Category Archives: Character

(3) Character through prayer

  1. Prayer unleashes God’s business among men. In His instructions, Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).   Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6:9-13 are statements in reference to God’s work among men. If we would unleash the power of God on earth in the hearts and events of men, then our prayers must be in tune with the will of God.   God’s will is done on earth when men submit to the will of God as it is done in heaven.

Jesus reigns in the hearts of men when believers submit to His kingdom reign from heaven. In this way, therefore, the kingdom reign of Jesus comes to a particular place of the world when people believe on Jesus and submit to His kingdom reign from heaven. We would pray for the kingdom reign of Jesus to come to a particular area of the world by pleading to the Father that His will be done in the hearts of men on earth as it is done in heaven.

If we pray that the kingdom come in a particular region of the world, then we would certainly be praying for those who would take the gospel to the people of the region. This too is what Jesus asked of His disciples: “Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest so that He will send laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38).

 

  1. Prayer builds character. Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).   Forgiveness is not only a condition for the Father to forgive our sins, but also the foundation on which our character is changed into being godly. God is a forgiver because He does not wish that any perish from an eternal relationship with Him (2 Pt 3:9). We forgive in order that our friendships on earth not perish.

We must keep in mind that we must bless those we ask the Father to bless. We must pray the hardest, therefore, when it is the hardest to pray. When we are offended, sinned against, and tormented by our persecutors, it is indeed hard to pray. But when we have a forgiving spirit on our knees, it is hard to fall.   The cross of Jesus indeed stands tall when we are on our knees, emulating in our lives the spirit of forgiveness that came forth from the cross. From the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). We must simply not forget, as someone said, “Kneeling in prayer keeps you in good standing with God.” We must simply remember that it is difficult to stumble when we are on your knees in prayer.

We also must not forget that Satan is the greatest believer in our prayers, simply because he is the one who suffers the most from our prayers. A wise poet wrote,

If prayer is made the center of our life,

God will remove our strife.

If one petitions God in humility,

God will bless with tranquility.

We sometimes pray to God for strength in order to achieve great things. What God often gives in answer to our prayers is weakness in order that we realize we must find strength in Him. Some would ask for health in order to do great things for God. But the answer to such a prayer may be infirmity in order that we depend more on His work and less in our own. We would not ask for riches in order to be happy, but for contentment with those riches we already have. We ask not for power to be praised of men, but for weakness in order to feel our need for Him. We do not need all things in order to enjoy life, but as the humble African villager, have few things in order to enjoy all things. At the end of the day, we are usually not given all the things for which we ask, but certainly we are given everything we need. We would be known for that which God desires that we be known: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all people” (Is 56:7).   Our desire to serve the Lord is certainly the engine of our destiny, but it will never start up without the fuel of our prayers.

And all things you ask in prayer,

believing,

you will receive.

(Mt 21:22)

Epilogue

The Christian must continually reexamine his character. No one can be true to himself if he is self-deceived or narcissistic. Some seek to lead a secret life deep within themselves, but their inner self will always be revealed to others through their behavior.   If there is a inconsistency between one’s deep inner feelings, and what one seeks to portray to the world, then he is leading a life of self-deception. The spiritual struggle of the Christian is to bring harmony between one’s inner feelings and beliefs and his character that he manifests to others.   This is being true to oneself, and in one word, being sincere.

When on our knees to the Father, we must never deceive ourselves into believing that the Father does not know our inner most desires and character. If one prays to the Father contrary to his inner most desires and character, then he is seeking to be a hypocrite before the Father.

We should not expect insincere prayers to be answered. It is for this reason that we must continually struggle to bring our prayers into harmony with our inner most beliefs and feelings. If we find an inconsistency between the hidden inner self, and the character we seek to portray to others, then only repentance will bring us peace of mind.

Over a century and a half ago in 1867 Alfred Bernard Nobel moved the world beyond black powder by inventing a more powerful explosive mixture that he called dynamite. He was thirty-four years old when he was granted the patent for the mixture in 1867. He became fabulously wealthy because his invention of dynamite was sold to governments throughout the world to make war.

Nobel’s last will and testament was dated November 27, 1895. At the end of his life he realized all the damage to humanity that his invention had caused. As a result of this realization, in his last will and testament he wanted his wealth given in special grants to encourage the building of societies. He requested that his wealth be given in grants to build and not destroy. The grants were eventually called the Nobel Prizes. The financial grants were to be given to those who excelled in social development in the fields of physics, chemistry, psychology, medicine, literature, and above all, peace. The profits of his invention that caused so much grief in war, eventually led to encouraging humanity to prosper.

It may be that we too need repentance in our lives to develop characters that humanity, instead of living a life of destruction. This is what the Ephesians did, for Paul wrote the following of their past:

Among whom also we all once behaved in times past in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest (Ep 2:3).

The end of the story for the Ephesians can be the glorious end of all those who change their characters from being “children of wrath” to being people who bring glory to God.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been saved (Ep 2:4,5).

(2) Character through prayer

  1. Do not use meaningless repetitions. “But when you pray, do not use meaningless repetitions as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Mt 6:7). Probably no one commandment of Jesus is violated more in reference to prayer than this one statement. We have attended countless assemblies where the entire assembly carried on in prayer with many “meaningless repetitions.” The choir of repetitions by many in the public prayer were the vain repetitions of those who were often in competition with one another. When the unbeliever steps into such confusion, his conclusion is as what Paul said of the confused assemblies of the Corinthians where many were trying to speak in languages at the same time:

Therefore, if the whole assembly gathers in one place, and all speak with languages [at the same time], and there come in the uninformed, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad? (1 Co 14:23).

When Jesus prohibited “meaningless repetitions,” He was prohibiting the saying of the same thing over and over again in prayer.   It could not be more clear. But what has been established as a traditional ceremony of prayer in many assemblies is that “meaningless repetitions” in prayer are uttered by the entire assembly at the same time. It seems that this tradition cannot be broken, regardless of whether Jesus said not to do such, or whether Paul said that the unbelievers would judge such behavior in an assembly to be madness.

To our knowledge there are no statements in Scripture that refer to the disciples praying at the same time when they are in an assembly. There are numerous statements that instruct us to pray “for” one another (Ep 6:19; Cl 1:9; 1 Th 5:25; Js 5:16). But there are no statements in Scripture that say the disciples are to pray simultaneously “with” one another. When the disciples come together for prayer, only one person leads the thoughts of the group while the rest of the group listens.

Now we must make a distinction between praising God and praying to God. With much of the “simultaneous prayers” that are meaningless repetitions, and are common among many assemblies today, that which is said to be prayer is actually “simultaneous praise.” The participants are often offering to God praise, not prayer.

There is a difference between praise and prayer.   We see no problem with an assembly offering together praise to God. Christians have done this in singing since the first century. A song is simply a group praise of God that is organized according to a melody. An assembly singing together never gives the impression that the assembly is disorganized or that the singers are mad.

When the whole assembly offers simultaneous and repetitious praise to God at the same time may be judged to be in the area of freedom. But in behaving in such a manner in assembly, the “uninformed” of 1 Corinthians 14:23 would on an initial and uninformed visit judge that the attendees of the assembly are mad.

