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Postby Need2Know » Fri Aug 05, 2011 2:26 pm

Galatians: Don't Submit Again to the Slave's Yoke

In many ways Galatians is the most colorful epistle in the New Testament. It is filled with vivid and vigorous language. If you have read it, I am sure that you were struck by its forcefulness.

In looking at any individual book of the Bible, it is worthwhile to consider where and how it fits into the whole. Let's review the overall structure, then, before beginning this study of the message in Galatians. We can first divide the Bible according to its natural divisions of Old and New Testament to find out what each testament contributes to the supreme message of the Scripture. That central message, essentially, is that the whole revelation of God -- the entire Bible in other words -- is given so that we might be complete human beings in Christ. That is its aim. The Bible was given so we might experience all God intended for man in the beginning, wholly filled and flooded with God himself.

To this end the Old Testament contributes the theme of preparation, the groundwork. The New Testament contributes the note of realization. It actually confronts us with the person of Jesus Christ, who is himself God's program and plan for making life complete for us.

As you may recall, there are several divisions within the New Testament. The Gospels and the Book of Acts present Jesus Christ to us. Each Gospel gives a different aspect of his life. Acts ties these gospel presentations of Christ to his present manifestation in the world today, in his body, the Church. This is Christ at work. Christ in human life.

Next, the Epistles give us the explanation of Jesus Christ -- his person, his work and their significance -- all spelled out for us so that we might understand and grasp them. The Epistles are further divided into three major groups. The first four -- Romans, First and Second Corinthians, and Galatians -- express the truth "Christ in us" -- what it means to have Jesus Christ living in us.

The second division, encompassing the rest of the Epistles through Philippians, gathers around the theme, "you in Christ" -- the significance of the fact that we are made part of his body. These Epistles explain the work of the Church and the proper life of the Church.

The third group, beginning with the letter to the Hebrews and including those to James, Peter, John and Jude, are the letters which describe the operative word "faith" -- what faith is, how it works, why it suffers, and what it faces in life. Faith is the means by which all that Christ is in us and all that we have in him are made manifest in our experience.

The last division of the New Testament is the book of Revelation, standing by itself as the great consummation of what Christ has come into the world to do. It describes for us the great scene when all will be ended and the work of redemption is accomplished. This, in brief, relates the study of Galatians we are now beginning to the Bible as a whole.

You who have read this little letter carefully will have noticed that it is very closely related to the epistles to the Romans and to the Hebrews These three letters of the New Testament form what might be regarded as an inspired commentary on a single verse from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. It was to that Old Testament prophet that God gave the great truth, "the righteous shall live by his faith," (Habakkuk 2:4 RSV). All three of these letters quote this verse, "The just [or the righteous] shall live by faith." It is interesting that each of them shows a different aspect or gives a different emphasis to the verse. In Romans the emphasis is put on the words, "the righteous." Paul details what it means to be righteous, how a man becomes justified before God and declared righteous in Christ. It was this epistle that finally delivered Martin Luther from a terrible legalism. Then, in Galatians, the emphasis is upon the words "shall live" -- what it means to live as a righteous person, justified in Christ. This is the letter about liberty which is the fullest expression of life. Finally, in Hebrews you find the last two words, "by faith," emphasized. This is the great letter on faith, culminating in that memorable section in chapter 11, called "the heroes of faith."

Galatians comes to grips with the question of what real Christian life is like. The answer can be characterized by one word, "liberty." The Christian is called to liberty in Jesus Christ. The cry of this epistle is that Christians might discover the liberty of the sons of God in accordance with all that God has planned for man in the way of freedom and enjoyment. Its aim is freedom of our human spirits to the utmost extent, restrained only as necessary for us to exist in harmony with the design of God. Therefore, this letter has been called the "Bill of Rights of the Christian Life," or the "Magna Carta of Christian Liberty," the "Emancipation Proclamation" from all forms of legalism and bondage in the Christian experience.

In the introduction of the letter we read:

Paul an apostle -- not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead -- and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: (Galatians 1:1-2 RSV)

This is not a letter written to a single church as in the cases of those to Corinth and Ephesus. This is a letter addressed to a number of churches. Who were these Galatians? If you read the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the book of Acts you will discover the background of these churches. They were churches begun by Paul when he was on his very first missionary journey, traveling with Barnabas into the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. In Lystra, on one occasion, he was stoned and dragged outside the city and left for dead after having first been welcomed and treated as a god. In all these cities he experienced persecution. These were the cities of Galatia.

The name of the province comes from the same root as the word Gaul. Any of you who took Latin in school remember that you began your reading of Julius Caesar with the words, Galatia est omnis divisa in partes tres: "Gaul as a whole is divided into three parts." Gaul is the ancient name for France. About 300 years before Christ some Gauls from what is now France had invaded the Roman Empire and sacked the city of Rome. Then they crossed into northern Greece and continued across the Dardanelles straits into Asia Minor. At the invitation of one of the kings of the area, these Gauls settled there.

So they were not Arabs or Orientals but a Celtic race, of ancestry similar to that of the Scots, the Irish, the Britons, and the French. Since many Americans are also of that ancestry, this letter is particularly pertinent to us, as you will recognize when you read Julius Caesar's description of the Gauls: "The infirmity of the Gauls is that they are fickle in their resolves, fond of change and not to be trusted." Or, as another ancient writer put it, "They are frank, impetuous, impressionable, eminently intelligent, fond of show but extremely inconstant, the fruit of excessive vanity." Doesn't that sound like Americans? Most of the world would agree to that.

On his second journey, this time with Silas instead of Barnabas, Paul set out to go back through these Galatian cities and visit the churches that had been established, and on this occasion he stayed a considerable time in various cities because he became sick. He refers to this illness in a rather oblique manner in this letter. Evidently it was some kind of serious eye trouble, for he says to these Galatians,

For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:15 RSV)

Some Biblical scholars feel that he had inflamed, pus-filled eyes that made him almost repulsive at times.

But these Galatians, as Paul admits in this letter, received him with great joy, treating him as though he were an angel of God, or even Christ Jesus himself. They reveled in the gospel of grace that he brought because he had set forth for them, with amazing vividness, the glory and the work of the crucified Lord. They had entered thereby into the fullness of life in the Spirit and had received the love, joy and peace that Jesus Christ, entering the heart, gives.

But when he wrote this letter, probably from the city of Corinth, something had happened. Certain people, whom Paul labels in another place "wolves in sheep's clothing," had come among them; certain Judaizers had come down from Jerusalem with what Paul calls an alien gospel -- not a totally different gospel, but a perversion of the true Gospel. To these Gentile believers in Jesus Christ in the freshness of their new-found faith, the Judaizers were declaring that in order to grow and really become genuine Christians the Gentiles would have to become circumcised, keep the law of Moses, and obey all the Old Testament ritual. These legalists were trying to impose all the restrictions and the ceremonial obligations of the law of Moses.

Now, they hadn't set Jesus Christ aside -- very few gospels that have any chance of spreading ever do that. But the Lord was given second place and keeping the law was made paramount. Furthermore, the Judaizers challenged the apostolic authority of the Apostle Paul. They pointed out that he was independent, very undependable, overly enthusiastic, and he had graduated from the wrong seminary. So they were trying to get the Galatians to reject his authority as an apostle.

Paul was greatly disturbed by this news. As you read this letter you can see that he is moved and agitated to the utmost. Listen to some of the expressions he uses. In verse eight of the first chapter we read,

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8 RSV)

Or, to put it bluntly, as Paul actually said, "let him be damned." And he repeats it again: "If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be damned," (Galatians 1:9b RSV). He was not merely hurling acrimonious challenges or insults here. He was simply facing the fact than anybody who comes with a different gospel has already damned himself. He hasn't found the truth. Those apart from Christ are accursed, as the apostle makes clear not only in this letter, but in many others.

At the close of the letter his emotions are stirred again and he is greatly concerned about these people who are preaching circumcision and the bearing in the flesh of the marks of the law. He says,

I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves! (Galatians 5:12 RSV)

Literally, he says, "let them emasculate themselves!" Since they are so zealous in trying to get some mark in the flesh on you," he says, "I wish they would go all the way and emasculate themselves!"

You can see now some of the fire that flashes throughout this letter. The apostle is deeply disturbed. He is wearing his war paint and wastes no time with pleasantries or personal greetings. He moves right to the matter at hand with vigor and vehemence. He can't even wait for his secretary. As he tells us in the later part of the letter, he painfully scratches it all out in large letters, in his own handwriting, despite his poor eyesight.

What is the theme of the letter? What has him so upset? This is the theme of Galatians:

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Galatians 1:3-4 RSV)

What has disturbed him is that this perverted gospel, this legalistic approach to Christianity is concealing the two great truths that are inherent in the gospel -- the true gospel. First, Christ gave himself for our sins: that is justification. Second, he gave himself to deliver us from this present evil age: that is sanctification. All of it is by grace and not by works. It is the assault upon these truths that has so deeply disturbed the apostle. He knows that anything that challenges them is a false gospel that will lead its victim into heartache, bondage, desolation of spirit and ultimately to spiritual death. So he is disturbed.

Let's take a more detailed look at these two great truths which provide the basic outline of the letter. In the first four chapters he handles the great matter of justification by faith. Christ died for our sins. He gave himself for our sins. That is, of course, the basic declaration of the Gospel, the good news that Christ has borne our sins. That is always good news. Therefore Paul spends the first chapter defending this good news. First he shows that it was revealed by Jesus Christ directly to him. He didn't get it from any man, not even from the apostles. Christ himself appeared to him and told him this good news.

Second, it was acknowledged by the other apostles as being the same that they had received. This, by the way, is one of the answers to what is called hyper-dispensationalism in our day. There are certain persons who claim that Paul had a different gospel than Peter, James, and John and the others -- that his gospel is superior to theirs. But Paul himself in this letter says that when at last, fourteen years after his conversion, he went up to Jerusalem and had an opportunity to compare notes with the other apostles, they were amazed to discover that this man, who had never been a part of the original twelve, knew as much about the truth of the Gospel as they did.

In fact, he knew what went on in the secret, intimate gatherings that they had with the Lord Jesus Christ. You can see an example of this in First Corinthians, where the apostle is speaking of the Lord's Supper. He says,

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it... (1 Corinthians 11:23-24a RSV)

How did Paul know that? Well, he said, "I received it from the Lord Jesus." When Peter, James and John heard that this man knew as much about what went on in that upper room as they did, they recognized that here indeed was a man called of God. His apostleship rested upon that fact.

Third, it was not only revealed to him by Christ and acknowledged by the other apostles, but it had been vindicated when Peter came to Antioch. Peter, the one who was supposedly the head of the apostles, was in error in Antioch. You can read the story in chapter two. The difficulty was over the matter of eating kosher versus Gentile foods. Peter had been a Jew, raised to eat nothing but kosher foods, but when he became a Christian he ate with the Gentiles and thus indicated the liberty that he had in Christ. But then, when certain men came down from Jerusalem, he began to compromise and went back to eating only with Jews, thus denying the very liberty that he had formerly proclaimed. This is what stirred Paul up and he withstood Peter to his face. Think of that! This maverick apostle challenged Peter to his face. He vindicated the Gospel as he did so.

Then he goes on to show us, first, that the Gospel is salvation by faith and not by works. The Gospel is of salvation by faith in the work of one who has already done it all, not by the works that we ourselves employ. Second, it was by promise and not by law. Abraham was given the promise four hundred years before the Law was given. The law, therefore, cannot change the promise. The promise of God stands true whether the law comes in or not. Further, he shows that those who are in Christ are sons, not slaves. They are no longer servants but they are part of the family of God. In this connection he deals with the great allegorical passages concerning Hagar and Sarah, the law and the mount of grace (Jerusalem above). From these passages he declares the great fact of justification by faith.

Now all that is wrapped up in that little phrase, "who gave himself for our sins." Jesus Christ has paid the price himself. He didn't send an angel...

No angel could our place have taken,
highest of the high tho' he.
The one who on the cross was forsaken,
was one of the Godhead three.

It was this truth that delivered the soul of Martin Luther. More than 450 years ago the monk of Wittenberg strode up and nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the castle church and thereby began what we call the Protestant Reformation. Here was a man who had tried his very level best to find his way to heaven according to the pathway of works. He had done everything the church of his day suggested. He had tried fasting, indulgences, the sacraments, the intercession of the saints, penances, and confessions. He had endured long night vigils and heavy days of labor. He had done everything he could, but the harder he worked, the more his inner distress increased.

Then, absolutely desperate, he went to the head of the Augustinian Order, of which he was a monk, and asked for some kind of release. The dear old man, not knowing very much, told him all that he could. He said, "Put your faith not upon yourself but in the wounds of Christ." Then a dim ray of light began to break through into Martin Luther's soul. But it wasn't until he was in his little room in the tower preparing lectures on the Psalms for his students that the full light began to break. He was struck by a verse in the Psalms that said,

...in thy righteousness, deliver me! (Psalms 31:1 RSV)

This gripped Martin Luther's heart because the righteousness of God was to him a terrible thing -- that unbendable righteous judgment by which God would destroy everyone who failed in the least degree to measure up to the full expectation of the holiness of God. Luther said that he even hated the word "righteousness."

But then, as he began to investigate the word, it led him to the Epistle to the Romans where he read the words, "The righteous shall live by faith," (Romans 1:17b).That struck fire in his heart and he saw for the first time that another had paid the penalty. Christ himself had entered the human race and borne the guilt of our sins so that God might, in justice, accept us -- not on our merits, but on his. When that truth broke upon Martin Luther's heart, he was never the same man again. It led him to challenge the system of indulgences and all the other legalistic bondage of the Roman Church and caused him at last to nail the Theses to the door.

It is interesting, as someone has pointed out, that every single religion known to man is a religion of works -- except the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Hinduism tells us that if we renounce the world and relate ourselves to the "spirit of the universe," we will at last find our way to peace. Buddhism sets before us eight principles by which man is to walk and thus find himself on the way to salvation. Judaism says we must keep the Law absolutely and inflexibly and then we will be saved. Islam says that a man must pray five times a day and give alms and fast on the month of Ramadan and obey the commands of Allah. All are ways of works. Unitarianism says that man is saved by having good character. Modern humanism says salvation is by service to mankind. But in every case salvation is said to be achieved by something we have to do. But the good news of the Gospel is that Christ has done it! He alone has done what no man can do for himself and thus has set us free.

In chapters five and six the Apostle turns to the second and equally important aspect of this great truth, summarized in these words in chapter 1, verse 4:

...to deliver us from the present evil age... (Galatians 1:4b RSV)

Christianity is not merely going to heaven when you die. It is also living now, in this present life. It is being set free from the controlling bondage to the world and its ways, it evil and wickedness, in our life now. It is to be delivered from this present evil age right now. This too is by the gift of Jesus Christ. Here again the apostle waxes hot upon these Galatians. He said earlier, "Oh, you foolish Galatians" (Galatians 3:1a RSV). "You simple minded people. Do you really think that you can begin in the Spirit and then proceed by means of the flesh and in that way accomplish your profession? Why, it is all of faith, all by the power of God that the Christian life is led."

He goes on to develop this theme, showing that the gospel of liberty in Jesus Christ, the life of freedom, must neither be lost through legalism nor abused through license. It certainly doesn't give us the right to do anything we like, any way we like. That is bondage just as much, but merely of another sort. True freedom is to be expressed in loving service for one another. This is truly life.

All legalists sum up their faiths essentially in the following way: They say that sincerity plus activity equals life. You can test any religious experience in the world by that measure and, unless it is the gospel of the grace of God, you will find that what it says, in one way or another, boils down to that. "Sincerity (that is 'faith') plus activity equals life as God intended it to be lived -- salvation or whatever you want to call it." But the truth is quite the opposite. It is that life + faith = activity. That is an entirely different thing. We work, not in order to be saved, nor to be blessed by God, but we work because we share the life of Jesus Christ in us.

Galatianism is still found today even though we are not likely to be asked to be circumcised or to observe the Sabbath. (There are groups who do this but essentially this is not a common danger to us.) Legalistic ideas about keeping Lent, holy days, and rituals are better known modern forms of Galatianism, although they aren't serious threats to us either. But what we are in grave danger of forgetting is that Christ himself came to deliver us from this present evil age and that he does it by living his life in us. That is the key. We know that this age is evil. We feel its pressures to conform, to lower our standards, to believe all the lies shouted at us by TV, radio, billboards, magazines and in conversations -- everywhere.

The danger is that we think we can deliver ourselves from the trip of these pressures by setting up Christian programs, by filling our time with activity -- teaching in the Sunday School, playing the organ, leading young people's groups, joining Christian clubs and taking part in meetings. We think that this is what keeps us free, but that is Galatiansatianism. It is the same kind of bondage that the apostle wrote about and it will deaden and dampen the spirit of an individual and bring him into bondage just as it did in Paul's day.

Compare it with the truth that Paul declares in the last two chapters of Galatians -- that Christ lives in us by the Spirit and reproduces his life in us. Therefore, the whole Christian walk is to repudiate the life of the flesh with its self-centeredness and to rely upon the work of the Spirit of God to reproduce in us the life of Jesus Christ. How beautifully all this is gathered up in the verse (chapter 2, verse 20) that is perhaps the best known of this whole letter:

I have been crucified with Christ; It Is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 RSV)

The old self-centered "I" has been crucified with Christ so that it no longer has any right to live, and your task and my task is to see that it doesn't live, that it is repudiated, that it is put aside, along with its determination to express what Paul calls "the works of the flesh." See what they are (chapter 5, verses 19-21):

...immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, [by the way, sorcery is a word linked to pharmaceutical matters, including drugs like LSD and other psychedelic substances], enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. (Galatians 5:19b-21a RSV)

All of these ugly characteristics are the works of the flesh -- the old self-centered life which, Paul declares, was judged and cut off in the cross and was replaced by the life of Jesus Christ made available to us. Therefore, dependence upon him to live in us and a willingness to let it be done, and to let him move us in the direction he desires, results in "the fruit of the Spirit" which is (verses 22-23):

...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22b-23 RSV)

Now this is where Christian liberty enters in. You haven't begun to live as God intended you to live until the fruit of the Spirit is a consistent manifestation in your life. Anything less is the bondage of legalism, with its dullness, apathy, indifference -- and its death.

Then Paul concludes with his wonderful sixth chapter in which he describes how being filled with the Spirit will result in our bearing one another's burdens, restoring one another in meekness, in gentleness of spirit, not in judgment nor in harshness, in giving liberally and freely to one another's needs, and in patient continuing in well-doing -- sowing to the Spirit instead of to the flesh.

Finally, the Apostle closes on one of the most personal notes in the whole New Testament. He says (verse 11):

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. (Galatians 6:11 RSV)

Painfully scratching it, hampered by poor eyesight, he says, "I don't want to glory in your flesh like these Judaizers do. They love to compel people to be circumcised because they think each person circumcised is another scalp they can hang on their belts as a sign that they have done something tremendous for God. That is not my glory." He says, "I glory in the cross of Christ which cuts off that kind of living, cuts it right off a the roots, cuts off the 'old man' with all his self-seeking, ambition, and self glory. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ which crucifies me unto the world and the world unto me -- that is my glory."

Now he says, "Don't any of you write to me and tell me that what I have written you is all wrong, because I want you to know that living this kind of life has been costly. I have earned the persecution of many. I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."

If you challenge the world and its ways, you will find those who are resentful of the way you live and the way you think and some will be actively antagonistic. Some will be ready to burn you at the stake if they get a chance because you are defying the accepted standards of life. You are setting aside the principle upon which the world seeks to accomplish its ends. Your life is judging theirs and they resent it. But the apostle says, "It doesn't make any difference to me. I glory in the Lord Jesus Christ who has taught me what true liberty is, what it means to be a son of the living God and to live my life in the freedom and the joyfulness of personally knowing Jesus himself."


Prayer:

Our Father, how this letter challenges us in these lukewarm days in which we live, in which men and women talk much about commitment but very seldom evidence it. We pray that we may be captured by these words and see once again that life is not worth living if it be not lived for Christ, that the deceitfulness of out hearts must be judged in the light of your word, that we not be content with mere expression but only with that which comes from the reality of your Spirit at work in us. Produce in our lives, O great Spirit of God, that blessed fruit that glorifies the Father, and deny within us and help us to repudiate that which has been crucified and set aside in Jesus Christ, that we may receive from him all that he has provided. We ask in his name. Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Sat Aug 06, 2011 10:26 am

Ephesians: The Calling of the Saints

The Epistle to the Ephesians is, in many ways, the crowning glory of the New Testament. But perhaps this letter ought not to be called "Ephesians" for we do not really know to whom it was written. The Christians at Ephesus were certainly among the recipients of this letter, but undoubtedly there were others. In many of the original Greek manuscripts there is a blank where the King James translation has the words "at Ephesus;" just a line where the names of other recipients were apparently to be filled in. That is why the Revised Standard Version does not say, "To the saints at Ephesus," but simply "To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus..."

In Paul's letter to the Colossians there is a reference to a letter he wrote to the Laodiceans. Our Bible does not include an epistle called "A Letter to the Laodiceans," but many have felt that it is the same one we call "The Letter to the Ephesians." The reason is that the Revelation of John (the last book in the Bible) begins with letters to the seven churches of Asia, the first being to Ephesus and the last to Laodicea.

These cities were grouped in a rather rough circle in Asia Minor, and it evidently was customary for anyone who wrote to one of the churches to have the letter sent along to each of the others in turn, continuing around the circle until it came at last to the church at Laodicea. This may account for what would otherwise seem to be a lost letter from the Apostle Paul to the Laodiceans. At any rate, this letter sets forth, in a marvelous way, what no other book of the New Testament describes so completely -- the nature of the body of Christ, the true Church.

The first four letters of the New Testament -- Romans, First and Second Corinthians, and Galatians -- are the development of the phrase, "Christ in you," teaching us what the indwelling life of Christ is intended to do. But beginning with the letter to the church at Ephesus, we are to learn and understand what it means for us to be "in Christ" and to share the body life of the Lord Jesus Christ -- "you in Christ." Here is the great theme of this letter -- the believer in Christ, or the nature of the Church.

Verse three of the first chapter is in many ways the theme of the letter -- in Christ -- is the key:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places... (Ephesians 1:3 RSV)

There are many who take the phrase, "the heavenly places," which appears several times in this letter, as a reference to heaven after we die, but if you do this, you will miss the whole import of Paul's letter. While it does talk about going to heaven some day, it is talking primarily about the life you live right now. The heavenly places are not off in some distant reach of space or on some planet or star; they are simply the realm of invisible reality in which the Christian lives now, in contact with God, and in the conflict with the devil in which we are all daily engaged.

