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Category Archives: Doctrine

Beliefs Matter: One Faith: A Call To Arms! – Philippians 1:27; Jude 1


A note posted on a religious website, discussing sexuality as a spiritual experience…says “it is OK be monogamist OK to be Gay,  Bi, Straight; OK to be different; OK to follow our own path; OK to make our own choices without being judged, particularly in this community.”

The truth tells us that while people may indulge their sinful desires in that way, we don’t please God like that.

How do we know? Where do we go for direction? We believe there is One Lord, and today we see there is one place where we can go to find the written directions. The “one faith” does not refer to the act of believing, but to the body of doctrines which we believe. The one faith is the Gospel.

(Philippians 1:27 NIV)  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

(Jude 1:3 NIV)  Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

It is not scriptural to speak of “many faiths” or “interfaith activities” as many do. There are not two faiths nor several faiths. There is only one faith that leads into God’s presence and that is the faith founded by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Contrary to what Oprah and others are teaching, there is no other approach to God. If a person wishes to live with God—to be approved and accepted by Him—that person has to approach God through the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 NIV)  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. {14} He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The point is this: every believer has come to God in the very same way—by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is the only way, the only true faith. Therefore, standing before God and having come to Him through the same faith, there is no room for any differences. We all stand on the same ground, on the same level: the ground and level of faith.

If you want to be a member of this congregation, realize that we believe there is One body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, and One Faith.

Jude 1:1-4 (ESV)
1  Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
2  May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3  Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
4  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Why did Jude write this letter?

To warn his readers that the apostates were already on the scene! Peter had prophesied that they would come, and his prophecy had been fulfilled.

He wrote to “exhort” them (Jude 3). In the Greek language, this word was used to describe a general giving orders to the army; hence the atmosphere of this letter is “military.” Jude had started to write a quiet devotional letter about salvation, but the Spirit led him to put down his harp and sound the trumpet! The Epistle of Jude is a call to arms.

The Army (Jude 1-2)

The Captain of the army is Jesus Christ, and the soldiers He commands are people who share a “common salvation” through faith in Him. Jude called them saints and addressed them as sanctified.

Not only are God’s saints set apart, but they are also preserved. This means “carefully watched and guarded.” The believer is secure in Jesus Christ. This same word is used in Jude 6 and 13 (“reserved”) and also in Jude 21 (“keep yourselves”).

The Enemy (Jude 3-4)

I must confess that I sympathize with Jude. I would much rather encourage the saints than declare war on the apostates. But when the enemy is in the field, the watchmen dare not go to sleep. The Christian life is a battleground, not a playground. Jude wasted no time in identifying the enemy.

They were ungodly (v. 4b).

This is one of Jude’s favorite words. While these men claimed to belong to God, they were, in fact, ungodly in their thinking and their living.

They were deceitful (v. 4c).

They “crept in unawares.” The Greek word means “to slip in secretly, to steal in undercover.” How could false brethren get into true assemblies of the saints? The soldiers had gone to sleep at the post! The spiritual leaders in the churches had grown complacent and careless. This explains why Jude had to “blow the trumpet” to wake them up.

They were enemies of God’s grace (v. 4d).

Why did they enter the churches? To attempt to change the doctrine and “turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4). The word lasciviousness simply means “wantonness, absence of moral restraint, indecency.” A person who is lascivious thinks only of satisfying his lusts, and whatever he touches is stained by his base appetites.

Many scriptures warn us that the apostates would argue, “You have been saved by grace, so you are free to live as you please!” The apostates, like the cultists today, use the Word of God to promote and defend their false doctrines.

They seduce young, immature Christians who have not yet been grounded in the Scriptures. Every soldier of the Cross needs to go through “basic training” in a local church so that he knows how to use the weapons of spiritual warfare.

They denied God’s truth (v. 4e).

Jude was affirming strongly the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God! But the apostates would deny this. They would agree that Jesus Christ was a good man and a great teacher, but not that He was eternal God come in human flesh. The first test of any religious teacher, as we have seen, is, “What do you think of Jesus Christ? Is He God come in the flesh?”

Anyone who denies this cardinal doctrine is a false teacher no matter how correct he may be in other matters. If he denies the deity of Christ, something will always be missing in whatever he affirms.

They were ordained to judgment (v. 4a).

Jude did not write that these men were ordained to become apostates, as though God were responsible for their sin. They became apostates because they willfully turned away from the truth. But God did ordain that such people would be judged and condemned. The Old Testament prophets denounced the false prophets of their day, and both Jesus Christ and His Apostles pronounced judgment on them.

Why should these men be judged by God? To begin with, they had denied His Son! That is reason enough for their condemnation! But they had also defiled God’s people by teaching them that God’s grace permitted them to practice sin.

How, then, should the church respond to the presence of this insidious enemy? By earnestly contending for the faith.

“The faith” refers to that body of doctrine that was given by God through the Apostles to the church. The word doctrine is found at least sixteen times in the Pastoral Epistles alone.

What does it mean to “contend for the faith”? The Greek word is an athletic term that gives us our English word agonize. It is the picture of a devoted athlete, competing in the Greek games and stretching his nerves and muscles to do his very best to win.

You never fight the Lord’s battles from a rocking chair or a soft bed! Both the soldier and the athlete must concentrate on doing their best and giving their all. There must also be teamwork, believers working together to attack and defeat the enemy.

Sometimes you hear well-meaning people say, “Well, it’s fine to contend for the faith, but don’t be so contentious!” While it is true that some of God’s soldiers have been the cause of quarrels and divisions, it is also true that some of them have paid a great price to defend the faith.

As Christian soldiers, we must not fight each other or go around looking for trouble. But when the banner of Christ is in danger of being taken by the enemy, we cannot sit idly by, nor can we ever hope to win the victory by wearing kid gloves.

Paul admonished both Timothy and Titus to make sure the believers were being taught “sound doctrine,” which means “healthy doctrine,” doctrine that promotes the spiritual health of the local church.

While individual teachers and preachers may disagree on the fine points of theology, there is a basic body of truth to which all true Christians are committed.

He exhorted Timothy to entrust the Word to other faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). You and I would not have the Word today were it not for faithful believers down through the ages who guarded this precious deposit and invested it in others.

The church is always one generation short of extinction. If our generation fails to guard the truth and entrust it to our children, then that will be the end! When you think of the saints and martyrs who suffered and died so that we might have God’s truth, it makes you want to take your place in God’s army and be faithful unto death.

False doctrine is a deadly poison that must be identified, labeled, and avoided. We must always speak the truth in love, and the weapons we use must be spiritual. At the same time, we must dare to take our stand for “the faith” even if our stand offends some and upsets others. We are not fighting personal enemies, but the enemies of the Lord.

It is the honor and glory of Jesus Christ that is at stake. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).

The Victory (Jude 5-7)

Jude 1:5-7 (ESV)
5  Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
6  And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—
7  just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Jude reached back into Old Testament history and gave examples of God’s victory over those who had resisted his authority and turned from the truth. The point Jude was making is that God judges apostates. Therefore, the false teachers who had crept into the church would also one day be judged. Their seeming success would not last; God would have the last word. 

The sin of Israel was rebellious unbelief (Heb. 3:12). The sin of the angels was rebellion against the throne of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was indulging in unnatural lust. Unbelief, rebellion against authority, and sensual indulgence were sins characteristic of the false teachers.

The conclusion is obvious: the apostates will be judged. But, meanwhile, God’s soldiers must stay on duty and see to it that these false teachers do not creep into the ranks and start to lead people astray.

Jude 1:17-25 (ESV)
17  But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
18  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
19  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
20  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,
21  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
22  And have mercy on those who doubt;
23  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24  Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
25  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

What can we do practically to oppose the enemy and maintain the purity and unity of the church?

For one thing, we must know the Word of God and have the courage to defend it. Every local church ought to be a Bible institute, and every Christian ought to be a Bible student.  The pulpit needs to declare positive truth as well as denounce error.

Second, we must “watch and pray.”

The Christian life must never stand still; if it does, it will go backward. The enemy is already here and we dare not go to sleep! Spiritual leaders in local congregations need to be alert as they interview candidates for baptism and church membership. Congregations must exercise discernment as they select spiritual leaders.

Finally, we must have the courage to maintain a position of biblical separation from those who deny Christ and the fundamental doctrines of the Word. This does not mean that we separate from fellow believers over minor doctrinal differences, or that we practice “guilt by association.” God’s true army needs to stand together in the battle for truth.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in Doctrine

 

Motive for the pursuit of excellence: The glory of God


So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

In thinking about biblical motives for the pursuit of excellence we are brought face-to-face with the issue of the chief purpose for the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul reminds us that whatever we do (in keeping with our purpose) is to glorify God. This naturally includes pursuing excellence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism echoes this point with the words “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

For the Christian who is be concerned about his motives, this is the appropriate starting place. This comment by the apostle Paul and the statement from the Shorter Catechism brings us to the heart of the matter and it is doubtful if the issue can be more accurately and succinctly expressed. Christians must constantly be reminded that nothing less than the glory of God should be the motive for whatever they do and how they do it. To glorify God means to bring honor and greater respect to God’s name among men and even the angelic world who watch the behavior of the church (see Eph. 3:10). Every other consideration must be brought into subjection to this supreme objective.

