Chapter 5: Discipleship

THE VICTORIOUS DISCIPLE

 In our struggle to be a disciple of Jesus, one of the most scary passages in the entire Bible is this: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus (Ph 2:5). The Holy Spirit then proceeds to explain what this “mind” was that was in Christ Jesus. He was before the incarnation “equal with God” (Ph 2:6). But “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Ph 2:8). It is the extremity of His will to do the will of the Father that amazes us. It was so extreme that, as God incarnate, He was willing to humiliate Himself on our behalf. If we would be His disciples, therefore, it seems that He has placed the “humility bar” so high that we could never achieve what He would expect of us. And this is where there is good news. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). If one who is seeking to have the mind of Christ within, does not understand the grace of God that was poured out from the cross, then he will live in endless anxiety concerning his salvation. When it comes to having the mind of Christ, we must have a strong appreciation for the grace of God.

The greatest struggle of the disciple is humility, for such a character seems to work against our innate desire to be somebody and to do things our way. We see such among so many religious leaders throughout the religious world today.   Every effort seems to be used to set one’s self apart to be someone who is somewhat. Fine suits are purchased. Gold chains are worn. Polished new shoes are paraded before the people. Collars are turned around and robes put on. The religious world is cluttered with pompous preachers, priests and popes who would parade themselves over and apart from the people. Many have forgotten that the bigger one makes himself before the people, the less God can use him as a servant of the people.   David Livingstone once wrote, “God had an only son, and He was a missionary and a physician. A poor, poor imitation of Him I am, or wish to be.”   It is the spirit of both the missionary and the physician to focus on others. There are few missionaries or physicians who come from the class of pompous preachers who masquerade themselves as servants of the people.   We have too many “boardroom leaders” among us whose fingers suffer from paper cuts by handing out dictates from behind boardroom doors. If one seeks to be the director of slaves, then he must always stay humble by remembering that little men who try to wear big hats are always blinded.

We must not forget that the blessings for humble character development are not placed on shelves one above another, and the greater we think we are, the more we think we can reach. On the contrary, the blessings are on descending shelves one below another. And the lower we get the more blessings we can access. There are no smooth-handed leaders among the disciples. All our leaders’ hands have callouses. We must not make the mistake of thinking that humility comes by thinking low of ourselves. Humility comes by being honest with ourselves, and thus thinking truthfully about who we are. The humble disciples among us are discovered in the fields of toil, not in boardrooms.

We would not be as the man who was given the badge for being the most humble man in the world, and then having it taken away from him when he wore it. We would seek to allow God to “put us in our place.” He did such with His only Son when He placed Him on a cross. This is what He also did with Israel when they exalted themselves to the point that they left Him. Isaiah spoke of the humiliation that they would experience in captivity. But once they were humbled, he spoke of their exaltation. God promised,

I dwell in the high and holy place with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit in order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Is 57:15).

Our desire to take the initiative on the road to humility is inspired by what both James and Peter wrote concerning the proud.   James warned the proud, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Js 4:6). And then Peter defines the quest of every disciple who would seek to have the “mind of Christ”:

… all of you be submissive to one another and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you at the proper time … (1 Pt 5:5,6).

What Peter seems to be saying is that the road to the grace of God is named “Humility Street.”   No proud person can access the grace of God if he seeks to go down “Pride Street.” The reason the proud can never access grace, is that grace can be accepted only by those who know they can never make it on their own.   When we seek to exalt ourselves, we cannot reach the grace of God. And without the grace of God we cannot dwell with Him in eternity, for only those of a contrite spirit will be there with the One who did not count Himself be equal with God a thing to maintain, but He humbled Himself even to the point of finding His predestined place on the cross for our benefit. It was on that old rugged cross where victory was found.   Jesus became victorious over death in order to lead His disciples to be victorious over life. And thus, “this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).

Chapter 4: Discipleship

THE PATIENT DISCIPLE

 The control of our tongue is governed by the amount of patience one has with people. The less patience one has with his neighbor, the more harsh he will be with his tongue. Therefore, if we work on our patience, we will be working on our ability to relate with others through the control of our speech. The use of our tongue will either drive others away, or draw friends close.

Someone once said that patience is “the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” But in reality, a chronic lack of patience is a form of despair, and despair leads one to be impatient with others. The impatient person is simply depressed about the environment in which he lives, or the circumstances he is facing in his life.   He is often discouraged about life, and thus takes out on others his inward frustrations. If one is narcissistic in his impatience, then he is seeking to project upon others his inability to cope with his social environment.   He reasons that if the world is about himself, then certainly the rest of the world is out of order because it is not measuring up to his desires. Things are not going his way. Narcissistic church leaders always sink into bitterness when people reject their leadership. Such was the case of Simon the sorcerer when the people turned from him to Peter and John (See At 8:12,18,22,23).

We have found that people are very patient in some areas of life, and very impatient in one or more other areas.   One can be patient in the transactions of his daily business at the office, but in the vehicle going home from work he turns into an impatient monster. His impatience manifests a personality disorder. He is seeking to control the traffic as he may have controlled his office staff. The impatient person, therefore, must look inward in order to determine if his problem is a problem with control issues. Regardless of the cause of impatience, disciples cannot function in their relationships with others unless they exercise patience.

 I.  In search of patience:

It is interesting that Christians seem to be those who realize their impatient behavior first, and thus, seek to correct their impatience in all areas of life in order to enjoy the fellowship and friendship of others. This desire is only natural because in their struggles to be a disciple of Jesus, they see no impatience in the One they seek to follow.

Sometimes we disguise impatience with self-initiative.   But there is a difference between taking the initiative and being impatient. We would define self-initiative as the ability to respond to a need or goal for which one patiently strives. If one is not patient in his response to opportunity, then he will find himself chasing dreams that are never fulfilled. If one does not take the initiative to do the work of the disciple, then he will fall into the sin of lukewarmness (Rv 3:15,16).

It is for this reason that the Christian has a completely different world view concerning the environment in which he lives.   Those who are worldly see the world as an opportunity for self gratification. To these people obstacles to success are seen as “bad luck,” and thus, occasions for frustration. The Christian, however, views the tribulation of the world as a means for character development for eternal dwelling. This teleology is in the words of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5.   “… we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope” (Rm 5:3,4). We cannot get much better than this in viewing the world around us.   Obstacles are an opportunity for development in patience.

James moves this building of a world view one step further. Because the Christian accepts tribulation as the builder of a patient character, James graduates us to the next level of the fulfilled life. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience (Js 1:2,3).   When the Christian falls into “various trials,” he concludes that these “tribulations” will produce patience in his character. He can thus count it with joy that his character is being prepared for eternal dwelling through the struggles he must endure. It is for this reason that the patience that is produced by “various trials” is working to prepare us for eternal dwelling. The trials work for our benefit. So James added, But let patience have its perfect work so that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing (Js 1:4).

The tribulations (trials) of this world are working the Christian to heaven. And since we will be there for eternity, each one of us is praying that we will be patient enough with people so that other saints will not consider us an eternal thorn in the flesh in heaven because of our impatience. No one wants to be around an impatient person. So certainly, none of us would want to be in eternity in the presence of an impatience disciple in heaven. We can endure all social environments of this world, knowing that our character is being fine-tuned for eternal dwelling.

 II.  Areas of intense focus:

 Because each person is impatient in different areas of life, then each one of us must target in our character those areas where we are the most impatient. As we do this, we must work on our general demeanor to be more patient. If one has a difficult time determining which areas of impatience on which to focus, then ask a close friend. Husbands can ask their wives. We are certain that wives are often a good judge of those areas where their husbands suffer from impatience. When James said to confess our faults to one another, he at least meant that it was time to confess up to those areas where we are the most impatient (Js 5:16).

It is one work of the fellowship of the family of God to help one another prepare for eternal dwelling with one another.   One of the reasons why “church” often fails the people is that “church” becomes something that is relegated to a legal system of ritualistic assemblies, while the attendees have no social contact with one another. When Paul said, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Co 14:26), he meant more than bringing order to chaotic assemblies. When Christians come together in assembly, the assembly should be of such a nature that each member can work in the development of the character of each member. This is the foundation for the statement: “And let us consider one another to stir up love …” (Hb 10:24). The purpose of the assembly of the disciples is to produce an environment of contact and edification. If there is no contact, then there can be no true edification through interpersonal communication. One of the dangers of the “social media” today is that there are too many Christians who are substituting social media for personal social contact. Facebook is depriving people of face-to-face contact in assembly wherein disciples can exhort one another to stir up love and good works (See Hb 10:24,25).

There are three general areas where dedicated members of the family of God must focus in reference to becoming more patient with one another. These are areas where disciples of Jesus function in their social (assembly) contact with one another in order to develop their personalities.

 1.  Patience for deliverance: It is not fun to struggle through tribulations and trials, especially if we try to struggle alone. And because it is not fun, we would just as soon the trials pass as soon as possible.   James was dealing with some disciples who were struggling through their trials. They were possibly complaining somewhat because of the trials they were having to endure. On the background of a social environment that was not being kind to his readers, James gives some very helpful instructions in James 5:7-11.

Now before we look at the passage, it is imperative that this passage be understood in its historical context. James uses the phrase “coming of the Lord” in the passage. When this phrase is used in the Bible, Bible interpreters seem to jump up and down that the Bible is always speaking about the final coming of the Lord. It is true that the phrase “coming of the Lord” is used in reference to the final coming of Jesus to deliver us from the tribulations of this present world. But this is the exception to the interpretation of the phrase. This is certainly not what the meaning of the phrase is in the context of James 5.

James was writing to Jewish Christians, and these Christians were living in the trying times of hardships immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Notice the context. James said to the rich persecutors of the poor, “Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you” (Js 5:1). James certainly was not speaking of “miseries” that would come upon the rich Jewish persecutors that would come over two thousands years after he wrote this note of encouragement to his immediate readers.   If he did have the final coming of the Lord in mind, then he would have been deceiving the first readers into believing that Jesus was coming in His final coming within their lifetimes.   But we are sure that the Holy Spirit, through James, did not deceive these persecuted disciples into believing that Jesus was soon coming to relieve them of their persecution.

The context of James 5 is the deliverance of the just Christians who were being unjustly treated by the rich in their economic environment. And since James was writing “to the twelves tribes who are in the Dispersion,” then we rightly conclude that he was writing to those Jewish disciples of the Jewish dispersion who had obeyed the gospel. The obedient Jews were being unjustly treated by the rich Jews.

James was making a prophecy of the deliverance of the obedient, which prophecy would be fulfilled in their lifetime. When the Roman armies cracked down on Jewish insurrection throughout the world from A.D. 67 to the final outcome of the crackdown in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then the righteous were delivered from the persecution of Judaism. The rich oppressing Jews lost everything, and thus, their persecution of the just was terminated. So James wrote to the righteous,

Therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth.   And he has long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near (Js 5:7,8).

As previously stated, James did not deceive these early readers into believing that they had to wait until the final coming of Jesus at the end of time in order to be delivered from their tribulations. Their deliverance was “near.”   And since it was near in their lifetime, then when we are personally enduring tribulations, we too, as James’ immediate readers, do not have to wait for our deliverance from tribulation until the final coming of Jesus.

The deliverance from our personal tribulation can also be “near.” Jesus can come “in time” in order to deliver us. This is not the final coming of Jesus in person, but a coming of Jesus in time to deliver us from persecution. James was simply using the judgment language of the Old Testament to refer to the “in time” coming of the Lord to deliver His people out of tribulation (See Is 19:1; Jr 4:12,13; Ez 30:3; Dn 7:13,14).

