Football Team Love

 

As long as one cooperates with the team and manifests the right attitude, he is on the football team. He can play ball with the rest of the team because he has a relationship with the other players. However, if a particular team member starts acting out of place, or is not playing in cooperation with the team, then he is kicked off the team. We throw off the team those who do not play fair, or those who do not have a cooperative relationship with all the team members.

The Greek word phileo is used in the New Testament. This is the friendship love. It is the love that focuses on one’s affectionate relationship with someone or some thing. It would be the friendship that is maintained as long as everything goes according to the conditions that determine a friendship relationship. Michal “loved” David as long as everything went according to the rules of friendship. However, when David behaved contrary to what she believed was appropriate behavior, she no longer “loved” him (See 2 Sm 6:20-23). She kicked him off her friendship team.

If this word were used in reference to the love that existed within a marital relationship, then the marriage would not last long. Everything in the marriage relationship would go fine until one partner did something that was contrary to the rules of the marriage game. When disagreements arose in the marriage, one partner would want to kick the other off the marriage team.

There can also be phileo relationships among members of the body. However, if the disciples’ love for one another does not go beyond friendship, it might happen that in a time of disagreement one disciple might offend another, and then, kick the other disciple “out of the church.” And then there is the preacher. He is a good man of God as long as he is a team member and does not preach any lessons that might offend any of the members. But if he preaches something that offends a member, then the offended member, who has only a phileo relationship with the church, will often kick himself off the team.

 Phileo is used in the New Testament to explain many different relational scenarios. The hypocrites “love [phileo] to pray standing in the synagogues …” (Mt 6:5). “He who loves [phileo] father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37). “Beware of the scribes who … love [phileo] greetings in the markets” (Lk 20:46).

One’s association with another in Christ begins with a phileo relationship. But when one grows in Christ, the phileo relationship with other disciples must always progress to an agape relationship. It is the agape relationship that defines the relational nature of the body of Christ (Jn 13:34,35).

[Next Lecture: August 28]

 

Uncle John Love

This definition of love is inherent in the Greek word stroge. This Greek word is not in the New Testament. In Greek society it was a word that was commonly used to express family relationships. Reference here is to a legal love. Uncle John is a relative, and thus, we must love him because he is a blood relative.   And besides this, Uncle John gives out candy when he is around. We deeply cherish Uncle John, but our affection for Uncle John can be tested if he hangs around too much.

“Uncle John” love is as a trained nurse who is dedicated to a sick child in the hospital. She will give the child loving attention and care while she is on duty. But when she comes to the end of the day, she goes home to her own family. However, if one of her own children would become sick, then she would never leave her child.

Sometimes in marriage, the initial love of a couple digresses into a stroge love for one another. It is love out of duty. The husband brings home the money, and the wife cooks the food.   Everyone is doing their duty, but the deep loving affection for one another has long passed away. Marriage becomes a duty to perform, not a daily celebration of two people happily growing old together.

Christians sometimes manifest a stroge love in reference to their Christianity. It becomes only a duty to be with the saints. It becomes duty to study one’s Bible, which duty is often neglected. We have an affection for our brothers and sisters, but we can take only so much of their company. It is sometimes as one brother said, “One can get too much of his brothers.” The one who would make this statement has not yet grown in the love by which Jesus said His disciples would be identified before the world (Jn 13:34,35). He has not yet learned to love the brotherhood of disciples (1 Pt 2:17).

We can always know when one is about to give up on Christ. All that he does for Christ has become a wearisome habit of duty, rather than total commitment to Jesus. It was for this reason that John wrote, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). When the worship of one becomes empty, then he is about to empty his seat in the assembly of the saints.

[Next lecture: August 27]

Chocolate Cake Love

Most people have a passion for chocolate cake.   Unfortunately, many of us can obsess over chocolate cake to the point of sitting down before a large chocolate cake and eating until we are sick. The obsessed eater reaches the point were he or she gags to take just one more bite of chocolate cake. Once the lust for chocolate cake is satisfied, the eating is over. Our passion for chocolate is satisfied, and with a sickened stomach, we move on.

The ancient Greek word eros would be used to define our passion for chocolate cake. The English word “erotic” comes from this word. This is erotic passion that once satisfied, moves on until the next time when a craving arises. The Greek word eros is never used in the Bible.

In ancient times, the word eros was used often in reference to erotic sexual activity. It is the passion that is experienced for a moment, but then is satisfied. When the satisfaction is realized, the “lover” then goes on his or her way.