The heavenly places are the seat of Christ's power and glory. In chapter two, verse six we are told,

[God] raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:6 RSV)

But in chapter three we learn that here also are the headquarters of the principalities and powers of evil:

...that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10 RSV)

The conflict that occurs is set forth in chapter six:

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12 RSV)

So you can see that this is not a reference to heaven at all, but to earth. It is to the invisible realm of earth -- not to that which you can see, hear, taste, or feel -- but to that spiritual kingdom which surrounds us on all sides and which constantly influences and affects us, whether for good or evil, depending upon our willful choice and our relationship to these invisible powers. Those are the heavenly places. In this realm, in which everyone of us lives, the apostle declares that God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing. That is, he has given us all that it takes to live in our present circumstances and relationships. Peter says the same thing in his second letter: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness," (2 Peter 1:3a RSV).

That means that when you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord, you have already received all that God ever intends to give you. Is that not remarkable? The weakest believer holds in his hands all that is ever possessed by the mightiest saint of God. We already have everything, because we have Christ, and in him is every spiritual blessing and all that pertains to life and godliness. Thus we have what it takes to live life as God intended. Any failure, therefore, is not because we are lacking anything, but because we have not appropriated what is already ours.

This, of course, eliminates any foundation for the notion of a "second blessing," or a third, or a fourth. It is all here, now. There will be blessing after blessing as you take them, one by one, moment by moment. That is the import of the hymn, "Jesus, I am resting, resting" -- every moment receiving from him all that he is -- resting in his power, resting in his life.

The apostle develops the theme of this epistle for us with six wonderful figures of speech, by which we learn that the Church is the whole body of Christ. But I find that when you approach the subject from that angle, it is difficult for people to grasp the significance of the truth in this letter. We all have the tendency to think of ourselves as somewhat remote from the Church. Every now and then someone comes to me and says, "The Church ought to do so-and-so." I reply, "Well, you are the Church; go to it." The fact that they are the Church seems to strike them with a degree of amazement. Someone said to me not long ago, "The Church ought to be more friendly." I said, "All right, you and I are the Church, let's be more friendly."

The Church is people. Every believer is a member of the body of Christ -- the Church -- so I would prefer to go through this letter using not the word "church," but "Christian," because every believer is a small replica of the whole Church. If we understand that God lives within the Church we see that he also lives within each believer. Each one of us, as a believer in Jesus Christ, is a microcosm of the whole body. We can, therefore, go through this whole epistle relating what Paul says not to the Church, but to each one of us, as individual believers.

In the first figure, the apostle refers to the Church as a body:

...and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 RSV)

The first chapter is entirely devoted to the wonder and amazement that we normal, ordinary, sin-possessed human beings should be called by God in a most amazing way -- reaching back even to before the foundation of the earth -- to become members of that body. It is a tremendous declaration. The Apostle Paul never got over his amazement that he -- bowlegged, baldheaded, despised by many, regarded with contempt in many circles -- was nevertheless a member of the Body of Jesus Christ, and was called of God before the foundation of the earth and given such tremendous blessings that he was equipped for everything that life could demand of him. That is what it means to belong to the Body of Christ.

Now what is the purpose of the Body? It is to be "the fulness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23b RSV). In other words, it is the expression of the head. That is what your body is for. It is intended to express and perform the desires of the head. The only time that a healthy human body does not do that is when some secondary nervous center is artificially stimulated.

You know, for instance, that if you hit your knee in the right place with a hammer, your leg will kick up in the air without your even willing it. Even if you choose not to kick, it will still react. I sometimes wonder if some of the activity of the Church can be ascribed to a sort of reflex movement -- the body acting on its own without direction from the head. At any rate, the function of the body is to express "the fulness of him who fills all in all." What a mighty phrase that is! Do you ever think of yourself that way? Do you ever dare think of yourself the way God thinks of you -- as a body to be wholly filled and flooded with God himself?

Next, Paul refers to the Church as a temple:

...in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-22 RSV)

Here is a holy temple. One of the greatest things taking place in the world today is the growth of this building that God has been erecting through the ages. When all the worthless products of human endeavor have crumbled into dust; when all the institutions and organizations that we have built have long been forgotten, the temple which God is erecting will be the central focus of attention through all eternity. That is what the passage implies. Furthermore, he is building it now, using human building-blocks; shaping them, edging them, sandpapering them, preparing them just as he desires, putting human beings into this temple where he wants them.

Why? What is his purpose for you, and his purpose for the whole temple? It is as Paul says -- to be the home of God, the dwelling place of God. That envisions and includes everything which we understand by the word "home." When my family and I come back from a long trip, as soon as we get home, we take off our coats, stretch out, and make ourselves at home. We all say how great it is to be home.

But what is it about our home that makes us feel that way? Isn't it than at home we can relax and be ourselves? That does not mean that when we are away from home we are something other than ourselves, but we are always somewhat restrained. While at home, we can be all that we want to be -- just relaxed and ourselves. That is what God is building the Church for -- to be the place where he can be what he wants to be in you, fully relaxed and all that he is, in you. That is why he is calling you and building you.

The third chapter introduces the third figure. Here we learn that the Church is a mystery, a sacred secret:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;[Here is the mystery] that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10 RSV)

There are wonderful intimations here -- that God has had some secret plans at work through the centuries which he has never unfolded to anybody. But he has had a goal and a purpose in mind that he intends to fulfill, and the instrument by which he is doing it is the Church. This is something we can never fully grasp, but it involves the education of the whole universe. Paul is saying that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God -- the multitudinous aspects and facets of God's wisdom -- will now be made known to all the principalities and powers that inhabit the heavenly places, the invisible realm of reality anywhere and everywhere, in all ages. The education of the universe is the purpose of the mystery.

In chapter four, now, the apostle uses still another figure:

...and put on the new nature[the King James Version says, "the new man"] created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24 RSV)

The Church is a new man because every Christian in it is a new man. This is linked with Paul's word in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old had passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 RSV)

The present creation, which began at the beginning of the heavens and the earth, has long since grown old and is passing away. The world with all its wealth and its wisdom belongs to that which is passing. But gradually through the centuries God has been building up a new generation, a new race of beings, a new kind of man which the world has never seen before -- better even than Adam. In Romans we learn that all we lost in Adam we have gained back in Christ and more, much more! (See Romans. 5:15-17 RSV). Here is revealed a race of beings of which the world has never before dreamed.

Also in Romans the Apostle Paul says that the whole creation is standing on tiptoe (that is the literal meaning), craning its neck to see the manifestation of the sons of God, the day of the unveiling of this new creation (See Romans. 8:18-21, esp. Romans 8:19). But remember, this new creation is being made right now, and you are invited to put on this new man, moment by moment, day by day, in order that you might meet the pressures and problems of life in the world today.

That is why the Church is here. The Church is a new man, and the purpose of the new man is to exercise a new ministry. In this same chapter of Ephesians, we read,

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. (Ephesians 4:7 RSV)

This new man in each of us has been given a gift that we never had before we became a Christian. Our job, our reason for existence -- the reason Jesus Christ put us here on earth and leaves us here -- is that we might discover and exercise that gift. I do not know of anything more important than this. The reason why the Church has flagged and faltered, failed and lost, is that Christians have lost this great truth which each one receives directly from the Lord. That includes us all, from the youngest to oldest, who know Jesus Christ. The risen Lord has given a gift to you, just as the man in the parable gave the talents to each of his servants, entrusting them with his property until his return. And when he comes back, his judgment will be based on what you did with the gift he gave to you. That is the exercise of the new man.

Chapter five introduces still a different figure for the Church; we learn here that the Church is a bride:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27 RSV)

And then quotes the words of God in Genesis:

"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one." This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32 RSV)

The Church is a bride. And it is to be a bride for the enjoyment of the bridegroom. Paul says Christ's intention in preparing the Church as a bride is that he might present it to himself. Isn't that what every bridegroom desires -- that his bride shall be his? During their early days of courtship she may go out with some other fellows, but when they are engaged she is promised to be his and they are both waiting for the day when that can be realized. Then at last the day comes when they stand before the marriage altar and promise to love and honor and cherish one another until death shall part them. They then become each other's -- she his and he hers -- for the enjoyment of each other throughout their lifetime together. Now that is a picture both of the Church and the Christian.

The Christian is to be the bride of Christ, for the Lord's enjoyment. Do you ever think of yourself that way? That concept helped revolutionize my own devotional life when it dawned upon me that the Lord Jesus was looking forward to our time together, and that if I missed it, he was disappointed. I realized that not only was I receiving from him, but that he was receiving from me, and that he longed and yearned for me. When I met with the Lord after that it was with a new sense that he loved me and delighted in our time of fellowship.

The last picture of the Church in this epistle is as a soldier:

Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13 RSV)

What is the purpose of a soldier? It is to fight battles, and that is what God is doing in us now. He has given us the great privilege of being the battlefield upon which his great victories are won.

That is the essence of the story of Job. This dear man was struck without warning by a series of tragedies. All in one day he lost his possessions one by one. Finally he lost his entire family, except his wife. He didn't understand what was happening, but God had chosen Job to be the battlefield of a conflict with Satan.

God allowed Satan to go to the utmost limit in afflicting Job's physical body. In addition, his mind was troubled; he could not understand what was happening. But when the battle was over God greatly blessed Job, and has used him mightily to teach the people of God in all ages that trials and difficulties are not always for the sufferer alone, but are a means by which God wins mighty victories against the unseen powers. We are called to be soldiers who have learned how to fight.

In his first letter John writes to his young Christian friends,

I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14 RSV))

That is, you have learned how to fight -- how to move out, how to throw off the confusing restraints of the world, how not to be conformed to the age in which you live -- and to move against the tide, against the current, thus greatly glorifying God.

I love the story of Daniel who, as a teenager, was a prisoner in a foreign land. He was exposed to a pagan environment and had to fight the battle day by day, counting time after time upon God's faithfulness to keep him when everything was against him. The pressures brought to bear upon him were almost incredible. But again and again Daniel and his friends met the tests and won the battles and carried on.

Toward the close of the book Daniel was sent a visitor, the angel Michael, who told him some tremendous things. Daniel was allowed to see down the stream of time well beyond our own day. Yet when the angel first appeared to him, Daniel was greatly troubled. He fell upon his face, his knees shook, and he was fearful and afraid of his holy visitor. But the angel said to him, "O Daniel, man greatly beloved ..." (Dan 10:11b RSV), "Fear not," (Dan. 10:12b RSV). Why was he beloved? Because he was a faithful soldier.

This is the privilege to which God is calling us in this day of world unrest and distress. God is calling us to be soldiers, to walk in the steps of those who have won the battle before us, having been faithful unto death if necessary. This is the privilege of those who are called and equipped with every spiritual blessing, so that there might be a body, a temple, a mystery, a new man, a bride, and a soldier for Jesus Christ. That is quite a calling.

The exhortation, then, of this letter is contained in just one verse, in which Paul says,

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, [writing this letter from prison] beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, ... (Ephesians 4:1 RSV)

Do not lose sight of what God is doing. The world cannot see it. It has no idea what is taking place. But you know, and you can see it, so do not lose heart.
Prayer:

Thank you, our Father, for this reminder, from the pen of your faithful apostle, of the character of the world in which we live, and the nature of the battle which we fight, and the glory of the calling which we have. We ask that you will make us faithful -- faithful to the end, faithful unto death if need be. And may all the pressures be met by the answering power of the Lord Jesus himself, the Son of God who dwells within us and makes his home in our hearts. What a precious fellowship this is. In Christ's name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Mon Aug 08, 2011 2:59 pm

Philippians: Christ, Our Confidence and Our Strength

The letter to the Philippians has been called not only the tenderest letter that Paul ever wrote, but also the most delightful. It brims over with expressions of praise. confidence and rejoicing, despite the fact that this is one of Paul's prison epistles, written in Rome during his first imprisonment.

You can find the background for this letter in the closing section of the book of Acts, and also in chapter sixteen, which tells of Paul's visit to Philippi and the founding of the church to which he later wrote this letter. You may remember reading of those exciting and danger-filled days when Paul and Silas were in Philippi together. They first met a group of women who were having a prayer meeting by the riverside. and to these women they spoke the Gospel. One of them, Lydia, a seller of purple goods (one who dyed garments for royalty and the wealthy), invited them into her home, and her name has been known throughout the centuries because of her kindness and hospitality to the apostle. In Lydia's home the church of Philippi began.

Paul's preaching throughout the city stirred up a great deal of interest and reaction. Finally it aroused the resentment of the rulers and he was thrown into jail. It was on that occasion, when he and Silas were locked in stocks down in the inner prison with their arms and heads held immobile, that an earthquake shook the prison, toppled the walls, and released the prisoners, setting them free. Then the Philippian jailer came running in and fell down before the apostle. Thinking his life was forfeit because the prisoners had escaped, he cried out in those words that have been the subject of so many gospel sermons,

"Men, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30b RSV)

The apostle's answer was brief and to the point,

"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:31b RSV)

Paul later went on to the cities of Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and other places in Greece. But now as he writes to the Philippians, he is in Rome, a prisoner of Nero. Although he is allowed to stay in his own rented house, awaiting trial before the Emperor Nero, he is chained day and night to a Roman soldier. Paul knew his life could easily be forfeit when he appeared before Nero. And yet this epistle glows with radiance and joy, confidence and strength. It is a great encouragement to any downcast or discouraged heart to read this letter to the Philippians. If you are going through times of pressure and trial, I urge you to read this little letter. It will encourage you greatly, especially if you remember the circumstances out of which it comes.

The letter is divided into four chapters which represent, for once, natural divisions within the text. The subject or theme of this letter is Jesus Christ and his availability for coping with the problems of life. The church at Philippi to which Paul wrote was not beset with serious doctrinal problems but only the normal, usual problems of everyday, commonplace existence -- Christians who did not get along with one another, and incipient divisions within the church created by certain persons who were trying to mislead others with ideas not quite in accord with the Christian faith. To deal with these problems, Paul designed this epistle as a guide for ordinary living. It faces the normal problems a Christian has, and proclaims the victory which a Christian can appropriate in overcoming these problems. The recurring theme, running throughout the letter, is that of joy and rejoicing. Repeatedly the apostle uses phrases like, "Rejoice, and again I say rejoice, rejoice in your sufferings, rejoice in your difficulties.' This becomes, then, a letter in which we are instructed how to live victoriously and joyously in the midst of the normal difficulties of life.

The four chapters present Christ in four different aspects. The themes are caught up for us in four key verses that appear in these chapters. He is presented in chapter one as our life -- Christ our life. I think you will immediately recognize the key verse of Chapter 1. It sets forth this idea that Christ is our life. In verse 21 the apostle says,

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 RSV)

I think often times we read that verse as though it were the cry of a man fed up with life, who could hardly wait to get to heaven, who had had it. He was in difficulty with pressures and problems and he just longed to go to heaven and get away from it all -- sort of a Christian escapism. We usually put the emphasis at the end of the sentence, "to die is gain." I think this reflects a very common attitude that we Christians sometimes have -- that we would like to get away from it all. We do not like living life the way we have to live it, and we look longingly to heaven and sing songs like Sometimes I Grow Homesick for Heaven.

But that is not what Paul is saying at all. If you look closely you will see that he is really saying, "I don't know which to choose. To me to live is to have Christ and to die is to gain heaven, but if I had to choose, I don't know which I'd choose. To live is to experience Christ who is my life. Thus life is continual adventure and excitement and I can hardly wait to live it." This certainly indicates that he was not fed up with life at all, nor was he discouraged because of his circumstances. The entire context of the passage confirms this. Writing to these Philippians he says, "Don't be disturbed about me, brethren. You hear that I'm in prison, but let me tell you something. My circumstances have served to advance the Gospel, and my imprisonment has made it possible for the Gospel to be spread in Rome as it never has before. And I'm not discouraged; I'm rejoicing. Furthermore. the other Christians in Rome are stirred up and are preaching around the city."

A unique evangelistic enterprise was occurring. the like of which has perhaps never been seen before or since, and he tells them what it is. God had designed a plan for reaching the Roman Empire that Paul never dreamed of. And do you know whom he made head of the arrangements committee? Nero, the Emperor! Paul tells us in verse 13,

...it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; (Philippians 1:13 RSV)

If you read between the lines, you can see what was happening. Nero, the Emperor, had commanded that every six hours one of the finest young men in the whole Roman Empire, from the elite who constituted his personal bodyguard, would be brought in and chained to the Apostle Paul in order that Paul might instruct him in the things of Christ. Isn't that amazing? One by one they were coming to Christ, and there was being formed a picked band of young men, the very keenest, most intelligent, finest and strongest young men of the empire. If you do not believe that, look at the last chapter of the letter, where in the next to last verse he says,

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. (Philippians 4:22 RSV)

Now isn't that a unique plan for evangelizing the Roman Empire? But that is the kind of God Paul had, and that is why he could say, "To me, to live is Christ. I don't know what he is going to do next but this is exciting, this is adventurous, and to step out into the daily adventure of a new experience with Jesus Christ captivates me. I don't know which to choose, whether to live this exciting life or to die and be with him." Now that is what life in Christ means.

We know that Christ died for us, but it was in order that he might live in us. The experience of the outworking of Christ's life in us is what turns life on, and makes it a vital, glorious experience. You cannot read the first chapter of this letter without seeing how thoroughly the Apostle Paul had discovered this. Even as he contemplates appearing before Nero he says,

For I know through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:19-20)

What had made the difference? This man had found the secret that God intended for humanity -- God indwelling man. It takes God to be a man. And no life is complete that does not have God in it. Paul had found this out, to the glory of his day-by-day existence, and he never forgot it. He lived life to the fullest in the knowledge that Christ is our life.

In Chapter 2 he applies this secret in a different way. Here he deals with the problem of the disunity which was threatening some of the saints at Philippi. The fact was that certain ones among them were quarreling, and there were divisions within the body of the church. This is constantly happening in almost any church. People get irritated with each other, they get upset by the way other people do things. They do not like the attitude that someone displays or his tone of voice. Then cliques and divisions, which are always destructive to the life and vitality of a church, tend to develop. So Paul points out to these people that Christ is our example in settling difficulties and problems.

The key passage that sets this forth begins in chapter 2, verse 5,

Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 2:5 RSV)

That sounds strange, doesn't it, "Have this mind which you have?" What he means, of course, is that you have the mind of Christ, since you have Christ. All right, let it be expressed. Allow it to come forth. Let it show itself. And what is the characteristic of this mind? Paul goes on to tell us,

...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (Philippians 2:6 RSV)

The phrase "to be grasped" means to be held onto at all costs. He did not count the fact that he was equal with the Father -- one with God the Father and God the Spirit, one of the three persons of the triune God -- a thing to be held onto at all costs. Think of that! The greatest relationship that could possibly be true of any g or person was his. But rather than clutching it to himself,

...emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8 RSV)

That was the self-condescension of Jesus Christ. It was the emptying out of all that he held of value in his life. And this, says Paul, is the mind of Jesus Christ. In your quarrels, one with another, have this attitude toward each other. Do not hang onto your rights at all costs. How apropos this is in these days, when we hear so often about clinging to "my rights," and that we should insist upon "our rights." How different is Christ's example!

In this connection I can never forget the incident that Dr.H.A. Ironside used to relate. When he was a boy of only eight or ten years of age his mother took him to a business meeting of Christians. Two men were having a quarrel -- he didn't remember what it was about -- but one of them stood up and pounded on the desk, and said, "I don't care what the rest of you do, all I want is my rights." Sitting in the front row was a dear old Scottish man, somewhat hard of hearing, who cupped his hand behind his ear, leaned forward, and said, "Aye, brother, what's that you say? What do you want?" The fellow said, "Well, I just said that all I want is my rights, that's all." And the old Scot replied, "Your rights, brother, is that what you want, your rights? If you had your rights, you'd be in hell. The Lord Jesus didn't come to get his rights, he came to get his wrongs. And he got them." The fellow who had been bickering stood transfixed for a moment. Then he sat down and said, "You're right. Settle it any way you like." And in a few moments the argument was settled. Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who gave up his rights, and humbled himself, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. But don't stop there. What was the result?

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 RSV)

When he gave up his rights, God gave him every right in the universe. He put his problem in God's hands, and God the Father vindicated him. This is what Paul is saying to quarreling Christians -- give up your rights. Don't insist on them. He says, "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves."

The opening words of Chapter 2 are his practical application of this truth.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2 RSV)

Paul goes on in the rest of the chapter to show that when anyone decides to do this, God will be at work. It is God who works in you, he says, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13b RSV). Paul closes the chapter by mentioning two of his co-workers who exemplified these very attributes, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was faithful, and Paul says of him,

I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's worth you know... (Philippians 2:20-22a RSV)

Epaphroditus had come from these saints at Philippi and had brought a gift from them to Paul, and then had fallen desperately ill. They had heard about his sickness and were troubled. Paul says that they were right to be concerned, as he was very ill, but that God had had mercy on him and now he was sending him back to them. He says,

So receive him in the Lord with all joy; and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me. (Philippians 2:29-30 RSV)

He gave up his rights. Have this mind which is in you -- Christ's mind, Christ's example. I think that if we would put that admonition into practice we would be different people. There would be no quarreling within churches and no divisions among Christians.

Chapter 3 sets forth Christ again, this time as our confidence -- Christ our confidence, our motivating power. He is the One who moves us to want earnestly what we ought to want and who makes us confident that it can be achieved. I do not think there is any quality in life in more desperate demand than confidence. Who is not looking for motivation? All the courses on personality buildup are designed to try to give us the spark that energizes, that motivates us, that makes us want to do what we ought to do and would like to do. All this, the apostle says, we find in Jesus Christ. He is the motivator. Paul puts it strongly in the well known verse 10 of chapter 3,

...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection... (Philippians 3:10a RSV)

For contrast he outlines the things that motivated him and gave him confidence, or rather, a false sense of confidence before he became a Christian. In verse 3 he describes Christians as those who should worship God in spirit, glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. But that is the problem with us. We are constantly trying to build up confidence in the flesh -- in the principle of self-effort. That is the philosophy underlying all the personality buildup courses -- Dale Carnegie. the Powers Girls and all the others -- an attempt to teach us confidence in the flesh. Paul lists the training that he had had in that. He tells those who think they have reason for confidence in the flesh to look over his qualifications. "These," he says Philippians 3:4-5 RSV), "are the things in which I had pride and confidence: first, in my ancestry -- I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrewsquot; -- an absolute Boston blueblood. You can't beat that for ancestry. Furthermore, he says, "I was proud of my orthodoxy -- as to the Law, a Pharisee, the strictest sect of my religion. I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. And then I was proud of my activity -- as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church. And then of my morality -- as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But now," he says, "whatever these things were to me, I count everything as loss because I have found that Christ could be my confidence. All the confidence I once got from these secondary sources I found to be of absolutely no value compared to that which Jesus Christ gives. And in resting upon his life in me, I have found so much more, that now all these other things are but dross, but dung, but refuse compared to what Christ gives" Philippians 3:6-8 RSV)-- Christ our confidence.

In the latter part of chapter 3 he sets in contrast those who seek secondary values in the guise of religion. He says,

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19 RSV)

But on the contrary, those whose confidence is in Christ do not end with this life, but we look for a city, a commonwealth which is in heaven and from it we await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, to change our lowly bodies to be like his, by the resurrection power which enables him to subject all things to himself.