What Paul is instructing in 1 Corinthians 14:23 is that every assembly of the disciples must be conducted in an orderly manner, whereby, and if by chance, the uninformed or unbeliever might visit.   And if the uninformed or unbeliever attends an assembly of the disciples, then under no circumstances should the assembly give the impression that the attendees are mad.   Simultaneous prayer or praise by everyone in the assembly will give this impression. Therefore, in order to guard against being judged by the unbeliever that we are mad, our assemblies must be orderly. It is in this context that Paul instructed, “Let all things be done properly and in order” (1 Co 14:40).

When we speak of prayer, we must not forget the “closet principle.” Prayers must always reflect the thinking of one individual to his Father, whether uttered in private or public. Remember Jesus’ instructions, “… enter into your closet …” (Mt 6:6)?   When Peter and John were released from custody, there was a public prayer at one of the homes of the disciples in Jerusalem. But read carefully what the text actually says about their coming together in an assembly to offer praise to God:

Now when they [all the disciples] heard this, they lifted up their voices to God with one accord. And they said, “Lord, You are God, who have made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them … (At 4:26).

The statement says that they lifted up their voices “with one accord.” In other words, that which they stated was the same thing in making a statement of praise to God. They were harmonious in their praise that they gave, not individual and confused.   In other words, they were not all saying different things at the same time. Luke records the exact words that they uttered with one accord. The conclusion, therefore, is that one person led the thoughts of the entire group, which words we have recorded in the text.

Their praise in the same words would be the same as a song of praise where everyone sings the same words of praise in harmony.   There is actually a quotation from the Old Testament in the statement that was made (Ps 2:1,2). The statement that they all made as one group was certainly not the “meaningless repetitions” that Jesus said should not be characteristic of the prayers of His disciples in an assembly.

We once watched a CNN news special of the people in Tibet. During the special, an old man in a village was featured. The CNN crew followed the 85-year-old man in his life in the village.   Whenever the man was pictured wherever he went, he was holding and spinning the Buddhist prayer wheel. The prayer wheel is a cylinder on which prayers are written in Sanskrit on the outside. As one turns the cylinder, all the prayers written on the cylinder are supposedly repeated. This aged man was constantly spinning the prayer wheel that was mounted on the spindle, supposedly offering hundreds, even thousands of prayers. Some today have involved themselves in such meaningless repetitions with words.

In offering our “meaningless repetitions,” we must be reminded of Elijah who at one time offered one prayer to God to turn off the rain on Israel (Js 5:17). Just one prayer stopped all the rains. After three years, Elijah prayed to turn the water on, and God gave rains from heaven (Js 5:18). The verb tense in reference to the two prayers of Elijah is aorist, that is, a onetime prayer to turn the water off and onetime prayer to turn it on again.   One prayer from a righteous person will do that which is required. There is no power in “meaningless repetitions.”

Someone was right who said, “Nothing lies beyond the power of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God.” The power of prayer is not in “meaningless repetitions.” It is in faith that God will perform for His people. Jesus promised, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mt 21:22). Working for God without prayer in our lives is like driving a vehicle without stopping for petrol, or in some modern-day vehicles, stopping for a charge of electricity. Work without prayer inevitably comes to a stop.

 

  1. Pray to our Father: Our prayers are directed to the Father (Mt 6:9; At 4:24). Jesus said, “Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest so that He will send laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38; 2 Co 13:7). Jesus ask that we address our prayers to the Father. At the time of his stoning, Stephen saw Jesus in heaven at the right hand of the Father (At 7:59). Since this was a direct and personal request of Stephen to Jesus, whom he saw at the time he uttered his plea, we would have difficulty in using this historical event as a mandate for prayer directed to Jesus.   Stephen was looking at Jesus as he made the request that He forgive those who stoned him.

Paul made the statement in 2 Corinthians 13:7, “Now I pray to God that you do no evil ….” We conclude that the word “God” in this statement refers at least to the Father. But one could say that since Jesus is one with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then certainly Jesus would be in on the answer to Paul’s prayer. At least this thought was in the request that Paul made from prison when he wrote to the Philippians. “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly to you so that I may also be of good comfort when I learn of your state” (Ph 2:19). It was the Lord Jesus whom Paul trusted to send Timothy to the Philippians.   Would it not be within the request of our prayers to petition the Lord Jesus to send an evangelist to a particular area? The implication is that whatever prayer we utter, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit go to work for us.

This thought may have been in the plea of Simon when he said to Peter and John, “Pray to the Lord for me …” (At 8:24).   We would assume that the reference “Lord” in this statement at least included Jesus since all that was done on this occasion was in reference to the Samaritans who submitted to Jesus as Lord.   Simon’s request, therefore, would have been that Peter and John asked the Lord Jesus not to bring on him that which Peter said would happen because of his bitterness.

Nevertheless, and based on the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 6:9, we will direct our petitions to God, the Father. However, we also understand that when the instructions of Matthew 6:9 were stated by Jesus, He was still in His earthly ministry to the Jews. He was taking believing Jews to the cross and His personal ascension to the right hand of God where He would exercise all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18).

After the ascension, things changed in heaven.   Jesus is now our mediator in heaven with the Father (1 Tm 2:5). We seek to do all things in His name (Cl 3:17), and thus, we will follow the instructions of Jesus to the apostles in John 14:13: “And whatever you will ask in My name, that I will do so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Our prayers are addressed to the Lord. We understand that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will all go to work for us in answer to our prayers. It is our privilege to offer our supplications. It is the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to answer our prayers. And since the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work as one team, then we assume that all that God is—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—goes to work in answer to our prayers.

[Next lecture tomorrow, September 26]

 

 

(1) Character through prayer

How many times have we said our prayers, but never really prayed? The desires of our heart somehow never find the correct words to satisfy our inner yearnings to lay our petitions before our Father. Our prayers often come forth from our lips as if they were uttered to gods of stone whom we knew would never answer. We seek to pray to a living God with dead words. We seek to carry our words before the altar with cold formality, void of the vehicle of our hearts. No wonder John the Baptist and Jesus taught their disciples how to pray.   There was something different about their prayers, and thus, one of Jesus’ disciples asked that He teach His disciples how to pray.

Now it came to pass that as He was praying in a certain place, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).

At least this one disciple witnessed in Jesus’ prayer something that was different than the cold formalities of prayer that were commonly uttered by himself and the other disciples. It is interesting that this is the only request that the disciples made of Jesus to teach them something specific. They did not ask that He teach them how to preach. They did not ask Him to teach them how lead singing. They did not ask that He teach them how to conduct a colorful assembly of the saints. “Teach us to pray” was all they asked.

We find this interesting, if not revealing of our own selves. We seek to be taught everything, but how to pray. Since our character should be defined by a dedicated prayer life, then we need to be on our knees with the same request as the disciple who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Since we are always unsatisfied with our prayer life, then we are always seeking instructions in how to pray.

  1. Jesus teaches on prayer.

 It is not surprising that there is a great deal of instruction in the Sermon on the Mount in reference to prayer. If the Sermon on the Mount would be the constitution for character building, then we would expect no less in reference to the subject of prayer. Notice Matthew’s introduction to the occasion of Jesus’ teaching:

And seeing the multitudes, He [Jesus] went up on a mountain. And when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them (Mt 5:1,2).