Eroticism is passion without commitment. In a marital relationship that is exclusively based on passion, one is focused more on one’s self than his or her partner.   The use of the word eros in a marital context would explain that there are some dysfunctions in the marriage.   Eros would be applied to the individual who has had a moment of sexual satisfaction, but then moves on to the appointments of the day. This would be a relationship that grows dim over time as the passion of the sexual experience fades from the marriage. Therefore, after the honeymoon is over, it is then the time to determine if the married partners truly love one another.

Some people grow tired of being married because the passion of the sexual experience of the marriage has faded away. In such cases, the couple may have been married only on the basis of a passionate sexual relationship. But when the passion of the sexual relationship has faded, then they fade from one another as partners. Their sexual eros was a weak foundation upon which their marriage relationship was initially established.

In the sexual activity of a world that lives in fornication, eros would define the sexual relationship between many men and women. This is erotic sex without any commitments. Sexual encounters without any commitments defines a hedonistic society in which individuals seek relationships only for the purpose of satisfying their sexual impulses.

In a marriage relationship, two individuals have taken the first step in honoring a commitment to one another. Newly married couples must focus on their commitment to grow together for life, enjoying the sexual relationship as God’s blessing for the expression of love within the marriage. Jesus’ parable in reference to receiving the word of God illustrates too many young marriages. In the parable, Jesus identified those who initially were excited about receiving the word of God, but did not have a deep commitment to continue in their relationship with God.

But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. However, he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (Mt 13:20,21).

This sounds like some marriages. Some people immediately receive the word (get married), but immediately fall away from the word when times get tough (when disagreements come). Those in the parable fell away from their relationship with Jesus because their passion for the Lord had no depth. It was shallow. It was initially based on excitement, but the excitement eventually passed away when hard times came.

In his youth, John Mark may have had this initial burst of passion for the Lord. He sailed with Paul and Barnabas on their first mission journey.   Unfortunately, the exciting passion that Mark initially experienced for the Lord was not strong enough to take him through all the trials of the journey for which he volunteered (1 Jn 4:18).   He eventually turned back from the journey (At 15:38).

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to Mark’s story.   His initial passion eventually grew into a committed love that sustained his relationship with the Lord until the end of his life. Many years later, and while Paul was in prison in Rome, he called on Timothy to “get Mark and bring him …, for he is profitable to me for the ministry (2 Tm 4:11).

Mark’s life illustrates the initial commitment of many young people to one another when they are first married. Marriage begins with love and erotic excitement, but then come the trials of stony places. Nevertheless, if a couple hangs tight, the initial eros (passion) of the relationship will eventually grow into a lifetime relational love that will deliver great rewards in old age. “Chocolate cake” passion alone for one another will not take a married couple to the rewards of marriage in old age. However, when the passion of two young people eventually morphs into sacrificial love, then the couple is on their way to holding one another’s hand into an inexpressible love commitment until they part in death.

Passion will initially connect two people in marriage, but it takes sacrificial love to keep them connected until death do them part.

[Next lecture: August 26]

 

 

Starting With Basics

“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).

The suicide bomber who straps on a bomb and blows up innocent people does not know the God of the Bible. The thief who breaks into and steals that which belongs to his neighbor does not love his neighbor as himself. Life today seems to be the definition of a loveless existence, and thus, the identity of a world gone wrong in human relationships.   Nevertheless, our personal lives need not be patterned after the loveless character of a world controlled by Satan. We can be different. We can be so different that we can preserve ourselves through Jesus past this world. We can do this, however, only if we can discover the God of love who offered His Son as a love offering in order to bring us into eternal dwelling in His loving presence. For this reason, therefore, we long to discover this God and how we are to love Him and our fellow man.

Society in general has long forgotten the admonition of the true and living God of love:

You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind …. You will love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-39).

Society in general does not get better. Satan does his work well, and thus, society always spirals down morally. When God made the pronouncement of Noah’s generation that every imagination of the mind of man was only evil continually (Gn 6:5), He was, in a negative/positive sense, defining the nature of those who would reveal themselves as His children by their love for one another and Him. An unloving world provides the opportunity for God’s children, through their love, not to be identified with a morally degenerate world. Jesus explained:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.   By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34,35).

Jesus’ statement forces us to be positive in a world that always goes morally wrong. If all the world were loving, then there would be no possibility to define who the disciples of Jesus really are, neither would we have any visual evidence of the nature of the God of love. But the fact that the world is burdened with unloving people provides the opportunity for Christians to be identified as the people of God because of their love for one another. They have the opportunity to reveal the one true and living God by the loving nature of their lives that are patterned after the loving character of God.