Matthew 10:42 (25 kb)The Principle of Redeeming the Time, Using our Opportunities

Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Eccl. 9:10).

Ecclesiastes 9:10b, “for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” brings us to the climax of Solomon’s point in this verse.

It may be that Jesus Christ was paraphrasing verse 10 when he said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Solomon was not saying anything sub-Christian here. Scripture knows nothing of a purgatory where one can pick up or gain what was neglected in this life. The New Testament agrees that it is deeds done in the body that count.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).

The reason for the preacher’s advice in Ecclesiastes is that once death comes we can no longer buy up or use all opportunities for work and service. After death a person will have no further opportunities for work; there will be neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. We must not think this passage is suggesting soul sleep; see comments on our web page regarding “soul sleep.”

Eternal Rewards

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding (excelling) in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).

Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:23).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).

Another awesome reason for the pursuit of excellence is that our toil in the Lord is never in vain if done in His strength or by the enabling ministry of the Spirit of God. All Christians will one day stand before the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ to receive back for what they have done while alive in this life.

“For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12  If anyone

builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13  each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. 14 If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15  If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

The consequences of the dishonor to the Lord, failure to be a blessing to others, failing to use our opportunities, and the possibility of the loss of rewards form excellent motivations for the pursuit of excellence.

The Role of Attitude in the Pursuit of Excellence

How does one develop the pursuit of excellence? What are some of the things involved by way of the means for pursuing our best?

From the standpoint of that which affects the way we work, there is probably nothing more important than one’s attitude! Our choice of attitude impacts every decision we make on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. Our attitude can either fire our hopes and the pursuit of the things that are important or it can extinguish our hopes and pursuits. The value of one’s attitude on what we pursue—our values, priorities, objectives, and how we pursue them is very evident in the book of Philippians where one of the themes is that of joy or rejoicing in the Lord no matter what the conditions or circumstances of life.

While chained daily to a Roman soldier in his own apartment, Paul wrote the following which is literally satiated with a positive attitude that clearly fueled his hopes against all odds.

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel. 13 The results of this are that the whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 14 and that most of the brothers, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word without fear.

15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

 Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the support of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me; yet I don’t know what I prefer (Phil. 1:12-22).

Then, in Philippians, as an encouragement to “working together harmoniously for the faith of the gospel” (1:27) Paul wrote:If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:1-2).

Note what the apostle is doing. There is encouragement which comes from our being in Christ, consolation or comfort which comes from God’s love for us, the love of Christians for one another, and there is a marvelous fellowship of the Spirit. This leads to affection and compassion in the hearts of God’s people. So Paul encourages the Philippians to allow the above realities to impact their attitudes in their relationship with one another—to have the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit, and intent on one purpose.

Then, in a context dealing with two women who had served with him in the gospel, but were having difficulties in their relationship with one another, Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! 5 Let your steady determination be seen by all. The Lord is near! 6 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.  9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:4-9).

Finally, in thanking the Macedonians for their support, we are given these words that display the power of maintaining or choosing the right attitude by faith in what we have in Christ:

11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).

There is a colorful illustration in the life of the great violinist, Paganini, which shows the value and power of attitude on the pursuit of excellence.

The colorful, nineteenth-century showman and gifted violinist Nicolo Paganini was standing before a packed house, playing through a difficult piece of music.  A full orchestra surrounded him with magnificent support.  Suddenly one string on his violin snapped and hung gloriously down from his instrument.  Beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead.  He frowned but continued to play, improvising beautifully.

To the conductor’s surprise, a second string broke.  And shortly thereafter, a third.  Now there were three limp strings dangling from Paganini’s violin as the master performer completed the difficult composition on the one remaining string.

The audience jumped to its feet and in good Italian fashion, filled the hall with shouts and screams, “Bravo! Bravo!”  As the applause died down, the violinist asked the people to sit back down.  Even though they knew there was no way they could expect an encore, they quietly sank back into their seats.

He held the violin high for everyone to see.  He nodded at the conductor to begin the encore and then he turned back to the crowd, and with a twinkle in his eye, he smiled and shouted, ‘Paganini…and one string!’  After that he placed the single-stringed Stradivarius beneath his chin and played the final piece on one string as the audience (and the conductor) shook their heads in silent amazement.  ‘Paganini…and one string!’[14]

(2 Timothy 2:15)  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

God has never done or made anything that was not characterized by superlative goodness and excellent quality: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Unfortunately, however, the words excellence and quality sometimes cannot be used to describe the products of our efforts — occasionally we slip into the habit of doing things in a careless, inferior way.

But in the Lord’s work, of all things, it should constantly be our aim to do the very best we are capable of. Should we not be motivated by a commitment to excellence in the work of the Lord?

 In regard to the Lord’s Work, two basic attitudes are possible: one of these tends toward mediocrity.

There is a certain disposition that is concerned with nothing more than “getting by.”

This attitude is content with a relatively low level of quality. Nothing is aspired to beyond what is “adequate” or “good enough.”  With this attitude, we offer work and service to the Lord that are inferior even by human standards.

(Haggai 1:4)  “”Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?””

(Malachi 1:8)  “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.”

What object lesson was God teaching by requiring Israel to offer the first and best of what they had physically — if not that we ought in all things to “give of our best to the Master”?

Solomon advised: “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Prov. 3:9).

“The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind” (John Stuart Mill).

“Mediocre” = of moderate to low quality; average or inferior.  Mediocrity is to human endeavor what entropy is to physical systems. “Entropy” is a measure of the disorder in a system.

It increases when things are left to themselves and no energy is introduced from outside the system.  In our work, when we take the course of least resistance and do only what is easy, mediocrity increases — without a conscious effort to rise above it, we are left with a “lowest common denominator” quality of thinking and living.

In regard to less-than-excellent work in the church, people have been overheard to say, “Oh well, it’s only the church.”  What kind of attitude is reflected in such a statement? What would be the result of such an attitude in the Lord’s work?

The other basic attitude tends toward excellence

Rather than a contentment with mediocrity, we should have a commitment to excellence in whatever we do:

(Ecclesiastes 9:10)  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

(Colossians 3:23-24)  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, {24} since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Should we not have higher standards of excellence in the Lord’s work than we do in our own endeavors?

(1 Corinthians 15:58)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

(2 Corinthians 9:6)  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

Our English word “pride” can mean a sinful attitude toward oneself — but we also use it to mean self-respect, a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value, pleasure or satisfaction taken in one’s work, etc.

Is there not a good sense in which it can be said we ought to “take pride” in what we do in the Lord’s work?

(Galatians 6:4)  “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,”

As an example, consider the conscientious work of Fletcher Lawson, the road grader operator, who was not content to be anything less than “the best that ever did it.”  Zenith, the electronics manufacturer, used to say in its advertising: “The quality goes in before the name goes on.”

What should be the quality of the work that we attach the Lord’s name to?  We have a duty to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2:10)  “and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”).

Quality knowledge > quality principles/convictions > quality actions.  A commitment to excellence (or the lack of it) often shows up most clearly in the way we do the “little” things.

Should we not have a high commitment to excellence in:

·        Our individual work as Christians?

·        Our congregational work?

·        A commitment to excellence requires extra effort — carefulness and hard work are required. (Ephesians 5:15)  “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,” (2 Timothy 2:15)  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

We should strive to “give of our best to the Master.”  We should aim to go “beyond ordinary.” We should be striving for the “quality life.” It makes a big difference how high our goals are in the work we do. If we “aim for the stars,” we may not reach them every time, but our work will be more excellent than if our sights were lower.

It is not a shame to fail; it is a shame to aim low. Wherever the Lord’s work is concerned, good enough is not good enough! Our intent should always be to work as those who do “not need to be ashamed”

Indeed, “nothing but the best” is good enough for the Lord who gave His life for us.

“For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14,15).

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Church, Doctrine

 

Homosexuality: A “Christ-Like” Approach


The claim by some denominations that the Spirit of God has led them to accept homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle is without scriptural basis…it is not the Spirit of God revealing new and modern truth, but rather human spirits who are seeking to accommodate themselves to societal pressures!

——————————————————————–

The practice of homosexuality and its acceptance as an alternative lifestyle is becoming more prevalent in our society today. Nearly everyday we read and hear of things which indicate more people are accepting homosexuality as a normal behavior. For example:

• Ordinances being passed which grant homosexuals and lesbians equal rights to practice and promote their “lifestyle”

• The formation of gay churches, even the ordination of gay priests and ministers in mainstream Protestant denominations

• Cities like San Francisco, Miami Beach and Key West which appear to cater to the open display of homosexual behavior How shall Christians react to all this?

I believe it is our responsibility to openly and willingly face this problem in several ways.

WE NEED TO SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE

First, we need to present the truth of God on the subject of homosexuality, but in the proper way. I fear that many Christians betray a true “homophobia” in their reaction against homosexuality, and often come close to “gay bashing” in their efforts to stem the tide of increasing acceptance of homosexuality in our society.

This is not the ‘major’ sin among us, generally, yet it is often the one most talked about in a way that projects an image we do like to have associated with us. Though we need to present what God’s Word teaches on the subject, let us do so by “speaking the truth in love” (Ep 4:15).