Jesus taught them many things on this particular occasion. When He came to the subject of prayer in the “sermon,” He taught them many things concerning how to express their inner desires to the Father, as well as what to request. The following are some very important points of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the context of Matthew 6:5-15:

 

  1. Do not pray as the religious hypocrites. There were some in the religious environment in which the disciples lived who loved to pray in prominent places “so that they may be seen by men” (Mt 6:5).   Prayer is not a performance.   Prayer is not to be uttered in order to receive the glory of men. On the contrary, “when you pray, enter into your closet” (Mt 6:6). Prayer is a private matter. “In your closet” assumes that prayer is between the one praying and God.

There are those public occasions when holy men lifted up holy hands in order to lead a group in prayer. In view of the phrase “in your closet,” we could deduct that even when one leads in a public manner, his prayer is addressed orally, but the prayer is still an expression of thoughts of the one who is praying.   The Holy Spirit wanted “men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting” (1 Tm 2:8). This statement is made in reference to public prayer. The mandate is that the men be the ones who are lifting up their holy hands in prayer in public.

We must keep in mind that the statement of instruction to Timothy does not say that all the men in the assembly should pray at the same time. No one person praying in such an environment should pray his own prayer to the exclusion of others. Public prayer is simply one person expressing the thoughts of the entire group in prayer. If one is to lead the thoughts of others in public prayer, then the group must be silent in order that the words of the one who leads the thoughts of the group can be heard by the group. If everyone seeks to make his own prayer at the same time in an assembly, then there is no leading in prayer, only vocal confusion with individuals trying to compete with one another in prayer. Such behavior leads to confusion in the assembly.

Jesus’ instructions on prayer indicate that there should be no public displays of one’s praying in a manner that would give a pretense of righteousness, or draw attention to one’s self. This was the context of Jesus’ instructions and the problem of the Pharisees. Prayer is a private matter, not a public display of shouting to God for attention, or an effort to compete with others. We see this in Jesus’ instructions on prayer: “But you, when you pray, enter into your closet. And when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret” (Mt 6:6).    If one prays publicly in order to display himself, as did the Pharisees, then he would be as the religious hypocrites who also prayed publicly in order to be seen to be somewhat religious.

[Next lecture tomorrow, September 25]

 

 

(3) Character through morals

F.  The test of one’s hero:

Almost everyone has someone they admire, look up to, follow, seek counsel from, or are mentored by. When we are in a situation to make a decision concerning right or wrong, it is sometimes good to ask oneself what his hero would do if he were faced with the same decision.

Jesus is our hero. “You call Me Teacher and Lord. And you are right, for so I am” (Jn 13:13). On the occasion when Jesus made this statement, He continued, “If I then, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14). The reason we should follow Jesus as our hero is what He said to conclude the impact of His example of washing the disciples’ feet: For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15). Jesus gave an example of humble servitude. If we are to be His disciples, then we should be looking for his footprints in order to follow His example. We need to be looking for dirty feet.

Now the challenge is to choose the correct heroes we should be following. If we idolize those who are wicked, then we are working against ourselves. Peter wrote that Jesus left us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Pt 2:21). But if we choose to follow in the steps of the unrighteous, then we will end up with their final destination. One must be cautious, therefore, to choose those individuals who would lead us in the right direction.

The Holy Spirit gave the apostle Paul the right to be followed as an example: “The things that you have both learned and received and heard and seen in me, do these things and the God of peace will be with you” (Ph 4:9). Therefore, Paul wrote of himself, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ (1 Co 11:1).   The condition for which one can be a hero for the Christian is that the one we would seek to follow must be a Christian. We would follow Paul, therefore, in so much as he followed Christ.

G.  The test of influence:

Sometimes when seeking to determine if something is either morally right or wrong, we must ask ourselves if the action would either benefit society or cause disruption in society if everyone behaved in the same manner. This principle is reflected in Paul’s exhortations to the Corinthians in reference to the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Co 8).

The context of eating meat was in reference to older Christians who had long grown out of any scruples concerning the eating of meats that were sacrificed to idols. The strong disciples knew that there was no religious significance to any meat. But some new converts, who had just been born out of idolatry, still associated with idols the meats that had been sacrificed in respect of the idols (1 Co 8:7). If the strong brother had no consideration for the weak brother in these matters, then he could possibly encourage the weak brother to eat such meats in violation of his conscience. If the strong brother thus ate to encourage the young Christian to eat against his conscience, then he caused the weak brother to eat the meats, and thus sin against his own conscience (Rm 14:23). So Paul said to the strong brethren, “And so by sinning against the brethren, and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (1 Co 8:12).

The church is a society of believers. Doing some things may be right in and of themselves, as the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. But if participating in such encourages the new converts to behave contrary to their conscience, then the strong have sinned by encouraging the weak to sin against their conscience. Paul’s instructions concerning such situations is to forgo one’s rights in order to accommodate the weak until such a time when the weak have grown out of their scruples. “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Co 8:13).

In order to determine whether some things are either right or wrong, one should look around and determine if doing what one intends to do will cause another to stumble. In those things in which we have the freedom to participate—such as the eating of any foods—the one who has the freedom to do certain things must be patient until the weak brother grows out of any scruples he has in doing such.   We must keep in mind that it is assumed that the weak brother will grow out of his scruples in reference to those things wherein all Christians have freedom. No brother has a right to bring into bondage another brother with scruples he should have grown out of years ago.

When we move beyond the fellowship of the disciples, we must also be considerate of the society in which we live. For example, if the eating of meats that were sacrificed to idols led the unbelievers to believe that the Christian was also a believer in idols, then it would be common sense that the Christian should refrain from doing that which would encourage the unbeliever to continue in his error. One should be careful about doing those things that would either condone or encourage the unbeliever to continue in the error of his way. Christians should manifest a character of truth and godliness before the world. Because the Christian does not participate in those things that identify worldly living, he becomes a light to the world for righteous living (See Mt 5:16).

H.  The test of reaping:

Galatians 6:7,8 states a principle in reference to our present behavior.

 Be not deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life.

Some forgotten poet rightly stated,

You never can tell when you do an act,

Just what the result will be;

But with every deed you are sowing a seed,

Though the harvest you cannot see.

Before one participates in any deed, he must realize that he will have to take ownership of the consequences of what he would do. If he does not suffer the consequences of his own bad decisions, others may.

We grew up on a farm in the central part of the state of Kansas in America. Our mother always reminded us children that in life we should consider our future before we engage in any questionable activities in the present. She gave the example of a young teenager whom she had known, but never told us his name. For some reason, this young teenager became angry with a neighboring farmer. In his youthful retaliation, he went out by night and planted some Johnson grass in the neighboring farmer’s field. In those days before herbicides, it was difficult to kill Johnson grass. It was introduced into the United States in 1840 and is classified as one of the top ten most persistent weeds in the world.

Eventually, the young man grew up, our mother said, and became the victim of reaping what he had sown. When he was in his early twenties, he noticed that the neighboring farmer, in whose field he had planted the Johnson grass, had a very beautiful young daughter. As time went by, he eventually fell in love with the fair maiden. His love affair eventually ended in his marriage to the delight of his eyes.

After fulfilling his years on earth, the father of the maiden he had married passed away. You can guess the rest of this story. The retaliatory young man inherited the farm of his wife’s deceased father, with all that Johnson grass included. Before you make a decision to do something, it would be wise to first run it through the test of possibly reaping what you will sow. You may literally reap what you sow.