Jesus’ statement in John 13:34,35 assumed that Christians throughout their lives would dwell in unloving social environments, and thus, have the opportunity to reveal the love of God. The loving Christian, therefore, is taking advantage of his unloving environment in order to manifest the love of God in his or her heart, and thus, reveal the true God of love in heaven. The Bible statement is thus emphatically true: “HE WHO DOES NOT LOVE DOES NOT KNOW GOD, FOR GOD IS LOVE(1 Jn 4:8).   Those who perform wickedness toward their fellow man are atheistic in reference to the loving God that is revealed in the Bible. They are behaving wickedly according to a god they have created after their own wickedness.

If we manifest love for God and our neighbors, then it is by this love that we will be identified to be the children of the true God of love. We are sure that this thought was in the mind of Peter when he wrote:

But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Pt 3:15).

The love of a Christian should spark inquiry in the minds of the loveless in order that they ask for a reason concerning the hope of the Christian. A loveless society provides many opportunities to reveal the God of love.

There are actually four words in the Greek dictionary that are commonly translated in English literature with the English word “love.” Each Greek word reveals something unique about the relationship that the Greeks had with one another in their society. However, in the New Testament only two of these Greek words are used. In order to enlighten our New Testament definition of the love by which God is revealed and Christians identified, we will begin with the two Greek words that are not used in the New Testament, but were used in Greek society. All four words will give us some idea of the emotional relationship that existed between people of the first century. The last two words will help us understand better the relationship that the disciples of Christ should have toward one another and the God of love.

(In the next four lectures, we will define and apply each of the four Greek words.)

[Next lecture: August 25]

 

Building Eternal Relationships

In a 1960s newsletter of the Foundation For Human Betterment, it was stated:

 

“During the past forty years medicine has made tremendous progress. We have almost eliminated the bacterial diseases, such as typhoid fever, bubonic plague, and many others which in the past have wiped out huge segments of mankind.   However, we have made very little progress in the so-called psychosomatic diseases, and by that we mean diseases that are caused by or are greatly influenced by wrong mental and emotional attitudes. We now know that the giant destructive emotions of hate, envy, jealousy, fear and guilt produce diseases just as certainly as do bacteria or poisons ….   To put it bluntly, when a man harbors these destructive emotions he is slowly but surely committing suicide ….   We know that the only way to get rid of these destructive emotions is to replace them with LOVE.”

 

We live in a world that is plagued with diseased minds that destroy every social structure that is the foundation of humanity. In some places of our present world, the Holy Spirit could write the following concerning the social behavior of society: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gn 6:5). We seek to encourage those who live in this world—which is all of us—in order that we better cope with the evil of the world by following the advice of our God.   Only in following the advice of our Creator will we be able to take ownership of a victorious life. When we follow Him, we wake up every day and thank Him that we made it this far. We continually remind ourselves of God’s directives that make us victorious in any hostile environment that at times seems so contrary to righteousness.   Many societies of the world have gone wrong. But this does not mean that we must go wrong with the evil of our environment. As Christians, we are reminded by the evil of this world that this world is not our final home. We view the moral negatives of this world, therefore, as positives to keep our minds focused on that which is not of this world. Our teleology constrains us to focus on heaven. And on focusing on that which is good, we can be that small portion of salt that can preserve those around us.

[Lectures start August 24.]

Love, Law, Freedom & Drug Abuse

LOVE, LAW, FREEDOM and DRUG ABUSE
The Bible records the words of Jesus concerning the most important commandment (law) of all commandments in reference to our relationship with our Creator: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). And then the Holy Spirit defined the love of God: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments [laws]” (1 John 5:3). There is no loving of God unless one obeys the laws of God.

Now apply this definition to what Jesus said was the second greatest law: “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving one’s neighbor as himself is to obey civil laws in reference to one’s relationship with his fellow citizen. God ordained that societies establish civil government and law for themselves in order that the citizens have law and order among themselves as a nation. Without civil order, there is no freedom. “Therefore, whoever resists authority [of the government], resists the ordinance of God. And those who resist will receive judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:2).

The problem with drug addiction is that the addiction works against the second greatest law that must exist among the citizens of a nation, that is, that citizens love their neighbors as themselves. Citizens of a nation establish civil laws against substance abuse for the purpose of maintaining civil order and freedom. Drug abuse is almost always the problem of those citizens of society who have no financial basis by which they can support their addiction. The addicted, therefore, must resort to the unloving practice of fitting into a drug-distribution network, or stealing from their neighbors to support their habit, or both.