We who profess to be Christians should remember the admonition of the apostle Paul when it comes to sharing God’s Word with those with whom we differ: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Ti 2:24-26)

There is no place for a self-righteous, arrogant attitude on the part of those who but for the grace of God would be just as guilty of sins as those we are trying to reach! Otherwise, we sin at the same time we are trying to lead others out of sin…

BE READY TO ASSIST THOSE WHO DESIRE TO OVERCOME HOMOSEXUALITY

Even as Jesus was quick to receive sinners and to lead them to the way of righteousness and life everlasting, so should those who claim to be His disciples. Again, the challenge will be to do it in the proper way.

Paul’s instructions to the Galatians can serve as good beginning: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Ga 6:1-2)

In a spirit of gentleness we need to be able to show them how, and to provide the encouragement they will need along the way. It is my prayer that the material presented in this study can be a positive step toward helping Christians to accomplish these three things.

Determining The Truth About Homosexuality

To know the truth about homosexuality, one must first determine the real source of truth itself. Many might question whether there is in reality a source of truth which governs such things as we are considering.

Most people believe that if there is, it comes from the research of scientists. But the problem with scientific research is that the testing, evaluating, and interpreting of the evidence is often flawed by the personal agendas of those on both sides of the issue. Maintaining total objectivity is rarely done, especially among scientific circles who often must be “politically correct” in order to receive the grants necessary to conduct their research.

The Christian by definition recognizes and appeals to a different “source” of truth, though it is firmly believed that with time and true objectivity this “source” will be confirmed by “scientific” sources. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we believe the truth is to be found in Him. As He Himself said… “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (Jn 14:6)

The realm of truth found in Jesus covers many areas, but especially those of sexual mores and behavior. Consider what Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; “who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

“But you have not so learned Christ, “if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ep 4:17-24)

So the truth which is in Jesus has much to say about what constitutes righteousness and true holiness. But one might ask, “Why should we accept Jesus over the scientific experts of today?” The Christian is convinced that God has furnished proof that Jesus is the true judge in regards to righteousness. How? By virtue of His resurrection from the dead! As Paul said when speaking to the Greek philosophers in Athens:

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Ac 17:3031)

Can anyone else provide such evidence that they know what they are talking about? Jesus by virtue of His resurrection provides the ultimate demonstration that when He speaks, we should listen! Until those modern day scientists, sociologists and philosophers who speak with such assurance that homosexual conduct is a morally acceptable lifestyle can present similar proof that they know what they are talking about, I would caution against accepting their judgments on these issues.

If we accept Jesus, then, as the ultimate source of truth, to what sources did He attribute truth? There are several:

THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS (i.e., the Old Testament)

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:17-19)

Though we learn later (in the books of Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, etc.) that Jesus did indeed fulfill the Law and bring in a New Covenant, it is evident that He considered the Law and the Prophets as a source of truth.

HIMSELF (i.e., the words He spoke while on earth)

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'” (Jn 8:3132)

THE HOLY SPIRIT (who would carry on the work started by Jesus)

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (Jn 16:12-13)

Note carefully, that Jesus did not reveal ALL the truth Himself while here on earth. The Holy Spirit would complete the work, revealing the entire will of Christ through His apostles. This leads us to a fourth source of truth recognized by Jesus…

THE APOSTLES OF JESUS CHRIST (who gave us the New Testament)

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send (the word apostle means “one sent”) receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (Jn 13:20)

In accepting Jesus as the ultimate source of truth, then, we must also accept His apostles. In fact, they themselves made it clear that their message was not their own:

“If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” (1 Co 14:37)

“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” (1 Th 2:13)

It is important to understand that the truth revealed by Holy Spirit to the apostles was complete. In other words, we have in the pages of the New Testament God’s full and final revelation. We should not expect the Spirit of God to give us “modern- day revelations” that are contrary to what has been given through the apostles.

Several passages in the New Testament confirm this point: “For I have not shunned to declare to you the WHOLE counsel of God.” (Ac 20:27)

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be COMPLETE, thoroughly equipped for EVERY good work.” (2 Ti 3:16-17)

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for THE FAITH WHICH WAS ONCE FOR ALL (literally, one time for all times) DELIVERED to the saints.” (Jude 3)

The claim, therefore, by some denominations that the Spirit of God has led them to accept homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle is without scriptural basis. It is not the Spirit of God revealing new and modern truth, but rather human spirits who are seeking to accommodate themselves to societal pressures!

Those who accept Jesus as the ultimate source of truth must also accept His definition as to where truth is found. We have seen that He has identified several sources: the Old Testament, Himself, and His apostles. Putting it simply, the Word of God (i.e., the Bible) is the source of truth. As Jesus prayed in behalf of His disciples: “Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth.” (Jn 17:17)

Since the Word of God is the truth, then whatever it teaches regarding homosexuality must be the final word.

Q. What is homosexuality? Homosexuality is the manifestation of sexual desire toward a member of one’s own sex or the erotic activity with a member of the same sex. (The Greek word homos means the same). A lesbian is a female homosexual. More recently the term “gay” has come into popular use to refer to both sexes who are homosexuals.

Q. How does one determine if the practice of homosexuality is right or wrong? That depends upon who is answering the question. The Christian point of view is based solely upon the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God. A truly Christian standard of ethics is the conduct of divine revelation, not of statistical research nor of public opinion. For the Christian, the Bible is the final authority for both belief and behavior.

Q. What explicitly does the Bible teach about homosexuality? This question I consider to be basic because, if we accept God’s Word on the subject of homosexuality, we benefit from His adequate answer to this problem. I am concerned only with the Christian or biblical view of homosexuality. The Bible has much to say about sex sins in general.

First, there is adultery. Adultery in the natural sense is sexual intercourse of a married person with someone other than his or her own spouse. It is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 20:14; I Cor. 6:9, 10). Christ forbids dwelling upon the thoughts, the free play of one’s imagination that leads to adultery (Matthew 5:28).

Second, there is fornication, the illicit sex acts of unmarried persons which is likewise forbidden (I Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; Ephesians 5:3).

Then there is homosexuality which likewise is condemned in Scripture. The Apostle Paul, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares that homosexuality “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9; 10). Now Paul does not single out the homosexual as a special offender. He includes fornicators, idolators, adulterers, thieves, covetous persons, drunkards, revilers and extortioners.

Then he adds the comment that some of the Christians at Corinth had been delivered from these very practices: “And such were some of you: But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). All of the sins mentioned in this passage are condemned by God, but just as there was hope in Christ for the Corinthians, so is there hope for all of us.

Homosexuality is an illicit lust forbidden by God. He said to His people Israel, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

In these passages homosexuality is condemned as a prime example of sin, a sexual perversion. The Christian can neither alter God’s viewpoint nor depart from it.

Q. You said that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is condemned in the Bible. How do you explain marriage ceremonies in which two persons of the same sex are united by an officiating clergyman or justice of the peace? There are cases on record where a marriage license was issued to persons of the same sex. However, to call a union of two persons of the same sex a “marriage” is a misnomer. In the Bible, marriage is a divinely ordered institution designed to form a permanent union between one man and one woman for one purpose (among others) of procreating or propagating the human race. That was God’s order in the first of such unions (Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:24; Matthew 19:5). If, in His original creation of humans, God had created two persons of the same sex, there would not be a human race in existence today. The whole idea of two persons of the same sex marrying is absurd, unsound, ridiculously unreasonable, stupid. A clergyman might bless a homosexual marriage but God won’t.

Q. Why do homosexuals refer to themselves as “gay”? The word “gay” means merry, exuberant, bright, lively. More recently it has been adopted by homosexuals. In its original use it did not have this double meaning. The clever adaptation of the word “gay” by homosexuals has robbed it of its pure meaning, thereby corrupting a once perfectly good word. I never use the word “gay” when referring to homosexuals. There are many bright, exuberant, merry people in this world who are not sexual perverts.

Q. You made reference to First Corinthians 6:9-11. What is the meaning of the word “effeminate” in verse 9? There are certain words in every language that can be used in a good or bad sense. In the context of this verse the use of “effeminate” is obviously in a bad sense. It is listed among other evils which are condemned. It describes feminine qualities inappropriate to a man. It is normal and natural for a woman to be sexually attracted to a man; it is abnormal and unnatural for a man to be sexually attracted to another man. Many male homosexuals are effeminate, but not all. Nor are all lesbians unduly masculine.

Q. Are there other Scriptures in the New Testament which deal with homosexuality? Yes. Romans 1:24-27; I Timothy 1:10 and Jude 7. If one takes these Scriptures seriously, homosexuality will be recognized as an evil. The Romans passage is unmistakably clear. Paul attributes the moral depravity of men and women to their rejection of “the truth of God” (1:25). They refused “to retain God in their knowledge” (1:28), thereby dethroning God and deifying themselves. The Old Testament had clearly condemned homosexuality but in Paul’s day there were those persons who rejected its teaching. Because of their rejection of God’s commands He punished their sin by delivering them over to it.

The philosophy of substituting God’s Word with one’s own reasoning commenced with Satan. He introduced it at the outset of the human race by suggesting to Eve that she ignore God’s orders, assuring her that in so doing she would become like God with the power to discern good and evil (Genesis 3:1-5). That was Satan’s big lie. Paul said that when any person rejects God’s truth, his mind becomes “reprobate,” meaning perverted, void of sound judgment. The perverted mind, having rejected God’s truth, is not capable of discerning good and evil.