Then in chapter 4 you see Christ not only as our motivator. but Christ our strength, our energizer. Not only does he move us to want the right things, but he makes it possible for us to do them. He provides the dynamic that fulfills the desire. It is mental torture to a give a person great desire but then not to give him the ability to fulfill it. That is a certain recipe for frustration. So the apostle closes with the declaration that Christ gives complete fulfillment. He supplies our strength as well as our desire. In verse 13 he declares:

I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 RSV)

How practical some of these things can be is demonstrated in the context. First there is the problem of getting along with others. There were two ladies in the church at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche. We know they were ladies because in the Greek the form of their names is feminine. (Of course, you all remember the story of the man who couldn't quite pronounce these names but read them this way, "I entreat Odius and I entreat Soontouchy to agree in the Lord.") Unfortunately we still have in our churches odious people and soon-touchy people -- those whose feelings get hurt very easily and those who delight in hurting others' feelings. But the apostle says, "I beseech you, be of the same mind in the Lord," (Philippians 4:2 KJV). How? "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," (Philippians 4:13 KJV). That is the secret. And then there is the matter of worry.

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

What a recipe for peace in the midst of anxiety! How many have tried it and found that it works? Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything -- there is a counteraction proposed. Do not just sit there and fret or turn your mind off. Do not suppress your anxieties. Pray to the Lord about them, with thanksgiving, and leave them with him. And the peace of God, which you will never be able to understand -- where it comes from or how it gets there -- will possess your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Christ is our strength.

Finally there is the matter of poverty. Paul says,

Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state 1 am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. (Philippians 4:11-12 RSV)

And he passes it on to the Philippians.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 RSV)

Christ our strength.

This letter embodies the secret of a man who ran the full course, who fought the good fight, who kept the faith. This is his explanation of how he did it. We who live in this 20th century -- with its perils and problems, its frustrations, its anxieties, its pressures -- need to discover and understand this because we have the same One indwelling us who indwelt the Apostle Paul. Christ is our life; Christ is our example; Christ is our confidence; and Christ is our strength.
Prayer:

And now our Father, we ask you to grant that these words will take root in our hearts and lives. May we be not merely hearers of the word but doers also. Keep us from deceiving ourselves and going away from here having heard these great truths but unwilling to do them. Grant to us that we may begin at whatever level we find ourselves, whether we be young or old, in school, at home, at work, or wherever we are. Make us ready to test these promises, to step out on these mighty truths, and discover with the Apostle Paul the joy that floods the heart of someone who experiences Christ as a living Lord, and the one who can help us to live a daily adventure of new discovery with him. For we ask it in his name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Tue Aug 09, 2011 9:08 pm

Colossians: Power to Endure with Joy

Most of the letters that Paul wrote to the churches were written to those that he had started himself. But he did not begin the church at Rome, nor did he begin the church at Colossae. It is not certain who started the church at Colossae, but it is very likely a man mentioned in certain of Paul's other letters -- Epaphroditus, or, since that was too long a name for even the Greeks to say, Epaphras. He is mentioned in this letter as being from Colossae, and is very likely the one who founded the church. Where he had heard the Gospel we do not know, but he had evidently taken it to his own home town and had begun to proclaim Christ. Out of that proclamation had come the church at Colossae.

Epaphroditus had gone to Rome to see the Apostle Paul, who was then a prisoner, carrying with him reports of the church at Colossae. Another man had also gone to Rome to see Paul during his first imprisonment, and he too brought reports of the church at Colossae. So it was to these new Christians who had never met the apostle face to face that Paul wrote the letter from Rome.

It was written at about the same time as the letter to the Philippians, and you will notice that it is very similar in its structure and content to the letter to the Ephesians. They were probably written at about the same time, during Paul's first imprisonment, and are therefore called the Prison Epistles of the Apostle Paul. The primary difference between the Ephesians and Colossians is that the Colossians had a problem, and it is on this problem that the apostle is primarily focusing. They were on the verge of losing their understanding of the power by which Christian life is lived. Therefore, this letter is the great proclamation and explanation of the power of the Christian's life through Christ as the resource of the individual.

The theme of this letter can be expressed by these words which are part of the apostle's introductory prayer for the Colossian Christians:

May you be strengthened with all power[that is why he wrote the letter], according to his glorious might[that is the subject of the letter to the Colossians]. (Colossians 1:11a RSV)

Since Paul had never been to Colossae, he begins the letter with certain references to himself as an apostle and with greetings to these people, with thanksgiving for the faith that he has heard is prevalent among them, and for their love and joy and for other evidence that these people have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have been radically transformed.

That is always the mark that the apostles looked for. Whenever they heard of other Christians they expected to hear that something had happened to them, that they had become a different kind of people, that they weren't going on, as many Christians attempt to do today, utterly unchanged in their attitudes or their outlooks. But to the first-century Christians, becoming a Christian meant a radical transformation, resulting from a revolutionary change of government. This was evident in these Colossian Christians. Now the apostle writes to them and thanks God for what he has heard about them. He comments upon their faith and then prays for them. This prayer is one of the most refreshing and delightful prayers in the New Testament (1:9-12):

From the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the lord, fully pleasing to him, hearing fruit In every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share In the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-12 RSV)

Beginning on that note then, he sets forth for them the source of all power in the Christian life -- Jesus Christ himself.

One of the strongest and most glorious proclamations concerning his essential deity is found in this passage (1:15):

He is the image of the invisible God... (Colossians 1:15a RSV)

An image is an exact expression. He is declaring here that in the man Jesus we have the exact expression of all that God is. And furthermore, he is,

...the first-born of all creation... (Colossians 1:15b RSV)

Perhaps you have had the experience of finding a couple on your doorstep with little green books under their arms, announcing themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses and asking if they may come in and tell you the truth about life and the Bible. If you let them in, sooner or later they turn to this passage to show you that Jesus Christ was not God, but he was essentially a creature -- the highest of the creatures of creation -- and they use this term the first-born of all creation to bolster their argument. They say that this means that Jesus was the first one ever created. (There is, of course, a sense in which this word first-born does have that meaning. In referring to our children, we say that the oldest one is the first-born because he or she appeared first on the scene.) That is one of the slick devices by which the cults propagate their errors. It is very subtle because it seems to be logical and scriptural.

But what they are doing is giving the term a modern meaning, which is quite different from the usage in the New Testament. Here, the word "first-born" means the heir, or the chief -- the principal one, the owner. This phrase, "the first-born of all creation," means that the Lord Jesus stands in relationship to creation just as an heir stands in relationship to his father's property. He is not part of it, but rather, he is the owner of it, the heir.

This term is used in various ways in the Old Testament. There are two specific instances where the one who is born second is the first-born of the family. In the case of Isaac and Ishmael, Ishmael was born first, but Jacob was the first-born. So you see, Jesus was not the first one of a line of creation, but the heir of all creation -- the owner of it. And this fits with what the apostle goes on to say (1:16):

In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 RSV)

If you look carefully at the Jehovah's Witnesses' little green translation of the Scriptures, you will notice that in order to substantiate their lie about Jesus Christ, they've inserted the word "other" in these phrases. "All other things were created by him. In him all other things were created." But there is absolutely no warrant whatsoever in the Greek text for the insertion of the word "other." This is a clear instance of the kind of deceitfulness to which these people will stoop in order to propagate their lies.

Now here is Paul's great declaration. Here is the Lord Jesus. He is declaring him to be the creator. The One who flung all the worlds into being, who was present with God (and who was God) when the great words went out, "Let there be light; let the earth bring forth," and all the other great declarations of creation that are recorded in Genesis. It was the Lord who did this, and, furthermore, as Paul goes on to say (1:17):

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

Now it is one of the puzzles of science why things hold together. We know that everything we can touch is made up of tiny atoms that consist of electrons buzzing around a nucleus. And anything that rotates or revolves has a force that projects outward -- centrifugal force. Therefore, things ought to be blowing up. Because of this centrifugal force, every atom ought to be flying apart. Well, what holds it together? Science cannot answer. Scientists say it is an unnamed force. That always interests me, because it reminds me of Paul's experience in Athens when he found the people worshipping an unknown god. It is the unknown God that science is struggling with today: his name is Jesus of Nazareth. By him are all things held together, and all power in the natural world comes from him.

But further, the apostle says -1:18-:

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead. (Colossians 1:18 RSV)

Twice he uses this term, the first-born. He is the first-born of the old creation; he is the first-born of the new creation -- the resurrection -- the first-born from the dead. Now that does not mean that he was the first one ever to be raised from the dead, because scripture records others who preceded him. But he is the One who is the heir, the Lord of all the new creation. He is the head of the new creation, as the apostle tells us, and we are part of a new body, the new race of men that God is forming through the centuries, and of that body, Jesus Christ is the head. From him, then, flows all power -- resurrection power.

It is my increasing conviction that the problem with most Christians is that they do not understand what the Bible teaches about resurrection power. If they had any idea what this power is like and how it operates, and the areas and situations in which it is intended to operate, they would never again live as they live now. They would be entirely different. I do not mean that they would be dazzling people, making great displays of power and moving mountains. It does not take resurrection power to do that.

Resurrection power is quiet. It is the kind of power that was evident in the Lord Jesus. It was not the fact that he came from the tomb that dazzled the eyes of the soldiers there, nor that it produced the earthquake. He came from the tomb absolutely without a sound. The stone was rolled away, not to let him out, but to let people in, so they could see that the tomb was empty. There was no sound, no demonstration. There was the quiet, inexorable power of a risen life which no mechanical or natural power can possibly resist. This is what God has released to us. A (quiet power that changes hearts and lives and attitudes, making everything over from within. That is resurrection power. It flows to us from the head of the new creation, the risen Christ, the source of all power.

Now Paul goes on to show who are the intended recipients of this power (1:21-22):

You -- who were estranged and hostile in minds, doing evil deeds... (Colossians 1:21 RSV)

That includes us all, doesn't it? We all belong in this category. And we are the ones through whom this power is now to operate.

...he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him... (Colossians 1:22 RSV)

Then Paul gives us the demonstration in his own life of this power. He says that God called him and set him up in the ministry to proclaim a mystery, and he tells us again what it is (1:25-27);

...to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations... (Colossians 1:25b-26a RSV)

You will not find it explained in the Old Testament. It was experienced there, but it was never explained.

...but now made manifest to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, (Colossians 1:26b-27a)

What is it?

Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27b RSV)

Christ living in you. This is the supreme declaration of the Christian church. You have never preached the Gospel until you have told men that not only will their sins be forgiven when they come to Christ, but that he, himself, will live within them -- to do through them everything they are expected to do. He died for us, so that he might live in us. This is the full glory of the Christian Gospel.

Now notice how Paul experienced this. He says (1:28-29):

Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy... (Colossians 1:28-29a RSV)

Where does the energy come from? This amazing apostle, with his indefatigable journeying night and day, through shipwreck and hardship of every kind, working with his hands, laboring, traveling up and down the length and breadth of the entire Roman empire, is ceaseless in his endeavors. Where does he get the energy? Would you like to know? He says (1:28-29):

...striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires with me. (Colossians 1:29b RSV)

Christ in you! The hope of glory. Now that is why I say if Christians would begin to understand what it is that God has made available to them, they would never be the same again. We would never have to plead with people in the church to take on needed enterprises, ministries, or teaching Sunday School. We would not be met with the excuse, "Oh, I just don't have the strength to do it. I don't have the energy." You see, here is a source of energy, Paul says, that is constant and consistent and which flows through him, created by the Spirit of God indwelling him. As he saw the task, he moved to meet it with energy which God gave. That is resurrection power.

Now, in chapter two, we have the warning against certain false powers which would woo us away from the true power Christ has given us. These warnings are as valid and relevant today as they were when Paul wrote them. Certain things among men are always regarded as sources of power. If you can obtain these, you can be a powerful individual; your personality will be strong and radiant. You will be a dynamic leader of men. You have seen advertisements in which this kind of language appears; "For just ten dollars you'll get a course that will transform you within fifteen days into a dynamic leader. You'll never be the same again."

There are many more subtle approaches offering us power, but they all come largely through the three avenues outlined here by Paul. First of all, though, he reminds us of the glory of Jesus Christ (2:3):

In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3 RSV)

We have all that it takes to live life in him, and in verse six he says,

As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, (Colossians 2:6 RSV)

You have got what it takes, now live it out, let it show.

...rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6b RSV)

Have you ever read that verse before? Abounding in grumbling is the way it sounds to us, sometimes, doesn't it? But Paul says, abounding in thanksgiving. Now what robs us of that? Well first, the idea that power comes from human knowledge. Verse 8:

See to it[says the apostle] that no one makes a prey of you [literally, kidnaps you] by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 RSV)

I do not know how many instances of this kind of kidnapping I have seen, or how many failures of faith on the part of young people going to college to study. Young people who have been raised in Christian homes, but who have been exposed to the wily, subtle teachings of human wisdom, have lost their faith and turned away from the things of Christ, often going off into wild and riotous living. Why? Because no one warned them, or else they did not heed the warning to avoid being made a prey of human knowledge. Now this sounds, at first, as though the Gospel is anti-intellectual. But the Bible is not against knowledge. It is against knowledge that does not come under the judgment of the Word of God.

The apostle analyzes what is wrong with human knowledge. There are many things that are right. There is much truth in what man has discovered through the centuries. This we must readily admit. But Paul points out first that the source is suspect, because it comes from tradition. Tradition is the gradually accumulated body of knowledge built up bit by bit through the centuries and passed along from one generation to another. Consequently, human knowledge is made up of great quantities of truth mingled with error, with no way of distinguishing between the two. Those who accept it uncritically are bound to accept as much error as they do truth. It will lead them, therefore, into mistaken concepts and erroneous and injurious ideas.

In the second place, he says, human knowledge is according to the elemental spirits of the universe. What does that mean? Paul is referring here to the dark powers that, as he brings out in other letters, govern the minds of men, darken their intellects and limit their understanding. Human knowledge, then, is essentially rudimentary. That is, it is elementary. It stays on the periphery of truth, never getting to the real heart of things. That is why you can have a university community, saturated with the highest exponents of human knowledge, and yet filled with vileness, corruption, unrest, distress, with a high suicide rate and evidences of decay and deterioration on every side. Human knowledge does not go to the heart of things as the Word of God does. The two compliment each other, but there must be a critical evaluation of the words, as they are subjected to the wisdom of God.

The final objection Paul makes is that it is not according to Christ. Therefore, human wisdom lacks the ability to insert the great positives into life. It is essentially negative. It does not produce the qualities of love, truth, joy, peace and power that come only from Jesus Christ.

He shows us, then, that the answer to the lure of human wisdom is the judgment of the cross. The cross has delivered us and cuts us off from trust and admiration for human wisdom as such. We are brought to the place where we can judge these things and see their moral values properly in the light of the Word of God.

Paul goes on to indicate another false source of power, which also leads many people astray (verses 16-17):

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only an shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 RSV)

In that same vein he continues in verse 20:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as If you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch[referring to things which all perish as they are used], according to human precepts and doctrines? (Colossians 2:20-22 RSV)

What false source is this? It is the power that supposedly comes from a dedicated zeal for God. It manifests itself in the keeping of days and special feasts and regulations and ascetical practices -- flogging the body, wearing a hair shirt, laboring long hours out of zeal for the cause. All these things look like sources of power. Sometimes we cannot help but admire the zealousness of individuals who get themselves all wrapped up in a cause. But, says the apostle, they are tricking themselves. They do not discover real power (verse 23):

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, (Colossians 2:23a RSV)

There is a kind of false humility that is produced by this kind of behavior. It extracts a grudging admiration from us, but look what the apostle says:

...they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:23b RSV)

You see, you can wear a hair shirt and be filled with lust. You can beat your body black and blue and still be guilty all the time of thinking lascivious thoughts. These things provide no check to the indulgence of the flesh. Therefore, there is no power here to lead the kind of life that we must live.

Now he mentions a third source of false power -verse 18-:

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind. (Colossians 2:18 RSV)

What does he mean here? We are hearing a lot about this these days. If you get in touch with the invisible spirits, you will have power. If you contact the dead, and get messages from them, you will have an unseen source of power which will enable you to live as other people cannot live. These Colossians were troubled with these influences as we are troubled with them today. We are seeing a great increase on every hand of this turning to the occult -- to astrology, to the black and devious arts, to magic, to seances. All of this is a satanic substitute for the power of Jesus Christ -- the indwelling power of Christ.

Now, in chapter three, the apostle turns to the true manifestation of power and how to lay hold of the power of Christ (verses 1-2):

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things the are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 2:1-2 RSV)

That does not mean that we should go around constantly thinking about heaven. There is nothing super-pious about this. He is simply saying, "Don't let your desires and your attitudes be governed or directed by desires for earthly fame or power. Instead, let your desires be shaped by the word of God." We are to have a desire to exhibit love, truth, faith, and patience -- the qualities that mark the life of the risen Lord. That is what he's talking about. We are not to go around thinking about heaven all the time. We are to go around manifesting heaven in the situations in which we find ourselves.

Paul gives us the recipe for doing this:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you; (Colossians 3:5a RSV)

God has already sentenced it to death on the cross. When it manifests itself in you, treat it like that -- as under the sentence of death from God. He goes on to list these earthly things:

...immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, (Colossians 3:5b RSV)

And then he moves over into our area:

...now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foolish talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, (3:8-9a RSV)

Put these away. That is step number one. Step two is in verse 12:

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together. (Colossians 3:12-14a RSV)

What does he mean by this? That we try to imitate Christ in this respect? Oh no. You see, he has already told us that Christ dwells in us. Having him there, he says, now deliberately let these things be manifest in you. Deliberately set yourself to manifest these characteristics of his life. Count on his life in you to make them real and not phoney -- genuine, authentic manifestations of his life. The apostle lists certain areas in which these are to be made manifest:

Wives, be subject to your husbands...Husbands, love your wives...Children, obey your parents...Fathers, do not provoke your children...Slaves, obey... your earthly masters...Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly... (Colossians 3:18-4:1 RSV)

And he concludes with these practical admonitions:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; and pray for us also... (Colossians 4:2-3a RSV)

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders... (Colossians 4:5a RSV)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt... (Colossians 4:6a RSV)

In the last section of the letter there are simply some personal greetings from men who are with Paul. These men, too, are demonstrations of the power of an indwelling Christ at work. He concludes the letter, as was his custom, by taking the pen in his own hand and writing:

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my fetters. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:18 RSV)

Now I want to return once more to that verse in the first chapter which is the key to this letter:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might... (Colossians 1:11a RSV)

That is tremendous, isn't it? You want that, don't you? Christ's power, Christ's life, manifested in you. What do you want it for? So you can dazzle everybody? So you can go around performing miracles, doing startling things that will get your name in the paper? Is that why? Read what Paul wants you to have it for:

...for all endurance and patience with joy... (Colossians 1:11b RSV)

Underline those words. That is where resurrection power is made manifest. The world cannot produce that kind of living. It does not know how to take trials with a smile, to endure hardships with faith and patience and joy. As far as the world is concerned, this takes an unknown kind of power the power that is resident only in Jesus Christ. This power will transform our hardships and our difficulties into joyful experiences, not just phony manifestations of joy. They are genuine. We learn things from these trials. If our heart is right with Christ, if we are putting off the old and putting on the new we discover that these experiences, instead of producing grumbling, griping, and complaining provide a basis for joy, as we are "strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might."
Prayer:

Thank you, our Father, for this first-century book that speaks to our twentieth century lives, and shows us that not one thing has changed. Not one thing in our world is different from the world these early Christians faced. Not one thing is different about our relationship to Jesus Christ. We, too, can live as they lived, in joy, gladness and thanksgiving in the midst of this life. We pray that we may discover this truth by acting upon these admonitions which Paul has given us. We pray in Jesus' name Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:14 am

1 Thessalonians: Hope for a Hopeless World

The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians is also the first letter the apostle wrote. It was written to a struggling, yet vigorous church that was only a few months old, made up of Christians who had just come to Christ under Paul's ministry. This is a delightfully revealing letter, showing the heart of the apostle toward these new Christians, and also showing the struggles that were present in the early church.

We sometimes get very distorted conceptions of these early Christians; there's a tendency to regard them as always triumphant, always waging the battle with vigor, and always winning great victories in Christ's name. But they also had very severe problems, some of which are reflected in this letter. It was written about 50 A.D., and may well be the first part of our New Testament to be written. Most scholars feel that the gospels were written about this same time or shortly afterward, though some hold that the gospel of Matthew, and perhaps of Mark, appeared about 43 or 45 A.D. At any rate, this letter is at least one of the earliest Christian writings.

The account of Paul's founding of this church is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Acts. After he and Silas were thrown into prison in Philippi because of their preaching of the Gospel, an earthquake shook down the prison doors and freed the prisoners. Paul was then freed by the Roman magistrates, and he left Philippi and went to Thessalonica. Many of the places where Paul preached have crumbled into ruin, but Thessalonica is still a thriving, bustling metropolis. It was then the capital of Macedonia, but it is now in Greece proper, and is called Salonika.

From the account in Acts, we learn that Paul had only been there about three weeks when persecution began and he had to leave the city for his own safety. He went down to Athens and from there he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how these Christians were doing. He was very disturbed about them; he felt that perhaps the persecution they were undergoing would drive them from their faith.

He went on to Corinth where he founded a church after several months of difficult labor. After some time, Timothy returned to him at Corinth, bringing word of how the Thessalonians were doing, and of some of the problems they were facing. As we read this little letter through, we can recognize them as the kind of problems that we also face.

For one thing, wherever the Apostle Paul went, he was hounded by a group of Jews who spread the rumor that because he was not one of the original twelve, he was not a genuine apostle. This was not only a problem for Paul, but also for the Thessalonians. Furthermore, the pagans of Thessalonica were severely persecuting the Christians -- threatening them, and taking away their property -- so these early Christians, perhaps only three or four weeks old in the Lord, were called upon to endure hard things for the cause of Christ.

In that city, as in all the Greek cities, sexual promiscuity was common -- was even regarded as a religious right -- and to live a life of chastity was to be regarded as a freak. Therefore, as is the case today, there was great pressure upon these new Christians to fall into line with the common sex practices of their day.

Then the major problem of this church was that the second coming of Jesus Christ was greatly misunderstood. The apostle had evidently told them something, but they were confused about this, which produced another grave problem. Some of them were expecting Christ to come back so imminently that they had actually stopped working and were waiting for him to come. Since they weren't earning a living, somebody had to take care of them, and they were leeches on the rest of the congregation. Also, there were tensions developing between the congregation and the church leaders which needed some admonition to settle, and finally, there were those who were somewhat indifferent to the Holy Spirit's work among them, and to the truth of God as it was being proclaimed in the Scriptures.

Do those problems sound familiar? We can consider ourselves in very similar circumstances as this church at Thessalonica. The letter itself divides simply into two major divisions. In the first three chapters the apostle is just unloading his heart to them concerning his relationship to them, and this is followed by a very practical section with advice on how to behave in the midst of the pressures in which we live.