Crime rates escalate in those communities where drug addiction prevails. The drug-addicted citizen cannot maintain any love of his neighbor when he persists in stealing from his neighbor in order to continue his selfish addiction. In his addiction, he does not love himself, for he is destroying his body. And in his self-destruction, he has no consideration for his neighbor, for the addicted must steal in order to continue their addiction. It is for this reason that law and order in a drug-addicted society is diminished. And when law and order are diminished, so also is the freedom of the innocent.

If a government for and by the people would maintain law and order in a society where substance abuse is running rampant, then it has no option but to crack down on drug abuse in order to reclaim freedom. In a drug-infested society, the citizens must make a decision: Either they as a government of and for the people, can be lenient with substance abuse, and thus limit of the freedom of society because of theft, or they can rise up against all forms of drug abuse in order to restore their freedom?

There can be no freedom that is guaranteed by law in a society where drug abuse denies the citizens the right to love one’s neighbor as himself. A society of drug abuse locks up the citizens in their own homes, but allows the drug-addicted thieves to run free.
_______________________________
Suggested reading: Book 21
DEVELOPING CHARACTER
Biblical Research Library
www.africainternational.org

Result of Persistence

When we focus on historical studies of the early beginnings of Christianity, we would become discouraged if it were not for the result of what actually happened in the first century in reference to the growth of Christianity. There was tremendous opposition to Jesus and the preaching of the early disciples.   Satan used every tool of opposition that he had at his disposal. He used the religious leaders of the time to crucify, stone, slander and imprison the early messengers of the gospel. But the word of God prevailed. There was nothing that Satan could do to stop the work of Jesus to take the gospel into all the world.

In his efforts to oppose the preaching of the early disciples, it is interesting to note what the historian Luke said actually prevailed over all opposition that Satan could offer:

So the word of God increased. And the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith (At 6:7).

When Christians today are persistent in teaching the word of God, then the number of disciples will multiply. It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit, in this historical statement of Luke, focused on the increase of the word of God.   When messengers of the word persist in their efforts to plant the seed of the kingdom, the number of disciples will be multiplied. God’s word is so powerful when preached that it will bring to Jesus even those who lead in the onslaught of persecution against the word. If the disciples are vigilant and persistent, even the religious leaders will bow to the power of the word of God.

Teaching the word of God must become our customary behavior. “And Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (At 17:2). It was not that Paul taught the word of God when it was convenient, or when he had the opportunity. Many today are “convenient” teachers, that is, they teach the word of God only when an opportunity comes their way. But Paul, and the early disciples, took the initiative. They looked for gathered people who loved their Bibles. Paul once took the initiative to go to a “prayer meeting” where he “sat down and spoke to the women who had assembled” (At 16:13). The early disciples were aggressive to teach the word, not passive as the opportunity offered itself.   They were looking for places to teach the Bible.

We have found that the word of God will not increase in any area where Christians have become passive in their witness to the word. This is surely what happened in the city of Ephesus. The word of God increased significantly in the city in the early beginnings of the disciples’ teaching the word. Religious people even burned their deceptive religious books when they accepted the word of God (See At 19:19). But many years later when Jesus addressed the disciples in Ephesus, He said, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rv 2:4). They had maintained a great number of good works among themselves (Rv 2:2). Jesus had no complaint in this area. But they had lost their first love of teaching the word of God to others. They were great on works, but dead on the word. What disciples often do is content themselves in their good works, but there is no preaching of the word to the unbelievers. And works without the word is death.

Highly organized churches are often highly dead.   They have often organized themselves into neglecting that which produces fruit. They grow by attracting “converts” through their enthusiastic activity. But there is no emphasis on teaching the word of God. When a church is built on the enthusiastic activity of good works, without emphasis on faithfulness to the word of God, then the church becomes a social club of religionists who are afraid to focus on the word of God lest members be driven away by the commandments of God. If a church is built on those who have responded to the word of God, and then go to work for Jesus, there is never a fear among the leadership that members will be driven away when the word of God is taught. A church built on works is dead, whereas a church that is built on the word of God is alive.

The reason why the disciples increased in Ephesus in the early beginning was stated clearly by Luke in Acts 19:20: So the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.” It is the word of God that will prevail over lies, error and deception. It is the word of God that causes religionists to burn their religious books that are full of lies. Our good works may offer the opportunity to attract many to our group. But we must never forget that it is the word of God that leads us to prevail.   Deceived religionists burn their religious books of lies when they are confronted with the truth of the word of God.

The power is in the word of God, not in our person as disciples of Jesus. We must never forget that …

… the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hb 4:12).

