December 5: “Burn The Book”

“BURN THE BOOK”

 King Josiah was a restorationist king of Judah. He was only eight years old when he began to reign in Jerusalem (2 Kg 22:1). “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:2). In the eighteenth year of his reign, the book of the law of God was found during some reconstruction work on the temple. The message of the book was one of doom if Judah continued on its present moral course of rebellion against the law of God. The words of the book struck the young Josiah so deep in his heart that he set Judah on a radical course of national restoration to the word of God (2 Kg 23). It was a restoration so radical that all places of worship to pagan gods were destroyed throughout the land. This all transpired because one leader responded to the power of the written word of God. Unfortunately, this radical restoration through repentance because of a reading of a “Bible” was not passed on to Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim.

 I.  Burning the Bible:

Jehoiakim did not respond to the written word of God as his father. At the beginning of his reign, God instructed Jeremiah, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you concerning Israel and concerning Judah …” (Jr 36:2). Jeremiah subsequently called Baruch, his scribe, and he “wrote all the words of the Lord” (Jr 36:4). Jeremiah then instructed Baruch to go to Jehoiakim and “read from the scroll that you have written from my mouth, the words of the Lord in the ears of the people in the Lord’s house on the day of fasting. And you will also read them in the ears of all Judah who come out of their cities” (Jr 36:6). Baruch was to do this because “great is the anger and the fury that the Lord has pronounced against this people” (Jr 36:7).

Everything went well with the reading of the words that Jeremiah wrote, until the matter came to the king’s court. The king’s men had enough sense to fear when they heard the reading of the words of the scroll (Jr 36:16). They then instructed Baruch that he and Jeremiah should go and hide themselves, for they knew what the reaction would be from the king when the scroll (“the Bible”) was read to him. And they were right. “So it came to pass when Jehudi had read three or four columns [of the scroll], he [Jehoiakim] cut it with a penknife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth” (Jr 36:23). Why this response to the reading of the word of God? “Yet the king and all his servants who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jr 36:24).

When people in sin read of the eternal destruction that will eventually come upon them, but do not fear, then they are beyond response. They react with rage.   When there is no longer any fear generated in the hearts of men to what the Bible says, then we know that people are long past restoration to obedience of their Creator. We live in such a world today. The reason why so few people study their Bibles today lies in either one or more of the following truths: (1) They are so traditionally set in the ways of their own religiosity that they are afraid to discover that their religious traditions might be contrary to the word of God. (2) They are traditionally set in their own behavior that is contrary to the word of God, and thus, do not want to change their ways. (3) They have handed their brains over to a religious leader who knows little or nothing about the Bible, but with a gifted tongue of smooth and fair speech is able to charismatically lead them astray through his crafty speaking.   In the case of Jehoiakim, it may have been all the preceding. But whatever the case with any individual, one can know if he has any respect for the word of God by the level of fear that is in his heart when he reads his Bible.

 II.  Obedience to the word of God:

As time progressed after Israel appointed her first kings, the kings themselves led the people into a disrespect for the word of God. As these kings began to trust in their own power, they trusted less in the power of God. Uzziah was such a king. “When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his own destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God …” (2 Ch 27:16).

When religious leaders start trusting in their own skills, their hearts are often lifted up against God. We have witnessed that those preachers who are blessed with a gift to speak often start trusting in their ability to persuade people with their words, rather than with the word of God. We live in a time wherein there are thousands of churches that are built around some gifted speaker or personality to whom everyone has given their allegiance. People come before the altar, not to hear the word of God, but to have their hearts excited by a cheerleading preacher, who, in ignorance of the word of God, has the ability to exhort the people with his own words.

When Uzziah lifted his heart up against God, he did that which was contrary to the word of God. He went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Ch 27:16). But Azariah the priest went in after him, “with eighty priests of the Lord who were valiant men” (2 Ch 27:17). What Uzziah was doing was that which only the priests could do according to the law of God. But at this point in Uzziah’s arrogance, he cared nothing for the law of God.   Azariah said to Uzziah, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense” (2 Ch 27:18). Then Azariah rebuked Uzziah by saying, “Go out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed. You will have no honor from the Lord God (2 Ch 27:18).

In his arrogance, Uzziah “was angry with the priests” (2 Ch 27:19). But then God stepped in and took control of the matter. As a result, “the leprosy broke out on his [Uzziah’s] forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar” (2 Ch 27:19). Then the priests threw him out from there. And he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him” (2 Ch 27:20). Because of his disrespect for the law of God, Uzziah “was a leper to the day of his death” (2 Ch 27:21). We can learn a great lesson from the rebellion of Uzziah. The lesson is that God is serious about us keeping His law.   We often deceive ourselves into believing that a little rebellion will be overlooked through the grace of God.   But in Uzziah’s case, God intends that we follow His law. God seeks obedience, for it is through obedience to His will that we manifest that we are His children.

When religious leaders allow themselves to become ignorant of the word of God, they will sin. The point is this: If one would assume to be a spiritual leader for the people of God, then he must be a student of the word of God. He cannot lead people to follow God if he does not know where God wants His people to go. Willfully ignorant leaders of God’s children will lead them to destruction. The scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, were judged by Jesus to be such leaders. Jesus said of them, “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch” (Mt 15:14). Religious leaders who do not study their Bibles manifest their arrogance and rebellion against God. They know they should be Bible students for the sake of the people they lead. But because they, as Uzziah, trust in the strength of their own abilities, they are rebellious against the word of God by leading them to be ignorant of their Bibles. When the blind lead the blind, the ditch is their destiny.