In Romans 1:26-31 twenty-three punishable sins are listed with homosexuality leading the list. Paul wrote, “For this cause God gave them up into vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet” (Romans 1:26, 27). These verses are telling us that homosexuals suffer in their body and personality the inevitable consequences of their wrong doing. Notice that the behaviour of the homosexual is described as a “vile affection” (1:26). The Greek word translated “vile” (atimia) means filthy, dirty, evil, dishonourable. The word “affection” in Greek is pathos, used by the Greeks of either a good or bad desire. Here in the context of Romans it is used in a bad sense. The “vile affection” is a degrading passion, a shameful lust. Both the desire (lusting after) and the act of homosexuality are condemned in the Bible as sin.

Q. There are those persons who say that homosexuality, even though a perverted form of the normal, God-ordained practice of sex, is a genetic problem, constitutionally inherited. Is there evidence to support this view? I read in a periodical that in June, 1963 a panel of specialists in medicine, psychiatry, law, sociology and theology participated in a conference on homosexuality called by the Swiss Evangelical Church Union. That group reached the conclusion that homosexuality is not constitutionally inherited, it is not a part of one’s genetic makeup. The ill-founded and unverifiable myth that homosexuality results from genetic causes is gradually fading away.

Homosexuality must be accepted for what God says it is– sin. Some homosexuals will attempt to circumvent the plain teaching of the Bible with the insipid reply that they are the way God made them. There is not the slightest bit of evidence in Scripture to support this false concept. God never created man with a so-called “homosexual need.” No baby is born a homosexual. Every baby is born male or female. In every place the Bible refers to homosexuality, the emphasis is upon the perversion of sexuality. The practicing homosexual is guilty of “leaving the natural use of the woman” (Romans 1:27), meaning that his behaviour is “against nature” as in the case of the lesbian (Romans 1:26). Inasmuch as homosexuality is opposed to the regular law and order of nature, the genetic concept must be ruled out completely. If homosexuality were a genetic problem, there would be little hope for the homosexual simply because there is no way that the genes in a person can be changed.

Q. Does the Bible tell us how the church should deal with sexual sins? In Old Testament times in Israel God dealt severely with homosexuals. He warned His people through Moses, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

Every Jew knew that homosexuality was an abomination, a disgusting practice to be loathed, hated. This was God’s attitude toward that evil practice. He hated it to the extent that He considered it worthy of punishment by death. Now God loved His people Israel dearly, and it was from His great heart of love that He chastened them. The Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:7). When God issued His law forbidding homosexuality, and the punishment for those persons who violated that law, He did so in order to prevent them from sinning. However, when anyone broke the law, the offender paid the penalty due him. God is a holy God who hates and judges sin. Parents who love their children will not refrain from warning them of prevailing evils, nor will they fail to chasten them when they disobey. The church today not only tolerates sin but in some instances condones it. God does neither.

In the New Testament the principle of discipline was applied with apostolic authority. In the church at Corinth the young man who was committing fornication with his step-mother was excommunicated. Paul instructed the church to take that action “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . and with the power (i.e. the authority) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 5:1-8). In Romans 1:21-32 where Paul shows the Gentile world in its downward plunge into sin, including the sin of homosexuality, verse 32 concludes with the words, “who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death . . . “

Q. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for the church? Nothing is more foundationally essential for the church and the world than a return to the truth. Recently I read where someone said we are suffering from a famine of the worst kind, “a truth-famine.” Our modern culture is in a degenerating, deteriorating stage caused by a departure from the truth. And I must say unequivocally that truth does not exist independently of God, and His written Word the Bible, and His Son Jesus Christ. Truth is in no sense of man’s imagination or contrivance. A civilization without the truth is doomed to oblivion. Every ancient civilization that ignored God and His laws has crumbled. We cannot survive independently of God and His Word.

Q. What should be the Christian’s attitude toward the homosexual? The Christian who shares God’s love for lost sinners will seek to reach the homosexual with the gospel of Christ. I should hate all sin but I can find no justification for hating the sinner. The homosexual is a precious soul for whom Christ died. We Christians can show him the best way of life by pointing him to Christ.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2018 in Doctrine

 

“Does It Does Really Matter What One Believes” Ephesians 4:1-6


*Appreciation to Marvin Bryant for many great thoughts…

A few years ago a man and woman in Long Beach, California stopped and bought some fried chicken for a picnic. When the clerk took their money she somehow, mindlessly, enclosed a large stack of the cash register’s money in with their food. When they arrived at the picnic spot and found the money, the man instantly said they had to return it, which they did.

The frantic manager was thrilled to meet someone of such honesty. He wanted to call the newspaper and have the man’s picture and story printed. The man refused, which is even more impressive as long as you think it was due to his humility. But the story turns sour when you find out the reason he didn’t want to call the newspaper is that the woman he was picnicking with wasn’t his wife but was in fact someone else’s.

That sick feeling you have right now is why we need to be genuine as God’s people…this “thing” we’re doing here is not about ritual or numbers, but we’re seeking to be a church that belongs to Christ…individuals who want a high moral standard that includes lifestyle, attitudes & beliefs.

From the front page of some website:

“…is part of a fellowship of independent congregations known as the churches of Christ, with roots in the Restoration Movement. We seek to shed our individual differences and unite on the simple truths of the New Testament. We are far from accomplishing this ideal, but we do seek to follow God’s word in an open and authentic way.
   “We are not a perfect church. We are a church where imperfect people can connect with a perfect God, where people can grow together, learn together, and serve together. We are each unique members of Christ’s body, using the gifts His Spirit provides to build each other up, lift up Jesus Christ in this community, and reach the world with the Good News! We’d love for you to join with us on this journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”

 Beliefs matter.  Jesus confronted the Sadducees regarding their disbelief on the subject of the resurrection in  Matthew 22. He stopped their ‘trap’ but he also exposed the error of their belief.

When Apollos began to preach the word of God in Acts 18-19, he was “off” on the subject of baptism and it was corrected.

We are to use wisdom and grace in building people up and bringing people into the “way of the Lord more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28; Col. 4:5-6; Eph. 4:29).

(Acts 18:24-28)  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. {25} He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. {26} He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. {27} When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. {28} For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) 5  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
6  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) 29  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Which beliefs matter? Is it what the elders offer as “official church policy?” Do you have to follow lock-step with everything the preacher or favorite Bible class teacher presents? Of course not!

We will have our own ideas about many subjects, but on some subjects there can be no real discussion, if it fits in the area of God’s Word and it is clearly given by direct command, necessary inference, or is based upon the teaching in the 1st century of the apostles of Christ.

Right doctrine is essential to right living. It is impossible to live a faithful Christian life without knowing biblical doctrine. Doctrine simply means teaching, and there is no way that even the most sincere believer can live a life pleasing to God without knowing what God Himself is like and knowing the sort of life God wants him to live.

When people say, “Don’t talk to me about doctrine—just let me live my Christian life!” they are revealing their ignorance of the way the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer.

“It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you live right” is a similar confession of ignorance. It does make a difference what you believe, because what you believe determines how you behave!

The main idea in these first sixteen verses is the unity of believers in Christ. This is simply the practical application of the doctrine taught in the first half of the letter: God is building a body, a temple. He has reconciled Jews and Gentiles to Himself in Christ. The oneness of believers in Christ is already a spiritual reality. Our responsibility is to guard, protect, and preserve that unity.

Most denominational members would be surprised to discover that their chosen religious affiliation is less than 500 years old. Many people assume that the church of which they are members is ancient in origin, divinely ordained, and a part of the church revealed in the New Testament.

It doesn’t always occur to them that there were no denominations in New Testament days. When the church was established in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, there was one church with Christ as the head and the apostles as pillars of faith as they did exactly what Jesus had trained them to do.

That church was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence. The kingdom came with power (Mark 9:1) when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:8).

The gospel was preached, sinners responded to that resurrected Savior, they repented, they were immersed in water for remission of sins, and they began the Christian walk.

How simple! And how tragic today that so many have changed that simple beginning with their own ideas and teachings. How thrilling it is to find people in the Ukraine (for instance) who were given Bibles in years past and began reading it and with little or no help from outside teachers, became New Testament Christian and began worshipping in ways God approved through the apostles and first century Christians.

 At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

Jesus prayed that His followers would be united (Jn. 17:21-23).

(John 17:20-23)  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 Those who cause factions are to be rejected

(Titus 3:10)  Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

Men who cause dissensions are to be avoided

(Romans 16:17)  I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Tim Stafford (OCC professor) tells of a minister who used a jar full of beans in teaching. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right.

He then turns to the list of their favorite songs. “And which one of these is closest to being right?” he asks. The students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste. And the teacher agrees.

But then he asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, and amazingly, he gets the same answer, from old as well as young: they say choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song than knowing the # of beans in the jar.

IF that is true, then what we believe has more to do with what we like or what we will not accept. The issue of God’s authority is taken out of the equation!

One of the main reasons that cults in our day have had such an impact on the world is their unity. Disharmony is not tolerated. Though misguided, misused, and often totalitarian, such unity is attractive to many people who are tired of religious uncertainty, ambiguity, and confusion.

Few of us who have attended church for a number of years have not been in or known of a congregation where there was a split or at least serious quarreling. The problem has existed in the church from New Testament times. The Corinthian believers fell short of the Lord’s standards in many ways, and the first thing for which Paul called them to task was quarreling.