I.  The test of finances:

 Before one involves himself in some financial dealing, it would be good to consider what effect his financial involvement in the dealing will have on others if all goes wrong. For example, there is no statement in Scripture that says, “Thou shalt not gamble.” But one must remember that gambling casinos become rich because there are only a few winners. The vast majority of the gamblers lose, and thus, the losers make the management of the casino rich. The few winners, unfortunately, inspire the masses to keep on betting …. and losing.

We once had a friend who had involved himself in gambling. He once said to me, “Others say that I have a good poker face.” But it must not have been all that good for he was continually burdened in paying off his gambling debts. His habit of gambling brought suffering to his family. We are reminded of Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Before one would involve himself in anything that would endanger his financial responsibility toward his family, he should be warned. In the case of the Thessalonians, some had quit their jobs. They were not willing to work when there was work to be done.   So Paul rebuked these lazy brothers by instructing the rest of the Thessalonian disciples to “withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks disorderly …” (2 Th 3:6). This statement was made in the context of financial responsibility. If one deals foolishly with his finances, and subsequently must beg off the church, then he has given up his right to be in fellowship with the church. Paul was very specific and direct in reference to such freeloaders: “… if anyone is not willing to work, neither let him eat” (2 Th 3:10).

If one’s financial actions lead to the destitution of his family, or to his begging off his brothers and sisters in Christ, then he has shamed his family and given up his right to be in fellowship with the body of Christ. We must never forget that “the love of money is the root of all evils, by which some coveting after have strayed from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Tm 6:10).

J.  The test of family:

Having a good family name is a precious thing.   What a young person must remember is that what one does will reflect on the name of his family. If what one would do in the dark, is discovered by the community, then one’s family can be greatly shamed. Sometimes in determining one’s moral decisions on what he would do depends on how his behavior will reflect on his family name.

K.  The test of universality:

Our children often seek to justify their actions by saying, “Everybody is doing it.” But what is being done by everyone may be a detriment to society as a whole.   We must ask ourselves that if everyone in society behaved as we do, would society as a whole be improved?   The Christian seeks to let his light shine before all in order to encourage all to follow an example of Christian behavior. Christians are the salt of the earth because their behavior preserves society. But if one’s salt has lost its saltiness, and one’s light is dim, then there is little preservative and light for the world to follow.

We must always remember that societies do not become progressively better. Without the moral direction of the word of God, societies over time always digress to the moral state of what God said of the society that existed before the flood of Noah’s day: “And 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). The world’s population was not born morally depraved as babies. It was the acceptance of wickedness by more and more individuals of society over centuries that brought the society of Noah’s day to the point of having no use for the purpose for which man was created.

The same moral degradation happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. “… the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinners before the Lord” (Gn 13:13). We know the rest of this story.   As the world population before the flood of Noah’s day, so also the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moral degradation always begins with one accepted and commonly practiced sin. When the majority accept as culturally correct any sinful behavior, then one accepted sin after another will take the entire society into moral ruin. When different practices of sin become common, then the whole is spoiled. Before the first individual considers doing anything, he must imagine everyone doing the same thing. If one’s behavior does not add to the upliftment of society, then he should change.

[Next lecture tomorrow, September 24]

 

 

(2) Character through morals

D.  The test of publicity.

Paul wrote, “And those who are drunken, are drunken in the night” (1 Th 5:7). Sin loves dark places. The key word for sinners is “cover up.” Sin does not like to be exposed to the general public. We must always ask ourselves that if what we are doing would be made known to everyone we know, then would we be ashamed?

Disciples of Jesus must live the consistent life.   In other words, as they conduct themselves in secret, they should conduct themselves in public. As they are in their homes, so should they behave before the public. There should be no variation in the life of the saint from his private life to his public life. We should seek to be the same at all times.

Matthew wrote in reference to the reputation of Jesus, “And His fame [reputation] went throughout all Syria” (Mt 4:24; see 14:1; Lk 4:14,37). When one’s reputation is good, then others will do what the people did in response to the fame of Jesus. “Great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (Mt 4:25). We like the poem entitled Would I Be Called A Christian? that was written over a half century ago by J. F. Moser:

Would I be called a “Christian,”

If everybody knew,

My secret thoughts and feelings,

And everything I do?

Oh, could they see the likeness,

Of Christ in me, each day?

Oh, could they hear Him speaking,

In every word I say?

Would I be called a “Christian,”

If anyone could know,

That I am found in places,

Where Jesus would not go?

Oh, could they hear His echo,

In every song I sing,

In eating, drinking, dressing,

Could they see Christ my King?

Would I be called a “Christian,”

If judged by what I read,

By all my recreations,

And every thought and deed?

Could I be counted Christ-like,

As I now work and pray,

Unselfish, kind, forgiving,

To others every day?

E.  The test of conscience:

Regardless of how bad we might think someone is, we must always believe that there is some good in everyone. God blessed us with a conscience, and it is this conscience that makes us feel bad when we do wrong.

Numerous species of birds migrate throughout the world every year. For example, the Arctic Terns are born in the arctic tundra of northern Canada. After birth, the young terns learn how to fly, and then migrate. They make their way across the Atlantic Ocean to western Europe, down the western coast of the African continent, and then on to Antarctica at the bottom of the world. When it is time for these world wanderers to return home, they fly north to the tip of South America, across that continent, across America, and then back to the very home of their birth.   It is a trip of over 30,000 kilometers.

No one has ever found a lost Arctic Tern flying around trying to find his way home. God gave us a conscience to seek out our way to our heavenly home. If we fly in the wrong direction, there is something in our brain that tells us that we are flying in the wrong direction.   It is called conscience.

When David wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” he was not fooling around (Ps 14:1). God gave us a sense of His presence in our minds.   Paul reflected on this presence by which David made the preceding statement:

For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse (Rm 1:21).

This was Paul’s commentary on David who spoke in reference to those who would deny the existence of God. The next time you are sitting in a philosophy class of a university, and the professor spouts out, “God is dead,” then you will understand that he is foolish. He is not following his sense of spiritual direction. Or, it may possibly be that he has buried his conscience in a false science that searches for every opportunity to dodge personal accountability for sin.

Christian students in universities need to remember Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy: “O Timothy, guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings and opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge (1 Tm 6:20). It would be good for one to read this statement the next time he is tempted to follow the “vain babblings and opposing arguments” of those who have puffed themselves up by foolishly denying the One who gave us enough sense to follow our conscience. Many are simply “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron (1 Tm 4:2).

Paul reflected on the conscience that was within him in the context of Romans 7:15-25. He confessed that “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin that is in my members” (Rm 7:23). There is always a struggle within our hearts concerning that which we must do. In the context of Romans 7, the struggle is whether to follow a legal code of obedience by which one might boast in his own performance of law, or to let go and let God through grace deliver one from the temptation of legal justification.

Sometimes it is difficult to follow one’s conscience.   We seek to do that which is right, but then there is the temptation to ignore conscience and follow after the flesh.   In the context of Romans 14:23, some were intimidated into following after the crowd by eating meat that was sacrificed to idols, which thing violated their conscience as novice Christians. Paul concluded his point on the eating of such meat by saying that if one did not feel right about doing such, then he was violating his conscience. If one violated his conscience, then he has at least condemned himself for eating against his conscience. “And he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith, for whatever is not from faith is sin.”

