seems to be a contradiction!” But it is a pretty easy study, if you want to look up the Greek words used—they are not even similar words. The one here in verse 2 is “baré” meaning a crushing weight, or an oppressive load. It is used figuratively to speak of life’s hard experiences and pressures. The word in verse 5 is “phortion”, meaning an assigned load—a ship’s cargo—a backpack, etc. It is also used figuratively to speak of life’s responsibilities. There are things that are our own burdens that no one but Jesus can share, and there are others that are crushing loads that can be a catastrophe if we are alone, or a bearable burden with the fellowship of a friend. This word in verse two actually derives from a verb (bareo) meaning to oppress, or to weigh down. This is not a normal load of life, but an overload.

When a person simply has a job to do, and is able to do it, we may leave them alone to do their work…or share it, if it something that can be shared. But if a catastrophe has overwhelmed them, as a good neighbor, we are to lend a hand. This is true for spiritual things as well. There have been many times that I have been able to help a person think through a situation, and overcome what seemed an insurmountable obstacle at the time. But some of those same people, at other times, have done the same for me, encouraging me when I was discouraged or depressed, without a trace of condemnation…just the Love of Christ.

Bear in mind, however, that we are working for Jesus, not for the other people. So if they do not respond in kind, we need to remember that He is the one to whom we look for reward. There was a time when I worked on a crew where each welder had a certain span he or she had to weld, and most felt that when their section was done they had no further responsibility, so they walked off. I felt that we were a team, and if my partners had trouble with their machines, or something, I stayed, and welded as far into their area as I could reach. But eventually there were times when my machine was the one with problems, and they just stood back and watched me struggle. Once someone even threw stuff at me while I worked. My first response was anger: I thought, “OK, that is the last time I will lift a hand to help those miserable wretches!” But right away, God reminded me that they owed me nothing…they were lost sinners, and I worked for Him, not them. If I would only offer grace to those who would respond in kind, then that was my reward—their response. But if I offered grace when there was no hope of reward, God would provide the reward. So, I repented, and renewed my commitment to serve those around me.

Serving One Another

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

This is not a change of subject: The subject here, beginning all the way back in Galatians 5:16 is “what does it look like when believers walk in fellowship with God?”  And the immediate context is the service of “washing the feet” of a sinning brother or sister…restoring them to fellowship, not just letting them stew. If you think you are above that, then you have a problem; you are deceiving yourself.

Look back to John 13, and see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, which was a job reserved for slaves, in a rich house, and relegated to the individual in houses without slaves. Jesus, the real master, was deliberately giving an object lesson to proud men who would not have stooped to serve in that way; and in Peter’s case a man too proud to permit it, as well, since he considered it inappropriate for the Lord to wash his feet. The issue was not “whether” their feet were dirty—they were dirty! They had no plumbing or sewers or street-cleaners (or even sidewalks) in those days, so wherever you walked you were probably treading in some serious filth. And, as it was a semi-desert area, they wore sandals—not gumboots. The picture for us to see is that every believer needs his or her “feet cleaned” every so often, whether by personal confession, because we can see for ourselves that we have “stepped in something”, or by someone coming to us to let us know that we have gotten dirty…again.

All of us were cleaned by Jesus when we believed the Gospel…but we still live and walk in a dirty world. He said we will need cleansing, and that we are to perform that service to one another just as he did for the disciples. He was not telling them anything they didn’t know, or condemning them for needing their feet washed. (In the physical sense, he got dirty too!) But he was setting up an object lesson about restoring a sinning believer. Paul reiterates it here in Galatians 6, and lets us know that if we think we are too good for that service, then we have a real problem, and have deceived ourselves. He goes on to say that our work will demonstrate who we really are.

4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

We need to examine our own hearts and see what the character of our own work really is: I am deeply impressed by a man or woman with a servant’s heart, for whom no act of service is too lowly or menial. The man or woman who quietly steps in to serve, not seeking recognition, and does not shun the dirty jobs, is pretty impressive, in my mind. Please bear in mind that the word “Menial”, comes from the same root as “Minister!” Funny how we don’t like “menial” but we do like “ministry”. Seeing the kinds of service one chooses tells me a lot about a person’s character.

I remember a young woman many years ago sharing how she had gone to a women’s retreat, somewhere, and as it turned out, the women were asked to take turns serving in the kitchen, as that was part of why the price was low. Her first thought was “I didn’t come here to serve! I came here to be served!” But the Lord caught her attention with that rather blatantly selfish thought, and she immediately realized that her attitude was precisely the opposite of Jesus, who said “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many!” (Matthew 20:28) She changed her attitude, served with grace, and was blessed by the experience.

Pulling Our Own Weight

5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

Remember, this is the Greek word “phortion”, and means our personal responsibilities. Whatever burden God has assigned as your portion in life, is yours. You bear up under it, and you do it in such a way as to honor Him. That is simply being a good and faithful servant. He gives each of us work to do…and it is ours to do, not something we shuck off to someone else. We are to bear our own burden in this way. The crushing load of verse 2 is a whole different matter. When someone is so sick they can’t take care of themselves we may organize a list of families to take meals to them…but when they are well, we stop. Why? Because the issue was the crushing load of the sickness…we helped bear that burden, but when they are well, they take care of their own needs. We each have responsibilities of our own, and God says we are to discharge those responsibilities faithfully.

Conclusion:

Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is “Yes!” We are to watch over one another for the mutual good of all…not meddling in one another’s affairs, but being sensitive to one another’s needs and situation, so that no one is left to flounder under a load they can’t carry; no one is abandoned to the enemy when wounded by sin, and no one feels they are too busy or too holy to help a fallen brother or sister. This is where the agapé love can get very practical, very personal, and not always very comfortable.

If you can commit yourself to this lifestyle, then God can use your life to His glory. If not, then you will be the one people are trying to restore, not the one doing the restoration: the one who needs help, instead of the one helping.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to serve. Allow us to see ourselves through your eyes, and become the selfless servants you have called us to be, fellowshipping with you in the joy of service.

Amen.