Quarrels are a part of life. We grow up in them and around them. Infants are quick to express displeasure when they are not given something they want or when something they like is taken away. Little children cry, fight, and throw tantrums because they cannot have their own ways.

(James 4:1-2)  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.).

What the Lord laments and opposes, Satan applauds and fosters. Few things demoralize, discourage, and weaken a church as much as bickering, backbiting, and fighting among its members. And few things so effectively undermine its testimony before the world.

The church we see in the New Testament was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence.

At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

God is much more desirous of people being saved, than of their being condemned

(Ezekiel 18:23)  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

 (John 3:17)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Church, Doctrine

 

Great Themes of the Bible: Forgiving Others


(Luke 6:27-36 NIV)  “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. {29} If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. {30} Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. {31} Do to others as you would have them do to you. {32} “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. {33} And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. {34} And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. {35} But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. {36} Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus assumed that anybody who lived for eternal values would get into trouble with the world’s crowd. Christians are the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-16), and sometimes the salt stings and the light exposes sin. Sinners show their hatred by avoiding us or rejecting us (Luke 6:22), insulting us (Luke 6:28), physically abusing us (Luke 6:29), and suing us (Luke 6:30). This is something we must expect (Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12).

How should we treat our enemies? We must love them, do them good, and pray for them. Hatred only breeds more hatred, “for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20, niv). This cannot be done in our own strength, but it can be done through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22-23).

We must not look at these admonitions as a series of rules to be obeyed. They describe an attitude of heart that expresses itself positively when others are negative, and generously when others are selfish, all to the glory of God. It is an inner disposition, not a legal duty. We must have wisdom to know when to turn the other cheek and when to claim our rights (John 18:22-23; Acts 16:35-40). Even Christian love must exercise discernment (Phil. 1:9-11).

Two principles stand out: we must treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31), which assumes we want the very best spiritually for ourselves; and we must imitate our Father in heaven and be merciful (Luke 6:36). The important thing is not that we are vindicated before our enemies but that we become more like God in our character (Luke 6:35). This is the greatest reward anyone can receive, far greater than riches, food, laughter, or popularity (Luke 6:24-26). Those things will one day vanish, but character will last for eternity. We must believe Matthew 6:33 and practice it in the power of the Spirit.

Luke 6:37-38 reminds us that we reap what we sow and in the amount that we sow. If we judge others, we will ourselves be judged. If we forgive, we shall be forgiven, but if we condemn, we shall be condemned (see Matt. 18:21-35). He was not talking about eternal judgment but the way we are treated in this life. If we live to give, God will see to it that we receive; but if we live only to get, God will see to it that we lose. This principle applies not only to our giving of money, but also to the giving of ourselves in ministry to others.

Do you pray for God to transform your heart, purify your behaviors, and make you more like Christ? I pray for these things in my life. And in order to answer our prayers, God has created the church and put us in it with the full awareness that it would be a world of offense — where we could deal with hurt feelings, slights, and wrongs from one another in the Spirit-empowered world of forgiveness.

The popular concept of unity is a fantasy land where disagreements never surface and contrary opinions are never stated with force. We expect disagreement. So instead of unity, we use the word community.

We say, “Let’s not pretend we never disagree. We’re dealing with the lives of [thousands of] people. The stakes are high. Let’s not have people hiding their concerns to protect a false notion of unity. Let’s face the disagreement and deal with it in a godly way.”

The mark of community — true biblical unity — is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit. I can have a rough-and-tumble leadership meeting with someone, but because we’re committed to community, we can still leave, slapping each other on the back, saying, “I’m glad we’re still brothers.” We know no one’s bailing out just because of a conflicting position. Community is bigger than that. [1]

It isn’t just one church’s leadership team but the total Body of Christ that needs to know, keep in consciousness, and strive to live the community principle. All of us get offended at times. All of us give offense. But we are the family of God and must learn to live together in true biblical unity, in authentic regard for one another, in community.

We will need to help one another to remember our commitment to oneness in Christ. Community is too valuable in the church to let careless words on a bad night rupture a relationship. And the same is true for our families and friendships, for classroom and workplace. This means that we have to learn to take responsibility for our actions and to forgive one another. If the church can’t model forgiveness, who can?

One philosopher compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. The colder it gets, the more we huddle together for warmth. But the closer we get to one another, the more we prick, stab, and hurt one another with our sharp quills. Then, in the lonely nights of life’s winter, we eventually begin to draft apart and wander out on our own. There we freeze to death in our loneliness.

Those Challenging Texts

The Word of God calls the church to an option the world cannot receive. Christ challenges us to forgive one another for the stings and punctures we inflict on one another. Then we can stay together and share the warmth of God’s presence.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the multitude: You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matt. 5:43-46).

To reinforce the same theme, he came back to the matter of how people should treat one another with respect and forgiveness. Still in that same sermon, he told his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” Matt. 6:12). At the end of the model for our prayers that includes this petition about forgiven people practicing forgiveness, he added, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).

One day Peter asked Jesus about this matter of forgiving others and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” Trying to be like his Master, Peter doubled the teaching of certain rabbis to the effect that three times was the limit to forgiveness — then added one more for good measure. “Up to seven times?” he offered. He must have been shocked by Jesus’ reply: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:21-22). Then he gave one of his memorable parables.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents [footnote: millions of dollars] was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [footnote: a few dollars]. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”

But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matt. 18:23-35).

Finally among these challenging texts, read the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

What These Verses Mean

To understand the meaning of these texts, it is probably necessary to say first what they don’t mean. They certainly don’t mean that evil should be minimized or that both it and its aftermath are less than terribly, terribly painful. Child molestation, physical abuse, or verbal-emotional assault leaves scars that have to be dealt with in an adult’s life. Addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling, and the like are behaviors that can be treated under a disease model; they are also sins that devastate not only their perpetrators but innocent people as well.

These texts don’t mean that the victims of evil need to understand or justify why someone acted as he or she did. They don’t mean you should not grieve, be angry, or feel betrayed by your victimizer. They don’t mean you should just stuff down what has happened, try to forget about it, and wait for time to heal your wounds. And they certainly don’t mean you should feel guilty about the offense you have taken about an evil that has been done to you. A glib “I’m over it!” or a quick “You’re forgiven!” is sometimes both a lie and an affront to the process that is true forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is a process — “a journey of many steps,” as one put it.  These biblical texts do mean at least the following:

First, the seriousness of what has happened must be named, accepted for its true nature as an offense against holiness, and brought to God for help in confronting. No more denial. No sweeping it under the rug. No pretending it didn’t happen. Just honesty in bringing it into the light of God’s healing power. Write down in journal or letter form what happened; writing seems to be therapeutic to many who have undergone severe trials. Find a trusted counselor or mature Christian friend with whom to share your story in confidence.

Second, grieve the things you have lost because of what has happened on account of someone’s sin against you. Innocence. Trust. Family. Money. Respect. Self-respect. Name and lament what has been stolen from you by someone’s prejudice, lie, or unjust treatment. Weep over it; tears are even more therapeutic than writing. But stop short of throwing a pity party for yourself. That’s not helpful and only delays healing.

Third, remember that you are a forgiven person. God was once offended by your trespasses against him, and he grieved both your behaviors and the condition of your heart that permitted you to persist in them for a time. A man was called to his employer’s office. She played surveillance tapes to him that showed he had put money from the cash drawer into his pocket. The least he could expect was a blistering dismissal and knew it was possible that the police were on the way. She asked him to explain what they had just witnessed on a TV screen. “I stole from you,” he mumbled as he looked down at the floor. She told him she was not going to press charges and then asked, “If I take you back, can I trust you?” The shocked-and-conscience-stricken man assured her that he could be trusted but said, “There’s no reason you should give me a second chance. Why would you?” “You’re the second person who has messed up and then received pardon in this company,” she said. “I was the first, and I’m showing you mercy because it made all the difference in my life.”

Fourth, decide to forgive the person or persons who have hurt you. Forgiving another is ultimately a unilateral action. You don’t forgive because the person has stopped doing wrong or undone the harm done to you. You don’t forgive because you either have or ever will blot out the painful memories of what happened. You don’t forgive because the person has been penitent or asked to be forgiven. You forgive in order to honor the will of God and his Spirit-presence in your life. And you forgive in order to take back the control of your life that someone still has because of their evil and your ongoing absorption with its aftermath. One person recommends sitting in front of an empty chair, visualizing the person who has done the evil, and saying aloud, “I forgive you, [name of the person], for [identify the specific things that have hurt you] and take back the control of my life that has been yielded to you since those things happened — so I can give everything in my life to God’s redemptive and healing love.”

Fifth, pray the matter to closure. Maybe you pray something like this: “Holy God, because I am forgiven and accepted in Christ, I want to live in obedience to you and to follow my Lord’s example of forgiving others. By the power of your Spirit-presence at work in me, I choose now to forgive [the person] and to close the book on the sins [the person] committed against me. More than that, I ask you to bless him/her with whatever will draw him/her close to your heart. Bless [the person] with the love you have shown to me through your Holy Son. I take back the ground Satan has had in my life because of hatred or the desire for revenge against [the person] and surrender it to Jesus. Take away bitterness, and give me peace. Take away emotional and spiritual torment over these things, and let me live in forgiven-ness and forgiving-ness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” You can’t pray this prayer at the beginning of the process of forgiveness, only at the end.