In this first section Paul pours his heart out for these early Christians. He is afraid they might have misunderstood his leaving Thessalonica, as though he had abandoned them to persecution, so he reminds them that he had just come through a terrible time of persecution himself in Philippi, and that his own heart was deeply concerned for them. The key to this is in the very beginning:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope... (1 Thessalonians 2-3a RSV)

Those three things marked these Thessalonian believers -- their work of faith, their labor of love, and their endurance in hope. These are detailed more clearly farther down, in the latter part of verse nine, where we read, "how you turned to God from idols" (1 Thessalonians 1:9b RSV)-- that was the work of faith; they turned to God from these pagan idols they were worshipping, and "to serve a living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9c RSV) -- that was their labor of love; they became an available instrument for the love of God, and third, "to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:10 RSV). And there is the expression of the patience, waiting in hope for his Son from heaven.

Now interestingly enough, those three things also form a little outline, built right into the text, to guide you in understanding the first three chapters. The work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope -- chapter one, chapter two, chapter three.

We might say of these early Christians, "they dropped out, tuned in, and turned on." They dropped out of the stream of society, the world in which they lived, (not out of contact with it: in fact, they spread the Gospel through the whole area); they dropped out of the attitudes, the power structures, and the values of the world in which they lived. And they tuned in to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and received the word.

Here the apostle is reminding us that the word he spoke was not the word of men: it came "not only in word," he said, "but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 1:5b RSV). And they turned on, as they waited with expectation for the coming of the Son of God. They has a reason for living, they had a purpose, and they had a hope in the midst of the hopelessness around them.

An archaeological excavation team, working in this very city of Thessalonica, has turned up an ancient, first-century graveyard. And there among the pagan tombstones they found one which was inscribed in Greek with these words: "No Hope." But here, in a church in the midst of that city, there were those who had found the endurance based on hope; they were looking for the coming of the Son of God. That is what keeps the heart calm in the midst of perils and persecutions. That is what makes it possible to watch the world apparently coming apart at the seams and maintain quietness; God is in control, and he knows what he's doing. And thus Paul encourages these Thessalonians with these words.

Chapter two is a wonderful description of the labor of love -- not their labor, this time -- but Paul's, and here you have a marvelous description of his ministry (Chapter 2:9-12):

For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 RSV)

...for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 RSV)

And they did that, for he says (verse 14):

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea. (1 Thessalonians 2:14a RSV)

This is the service, the labor of love.

Chapter three is an account of how Paul sent Timothy to them, and Timothy brought back word of the persecution they were undergoing, and yet of their steadfastness in the midst of it. And there is a wonderful description of the patience of hope, permitting them to endure difficulties with joy.

Chapters four and five, the practical section of this letter, are divided into four brief sections which take up the problems that were confronting this church. The first exhortation the apostle gives is to live cleanly in the midst of a sex-saturated society. These words have great importance to us who have to live in the same kind of society today, and he begins by reminding them that he had taught them how to live (verse 1):

Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1 RSV)

He had not taught them, as many people think Christianity teaches, that they ought to live a good, clean life. Buddhism teaches that. And most other faiths teach that you ought to live a moral life. But that alone is not what Christianity says; it teaches you how to live a good, clean life! And Paul reminds them that he had taught them "how to please God."

Now, what is it that pleases God? What one quality of life is essential to please God? Faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. A life of expectation that the God who lives in you will manifest his life through you is the kind of life that pleases God. It isn't a life of your efforts, struggling to live up to a standard that you've imposed upon yourself, or someone else has imposed upon you. It is a life in which you are constantly dependent upon the one who indwells you, to keep you able to do and to be what you ought to be.

This kind of life results, then, in a purity that is practiced. If Christians are practicing impurity, that is a clear revelation that they are not practicing a life of faith. But purity practiced is the sign of the principle perceived. Paul says,

For this is the will of God,[even] your sanctification: that you abstain from immorality;[that is the will of God]that each of you know how to take a wife for himself[possess his vessel, literally, or possess his body] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 RSV)

It is very clear, isn't it? We are told how to live cleanly.

The second problem he takes up is the matter of living honestly, in verses 9 through 12 of chapter four. They are to show love toward one another, and the practical manifestation of that is for every man to get busy and work with his hands and not have to depend upon somebody else for support; rather,

...to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands...so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 RSV)

That's practical, isn't it?

Now in verse 13, we come to the major problem this book addresses -- the misunderstanding about the coming of the Lord. These Thessalonian Christians had gotten the idea that when Jesus Christ returned to earth the second time to begin his millennial kingdom, those who were alive when he came back (and they were expecting him within their lifetime) would enter with him into this kingdom. But they were deeply troubled that those who had died in the meantime would somehow miss the benefits and the blessings of the millennium.

Now this probably arose because of a misunderstanding of the doctrine of resurrection. They were thinking in terms of one resurrection, a single event which would come at the end of the millennium, when the dead would be raised -- the good and the bad alike -- to stand before the judgment seat of God. And there are passages, of course, that do speak of a resurrection to come at the end of the millennium. But Paul points out that the resurrection does not proceed as a single event, but that groups of believers are resurrected at various times. Notice his argument:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep,[that is, who have died] that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 RSV)

In other words, these who have died are going to be raised again; and they'll come back with Jesus when he comes to establish his millennial reign.

Well, this presents another problem. How is it that they are going to come back with him bodily when their bodies have been placed in the grave? What reassurance can they have on this? "Ah," says the apostle, "let me give you a revelation from the Lord":

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord[this is an authoritative revelation] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord,[parousia, the presence of the Lord] shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 RSV)

In other words, there is an aspect of the Lord's coming, before his coming to establish the millennium reign. He is coming for his people, he is coming to gather those who are his to be with him, in his presence (parousia in Greek), before his return to establish the kingdom. The 'coming of the Lord' here does not refer to the 'second coming' of Christ. And at the time of this parousia the dead in Christ will be raised, so that we all will be with him when he's ready to establish his kingdom. So you see how this answered their problem? They need not grieve over those who have died; they'll actually precede those who are alive when the Lord comes for his own.

Now between that parousia the Lord's coming to establish the kingdom, we learn from other passages of Scripture that there will probably be about a seven year period. In the meantime the great tribulation occurs, and Paul now goes on to speak of this as he continues in the next chapter. He says to them,

But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 RSV)

Nobody can set a date for this event. It's going to come suddenly, quickly, and when the Lord comes in the parousia two great chains of events will be initiated. The Lord will begin one series of events in which all believers will be caught up to be with him, and at the same time, he will begin another series of events on earth known as the great tribulation, or in the Old Testament, "the day of the Lord."

Now there are two "days" we need to distinguish in Scripture: the day of the Lord, and the day of Christ. They both begin at exactly the same time, but they concern two distinct bodies of people. The day of Christ concerns believers, while the day of the Lord refers to what is happening to unbelievers during this time. And it is my personal conviction that when the Lord comes for his own, and the dead in Christ rise -- when we who are alive are caught up with them to be with the Lord -- that we don't leave this planet at all. We stay here with the Lord, visibly directing the events of the tribulation period as they break out in great judgmental sequences upon the ones who are living as mortals upon the earth -- the scenes that are vividly portrayed in the book of Revelation.

Now the apostle says to them that no one knows when this is going to happen:

When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:3-4 RSV)

It will surprise the people of the world like a thief, but it needn't surprise you like a thief, because you are looking forward to it -- you ought to be expecting it.

For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5 RSV)

Therefore, what should be the practical result? Well, don't go to sleep as others do, but keep awake and be sober. Don't act as though everything is going to go on as usual, but be aware of what God is doing and act accordingly. Remember these signs that Jesus gave that indicate the close approach of these events; these ought to make us aware that it is time to give ourselves more than we ever have before to the work of God. Paul says,

...keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:6b-8 RSV)

Now he's not talking about salvation from hell: he's speaking here of the salvation which is to come; that is, salvation from the wrath of God during the time of the judgment. He goes right on to say,

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep [whether we live until the coming of the Lord, or die beforehand] we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 RSV)

How completely he answered their problem! They did not need to be discouraged, or frightened, or distressed, but they could go on about their business, confident that God was in charge of affairs. And although times were difficult, they could busy themselves about the work of the Lord, knowing that they were only investing themselves in a certain future.

The last section speaks not only of living confidently, but of living peacefully in the midst of these conditions:

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a RSV)

There was some friction that was developing towards some of the church leaders, and Paul says, remember that these men are concerned about your soul's welfare, and although they may have to speak rather sharply at times, it's not because they want to hurt you, but to help you. Therefore, remember that and live at peace with them, and esteem them, and love them because they are concerned about you.

And furthermore,

Be at peace among yourselves... (1 Thessalonians 5:13b RSV)

and he gives some practical exhortations as to how to do that:

...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14b RSV)

And most important,

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. (1 Thessalonians 5:15 RSV)

That is probably one of the most frequently broken commands in Scripture. When somebody does something to us, what do we say? "Wait 'til I get even with you!" "I'm going to pay back if it's the last thing I do!" And yet, this is the very attitude which the Scriptures denounce as worldly thinking, outside of the grace and truth and love of Jesus Christ.

Then there are these beautiful verses,

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 RSV)

And after various other admonitions, his final prayer for them is beautiful:

May the God of peace himself[dwelling in you] sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 RSV)

What a wonderful letter this is! And all of this was addressed to new Christians, yet the apostle expected them to lay hold of these truths. In order to grow, there must be, as Jesus said, a constant hungering and thirsting after more; "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied," (Matthew 5:6 RSV). And it is this that the world is waiting to see, especially in these last days.
Prayer:

Our Heavenly Father, in many ways we recognize the days in which we live as very similar to the days in which this letter was written; yet from our vantage point of twenty centuries away, we can see that although their hopes burned brightly for the coming of the Lord, then, they were a long way from the goal. But how much more surely are these promises true for us; how much more certain can we be that we are in the days in which our Lord is moving world events to presage his coming! Lord, help us to walk in the light of this, as we've been exhorted and admonished by the Apostle Paul, earnestly and soberly, intelligently giving ourselves to first things first. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:13 pm

2 Thessalonians: Restrainers of Lawlessness

Before Jesus Christ left this earth he said that he would return, but that before his return there would be a time of difficulty and widespread lawlessness. The seams of society would come apart, and disorders, violence and riot would be so widespread that men's hearts would literally fail them for fear of the things that were coming on the face of the earth. And Jesus predicted the character of the age that would follow his ascension into heaven, and said that it would culminate in a time of great tribulation "such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be," (Matthew 24:21b RSV).

Now when Christians of Thessalonica were going through their time of trouble, many of them thought they were in that time of tribulation. It was to respond to this question that Paul wrote this second letter. In the first letter, he wrote to comfort them in their distress over their loved ones who had died, but this letter is written to correct certain misunderstandings they had about the "Day of the Lord," and this time of trouble.

There are three chapters in this little letter, and each one is a correction of a very common attitude that many people still have about disturbing times. The first chapter is devoted to a correction of the attitude of discouragement in the face of difficulty. These Christians were undergoing "persecutions" and "afflictions" and although they were bearing up with good grace, nevertheless, many of them were getting discouraged. "Why try any more?" they were saying; "There's no justice. Everything is always against us."

And to counteract that attitude, the apostle reminds them that the day when God would repay them for the difficulties they were going through was coming. Paul says (1:5-10):

This[your steadfastness] is evidence of the righteous Judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering -- since indeed God deems it just to repay[or to recompense] with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 RSV)

Although we in this country have not gone through much in the way of persecution, there are other parts of the world where intense persecution breaks out from time to time. If we lived in one of these places or times, we would appreciate the meaning of these words. Paul is reminding these people that God has not forgotten them -- that he is going to straighten things out at last. When people go through a time of great persecution, they say, "Isn't there going to be a time when this injustice is corrected? How can a man like Hitler get by with putting six million Jews to death? Won't things ever get straightened out?"

And Paul says, yes, a day is coming when a three-fold repayment will be made: first, to these believers who are undergoing such difficulty; the very trials that they're undergoing, Paul says, are making them worthy of the coming kingdom of God. That aspect of suffering is what makes us able to take it. It puts strength in our muscles and sharpens our moral equipment so that we're able to endure.

And then, he says, there will be a day of recompense to the "unbelieving." There will come a time when God will set them straight, when those who have misused their opportunity of service in life will face a righteous Judge who knows their hearts. His vengeance will have two aspects -- destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.

Hell is often pictured as a fiery furnace where people are dragging around in chains, being continually burned and never being able to do anything about it. The Bible does use some symbols of hell that reflect that idea, but hell is really exclusion from the presence of the Lord. God is the source of everything that is good -- beauty and truth, life and love, joy, peace, grace, strength, forgiveness. All those things come only from God, and if a man won't have them, then God finally says to him, "I've been trying my best to get you to take these, but if you won't have them, then you must have your own way." And they are shut out from the presence of the Lord.

And if they're shut away from the source of all goodness, then what's left? The opposite -- darkness and death That is what they had been dishing out, and that is what they will finally obtain. God will let them have their own way, and when they get it, it will be the last thing they want.

And then the Lord himself will be repaid on that day. He will come, Paul says (1:10):

...to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, (2 Thessalonians 1:10b RSV)

Notice that he doesn't say he is going to be glorified "by" his saints. But as the world sees the wisdom and the might of the God who can take a self-centered human being, full of anxieties and fears, and teach him how to walk in quietness and joy, rid of his guilt and his fears -- a man as God intended a man to be -- that is the greatest display the universe will ever see. And that glorifies God!

In chapter 2 you have another reaction to disturbing times -- fear. We read in these opening words (verses 1-2):

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, [really the word is troubled] either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 RSV)

These people had evidently received a letter from somebody signing Paul's name, telling them that in this terrible time of trouble all they had to look forward to was worse times. But Paul says, "don't be shaken in your mind." Literally, don't be shaken out of your wits by what's happening. I think many of our young people today are fearful, and striking out against society, because they don't know that God is in control of events.

"Well," Paul says, "in my last letter, I wrote to you about our gathering together unto Jesus. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will be raised, and we who remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. That's our gathering together unto him."

But now he says that the day of the Lord, this terrible time of judgment, is not the same as our gathering together unto him. But having introduced the subject of the day of the Lord, he goes on to tell them what it will be like and how they can tell it's coming. (2:3):

Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first. (2 Thessalonians 2:3a RSV)

I don't like that word, "rebellion." Literally translated. the word means the "departure" which of course could mean a departure from the faith, and thus, a rebellion. But I think it means the departure he just talked about -- the departure of the Church behind the scenes to be with the Lord in his second presence on earth.

And then he says (2:3-4):

...the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3c-4 RSV)

Now this is an amazing passage. When Jesus was here, he offered himself to the Jewish people as the promised Messiah, and most of them rejected him, so that John begins his gospel . saying, "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not," (John. 1:11 RSV). Jesus also had said to them, "I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive." (John 5:43 RSV). Thus he painted the picture of one who would appear to be a deliverer to the world, whom Paul calls the "man of lawlessness" and "the son of perdition." This character would be an utterly godless individual, and yet so remarkable that people would actually accept him as a divinely empowered being who could deliver them from their difficulties. (It is very interesting that statesmen, historians, politicians, and others are saying repeatedly today that we need a single worldwide leader who can unite all the various world forces, and bring us out into harmony and peace.) And he will be manifest, says Paul, in the temple of God.

When Paul wrote this letter in about 52 A.D., the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, but in 70 A.D. it was destroyed, and there has never been a temple in Jerusalem since. In some way, however, the Jews will find a way to reconstruct another temple on the site in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock is now. And it is in that temple that Paul says "the man of lawlessness" will take his seat.

Paul has a further comment on the subject --2:5-8--:

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed. (2 Thessalonians 5-8a RSV)

There was something at work which he called the mystery of lawlessness. One thing that has puzzled statesmen all through history is that they can never solve the basic difficulties of the human race. Why is it that we can come to a certain point in building good government, with widespread blessing and help for all, and then it all seems to crumble and fall apart? This has been the pattern of history. General Carlos Romulo, who was the Philippiansippine Ambassador to the United States, said, "We have harnessed the power of the atom, but how can we bridle the passions of men?" That is the problem -- this lawlessness, this spirit of rebellion against authority which is always the greatest danger to any nation.

But Paul says that something is restraining it. Something through the course of the centuries has been restraining lawlessness, preventing total anarchy. And Jesus told us what that is; he said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth; ..."(Matthew 5:13a RSV). "You are the light of the world," (Matthew 5:14a RSV). Salt prevents corruption from spreading: light dispels darkness, and it is the presence of the people of God on earth that restrains the forces of evil. This is a remarkable thing, yet it is the truth. Wherever godliness diminishes -- sometimes because of forces within the Church as well as without -- a spirit of lawlessness takes over.

But Paul says here that the restraint is going to be taken out of the way, and then the whole flood of human evil will be let loose upon the earth. And when that happens there will come the greatest time of trouble the world has ever seen. Yet, Paul says, it will come to an end (2:8-12):

The Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:8b-12 RSV)

This is the characteristic of the spirit of lawlessness -- deception -- and it must, and will be destroyed, by the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man who destroys the destroyer of earth.

Chapter 3 deals, finally, with the conduct of these believers in the face of difficulty and pressure. Paul was correcting here a third very widespread attitude that many have in times of difficulty -- what we might call "fanaticism." There were certain people in Thessalonica who were saying,"Why not just wait until he comes? Why should we concern ourselves about making a living? Let's just live and enjoy ourselves, and wait for his coming." So Paul says to them (3:6):

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:3 RSV)

Because, he says (11-13):

For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing. (2 Thessalonians 3:11-13 RSV)

As we get nearer to the time of his coming, Paul says, remember that your responsibility is to keep on living normally and working with your hands, taking care of your responsibilities. The Christian life is a normal, natural life, fulfilling all the responsibilities that God places upon us. So Paul rejects the attitude of fanaticism and says that we are to give ourselves to the task that God has set before us.

In this little letter, discouragement is answered by looking to the day when God sets everything straight. Fear is answered by remembering that God is in perfect control of human events, and things will take place just as he has predicted they will take place. And fanaticism is rejected with a specific command -- to be busy at the Lord's work. And then Paul closes with a very tender gesture. He says,

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; It is the way I write. (2 Thessalonians 3:17 RSV)

What is? The words with which he closes the letter:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:18 RSV)

And if you look at the letters of Paul, you'll find that they all close this way. He always took the pen from his secretary and wrote in his own hand, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."

The application of this letter to each individual heart is simply this: God's people are called to be restrainers of lawlessness. How often are you operating as a restraint to lawlessness? The measure in which you oppose lawlessness will be the measure in which there is no lawlessness in your own heart, and your own life.
Prayer:

We thank you, our Father, for this letter that reminds us that the hope of the Church has not grown dim, and that the very events which Jesus Christ predicted are finding some degree of fulfillment even in our own time, and are moving toward the predicted end. We reaffirm our fidelity and loyalty to the One who has loved us and has given himself for us, and who will come again to be acknowledged by every individual. In the hope of that, we thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Mon Aug 29, 2011 1:30 pm

1 Timothy: Pastor's Primer

While Second Timothy represents the last word we have from the pen of the Apostle Paul, First Timothy was written a few years earlier, probably immediately after the apostle had been imprisoned in Rome for the first time. After he was released, he wrote this letter to the young man whom he had won to Christ years before when he was preaching in Timothy's home town of Lystra. Timothy was probably no more than sixteen years old at the time. He accompanied Paul on his second journey and was a faithful minister and son-in-the-faith with the apostle for the rest of his life.

This is one of three "pastoral letters" in the New Testament -- letters written from a pastor's viewpoint. First and Second Timothy are two of them, and Titus is the third. In these letters, we have very intimate words from the apostle to these young men who frequently accompanied him on his journeys. I have often suspected that some of the young men who were with Paul were once members of the palace guard of the Emperor Nero. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul tells us that the gospel was reaching the palace guard, and that many of them were being brought to Christ.

But this letter was to Timothy, who by this time had served as a son in the gospel with the apostle for several years. He was probably in his late twenties or early thirties, and the apostle had sent him to Ephesus, the great commercial and pleasure resort on the shores of the Mediterranean in Asia Minor.

Both of these letters to Timothy reflect more than just a father-son relationship; although they have intimate remarks in them, nevertheless each one of them begins with these words:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. (1 Timothy 1:1 RSV)

The apostle felt it necessary, even in writing to his own son in the faith, to remind him that he was an apostle. Now surely Timothy did not need this reminder himself; he knew Paul's position well, but perhaps the apostle knew that these letters would have a wider readership than to Timothy alone. His previous letters had frequently been circulated widely among the churches.

It is therefore with the authority of an apostle that Paul begins these two letters, and what he has to say has meaning and authority in all the churches in Christendom. As we recognize that, we must take these words as having the same kind of authority for us as does every one of the other letters.

The apostles were men with a peculiar and unique ministry. Every now and then someone will refer to Paul in a disparaging way. Even Christians will sometimes say, "Well, you know, Paul wrote some things that we cannot take as authoritative. He was a confirmed old bachelor, and what he said about women is not really significant." But this is really to deny the apostolic office and to refuse the authority that the Lord Jesus gave his apostles. This is the mark of an apostle -- that they were commissioned by the Lord himself, and given the task of speaking authoritatively in every area of doctrine or practice, whatever it may be.

This first letter has to do with the ministry of the church itself -- its character and its nature, its function in the world. The second letter centers around the message that it has to convey -- the great theme is the gospel, and Timothy's relationship to that gospel.

There are two themes intermingled throughout this first letter. The one we will look at first is in chapter three, where the apostle says:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15 RSV)

Now when he talks about behaving in church, he is talking about the church not as buildings, but as people. One of the great weaknesses of the present-day evangelical life is that we still think so much of the church as a building, but the church is people, not buildings. And it was the concern of the apostle as he wrote to young Timothy that he would know how to conduct himself in the ministry and the relationships of the body of Christ, the church of the living God.

Then the second theme is found in the first chapter, where we are told,

...the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pore heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 RSV)

This is more personal. While the first theme is that of the church and its ministry, the second theme concerns the individual's relationship to the world and to God. As the apostle puts it, it is to be "love that issues from a pure hearts and a good conscience and sincere faith."

Now in the realm of actual experience, we begin with the last of these -- sincere faith. That is the way you come into the Christian life; by believing the Word of God, and exercising faith in what he says. And that will lead you to a good conscience, derived from obeying the word. This is to be the mark of every Christian -- that we obey what we believe.

And that, in turn, will result in a pure heart -- actually, a purified heart. None of us has a pure heart by birth; we need to be cleansed, purified by the washing of the Word of God and the cleansing of the blood of Christ. But if we have a good conscience about our faith, it will result in a pure heart, and from that pure heart will flow an unceasing stream of love.

The letter itself falls into two major divisions; the first chapter, and the last five. In the first division we have the background of Paul's charge to his son Timothy. Remember that Timothy was in Ephesus, a city given over largely to the worship of a heathen goddess, Diana (also called Artemis), the love-goddess of the Greek world. It was Timothy's task to minister to the church that was opposing the blind idolatry, and pagan superstition of this darkened, heathen city -- a formidable task.