“In time” Christians need to know that they can be delivered from their “in time” trials by Jesus who can come “in time” for their deliverance. This is the clear and explicit message of James to his brothers and sisters, who were at the time of his writing, suffering trials and tribulations from the hands of those who were unjustly treating them. James’ readers needed help right then, not two thousand years later.   And when we are suffering from the oppression of trials and tribulations, we too need to find comfort in the fact that Jesus can deliver us immediately. Our prayers for deliverance can happen immediately. We do not have to wait over two thousand years for an answer.

Our tribulation will produce the work of developing patience, but there will come deliverance. If James promised that his readers would soon be delivered from their immediate trials, then when we are on our knees in prayer, we must be confident that we too can be delivered from our immediate trials. We can thus do as Paul stated, “glory in tribulation” (Rm 5:3). Now read Romans 8:24,25 again.

For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for what a man sees, why does he still hope for it? But if we hope for what we do not see, then with perseverance [patience] wait for it.

 If we could paraphrase what Paul was saying it would be, “Just hang in there!” If we hang in there, we will imitate those faithful Old Testament people of God who waited for the coming of the Messiah.

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, so that you not be sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hb 6:11,12).

The simple message of the Hebrew writer is that we must not become discouraged in times of tribulation. We must not allow tribulation to discourage us into inactivity.   We must continue to work as disciples of Jesus until we are delivered, whenever that deliverance will come.   Jesus promised, “In your endurance you will gain your souls” (Lk 21:19). Just remember the words of John in the book of Revelation.

He who leads into captivity will go into captivity. He who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Rv 13:10).

 2.   Patient with people:   Shakespeare wrote, “How poor are they who have not patience. What wound did ever heal but by degrees.” Winston Churchill once said to an impatient general, “Sir, you do not posses your emotions. They possess you.”

When discussing patience, it is almost always our impatience with people that affects our relationships with others.   We struggle in our relationships with one another because we struggle with one another’s differences. Two Irishmen had just reached the top of a long hill on a tandem bicycle. The one on the front seat said over his shoulder to the one on the back seat, “Pat, that was one stiff climb.” Pat replied, “It sure was. If I hadn’t kept my foot on the brake we would have rolled backwards down the hill.”

The goal that is set before all of us is what Paul wrote to Titus, “… an overseer must … not be quick-tempered …” (Ti 1:7). He added that Titus “teach that the older men be … self-controlled … in patience” (Ti 2:2). To succeed in this struggle over our impatience, we must exercise ourselves in self-discipline in order to be forbearing of others (1 Tm 3:2,3). This is not just an option to discipleship behavior. According to what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, it is a mandate of character. “Now we exhort you, brethren … be patient toward all men.”

3.  Patient for the reward of our labors: Thomas Edison was asked how he could justify about 1,000 unsuccessful experiments on a particular project. He simply replied, “Why? Now we know 1,000 ways it won’t work.” We must always keep in mind the old Chinese proverb, “Nothing is so full of victory as patience.” This was Paul. In prison he wrote,

Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ph 3:13,14).

We can be patient for the reward of our labors if we keep our minds focused on the reward. In a Reader’s Digest article entitled, “The Power of Patience,” Norman Vincent Peale wrote in the April 1972 issue:

Why can’t people make better use of patience in their lives? Mainly, I think, because it has three great enemies: discouragement, that white surrender flag that makes people give up too easily; frustration, generating anger that clouds your judgment and wrecks your timing; and the tendency to over react under stress, hit the panic button, lose your cool.

Patience for reward should be the character of the disciple. God worked from the time of creation to bring the cross into the existence of earth history a little over two thousand years ago. He patiently endured until the fullness of time in order to accomplish His plan of redemption (Gl 4:4). We seek to be godly after this patience, for such was in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He wrote,

Therefore, seeing we are also surrounded by so great a cloud of [faithful Old Testament] witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance [patience] the race that is set before us (Hb 12:1).

 III.  The cause of impatience:

 No one can become patient unless he focuses squarely on those things in his life with which he has little patience. Our focus must be on those areas of the human spirit that lead one to be impatient with circumstances and people.

1.   Lack of mercy: Remember the statement that was said to a surrounding crowd of unmerciful and self-righteous judges who were about to stone to death a woman caught in adultery? “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Goethe said, “Tolerance comes with age; I see no fault committed that I myself could not have committed at some time or other.”   We must never forget what James said in James 2:13: “For judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. And mercy rejoices over judgment.” This was the theme of Jesus’ parable concerning the unmerciful and unforgiving servant. A certain king brought his servants before him and exercised mercy through the forgiveness of their debt. One servant was forgiven ten thousand talents. But this servant was himself unforgiving, and thus, he went out to extract a debt of a few denarii from one who owed him. His debtor pleaded with him, “Have patience with me and I will pay you” (Mt 18:29).   But there was no mercy from the oppressing servant, for he took the debtor “and cast him into prison until he should pay the debt” (Mt 18:30).

We wonder how many people we have cast into our mental prison of exclusion from our presence. Because they owed us so little in comparison to what God has forgiven us, we have cast them forth from our presence because of an offending word.   They are out there in our “mental prison,” banished from our presence until they pay us with an “I am sorry.”   The arrogance of our way is revealed in our self-righteous comfort that we will somehow be rewarded by One who forgave us all (See Mt 18:21-35). Some people have very little mercy for others, but a lot of mercy on themselves in reference to their debt to God. They have forgotten what Jesus taught those who would be His disciples: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).

 2.  Too much anxiety:   Blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus, was normal. When she discovered that her Twelve-Year-Old was not in the presence of the returning caravan of relatives from Jerusalem, she and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem. After three days of anxiety, they finally found Jesus where all twelve-year-old young people should be, that is, in the temple talking about the Bible. In exasperation Mary said to Jesus, “Behold, Your father and I have anxiously sought You” (Lk 2:48). Whether it calmed their nerves or relieved their frustration with Jesus, we will never know. Nevertheless, their Twelve-Year-Old calmly replied, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). And how can an anxious mother be angry at that?

We know what Jesus said later in life during His ministry. “… do not be worried about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, what you will put on” (Mt 6:25). That is easier said than done. Nevertheless, this is the struggle of the disciple. Jesus concluded and exhortation an anxiety in Matthew 6 by saying, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:34). In order to deal with our impatience, we must work on our worry about tomorrow. Our impatience reveals our inability to trust in God today for tomorrow’s blessing.

Now in this context, Jesus would say to us pointedly, “And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his life’s span?” (Lk 12:25). If there is nothing within our power to change that which is in the future, then Jesus is simply saying, “Chill out.” It is still true that a person is about as big as that which annoys him.   And if the present and future is not under our control, then we must relax. One might argue that this is impossible. But growth in the discipleship of the early Christians proves the contrary. In fact, while in a Roman prison facing death, one disciple wrote,

Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Ph 4:6,7).

When we are anxious in everything, then we need some peace from God in everything. We need the “peace of God that keeps our hearts and minds.” And since we all seek for peace of mind, then all the struggle that it takes to get to that peace is worth it. The story is told of a young Chinese student who in frustration about his difficulty in learning a particular point, threw down his books and ran from his teacher. He later encountered an old woman patiently rubbing an iron bar on a stone. He asked the old woman, “What are you doing?”   She quietly responded, “Making a needle.”

Paul had written to Timothy, “But you, O man of God … follow after patience …” (1 Tm 6:11). And Timothy had surely got the message and preached such to those disciples in Ephesus with whom he worked. Jesus later addressed the disciples in Ephesus with the words, I know … your patience. And you have perseverance and patience. You have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary (Rv 2:2,3).

The Ephesian disciples evidently listened to the teaching of Paul that came to them through Timothy. In another situation, there were some disciples who had not yet learned what the Ephesian disciples had learned. The Hebrew writer exhorted, “For you have need of endurance [patience], so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hb 10:36). The first step on the road to patience is made when we confess that we have need of patience. We will determine to stay on this road in this life when we thirst for the reward that comes to patient disciples. One is considered patient, not because he is patient in all areas of life, but because he stays on the road of struggling for patience longer than others. Jesus would encourage all of us in reference to our patience, “But what you have already, hold fast until I come” (Rv 2:25). Just remember, snails did eventually reach the Ark in time.

Chapter 3: Discipleship

THE DISCIPLE’S TONGUE

 In one statement, Jesus ripped the mask off every person who would presume to hide within his heart evil things.   For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks(Mt 12:34). The greatest fool on earth is the one who thinks he can hide his true character from others. Only mute people can do this.   But even those who cannot speak will eventually reveal their true character by their actions. Jesus continued, “The good man brings good treasure out of the good things. And evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Mt 12:35). We separate good men from evil men by what comes forth from their mouths and how they behave. In fact, Jesus assured us that what comes out of our mouths will determine our eternal destiny.

But I say to you, that every idle word that men will speak, they will give account for it in the day of judgment.   For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Mt 12:36,37).

There are those who would presume to be religious, but their heart is full of evil things. They offer a good presentation to cover a host of inward evils. But if such a person does not control his speech, then he has already judged his supposed religiosity to be useless. “If any man among you seems to be religious, and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is useless (Js 1:26). It is interesting that this statement says that one “deceives his own heart” when he pretends to be religious, but harbors evil. With this statement, James introduced one of the most profound pronouncements from the Holy Spirit in the Bible. James 3:1-12 is a dissertation from God that should exhort any disciple to engage in a lifetime of struggle to control that which cannot be tamed, that is, his speech.

 I.  Little is too big.

James introduced the impossibility of controlling that which would declare useless our discipleship. “If anyone does not stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (Js 3:2). These are not encouraging words. Those disciples who would be puffed up in their own “spirituality,” should remember that they are continually brought down by a slipped word.   If one would think that he can always control his speech, then he should consider the fact that the strength of a horse is controlled by a very small bridle (Js 3:3). If one would think that he is spiritually strong, then he should reconsider the small member of the tongue that can bring one down to humanity.

A large ship may stay afloat on the ocean and take the blows of the waves, but it is turned about by a very small rudder (Js 3:4). An unguarded word spoken in jest can wreck a life. And then consider the strength of standing trees in a forest. No matter how strong the trees may present themselves, they can be burned to the ground with the flame of a small match (Js 3:5). A life of discipleship can be burned to the ground with a harsh word. A mighty automobile engine can produce tremendous power, but be brought to silence with a very small particle in the jets of the carburetor. James’ metaphor is direct. Though the tongue is small, it can bring down lives. A businessman of our acquaintance once said that he had an investor come to him in order to invest 1.5 million dollars in his business.   But during the discussions, our friend said that he made one statement as a joke, which the investor considered offensive. So the investor gathered up his papers and walked out. A word made in jest cost our friend 1.5 million dollars.

The curse of the careless word is in the fact that one can spend a lifetime making friends that can be destroyed with a few careless words. We wish we could thank the author who wrote,

 A careless word may kindle strife,

A cruel word may wreck a life.

A bitter word may hate instill,

A brutal word may smite and kill.

A gracious word may smooth the way,

A joyous word may light the day.

A timely word my lessen stress,

A loving word may heal and bless.

 James was right. If we could only control our tongue, then we could really control our whole body (Js 3:2). Being a good disciple could be easy if it were not for the tongue. The tongue can never be completely controlled, and thus, discipleship will always be a struggle. And for this reason, we are always on our knees before God, asking that we be forgiven of all the senseless words that may have caused damage to our relationship with others. The struggle to be the type of disciple we want to be begins with the small member, the tongue.