Sixth, because you mean what you have done at that point, put it behind you. If the person or persons who did the wrong to you are still in your life or still among those with whom you must interact at work or church, accept them by the mercies of God and without expecting or attempting to change them. Get on with your life, and keep no souvenirs of your past bitterness. You’ve broken the cycle of sin leading to thoughts of revenge resulting in more sinful actions. It has been broken with forgiveness.

Conclusion

On a Saturday afternoon last spring, 13-year-old Michael Hirschbeck put on his Cleveland Indians batboy uniform and went looking for his hero. His hero is Roberto Alomar, the All-Star second baseman who made a lot of us baseball fans angry in the fall of 1996 by spitting in the face of an umpire who had just called him out on strikes. When Michael found him, he threw his arms around him in a big hug.

The most startling thing about this episode is that Michael is the son of John Hirschbeck — the umpire Alomar spat upon in that ugly incident. Alomar apologized for what he did, and Hirschbeck publicly forgave him and committed himself to a process of healing and restoration. The baseball player has since worked to support the umpire’s foundation to find a cure for a rare disease of the brain (adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD) that took the life of Hirschbeck’s 8-year-old son John Drew in 1993. Michael has the same genetic disorder.

“Maybe God put us in this world to help somebody beat this disease,” says Alomar of the ironic reconciliation. Maybe he did. Or maybe he put them in this world to remind us of the grace that touches all who witness it in seeing the offended embrace the offender.

You can’t walk with Christ while carrying a grudge. Lay it down. Put a reconciling spirit of forgiveness in its place. Let offended and offender embrace — and know they are on the same team now for the sake of defeating Satan’s schemes.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2018 in Doctrine

 

Great Themes of the Bible: Humility


(Luke 14:7-11 NIV)  When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: {8} “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. {9} If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. {10} But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. {11} For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sabbath Day hospitality was an important part of Jewish life, so it was not unusual for Jesus to be invited to a home for a meal after the weekly synagogue service. Sometimes the host invited Him sincerely because he wanted to learn more of God’s truth. But many times Jesus was asked to dine only so His enemies could watch Him and find something to criticize and condemn. That was the case on the occasion described in Luke 14 when a leader of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner.

Jesus was fully aware of what was in men’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so He was never caught off guard. In fact, instead of hosts or guests judging Jesus, it was Jesus who passed judgment on them when they least expected it. Indeed, in this respect, He was a dangerous person to sit with at a meal or to follow on the road! In Luke 14, we see Jesus dealing with five different kinds of people and exposing what was false in their lives and their thinking.

The Pharisees: False Piety (Luke 14:1-6)

Instead of bringing them to repentance, Jesus’ severe denunciation of the Pharisees and scribes (Luke 11:39-52) only provoked them to retaliation, and they plotted against Him. The Pharisee who invited Jesus to his home for dinner also invited a man afflicted with dropsy. This is a painful disease in which, because of kidney trouble, a heart ailment, or liver disease, the tissues fill with water. How heartless of the Pharisees to “use” this man as a tool to accomplish their wicked plan, but if we do not love the Lord, neither will we love our neighbor. Their heartless treatment of the man was far worse than our Lord’s “lawless” behavior on the Sabbath.

This afflicted man would not have been invited to such an important dinner were it not that the Pharisees wanted to use him as “bait” to catch Jesus. They knew that Jesus could not be in the presence of human suffering very long without doing something about it. If He ignored the afflicted man, then He was without compassion; but if He healed him, then He was openly violating the Sabbath and they could accuse Him. They put the dropsied man right in front of the Master so He could not avoid him, and then they waited for the trap to spring.

Keep in mind that Jesus had already “violated” their Sabbath traditions on at least seven different occasions. On the Sabbath Day, He had cast out a demon (Luke 4:31-37), healed a fever (Luke 4:38-39), allowed His disciples to pluck grain (Luke 6:1-5), healed a lame man (John 5:1-9), healed a man with a paralyzed hand (Luke 6:6-10), delivered a crippled woman who was afflicted by a demon (Luke 13:10-17), and healed a man born blind (John 9). Why our Lord’s enemies thought that one more bit of evidence was necessary, we do not know, but we do know that their whole scheme backfired.

When Jesus asked what their convictions were about the Sabbath Day, He used on them the weapon they had forged for Him. To begin with, they couldn’t heal anybody on any day, and everybody knew it. But even more, if the Pharisees said that nobody should be healed on the Sabbath, the people would consider them heartless; if they gave permission for healing, their associates would consider them lawless. The dilemma was now theirs, not the Lord’s, and they needed a way to escape. As they did on more than one occasion, the scribes and Pharisees evaded the issue by saying nothing.

Jesus healed the man and let him go, knowing that the Pharisee’s house was not the safest place for him. Instead of providing evidence against Jesus, the man provided evidence against the Pharisees, for he was “exhibit A” of the healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord knew too much about this legalistic crowd to let them escape. He knew that on the Sabbath Day they would deliver their farm animals from danger, so why not permit Him to deliver a man who was made in the likeness of God? Seemingly, they were suggesting that animals were more important than people. (It is tragic that some people even today have more love for their pets than they do for their family members, their neighbors, or even for a lost world.)

Jesus exposed the false piety of the Pharisees and the scribes. They claimed to be defending God’s Sabbath laws, when in reality they were denying God by the way they abused people and accused the Saviour. There is a big difference between protecting God’s truth and promoting man’s traditions.

The Guests: False Popularity (Luke 14:7-11)

Experts in management tell us that most people wear an invisible sign that reads, “Please make me feel important”; if we heed that sign, we can succeed in human relations. On the other hand, if we say or do things that make others feel insignificant, we will fail. Then people will respond by becoming angry and resentful, because everybody wants to be noticed and made to feel important.

In Jesus’ day, as today, there were “status symbols” that helped people enhance and protect their high standing in society. If you were invited to the “right homes” and if you were seated in the “right places,” then people would know how important you really were. The emphasis was on reputation, not character. It was more important to sit in the right places than to live the right kind of life.

In New Testament times, the closer you sat to the host, the higher you stood on the social ladder and the more attention (and invitations) you would receive from others. Naturally, many people rushed to the “head table” when the doors were opened because they wanted to be important.

This kind of attitude betrays a false view of success. “Try not to become a man of success,” said Albert Einstein, “but try to become a man of value.” While there may be some exceptions, it is usually true that valuable people are eventually recognized and appropriately honored. Success that comes only from self-promotion is temporary, and you may be embarrassed as you are asked to move down (Prov. 25:6-7).

When Jesus advised the guests to take the lowest places, He was not giving them a “gimmick” that guaranteed promotion. The false humility that takes the lowest place is just as hateful to God as the pride that takes the highest place. God is not impressed by our status in society or in the church. He is not influenced by what people say or think about us, because He sees the thoughts and motives of the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). God still humbles the proud and exalts the humble (James 4:6).

British essayist Francis Bacon compared fame to a river that easily carried “things light and swollen” but that drowned “things weighty and solid.” It is interesting to scan old editions of encyclopedias and see how many “famous people” are “forgotten people” today.

Humility is a fundamental grace in the Christian life, and yet it is elusive; if you know you have it, you have lost it! It has well been said that humility is not thinking meanly of ourselves; it is simply not thinking of ourselves at all. Jesus is the greatest example of humility, and we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to imitate Him (Phil. 2:1-16).

The Host: False Hospitality (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus knew that the host had invited his guests for two reasons: (1) to pay them back because they had invited him to past feasts, or (2) to put them under his debt so that they would invite him to future feasts. Such hospitality was not an expression of love and grace but rather an evidence of pride and selfishness. He was “buying” recognition.

Jesus does not prohibit us from entertaining family and friends, but He warns us against entertaining only family and friends exclusively and habitually. That kind of “fellowship” quickly degenerates into a “mutual admiration society” in which each one tries to outdo the others and no one dares to break the cycle. Sad to say, too much church social life fits this description.

Our motive for sharing must be the praise of God and not the applause of men, the eternal reward in heaven and not the temporary recognition on earth. A pastor friend of mine used to remind me, “You can’t get your reward twice!” and he was right (see Matt. 6:1-18). On the day of judgment, many who today are first in the eyes of men will be last in God’s eyes, and many who are last in the eyes of men will be first in the eyes of God (Luke 13:30).

In our Lord’s time, it was not considered proper to ask poor people and handicapped people to public banquets. (The women were not invited either!) But Jesus commanded us to put these needy people at the top of our guest list because they cannot pay us back. If our hearts are right, God will see to it that we are properly rewarded, though getting a reward must not be the motive for our generosity. When we serve others from unselfish hearts, we are laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20) and becoming “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

Our modern world is very competitive, and it is easy for God’s people to become more concerned about profit and loss than they are about sacrifice and service. “What will I get out of it?” may easily become life’s most important question (Matt. 19:27ff). We must strive to maintain the unselfish attitude that Jesus had and share what we have with others.

The Jews: False Security (Luke 14:15-24)

When Jesus mentioned “the resurrection of the just,” one of the guests became excited and said, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The Jewish people pictured their future kingdom as a great feast with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets as the honored guests (Luke 13:28; see Isa. 25:6). This anonymous guest was confident that he would one day be at the “kingdom feast” with them! Jesus responded by telling him a parable that revealed the sad consequences of false confidence.