So the first note that the apostle strikes is that Timothy is to oppose false teaching. This indicates that by now the church has begun to be infiltrated by false teachers; the early church had its share of heretics, as does the church of today. And Timothy is warned against them. He says, "I left you there,

...that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4 RSV)

And then he goes on to say that one of the things that was causing problems in the church was the wrong understanding of the law. There were those who were trying to regulate people's conduct by imposing rigid regulations, to be carried through to the letter, without any understanding of the control of the indwelling life and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the wrong use of the law.

The law, he says, is intended for a specific purpose (and by the way, this is one of the best passages I know of to counteract the popular theory that it is perfectly proper to disregard the law, and that we can resist certain regulations or deny them, in the name of God). Paul says that the law is given, "for the lawless and disobedient" (1 Timothy 1:9b RSV), and he lists these: "the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers...immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers" (1 Timothy 1:9c-10a RSV), and so forth. But if you have come to Christ, and your heart is intent upon pleasing him, you do not need the law to keep you from doing wrong -- love will do it! But only remember that love is interpreted by the law; we understand what love is only when we see it spelled out for us in terms of the law: thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal -- these are ways of describing how love acts.

Then, the second reason Paul has for charging Timothy is his own experience of grace. Paul never forgot that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insulter of Christ. But God met him, forgave him, delivered him, and every now and then Paul breaks into a lyrical passage, like a spring of water that cannot be stopped up, expressing his love and excitement and thankfulness for the work that God has done in his life.

The rest of the letter is made up of the charge itself that the apostle has for his young son in the faith, consisting of five elements. First, there are certain instructions on conducting public worship, differentiating between the activities of men and those of women. Men, he says, are to lead out in prayer -- praying for kings and for those in authority -- so that we might live in peace and godliness. Then he turns to the women, and if we read this a little differently, we will understand what the apostle is saying:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should[pray] adorn themselves modestly... (1 Timothy 2:8-9a RSV)

The thought of the apostle is that women have the right to minister and pray in public as well as men, although some have misunderstood this passage. But he does include a restriction a little later:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. (1 Timothy 2:11-12 RSV)

In the congregation, the idea is that women are not to teach men authoritatively. They are not to be the final word in that church as to doctrine or teaching. The apostle did not permit that, and he gives two reasons. First, he says, "Adam was formed first, then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:13 RSV), and, second, "the woman was deceived" (1 Timothy 2:14b RSV), and therefore fell into transgression. It is interesting to note that Eve's sin was primarily that of trying to arrive at a theological conclusion apart from the counsel of her husband.

But the apostle goes on to show that women have a wonderful ministry, in a verse that has been somewhat garbled in translation, and greatly misunderstood:

Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she[literally,"if they," the children] continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Timothy 2:15 RSV)

Now what does he mean? Women shall be saved through bearing children? I must confess I have struggled long with this passage. There are three major interpretations of it, and I have been an adherent of all three at one time or another. But now, I think they are all wrong! I really believe we have a clue to the meaning of this troublesome passage in the fourth chapter where the apostle says to young Timothy,

Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16 RSV)

What does he mean here by "save"? Timothy was already saved; he had been a Christian for many years. And certainly other people were not saved by Timothy's obeying the truth. What does he mean, then? A resolution appears when we see that he is using the word "salvation" in a different sense than we normally think of it, and it appears in several places in Scripture in this way. Salvation here means the solution to a problem. The word is also used this way in Philippians, where it says "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12b RSV)-- work out the solutions to the problems you confront with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you both the will and the doing of his good pleasure, Philippians 2:13 RSV). So here the meaning is that woman "will be saved," in the sense that her desire for a ministry will be fulfilled -- that problems will be resolved -- through child bearing, if the children continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Now the apostle turns to the qualifications of church leaders, who fall into two major categories -- the bishops (elders) and the deacons. Deacons and deaconesses are any who do a special task for the whole church, such as teaching Sunday school. Those who represent the church in any outreach ministry are also deacons. And he says three things, first, about the elders.

They are to be "blameless," so as to avoid being disapproved or set aside. Paul himself speaks of the possibility in his own life when he says, "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified," (1 Corinthians 9:27 RSV)

Second, they are to be pure; that is, they are to be men who understand how to tell the difference between good and evil, and how to apply the word so that it produces righteousness. And Paul gives this requirement of purity so as to avoid pride. The great risk in using an immature person is that he may be lifted up with pride, thus falling into the trap of the devil; pride is always a trap. Third, these men were to be of good repute, to avoid public scandal which would bring the whole ministry of the church into disgrace.

Now deacons are treated somewhat similarly, but he adds one major instruction concerning them -- they are first to be tested, to be given work to do on a trial basis (1 Timothy 3:10 RSV). If they perform it well, they are recognized as men and women who can be trusted with responsibility in the work of the church.

The importance of this charge is that it all relates to the fact that the church is linked with the mystery of Christ. Christ is the greatest figure in the universe -- everything relates to him -- and Paul uses a first century hymn to set forth what he means:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16b RSV)

That is why this charge is so important; these words must be taken with utmost seriousness because they link to this One who is the center of the universe.

In chapter four, quite appropriately, Paul turns to the subject of apostasy. Now apostates and heretics are different. A heretic is a Christian, one who basically accepts and knows the Lord Jesus Christ, but who tends to go wrong in some particular doctrinal issue. But an apostate has never been a Christian, although he testifies that he is. As John tells us in his first letter, "they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would have continued with us;" (1 John 2:19a RSV).

The Lord Jesus had told of the sower who went out to sow the good seed of the kingdom, and of the enemy sowing weeds in his way. And Jesus said these would grow up together until the harvest Matthew 13:30), which is why we will never get rid of the apostates within the church. Apostate attitudes arise from listening to doctrines of demons, of deceitful spirits -- not merely from twisted ideas of men, but from deliberately deceitful ideas of wicked spirits who attempt to lead people astray.

Then, in the following verses, Paul says that until their apostasy becomes very, very evident, Timothy is not to excommunicate them. First, he is to inform the congregation about the truth. Second, he is to set the example for them in his own personal life: and, third, he is to expound the Scriptures to them:

Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift...which was given you by prophetic utterance... (1 Timothy 4:13-14a RSV)

This is the guarantee against apostasy -- informing the congregation of the dangers, setting the example, and expounding the Scriptures.

In chapter five certain specific church problems are discussed, including how to treat younger and older people within the church, and advice to women on various practical matters. Then he takes up the official problem of how to handle charges against the elders. And finally, he mentions certain personal problems that Timothy himself would encounter.

Chapter six goes into the matter of social problems, with a word, first, to the downtrodden and degraded -- the slaves. This is a most instructive passage, to help answer some of the questions that are being flung at us from every side about how to counsel those who are degraded, and deprived of certain human rights. Paul addresses this to Christian slaves, and he reminds them that the urge to get material things can be a terrible danger to the spiritual life.

Then in a glowing and wonderful passage, he exhorts Timothy to walk honestly and steadfastly in the sight of God until the day when the Lord Jesus himself calls him home. And finally, having begun with the poor, he closes with a word to the rich, and to the learned, giving them their Christian responsibilities. They are rich, he says, because they have been blessed of God in order to help someone else, not to satisfy their own desire. They have a responsibility, he says, "to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life [right now] which is life indeed," (1 Timothy 6:18b-19 RSB).

As he closes, Paul gives Timothy a word of warning to those who trust in human knowledge:

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21 RSV)

What an up-to-date letter this is! How thoroughly it speaks to our own time as well as to this first century. May God grant that we will understand it and live by it.
Prayer:

Grant to us, our Father, that we may take seriously these words from that long-ago first century. We thank you, Lord, that they come with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and are designed for our times as well. Grant that we may saturate ourselves in this wise counsel so that we too may know how to behave ourselves in the church of God, which is the pillar and the ground of the truth. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Fri Oct 28, 2011 9:29 pm

2 Timothy: How Not to Collapse

In the sixty-eighth year of the first century there was an old man in a prison in Rome -- a little circular cell about twenty feet in diameter -- who was writing to a young man far across the Aegean and Adriatic Seas in Ephesus. and the subject of his letter was how to keep strong in the midst of a collapsing civilization. That is the theme of the second letter of Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy. And that seems an appropriate subject for this twentieth-century hour, doesn't it?

As Paul wrote to his young son in the faith, who was troubled by a weak constitution (a weak stomach, to be exact), and a fearful spirit -- a timid outlook on life -- and by intense persecution and challenges far beyond his natural power to handle, Paul realized that he himself was about to depart and be with the Lord, and that he was passing on the torch to this younger man. This word from the Apostle Paul's pen is the last that we have from him, then. It constitutes his swan song, his last words of exhortation, and it is peculiarly appropriate to the hour in which we live.

The first verse catches the key of this letter:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus... (2 Timothy 1:1 RSV)

Have you ever thought of the gospel, or of Christianity, that way, "the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus"? Not life to come so much as life right now. It is generally agreed that one of the big problems faced by old and young alike is how to look at life. And one of the big obstacles in coming to a satisfactory view of life is that Christianity is seen somehow as a detour -- that if you are a Christian, you have to give up most of the exciting things about life. But Christianity is anything but a detour around life. It is a highway right straight through the middle of it. It is the key to life; the fulfillment of the hunger and longing of human hearts. And so, in this second letter to Timothy, the apostle is giving us this key to life.

Now he has four things that he wants to say to this young man, all of them important to him and all of them important to us. He puts them in the form of charges, or exhortations that he gives to his son in the faith. the first one is, "guard the truth," the second, "be strong in the Lord," third, "avoid traps and pitfalls along the way," and fourth, "preach the word." If I had to write to a young man today, I am sure I could never find anything better to say than those four exhortations.

In this letter the first note the apostle strikes is, guard the truth. God has committed to Timothy a deposit of truth, which is his responsibility and Paul suggests certain ways to carry out this commission. Admittedly, this is addressed to a young man who is a pastor, the pastor of a great church in Ephesus. Timothy had the responsibility of shoring up the defenses of this church which were crumbling under the pressure of a secular society and a pagan attitude. But it is a word of advice that is needed by every Christian without exception, because to each Christian has been given the same deposit of truth -- the fundamental revelation of the Scripture concerning the nature of reality: what the world is like; what God is like; what people are like; what you are like. What makes the world operate the way it does? Why does it fall apart all the time? Why is it that nothing good seems to prosper and everything evil seems to reign unchallenged? The explanation is the deposit of truth that has been given to us through Jesus Christ, and it is this that we are to guard.

Now the apostle suggests three specific ways to do this. First, by exercising the spiritual gift that God has given to you.

Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:6-7 RSV)

If you want a more exact rendering of that verse, put it this way:

It is not God that gives us a spirit of timidity, but he gives a spirit of power and love and a sound mind.

Someone asks me, what is going to happen in our relationships with Soviet Russia; with the Communist Chinese? What is going to happen in the Middle East? What is going to happen at election time? I do not know what is going to happen in the elections, or whether there will even be an election this year. I do not know; no one knows. But I know this, that it is not God that gives us a spirit of timidity. If we are anxious, if we are troubled, it is not from God. The Spirit of God is a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind: a spirit of power in order to do, a spirit of love in order to react properly emotionally, and a sound mind in order to be intelligently purposeful about what we do. And the way to discover that is to exercise the spiritual gift that God has given you.

If you are a Christian, you can do something for God. You have an ability given you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within you, and if you are not putting that to work, you are wasting your life. It does not make any difference what you are doing, if it is not built around the exercise of that spiritual gift, it is all a waste of time, pointless, useless. And in the judgment of the Holy Spirit -- the only judgment that counts -- it will be counted as so much wood, hay, and stubble.

Now what has God given you to do? Do you know? Have you found out yet? Do you know what to look for, do you know how to find it? Find out, because in doing so you will discover that God does not give a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. When you start exercising what God has given you, you discover that he is right with you to back it up. So that was the first word to Timothy on how to guard the truth, how to keep the faith.

A popular saying, and a book by Adam Clayton Powell, is Keep The Faith, Baby. I read the book, but I did not learn much on how to keep the faith. How do you keep the faith? Well, you keep it by first exercising the spiritual gift. You see, our Christian faith is not a delicate, fragile flower that needs to be protected in some hothouse. Charles Spurgeon was exactly right when he said, "Truth is like a lion. Whoever heard of defending a lion? Turn it loose and it will defend itself." That is what we need to do with this truth. We do not need to apologize for it with long, exegetical arguments as to why we should believe this, or why we should believe that. Just begin to exercise it -- that is the admonition.

Second, the apostle says, guard the truth by suffering patiently. And he reminds Timothy that every Christian, without exception, is called to suffer for the gospel's sake. "Oh," you say, "that isn't me. I don't suffer." And I think sometimes we tend to feel we have been excluded from this. It may be because we always think of suffering as something physical -- torture and thumb-screws and iron maidens and being torn apart on the rack, this sort of thing. Well, Christians do suffer in this way from time to time. In fact, the twentieth century is the most tortured Christian century of all. Did you know that? More Christians have been put to death for Christ's sake in this century than in any other century since the very beginning.

But the suffering that is involved here is not only physical, it is mental as well. It is the kind of suffering we endure when somebody smiles knowingly and winks at our faith, or jibes at us, or laughs at us, or excludes us from an invitation list, or treats us with considerable and open disdain or contempt because we are a Christian; someone who pokes fun at a prayer meeting, or laughs at the Bible. We are to take this patiently, says the apostle. And as we react, not with anger or with disgust or vengeance, but quietly, patiently, as our Lord did, we guard the truth.

You know, one of the reasons the gospel is not widely accepted in many places today is that Christians have been impatient in suffering, have refused to take patiently the attitude of the world in this respect. Instead they have acted offended and hurt when people have treated them poorly, or they have given up and gone along with the crowd, refusing to take suffering for the Lord's sake. Now you cannot challenge the world in its wrongness without its being offended. And although we must challenge it in the least offensive way possible, nevertheless the Scriptures make clear that there is constantly a place for Christians' suffering, and it is one of the ways in which we guard the truth.

The third way Paul suggests in this first chapter is to "follow the pattern of the sound words," that is, to read and trust the Scriptures. I love that phrase, "the pattern of sound words." There are so many today who are departing from the pattern of sound words. They believe that some secular writer, out of the blindness and the darkness of his own heart, has more insight into the problems of life than the Scriptures. They repeat these arguments, or live according to this philosophy, and they soon find themselves engulfed in problems -- often neuroses and psychoses and nervous reactions -- and they do not understand why. Why is it that our age is suffering so from such a tempest of emotional disturbance? It is because in our blindness we have refused to follow the pattern of sound words.

And so to young Timothy Paul suggests these three ways to guard the truth: exercise your gift, suffer patiently, follow the pattern of sound words, and God will see you right through,

...for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12 RSV)

That is the proper way to read this verse. It is not, "what I have committed unto him," (as the King James Version has it); it is, "he is able to guard ... what has been deposited with me." That is, the truth -- the body of faith. And as I perform faithfully what the apostle suggests, I discover that God protects that truth in my life, and protects me in it, and thus keeps me in the faith.

The second exhortation was, "be strong in the Lord." It is important to understand that you never say this to somebody unless he is capable of fulfilling it. What is the use of saying "be strong" to somebody who is a physical weakling? And when Paul writes this to Timothy he realizes that this young man understands how to be strong. You see, Paul is not saying here how to be strong; you have to get that from other Scriptures. That is simply resting, learning how to trust in the work of Jesus Christ. That is the way to be strong in the Lord. But what Timothy needed was an exhortation to do it, to actually put it into practice. And that is what we need.

I once heard a little couplet at a conference I attended that helped me a great deal. One of the speakers said this:

When I try, I fail;
When I trust, he succeeds.

I like that. That puts it exactly, doesn't it? When I try, I fail, but when I trust, he succeeds, and that is the way the Christian life is lived.

Now there are three figures the apostle uses here to describe being strong in the Lord. First, be strong as a soldier. The thought here is an utter dedication to the task. No sideline. Give yourself to this so that you might please him who has called you to be a soldier. How can you follow Christ if you are involved in a lot of other aims in life? You have several conflicting purposes. No, says Paul, if you want to be strong, be dedicated as a soldier is dedicated to one thing.

Second, be strong as an athlete. That means discipline: no shortcuts, no cutting corners or breaking the rules. Just as an athlete is not crowned unless he observes the rules, so if you are going to be a Christian do not take any moral shortcuts, but follow him. Third, follow him as a farmer. That means diligence. Go to work on this; do not slow down. Any farmer knows that if he expects a crop in the fall he has to spend some time working and planting in the spring. And it ought to be that simple with the Christian. The Christian life is not one in which we simply relax while it rolls along its own way. No, it calls for diligence and discipline and reading and giving yourself to the task of knowing the Scriptures and deliberately applying the great principles of truth that you learn. And if you do these things, Paul says you will be able to be strong, strong in the Lord.

He closes this charge with a reminder of the strength of the Lord. Not merely to be strong, but be strong in the Lord.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David. (2 Timothy 1:8 RSV)

Two things about him to remember: he is a risen Christ, able to be with you at any moment, at any time; he is not limited in time and space and geography; he is available to you now. And he is a human Christ. He has been where you are, he has been through what you are going through. He knows the pressures you feel, he has felt the same fear. "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David," a risen and a human Christ.

The next charge extends from chapter two, verse fourteen, to the end of chapter three. Here Paul is telling us to avoid the traps and pitfalls along the way, and he outlines three of these for us. The first trap is battles over words. Have you ever seen the way Christians get all upset sometimes over some little word in Scripture -- the mode of baptism, or the millennium -- Christians dividing up into camps and choosing up weapons and battling it out. No, the apostle says, avoid this kind of thing. These are stupid and useless controversies and they will spread like gangrene. Not that these questions are not important; in a sense, they are. But there are areas in the Scriptures in which honest, searching, earnest scholars will find differences. Well then, avoid getting into controversies in those areas; do not make final decisions and divisions over that kind of thing.

Second, he says to avoid dangerous passions. Here is a word to a young man, a young man who felt the stirrings of passion within him -- sexual drives and other hungers -- living in a sex-saturated society much like ours. He was being told, "anything goes, satisfy yourself, it's nothing but a natural urge," and all the other propaganda and false doctrines that we hear from so many directions today. These were all hitting at Timothy, and Paul says,

Remember, Timothy, in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. (2 Timothy 2:20 RSV)

Now this is a beautiful figure because Paul is talking about the whole world as a great house. And he says God has certain kinds of people in that great house. There are those he uses for ignoble purposes and you will find that in contemporary history, God is using men and women to accomplish his will through ignoble ways, that is, wars. All war is ignoble, and yet God uses men in those wars killing and slaying, to accomplish his purpose. But there are others who are used for noble purposes -- not destructive, not divisive, but gathering and building, uniting, healing, and harmonizing. Each of us is going to be used of God in one way or another.

Now, he says if you want to be used for a noble purpose rather than for an ignoble purpose then separate yourself from these things that destroy your life.

Shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22 RSV)

One of the great destructive forces of our time is the looseness in sexual matters today. It is tearing apart the fabric of our civilization and yet men are blinded to this fact. But Christians are enlightened and instructed; therefore this word comes right home to us who are living in the midst of this loose society. "Shun youthful passions." Do not suppress them, as Paul says in another place but give thanks for them and walk honestly, in purity before the Lord and God will use you for noble purposes not for ignoble.

And then the third trap or pitfall along the way was a rebellious attitude:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. (2 Timothy 3:1 RSV)

I just note in passing that the "last days" here is not referring to the final end time of the church on earth. The last days include the whole period of time between the first and the second comings of Christ. From the very day that our Lord rose from the dead these were the "last days." And in these last days, Paul says, there will come recurrent cycles of distress -- we are going through one right now -- when peace has forsaken the world and men are all upset; when there are strange, demonic forces at work in society creating immense problems. And through those times of distress we will see certain characteristics at play, and he lists them:

For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of It. (2 Timothy 3:2-5a RSV)

What to do? Here, basically, are the characteristics of rebellion, a lawless attitude. How do you avoid falling into this pit? Well, says the apostle, first of all, avoid such people. Do not join with them in their causes. He does not mean not to speak to them, but do not join them, do not associate with this kind of defiant rebellion.

And then, remember that this kind of rebellion always results in a rapid revelation of the weakness of it. This is what happened to Jannes and Jambres, those two magicians who withstood Moses before the court of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:11). And these people today will not get very far either, but their folly will be plain to all as was that of those two men. That is a comforting word in this hour of lawlessness, when we wonder how far today's lawless forces are going to go. Well, says Paul they won't go too far, because their folly will soon become obvious to all.

And then in the closing part of the chapter, the apostle tells Timothy the way out; again, it is two-fold -- patience in suffering, and persistence in truth. "Remember the way I behaved " he says to Timothy. "You watched me, you've seen how I've endured all the trials that came my way. Remember that if you're quietly patient in suffering and continue in the truth holding to the Scriptures and what God has said, you will find your way safely through all the involvements and the perils and the pitfalls of the world in which you live." And then comes his final charge:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word. (2 Timothy 4:1-2a RSV)

Give this out. Proclaim it. Do not merely believe the word but talk about it, speak it, tell it to others. Declare the great truth that God has given you.

...be urgent in season and out of season, convince[those who are full of doubt], rebuke[those who are full of sin], and exhort[those who are full of fear]... (2 Timothy 4:2b RSV)

Three things: convince, rebuke and exhort; to counteract the characteristics of a decaying age. And Timothy is to be motivated in this by two things. First he is to do it in view of the fact that he lives in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. A whole universe is watching us; our faithfulness is under observation all the time. God is watching Christ is watching, and in his presence we are to live. Second, he is to do it in view of the peril of the times.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears... (2 Timothy 4:3a RSV)

Do not give way to this, Paul says. Speak the truth proclaim the word.

Then he closes with this marvelous word of testimony of his own experience:

For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8 RSV)

That is magnificent -- especially when you remember its setting. Here is the apostle in this tiny little cell, cramped and cold, in semi-darkness writing by the light of a sputtering lamp. He knows that his fate is sealed. He has already appeared once before Nero, that monstrous wretch of an emperor and now he must appear before him once more, and he knows what the result will be this time. He will be taken outside the city wall and with a flash of the sword, his head will roll in the dust, and that will be the end.

But you notice he is looking beyond all that. Death is but an incident to the believer. And Paul is seeing the day when he appears before the Lord himself, when he is suddenly ushered into his presence, in which he has always been by faith, and he discovers himself with the Lord on that great Day. Yet, mixed with this is a very human element. Notice how he says to Timothy,

Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you... When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:11a, 13 RSV)

He is bored in mind, lonely in spirit, and cold in body. Though he could look beyond to all the greatness of the glory of God to come, see how human he is. Now there is nothing wrong with this. When we get cold or lonely or bored, we can just admit it freely; there is nothing sinful about that. But we must also look beyond these circumstances and add that dimension of faith that sees the reality of an unseen world, and changes the whole complexion of the circumstances in which we live. I have often thought about that appearance of Paul before Nero. He says:

But the Lord stood by me[at his first appearance] and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully... (2 Timothy 4:17a RSV)

Isn't that challenging? Paul stood before that wretch, Nero, and proclaimed the word fully,

...that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. (2 Timothy 4:17b RSV)

That was his first appearance, but he knows it will be different this time. And in that day when Paul did stand before emperor the second time, the name of Nero was a name honored among men and known throughout the Empire. Who had heard of this; only little Jew from Tarsus, with his bald head and his bowed legs and his poor speech? And yet today, 1900 years later, we name our sons Paul, and our dogs Nero.