 II.  Division is caused by words.

Since the tongue cannot be completely controlled, then James cautions,

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature.   And it is set on fire by hell (Js 3:6).

It is true that much gossip that is aired among the members should also be fumigated. The tongue is never on the sidelines when there is division among the members of the body. This is true, as someone said, because there are always three types of gossips among the members in times of turmoil: (1) vest-button gossips, those who are always popping off nonsense, (2) vacuum-cleaner gossips, those who are always picking up dirt, and (3) liniment gossips, those who are always rubbing it in. These are gossips with “hoof and mouth” disease. They are always hoofing it from one member to another, mouthing off those things they should not. Paul reminded us that there are those “wandering about from house to house … gossips and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not (1 Tm 5:13).

Why is it that when there is turmoil among the disciples that there are more people run down by gossips than automobiles.   In times of controversy among the children of God—and there will always be those times because we cannot control our tongues—there are some who never know what to talk about, only who to talk about. We must never forget the wisdom of the sage who said, “Gossips are people who put 2 and 2 together and always get 22.” These are those people who have things go into their ears, but get mixed up before they slip out of their mouths. It is people as this who never seem to be interested in the work of the church until there is trouble. They will not show up at the assemblies of the disciples to discuss the work of the church until there is trouble. Sometimes it is as someone said, “Some people never get interested in anything until it is none of their business.”

The story is told of a young man who made a statement to several people, which statement he later found out was totally false. He asked advice from one of the elders, who instructed him to take a feather and lay it on the front step of the front door of every house where he stated the falsehood. He was then instructed to later go back the following day and collect up all the feathers. The young man replied, “But the feathers will be blown all over town.”   Right.

Someone wisely said, “The worst indigestion one can have comes from having to eat one’s own words.” The poet was right:

 Two ears and but a single tongue,

by nature’s laws to man belong.

The lesson she would teach is clear;

Repeat but half of what you hear.

 For this reason, James exhorted, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Js 1:19). Have you ever noticed the things in Proverbs 6 that God hates, things that are an abomination to Him? Just in case you have not, they are, among other things, “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who speaks lies” (Pv 6:17,19). Delmar Andrews probably revealed in a very precise manner the evil of slander.

The sin of slander is one of the most vile and wicked sins in the realm of iniquity. It is a devil’s caldron, brewed in correction, flavored with filth, spiced with deadly venom, and stewed over the fires of hell. Its stench is nauseating and repulsive to the nostrils of the decent and respectable.

The sin of slander could not have been better described. When dealing with our tongues that cannot be tamed, every disciple should make the control of his tongue top priority. If one would involve himself in slander, he has used his tongue in the most evil way it can be used. James exhorted, “Do not speak evil one of another, brethren. He who speaks evil of his brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law (Js 4:11). The slanderous person sets himself up as the law, and thus his slanderous speech speaks evil of the law of God. He judges the law of God to be inadequate to lead people, and thus, he slanders in order to manipulate people to follow him and his law.   Such was what the church leader, Diotrephes, did in reference to the evangelists, and the apostle of love himself.   So John wrote to Gaius, “Therefore, if I come I will remember his [Diotrephes’] deeds that he does, unjustly accusing us with malicious words” (3 Jn 10). If someone would so slander the apostle of love, then certainly disciples who step forward to be the type of leader they should be, should expect slander from those people who love to be first (3 Jn 9).

 III.  The untamable is among us.

James is emphatic about the untamable tongue.   There is no bird or beast that cannot be tamed by man (Js 3:7-9). But no one can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison” (Js 3:8). It seems to always be true what someone said, “Some use language to express thought. Some use language to conceal thought. But some use language instead of thought.” It is true that if you speak when you are angry, you will make the best speech that you will ever regret. A poet said it right.

 It is not so much what you say,

As the manner in which you say it;

It is not so much the language you use,

As the tones you use to convey it.

 Paul instructed concerning the tone we should use in our speech: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Cl 4:6). In reference to our demeanor concerning our speech, Paul also instructed,

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.   And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you (Ep 4:31,32).

We must always keep in mind that kind words will always echo back to us in kind words. How we speak to others is how others will speak to us.

 IV.  A loose tongue manifests a hypocritical heart.

James concludes his exhortation concerning the tongue with words none of us want to hear. A loose tongue will reveal our hypocrisy. “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so (Js 3:10). The challenge in one’s use of his speech is to be consistent. And in being consistent, one must always speak good consistently. We must not forget that our manner of speech is an indication of our manner of behavior. Jesus was right. “The good man brings good treasure out of the good things. And an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Mt 12:35). Someone once defined dignity as “the capacity to hold back on the tongue what should never have been in the mind in the first place.” But if there is evil in one’s heart, it cannot be concealed. It will be revealed through the tongue.

James uses two illustrations to explain that true disciples are consistent in their speech. A spring does not give forth sweet and bitter water. No disciple should be spouting forth sweet and bitter speech out of the same mouth. A fig tree does not produce both olives and figs. Neither should a disciple produce good and bad speech. It is simply true what James earlier said in his epistle, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Js 1:8). If one is double-tongued, then he is not stable.   He is not conducting himself with dignity. Maybe we should write out and place on our refrigerators the words of the Holy Spirit of Ephesians 4:29:

Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for edification, so that it may give grace to the hearers.

This is more than advice from the Holy Spirit.   It is a mandate to be obeyed.   The Holy Spirit said in another place, Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Pv 18:21). Is this not what Jesus said. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Mt 12:37). As disciples of Jesus, we must never forget that our eternal destiny lies in the control of our tongues, that little member that is simply too big in our lives.

 

Chapter 2: Discipleship

THE HOLY DISCIPLE

 Discipleship means that one is different from that which is common in this world. If a disciple is not different, then he has conformed to the life-style of the world.   Peter defined this sacred life-style as a holy priesthood.

you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pt 2:5; see vs 9).

Now here is the challenge to everyone who would be a disciple of Jesus.

But as He who has called you is holy, so you be holy in all manner of behavior, because it is written, “You will be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pt 1:15,16).

The meaning of the word hagios (holy) defines one who is morally good. And since the holy are morally good, then they are different from those of this world.   The holy ones are “sacred,” “sanctified,” and “set aside” from that which is common and ordinary of this world.   There is something very uncommon about the saints of God when we judge them in reference to the moral standards of the world. And since the holy priesthood of God is “holy in all manner of behavior,” then this priesthood of disciples does not conduct themselves after the manner of this world.

Peter makes 1 Peter 1:15 a command. “Be holy in all manner of behavior.” If holiness is enjoined upon disciples as a command, then there is more to holiness than being cleansed and sanctified from sin. It is through the blood of Jesus that we have been cleansed of sin. When we walk after Him as His disciples, we continue to be cleansed when we mess up (1 Jn 1:7). So there is something about holiness over which we have control through our behavior.   Our sin is cleansed by the blood of Jesus, but our separateness from that which is of this world is our choice.   The basic meaning of holiness is to be “set apart.” The holy, therefore, set themselves apart from the activities and things of this world that are contrary to God. When we choose to live according to the instructions of the Spirit in the word of God, then we are being set apart from the world by our obedience.

 I.  Be holy as God.

God is set apart from the world, and thus, He is not of this world. The sin of idolatry is an effort to steal away the holiness of God. The idol worshipers bring God down to a god who is created after the imagination of the one who is of this world. If God can be created after the likeness of man, then He is not a God separate from the thinking of man who is of this world.   It was for this reason that God strongly condemned Israel when they ventured into idolatry. They were destroying the holiness of God by making God to be something of this world. This is the meaning behind God’s condemnation of Israel in Amos 5:21-23:

I hate, I despise your feast days.   And I will not take delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them.   Neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.

 What Israel had done was to develop a syncretistic religiosity. They mingled the ceremonial rituals of the law of God with what they believed the gods they had created after their own imagination would desire. Amos continued to write, “But you have borne the shrine of your king and the pedestal of your images, the star of your god that you made for yourselves” (Am 5:26). When they performed the ceremonies that were required by the Old Testament law, they were thinking of the gods they had created after their own imaginations. It was a time when in their minds they had dethroned God to a god, and thus assumed that they could manipulate the behavior of their gods by their own desires.   They sought to remove the one true and living God from His separation from the world in order to make Him conform to the wishes of their own thinking.

If the disciples of Jesus seek to be holy as God is holy, then they should make every effort that they do not dethrone God from His holiness in order to conform to their own imagination.   Unfortunately, we see this idolatrous religiosity being played out as worshipers assemble for meetings that please themselves. They assemble in order to see what they can get out of an assembly, instead of seeing what they can give in worship. Israel tried this man-made religiosity. But God judged them with the statement: “Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Am 5:23). In their idolatrous concept of God, apostate Israel assumed that if the melody of their songs and instruments was personally pleasing to them, then certainly it must be pleasing to the god whom they had created after their own imagination. There is something very subtle about idolatry for which worshipers must be very cautious. When we start believing that which we personally like for ourselves, it is time to search the Scriptures lest we be guilty of “will worship,” that is, forcing our worship on God (See Cl 2:23).

The purpose for the giving to Israel all the ceremonial laws concerning cleanliness was to separate them from the nations around them. It was God’s mandate to Israel, therefore, that they maintain their separateness (holiness) from the nations around them through their obedience of the ceremonial laws He gave them.   This was the reason why God commanded,

For I am the Lord your God. You will therefore sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am holy. Neither will you defile yourselves with any kind of creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You will therefore be holy, for I am holy (Lv 11:44,45).

If a disciple is to be holy as God is holy, then it is necessary that he clearly understands the holiness of God. God does not exist according to the imagination of man, but is separate from the world. He is uncommon according to the behavior of those who live after the manner of this world. Those who do not understand the separateness of God from that which is of this world, cannot be holy. An idolater can never be holy simply because he has created a god in his mind that conforms to his wishes that are of this world. One is as holy as his understanding of the holiness of God.

 II.  Called to be holy

 Concerning the holiness of the disciple, the Holy Spirit proclaimed that the obedient were called into holiness. “For God has not called us to impurity, but in holiness (1 Th 4:7). If one would reject this call, he rejects God who is holy (1 Th 4:8).

 1.  Motivation for holiness: Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we have been sanctified by His blood offering (Hb 7:27). And because we have been made holy through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God, it is only reasonable to do what Paul exhorted the Roman Christians: “… present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rm 12:1). It is only reasonable service to remain separate from the world in view of the fact that Jesus separated us from our sin through His incarnation and the cross.

As His holy priesthood, God assumes that we will respond to His grace by keeping our lives separated from the behavior of the world. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is … to keep oneself unspotted from the world (Js 1:27). It is grace that teaches this lesson of discipleship.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age (Ti 2:11,12).

This simply means that we not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn 2:15).   So Paul reminded the Roman disciples how this is accomplished in the life of a disciple. “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Rm 12:2). Disciples continue to renew their minds through the word of God in order that they not lose their way in this world of unholiness. The only direction by which the disciples of Jesus can renew their thinking is in saturating their minds with the word of God.   There is no other way to know Jesus.

 2.  Follow the pattern: The pattern is Jesus. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps (1 Pt 2:21). We can find those “steps” only in the word of Jesus.

Jesus did not behave as the world behaves. He went to what we would consider an extreme in setting an example for us to follow as His disciples. As the Creator, and sacrificial Son of God, He washed the dirty feet of the disciples. After the foot bath, holy living is inspired by His sacrifice for us. He said, “For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15). Holiness is “other world” behavior. It is not of this world. If we would be holy as our Father is holy, then it is imperative that we follow the example of the One who came from the Father in order to illustrate the holy behavior of the Father. He will stoop to wash our dirty feet, and then hang on a cross to wash our dirty souls.