This one statement should alert every believer to be careful about doing that which is against one’s conscience. When we must make decisions when there is no statement in the word of God in reference to the decision we must make, then it is best to at least follow one’s own conscience. This is not always a correct guide for determining correct behavior, but it is at least a trigger to alert us to do that which we believe is right according to our conscience.

God considers our conscience so important concerning our behavior that He left the Gentiles under the “law of conscience” for centuries before the cross. Paul wrote that the Gentiles were subject to work the “law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else excusing one another” (Rm 2:15). Our obedience, therefore, must be governed not only by the word of the Lord, but also by our own conscience. “Therefore, it is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience sake (Rm 13:5; compare 1 Co 8:7; see 1 Co 10). At the end of all things, “the purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tm 1:5; see 4:2; 2 Tm 1:3; Ti 1:15).

John leaves us with an important thought that gives some direction in reference to the use of our conscience: “For if our heart [conscience] condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God(1 Jn 3:20,21). At the end of our lives we need to be able to say as Paul, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God to this day (At 23:1). And before a civil court, he stated, “I exercise myself to have always a conscience without offense toward God and men” (At 24:16). Paul conducted his life with a pure conscience. He would conclude for us, “Pray for us. For we are sure we have a good conscience in all things desiring to live honorably (Hb 13:18; see 1 Pt 2:19).

[Next lecture tomorrow: September 23]

 

 

(1) Character through morals

In our efforts to build godly characters, we are constantly challenged with decisions as to whether something is either morally right or morally wrong. The Sinai law was a law of statues where many acts of behavior were prescribed by precept upon precept. But as Christians, we live under a law of principles. The guiding principle of all law for all time has been based on two directives of love: (1) “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). (2) “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39).   These are the two most important guiding moral principles of life by which all men from the beginning of time were to conduct their lives. However, these two moral directives upon which we base our behavior do not define specifics. Every decision that comes our way is not always defined in Scripture. Our challenge is how we are to apply these two principles in determining what we are to do in those areas where the word of God is silent.

We often legally seek a “thou shalt” or a “thou shalt not” statement in the Bible that would define our response to all circumstances of life. If there were such statements in reference to every aspect of our behavior, then our obedience might be easier. But this legal approach to behavior does not challenge our incentive to grow in our love of God or with our neighbor. If our obedience were simply a legal compliance to commands, then we would not be challenged to make moral decisions that are based on the principle of “love your neighbor as yourself.” And if we are not challenged to make moral decisions that are based on love, then our spiritual growth is limited.

The legalist seeks to perform a law in reference to his relationship with his neighbor, and then excuse himself from any responsibility when the law is silent. But when we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are obligated to always love. There are no loopholes in love. There are no places of silence that would allow us to escape our responsibility toward our neighbor. Love covers the totality of our life, whereas law covers only details.

As one grows in love, the following are some tests that will help in determining what to do when trying to make a moral decision concerning our behavior as disciples of Jesus:

A.  The test of Scripture:

The first and most obvious test to determine whether something is either right or wrong is to consult the word of God.   When a certain lawyer asked Jesus what one should do in order to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded, What is written in the law? How does it read to you?” (Lk 10:26). When the word of God speaks, we must walk according to its instructions.   Paul explained this to Timothy. “And if a man competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes lawfully (2 Tm 2:5).

As disciples of Jesus, we seek to walk according to His commandments. Jesus instructed, If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (Jn 8:31). Therefore, in order to determine what to do as a disciple of Jesus, we must first consult the word of Jesus. However, when the word of God is silent in reference to making a decision in a particular area of behavior, then we must move on to other means by which we would determine what is the correct thing to do.

B.  The test of common sense:

That which is not sensible cannot be right because God does not call us to be senseless. Though 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is a direct mandate from the Holy Spirit, it is a principle that is based on common sense. “… if anyone is not willing to work, neither let him eat.”   To be specific, there is no law in reference to what work we must do. Neither is there a law to work in order to support one’s self and his family.   The principle Paul states is that if one does not work when there is work to do, then he cannot live off the church.

There is no law that one should not jump off a high building. But common sense would dictate that one should certainly exercise some wisdom in this matter. There are no laws in reference to the abuse of taking drugs that would damage one’s health. But common sense dictates that one should not consume anything that would harm one’s body. There is no law concerning the eating of food, but common sense would state that we should preserve our bodies, and thus, not eat too much, or eat that which would be poisonous to our bodies. When there is silence in the Scriptures concerning decisions that must be made, God expects us to exercise common sense in reference to our behavior.

During His ministry, one individual came to Jesus complaining that his brother would not give him his rightful share of their father’s inheritance for the children. In response to the brother’s complaint, Jesus presented the parable of a rich man who “brought forth plentifully” from his crops (Lk 12:16).   So the rich man reasoned, “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (Lk 12:18). After he had stored all his wealth on earth, Jesus said that the man proclaimed that he would retire and be happy the rest of his life. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you’” (Lk 12:20). In Jesus’ conclusion to the parable, He gave a rule of common sense: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Lk 12:21). If the Christian focuses all his energy on the things of this world, then he is not using common sense in reference to that which is beyond this world.

C.  The test of the golden rule:

Jesus said, “Therefore, all things whatever you want men to do to you, even so do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12). This does not mean that we should do unto others before they do unto us. The “golden rule” is a principle of desiring that others treat us as we would seek to be treated by them. The principle is based on what Paul wrote, “… for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gl 6:7). Others will simply treat us the way we treat them. If we sow goodness, we will reap goodness.

The golden rule is the principle, though there are those in this world who are simply evil. Our goodness is often rewarded with dishonesty and persecution.   In fact, Jesus said that the righteous will sometimes be “persecuted for righteousness sake …” (Mt 5:10).   What He meant was that when one lives the righteous life, he will reap the persecution of an unrighteous world that is intimidated by righteousness. Nevertheless, when one is treated unjustly for living the righteous life, this is no excuse for retaliating with unrighteousness.   Remember what Peter wrote?

 Bondservants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.   For this is commendable, if for the sake of conscience toward God, one endures grief, suffering wrongfully (1 Pt 2:18,19).

This is difficult. However, in maintaining our righteous character of doing good to others regardless of what others may do to us, our characters are molded to be as Jesus, who said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

When men gnashed on Stephen with their teeth, he emulated the spirit of Jesus in his character by saying to those who were throwing stones at him, “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge” (At 7:60).   Stephen picked up no stones and threw them back. As he breathed his last, there were no stones found in his hands. And for the benefit of all Christianity, it was good that he did not seek to retaliate, for one of his retaliatory stones may have hit the man standing near who was holding the garments of those who stoned him to death. “And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet whose name was Saul [Paul](At 7:58). And Saul “was consenting to his death” (At 8:1).

If Stephen would have done that which was done to him, then one of his stones could have mortally wounded the man who many years later repentantly said of himself, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious. But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tm 1:13). When we do unto others as we would have others do to us, we never know what the result will be. Long after our death, the fruit of our love for others may be produced in the lives of others we influenced, but did not retaliate against.

[Next lecture tomorrow, September 22]

 

(2) Character through truth

A.  Rejection of truth.

 It is unfortunate that the love of truth is often not passed on from one generation to another. Josiah was the young king of Judah who was touched by the word of God. In fact, he was so touched that he set out to restore Israel to the law of God (See 2 Kg 22,23). His response to the reading of the book of the law in his presence revealed his character: “Now it come to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law that he tore his clothes (2 Kg 22:11).