In Jesus’ day when you invited guests to a dinner, you told them the day but not the exact hour of the meal. A host had to know how many guests were coming so he could butcher the right amount of animals and prepare sufficient food. Just before the feast was to begin, the host sent his servants to each of the guests to tell them the banquet was ready and they should come (see Es. 5:8; 6:14). In other words, each of the guests in this parable had already agreed to attend the banquet. The host expected them to be there.

But instead of eagerly coming to the feast, all of the guests insulted the host by refusing to attend, and they all gave very feeble excuses to defend their change in plans.

The first guest begged off because he had to “go and see” a piece of real estate he had purchased. In the East, the purchasing of property is often a long and complicated process, and the man would have had many opportunities to examine the land he was buying. Anybody who purchases land that he has never examined is certainly taking a chance. Since most banquets were held in the evening, the man had little daylight left even for a cursory investigation.

The second man had also made a purchase—ten oxen that he was anxious to prove. Again, who would purchase that many animals without first testing them? Not many customers in our modern world would buy a used car that they had not taken out for a “test drive.” Furthermore, how could this man really put these oxen to the test when it was so late in the day? His statement “I go to prove them!” suggests that he was already on his way to the farm when the servant came with the final call to the dinner.

The third guest really had no excuse at all. Since they involved so much elaborate preparation, Jewish weddings were never surprises, so this man knew well in advance that he was taking a wife. That being the case, he should not have agreed to attend the feast in the first place. Since only Jewish men were invited to banquets, the host did not expect the wife to come anyway. Having a new wife could have kept the man from the battlefield (Deut. 24:5) but not from the festive board.

Of course, these were only excuses. I think it was Billy Sunday who defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” The person who is good at excuses is usually not good at anything else. These three guests actually expected to get another invitation in the future, but that invitation never came.

Having prepared a great dinner for many guests, the host did not want all that food to go to waste, so he sent his servant out to gather a crowd and bring them to the banquet hall. What kind of men would be found in the streets and lanes of the city or in the highways and hedges? The outcasts, the loiterers, the homeless, the undesireables, the kind of people that Jesus came to save (Luke 15:1-2; 19:10). There might even be some Gentiles in the crowd!

These men may have had only one reason for refusing the kind invitation: they were unprepared to attend such a fine dinner. So, the servant constrained them to accept (see 2 Cor. 5:20). They had no excuses. The poor could not afford to buy oxen; the blind could not go to examine real estate; and the poor, maimed, lame, and blind were usually not given in marriage. This crowd would be hungry and lonely and only too happy to accept an invitation to a free banquet.

Not only did the host get other people to take the places assigned to the invited guests, but he also shut the door so that the excuse-makers could not change their minds and come in (see Luke 13:22-30). In fact, the host was angry. We rarely think of God expressing judicial anger against those who reject His gracious invitations, but verses like Isaiah 55:6 and Proverbs 1:24-33 give a solemn warning that we not treat His calls lightly.

This parable had a special message for the proud Jewish people who were so sure they would “eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Within a few short years, the Gospel would be rejected by the official religious leaders, and the message would go out to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10; 13ff).

But the message of this parable applies to all lost sinners today. God still says, “All things are now ready. Come!” Nothing more need be done for the salvation of your soul, for Jesus Christ finished the work of redemption when He died for you on the cross and arose from the dead. The feast has been spread, the invitation is free, and you are invited to come.

People today make the same mistake that the people in the parable made: they delay in responding to the invitation because they settle for second best. There is certainly nothing wrong with owning a farm, examining purchases, or spending an evening with your wife. But if these good things keep you from enjoying the best things, then they become bad things. The excuse-makers were actually successful people in the eyes of their friends, but they were failures in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is a feast, not a funeral, and all are invited to come. Each of us as believers must herald abroad the message, “Come, for all things are now ready!” God wants to see His house filled, and “yet there is room.” He wants us to go home (Mark 5:19), go into the streets and lanes (Luke 14:21), go into the highways and hedges (Luke 14:23), and go into all the world (Mark 16:15) with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This parable was the text of the last sermon D.L. Moody preached, “Excuses.” It was given on November 23, 1899 in the Civic Auditorium in Kansas City, and Moody was a sick man as he preached. “I must have souls in Kansas City,” he told the students at his school in Chicago. “Never, never have I wanted so much to lead men and women to Christ as I do this time!”

There was a throbbing in his chest, and he had to hold to the organ to keep from falling, but Moody bravely preached the Gospel; and some fifty people responded to trust Christ. The next day, Moody left for home, and a month later he died. Up to the very end, Moody was “compelling them to come in.”

The Multitudes: False Expectancy (Luke 14:25-35)

When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.

Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.

A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible (“that My house may be filled”), but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly; and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.

To begin with, we must love Christ supremely, even more than we love our own flesh and blood (Luke 14:26-27). The word hate does not suggest positive antagonism but rather “to love less” (see Gen. 29:30-31; Mal. 1:2-3; and Matt. 10:37). Our love for Christ must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison. In fact, we must hate our own lives and be willing to bear the cross after Him.

What does it mean to “carry the cross”? It means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23-28). A “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives. The Christian who called his noisy neighbors the “cross” he had to bear certainly did not understand the meaning of dying to self.

Jesus gave three parables to explain why He makes such costly demands on His followers: the man building a tower, the king fighting a war, and the salt losing its flavor. The usual interpretation is that believers are represented by the man building the tower and the king fighting the war, and we had better “count the cost” before we start, lest we start and not be able to finish. But I agree with Campbell Morgan that the builder and the king represent not the believer but Jesus Christ. He is the One who mustcount the costto see whether we are the kind of material He can use to build the church and battle the enemy. He cannot get the job done with halfhearted followers who will not pay the price.

As I write this chapter, I can look up and see on my library shelves hundreds of volumes of Christian biographies and autobiographies, the stories of godly men and women who made great contributions to the building of the church and the battle against the enemy. They were willing to pay the price, and God blessed them and used them. They were people with “salt” in their character.

Jesus had already told His disciples that they were “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). When the sinner trusts Jesus Christ as Saviour, a miracle takes place and “clay” is turned into “salt.” Salt was a valued item in that day; in fact, part of a soldier’s pay was given in salt. (The words salt and salary are related; hence, the saying, “He’s not worth his salt.”)

Salt is a preservative, and God’s people in this world are helping to retard the growth of evil and decay. Salt is also a purifying agent, an antiseptic that makes things cleaner. It may sting when it touches the wound, but it helps to kill infection. Salt gives flavor to things and, most of all, makes people thirsty. By our character and conduct, we ought to make others thirsty for the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that He alone can give.

Our modern salt is pure and does not lose its flavor, but the salt in Jesus’ day was impure and could lose its flavor, especially if it came in contact with earth. Once the saltiness was gone, there was no way to restore it, and the salt was thrown out into the street to be walked on. When a disciple loses his Christian character, he is “good for nothing” and will eventually be “walked on” by others and bring disgrace to Christ.

Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. “There is always an if in connection with discipleship,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “and it implies that we need not [be disciples] unless we like. There is never any compulsion; Jesus does not coerce us. There is only one way of being a disciple, and that is by being devoted to Jesus.”

If we tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, then He wants us to know exactly what we are getting into. He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, no bargains. He wants to use us as stones for building His church, soldiers for battling His enemies, and salt for bettering His world; and He is looking for quality.

After all, He was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.

To some, Jesus says, “You cannot be My disciples!” Why? Because they will not forsake all for Him, bear shame and reproach for Him, and let their love for Him control them.

And they are the losers. Will you be His disciple?

Pride vs. Humility

Pride is the sin above all others that humans cherish, defend, and rationalize. We are proud of country, proud of education, and proud of achievement. We are proud to be recognized in public and to be sought out privately. We are proud of family name, company title, and educational rank. And it is not only the world but perhaps even more especially the church of God that fosters this haughty spirit. We are proud of our denomination or the claim to be un-denominational. We are proud of our own congregation of believers. We can quickly become sectarian, exclude others as unworthy to be included in our fellowship, and hold all who are different under judgment and in contempt.

Lest anyone misunderstand or misrepresent what I have just said, let me hasten to say that our English term pride is rather ambiguous. The word may be used to refer to healthy and honorable things. For example, there is a pride in self and family name that has helped some of us avoid the most shameful snares Satan has set. There is pride in country that brings us to our feet when the National Anthem is performed and causes young men and women to serve in the military. There is pride — we most often use the term “self-confidence” here — that allows one to acknowledge gifts from God, put those trusts to work for his glory, and expect him to use them for holy purposes. There is even pride in — we would probably choose “dignity of” or “respect for” — one’s faith heritage that anchors her to noble motives and worthy perspectives.

There are, indeed, at least two kinds of pride. One is the polar opposite of humility and shows itself in self-centeredness, eager criticism of others, impatience, self-pity, and the willingness to steal God’s glory by taking credit for things he has given to or done in a person’s life. This evil quality in one’s heart shows itself as condescending treatment of others. It generates enmity in families, strife in the workplace, and division in churches. It brings people to isolation and loneliness — which they interpret, of course, as standing on principle or defending the faith. This is the unhealthy and sinful pride so constantly denounced in Scripture. Just think of a few texts from Proverbs: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (11:2). “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice” (13:10). “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (16:5). “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18). “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor” (29:23).