 3.  Holy action glorifies God: Our holiness is meant to bring glory to God. Whatever we do, we must “do all to the glory of God” (1 Co 10:31).   This means that our lives must be patterned after the holy example of Jesus. This is what Paul meant when he wrote,

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Cl 3:17).

 II.  Being unholy.

We can better understand holiness by the Bible’s description of the unholy life. Notice where Paul grouped the unholy person in 1 Timothy 1:9:

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murders of fathers and murders of mothers, for murderers.

The unholy person is not in good company.   But this is not the end of the crowd of unholy people. Paul continued:

Know this also, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy (2 Tm 3:1,2).

Those who would live unholy lives have put themselves in the company of those who would be rejected from eternal dwelling. They have either rejected being set apart for Christ in obedience to the gospel, or if they have obeyed the gospel, then they have agreed to walk the sanctified life in submission to Jesus.

Under the Old Testament law, the priests of God were to keep themselves from that which was unholy (Lv 10:10). As priests of God, we too as the disciples of Jesus must keep ourselves from that which is unholy (1 Jn 5:21). Jude exhorted, “… keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jd 21). In view of the termination of all that we now behold, Peter wrote, “Since all these things will be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness …?” (2 Pt 3:11).

As the unholy have no fellowship with the holy of this world, the same is true in reference to eternal dwelling. In the context of the judgment of God upon the unholy, John encouraged the saints by saying, “And he who is holy, let him still be holy” (Rv 22:11). The interpretive meaning is that the holy must continue in their holiness, without involving themselves in that which is unholy of this world. The Hebrew writer explained, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man will see the Lord (Hb 12:14).

Since no man can claim to be holy from sin on the basis of his behavior—for we all sin—then our sanctification from sin was made possible through the blood of Jesus. Our holiness in reference to sin, therefore, is the gift of God. It is the gift of the shed blood that came through the cross. This gift of grace is our motivation. We were set apart from the world through our obedience to the grace of God in order to be holy for God’s purpose in this world. Jesus’ sacrifice to make us holy from sin inspires us to keep ourselves holy from the unholy things of this world.

 

Chapter 1: Discipleship

THE THEFT OF A DISCIPLE

 The Bible is saturated with exhortations about not stealing material possessions from another person. The commandment “Thou shalt not steal” deals with the thief who would endanger human relationships (Ex 20:15). The thief is such a personality that he must be cut off from the people because he cannot be a part of society (Zc 5:3). In the relationship Christians have with one another, the Holy Spirit exhorted, “Let him who steals steal no more …” (Ep 4:28).

Stealing that which belongs to one’s neighbor will certainly terminate a relationship one would continue to have with his neighbor.   But what if we allow “spiritual thieves” to steal personality characteristics that will endanger our relationships with one another? If we allow spiritual thieves to prevail in our lives, we too will endanger our relationship with others. But most important of all, we will endanger our relationship with God. Look out for the following thieves:

 I.  Procrastination:

Procrastination is not only the thief of our own time, but also the thief of opportunity. On the hallway of a university were written the words,

On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions, who, at the dawn of victory, sat down to rest, and resting died.

After Paul presented the opportunity to escape the second death, Felix responded, “Go away for now. When I have a convenient time, I will call for you” (At 24:25). Felix procrastinated. He never called for Paul. Opportunity was lost. He should have responded according to the meaning of what Paul wrote in the following statement:

 I have heard you in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Co 6:2).

In reference to the salvation of men, procrastination is Satan’s best weapon to keep lost men lost. Tomorrow is always the worse enemy for seizing the opportunity to obey God. But most of us are like the procrastinator who complained about the noise that was created when opportunity knocked so loud at the door. We must always keep in mind that tomorrow is like a postdated check. Today is cash. If we are in the habit of putting off that which should be done today, eventually tomorrow will have so many things that need to be done that we will continually live in frustration about what must be done.   The common phrase used by the procrastinator is, “I should have ….”

In reference to our salvation, Hebrews 2:3 is a question that every disciple must answer. “… how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who have heard?”

Have you ever heard the statement, “Wait a minute”?   Now have you ever considered what you would lose if you waited for a minute? If you were making R100,000 a year (or, whatever your local currency would be of the value of 100,000), you would be losing R1,00 a minute.   Procrastination will cost you.   An old Japanese proverb states, “Saying ‘It is too early,’ makes it too late.”

We must keep in mind that one of the greatest labor saving devices for today is tomorrow. Alexander the Great gave a simple answer to one who asked him how he conquered so much of the ancient world in such a short time. He simply responded, “By not delaying.” Calvin Coolidge stated, “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

We must remember that rolling stones gather no moss, and thus, in order to accomplish our dream for God, we must simply keep on rolling. There are those who dream about doing great things for God, and then there are those who just do it. Dreams are useless unless the dreams are put into action. There is an old French proverb that reads: “Young people tell what they are doing, old people what they have done, and fools what they wish to do.”

We would conclude as Paul in reference to our salvation. “Knowing that it is already time to awaken out of the sleep because now our salvation is nearer than when we believed” (Rm 13:11). “Awake you who sleep and arise from the death, and Christ will give you light” (Ep 5:14). Everyone harbors the spirit of procrastination in some area of his life, especially in those things we do not like to do. The only way to overcome these fault areas is just do it.

 II.  Anxiety:

When we allow anxiety to take control of our emotional well-being, we allow our peace of mind to be stolen away. Stress is probably one of the greatest emotional battles to conquer. We have this almost incurrable urge to dream up something about which to worry.   Pessimism almost rules the day when we consider our future. It is as someone said, “The pessimist never worries about tomorrow. He knows that everything is going to turn out wrong anyway.”

Jesus knew this spirit about ourselves. This was the emotional background for His statement in Matthew 6:34:

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

We must always keep in mind that worry and stress are like a rocking chair. It gives your mind something to do, but it will get you nowhere. The Philippians seemed to be in a state of anxiety when they learned of the condition of Paul in a Roman jail. Because they lived in a Roman colony, Philippi, they knew that being in a Roman jail was not a good situation. They were subsequently very anxious about the circumstances of Paul.   Paul realized that they were anxious for him when Epaphroditus come from Philippi to Rome to see Paul in prison.   Paul wrote the Philippian letter to calm their anxiety. He thus saturated the letter with statements of joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he reminded the Philippians, “And again I say, rejoice!” (Ph 4:4). And just in case this exhortation was not sufficient, he followed it with a mandate from God. Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Ph 4:6). Paul practiced what he preached. At the same time and in the same jail, he also wrote, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers …” (Ph 1:19). Even in the worst of situations, Paul refused to allow his difficult environment to determine his state of mind.

Paul did not stress about the future. He wanted the Philippians to know that their prayers for him would not go unanswered. He would prevail over imprisonment through the power of God that was released upon those who held him captive. We do not know how God would do this, but we do know that Paul’s deliverance from prison would not be the result of a merciful court. It would be through the power of God. And thus, Paul could from prison write of his future.

Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.   Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this mind (Ph 3:13-15).

We simply must not forget that ulcers are what we get when climbing over mole hills as if they were mountains. We simply must never forget what George Muller said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith. The beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” Just remember, if you let anxiety prevail in your life, you can end up on a psychiatrist’s couch. You will subsequently spend a great deal of money for the couch, but will never own it.

 III.  Covetousness:

This spiritual thief will steal away from the disciples of Jesus the spirit of generosity. This is why Paul referred to covetousness as a “member of this world.”   So in reference to this member, he wrote, “Therefore, put to death your members that are on the earth … covetousness, which is idolatry(Cl 3:5).

The story is told of Fredrick the Great who was about to launch war against a neighboring country. Fredrick subsequently called his secretary to write a declaration of war against the country. The secretary dutifully began to write the dictated words of Fredrick, “Whereas in the providence of God ….” Fredrick abruptly stopped the secretary and said, “Just write, Fredrick wants more land.”

In the parable of the sower, we must keep in mind that the seed that was sown on the thorny ground lost its purpose and destiny as seed because of covetousness, that is, the cares of this world (Mt 13:22).   It was the same covetousness that caused Demas to forsake his destiny. “… for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world …” (2 Tm 4:10). Jesus knew that the spirit of covetousness would steal away some of His disciples.   For this reason, during His ministry He forewarned His disciples, “Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses” (Lk 12:15).

A Sunday school teacher had just explained to her young students the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. She concluded by asking the young students, “Which would you want to be, the rich man or Lazarus?” One of her students quickly replied, “I would want to be the rich man in life and Lazarus when I die.” Sorry, it cannot be that way.

 IV.  Lusts:

Here is the problem:

Let no man say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God.” For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (Js 1:13-15).

It is for this reason that Paul wrote, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subject, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co 9:27).   Our humanity lends itself to doing that which would lead us away from the spiritual. Since lust is of the world, then when we follow after that which is of this world, we are led further away from God who is not of this world. John wrote, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 Jn 2:16).

When we have the urge to obsess over the lust of the flesh, we must remember that this “world is passing away with its lust” (1 Jn 2:17). If we would allow our lives to be controlled by the lust of the flesh, then we too will pass away from God with the passing of this world.

In order to guard ourselves from passing away with this world by our obsession to fulfill the lust of the flesh, Paul exhorted the young Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tm 2:22). And the only way to flee lust is to pursue that which is opposite to lust, that is, righteousness, faith, love and peace (2 Tm 2:22). If one does not follow the way of righteousness, faith, love and peace, he will be detoured from the way to heaven.

Since the lust of the flesh is of this world, then when we fulfill the lust of the flesh by losing sight of righteousness, faith, love and peace, we will lose our soul. This is the meaning of what Peter wrote, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul (1 Pt 2:11).

The great spiritual leader Paul knew what he was talking about when he continually disciplined his body in order not to be disqualified from a heavenly home. He knew that if temptation were not continually resisted, it would become a life-style. He knew that life was like the statement of a Malay proverb, “If you value your corn, pluck out the grass.”   We must confess that many of the problems that we have in developing our spiritual life is that we say “yes” too quickly to too many lusts, when we should be saying “no” more. Spiritual growth is always held up by the fulfillment of the lust of the flesh.

 V.  Apprehension:

If there were a personality characteristic that would steal away our hope and vision for the future, it would be apprehension about the future, or the fear of moving forward. For the apprehensive, Psalm 46:1-3 is a passage for encouragement.

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, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.

Christians must remember that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tm 1:7). And we must not forget that the lake that burns with fire and brimstone is reserved for “the cowardly and unbelieving …” (Rv 21:8).

We must keep in mind that the future frightens only those who find comfort by living in the past. But for those who realize that they are more than conquerors through the power of God that dwells in us (Rm 8:37), they will willingly walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear (Ps 23:4). Those who truly know that God is working in their lives for good, will not be apprehensive about the future. The reason they are not apprehensive about the future comes from just one statement of the Holy Spirit:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rm 8:28).

Disciple: Introduction

DISCIPLESHIP

Following Jesus Into Glory

 It seems like it is easy to be a Christian today. This is true because there are so many religious people who claim to be Christians, but live after their own desires, believe whatever they want to believe, and live in spiritual apathy. It is supposed that anyone can be a Christian and believe anything of this world, or follow any religious charlatan who would claim some miraculous mystery. The religious world is convinced that one can be a Christian by simply calling himself a Christian. It is so easy today to profess that one is a Christian, and then live a lifestyle that is pleasing and in tune with the norms of the society in which one lives. So if one says that he is a Christian, then such he is supposed to be, regardless of how he behaves or what he believes. There is no pressure, no judging, no trying to convert someone to “his church.” One can simply sit idle and say that he is a Christian.