Then he closes with some personal words to his friends. What a wonderful letter this is! What a challenge it must have been to young Timothy's heart. I would love to have gotten a letter like that from Paul, wouldn't you? And actually, that is what it is. He is writing to us as well to stand firm, to hold fast to the pattern of sound words, to take our share of suffering for the gospel's sake with joy and equanimity of spirit -- not returning evil for evil, but good for evil -- and remembering that he is able to keep that which he has deposited with us.
Prayer:

Our gracious Father, how these words have stirred our hearts anew as we find ourselves in a similar time of declension and despair. We ask that you who have called us with a holy calling and have imparted to us the Holy Spirit, and given to us your holy word, may keep us and make us to be faithful. Give us the diligence of a farmer, the discipline of an athlete, and the dedication of a soldier that will make us equal to the times in which we live. God grant that our eyes may be lifted above the commonplace obscurity of our daily life to the great things that lie beyond the invisible curtain and see ourselves living constantly in thy presence, even in this hour. Challenge our hearts to be strong in the midst of weakness, and to be faithful in the midst of that which is false. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Sat Nov 05, 2011 10:05 pm

Titus: Truth and Proof

Titus, one of the young men who accompanied the Apostle Paul on many of his missionary journeys, first came to Christ as a Greek in the city of Antioch. At the time this letter was written, he was on the island of Crete, just south of Greece.

The church in Crete was probably begun by Paul and Titus after Paul's first imprisonment in Rome. As far as we can tell, Paul was released from that imprisonment, recorded at the end of the book of Acts. You may recall that he had expressed the desire to go to Spain, and many scholars feel that after his journey to Spain, he and Titus went to the island of Crete and began the church there. As he tells us in this letter, he left Titus there to:

...amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I[Paul] directed you. (Titus 1:5b RSV)

This letter provides an interesting little insight as to what went on in the early church, as the apostle travelled about and sent these young men as apostolic delegates to do special work for him in various places.

In the background of this letter, we can discover the character of the Cretans. In one of the most unusual passages in the New Testament, the apostle quotes from one of the ancient writers of his day, a secular Greek poet who describes these people among whom young Titus had to labor. He says,

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." (Titus 1:12 RSV)

Paul is obviously writing a private message to his son-in-the-faith, Titus, and wants him to understand the formidable nature of the problem he is to resolve. He is dealing with people who are characterized in these three ways, and he underscores this by saying, "This testimony is true," (Titus 1:13a RSV). These people are like this. And as we look at the message of this letter, we see that these three characteristics of the Cretan people seem to be described and amplified in various passages. For example, Paul says about certain ones,

To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds[they're liars]; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed. (Titus 1:15-16 RSV)

Now this was the kind of society in which the Christian church was living, and this was the kind of national character that Titus was up against. Here were people whose minds and consciences were corrupted -- they profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds.

He also calls them "evil beasts," that is, they were like animals in their attitudes toward one another. That theme is amplified in chapter three, where the apostle says,

But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11 RSV)

These words are referring primarily to those who at least professed to be Christian, but who were reflecting the attitudes of the world around.

When the church has a problem, it is because the world is invading the church instead of the church invading the world. The gospel is intended to be a disturbing element, to change society. Therefore, whenever the church is true to its authentic message, it is always against the status quo. The church is a revolutionary body -- it always has been -- and we can thus be very much in sympathy with some of the revolutionary movements of our own day. But the difference is that the church challenges the status quo with the power of God, something that no other organization or group can do.

Now what would you do with people who acted like animals, snarling and griping at one another, people who engaged in stupid controversies and quarrels over the law, and who were factious one with another -- how would you handle people like that? And that was not all; these people were further characterized as "lazy gluttons," easy-going, pleasure-loving people. This too is amplified in chapter three, where the apostle speaks not only of them, but also of himself and of all men as they are before they become Christians. Here is an amazing description of the world as God sees it:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another... (Titus 3:3 RSV)

This is the kind of a world into which the apostle sent this young man, with the power of the gospel.

Now the basic need of these people was to have "sound doctrine," a phrase that occurs several times throughout the letter. Paul knew that to change society, people must be told the truth -- this is the problem with men and women everywhere. This is why they walk in darkness and act like animals, tearing one another apart and hating one another -- because they do not understand themselves or the world. So you have to begin by teaching them truth.

Along with that is another very basic need -- the matter of "good deeds." That phrase appears five times; chapter one closes with that idea, "unfit for any good deed," (Titus 1:16b RSV) Then in chapter two, "Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech," (Titus 2:7-8a RSV). And chapter two also closes with that idea, "to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds," (Titus 2:14b RSV). In chapter three it says, "be careful to apply themselves to good deeds," (Titus 3:8b RSV), and once again, "let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds," (Titus 3:14a RSV).

Isn't this what the church is looking for, what the world is looking for? Sound doctrine -- good, solid teaching, straight from the shoulder revelations of truth -- and good deeds to back them up and prove the reality of the teaching. Now, first, as to doctrine, the apostle emphasized several points. To begin with, they had to be clear about the basis of men's salvation. How do you change human hearts? Today we are still striving to change people's nature by education, by legislation, and by a change of atmosphere or environment. But as someone has well said, "If you bring a pig into the parlor, it won't change the pig, but it will certainly change the parlor!" And this is the problem here; so they needed to know the truth about salvation. In chapter three the apostle says,

...but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us... (Titus 3:4-5a RSV)

He saved us. He saved us! He is the only one who can. He saved us -- we did not save ourselves. In fact, he goes on to say that:

...not because of deeds done by us in righteousness... (Titus 3:5b RSV)

Everyone tries to do good deeds. But good deeds will not save you, and the apostle makes that clear. Only the Savior can save; and he goes on to point this out:

...he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit... (Titus 3: 5 RSV)

He makes us over from the inside; he does not patch us up from the outside. He does not give us a new leaf to turn over, or try to bolster up our moral courage a bit, or get us to try a little harder, but he changes us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.

Psychology is absolutely helpless when it comes to that kind of a procedure. But the gospel does what neither psychology or anything else can do. The supreme message of the church is to declare and proclaim this great good news that there is a means of being regenerated and renewed in the Holy Spirit,

...which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:6-7 RSV)

Now when the Bible speaks of hope, it does not speak of only a faint possibility, the way the world speaks of hope: "I hope I'll be rich some day," or, "I hope I'll be healthy." But when the New Testament speaks of hope, it is a certainty: the hope of eternal life rests upon the One who came to give us eternal life, and we are justified by his grace.

Now beyond these fundamental facts of the gospel, these Cretans needed to learn some truth about present conduct. In chapter two, in connection with the coming of the gospel, Paul writes:

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men,[that is, all who believe]training us to renounce irreligion... (Titus 2:11-12a RSV)

Psychologists are telling us that many people, especially young people, are suffering from "future shock." That is a kind of emotional reaction that sets in when someone contemplating the future sees it as hopeless, with no possibility of accomplishing anything. And many young people today are giving up on the future, saying, "What's the use?"

But here is the answer to that despair -- "awaiting our blessed hope." What a phrase to set against that other -- "future shock" and "blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ," (Titus 2:13b RSV). Do you see how clearly Jesus is called God in this passage? There is one Savior, and it is Jesus Christ who is the great God who will appear in glory to set right the things that are wrong in this world.

Next, these Cretans needed to learn something about the church order, and in the opening chapter Paul indicates that he had left word with Titus to appoint elders whom he later calls "bishops;" they are the same -- "elders" refers to the man, "bishop" to his office. And he gives qualifications:

...if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled. (Titus 1:6-8 RSV)

Where do you find such men? Well, Paul expected to find them in Crete, and he expected to find them among those who had once been characterized as liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. This is the change the gospel makes, and he did find them there, because Titus was sent to put them into office to carry on the work of the church. In this way, the church becomes a sort of therapy group, introducing into the community at large the healing virtues of love and light and grace that will gradually transform a community. That is what a church is sent to do.

Finally, these Christians in Crete needed to know something about civic responsibility:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2 RSV)

What a contrast that is with some of the activities that are carried on today in the name of the church! But the church is exhorted here to recognize that the authorities are in some sense the ministers of God, sent and used by him to maintain order, and that there should be courtesy and obedience in every area in which the law speaks, except in those areas where it definitely challenges a spiritual precept or ungodliness: to repudiate it, to use our minds and wills to say no to these things.

...and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world... (Titus 2:12b RSV)

Not in the church, but in the world -- in the midst of the business of life, in the midst of commerce and trade, and all the usual enterprise of life -- that is where we are to live sober, godly, upright lives. This is truth that they needed to know.

And third, they needed to know truth about a future expectation, and he goes on in that same passage,

...awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ... (Titus 2:13 RSV)

Now, turning to the need to have good deeds, there is some practical advice here for various age groups: older men are told to,

...be temperate, serious, sensible, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2b RSV)

Then there is a word for older women:

...to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, and to train the young women to love their husbands ... (Titus 2:3-4a RSV)

That is the task of older women -- to teach the young women how to behave themselves, and to be good wives, and further,

...to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited. (Titus 2:4b-5 RSV)

How practical this letter is! And yet, as the apostle gives these practical guidelines, he is in effect quietly injecting into this Cretan community a power that would soon become a vital factor in changing the whole life of this island.

Finally, as the apostle closes with some personal words of admonition and advice, we have a glimpse into his own life. He says,

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. (Titus 3:12 RSV)

Nicopolis was on the western shore of Greece, just across the Adriatic Sea from the heel of the Italian boot. The apostle was apparently writing this letter from Corinth, and was sending two young men down to replace Titus in Crete, so that Titus could rejoin Paul. Later we read that Titus went on up to Dalmatia, on the northern coast, sending Zenas, the lawyer, and Apollos on their way (perhaps to Alexandria, which was Apollos' home), and the apostle admonishes Titus to see that they lack nothing.

Then he closes the letter as he opened it; he says, "And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds." (Titus 3:14a RSV). How did he open the letter?

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness... (Titus 1:1 RSV)

There is the theme of this letter; truth which matches up with godliness; sound doctrine and good deeds going hand in hand. And the basis of it, as we have already seen, is "in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago ..." (Titus 1:2 RSV).

That promise is found in Genesis, where God promised before Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden that there would come a redeemer, who would bring life to men (Genesis. 3:15), and this is the reference that Paul makes here. Then he speaks of the method by which it would come: "at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by command of God our Savior," (Titus 1:3 RSV). If your life has been changed at all, it was by preaching, by hearing this delivering word set forth; and when you believed it, you found that you, too, experienced the washing of regeneration and the subsequent renewing, the continuous renewal, of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer:

Our Father, we are encouraged again ourselves, as we look at this letter of Paul's to Titus, to adorn the doctrine of God in these days. Generation after generation of Christians have lived and died since those days, but the world is still here, and the promises are still here. And this is our day, Lord: you have called us to be saints, to be members of the Body of Christ, as these early Christians were. Grant to us courage and strength, steadfastness and vision, and faith, that we may manifest these truths clearly in our hour of human history. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Fri Nov 25, 2011 10:44 pm

Philemon: A Brother Restored

This little letter to Philemon is a marvelous example of the strongest force in the universe to affect control over someone -- grace. It takes up one of the most difficult problems we ever encounter, that of resolving quarrels between family members. We can ignore something a stranger does to hurt us, but it is very hard to forgive a member of our own family or someone close to us.

The key to this little letter is in the 16th verse. Paul says to Philemon that he is sending back Onesimus:

...no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:16 RSV)

The background of this story is very interesting. This letter was written when the Apostle Paul was a prisoner in the city of Rome for the first time. It was sent to Philemon, a friend Paul had won to Christ, who lived in Colossae. Evidently Philemon had a young brother whose name was Onesimus.

Some way or another, we do not know how, Onesimus got into trouble -- maybe he was a gambling man -- and became the slave of his own brother, Philemon. In those days, if a man got into trouble, he could get somebody to redeem him by selling himself to that person as a slave. Perhaps Onesimus got into debt, and went to his brother, Philemon, and said, "Philemon, would you mind going to bat here for me? I'm in trouble and I need some money."

Philemon would say, "Well, Onesimus, what can you give me for security?"

Onesimus would say, "I haven't got a thing but myself, but I'll become your slave if you'll pay off this debt." Now that may or may not have been how it occurred, but the picture we get from this little letter is that Philemon is the brother of Onesimus, and his slave as well.

Sometime before this letter was written, Onesimus had run away. In the Roman Empire, if a slave ran away from his master, he could either be put to death or shipped back to his master. Before he left, Onesimus had apparently stolen some money from Philemon. He found his way to the city of Rome, and there he somehow came into contact with the Apostle Paul in prison, and was reached with the gospel (like so many runaway boys, he came under the sound of the Word of God and was soundly converted), and became Paul's helper there in the city of Rome. But Paul was determined to send him back to Philemon, so he wrote this gracious little note and sent it back in the hand of Onesimus himself.

Imagine the scene at the home of Philemon when this letter arrives. Philemon is standing out on his porch one morning, looking down the road, and he sees somebody coming. He says to his wife, "Dear, here comes someone to see us." As he watches, he thinks he sees who it is, and he says, "You know, dear, I hope I'm wrong, but that looks like my rascally brother coming home again." Sure enough, as Onesimus gets closer and closer, Philemon sees that it is indeed his brother who had run away and disgraced the family -- the black sheep coming back again. There is a dark cloud on his brow as he goes to meet Onesimus. He throws up his hands and says, "Well, so you've come home at last, have you? What brings you back this time? A bad penny always returns, they say."

Onesimus does not say a word. He knows there is no use trying to defend himself. He just hands him this letter from the Apostle Paul, and Philemon opens the letter that was in scroll form and begins to read:

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved fellow worker... (Philemon 1:1 RSV)

Philemon says, "Yes, this is from Paul all right. That's the way he always begins his letters." Then he continues:

...and Apphia our sister[that's Mrs. Philemon] and Archippus our fellow soldier... (Philemon 1:2a RSV)

We do not know who he was, but it is likely that he was the son of Philemon and Apphia.

...and the church in your house. (Philemon 1:2b RSV)

Isn't that an interesting little sidelight? People gathered together in Philemon's home to study and pray together. This is the "church" that Paul greets. Then we have this salutation that is so familiar:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philemon 1:3 RSV)

Philemon says to his wife, "I don't know how this fellow got this letter, but it is from Paul." So he goes on reading:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, (Philemon 1:4-5 RSV)

Philemon says, "Listen to that, dear. Old Paul has been praying for us, even from prison. Isn't that wonderful! To think that he is remembering us in prayer over here in Colossae. I wonder what he's praying about?"

...and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ. (Philemon 1:6 RSV)

Philemon says to his wife, "I wonder what he means by 'the sharing of your faith'; I don't quite get what he means." He reads some more:

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:7 RSV)

He says, "My, isn't that a nice thing for Paul to say. He says he has been refreshed by us, but how many times have we been refreshed by him?" Philemon goes on reading the letter:

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required. (Philemon 1:8 RSV)

Paul is saying, "I could order you to do this. I could be legal about this. I have the authority as an apostle." Philemon would probably do it, but there would be rebellion inside. But Paul is not going to do that; he goes on:

...yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you -- (Philemon 1:9a RSV)

Notice how he changed the expression here? "I appeal to you." On what basis is he going to appeal?

I, Paul, an ambassador[that ought to appeal to him] and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus... (Philemon 1:9b RSV)

I think the tears probably came to Philemon's eyes as he read this. Dear old Paul, who had led him to Christ, sitting in that lonely prison writing this letter and saying, "Philemon, old friend, would you do me a favor? I'm appealing to you, even though I could command you. I'd like you to do me this special favor." You can just hear Philemon's heart softening as he reads these words. Now he says:

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. (Philemon 1:10 RSV)

Startled, Philemon turns to his wife and says, "Dear, do you think Paul has actually led this fellow to Christ? He talks as though he were his spiritual father!" He reads on:

(Formerly he was useless to you[I'll say he was -- stealing everything I had and running off like that.], but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) (Philemon 1:11 RSV)

This is a little pun on the name Onesimus; the name means useful, or profitable. Paul is an eminent humorist, and is not at all ashamed to make a pun in the right place. With a twinkle in his eye, he says, "Onesimus may have been useless to you once, but he is useful now. He is Onesimus now."

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. (Philemon 1:12 RSV)

Philemon says, "I don't understand it. Why on earth does Paul want to send him back to me? After all this fellow has done, even through he has become a Christian, it's going to be awfully hard for me to forget how he has disgraced my name here in the community." But Paul writes:

I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel... (Philemon 1:13 RSV)

That must have touched Philemon's heart. Surely he longed to be able to do something for Paul. Paul tells him how, "Onesimus did it in your behalf; he served me." And then he says,

...but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order the your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. (Philemon 1:14 RSV)

Now that is the very heart of grace, isn't it? It does not force anybody to do anything. Paul says here in Philemon, "I don't want you to accept him back simply because I said so. And I certainly didn't want to keep him in Rome without your consent, so I'm sending him back to you."

Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:15-16 RSV)

Philemon's heart is beginning now to turn towards this black sheep brother of his. He says to his wife, "If Paul found Onesimus so dear to him, maybe we ought to find some way to forgive him for all the things he has done. Maybe the fellow has been changed. Let's see what else Paul has to say."

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 1:17 RSV)

"Well," says Philemon, "this puts quite a different slant on things. I was going to take him back, as long as Paul had sent him like this, but I would have sent him back down to live with the rest of the slaves in the slave quarters. But now Paul says that we are to receive him as we would receive Paul himself!"

Apphia says, "Well, we surely would never send Paul down to the slave house; we'd give him the very best guest room in the house. So if we are going to receive Onesimus as we would receive Paul, we'd better give him the best room."

So Philemon says, "All right, dear, go get the guest room ready. We'll bring him in there. But wait a minute! He never paid back the money he took. We've got to get that from him."

If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. (Philemon 1:18 RSV)

Isn't that wonderful? That is grace. You have the doctrine of acceptance and the doctrine of substitution wonderfully portrayed here in this little letter. God receives us in the person of another; we were like Onesimus. In fact, Martin Luther said, "All of us were God's Onesimus." We are slaves. We merit nothing. We have done things that are wrong. We stand before a God who is righteous and holy, and yet the Lord Jesus says, "If he has done anything wrong, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I will pay it." That is what Paul says here.

I, Paul write this with my own hand, I will repay it -- to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. (Philemon 1:19-20 RSV)

Now I am sure that it happened that way. I think that Philemon was touched by this wonderful word of grace from the apostle, as he thought of that dear man sitting in the loneliness of his prison writing this letter. He had nothing of himself. He had no money, nothing with which to repay, and yet he wrote, "If he owes you anything, don't worry about it. I'll pay it myself when I come."

I think that was the crowning touch. Philemon's heart just broke and he probably opened his arms to Onesimus and they forgave one another. As they wept on one another's shoulders, the fellowship of the family was restored once again.

Then see what Paul writes at the end:

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. (Philemon 1:21 RSV)

Do you see how far grace carries this matter? If Paul had been writing this on a legal basis, he would have said: "Philemon! As the Holy Apostle of the Holy Church, I command you to receive back this young man and to give him back his job!" That is as far as law could go. And Philemon would probably have had to obey it, or else get into trouble with the church. But grace goes much farther. It not only has restored Onesimus to his place in the household, but it has restored him to his place in the family as well. It breaks down all the barriers, smoothes out all the friction that has developed, and creates a better situation than ever existed before.

Now Paul closes with some personal references:

At the same time, prepare the guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you. (Philemon 1:22 RSV)

Here we see that the apostle says he is expecting to be released -- but how? "Through your prayers." He says, "You keep praying for me there in Colossae." And we know that God did grant these requests. Paul was released, and he preached the word of God for several years before he was incarcerated for the second time.

Finally, he sends along greetings from some of those who were with him. Epaphras was well known in Colossae; he had founded the church there. But now, as a fellow prisoner with Paul in Rome, he sends greetings. So does Mark, the author of the gospel of Mark, and Aristarchus, one of Paul's disciples. Demas was the young man who forsook Paul, having loved "this present world," (2 Timothy 4:10b RSV). And Luke, also with Paul in Rome, sends greetings to Philemon as well.

Then we have this closing word, which is characteristic of letters written by Paul:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philemon 1:25 RSV)
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Tue Dec 13, 2011 7:13 pm

Hebrews is one of the three New Testament commentaries on a single Old Testament verse:

The just shall live by his faith. (Hab 2:4b KJV)

This is the verse that struck a fire in the heart of Martin Luther, and began the Protestant Reformation 450 years ago. This verse opened the eyes of Augustine, and helped him to become a mighty man of faith, and it is still striking fire in many hearts today. It is expanded and amplified in Romans, Ephesians, and Hebrews Each of these Epistles emphasizes a different aspect of that statement.

The book of Romans talks about the just -- the justified -- those who have been accepted as righteous in Jesus Christ. The just shall live by faith. The book of Ephesians emphasized the words "shall live," and it tells us about life as a justified person -- the walk in the Spirit, the life in Jesus, the life of Christ in us -- the just shall live by faith. And finally, the book of Hebrews takes up the last two words, "by faith," and it shows us how to lay hold of the life by which we are justified.

But I hope you know that faith is derived, not from anything in itself, but from its object. This is a source of great confusion among many Christians. People are always saying to me, "If I only had enough faith, I could do so and so, and such and such," as though faith were a commodity sold by the pound; as though all you have to do is buy another pound of faith and add it to the store you have now, and you could do great things for God.

But the quantity of faith is of very little significance. Jesus said so: "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed" (Matthew 17:20b RSV), you could move mountains. It is not quantity that is important in faith. it is quality; it is what your faith is fastened to. What is the object of your faith? The strength of faith is directly related to the strength of what you believe in. What are you believing in? Who are you believing in? What kind of a person is he?

When Hebrews talks about faith, therefore, it must help us to see the object of faith, because our faith will be strong if we believe and understand that the object of our faith is strong. That is why this is the most Christ-centered book in the New Testament. It focuses on Jesus Christ: therefore, it is one of the greatest books for hours of discouragement, defeat, or depression, because it emphasizes the character and the qualities of Jesus Christ. If we see him as he is, we cannot help but be strong in faith.

There is an old story of a man who had just become a Christian. He was experiencing some of the difficulties that new Christians often have of uncertainty in his faith; he was wondering if he really was a Christian, and was feeling frustrated with his own lack of growth. He felt he had come to the place where he just could not stand any longer; he could not live as a Christian any more. He came into a church service where a pastor was speaking on the verses in Ephesians that tell of Christ being seated at the right hand of the Father, and that we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. He talked about Christ as the head of the body, and said that we are the body, and that Christ as the head is seated at the right hand of the Father.