When we teach the word of God, we must never forget that people are “… born again, not by perishable seed, but imperishable, by the word of God that lives and abides (1 Pt 1:23).   When this imperishable seed is planted in the hearts of men and women throughout the world, God will give the increase. “I have planted,” Paul wrote, “Apollos watered, but God gave the increase (1 Co 3:6).   If there is no planting of the word of God, then God cannot give an increase. If Christians do not take the initiative to plant the word from city to city, then there will be no increase.

We must always remember that Satan has gone on before us to every city. He has deceived people into being satisfied with their religiosity in the bondage of deception. Only when teachers of the word of God enter into Ephesus will the word of God be able to prevail. If the disciples of Jesus do not take the initiative to enter into the city with the word of God, then the religious people of the city will continue to read their religious books, and thus continue in the deception of that which is false. God can give no increase while we sit idly by and wait for an opportunity to teach the word of God. If we do not make it the custom of our lives to teach the word of God, God cannot give the increase. Teachers of the word, therefore, must create the opportunities to teach the word.

The power of the gospel is not in ourselves, but in that which comes from God. Paul reminded those in Achaia who trusted in themselves, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to think anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Co 3:5). We might think that our social religious club is adequate to draw people to Christ. We will certainly draw many people through our many works (See Ep 2:2). We will even be known in the community for our good works. But we may be as the church in Sardis: “I know your works,” Jesus said, “that you have a name that you live, but you are dead (Rv 3:1).

Jesus will recognize our good works (See Rv 2:,2,9,13,19). He would commend some with the words, I know your works and love and service and faith and your patience. And as for your works, the last are greater than the first” (Rv 2:19). However, in commending the disciples in Thyatira for the increase in their works, He judged, “I have a few things against you because you tolerate …” (Rv 2:20). They were good in works, but lacking in implementing the commandments of God in rebuking the immoral behavior of some among them. They tolerated the immoral among them, though they were known for their good works.

If Jesus’ message of judgment against the seven churches of Asia teaches one clear point it is that the word of God must be implemented in the lives of those who call themselves after Christ.   “Lord, Lord” cries to claim allegiance to Christ is not good enough. We must do the will of the Father in heaven (Mt 7:21). We must be doers of the word of God, and not hearers only (Js 1:22). If we do not, then we will eventually hear the words of Jesus when He comes to judge the world, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness” (Mt 7:23). Therefore, “… be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Js 1:22). When we are doers of the word of God, we can have hope that we will eventually hear the following words from Jesus when He comes again: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).

If we are confident in teaching the word of God, the word will prevail over error. And in the end, we will prevail over the world when our Lord comes.

[Final lecture of series]

God Works Through Change

We were once working a mission area of the world where we had friends from “back home” come and visit us. We always remember the inadvertent compliment of one of these friends. He said, “All of you are always making a liar out of me when I visit you and return home. I make a report of what you are doing, and when I come back the next year, you are doing something different.”

Our friend realized that we allowed God to work in our lives. And as we lived in the ministry, doors would open that demanded a change in ministry.   Changes needed to be made according to the opportunity of each open door. If we did not change our methods or tactics by changing our thinking, then we would have been shutting God out of our plans. Our inability to change would have shut God out of our lives.

We have known of several supporting churches throughout the years who have submitted the evangelist they supported to work according to a “contract of work.” The contract would carefully be drawn up after much thinking and prayer, and then committed to paper. The supporters, as well as the supported, would dutifully sign the contract. The evangelist would then go to his designated field of ministry with his hands tied. What everyone had done when they signed the agreement was to limit God in the lives of the evangelists. Prayers were made that God would work according to the contract, that is, “God please bless our plans.”

The more one confines his ministry to his plans, the less God can intervene with His plans for His own glory. If we are successful with our plans, we seek to take the glory. After all, did not God bless our plans? God does not work according to the corporate world of good business management that is outlined on a spreadsheet. We cannot manage God with our plans. God is not confined to our corporate agenda.

When an evangelist goes into all the world to preach the gospel, he should be thoroughly prepared in his mind to change from what he first envisioned would be. As he encounters open doors that God makes available, he should be prepared to change. When things change, the effective evangelist will change in order to take advantage of new opportunities.

The same is true in reference to the work of disciples who are trying to reach the folks in their own community. We remember when a “gospel meeting” or a “campaign for Christ” was productive. The problem was that this method of preaching the gospel publicly in many areas of the world died several decades before we were willing to give up the method.   One day we did wake up and looked at the audience who attended our gospel meetings. We were looking at ourselves. There were no visitors. We were preaching to the choir.