Though he was previously ignorant of the book of the law of God, Josiah did the best he could with what he knew. But when he read in the book that he and all Israel were wrong in following after a religiosity that they had created after their own desires, he repented. As the king of Israel, he subsequently called all the religious leaders to come together for a time of repentance and restoration. When they all gathered, he made the following call for repentance:

Go. Inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah concerning the words of this book that is found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2 Kg 22:13).

Because he humbled himself before the word of God, Josiah …

 … made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book (2 Kg 23:3).

What was exciting about this repentance was that not only the king, but “all the people took a stand for the covenant” that Josiah made before the Lord (2 Kg 23:3). Josiah was a restorationist king of Israel because he sought to take the people back to the word of God. We would conclude, therefore, that if a leader of God’s people is not taking the people to the word of God, then it is not his desire to restore the people to God. He is seeking a following for himself, not for God.

After Josiah, his son, Jehoiakim, became the king of Judah (Jr 36:1). It was then that things changed for the worse. Josiah’s restoration to the word of God did not go deep enough into the hearts of his own family, nor the society he sought to lead back to God.   When the word of God was read in the presence of Josiah, he turned Israel to God. But when the word of God was read in the presence of his reigning son, Jehoiakim, the following happened:

So it came to pass when Jehudi had read three or four columns [of the word of God], he [Jehoiakim] cut it with a penknife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth (Jr 36:23).

Because Jehoiakim did not have a heart for the word of God, when it was read in his presence, he turned Israel away from God.

Depending on one’s character, truth is either received or rejected. It is often the case that when the alarm goes off at the appointed time in the morning when we should get out of bed, we have the desire to crush the clock and continue on in our sleep of ignorance. We must always keep in mind that rebellion against the truth hurts no one except ourselves, though others may live with the consequences.   Jehoiakim sought to bury his head in the sands of ignorance, forgetting that the truth and its blessings will continue to live in the hearts of those who know and love the truth.   Unfortunately, most people are as the religious leaders of Israel during the earthly ministry of Jesus: “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own tradition” (Mk 7:9).

When Stephen preached the truth to a mob of those who rebelled against the word of God, “they were cut to the heart.   And they gnashed at him with their teeth” (At 7:54). Those who do not want to hear truth often respond as Jehoiakim and the mob of religious leaders who threw Stephen “out of the city and stoned him” (At 7:58).   Jehoiakim burned the truth of God.   The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected the word of God. An angry mob of religious leaders stoned Stephen to death because they did not want to hear what he said in reference to their rejection of the word of God.   Such is the response of those who have no desire to learn the truth of God’s word. When one claims to be religious, but has no love for the Bible, then his only option to maintain a following is to be hostile to those who would preach the truth.

The proverb is told of a hunter and a preacher.   Behold, a hunter went forth to hunt.   He shot at a duck, and the duck was wounded. And behold, the duck began to squawk. Then behold, a preacher went forth to preach. The preacher took aim with the truth and preached. And behold, the truth wounded an erring member, and behold, the member began to squawk.

It is unfortunate that most people are more willing to believe a lie that is repeated by most of the people, than to believe a truth that is spoken only by a few people. This was the reason why Paul wrote the following statement to the Ephesians in reference to the truth that was being ministered to the disciples:

Then we will no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men in cleverness to the deceitfulness of error (Ep 4:14).

“It is always easier to believe a lie that one has heard a thousand times,” as Grit said, “than to believe a fact that no one has heard before.” Eagerness to believe the lie reveals the character of the one who has no desire to search for truth. Those who are content with their spiritual lives are rarely students of the word of God.

To the Thessalonians, the Holy Spirit wrote in reference to the deceiving power of Satan, “…with all deception of wickedness among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so that they might be saved” (2 Th 2:10). Most people do not have a love for the truth simply because they seek to believe those who craftily lead them astray with error that tickles their ears (See 2 Tm 4:3). Most people are willing to believe a half truth, while failing to understand that in doing so they are believing a complete falsehood. Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Anytime one would find the truth of God’s word standing in his way, can be assured that he is going in the wrong way. We would not, therefore, resist the Holy Spirit who comes to us through the truth of the written word of God (At 7:51).

Because we seek to be taught, reproved, corrected and instructed in righteousness, we will accept all Scripture that “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tm 3:16). We will do so in order that we may be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tm 3:17). It is for this reason that we seek Jesus who can teach the way of God in truth (Mk 12:14; see Lk 20:21).                When we venture throughout the land visiting those of the religious world, we know that there is always hope when we walk in on an assembly of people who have their Bibles open and are led by a teacher who seeks to know God and His word.   These are people who have made a covenant with God to know His word. They have committed themselves to the way of the truth in order that they not be tossed to and fro in a world of error.

B.  Reception of truth.

 We thirst for the truth because Jesus promised, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (Jn 8:32). Jesus is the truth by which we can find freedom from error. To His disciples He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). We know the true character of His disciples, therefore, when we see their desire to search the Bible in order to discover truth. God’s people can find their way out of the quagmire of religious confusion only through a study of the Spirit’s road map to truth.

We learn a lesson from the residents of Berea.   Luke spoke of their character with words that were selected by the Holy Spirit:

These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (At 17:11).

Simply because Paul and his companions spoke the truth of the gospel to the Bereans was not sufficient proof for the Bereans that what they said was true. The Holy Spirit moved Luke’s hand to use the word “noble-minded” in reference to Berean’s truth-seeking character. They were noble-minded because they were truth seekers. And by being truth seekers, they knew that there was only one source that could be trusted to keep them from being tossed to and fro and carried about by every prophet who passed through town.

The Bereans’ final source for truth was the Scriptures, not those who spoke the truth. Before they were caught up in some grand scheme and assembly before those who speak with flattering lips, the Bereans first consulted that which they knew was true and unchangeable. They searched their Bibles. We know the character of a truth seeker because he has his Bible open, checking every word that the preacher says. Before he is caught up in religion that is promoted by a prominent preacher, he searches his Bible. Because it was Berean’s desire to continually grow in their knowledge of the word of God, they remained noble-minded Bible students.

There is a small stream of water that comes forth from a spring near Lake Itasca in the northern part of America. One can easily jump across this stream. But as the stream ventures down and across the North American continent toward the south, many other streams that have become rivers, spill their waters into this stream until it becomes a mighty river.   As the river grows, it reaches the southern part of the North American continent. It is called the Mississippi River, over which no man could ever possibly jump.

When the reception of truth identifies the character of an individual, he spiritually grows throughout life into being a mighty person for God. When the totality of one’s thinking is consumed with the word of God, he is able “to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep 6:10).   Our desire for truth is identified by how earnestly we search the Scriptures. This is that about which Peter referred when he wrote, “Grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18).   No person has a right to claim to be a disciple of Jesus if he is not earnestly searching the Scriptures in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

Jesus pled on behalf of His disciples the night of His betrayal. He prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). It is our desire to be sanctified by the truth of God’s word.   And in being sanctified by His truth, we are set apart from the thinking and behavior of the world. We are set apart for His glory.