There is a virtuous sense of pride, however, that may be thought of as the polar opposite of stigma, shame, or personal insignificance. Jesus most certainly did not lack confidence, was not intimidated by challenge, and was not ashamed of his racial stock, social position, or religious heritage. Life didn’t threaten him. Critics didn’t deter him. Failure in the eyes of the world did not destroy his sense of identity as the faithful Son of God. He could bill himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and still be determined, strong, and courageous. The healthy and indispensable pride every believer needs is referenced several times in Paul’s writings. At least twice in writing to the church at Corinth, he spoke of taking pride in the people of that church: “”I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you” (2 Cor. 7:4a). “Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (2 Cor. 8:24). He wrote to Christians in Galatia to encourage them to personal spiritual responsibility and said: “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else” (Gal. 6:4).

By the same token, it might also be helpful to point out that there are also distinctions to be made about humility. The genuine humility of Christ’s obedience to the divine will (cf. Phil. 2:8) stands in sharp contrast to the pseudo-humility some people offer in the name of religion. Paul censured some people who were trying to make ascetics out of the church at Colosse by writing this: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23).

The Practical Meaning

Let me see if I can pull all this together. Let me try to fix the distinction between healthy and unhealthy pride, genuine and false humility. Let me offer you some things that might help us fix humility as a meaningful goal for our lives. It is, after all, a virtue to pray for but for which we can never give thanks.

Spirituality is learned and virtues are developed only in the frustrations of living. We have put Christianity in church buildings, Sunday School classes, and books, but it is first and foremost an experience-related faith. When we come to our buildings, attend our classes, and read the books, we should be reminded that we are then only reflecting on, getting perspective about, and getting ready to face again the realities of life. Christianity isn’t calm reflection and beautiful sunsets. It is Christ’s Spirit-presence in our midst on what is often a battlefield. Sickness, poverty, setbacks, discouragement, accidents, mistakes, ignorance, failure — these are the everyday terrain for the battle. Satan, death, sin — these are the specific tactics of evil that are trying to destroy us.

Failure is one of life’s best teachers. We are conditioned by our culture to see success and achievement as desirable and mistakes and failures as unpalatable. The reverse may actually be closer to the truth. Failure keeps us humble, and humility is frequently a good thing in the Kingdom of God. The devil would have a field day in ruining anyone’s character, spiritual life, and relationships, if he could grant that soul unbroken success in life. If churches and individual believers would be more honest about our failures and sinfulness, I suspect we’d be more effective in reaching unbelievers. No wonder the obvious strugglers and mess-ups avoid places where everybody puts on a happy face in order to look pious on Sunday. They get the impression they’re the only sinners in the crowd. Oh, we don’t have to become a group outdoing one another with tales of woe and sinfulness. But we can and must be honest about our weakness, failures, and sinfulness in order to avoid a holier-than-thou attitude. Peter sinned. Christ sought him out to forgive him. And Peter spent the rest of his life helping other sinners. There’s the model for all of us. Failure keeps us humble and honest with one another. It makes pretending unnecessary.

Be gracious in your triumphs and even more gracious in others’ failures. I was once called to help another church deal with a serious moral failure by its most visible and notable member. Sitting in a den with four elders of that church, I asked each to voice his most urgent concern. “We have to preserve our reputation in this town,” said one. “We have to serve notice to our own members that we won’t tolerate this sort of nonsense,” said another. “I just want him to know there is no excuse for what he’s done,” said the third, “and that he has set this church back ten years.” When the final brother spoke, it was softly and with tears. “God graciously rescued me from the same sort of humiliating failure thirteen years ago,” he said. “I am painfully aware every day of my weakness and vulnerability that would take me there again.” I asked him to be the one to take the lead in trying to reach that erring brother and quoted these words from Paul: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Know that your relationship with God is entirely of grace. No matter what gifts, triumphs, or successes you have had in this world, you have no ground of boasting in what you have done before God. Even if you stand head and shoulders above your fellows, you fall far short of his divine perfection. Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and female, company president or federal prisoner, top of the heap or lower than a snake’s belly — right standing with God is a gift of grace. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-24). We have no status or claim in ourselves. Everything is God’s gift to us through Christ. We stand only because we are in him.

Conclusion

John Bradley was one of six men forever immortalized in the famous photograph and now-equally-famous Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. He helped raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. He never talked much about that event. When asked about his heroism on Iwo Jima, he would only say, “I just did what anyone else would have done” or “I was just doing my duty.” In the only taped interview he did on the subject, this was his comment: “I saw some guys struggling with a pole. I just jumped in to lend them a hand. It’s as simple as that.”

It was only after his death that John Bradley’s son learned from government documents what happened around that event. It was hardly as simple as his father had left him to think. Neither his wife nor son had known what happened half a century before. His wife would later say that he talked with her about it only one time — on their first date, for “seven or eight disinterested minutes and then never again in a 47-year-marriage did he say the words ‘Iwo Jima,'” she said.

Two days before the flag-raising, Bradley’s company was penned down by enemy fire on the beach. On February 21, 1945, with screams of the wounded and dying all around, Bradley saw a fellow-Marine fall wounded about 30 yards away. He was a Corpsman and immediately sprinted through what the official report called “merciless Japanese gunfire” to stabilize the wounded man and drag him back to safety. A few days after the flag-raising, he became a casualty himself when an artillery shell drove hot shrapnel into his feet, legs, and hips. Eyewitnesses said he would not tend to his own wounds until he had taken care of other wounded Marines around him.

All his life afterward, Bradley kept these exploits essentially private. He didn’t write about them. He didn’t sell his story to anyone. He didn’t even tell his wife and children what he had gone through. He insisted that he “really didn’t do much” and said simply, “I was just doing my duty.” Remember this story. We’ll have occasion to return to it later.

———-
[1] This story is taken from James J. Bradley, “‘Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue,'” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2000, p. A18.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Doctrine

 

Great Themes of the Bible: Christian Unity


Christian unity is a hot topic. There have been a number of inter-church “Unity” services and other cooperative events which often include both Catholics and Protestants. These trends and events raise the issue, What is the basis for Christian unity? Should we feel comfortable to join together in the cause of Christ? Some of you may have wondered why I do not endorse or participate in “ecumenical” activities. Here are a few thoughts that I hope will clarify and enlighten:

Unity-logo-unity-32506259-1344-1000Biblical truth on essential doctrines, not “Christian love,” must be the basis for unity. I often hear, “Jesus said that the world will know we are Christians by our love and unity, not by our doctrine.” The implication is that doctrine is both divisive and secondary to love.

But a careful reading of John 17 will show that Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (17:17). To sanctify means to set apart or make separate. We are to be set apart from the world because we hold to God’s truth.

Satan, the master at deceit, has many servants who claim to be Christian, but who deny fundamental biblical truth and thus are not truly Christian

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NIV)
13  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
14  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
15  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
  

1 John 2:18-27 (NIV)
18  Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
19  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
20  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
21  I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.
22  Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son.
23  No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
24  See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.
25  And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.
26  I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.
27  As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Jesus warned of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing

Matthew 7:15 (NIV)
15  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

One of the main duties of shepherds (pastors) is to guard the flock, which involves warding off the wolves (Acts 20:28 (NIV) 28  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.).

They also must exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict

Titus 1:9 (NIV)
9  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it…plus many references to “sound doctrine” in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus).

If a person or church knowingly denies or distorts the essential Christian doctrines about the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the way of salvation, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible, we are not one with that person or church, in spite of their claim of being Christian

Galatians 1:6-9 (NIV)
6  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7  which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

We are warned not to do anything to endorse such false doctrine.

2 John 1:8-11 (NIV)
8  Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
9  Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
10  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.
11  Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. Rather, we must refute it.

While we must never compromise sound doctrine, we must hold to truth with wisdom and love. It’s not always easy to distinguish essential doctrines from those that are important, but not absolutely essential for defining orthodox Christianity, so we must be discerning. Also, we may draw lines for personal friendship differently than we would for church unity or cooperation.

It is not our place to judge the salvation of a person who differs with us doctrinally (unless he or she clearly denies the faith). Some may be truly saved and yet greatly deceived on some important doctrinal or practical issues. We can be cordial toward the person, and yet register our strong disagreement with him on the particular issue.

We must show grace toward those who are young in faith, who may be confused on certain doctrinal issues

Acts 18:24-28 (NIV)
24  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
25  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
26  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27  When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.
28  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

We must be patient, kind, and gracious toward those who differ with us on non-essentials. Perfect knowledge is not the requirement for fellowship, since none attain it this side of heaven. We must always be on guard against the spiritual pride that causes us to delight in proving that we are right and others are wrong. We can demolish a brother with our correct doctrine and thus sin by speaking truth without love. But we must never sacrifice essential truth on the altar of love. They cannot be separated.

My desire is that we work with all who truly know Christ to speak the truth in love, so that we all grow up in all aspects into Him (Eph. 4:15). But to join our church in cooperation with other churches which profess to know Christ but deny core biblical truths is to violate the biblical teaching on maintaining sound doctrine and holding to God’s truth.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Doctrine

 
 
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