As the truth of this gripped this man's heart, and he realized that although he was struggling to swim against the current down here below, his head was seated in victory and triumph already at the right hand of God, he jumped out of his seat, and shouted, "Hallelujah! Who ever heard of anyone drowning with his head high above water!"

That is what Hebrews does to us: it helps us to focus on the One who is already in the place of victory. We are fighting a battle already won, and that is what encourages us. When we walk in the flesh, we are fighting a battle already lost; there is no chance, no hope of victory; but when we walk in the Spirit, the battle is already won.

In the first ten chapters of Hebrews there is a very simple structure. Jesus Christ is being compared to a number of other leaders and systems and religious values that the people to whom this letter was first written had once felt were important. It is a little like an athletic contest or an elimination match where certain contestants are vying for the championship. One after the other challenges the hero, and one after another is conquered, and the hero emerges triumphant, superior to everyone else. Throughout this letter, Christ is compared with the basic thing that men trust in days of peril and trial. And every one of them is found insufficient -- except him!

The first one is the prophets of the Old Testament. The letter opens on that theme:

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets... (Hebrews 1:1 RSV)

-- these impressive writers of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Habakkuk -- all these names that meant so much to the Hebrew mind and heart. These men were well ahead of all the philosophies and philosophers the world has ever known, contemporaries with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and yet their views of reality far outstripped these men. These were great men, the fathers, the prophets -- and God spoke to them, and through them in the past.

...but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. (Hebrews 1:2a RSV)

Almost with a wave of a hand, the writer dismisses the prophets as having no equality with Jesus Christ. After all, they were just spokesmen, instruments, but he is the God enthroned as king of the universe, forming the boundaries of history and upholding everything by the word of his power. How can a prophet compare with someone like that? He is much better than they; therefore, the writer argues, anybody who trusted in prophets ought to be interested in listening to Jesus Christ.

The next challengers are the angels. In the Greek world in which the New Testament church found itself, angels were regarded as very important beings. Most of the Greek gods and goddesses -- Venus, Zeus, Mercury and others -- were angels in the eyes of the Greeks. They knew they were not supreme God, but they were regarded as a kind of God, junior-grade, sub-deities, and they treated them as such.

But here the writer takes up the question of which is greater, the angels or the Son. He points out immediately that the Son, the Lord Jesus, is superior to any angel:

For to which angel did God ever say,
"Thou art my Son..."? (Hebrews 1:5a RSV)

No, he never said that to any angel. The Son is superior to the angels, and furthermore, the angels worshipped him; therefore, they themselves admit that he is superior, and they obey him -- this is the argument -- so how could you ever compare an angel to the Son of God?

He goes on to point out in chapters two and three, moreover, that Jesus was the true man; he was the second Adam. He came to fulfill the destiny of human beings -- the lost destiny which Adam threw away. This right of mankind to be rulers and kings in the universe is reflected in the eighth Psalm:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou are mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
(Psalm 8:3-6a RSV)

That is God's design for man, but in our fallen state, we find it very difficult to fulfill. But Jesus is there, and the writer says that although we do not yet see man fulfilling his destiny, we see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God -- the true man; man as God intended man to be. He is certainly higher than the angels, because God made man ultimately to be higher than the angels. He said of man, "Let us make him in our image." He did not say that about any angel, but of man.

In the midst of this argument about the angels, the writer of Hebrews gives a warning. There are five warnings through the book of Hebrews and this is the first one: Do not neglect to listen to this One. If Jesus is higher than the prophets, and higher than the angels, then we ought to listen to him. If prophets have affected the stream of history as much as they have, and the angels are the invisible agents of God working through all of history, then surely we ought to listen to the Son. Do not neglect to listen!

Now the next challengers who move into the picture are Moses and Joshua out of the Old Testament, these great men of God whom God greatly used. The Hebrew people almost idolized them as the supreme examples of men mightily used of God -- especially Moses. In chapter three Jesus is compared to Moses, and in chapter four, to Joshua.

And what is his argument? Well, it is very simple. Moses was a servant in the house of God; but Jesus is the Son to whom the house belongs, and for whom it is built, so he obviously has superiority.

When I was a boy in Montana I was invited to visit a well known, wealthy ranch, by one of the hired men. As we came up to an imposing ranch house, he did not take me into the house: instead, he took me to the bunkhouse out in back. I asked him what it was like in the ranch house, and he said, "Well, I can't take you in there; that belongs to the family."

I saw a beautiful palomino horse in the pasture, and I told him how I would love to ride on that horse. And he said, "I'm sorry, you can't; that belongs to the family." All day long, I was frustrated, because everything I wanted to do, he could not let me do, because he was only a hired man.

But later on, I got to know the son of that family, a boy of my own age, and do you know what we did? We rode that palomino horse all over the place, and we went into the house, and we even went into the kitchen and helped ourselves to food in the refrigerator -- anything we wanted -- and we made ourselves perfectly at home. A son has greater liberty than a servant. Moses was just a servant, but Jesus was the master. Moses led the people of God out of Egypt towards the land of Canaan, which was the symbol of the rest of God -- the rest which God wants people to learn to live on inside their hearts.

As we will see later on in this letter -- and there is a hint of it here in the beginning -- the house of God which this writer talks about is man. Moses was but a servant in the symbol of the house of God. Jesus is the Son in the very house itself. Moses led toward a symbol of the rest of God, but Jesus leads into the actual place of rest.

That rest is defined for us here in chapter four. It says,

...whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10 RSV)

That is, if you stop depending upon yourself and your self-effort, you have learned to enter into rest, because you start depending upon another -- God's work in you. That is the lost secret of humanity. That is the secret that Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden, and which Jesus Christ came to restore to us. When we learn to operate on that, we learn to be perfectly peaceful, calm, undisturbed by circumstances, trusting, powerful, effective, accomplishing things for Christ's sake. And that is rest.

Now Joshua could not lead into that rest, says the writer. He tried to, but he could not take the people into real rest. Oh, he took them into the symbol of rest, the land, but he did not take them into real rest. But Jesus can! Therefore, he says,

Let us strive to enter that rest... (Hebrews 4:11a RSV)

lest like those people in the wilderness, we fall away and lose out on what God has for us.

The second warning is: do not harden your heart, and resist God's lead. Do not say to yourself, "I'm all right the way I am. I'm doing OK. What do I need with anything further?" No, do not harden your heart. Do not resist what God is saying. You may be satisfied with the way you are now, but it will not last very long. Sooner or later you will find that what you have got now is not enough: therefore, do not harden your heart, but let God lead you into his rest, or you will be in serious trouble.

Now the next challenger to the superiority of Christ is Aaron, the high priest of Israel, along with the whole system of priesthood. A great deal of this letter has to do with this subject of priesthood, and it is very important, because priests have great value.

What do you think priests are for? In the Old Testament, the priests had two very important functions -- to relieve guilt and to relieve confusion:

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relations to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (Hebrews 5:1 RSV)

That is relief of guilt; to lift the load and the burden of sin, and,

He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward... (Hebrews 5:2a RSV)

-- those who are confused and miss the path, who do not know where to turn. The modern equivalent of a priest, perhaps, is a psychiatrist; priests did what psychiatrists do today. They tried to relieve the load of guilt and to straighten out people's confused and ignorant approaches to life, and therefore, they were very important.

But now this writer goes on to show that Jesus Christ has a higher priesthood, symbolized by a man named Melchizedek. Melchizedek appears in the Old Testament in a very mysterious way. He steps out of the shadows for a moment and deals with Abraham, and then returns to obscurity and is never heard from again. He is referred to several times in the Old Testament, but he is a figure of mystery until you come to the New Testament, and here in Hebrews we are helped to see what this strange man signified.

He was a picture of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. His characteristics were those of the priesthood Christ has today. First, he was instantly available. The story, recorded in Genesis 14, tells of Abraham meeting the King of Sodom, after his defeat of the five kings. Although Abraham did not know it, he was in trouble. The King of Sodom was out to make him a very subtle offer that would derail Abraham in his walk of faith. He could not possibly have detected the subtlety of this offer; but Melchizedek suddenly appeared. He was instantly available.

Furthermore, because he was a king without father or without mother -- this is as far as the record goes in the Old Testament -- he was a picture of Christ in his eternal relationship -- he was permanently available. His service to Abraham at this time was to strengthen him, picturing the way Jesus Christ actually strengthens us. Melchizedek strengthened Abraham by the offering of bread and wine which in the communion service are the symbols of the body and the blood, the life of the Lord Jesus.

That is why Melchizedek appears in this book, to present the picture of Jesus Christ as instantly available to us. This is why the glory of the priesthood of Christ is so intensely superior to anyone else. Your psychiatrist may go on vacation -- he might even die -- it has been known to happen! But Jesus Christ never dies, and he is never off duty -- he is instantly and permanently available. and he actually strengthens you with the impartation of his own life, symbolized by the body and the blood, the bread and the wine.

In connection with this, there is a third warning -- the danger of delay. This is one of the most serious warnings in the book, found in chapter six. Although we may have tasted the outward experiences of Christianity, and seem to have much that is real in our Christian life, if we have not pressed on into this place of rest and of trust in Jesus Christ, these external evidences of Christianity are of no value to us. In fact, if that is all we have, a time will come when they will fail us, and then it will be impossible to find the true -- that is a terrible warning; if you trust too long in the untrue, the unreal, the phony, there will come a day of desperation, when you will look for the true, and you will not be able to find it.

The fifth challenger is the tabernacle and the law. Here are more things that people trust in -- buildings and self-effort, which is represented by the law. And the writer now compares Christ to this, and he draws a sharp contrast. He takes the old tabernacle in the wilderness, and he says "that's just a building, that's all," but the real tabernacle is man or woman, a boy, or a girl -- it is you! You are the one God's been aiming at for centuries -- not buildings! He is not interested in buildings. That is why I think it is such a desperate error to refer to a building as the house of God.

I like that story of the little boy who was chewing gum in a church building, and a lady said to the pastor, "Look at that boy chewing gum in church. Do you let children chew gum in the house of God?" And he said, "My dear lady; it's the house of God that's chewing the gum!" And he is exactly right. So the old tabernacle, or the temple in Jerusalem, or a cathedral, or a church, is nothing but a building. The true house of God is you. We are his house. He dwells in us. Christ in you -- the hope of glory.

Now, in connection with the tabernacle was the law, which made its demands upon people: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not bow down to idols, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and so forth, all the ten commandments. And these are wonderful, but they fail, as Paul says in Romans, because of the weakness of the flesh which is not able to meet the demands of the law. We find ourselves unable to come through with what the law demands. Even when we try our best, all we can achieve is an outward external obedience, but the heart and the attitude within is frequently wrong, and we know it.

Well, says the writer, the Lord Jesus has a solution to this. His solution is to write the law on your heart. To put the Spirit of God within you to keep prompting you to love, and love is the fulfilling of the law. If you yield yourself to the love of the Spirit, which is pouring out from within you, you will be automatically and unconsciously fulfilling the law. He writes his law upon our hearts, he never leaves us; he deals fully with our guilt during those times when we do fail -- he has already solved that problem in the cross -- and he provides all the power we need to walk in righteousness if we will take it. Can you beat that? The law never does that. All it does is demand; it never enables; but Jesus comes in and demands and enables. He who is faithful is he who calls us, who also will do it.

Now, here, we have another warning: Do not deceive yourself. Do not say you have got all this and try to put up a good front, because that is presuming upon God. If you do that, the writer says there will be nothing left for you but a certain end of evil:

For if we sin deliberately [that is deceitfully, yet deliberately] after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29 RSV)

Think of it! God has provided for us at infinite cost a way of being righteous before him, strengthened within, kept strong and pure in the midst of all the adverse circumstances around us, and we set it aside and say, "No thank you, Lord, I'll make it on my own." Could anything be more insulting to God? And so he warns us not to presume on God's grace.

Well, that eliminates buildings, and works, and there are no challengers left. So, in the last section of the letter, he comes to the means of obtaining all that God has, which is faith. In chapter 11 you can learn what faith is, how it acts, how it looks, and how to recognize it. And as you read through that wonderful chapter of the heroes of faith, you find that faith anticipates the future, acts in the present, evaluates the past, dares to move out, and persists to the end -- that is what faith is. The last two chapters tell us how it is produced in our lives, how God goes about making us strong in faith.

First, we are made strong by looking unto Jesus; you cannot read about the Lord Jesus, you cannot live with him and think of what God has revealed about him, and believe these great declarations of his power and his availability and his life without finding your faith strengthened. Isn't that true? You can look at all these other men of faith -- Abraham, David, Moses, Barak, Samson, and a whole host of others -- Martin Luther, John Wesley, D. L. Moody -- and all they will do is inspire you, but they cannot enable you. But when you look at Jesus, he will not only inspire you, but he will empower you. That is why we are exhorted to look away from these others unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of faith, who will make us strong in the time of weakness.

Second, our faith is increased by living constantly in trouble -- the disciplines of life. God puts us into problems, because that gives us the opportunity to exercise faith. If you did not have any problems, how could you exercise faith? If you did not have any difficulties how could you ever learn to depend? That is why you can count on trouble. That is encouraging isn't it? You can count on it!

And finally we exercise faith we learn faith by encouraging one another in view of the resources God has given us. Listen to this majestic passage:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreated that no further messages be spoken to them. (Hebrews 12:18-19 RSV)

That was the law given on Mount Sinai.

For they could not endure the order that was given, "if even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." (Hebrews 12:20 RSV)

That is terrifying isn't it? You have not come to that.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born [the church of God] who are enrolled in heaven, and to a Judge who is God of all, [pagans, Communists, atheists, everybody] and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, [a new arrangement for living, inside you, not outside of you] and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 RSV)

Isn't that wonderful? Doesn't that encourage your faith? And so, in connection with this we have the last warning:

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:25-27 RSV)

I believe we are in those times when everything that can be shaken is going to be shaken. What does this world depend upon? Governments, politics, administration, education or legislation? All these things are the fundamentals of history -- the things men reckoned on, rested on, and counted on to keep human life going -- but every one of them is something that can be shaken. We are facing the times when God is going to allow everything to be shaken that can be shaken -- that is everything visible. But what cannot be shaken? Well, he tells us:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29 RSV)

The kingdom of God, the rule of God in our hearts; the right of Jesus Christ to be Lord within us can never be shaken. And that is what is being tested today so that all phoniness is being exposed. I have never seen a time when more people who are apparently strong, virile Christians have fallen away, and have renounced the faith in our present day. But the things that cannot be shaken will remain, and that which is based on the phony and the untrue will crumble and fall.

A few verses toward the end sum up this letter and give us the word of encouragement we need in the face of perilous times. It is at once a prayer and a blessing:
Prayer:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 RSV)
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Postby Need2Know » Sun Dec 18, 2011 8:44 pm

James: The Activity of Faith


The New Testament falls into various sections, each dealing with specific themes. A last section, introduced by the book of Hebrews is concerned with the single theme of faith. The whole thrust of these letters of the New Testament is to explain to us what faith is and how it works, and each letter makes its unique contribution to that theme.

James is the second book, then, in this section that deals with faith. This letter is of unique and peculiar significance to us because it comes from the one who knew more about the Lord Jesus than any other human being -- at least as far as the record that is passed on to us is concerned. James, the brother of our Lord, was raised in the same home in Nazareth, grew up with the Lord Jesus, saw him through all those silent years of which we have no record, and joined with his three other brothers -- Joseph, Simon, and Judas -- in opposition to the Lord Jesus during the early days of his ministry. James was finally converted by the resurrection of the Lord; and the Apostle Paul tells us that after the resurrection, the Lord appeared to James (1 Corinthians. 15:7).

Many of us would give a lot to know what happened during that time when James had looked upon Jesus as nothing more than his brother. He was one who had grave doubts that Jesus was indeed the Son of God as he claimed; once he had regarded him as a madman, and came with his mother and brothers to have him locked up -- or at least go home with them, get him out of the public view. But finally, by the resurrection, he was convinced that here indeed was God manifest in the flesh -- "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14a RSV), and James, too, saw "his glory as of the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," (John 1:14b KJV). And so he begins his letter,

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ... (James 1:1a RSV)

That is a great testimony, isn't it, to the deity of Jesus? That this one who was his half-brother by nature should address him this way: "Our Lord Jesus Christ." And throughout this letter, there breathes a reverence and a respect for the person of the Lord that is unequaled anywhere in the New Testament.

There has been considerable controversy as to whether James, the brother of Jesus, was the one who wrote the letter, but if you look carefully into its background, you can see that it almost certainly must be the Lord's brother who pens this letter. In the early days after the resurrection, he became the acknowledged leader of the church in Jerusalem, and was regarded by all with reverence and respect even by the Jews -- so that he gained the title, "James the just one." Tradition tells us, supported by Eusebius, one of the great church fathers and a respected historian, that James was finally martyred for his faith by being pushed off the pinnacle of the temple. The pinnacle was the point in the wall around the temple that jutted out over the Kidron Valley. There is a drop of about a hundred feet from the height of that wall straight down into the Valley. I once stood on that wall, on the pinnacle of the temple, and as I looked down I was reminded that this was the very place where the devil took Jesus and tempted him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple.

Eusebius tells us that in about the year 66 A.D., James the Just, the brother of our Lord, was pushed off this pinnacle by the Jews who had become angered with him for his Christian testimony. Eusebius says that the fall did not kill him, and that he managed to stumble to his knees to pray for his murderers. So they finished the job by stoning him to death, and he joined the band of martyrs.

Now it is very evident that this letter was written during the early part of the life of the church. It comes out of that period reflected in the book of Acts, and may therefore be the earliest Christian document that we have, written perhaps even before the gospels of Mark or Matthew.

You cannot read this letter of James without being struck by its likeness to the teaching of Jesus; in fact, if you take the Sermon on the Mount, and the letter of James, and lay them side by side, you'll see more than a dozen exact parallels. So, it is quite evident that this man James listened to the Lord Jesus and heard these messages, even though perhaps he struggled with them at the time. Also, this letter, more than any other letter in the New Testament, is characterized, like the teaching of the Lord himself, by figures of speech taken from nature. You have the waves of the sea, the animal kingdom, the forests, the fish, and others, all drawn from nature, just as the Lord Jesus himself used to do.

The theme of this letter, as I have said, is faith. If you do not have faith, you will receive nothing from God. Without faith, the book of Hebrews tells us, it is impossible to please God... (Hebrews 11:6 RSV). Faith, therefore, is the channel by which all God's blessings come to us, and without faith, all that you do is sin; "whatever does not proceed from faith," says the Apostle Paul, "is sin." (Romans 14:23 RSV). So all activity that does not stem nor derive from faith is sinful activity. If you are not acting out of what you believe, then what you are doing is distasteful and disgusting to God, even though it may be highly applauded by everyone around.

In this letter, then, the Apostle James is telling us several things about faith. In chapter one you have a wonderful answer to the question, "What makes faith grow?" Jesus said that it does not take very much faith to start -- if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, just a little bit of it, just enough to get you to act, even though you are filled with doubts in the doing of it, that is enough -- that will move mountains, he said.

There are two things, James tells us, that make faith grow. The first is trials. This is a wonderful chapter for those who are facing trials. He said,

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness[or patience] have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 RSV)

You need trials. And then he goes on to describe how to take trials. Accept them, he says, as from God, and if you lack wisdom about it, ask God to explain to you what is going on. But you have to ask in faith; you have to expect him to do this. And if you are poor, do no let that bother you -- that is a trial, but it is a trial that can lead to blessing:

Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 RSV)

As I was thinking about this -- about trials -- I was mentally contrasting the way these early Christians faced trials with the way we do. I was thinking particularly of the Apostle Paul. You remember that in Second Corinthians he tells us, "Five times I have received ... the forty lashes less one" (2 Corinthians 11:24 RSV). On five occasions he was bound at a stake, and the Jews took their leather whip and beat him thirty-nine times across his back. So that when he wrote to the Galatians, he said, "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus," (Galatians 6:17b RSV). Three times he was beaten with rods. And "Once," he said, "I was stoned," (2 Corinthians 11:25b RSV).

And what was his attitude in all this? Well, the wonderful thing about these early Christians is that when they went through trials, they rejoiced -- they counted themselves fortunate to be considered worthy to suffer for the name of the Lord. The writer of Hebrewssays, "You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one," (Hebrews10:34b RSV). I could not help but contrast that with us. We get all unhappy over finding crabgrass in the lawn, don't we? Or if we hear that our mother-in-law is coming for a visit, it makes us almost ready to commit suicide. We become disturbed over these little things.

Not long ago, a pastor told me about a woman who came down to see him, and she wanted a divorce from her husband. But when he got to the heart of the matter, he found that she was upset because she had fixed a special luncheon for him, and had done all kinds of special extra work, expecting him to come home, and he had called up at just the last minute and said he could not come home. She was furious! And she wanted a divorce!

Now what kind of an attitude is that? God sends trials, the Scriptures say, because we need them. They teach us lessons which we could never learn otherwise, and if we did not have them, we would be weak, spindly, incomplete Christians, unable to take the great responsibilities that will be placed upon us in the day when we are with the Lord -- when we enter into his kingdom and into the fullness of his service.

Second, the instrument that makes us grow is the word:

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For is any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty and perseveres, (James 1:22-25a RSV)

He reminds us that it is the Word of God that makes our faith grow -- expressed in our actions. "Faith comes by hearing," says the Apostle Paul, "and hearing by the word of God," (Romans 10:17 KJV). And I have never seen anybody grow strong in faith who neglected the reading of the Bible. How can we expect to know the great thoughts of God, the deep things of God, the underlying secrets of life, unless we spend time with the book that reveals them? There is no other source. No university in the land moves at all into this realm of unveiling the secrets of life. So, let your faith grow by rejoicing in trial and by understanding and doing the word.

Now in chapters two and three, James answers for us the question, "How can faith be recognized?" How is it made visible? How do you see that you have faith, or that someone else has faith? And he suggests three things that are the indication of faith: First, there must be no partiality, nor prejudice. If a man is prejudiced against another, because of the color of his skin, or the state of his bank account, and he treats him as though he were unimportant simply because he is not wealthy or the right color, then obviously he has no faith, says James -James 2:1-8-. If a poor man comes into church and you say to him, "You go over there and sit in the corner;" but you bow to the wealthy man and take him down to the front and see that he has a comfortable pew, and turn to the place in the hymn book for him and fawn over him, he says, "don't link that with faith in Jesus Christ," because the one is canceling out the other. You cannot manifest faith that way. Faith destroys prejudice.

During a time of particularly severe racial tensions, I was privileged to speak on the subject, "The cause of racial violence" at a State college campus. I pointed out the fact that the major cause of the racial conflict we have in our land is the church of Jesus Christ. Had the church been what it ought to have been, had Christians in both the North and South actually received Negroes and others on the basis of being brothers in Christ Jesus, this whole conflict would long since have disappeared, if indeed it had arisen at all, because the church controls the attitudes of society -- not by legislation. not by propaganda, but by simply being what it ought to be. And when the church failed, society failed, and thus prejudice took root deeply in our social life.