If churches are not able to change according to the receptivity of the people in their community, then they will die.   Their inability to change will eventually lead to the removal of the lampstand from Ephesus. No matter how many good works we are doing, or how great a name we make for ourselves in the community, our inability to change with the times will vacate the lampstand of the gospel from our community (See Rv 2:2,19; 3:1). Satan will have used one of his best tools to terminate the church in our city.

The apostle Paul sometimes faced this challenge.   He worked with purpose and dreams.   As an independent personality, we would expect nothing less from him. So the Holy Spirit had to do some fine tuning with him in order that he learn to change his plans. On one occasion he was traveling through Phrygia and Galatia. He planned to go into Asia and preach the gospel. But he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (At 16:6). We do not know how he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit, but we do know that he had to change his plans. At the time, Asia had to be stricken from his “contract.”

As Paul, Silas and Timothy continued on their journey, they came to Mysia. Again he, Silas and Timothy had plans to go into another region and preach the word of the Lord. On this occasion the team of three evangelists wanted to go to Bithynia (At 16:7). “But the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (At 16:7).   They had made their plans, signed their contracts, but they had to change. They continued their mission to preach the word of the Lord, but their plans had to be changed. After they were informed by the Spirit of Jesus that they were not to go into Bithynia, it seems that they may have been somewhat disheartened. For some special reason, the Lord sent Paul a special vision concerning where he must go. In the vision, “a man of Macedonia was standing and pleading to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” (At 16:9).

Now notice how quickly Paul was willing to change his plans once he saw the vision. “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia …” (At 16:10). Paul, Silas, Timothy, and now Luke, were men who allowed God to work in their lives according to His will, not theirs. We must keep this lesson in mind when we make our own plans. We must be people who are entirely opened to God working in our lives. The business world may think that we are unpredictable in our work. We are as predictable as the many open doors we see before us. We work for an unpredictable God who does not open doors until we have launched out of the security of our own plans. If we do not have a spirit of change, we will lock God out.

We have always wondered what Paul’s friends from back home would have said when they visited him in Macedonia. Would they have said, “Paul you made a liar out of us back home. WE reported that you were going into Asia. But here you are in Macedonia. And then you said you were going to Bithynia, and you ended up in Macedonia.   You certainly are unpredictable in your ministry.”

We are reminded of the following statement of the Holy Spirit:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out (Rm 11:33).

If one finds security in writing up a contract for his own destiny, and is not willing to change when God opens doors along the way, then he may be limiting God in his ministry.   But if one seeks to serve the God whose ways are past finding out, then he should be prepared to tear up contracts that may bind the work of God in our lives. When we allow God to plan in our lives, we will be willing to change in order to enter many open doors.

[Next lecture:   Aug. 2]

Opposition of Politicians

We were once on the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies in the early 1980s conducting a seminar for church leaders. There was some frustration among the church leaders concerning some brethren on the island who were teaching a matter of opinion, but different from the accepted “traditional interpretation” of the established church. The leaders of the establishment were having some difficulty “refuting” the “erroneous brethren” simply because the matter of contention was a matter of opinion, not a fundamental Bible teaching. So one of the brethren of the establishment made the statement, “We need to take them to court to bar them from promoting their teaching since their teaching infringes on what we believe.”

And so it goes among church politicians.   When the Jewish religious leaders could not win their argument against Jesus, they resorted to the government of Rome to do their dirty work for them. They could not crucify Jesus on their own since Palestine was an occupied land by the Romans at the time. So the Jewish leadership went to the higher court of Pilate in order to rid the Jewish religious establishment of a rebel whom they could not refute. They delivered Jesus to Pilate for execution.   Satan still uses misguided brethren today to accomplish his evil deeds.

One case in the life of Paul illustrates the motives of church politicians. Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote the Philippian letter. In the introduction of the letter he made a very interesting statement concerning some local preachers in the city of Rome. Though we do not know all the details, these political preachers must have been out in the streets preaching against the jailhouse preacher in the local prison.

We might better understand their motives for their political preaching if we better understood the socio/political environment in which both Jews and Christians lived in Rome. Caesar Claudius had run all Jews out of Rome a few years before (See At 18:2). The infamous and narcissistic Nero was in power as Caesar at the time Paul was in prison. It was not a good social situation at the time Paul was in prison in Rome in the early 60s, and thus, some of the local preachers evidently succumbed to the intimidation of the powers that existed. These preachers were locals, but Paul was an expatriate from out of town. They were free, but he was in jail. To them, he may have been an embarrassment to the church.   They were willing, therefore, to sacrifice him for their own selfish ambitions. At least this is what Paul wrote of the situation to the Philippians,

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not with pure motives, supposing to add distress to my chains (Ph 1:15-17).