[Next Lecture:   September 21]

 

 

 

(1) Character through truth

Many years ago, a resident of Long Island in America ordered from a manufacturer a new barometer. On the morning the barometer arrived in the post, the resident noticed immediately that one hand on the barometer scale was unusually low on the scale. He immediately gave the barometer back to the postman with a very stern letter to the manufacturer. In the letter he complained to the manufacturer that he had sent him a faulty barometer. That afternoon and the following day, a great storm struck Long Island and caused considerable damage.

Sometimes truth can be staring one directly in the face, but we are often so bent on our traditions, or sidetracked by our subjective religiosity, that we are simply blinded. Those who would cultivate a character that is pleasing to God must be those who are always in search of that which is true. In their search for truth from God, characters for Christ guard themselves against being led astray by error.

Webster’s dictionary defines truth as “the state of being the case …. The body of real things, events and facts.” Paul had this meaning in mind when he wrote in reference to his delivery of the message of the gospel to the Ephesians: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ep 1:13). Paul made this statement in the context of so many lies that were being proclaimed in the region of his readers. The recipients of his letter were not living in a religious environment that was much different than the one in which we live today. Error often prevails over truth.

Christendom is burdened with too many theatrical religionists who are strong on theatrical religiosity, but weak on the word of God.   Some groups are zealous about doing a good number of good works, but weak on their knowledge of the Bible.   They subsequently justify their existence as “Christian” on the foundation of works, not the word of God.

We live in a religious world that is the residence of too many prophets who have no desire to have the knowledge of God in their thinking and ways. We recently spoke to a Christian counsellor who said of the church, “We are no longer a people who come together to hear or study the word of God.” A new generation has arisen who seek to validate their relationship with God through good works, but apart from the foundation of the word of God.

True teachers of the word of God are those who seek truth from God. Such is their nature because they are disciples of Christ. All those who are seeking the truth must seek those who are also truth seekers. It is the truth of God’s word that brings Christians together. Truth seekers naturally seek out one another. If we would be God’s people, then we must be people who seek His truth. Our fellowship as disciples of Christ must be based on the word of Christ, not simply on our common works for Christ.

John encouraged Gaius to associate with Demetrius because Demetrius had a good reputation for being one of the truth: “Demetrius has a good report from all, and of the truth itself (3 Jn 12). We seek out those who love the truth in order “that we might be fellow workers for the truth (3 Jn 8). We seek out truth seekers, for we rejoice as John who wrote that he had no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth (3 Jn 4). Notice that in all of John’s preceding statements that he focused on establishing fellowship that is based on truth, not on the common good works of different individuals.

What would be our reputation before the church?   Would it be as Gaius whose reputation was reported throughout the church for his love of the truth? John wrote of Gaius, “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in truth (3 Jn 3; see 2 Jn 4). As Gaius, we must be identified as characters for Christ who have an intense desire to be known for being Bible students. Those who are Bible students are truth seekers, and thus all Bible students are drawn together in order to discover together the truth of God.

[Points A & B tomorrow.]

 

 

(2) Character through faith

B.  The faith of Abraham:

         “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go … obeyed … went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hb 11:7,8).

We would, as Abraham, rather walk alone in the dark by faith, than in the light on our own accord. Abraham chose rather to go to an unknown land by faith, than to stay alone by sight in his own homeland. In his case, God’s commission was more important than land and relatives.   He was as all those faithful disciples who have throughout history put God before family by going into all the world.   Abraham left his extended family and homeland, but was blessed with being the father of millions who have lived by the example of his faith. Jesus promised the same to everyone who would put Him before houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother and homelands:

And everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit everlasting life (Mt 19:29).

We would be as Abraham for Jesus. We would choose to go out for Jesus into a land we do not know. We would remember that today is the tomorrow about which we worried about yesterday because of our lack of faith. We must remember, as someone said, that “God is playing chess with the Christian. He meets every move.” So we must always allow faith to be the grave of fear, and then move on for Jesus in order to take the gospel into all the world.   If doing that which God would ask of us calls on us to make any sacrifice of this world, then the world to come is worth any sacrifice that must be paid in this world.

Our obedience to God is made perfect by our works, but our works must be based on our faith. Paul explained that in Christ, it is our “faith working through love” (Gl 5:6). Therefore, the testing of our faith through obedience will either cause us to use our faith or lose our faith. James challenges us: “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Js 2:18). In Abraham’s case, his faith allowed him to move the mountains, but the mountains never moved his faith. He demonstrated his faith through his work of obedience to God.   When God commanded, he left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, lands and moved on to a land he had never seen before. His faith allowed him to see the invisible, and thus do the impossible for God. He knew that the only faith that was worth having was the faith that would move him on to the next destination.

C.  The faith of Moses:

         “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer mistreatment with the people of God than to temporarily enjoy the pleasures of sin” (Hb 11:24,25).

Someone so wisely said, “All strength and force of man comes from his faith in things unseen. He who believes is strong: he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions.” And such was Moses.

There was once the case when a young, inexperience seaman was sent up the mast of a sailing ship to untangle ropes and sails during a storm. The young sailor yelled down, “I’m becoming very dizzy. I think I’m going to fall.” An old sailor yelled up to him from the deck, “Don’t look down. Look up.”

In order to get the attention of Moses, God had to take him up to the top of a mountain in order that he look up to His guiding hand. When the despondent mother of Jesus and her friends approached the tomb of Jesus in order to dress His body for final rest, they were concerned about who was going to roll away the stone from before the tomb. The text reads, “… and looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back …” (Mk 16:3,4-ASV).

Moses presented the usual excuses for not assuming his leadership of the people of God. But God turned all his excuses into opportunities for victory. His faith moved him to move out of Egypt. When he moved on with God, God strengthened his faith to move a nation out of captivity and into its entrance into the land of promise.

Our faith will not move us to reach out unless it reaches up. We can never ascend to doing great things for God unless our minds ascend to heavenly things. Paul wrote, therefore, Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Cl 3:2).   Doubts concerning our destiny will find their grave in faith when we mentally transcend this present world in order to be other-world minded. We would, therefore, fix the anchor of our faith in those things that are above, knowing that we live in an ever changing and restless world. We must always remember, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the Lord will be safe (Pv 29:25).   God “is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” (Pv 30:5).

We must conclude that it is faith that builds one’s character. We do not want God to steal away our faith with miracles that entice us to walk by sight.   It is faith, not sight, that spiritually prepares us to walk through the trials of this world. It is as someone wrote, “The Christian sees more on his knees, than the philosopher sees on his tip toes.” We would be cautioned, therefore, as Paul so warned: “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Co 10:12). It was said by a wise person, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we will soon yield to that which is around us.”

We must always be as the desperate father who brought his afflicted son to Jesus. The father revealed that his faith had come to an end. He pleaded with Jesus, “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mk 9:22). The father’s faith brought him and his son to Jesus, but there it faltered. Jesus then said to the tearful father, “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23).

It seems that all of us are as the father.   We have a faith that keeps Jesus in our minds, but not a faith that keeps us in His trust. We should all, as the father, cry out to Jesus, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).

Character building is not simply to believe that God is present, but that He is here to grow us spiritually through our times of trial. We better understand the struggles of this world, therefore, when we understand that struggles build our faith in order that we make it through this world.

If we would lose all our money, we would lose much. If we would lose a friend, we lose much more than money. But if we lose our faith, we have lost everything. The Hebrew writer concluded his review of our heroes of faith in chapter 11 with the statement of Hebrews 12:1. He reminded us that all the heroes of faith that he mentioned in the letter now surround us in order to see how we will perform in reference to our faith.