Second, he said, faith is made visible by actual deeds of mercy. James was eminently practical. Suppose someone shows up at your door, he says, and tells you, "I don't have anything to eat -- we're starving over at our house." And you say, "Well, brother, I feel for you -- let's say a prayer together." And you pray for him and say, "Now go your way -- the Lord will work everything out." He says, "You hypocrite! You call that faith! You don't have any faith at all."

If your faith does not lead you to share with your destitute brother, there is something desperately wrong with it. You don't have faith at all, because the faith of Jesus Christ, faith in Jesus Christ, means that you actually have the life of the Lord Jesus. Can you imagine the Lord treating anybody who had a need in that way? Why, he would give him the coat off his back. He would do anything in order to supply the lack and the need of that individual. And can Christian compassion, therefore, shut its heart to the needs of those around, either on an emotional or a physical level? So, if you want your faith to be seen and recognized, it must manifest itself in actual deeds. This is why the Lord Jesus said that in the judgment, he will say, "I was hungry, and thirsty, and imprisoned, destitute and in need, and you did nothing about it," (Matthew 25:41-46)

Now James devotes a whole chapter to the third way by which faith can be recognized: a controlled tongue. And what a vivid series of figures he uses to tell us what the tongue is like, "set on fire," he says, "by hell," (James 3:6b RSV). You can tame every beast and bird and reptile, but no man by himself can control his tongue. The tongue, he says, is the member of our body most closely linked to our real nature. It shows what is motivating us, and therefore, what you say is very determinative of what you are. It reveals what you are! And so the Apostle James makes very clear here that if you really claim to be a Christian and to have faith in Jesus Christ, something will be happening to your tongue. Faith will be reducing its sharpness and stopping its caustic bitterness; turning it off, and keeping it from lashing out in sharp reproof and criticism. Not that there is not a place for reproof among Christians, but not in a sharp, caustic, bitter, uncensored way.

Then in chapter four and most of chapter five, James answers the question, "What happens when faith fails?" What if you do not exercise faith? What if you are a Christian, but you do not live by faith, believing continually what the Lord Jesus has said and done. What happens? First, wars and fightings break out, and the direct cause is a lack of prayer. Prayer is an example of faith. Prayer is the most perfect expression of faith, because prayer is the manifestation of dependence upon God. James traces this whole matter of wars, fightings, arguments, and disagreements among us to a lack of prayer. He says,

You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2 RSV)

That is the trouble. We fight with each other because we do not ask God for anything. We do not take from him the nature of love and compassion that he offers us. We do not choose to receive from him that sweetness of tongue that will give a soft answer back, but we would rather lash out at one another and fight with one another. So it is a direct result of the lack of faith that wars and fighting break out.

Then the next thing is that the love of the world will come in.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? ... whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 RSV)

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around. You will start thinking that "things" matter, and that keeping up with the Joneses is the most important part of your life; your money will start going in that direction; your time and thoughts will be invested in those things, and you will soon find yourself drifting into a state of concern only for this life, for the acceptance of others, your peer group, and you will live like this perfectly conformed to the world. That is a direct result again, of a lack of faith.

Then there will be critical judgments. We have already seen something of this, but here he says,

Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law ... (James 4:11a RSV)

That is, he has forgotten that we are to sit under the judgment of the Word of God, and the man who criticizes another has put himself above the Word of God, saying that he is the judge. Instead of letting the Word judge him, he becomes the judge of someone else.

Another result of lack of faith is "presumptuous assurance."

Come now you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain" ... (James 4:13 RSV)

Why? Don't you know that you have no assurance for tomorrow at all, that your life is like a breath of air that is gone just like that? You ought to recognize that only God can permit plans for the future like that and carry them out. In other words, do not get to thinking you own all of life!

A young student once came to me and he said, "I don't need this Christianity. I've got all it takes to live life -- I don't need God." I said, "That's strange; tell me, are you running your diaphragm right at this moment?" He said, "What do you mean?" "Well," I said, "Your diaphragm is operating -- are you the one who's operating it? Have you commanded it to work?" "Well no," he said, "it takes care of itself." "No," I said, "it doesn't. Nothing takes care of itself; someone's running it. Have you ever thought how much of your body's activities operate quite apart from your will, and what you're dependent upon them for just the very next moment?"

And then I told him the story of my friend who was back in Washington, D.C. during World War II, and he wanted to go by plane from Washington to New York. It was in the days when you needed a priority for air travel, so he went into the ticket office and said to the girl, "I want to get a ticket for New York." She said, "Do you have a priority?" And he said, "I didn't know you needed one; how do you get it?" And she said, "Well, if you work for the government or for the airlines, I could give you one."

And he said, "I don't work for either one of them. But I'll tell you who I do work for -- I work for the One who owns the air that your airline flies its planes through!" And she looked at him rather strangely, and said, "Well, I don't think that's good enough to get you a priority." He leaned over, and in his characteristic way, he said, "Did you ever think what would happen if my boss shut off your air for ten minutes?"

She said, "Just a minute, I'll see what I can do," and in a moment she was back and gave him the priority, and said, "You can go right aboard." You can't get much higher authority than that!

The final thing that James brings in is that fraud and neglect come from forgetfulness:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted... (James 5:1-2a RSV)

...the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; (James 5:4a RSV)

What makes a Christian get over-sharp in business practices? What makes him think he can cheat on his income tax? What makes him pull a shady deal in business or line up with a partner who is perhaps willing to slice things pretty thin at times? What makes a Christian do that? He forgets; he does not believe the Word of God any more. He forgets that there is a judge watching, listening, hearing everything, weighing all that he does. He forgets that the Lord Jesus is coming again and that all that men have done in secret will be shouted from the housetops. And so he goes on to encourage those who have thus defrauded to be patient and wait for the coming of the Lord, for "the Judge is standing at the doors," (James 5:9 RSV).

And then in the final section in chapter five, there is a wonderful picture of early Christian fellowship. It involved four things, this chapter brings out. First, honesty -- honesty in word, integrity.

Above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no... (James 5:12a RSV)

Be dependable, be trustworthy. One of the characteristics that makes for fellowship among people is that they can count on you. Part of the fruit of the spirit is to be trustworthy.

Then the second was confession (James 5:13-16). Talk to one another about your problems, he said. Pray for one another; confess your faults to one another, bear one another's burdens, open up your hearts, take down your facades and your fences, come out from behind your masks, quit trying to pretend to be something you are not, but be what you are! And immediately, the grace of the God of truth, who loves truth, will begin to flow through your group, and it will develop a fellowship that will make the world press their nose to the glass, trying to get in.

I am convinced this is the missing element in society today. We have a lot of Christians who are living in little isolation cells; they do not want to let anybody in at all. They let nobody see what they are like, never admit to failure, never talk about any pressing problems, always screw on a smile when they get together. You ask them how are things going, "Oh, great!" they say. But they are not great at all, and this kind of hypocrisy must come to an end. James says that God will be in your midst if you take down all these fences and be open and honest with one another.

And then, prayer is a mighty factor in this fellowship. And he reminds us of Elijah in this verse that has been such a help to me: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects," (James 5:16b RSV). I do not think we Christians have any idea of the power that is committed to us in the ministry of prayer. Power to control the effects of daily life, and to quiet dissension and riot and tumult within so that, as Paul put it, "we may lead a quiet and peaceable life," (1 Timothy 2:2b RSV). Finally, a concern for each other is evident:

My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 RSV)

What a wonderful glimpse this is into the life of the early church. No wonder these Christians turned the city of Jerusalem upside down. Under the leadership of this man James, the church grew until there was a vast multitude of believers who were just simply setting the city on its ear, they awakened a tide of resistance finally that had to move out and crush this thing lest it turn the whole earth upside down. That is what God can do in us also, when we live as the book of James suggests.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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Re: An Amazing Resource To Truly Understand The Bible

Postby Need2Know » Mon Mar 12, 2012 11:18 am

1 Peter: Living Stones

In the month of July in the year 64 A.D., a great fire broke out in the city of Rome and the entire city was engulfed in flames. Hundreds of public buildings were burned to the ground, hundreds of acres were blackened in the city, and thousands of homes were destroyed, so that there were thousands of the inhabitants of the city left homeless. History has concluded that the Emperor Nero set that fire in order that he might destroy the ramshackle buildings of Rome and give him room to erect some marble palaces and other monuments that he thought would establish his name in history. It was during this time, of course, that the story was born that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but it has since been conclusively proved that the violin was not invented at that time. What he played is hard to tell, but it is pretty clear from some of the contemporary historians that the Emperor was seen looking over the city and enjoying the view while it was burning. There are some who claim that when the fire was put out in one part of the city, suddenly and mysteriously it was lit again, so the historians of that day seem to be almost unanimous in concluding that Nero did burn down the city.

The populace was incensed, they were ready to revolt and overthrow him, so Nero quickly looked around for a scapegoat that he could blame for the fire. There was in Rome a group of people who were just in the right situation to lend themselves to take the blame for the fire. They were called Christians. They followed a man named Christ, about whom strange things were said, and they themselves did very strange things. Rumors were flying all around Rome that they were cannibals, because they talked about getting together in their houses, drinking someone's blood and eating his body. They spoke about "love feasts," -- at which they greeted one another with a holy kiss, and shared their innermost problems with each other. This soon became enlarged into stories of sexual orgies. So they were a people already under deep suspicion. When the Emperor needed a scapegoat, therefore, he started the rumor around Rome that the Christians had burned down the city.

There were a lot of people who refused to believe that, but there were some who did, and in order to enforce it the Emperor began a very serious series of persecutions against the Christians. It was during this time that Christians were dipped in tar and burned as torches to light the gardens of Nero when he threw an outdoor party. They were tied to his chariot and dragged through the streets of Rome until they were dead. They were thrown to the lions; they were tied up in leather bags and thrown into water so that when the leather bags shrank, the Christians were squeezed to death. In a hundred other delicate ways, Nero sought to impress upon them the folly of being Christians.

Now it was during this time of the outbreak of the persecution of Christians in Rome that the Apostle Peter wrote this letter. And he wrote it, most scholars believe, in Rome to "the exiles," he says, or "the strangers in dispersion:"

...To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. (1 Peter 1:1b-2a RSV)

And thus we get this beautiful and wonderful letter -- what we call The First Letter of Peter.

You will notice that, at the close of this letter, Peter says he wrote it from Babylon. There are some who say he meant the literal Babylon on the Euphrates River, but most scholars seem quite agreed that he was using the term that was common in the Christians of that century to refer to Rome, because all of the licentiousness and idolatry and evil of Babylon had now been transferred to the capital of the Roman Empire. So it is very likely that the Apostle Peter wrote this letter from the city of Rome in about 67 A.D. And he wrote it to Christians, mostly Gentile Christians, who were scattered about in cities in the northeast province of what we now call Asia Minor, or Turkey, and to them this letter came. They were being hounded and persecuted all through the Empire because of Nero's proclamation, and so the apostle wrote to encourage them in the face of their difficulties.

This, then, is one of the letters of the New Testament especially helpful to anybody who is going through some difficulty. If you are facing the problem of suffering of any kind, I would urge you to read First Peter. If you are wondering what God is doing in the world of our day and what is going to happen in the face of all the tensions and pressures and possibilities of terror that await us in the future, this is an excellent letter to read because it was written to Christians under similar circumstances.

Peter begins with the greatest fact in the life of any Christian, his relationship to Jesus Christ with the new birth. Peter says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew... (1 Peter 1:3a RSV)

That is the greatest thing that ever happens to anyone. When I was a boy I remember Christians giving testimony and very frequently they would say, "The greatest thing that ever happened to me was the day I met Jesus Christ." Well, I was a Christian, but down deep in my heart I did not really believe that it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It seemed to be a rather minor incident in my life. I did not have any great experience. I was only 10 years old when I came to know Jesus Christ and though it was a very precious thing to me, yet it did not seem to be a very important thing. There were other decisions that I would have to make a little later on that seemed more important, like what kind of work was I going to do, who was I going to marry and where would I live -- a few things like this. But now as I look back over more than half a century, I can say that unquestionably, beyond a shadow of a doubt, far and above every other decision I ever made, that decision I made as a lad 10 years old was the greatest decision of my life. Everything has been related to that some way or another.

Now Peter goes on to point out here why this is true. He says that there are three things about this decision that are extremely significant, which you can get there and no place else. One is a living hope. What a word for this hopeless age! Peter says: (verses 3-5)

...to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you... (1 Peter 1:3b-4 RSV)

Did you know you had reservations in heaven already? Now some people say "That is pie in the sky by and by. That is opiate for the masses -- you know, to keep us happy while we struggle along down here." That is what Karl Marx told the world. And I suppose it can be looked at that way, in a sense. Yet when you see young people who ought to be filled with a sense of life and living, lying sometimes for hours like zombies, corpses in our public parks because they have nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to live for, you can see what a living hope does. It activates us. It motivates us now. This is a great thing about Christianity. If you take away the hope of another world, another life, you destroy the meaning of this life. So Peter begins there.

But that is not all. He says that we not only have a living hope, but present power. We are kept by the power. Verse 5:

...who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed... (1 Peter 1:5a RSV)

A present power. A power that sustains us. It grips us when we are in terror or anxiety or need and strengthens us and comes to us in spite of all the obstacles life throws at us.

And third, a rejoicing love, for he says --verse 8--:

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. (1 Peter 1:8 RSV)

I hope all of you know what he is talking about here. That kind of quiet joy that fills the heart inside simply because you know Jesus Christ. Not because of anything he does for you, but because he is, and he lives and loves you, and you love him. Even though you cannot see him you love him.

Now Peter goes on to say that all this has been predicted by the Old Testament prophets. This is not something dreamed up nor imagined -- something that is cooked up in somebody's fantasmagorical pot. It is not a fable, he says a little later on, but it is the truth predicted, and it was confirmed exactly as it was predicted. It occurred that way and thus we can rest upon it. So in this way he encourages us by the fact that we have this inner witness and this outer testimony. These are the grounds upon which Christian faith always rests, in any age or at any time.

Peter goes on to show us that growing out of this there have to be certain changes in our life as a result. If this is what we are, then what we must somehow do is relate to that, or otherwise it really is not happening to us. All that he says and all the New Testament continually says to us is, be what you are. That is all. Just be what you are. Do not be hypocrites. That is being something that you are not. But be what you are.

There are three marks that he sets forth in this letter for these Christians and for us. First he says, "Be holy." Now what do you think when you hear that word holy? Do you think of someone who has been stewed in vinegar? Sour? So pious that he is always mouthing pious sayings and talking about religious things? Is this what holiness means to you? Well, obviously you have missed the whole meaning of it if that is what you think.

Do you know how the Old Testament refers to holiness? It calls it "the beauty of holiness." And there is something beautiful about a holy person because holiness means "wholeness." This is a real person. To me the ingredients of wholeness are basically first, singlemindedness. He is a person who has his eye on a goal. on a person whom he follows, and that person is so thoroughly all-important to him that he is not interested in anything that does not relate to that person. That is singleminded, dedicated. There is something attractive about that. Any time you meet a Marine who takes pride in his outfit you can see the kind of singlemindedness I am talking about. He is proud that he is a Marine, and he walks like it and he talks like it.

Now there is that same quality about a Christian who understands his Lord. He is holy, in the sense that he is dedicated. And then he is at peace with himself. He is not struggling with anyone, or certainly not within himself. He is at rest. He is adjusted. He does not get upset when everything around him starts crumbling apart. That is what holiness is.

Then he is interested in you. He is outgoing. He is not always thinking about himself and his likes and concerns and his comfort. But he is thinking about yours, and how you are doing. They are a most attractive kind of people to be around. I love holy people. I wish all you were holy. It would be so much fun coming to church!

Then Peter says, "Be fearful." Yes, he does. (Verses 17-19):

And if you invoke as Father him who Judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ... (1 Peter 1:17-19a RSV)

What does he mean "fearful?" Well, he means have an honest respect for the kind of Being God is. Remember whom you are dealing with. You are not dealing with another man who can be fooled by your actions and attitudes. You are dealing with One who knows you more thoroughly than you know yourself, and he is no respecter of persons. You cannot buy his favor. You cannot trick him into treating you differently than he treats anyone else. You cannot become his favorite. God does not act that way. Now if you begin to play fast and loose with him, the results that he says will happen will happen to you just as surely as to anyone else.

Now that kind of a being knows us so well that it kind of frightens you, doesn't it. That is what Peter means. Conduct yourself with fear, remembering that you are dealing with One you cannot fool. Therefore, be honest, remembering that you have been bought, not with things men use in the market, but with something that no one else could have given, the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

And third, as a result of belonging to him, he says, be priests. Chapter 2, verse 4:

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices... (1 Peter 2:4-5a RSV)

This, by the way, is the answer to the question that many people ask today. What did Jesus mean when he said to Peter, "Peter, your name is Peter, and upon that rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Now, we know that the word "Peter" means "rock," and the Catholic Church tells us that Jesus meant that he was going to build his church upon Peter. But Peter says, "No." He was there. He ought to know. He says, "Jesus is the rock." And every believer who comes to Christ is like a stone built upon that rock, that great underlying rock upon which God is erecting the building called the church today. But Jesus is that rock, and you are built up upon him like stones upon the great rock in order that you might be a priesthood, says Peter, in order to offer something unto God, something that God greatly desires and wants. What is it? What can you give God that he wants that he doesn't have? Think of that. What can you and I, mere human beings in this great universe give to the One who flung the stars out into space -- something he very much wants. What is it? Here Peter tells us. (verse 9)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 RSV)

That is what God wants. He wants you to talk about what he has done for you and tell others what he is like to you. And when you do you offer a sacrifice unto God that is like a sweet-smelling offering and a savor of worship unto him.

Peter now goes on now to deal with the more practical aspects of life. He deals with how they should live their life as citizens. Here these people were living in the Roman Empire, and under this persecution, and yet they had certain obligations. In chapter 2, verse 11 and on, he deals with these obligations. He says as citizens submit yourself to the government and the powers that be. Verse 17:

Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear[love] God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17 RSV)

What emperor? Nero, who drags Christians around behind his chariot and burns them as living torches in his garden? Honor the emperor? In these days when young people, even sometimes Christian young people, think they have the right to take the law into their own hands, disobey the powers that be, and do so in the name of God, ought to read a passage like that and remember that it was of the very emperor who was causing the heartache among Christians that Peter wrote these words, "Honor the emperor."

Then he talks on about servants.

Servants, be submissive to your masters.[Do not boycott them or riot against them or demonstrate] ... not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:18-19 RSV)

And then he reminds them of the example of the Lord Jesus. He says, "That is what he did." Verse 23:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; (1 Peter 2:23a RSV)

He committed himself unto the Lord.

Then he moves from that into the home. Just as the Lord took the unjust treatment that was accorded to him, he says,

Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands. (1 Peter 3:1a RSV)

-- even though they are not always right.

Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives. (1 Peter 3:7a RSV)

-- even though they sometimes nag you and disturb you and bother you, "bestow honor on them," just as you Christians are to honor this monstrous wretch who sits on the throne of Rome, where Peter says: so you husbands should honor your wives. Verse 8:

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8 RSV)

That is the mark of a Christian in society.

Then comes this difficult passage about spirits in prison and baptism now saving you and all these things many have struggled over. But the key to that whole passage in chapter 3 is verse 18.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18a RSV)

That is the key. He did this in order that he might bring us to God. Christ underwent suffering. He came in the flesh. He died in the flesh. He did all this that he might accomplish the great end that he might bring us to God.

Now this reminds Peter of the way the gospel was preached in Noah's day and how the Spirit of Christ, speaking through Noah, preached to the people of his day in order that he might bring them to God. But they refused, and so the ark came in as a picture of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ to carry them over the floods of judgment and bring them to God. Baptism, which is also a picture relating to the ark, now saves us just as the ark saved Noah. Baptism (not water baptism, and it says so, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but the baptism of the Spirit which puts us into the ark of safety, our Lord Jesus) is that which now saves us as an appeal to God from the clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you read the passage in that light, I believe you will have no difficulty with it.

So Peter concludes this matter of suffering, exhorting the Christians to remember that though they walk in honesty and faithfulness to God, not living like the Gentiles do, and all of the biblical writers say this, "You are to no longer live like the Gentiles do but you are to return good for evil." That is the idea. We are not to be concerned about our own satisfaction and our own rights. We are so concerned aren't we, that we get what we have coming. This is the spirit of our age, that we get our rights, that everything we have coming, we receive. But this is not the spirit of a Christian, and we Christians must learn that and begin to operate on that level because until we start acting like Christians, we have no testimony at all before the law. If we start insisting upon our rights, even in little ways, we cancel out what witness we have.

You have perhaps read of the story of the boy who got concerned about all the work he had to do around the house. So one morning he laid beside his mother's breakfast plate a little list of things: for mowing the lawn, $1.00, for cleaning the room, 50 cents, for vacuuming the rug, 50 cents, and several other things and then he drew a total and put it down there and laid the bill beside his mother's plate. And she read it. She did not say anything. But the next morning he found a list beside his plate. It said: for washing your clothes, no charge; for fixing your meals, no charge; for taking care of your room, no charge, and a list of other things. And then she drew a total and wrote underneath, "No charge. Done out of love." She laid it beside his plate. That day he did everything he had to do in the house without a word of complaint. He got the point.

This is what a Christian is to do. He returns good for evil. And this letter of Peter's is to people who are undergoing real punishment.

The last section deals with life in the Body of Christ. It is a wonderfully helpful section that starts with chapter 4, verse 7

The end of all things is at hand: (1 Peter 4:7a RSV)

And if that was applicable to his day, think what it is for today.

... therefore... (1 Peter 4:7b RSv)

What is the first thing now? What if the Lord came next year? What if we are at the end of the age? "The end of all things is at hand." What is the first thing that ought to be said? Well, Peter says it,

... keep sane and sober for your prayers. Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: (1 Peter 4:7c-10 RSV)

That is his program for the end of the age. It does not look tremendously impressive in the eyes of the world but it is tremendously impressive in the eyes of heaven. And this is what will accomplish the will of God --

... that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:11b RSV)

And then he speaks about the suffering and the way to rejoice, because we share Christ's sufferings -- not to suffer as a wrongdoer but to rejoice in the fact that God is at work.

Peter then speaks of the mutual ministry of the elders to the members, and the members one to another. And he closes his letter (5:10):

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (1 Peter 5:10 RSV)

Can you ask anything better than that?

To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:11 RSV)

Well, those are wonderful words, aren't they, for people living in the close of an age? Let us take them to heart.

Prayer:
Thank you, our Father, for this look from the first century to us in this twentieth century. We pray that these words which were true then and are still equally true today may find a response in our hearts, young and old alike. Lord, help us to remember that we are strangers and exiles. This is not our home, even though we are temporarily assigned here on duty. Help us to be faithful to you and obedient to your Word and responsive to your grace and your love until Him whom we have not yet seen but love with a full heart shall welcome us and restore to us more than all we could have ever dreamed of above that which we think has been taken away. We ask in his name, Amen.
1 John 3:1a, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
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