We would not confine Paul’s statement to the social culture of Rome. Throughout his ministry, Paul faced envy and selfish ambition (At 14:1-6,19). It continued even to his imprisonment in Rome, for through their envy and selfish ambition, some religious leaders would be so political that they would add distress to his chains while he was in a Roman prison.

Envy is when one seeks to have that which another has. Here are some preachers who possibly envied the notoriety that Paul had. Maybe they envied his influence. We are not told exactly what they envied in the life of Paul. But in their envy, they caused strife among the disciples. They were as some arrogant preachers in Achaia who spoke slanderously against Paul, judging him to be afraid to show up in Corinth and defend himself (2 Co 10:10). Paul would show up, but he would show up with a rod of discipline (1 Co 4:21).

When preachers envy other preachers, Satan is at work to sow strife among the disciples. When preachers are cursed with selfish ambition, they will preach and behave in a way that will add to the distress of those who preach out of pure motives. The religious leaders of the Jews’ religion envied Jesus. Their envy drove them to remove the influence of Jesus from the people.   Pilate “knew that because of envy they [the religious leaders] had delivered Him” (Mt 27:18; Mk 15:10).   When a preacher starts to envy another preacher, only evil will result. And with evil envy the Jewish leaders followed Paul from one city to another. Luke recorded,

But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul (At 13:45; see At 14:19).

When a preacher finds himself “contradicting and blaspheming,” and opposing truth that is preached by his fellow preacher, then he should know that he has assigned himself to the company of those envious Jews who opposed Paul. Paul reminded the Corinthians with a question: “For where there is envying and strife, are you not carnal and walking as worldly men?” (1 Co 3:3).   Political preachers are carnal.   They are walking as worldly men.

Love does not envy (1 Co 13:4). And thus, when one envies his fellow leader in the faith, then he knows that he does not walk in love. He is walking according to the flesh (Gl 5:21). Such a person …

 is obsessed with controversy and disputes about words, from which come envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, perverse disputings between men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that godliness is a means to gain (1 Tm 6:4,5).

Paul’s above instructions to Timothy in reference to his relationship with carnally minded leaders was direct: From such withdraw yourself (1 Tm 6:5). Timothy was to personally withdraw himself from those religious leaders who would stir up controversies about “disputable words.”

Satan uses church politicians to stir up all sorts of contentions. Paul mandated that both Timothy and Titus not give such carnally-minded church leaders their fellowship in discussions over nonsense (2 Tm 2:23). We must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit wrote the following in reference to church leaders who are obsessed with causing controversies among the disciples:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and contentions and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man [a brother] after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Ti 3:9-11).

Satan uses factious brethren to disrupt the peace of the disciples. Once a person is identified to be a factious man by his obsession with arguments over matters of opinion, then he is to be given no opportunity to express his foolish controversies before the church. We must keep in mind that the factious brother is a politician. He is seeking a following. He is trying to recruit members to agree with his foolish controversies (See Gl 4:17). The church that allows the factious man to have an audience before the church has violated the mandate of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:4,5 and Titus 3:9-11.

A contentious brother can usually be identified by his call for others to meet with him concerning one of his foolish “disputes about words.” When those with whom he would argue do not answer his call or letters to come down to Ono, as some enticed Nehemiah, and discuss his matters of contention, then he accuses the godly brethren to be in error because they would not show up for his contentious meeting. Godly leaders need to answer the contentious brother as Nehemiah answered Sanballat and Geshen: “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Ne 6:3).

Our advice to godly leaders who have identified a contentious brother in their midst, is that they follow strictly the mandate that the Holy Spirit gave through Paul to both Timothy and Titus.   Do not go down to the meetings that are about disputable words of those who are filled with envy and selfish ambition!

Some envious church leaders in Corinth, who were filled with selfish ambition, slandered Paul. They thought that he was too weak to come to Corinth and face their accusations against him (2 Co 10:10,11). Paul answered them:

Therefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake.   For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Co 12:10).

It was not that Paul was weak in spirit.   If he came and found his accusers arrogant in an unrepentant frame of mind, some were going to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Co 5:5; 1 Tm 1:20). As a Christ-sent apostle, he had no choice in the matter exercising the discipline of the Lord. Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead at the feet of Christ-sent apostles (At 5:1-11). Something similar was going to happen in Corinth if the slanderous church leaders did not repent before Paul arrived. Everyone in the church throughout the world had heard of the death of Ananias and Sapphira. “And great fear came upon all the church and upon as many as heard these things” (At 5:11). It was for this reason that Paul wrote the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians. He wanted to come to them with joy, not grief (2 Co 2:1). He wrote that some repent before he came.