It is true that names can be deceiving. But being a disciple is something different than being a self-proclaimed Christian.   There is action involved in the definition of the word “disciple.” “Christian” has digressed to being only a name, but not disciple. If one claims to be a disciple of Jesus, even the unbelieving world knows that he is a hypocrite if he does not live up to the name of Jesus. It is for this reason that many people would just as soon settle for being called a Christian instead of being a disciple of Jesus. However, they can do such, but they will have to take their chances with questionable behavior and the sin of apathy (lukewarmness). But if one is determined to follow Jesus (discipleship), then he or she must get on with the task of breathing Jesus every moment of one’s life. And this is not easy. It is a struggle. It is a struggle since we live in a world where there are so many people who call themselves Christians, but have created a religiosity after their own desires, and a lifestyle that is contrary to what Jesus lived. The challenge about being a disciple of Jesus in the world today is that there are too many “Christians” around who want the identity, but not the lifestyle.

 

[First lecture begins Sunday, February 15.]

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I must thank everyone who has been checking in at this site for their Bible studies. The blog site was set up in July of last year for the specific purpose of providing Bible study material for Bible students throughout the world.   God has certainly done something wonderful with the outreach of the site. Since the beginning of the site in July 2014, the number of people who have visited the site has grown by over five times. Visits to the site are now growing every month. Visits are coming from over 100 countries. On top of the list of visitors are dedicated Christians from China. (All of you in China need a special “thank you.” You need to know that I have been praying for you in your efforts to preach Jesus throughout China.)

 MATERIAL OF THE SITE

What I am trying to do with the site is to provide Bible material for Bible students. In some cases, I will try to help in providing information on how to make the studies applicable to different cultures. But my promise to you is that I will stay with Bible studies that can be used in preaching and teaching only the Bible. As I produce the material, I will keep in mind that most of the people who visit this type of blog site are looking for material they can use in their own teaching of the Bible.

 LANGUAGE OF PRESENTATION

I realize that most of those who come to the site speak English as a second language. I will try my best to keep the material in simple English.   This goal will not always be accomplished. You will have to pardon me when I become too complex in my sentence structures and grammar. If a key word is needed that I think is difficult, I will add a definition in parenthesis.  Please keep in mind, that because of some subject matter, it might be difficult to keep it simple.

 SYSTEM OF POSTING THE MATERIAL

I will be following a specific system in posting the material. On facebook, I will make the initial announcement of a series of lectures.   The series of daily lectures will be called “The Tyrannus Lectures.” The name and concept come from Acts 19:9,10. From his lectures in the school of Tyrannus, Paul was able to reach into all Asia. He was able to do this through dedicated disciples as you who personally went into all Asia (See 2 Timothy 2:2). So you are a part of the success of the blog site because you have taken the lectures into all the world. Even if you do not have an opportunity to personally teach, you can teach through the blog site by letting others know about the lectures. This makes you a teacher of the word of God.

 HOW YOU CAN HELP

Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years to lecture in the school of Tyrannus. Those who were in the school when out continually during the two years to teach in other cities. They took his lecture material and went throughout all Asia. This is how you can help. What has happened in the developing outreach of the site is that sometimes a single individual within a city our country informed all his or her friends and asked them to visit the site. From this initiative entire countries are now being reached. You can help by informing your friends about the site. This is how you can be one of those who leaves the lectures of the school of Tyrannus, and then goes into all the world. This makes you a team member with everyone who is doing the same. If you have a facebook page, you can place the announcement of the lectures on your facebook page. The key to the success of any blog site is letting others know of its existence.

 BOOK FORM

All the lectures will be focused on Bible study. Throughout 2015 I will follow the system of writing new lectures that will be posted as a series of studies. Between these series of lectures, I will be posting a revision of past studies that were written throughout the years. These lectures will come from books in the Biblical Research Library of the website: www.africainternational.org

Once a new series of lectures has been completed, a book will be composed of the material. This book will then go on the website. We encourage everyone to please download the book and pass it on to others. You do not have to write and ask permission to make copies of any material on the website or blog site. The purpose of both sites is to produce material FREE that can be distributed FREE.   So please make as many copies as necessary in order for you to accomplish your mission to “teach all Asia.”

I want to again thank everyone for making the blog site a success. God has done so much with the site in the past. I am excited about what He will do this year. Please keep me in your prayers as we move into a new year. I will pray for you that you pass the lectures of the site on to your friends, as well as, advertise the site to everyone in your city.

Dr. Dickson

 

 

 

God: Chapter 6

THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD

 Understanding the nature and character of the Father is to understand the nature and character of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Godhead. Since the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, then we must assume that they are one in every realm of definition we might conceive in our minds. If we define the nature and character of any one manifestation of God, then we have defined the nature and character of the whole.   Though the work and manifestation of God may be different, we cannot use the word “different” when understanding the nature and character of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in any manner that would separate them from one another. Their different works do not divide them from one another as God.

We must guard ourselves against defining any one manifestation of God in any manner that leaves the impression that there is a variation between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.   If such an impression is left, then certainly we have failed to understand a biblical definition of God.   We cannot interpret the revelation of God in any manner that would divide God into three Gods.

Our exegesis of biblical texts will give us a literary comprehension of God. Statements are made in Scripture and concepts of God are conveyed. But there is an inadequacy about a “book knowledge” of God that leaves us groping for more. The words of the book are our words, and our words are inadequate when we seek to fully understand God. God knows this. He knew this during the “times of ignorance” before the manifestation of the Son (See At 17:30,31).   For this reason, He sent forth the Son in order to give a visual definition of the nature and character of God.   Therefore, we must always seek to define God through Jesus, for Jesus revealed the nature of God. John wrote, “No one has seen God at any time.   The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (Jn 1:18). Jesus affirmed, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Jesus “is the image of the invisible God …” (Cl 1:15). And if anyone would know God, then he must investigate Him through the Son. Any world religion, therefore, that does not consider Jesus, cannot discover the one true and living God. Any religion that does not exalt Jesus above a prophet, cannot come to an understanding of who God is. Jesus must be the central figure in our definition of God.

Our investigation concerning who the Father is of the Godhead begins with the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, through whom God revealed Himself. Our study would thus be of those behavioral characteristics of how God dealt with Israel and worked through the Israelites throughout their history. When we come to the New Testament, our task is more simple.   We understand God the Father through the living illustration of Jesus. When we see the behavior of Jesus, we see the behavior of the Father.   When we see the character of Jesus, we see the character of the Father.

 I.  The nature and character of God the Father:

To say that God is deity, or divine, is simply to say that He is not physical. God is spirit (Jn 4:24). As spirit God has no physical attachment to this world. He can exist apart from the physical. He is not part spirit and part physical. Spirit is not physical or of this world. Spirit is not flesh and blood, but is beyond the confines of this world. The nature of God, therefore, must first be understood in the light of Him as spirit. We thus seek to understand the nature and character of God as spirit.

God as spirit works as our spiritual Father.   The word “father,” as it is used by the Holy Spirit in revelation to refer to God, emphasizes relationship.   The word “father” emphasizes a relationship between man and God, as well as, the relationship that existed between God the Father and God the Son while the Son was in a state of incarnation on earth. In reference to our relationship with God as our Father, there are certain attributes of God that we must understand in order to appreciate what the Father seeks to do for us His sons.

 A.  God the Father is self-existent: All that has been created depends upon God for existence. In fact, all that is now in existence depends on the power of the word of God for continuation in existence (Hb 1:3). This world would not stay together if God did not keep it together. If the world depends on the power of God to exist, then God must be able to exist apart from the existence of the physical world. God’s existence does not depend on the existence of the created world. God would still exist even if the world did not exist. Such was the case before the creation of the world, and such will be the case after this world passes away. God is indigenous. This means that as spirit His existence does not depend on the existence of any material thing.   Athanasius stated, “God is self-existent, enclosing all things and enclosed by none; within all according to His goodness and power, yet without all in His proper nature” (De Decretis, A.D. 296-373).

The self-existent nature of God to sustain the physical world also applies to life. God is the source of all life. He does not exist because life exists. Life exists because He is the great giver of life. Therefore, life that originates from the Father exists separate from the life that exists on the earth. Jesus said, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (Jn 5:26). While on earth it was the Father who sustained the life of the Son, for it was the Father who gave life to the Son.

Those who would have life must find such in the original source of life. The Father is the source of all life, and thus, the only source from which man can gain eternal life is from the Father. The medium through which all men must pass in order to receive life is the Son.   Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn 14:6). No one reaches the source of eternal life except through Jesus. Jesus thus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Jesus gives life to those who come to Him. “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He wills” (Jn 5:21).

 B.  God the Father is the primal source of all. All that exists originated from God through the Son.   Paul wrote, “Yet for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (1 Co 8:6). Paul wants us to understand in this passage that there is only one manifestation of God as the Father and one manifestation as the Son. There are not several fathers as God and several sons as sons of God through whom all things were created. God is the origin of all, though all came into existence through the creative work of the Son. “For by Him [Jesus] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible …. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16).   What Paul says in this statement is that in His state of existence before the incarnation, Jesus was the creator of all things. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, spoke the command for creation, but it was the work of God the Son to do the work of creating.

 C.  God the Father is personal. Herein is a unique teaching of the Bible in reference to God as a higher power.   This teaching is especially true in reference to what is revealed in the New Testament. God is personal in the sense that He has personally revealed Himself in order to relate to His creation. Through His revelation, He has thus laid the foundation upon which men can approach Him. Through the revelation of Jesus, He is identified with a personality with which we can identify Him. This concept of God is different from the concepts of gods that are created after the imagination of men. The gods of men are usually pictured as impersonal, cold, harsh and intolerant.   But the God of the Bible is portrayed as a loving father who seeks for His children to draw nigh unto Him.

God is thus personal in the sense that He is rational, compassionate and loving. Since the Father has personality, He has revealed through the Son a personality with which we can identify and with which we can relate.   When John said that God is love, he revealed by inspiration a personality characteristic of God with which we can identify (1 Jn 4:8). However, our capacity to love does not regulate or limit the love of God. The limits of our love do not define the limits of God’s love. Neither are man’s limits of love God’s limits of love. The love, mercy, patience, etc. of man do not place maximums on God’s ability to do such. After our patience runs out, God continues to have patience. After we stop loving, God continues to love. As a personal God, He has simply created us in a spiritual manner by which we can relate to His character by loving, having mercy, and having patience. He did not create us with a nature as His in order to manifest the limits of His nature.   He simply created us after His image in order to give us the character tools by which to understand His personality.   John stated, “He who does not love does not know God …” (1 Jn 4:8). Therefore, the one who does not love cannot understand the personality of God.

 D.  God the Father is father of all. Since God the Father is personal, He can relate in a personal manner through the most personal relationships. He is thus a “Father” to those who have been created after His image. The word “father” is reserved for God the Father because of His relationship with humanity (See Mt 5:45; 6:4-9; 7:11; 10:20).

1.  He is the Father of creation. God is our Father in the sense that He created us.   “Have we not all one Father?   Has not one God created us” (Ml 2:10). As the Father, we were the clay that was made by the potter’s hand (Is 64:8). Our Creator was the “Father of spirits” in that He created the spirit that dwells within us (Nm 16:22; Hb 12:9). We are thus God’s offspring, as Paul affirms, because all men have originated from the Father (At 17:28).