… seeing we are also surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

The Bible is a road map for our faith. The way to master it as our road map is to let it master us. We must come to the Bible in order to develop our faith to see that which is beyond the Bible. It is the work of our faith to take us through our troubles, and thus, we must conclude that there are messages in the word of God upon which our faith is founded that deal with each struggle we may encounter in this life. We must always remember that it is not the greatness of the troubles we encounter in this life, but the weakness of our faith that causes us so much grief. Our failures in our struggles, therefore, become the opportunity to fine tune our faith through study of the word of God. A faith that will not take us to the other side of any trial in life is a weak faith. It is for this reason that we must see in our trials measures of our faith. Trials of life are opportunities to fix our faith with the word of God.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, it was His task to bring all men to faith in Him. The apostles would later add the details on how to openly profess before men that which was necessary in order to come into Him. During His ministry, there were many chief rulers who believed on Christ.   “But because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him lest they should be put out of the synagogue” (Jn 12:42). Their faith would not move them to confess Him who could empower them to be saved.

If the faith that is within us is powerless in taking us all the way to obedience of Jesus, then it is a faith that cannot power us on to victory in Jesus. Jesus calls on a totally committed faith. We must remember that we cannot cross a chasm with two hops. Without an obedient faith in Jesus, it is all the way, or no way. Spurgeon was right: “A little faith will bring your soul to heaven: a great faith will bring heaven to your soul.”

We simply do not believe in a God who can, but in a God who will. It is this behavior of faith that builds character. When we start believing that the things that really count are the things that we cannot count, then we know that we are on our way to the victory that only a true faith can provide.

[Next lecture: September 18]

 

 

 

 

(1) Character through faith

In the Princeton University’s Alumni Weekly, June 7, 1963, a graduate wrote after his graduation from Princeton,

The trouble with me is that I can’t believe in anything. On some days I can, but most of the time I am smarter than that. I have been taught to question, not to believe, so I never know where to stop. What I want is a cause; what I cannot have is a cause.

We live in a world of those who believe that this world is all there is. It is a world that says, “Seeing is believing.” It is a world, therefore, that needs a spiritual revival that says, “Believing is seeing.” The materialist of this world would say, “Trust in this world.” But the Christian would respond, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Pv 3:5).

This world would find solace for its sin if it would trust in God. Augustine wrote, “Now it is faith to believe that which you do not yet see; and the reward of faith is to see that which you believe.” Our soul beckons for that which is beyond this world; it yearns for eternality. And because we so yearn, our souls seek to believe.

The book of Hebrews is a masterpiece on faith.   One of its theme statements is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We like the way Edward Robinson translated this statement: “Faith is confidence as to things hoped for; conviction as to things not seen.”

We hope for that which we have not seen.   However, the Hebrew writer wants to lead our minds beyond wishful thinking and superstition. The proposition of his thesis was that our faith becomes “evidence” of those things that are not seen. God would not demand a faith that is built on wishful thinking.   If He had, then such faith would be no faith at all. It would be only superstition. Bible faith is an evidence of those things that are not seen because it is a faith that is based on evidence. It is for this reason that we have the recorded testimony of so many who have witnessed the supernatural work of God.

We have the recorded testimony of Abraham, and Elijah, and Paul, and the apostles of our Lord. It is not that we need a miracle in our own lives. If we needed a miracle, then we would be seeking to negate the power of the testimony of those whose personal experiences of the resurrected Jesus were recorded in the Bible. Modern-day miracle workers are working to deny the statement of Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” There will be no cry for a miracle from those who seek to walk by faith. They would in no way ask for God to cheat them of the blessedness of their walk by faith.

If we must have a miracle in our own lives in order to believe, then we are accusing the word of Christ of being an impotent testimony of witnesses. We are saying that the testimony of the word of God is insufficient to produce the faith that is necessary to please Him (Hb 11:6). But we have not forgotten that miracles were recorded so that we “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God …” (Jn 20:31). If we would cry out for a miracle from God in our lives, therefore, we are actually confessing our lack of faith in the word of Christ.

We would not, therefore, be as Thomas who said, Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe (Jn 20:25). No, we would not dare venture down that road of unbelief by seeking for a sign as the unbelieving religious leaders of Jesus’ day (See Mt 12:38,39). We would believe. We are not of those who say, “Unless we see we will not believe.” We will believe regardless of seeing, for we seek to walk by faith and not by sight. We seek to walk under the umbrella of Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).

The Hebrew writer came to our rescue. We once preached a sermon on the faith that the writer sought to present as a foundation of our faith. Throughout the Hebrew document, we discover a foundation for our faith (Hb 2:1-4). We discover the Founder of our faith (3:1,2), in order that we not falter from our faith (3:12-14). We see that some have fallen from their faith (3:18 – 4:3), and thus, we seek to hold on to the future of our faith (6:11,12). We hold on in order to enjoy the fullness of our faith (10:22). In this way we will remain faithful throughout our lives (10:38,39). Our faith is the assurance of things for which we hope, the evidence of things that we do not see (Hb 11:1).

The Hebrew writer knew that we needed some examples of faith. And so he recorded the examples of heroes of faith who had experienced the greatest tragedies that life could deliver. Regardless of all the struggles that these heroes went through in their lives, they remained on course in living a faithful life.

A.  The faith of Noah:

“By faith Noah, being warned by God of things not yet seen, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house” (Hb 11:7).

Noah built a boat by his faith in what God said was coming. He did not build by sight of what was happening in the present. While living in a generation where “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Noah cut planks, pegged beams, and stuffed pitch in order to prepare by faith a floating house (Gn 6:5). And while laboring with his sons through faith, he had probably never experienced the natural phenomenon of rain, for before the flood a mist came up from the ground to water all vegetation (Gn 2:6). The satisfaction of over a century of building was realized only when the first rain drop splashed across his brow. We can only imagine the thrill that passed through every nerve of his body as he starred in wonder as to what God was bringing upon the earth in fulfillment of His promise.

As he built that boat, we are sure that Noah at times faced an innumerable host of obstacles. Nevertheless, his faith allowed him to see the way to the saving of his family. He saw a dark night coming for humanity, but his faith allowed him to see a bright day again after the waters would dry from the land. The dissipated canopy of cloud that encompassed the earth before the flood was taken away in order to reveal the warmth of a beaming sun.

We are sure that he dreaded taking that first step by faith into the ark. But when the ark began to be uplifted from the face of the earth by the waters of the flood, he was surely thankful that his faith had kept him building throughout one hundred years while he struggled against all opposition. His faith finally paid off. He was lifted by waters that delivered him to a new world.

Doubt often questions, “Who believes?” Faith always answers, “I.” When doubt knocks at the door, faith will open it. But no one will be there. It is faith that will allow us to be as the psalmist wrote,

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth is removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea … (Ps 46:1,2).

When we feel that our world is coming apart, we will build by faith as Noah. He remained faithful when the world that he knew “was destroyed, being overflowed with water” (2 Pt 3:6). And when our world is coming apart, we will seek to walk in the footsteps of Noah who built an ark to the saving of his family. God “did not spare the old world, but saved Noah, a preacher of righteousness,” because Noah remained faithful in a time when the rest of the world gave up all faith (2 Pt 2:5).

[Points B & C tomorrow.]