The encouraging thing about the Corinthians is that they stopped listening to those who were causing the strife among them.   Paul eventually went to them with joy, for he did not need to use the rod of discipline as a Christ-sent apostle.   No one was struck blind; no one dropped dead; and no one was delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

God is not working in a direct manner as this today. Nevertheless, we read these things in the New Testament as a warning against anyone who would behave as those who were judged directly in the first century. All judgment for the envious person who is corrupted with selfish ambition, and thus sows strife among the disciples with his disputes, will be his part in what John described in Revelation 21:8.

[Next lecture:   July 31]

Heavy Purses

We were once sitting with several preachers at a conference in Zimbabwe. Many of the young preachers in the conference were complaining that the church would not support them. The discussion carried on for some time until a frustrated old businessman from Malawi yielded out, “Men, get a job!”

That was the end of the discussion, and the introduction to one of the means of attack by which Satan works against the preaching of the gospel. At the conclusion of a parable in Luke 16, Jesus made the statement in reference to the religious leaders of the religious establishment of His day, “And the Pharisees who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they scoffed at Him” (Lk 16:14). What these preachers had heard from Jesus was a parable that was spoken against them as religious leaders.

In the parable, Jesus spoke of a certain rich man (God over Israel), who had an unjust steward (the Pharisees) who plundered his goods (they stole the loyalty of the people). So the steward was fired. The steward said to himself, “What will I do? For my lord takes away from me the stewardship [his means of support]. I cannot dig [for a living for myself]. I am ashamed to beg” (Lk 16:3). So the steward set out to embezzle support from his Lord’s debtors. In the parable, Jesus stated that the unjust steward did act shrewdly, because he acted according to his character (Lk 16:8).   He provided for himself, though the means by which he did so was shrewd. In a moment of desperation when he lost his salary, he did that which any shrewd servant would do. It was in this context, however, that Jesus was speaking against the hireling practices of the Pharisees.

A.  Opposition of idol-makers:

When the preaching of the word of God endangers the financial security of fully supported religious workers, one can only expect that they will rise up in opposition. Demetrius, a silversmith in Ephesus, and many others like him, made a great deal of money from the idol-making business that was associated with the temple of Diana. But when Paul came to town with the message of the gospel, multitudes of people disposed of their idols and obeyed the gospel. This did not set well with the idol-makers (At 19:23-35). Demetrius rightly stated of the results of Paul’s preaching of the gospel that “almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods” (At 19:26). Then he added that the idol-making trade was being disenfranchised (At 19:27). So when his fellow idol-makers heard this, “they were all full of wrath” (At 19:28).

When men who make money through religion feel that their salaries are in danger, they will be “full of wrath.” They will spill their wrath out on the ones who persuade the people away from gods that are made with the hands of men.

B.  Preaching for money:

Sometimes, men who have great abilities to speak to the people use their gift of speaking for the purpose of gain. This often occurs among religious leaders who use their gift of speaking for personal profit. Such happened in the case of Balaam (Ja 24:9ff). He sold his gift for gain. His legacy was that an example was made of him for all time that he ran after money to the extent of betraying his ministry for God (See Jd 11).   Balaam ended up dead because he preached for money (Ja 13:22). At least those who do the same today end up spiritually dead.

We can understand why one of the qualifications for being an elder of the body of Christ is that one not be greedy (1 Tm 3:8; Ti 1:7; 1 Pt 5:2). Leaders are often in the position to take advantage of others in reference to money.   If one is greedy, the temptation to receive money can become too great, and thus he will sell his gift of ministry for money. This is a common practice among many today who have shamed Christianity for the sake of their own purse.   This is especially true of independent churches who see their members as an opportunity for a salary.

Traditional religions ordain those who are to preach for their churches. Being ordained means that the preacher must conform to the doctrinal guidelines of the particular religious organization by which he was ordained. Therefore, when approached with truth that conflicts with the established catechism of the religious organization, the preacher has his hands tied by his salary. We once read an interesting newspaper statement in a Namibian paper. The short article was entitled, “Anglican preachers baptize their families in secret.” The preachers studied themselves out of the practice of infant baptism, but were afraid of losing their salaries because they preached adult baptism for remission of sins.

When a preacher is wedded by money to the message he preaches, then he is in the bondage to money. He is a servant to his support, not knowing what he would do if he lost his “job.” The only answer to those sincere preachers who know the truth, but are afraid to preach the truth because of the intimidation of the religious establishment, is to “Get a job!”

[Next lecture: July 29]