2.  He is the Father of redemption. The Christian has a relationship with God because God has extended grace and mercy toward those who have chosen to submit to the conditions that are required to establish a covenant relationship with Him.   Christians have thus been redeemed out of the bondage of sin in order to come into a covenant with God (Ep 1:7).   In a redemptive sense, the Father deals with us as His sons in that we have been brought into a covenant relationship with Him (Hb 13:20). We are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gl 3:26). And because we are sons, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gl 4:6; Rm 8:15). We have received the adoption, and thus, we are brought into a covenant relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ (Rm 8:15: Gl 4:5). And if we are sons, then we are now joint heirs with Jesus (Rm 8:17; Gl 4:7).

The fatherhood of God the Father is limited to those who believe and obey the gospel, and thus, are in a covenant relationship with Him. God can have no fatherhood relationship with those who refuse to submit to their Father.   If one refuses to humble himself under the mighty hand of God, he cannot enjoy a fatherhood relationship with the Father (See 1 Pt 5:5-7).

Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be the “everlasting Father” (Is 9:6). This may be a difficult statement to understand in reference to our understanding that God the Father is our Father. But we must understand that Jesus is our “everlasting Father” in relation to His redemption of us through His blood. The fatherhood of Jesus is emphasized in no greater way than in the relationship between God and man in reference to salvation in Christ. The Jews, as well as the Gentiles, invented a legalistic system of justification before God in order to depend on themselves for salvation. In other words, salvation was based on the individual’s ability to perform law and do good works in order to justify oneself before God. The problem with this system of supposed justification was that no one can keep law perfectly, nor do enough good works in order to atone for sin or earn the reward of heaven. This is true simply because all have sinned, but we cannot atone for our sins (Rm 3:9,10,23). One is thus in bondage to his own sin if he seeks God after a legalistic system of justification. He is a slave to himself and a system of religion he has made to be a yoke of burden. He thus needs a father to deliver him from his own bondage.

In Christ one is set free because of his adoption by the Father into sonship (Gl 5:1). In Christ, therefore, the son has the same nature as the Father, but the one who is a slave to his own self-imposed religion does not. In Christ, the son has a Father, but the slave has a master. In Christ, the son obeys out of love, but the slave out of fear. In Christ, the son is the heir of all things the Father has to offer, but the slave has no inheritance. Therefore, in Christ the son has a future with a Father, but the slave has only apprehension concerning his own salvation.

 E.  God the Father is eternal: Eternal means to exist without end. We would expect this of God. He exists without beginning or ending. We would expect that His existence would not be determined by that which is passing away. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms …” (Dt 33:27). The word “everlasting” (olam) could in this context be understood after the meaning of the Greek word aionios which is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word olam. By use of aionios, the writer wanted to emphasize the certainty of God’s protecting arms by which He delivers. In other words, God is there for us at all times. We can depend on Him because He is faithful. His faithfulness is in His eternality. In this sense, therefore, God’s arms of security are always there for us because He exists without end.

We can depend on God because He is without end.   He “inhabits eternity” (Is 57:15). He is without beginning and ending. “Unendingness” is a concept that certainly is beyond the feeble speculations of our minds that are confined to clocks and calendars. But in order for God to be God, then certainly we must believe that His deity would presuppose eternality.

The very nature of God must be based on the fact that He is without beginning or ending. What good is a terminal god? God’s eternality, therefore, is not something to be argued from the Scriptures to be true. God does not have to prove that He is eternal. The fact that He is God is evidence of the fact. The eternality of God is inherent within the concept of God.   For this reason, the Bible does not set forth a doctrinal presentation of God’s eternity. Eternality is simply accepted in Scripture as an axiomatic truth, that is, a truth that does not need to be proved. If one believes in God, then he must believe that this God is eternal.

Because God is eternal, His word is eternal. On the basis of the eternality of God, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will by no means pass away” (Mt 24:35). Therefore, “the word of the Lord endures forever” because God endures forever (1 Pt 1:25).

 F.  God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. It was the choice of Jesus to lay down His life.   Jesus said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (Jn 10:18).

Throughout His ministry, Jesus controlled His environment in order to take Himself to the cross. He would not allow a murderous mob to take His life. He did not allow Himself to be secretly killed by jealous religious leaders. He laid His life down and took it up again. The source of Jesus’ power to be resurrected was with the Father. For this reason, the resurrection of Jesus is attributed to the Father. It was the Father who raised Jesus from the dead, for He had given commandment to the Son to raise Himself from the dead (Jn 10:17,18). The Father raised Jesus “from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Ep 1:20). It was the work of the Father in reference to the cross to resurrect the Son.   We would conclude, therefore, that both the Father and Son worked together in the resurrection of the body of Jesus from the dead.

 G.  God the Father is unchanging. God is solid and unchanging as a rock (Dt 32:4). David wrote, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in him I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps 18:2).

The Father and the Son are immutable. They are the same today, yesterday and tomorrow (See Hb 13:8). The counsel of the Lord thus stands forever and the plans of His heart throughout all generations (Ps 33:11). His word “is settled in heaven.” His “faithfulness endures to all generations” (Ps 119:89,90).   Malachi wrote the words of God, “For I am the Lord, I do not change …” (Ml 3:6). God is thus immutable, that is, unchangeable (Hb 6:17,18). With God, therefore, “there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Js 1:17).

Changeability is inherent in the minds and behavior of those whose choices are affected by the environment in which they live.   Circumstances around us move us to vacillate from one action to another. We thus “make up our minds” in relation to the environmental circumstances that occur.

God dwells in an unchanging environment, and thus, is not affected in His will by changing circumstances in our environment.   He dwells in eternity that does not change. It is thus not in the nature of God to change His mind because of changing circumstances in our environment.   The unchanging nature of His heavenly environment assumes that He is unchanging.

Man cannot know the future. When we step into future events by the passing of every moment of time, circumstances we encounter will affect our decisions. We thus change our minds and actions as new events affect us. We make changes in our desires because of new information we have learned by experience.

God knows the future. He does not encounter anything new that would affect a change in His desire and will. Therefore, there is nothing new that would cause Him to change from His predetermined plans. In this sense, the omniscience of God is the foundation upon which the unchanging nature of God is based.   There will never be any new information that will necessitate God changing from the direction of His eternal plans. Since His eternal plans were based on His knowledge of the future, any change of His eternal plans would label Him a frivolous God, a God that vacillates in order to play games with man. But such is not the nature of the Father. He is always there for us as He has always been there.

 H.  God the Father is all-knowing. God is omniscient. He knows all that is of nature because He created all nature (Gn 15:5; Is 40:26; Cl 1:16). David proclaimed, “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite” (Ps 147:4,6).   He knows all the work of man (Ps 119:168). He knows the innermost thoughts and motives of man. David wrote, “You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (Ps 139:2,3). God knows the past, present and future (Is 41:21-23; 45:1-4; 46:11). Isaiah wrote God’s claim concerning prophecy of the future. “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Is 42:9). God has based His eternal plans on His eternal knowledge. Therefore, we can trust in His work because He is working as a result of His knowledge of all things.

 I.  God the Father is all-powerful. All-powerful means that God is omnipotent. He can do all that can be done. He can do all that is logical. It is not that God can do the impossible. He cannot make round squares or straight lines that are bent. He can do what is logically possible.

The Lord said to Abraham and Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the Lord” (Gn 18:14). The answer is “No!” Job said of God, “I know that You can do everything” (Jb 42:2; see Is 26:4).   Therefore, “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26; see Lk 1:37; At 26:8). All that can logically be done God can do through His power.

Pharaoh of Egypt discovered that the Lord was able to deliver His people through great power (Ex 12:30-32). After Daniel was thrown into the Lion’s den, King Darius asked, “Daniel, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (Dn 6:20). The answer is “Yes!” God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ep 3:20; see Ps 33:4-9; 107:23-32; Jb 1:10,12; 2:6: 42:2; Is 40:12-17; Dn 4:30-37; Mt 19:26). He is “the Lord God Omnipotent” who reigns (Rv 19:6).

The fact that God is all-powerful means that He is the only one who is all-powerful. There can never be two all-powerful beings. Satan could not also be omnipotent in view of the fact that God alone is omnipotent. The omnipotence of God, therefore, assumes that there is one God and that He alone has control of that supernatural world beyond this physical world. Satan can do nothing that is not allowed by God.

 J.  God the Father is everywhere present. When discussing the omnipresence of God, we are also limited in our understanding as in our discussions concerning the nature of God. God is beyond our full comprehension. We simply accept the biblical statements concerning the omnipresence of God, and thus, do not frustrate ourselves by our lack of understanding.

When the temple of the Old Testament was completed, Solomon stated, “I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell forever” (1 Kg 8:13). However, we must understand that Solomon did not believe for a moment that he had constructed a building in which to confine an omnipresent God. In the same speech before Israel, he stated, “But will God dwell on earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built?” (1 Kg 8:27; see 2 Ch 2:6). God does not dwell in temples made by the hands of those He created. Stephen made this point to the Jews who had deceived themselves into believing that God’s presence was in the temple. “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what is the place of My rest?’” (At 7:48,49; see Is 66:1,2; Ps 102:23; At 17:24). It is in Him that “we live and move and have our being” (At 17:28; see Ps 139:3-10; Jr 23:23). How can we suppose that we can build a building in which God would live and move and have His being? That which is created cannot build a dwelling place for the Creator. Temples of men that are built to confine the presence of God are simply temples that confine the gods of those who believe that such gods can be confined to a specific location.

Paul said that it is in Him that we live, move and have our being (At 17:28). Since it is in God that we dwell, then how is it that we think that we can construct something of this earth in which we expect God to dwell? Can we suppose that we could construct a “sanctuary” for the dwelling of God? Is it possible that our concept of God is so small that we can house Him in a house?

The preceding is the problem with the thinking of worshipers who feel that they “come into the presence of the Lord” when they enter the “sanctuary” of some man-made structure that was built for worship of God. How can one go out of the presence of a God in whom we live, move and have our being? The very thought assumes that one can leave the presence of God in a building and go out into a world where he has escaped from God’s presence. This thinking is the spirit of idolatry. The next step is to carve some stone or piece of wood in order to confine God even to a location within an idol in a building, or possibly, carry Him around on one’s neck dangling from a golden chain.

Countless religions of the world are filled with the fetish borne gods of those who have confined supernatural power to sticks and stones. The African animist will confine his supernatural power to a fetish he can carry around with him.   The religionist who scoffs at such will confine the supernatural power of His god to a building. What’s the difference?

The Bible speaks of a God who is everywhere.   David realized this when he wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there” (Ps 139:7,8). One cannot flee from the presence of God for He says, “‘Am I a God near at hand,’ says the Lord, ‘Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I will not see him?’ says the Lord ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord” (Jr 23:23,24). How can one escape a God who fills heaven and earth? How can one confine such a God to temples and cathedrals?

When one considers the presence of God, he must be careful in using terms as “here” or “there.” Though the Bible uses the phrase “in heaven” in reference to God, we should be careful in how we would understand what is meant. Words as “here” and “there” convey human location.   But if God is omnipresent, then He is neither “here” nor “there.” He is not “up” or “down.” He is here and there at the same time. He is up and down at the same time. He is in heaven, but it is in Him that we live, move and have our being, though we are not in heaven. God does not place Himself in a particular location wherein He is at the same time absent from another location. We must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit used human words to explain that which is beyond our understanding. We must keep in mind that God is not confined or limited by the definitions of our words. He is not a God who can be located in one place or another.

 II.  The work of the Father:

No part of God is idle at any one time in the history of man. The Christian is not a deist. He is not one who believes that God originally wound up the universe as a clock, and then, wandered off to a distant part of the universe, and subsequently, left man and earth on their own. God intervenes in His creation. In fact, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit intervene in the affairs of man in order to bring about the eternal plan of God to bring the obedient into eternal dwelling.

Man and the physical world were created for an eternal purpose of God. God thus works in order to accomplish His eternal purpose to bring the obedient into an eternal dwelling with Him in a new heavens and earth. In the following ways, therefore, God is actively working in the affairs of man to bring about the purpose for which He created all things:

  1. The Father is over all in order to maintain all (Ep 4:6).
  2. The Father sent the Son into the world in order to redeem the obedient (Jn 4:23,36; 8:17,18).
  3. The Father’s will was done by the Son in order that the Son accomplish the scheme of redemption (Jn 4:34).
  4. The Father glorified the Son for the sake of the obedient (Jn 16:14; 17:5).
  5. The Father loves the Son (Jn 3:35; 15:9; 17:24).
  6. The Father works on behalf of the Son who works on behalf of the obedient (Jn 5:17).
  7. The Father dwells in His people (Jn 14:10; 2 Co 6:16).
  8. The Father gives what is good to His people (Js 1:17).
  9. The Father works all things together for good for His people (Rm 8:28).
  10. The Father works to make a way of escape for those who love Him (1 Co 10:13).
  11. The Father will raise the dead to eternal glory (Jn 5:21; Rm 8:18).

Since the purpose for which the world was created was to bring free-moral individuals into an eternal relationship with God, then all that God does in this world is to accomplish this purpose. The Christian must know, therefore, that God is working in His creation on behalf of the Christian. Paul concluded, “If God is for us, who can be against us?   He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rm 8:31,32). God is working for the Christian. He will not allow anything to interrupt His plans and purpose. Paul again wrote, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:38,39).

IV.  The relationship and work of the Father and Son:

Though God is three in manifestation and designation of work, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work as one. The impossibility of any three people on earth to be perfectly united as one should not confuse us in our understanding of the unity and oneness of God in His work among men. The inability of two or more men to be one as God should never be used to define the limit by which God can be one. In the relationship between the Father and Son, perfect unity and work should not be interpreted through the minds of men who cannot so work in the unity by which the Father and Son work. The following are examples where the Father and Son work in unison in reference to the common goal of God to bring the obedient into eternal dwelling:

  1. The Father and the Son work as one (Jn 10:30; 17:11,21-24).
  2. The Father sent the Son into the world (Jn 5:23,36; 8:17,18).
  3. The Father sent the Son to do His will (Jn 4:35; 6:38; Hb 5:8).
  4. The Father was greater than the Son when the Son was on earth (Jn 14:28).
  5. The Father gave the Son disciples (Jn 6:39; 10:29).
  6. The Father bore witness to the Son (Jn 5:31-37).
  7. The Father glorified the Son (Jn 8:54).
  8. The Father was God to whom the Son ascended (Dn 7:13,14; Jn 20:17).
  9. The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13,14).

God has manifested Himself to man through the manifestations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He has done such in order to transition the obedient into a habitation of eternal glory. The fact that God is three in work and manifestation does not make Christians polytheists. The Bible does not teach that there are three Gods. The accusation that Christians believe in three Gods is only evidence against those who make the accusations that they have created a god after their own imagination. They have thus concluded that since we cannot understand the oneness of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then such a God does not exist. The denial of the God of the Bible is based on the fact that the accusers cannot conceive of a God who can be one, and yet, three in manifestation.   But the accusers are arguing from the standpoint that since man cannot conceive or understand a God who is one but three in manifestation and work, then this God simply cannot exist.

The Christian simply takes the Bible for what it says in reference to the nature and being of God.   He asks no questions beyond the answers of the Bible. He is not confused or brought into doubt concerning the Bible’s declaration of the God of three manifestations and works simply because he has not created a God after his own ability to understand.

[End of series.]

God: Chapter 5

THE ONE TRUE GOD

 There is only one God. The brotherhood of humanity can exist only in the fact that there is one God who created all things. The division of the religions of the world is only evidence that men have created gods after their own agendas. They have created an assortment of gods to conform to their own religious desires.   It is the belief in these many gods that manifests the division that exists among the religions of the world.   However, the search for and belief in the one God of the Bible will always promote unity among men, not division.

The problem that has developed since the beginning of time is what Paul stated in Romans 1. Men give up the true knowledge of God. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible manand birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things” (Rm 1:22,23). Because men gave up a knowledge of God, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator …” (Rm 1:25). What Paul explains here has happened throughout history. Mankind is thus left with a legacy of world religionists who have in turn created an assortment of imaginations concerning who God really is.

The diversity of the religions of the world has led to a diversity of gods. Men first create religious behavior that conforms to their own carnal desires.   They then create gods who would agree with their behavior. However, we must reverse this process of thinking. We must assume that there is only one God. We must affirm that our lives must conform to the wishes of this God.   This is the God who existed long before men started manufacturing religions and gods according to their own desires and traditions. This is the one God the Bible reveals.

A Bible school teacher once asked a class, “Why is there but one God?” A student replied, “Because God fills every place, and there’s no room for another one.”   Because He fills every place, it is in Him that we live and move and have our existence. There is no room for another god.

Though God is one, however, He manifests Himself to man in three works in reference to creation and the eternal salvation of man.   Some would say that He manifests Himself to man in three personalities. The word “personalities” would be correct as long as we assume that there is no difference in the personalities. However, we commonly use the term “personality” to refer to the different characteristics people have which make them different from one another. But in reference to God, there is only one personality. God as one personality reveals Himself through three ministries or manifestations. God works as one through the manifestation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in order to carry out His ministry to mold man into a being one who is suitable for eternal dwelling. When we use the word “personality” in reference to God, therefore, we must not define God to be different in the way we are different in our personalities.

In the very first verse of the Bible, the “united plurality” of God is manifested. “In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and earth” (Gn 1:1).   The word Elohim in Hebrew is plural. This plurality is brought out in pronoun form in Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man ….’” In the pronoun “Us” all that God is was manifested to participate in creation.

The fact that God is one, yet plural, is one of those concepts that will never be fully understood by our finite minds of this world. Biblical interpreters have used a number of illustrations in their efforts to convey the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who manifest the one true and living God.   Some have stated that the oneness and plurality of God is as an egg. The egg is one, but the one egg is composed of a shell, a yolk and the egg white.   It is one egg, but three. The problem with the illustration is that each of the parts of the egg is different. Their difference separates them from one another. Such is not the case with God. Some say God is as H20 (water). H20 can be liquid, steam or ice. This illustration is surely inadequate for H20 cannot be liquid, steam and ice at the same time.   But God can. God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at all times. God does not become the Father, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit. He is simultaneously the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Regardless of the catalogue of illustrations that we might use to explain the existence of God, there is no metaphorical illustration of this world that will put us in touch with the reality of the oneness of the person of God. Does this disturb us? Absolutely not! If our illustrations bring us to a full understanding of that which is not of our world, then that which is illustrated has been brought down to the level of this world. If we create a god after our own understandings, then certainly this god is not worth believing. John Wesley said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the triune God.”

So how can we understand the plurality of the one God? We cannot. This is one of those biblical truths that must be accepted simply as a “matter of fact” as it is stated in the Scriptures. And since it must be accepted as such, then it must be accepted as a matter of faith. One can take it or leave it. It is our choice. However, if we accept the Bible as the revelation of God, then we must accept the fact that God is one, but manifests Himself as three. We must accept this fact simply because the Bible tells us so.

 I.  Biblical teaching that God is one:

The fact that there is one God is a central teaching of the Bible. This is not an optional belief. It is fundamental to our beliefs as Christians. Though we do not understand all teaching concerning the one true God, we must accept the Bible when it states that God is one. Moses cried to Israel, “Here O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one (Dt 6:4). “There is none other besides Him” (Dt 4:35). Isaiah recorded the words of God, “Before Me there was no God formed, nor will there be after Me” (Is 43:10,11). “Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock” (Is 44:8). “I, the Lord, am the first; and with the last I am He” (Is 41:4; see 46:9-11).   “I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me” (Is 45:5). The accusation that the Bible teaches that there are three Gods is simply not true. The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one God. It is how we understand this one God that causes some people great difficulty.

The Bible teaches that God has manifested Himself as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three in ministry, but one in essence, nature, character and goal. They are thus one. No three people can be one as this, and thus, it is beyond our experience to form a definition of the unity of God as one. This gives some theologians of the religious world some difficulty. Nevertheless, if we accept the Bible as the revelation of God, then we must accept as “matter of fact” this revelation of God as to who He is.   It is also true that we must accept the fact that we cannot fully understand God, regardless of what the Bible teaches concerning who God is. There can never be a complete revelation of the nature, essence and existence of God.

The reason God revealed His oneness through Isaiah was because Israel had carried out in their theology the very thing God commanded them not to do. When God gave the ten commandment law on Mount Sinai, He stated, “I am the Lord your God … You will have no other gods before Me (Ex 20:2,3). In this commandment, God was identifying the inclination of man to create gods after his own image. At least, God knew that man would seek to create gods they could understand.

Israel accepted the created gods (imaginations) of the surrounding nations, and thus, followed after her own fleshly desires to give service to those imaginations. Isaiah stood as God’s prophet in the midst of such imaginations.   It was his work to turn Israel again unto the one true God. In other words, it was his work to turn Israel from following after her own imaginations of producing religious thoughts (gods) that condoned her worldly behavior.

The point is that there are no other gods.   However, when one forms in his mind a concept of a higher power that is contrary to the God revealed in the Bible, then he has created another god. However, this god exists only in the mind of the one who created it. It is for this reason that we must allow the Bible to define who God is. Though the Bible cannot fully explain the totality of God in the words of man, we must allow the Bible alone to define the nature and character of God. If we do not do this, we will create a god after our own image who conforms to our own desires.

Israel’s case with created gods is a definition of idolatry. But they are not alone in the god creation business. Their history only explains what is the common inclination of man to do in reference to creating religions and gods. Man first desires to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, pride of life, and lusts of the eyes. He first idolizes himself, and then, passes his idol off as a god to be worshiped.

The problem is that man has a religious conscience. When men combine the uncontrollable fulfillment of their lust with their religious desires, a religion and god is born that will condone their immoral behavior.   This explains the practice of fornication that was so common among the religions of the ancients. If one wanted to fulfill the lust of the flesh, he simply created a god that said it was fine to do so.

 Idol gods are the result of men who are wanting to do their own will, but at the same time, feel conscientiously good about such by creating a god that agrees with their will.   History is filled with those gods that have been manufactured after the vile desires of those who either sought fleshly satisfaction or national superiority over other nations.

 II.  Biblical teaching of the three manifestations of God:

Though God is one, He expresses or manifests Himself to man in three ministries or works. Since God is omnipresent, it should not surprise us to see the manifestation of Himself in three ways. The following points affirm the omnipresence of God. However, keep in mind that such omnipresence does not teach that there are three Gods. When we see the manifestation of God in three ministries, we understand that it is the one true God who is accomplishing in this world that for which we were created.

 A.  Three manifestations of God at Jesus’ baptism: The three of God were manifested at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16,17. While the Son was in an incarnate state on earth, He was baptized by John on the occasion that is recorded in Matthew 3. At the same time, the Father in heaven proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit of God metaphorically descended on Jesus as a dove. Thus, there was the Father in heaven, the Son on earth and the Holy Spirit descending. The one God manifested Himself in three different “locations” and in three different ways.

 B.  Three manifestations of God unto which a disciple is baptized:   Before His ascension, Jesus commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations. When disciples were made as a result of their preaching, they were to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Here again, the three of God is indicated in the sense that when one is baptized, he comes into a relationship with all that God is and does in the life of man in reference to salvation.

 C.  Three manifestations of God revealed through Paul:   In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul wrote, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” Paul stated that the head of man is Christ, but the head of Christ is God. Revealed in this context is a distinction between Christ and God. We know that in the context Paul is discussing a problem of insubordination on the part of some Corinthian sisters in their relationship with their husbands.   Paul uses as an illustration of these submissive headship relationship that exists between God, the Father and God, the Son. He stated that the head of Christ is the totality of God.

It is difficult to understand the divine relationship mentioned by Paul through human minds. Nevertheless, there is something revealed in 1 Corinthians 11:3 concerning the submission of the Son that illustrates submission to headship.   It was God who gave all authority to the Son (Mt 28:18). It was God who delivered all things into the hands of the Son (Jn 13:3; 17:2).   However, this might not be difficult to understand if we understand that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work as a unit of authority in reference to the work of any one manifestation of God. In other words, God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the head of any one manifestation of God. Each manifestation in His work for the salvation of man is in submission to the whole. Thus God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the head of Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 13:14 Paul again made a distinction between the three manifestations of work of the one God. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”   In this one passage a definition of the three is clearly stated by Paul. It was the grace, love and communion of God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) that was to be with the Corinthians.

In 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul also wrote, “… but to us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we in Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through Him ….” It is essential for Christians to believe, therefore, that though the Scriptures speak of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is only one God.

 D.  Three manifestations of God revealed at the death of Stephen:   In Acts 7:55-59 we again see the three manifestations of God who made Himself known to man. Luke recorded in Acts 7 that on earth Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit (vs 55). At the moment of his death, he saw Jesus at the right hand of God (vs 56). What he saw is not explained. What is explained is that there was in some way a manifestation to him from heaven of the existence of the Father and Son in heaven.

 E.  Three manifestations of God in His work in the ministry of Jesus:   When Jesus grew up as a boy, He found favor in the eyes of God in heaven (see Mt 1:18-23; Lk 1:30-35; 2:52). He was doing His Father’s business at the age of twelve (Lk 2:49). He was at the beginning of His ministry “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1), and thus, went forth in the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:14). All three of the one God were working together through the incarnate Jesus on earth in order to carry out the plan of redemption for the saving men.

Throughout the earthly and heavenly ministry of Jesus, the three manifestations of God are clearly seen. Jesus said that one could speak against Him, the Son of Man, but if he spoke against the Holy Spirit, there would be no forgiveness (Mt 12:31,32).   During the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus on earth lifted up His eyes and said, “Father …” (Jn 11:41).   While on earth, Jesus spoke of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom He would send from the Father (Jn 14:26; 16:13,14). He spoke of ascending to the Father (Jn 20:17). At the right hand of the Father, He would function as a mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5). It is a clear biblical teaching that God is three in manifestation of work.   However, God is one in existence and one in purpose and goal of work.

It should not disturb us to be unable to understand the plurality of the one God. God has revealed Himself in many different ways throughout the history of man. He has the prerogative to do this. The fact that He chose to reveal Himself through the “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit” in order to bring about His plan of redemption for man does not say that there are three Gods. It is our own inability to comprehend the nature of God that makes it difficult for us to understand that which is beyond our thinking, and certainly beyond the names of our human vocabulary. We must be careful not to make God less than He is in order that we might understand who He is. We must be content to understand that we will never in this life fully understand the One who is exceedingly above our thoughts. This should not disturb us. If it does, then certainly we are seeking to create a God that we can fully comprehend.   But the one true and living God is beyond the full comprehension of man. The fact that He is beyond our full comprehension is evidence that He is the only true and living God. All other gods are only the product of the imagination of those who seek to be comfortable with a god they can name and understand. Idol gods are always understood by those who create them.

God: Chapter 4

THE GOD AMONG US

 We are trapped here on earth in a physical environment of struggle. We seek to comprehend that which is beyond our senses. When our faith has questions or inquires, we strive for tangible answers from an empirical world that we perceive through our senses.   The limitations of our inquiry give us little hope beyond our world. A young Christian in a classroom once asked, “How can I know that there is a God out there or here?” How would we answer that question, for the answer involves something, or Someone who is beyond our empirical world?

We seek to know, to touch, to be confirmed in our faith. We often feel that the believer has been relegated to a world of guesses, to a faith that is based on a book called the Bible and human intuition. Has God left us to ourselves in a physical world of cosmic chance?   Has He laid the foundation for doubt by hiding behind some distant planet? Our questions often push us on to a faith that seeks to walk by sight.

“Walk by faith” seems to call for too much.   We would guess that you are the typical believer who at one time or another has prayed for the appearance of an angel, a miracle, or just a small flicker of a candle flame in the privacy of your own room. If God would just indicate His presence by the minutest revelation, our faith would be confirmed; we could joyfully go on our way—by sight.

Entire religious systems are built upon such yearnings that are fulfilled by humanly claimed experiences. To some, an angel has supposedly appeared, the Spirit has spoken, the flame flickered. There is an assortment of religious people who “believe” because they claim to have put their hand into the spear-wounded side of Jesus and touched the nail-pierced hands. But are these “Thomas disciples” more blessed because they have supposedly seen and touched? We think not.

 The existence of experiential religiosity only manifests the desires of those who seek to walk by sight and not faith.

There are those religious groups today who have claimed to have experienced some wonder as the blind being healed, the dead raised, or some cancer cured. We do not doubt that God works behind the scenes of our empirical cocoon to accomplish great things. However, we do question those who affirmed that the empirically perceived miracles of Jesus and the apostles occur today. God seeks to lead us today by faith, not by sight.

We do not want God to steal away our blessedness by an empirically perceived miracle. “Hold the angel, God.” We seek to walk by the strength of faith. Could it be that faith is stronger than sight? We think so. After all, for three years Thomas experienced the feeding of the multitudes, the walking on water, the raising of the dead, and a host of other empirical confirmations of Jesus as the Son of God. And yet, he still wanted to touch a nail-pierced hand before he would believe in the resurrection. If sight is so powerful, then why did Israel seek to swim back across a sea through which they had walked on dry land to escape the Egyptians? Why did they, at the foot of Mount Sinai, build idols on which they could lay their hands?

So we want to empirically know the “comings” and “goings” of the Spirit. We want to know His “doings.” Our questions betray our humanity. They manifest our frustrations with the limitations that confine us to a material world. Can we ask for the Spirit of God to behave after the definitions of our words? We must confess that our questions are confined to the words of our dictionary. Therefore, for God to answer the questions, He must answer with the same humanly defined words. You see the problem. If we understand His answer, then we are understanding only because we understand our own words that He has used. We thus place His explanation of His work within the confines of our own vocabulary. We have thus imprisoned God to a verbal cell into which we can comprehend how He works. We have limited Him to that which is experiential to man himself. Is this the God about which the Bible speaks?

If God could adequately answer our questions about His work, then He would not work beyond the realm of our understanding.   But who wants to believe in a god who is limited to the confines of human understanding? Is the Spirit of God limited to our deductions, to our ability to comprehend what He is doing? Since the Spirit is God, we must affirm that He is not limited. His work is beyond our discovery by sight. We must understand by faith that He is doing what He has said He will do.

We ask about His “comings” and “goings.”   To ask such is to assume that His presence can be located. We as earthly beings “come” and “go.” God is.   It is not that the Spirit is either here or there. He is.   We argue over the “presence” of the Spirit. Such argument only reveals our understandings as childish in comparison to God’s omnipresence. We do not believe in a God of location. We believe in a God who is everywhere at all times. He is neither here nor there.   When we say that He is here, my friend on the other side of the world can also say the same thing at the exact same second. “God is here” in China and America at the same time. Does this sound like a God who can be located somewhere? Certainly not! Any “definition” of God that we would draw from the Scriptures must not confine Him to a specific location.

The Spirit reveals through inspired words that He is in us; God is in us; Jesus is in us. We thus debate about the literality of the metaphor and miss the point of the Spirit’s revelation. We are in a house; water is in a glass; fish are in the sea. Would we apply the literality of in to that which is beyond the physical world?   Can anything of the physical world possibly contain that which is not of this world without being incarnate? Do we not seek to locate the Spirit of God because we yearn for an empirical presence with God? The fact is that the Spirit is in us, but He is also “in” other places than us. His presence is not limited to the location of human bodies. His presence in the world is not limited to being in Christians.   The presence of the Spirit is much greater than the church in the world.

Allow us to digress to humanity. Would the Spirit work less in our life if He “dwelt” on the planet Pluto instead of literally in us on earth? If we confine the Spirit’s work to His “presence,” then we have located Him to where He works. If we presume that His presence is only in the life of the believers, then we might assume that His work is confined to the presence of the believers and His work limited to the believers. But how can we confine Deity in this way? We cannot. His being “in” or “with” us makes little difference when it comes to His work.   We believe in an omnipresent Deity that can whisper a work in our life from ten galaxies away. Our God is that big and powerful. His Spirit is not limited, not confined. Neither is He distant. Only through our earthly dictionary would we make Him “near” or “distant.” But we must continually remind ourselves not to confine Deity to the definitions of our dictionary.

We find the debate over the “location” of the Spirit a manifestation of our inability to transcend the literality of earthly defined words. Did the Spirit actually seek to locate Himself by use of the word “in”? Do we believe in a Spirit whose work is confined by a so-called location of His presence? Can He not work beyond the sphere of “personal indwelling,” beyond the confines of the community of God? Or, is the debate simply over our efforts to literalize and localize the God we have created after our own understanding, and thus confined to our own locations. After all, if we can completely calculate the workings of this God, then certainly He cannot work beyond our thinking, or beyond our presence.

We believe in a Spirit who is bigger than the body of believers. We believe in a Spirit whose work is not confined to the realm of the personal presence of the believers. After all, the Spirit was working before there were any Christians. Is not the Spirit omnipresent? Could He not be opening doors for evangelism in areas apart from the physical presence of the saints?

So we ask too many questions and give so few answers. But is it wrong to believe in a God about whom more questions can be asked than answered? If we had all the answers about the “comings” and “goings” of God, if indeed God “comes” and “goes,” then He would no longer be God, but a god. He would no longer be the Spirit, but a spirit. And then, what’s the use? One god is just as good as another; one spirit is as good as the next. If we could figure out the Spirit, then He is not worth figuring out. If we could answer all the questions, then the questions are not worth asking in the first place. Every concept of the spirit world would only be an exercise of our humanly generated imagination. At the end of the day, we would be religious as the atheist has always claimed. We would be religious and have beliefs that are simply excited thoughts that are of human origin.

The Spirit said that God is able to work exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we can think or imagine. If this is true, then we can ask all the questions we want.   But we expect fewer answers. We would be cautious with those who have all the answers. They believe only in a god that cannot work beyond their answers. They believe in a god they can figure out.

The fact that we cannot answer all the questions is evidence that we are on the right road. Every other road leads to a walk by sight, to a god created after the imaginations of those who do not want a mysterious God who can work beyond our thinking. To be satisfied with only a few answers about a God who works exceedingly above what our minds can imagine, is to discover the strength of faith. Therefore, we will continue to seek for answers. However, we will not frustrate ourselves when we venture into those areas that are beyond our imagination. We will content ourselves with the few answers given, and believe that the others are yet to be revealed in another existence beyond this world.