We must not think that the followers of misguided religionists will sidestep the ditch of destruction because they were innocently led astray by the biblically ignorant. Jesus said that the followers will also fall into the ditch of destruction because they did not seek after those who were preachers of the Bible, nor did they study of their Bibles.   They allowed themselves to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men in cleverness to the deceitfulness of error” (Ep 4:14).   The time is always present when the audience “will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires” (2 Tm 4:3). Those who preach in ignorance of the word of God will be judged for their failure to preach the truth of God’s word. Those who listen to preaching that is not the word of God will be judged because they did not seek the word of God. Both have burned their Bibles, for they have no thirst for what God seeks to reveal. There are more ways to burn a Bible than by throwing it into fiery flames. An unread Bible is as worthless to the owner as a Bible in ashes.

December 4: The Lord Shepherds Us With His Word

THE LORD SHEPHERDS US WITH HIS WORD

 Psalm 23 would be the appropriate introduction to a study of this subject. David began the psalm by stating that the Lord is my shepherd.” Jesus explained, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). The Lord is not only our good shepherd, He is our great shepherd. He is “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hb 13:20). He is great, and thus, the Chief Shepherd we seek. “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pt 5:4). It is this Shepherd about whom Isaiah spoke: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom.   And He will gently lead those who are with young” (Is 40:11). What better picture could have been painted to illustrate God’s leading and feeding of His sheep through His word?

The Lord makes me to lie down in green pastures,” therefore, we will have no lack of rest (Ps 23:2). In Him we find that grassy oasis in the middle of a desert. Our souls desire rest, but not laziness. We seek tranquility from the struggles of this life, but not escape into isolation.   “There remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into His rest has also ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Therefore, let us labor to enter into that rest lest anyone fall …” (Hb 4:9-11). Our final rest will come when He comes. It will be as John wrote, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, so that they may rest from their labors, for their works follow them” (Rv 14:13). But until that time of His coming, or the end of life’s journey, we must remember the words of Paul, “And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Ph 4:7). This is the emotional oasis that Jesus promised.

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid (Jn 14:27).

He leads us beside the still waters,” therefore, we will not lack the direction from His counsel (Ps 23:2).   God gives us tranquility in the midst of the white waters of a rushing river. He takes us through the tension of the rapids in order to bring us to quiet waters of peace. It is from these quiet waters that we, as His sheep, peacefully drink of the refreshing taste of His word.

 He restores my soul,” therefore, we will never lack His forgiveness to bring us back when we stray (Ps 23:3). He revives the fainthearted.   He brings times of refreshing to the repentant (At 3:19). When we are lost, we find our way back to Him through the guidance of His inspired Road Map.

He leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake,” therefore, we will never lack His guidance as long as we trust in His guiding word (Ps 23:4). Without a guiding word from our Shepherd, we as His sheep would be tossed from one pasture of error to another. For this reason, the word of God is ministered to the sheep that they “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching …” (Ep 4:14). Our guard from being tossed to and fro by the twisted doctrines of crafty men is to walk in the light of God’s word. And “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). Therefore, “as newborn babes” we crave the sincere milk of the word so that we may grow up to the salvation that is in His presence (1 Pt 2:2).

And though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” we can always know that He is there for us (Ps 23:4). We will go forth in our Christ-commanded mission with strength, for we know that He is with us always (Mt 28:20). We can remember the words of Isaiah,

 “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness (Is 41:10).

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” therefore, we will never lack direction through His word because through His correction we are led to and on the right path (Ps 23:4).   His word is the rod of defense and the staff of help. It is as Jude wrote,

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the Only God and Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord … (Jd 24,25).

He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” therefore, we will never lack security and a sense of assurance (Ps 23:5). There is a great deal of conflict in this world to make us afraid, but there is more in a faith that is founded upon the word of God to make us unafraid. So in order to be free from the fear that the world presents, we must fear God more than anything of this world. This would even include our fear of death. Jesus will come to deliver “those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hb 2:15).   With this promise, we can face the fear of death, for we know through the revelation of God’s word that we will be raised to walked in a new existence (See 1 Th 4:13-18). We grow in His promises of eternal life to the point that we can follow the example of Paul when he spoke to those who feared for his safety, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (At 21:13).

He anoints my head with oil,” therefore, we will never be far away from the joy of His comfort (Ps 23:5). My cup overflows,” and thus, His blessings are showered upon us without measure (Ps 23:5).   We have been anointed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. So “blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ep 1:3). Through obedience to the word of God we have come into a covenant relationship with the One who can do that for us which is far beyond what we can fully understand. Paul was right: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us …” (Ep 3:20).

 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,” therefore, we will not live outside His presence, nor fail to be sustained on our journey of this life (Ps 23:6). And finally, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever because we have faithfully walked according to the guidance of His word (Ps 23:6). A life with Christ is a life with an endless hope. But without Christ, there is only a hopeless end. Our conclusion would be as Peter wrote:

For he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Pt 3:10-12).

Someone once beautifully explained Psalm 23 in the following unique manner:

Possession: The Lord is my shepherd.

Provision: I will lack nothing.

Position: He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

Progress: He leads me beside the still waters.

Personal: He restores my soul.

Progression: He leads me in the paths of righteousness.

Purpose: For His name’s sake.

Parting: Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Peace: I will fear no evil.

Protection: For You are with me.

Pilgrimage: Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.

Participation: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Preparation: You anoint my head with oil.

Plenty: My cup overflows.

Preservation: Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

Place: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

(Tomorrow’s lecture:  “Burn the Book”)

November 23: Lectureship Introduction

INTRODUCTION TO THE DECEMBER LECTURES

– Respect For And Obedience To The Word Of God –

December 4 – 13

 We live in a worldwide religious culture wherein people have become very timid about confronting one another over differences in religious beliefs. This avoidance of conflict over matters of faith has become so acute that there has arisen within the religious world a hesitance of teaching any Bible subjects that might be controversial. Some have gone so far as to terminate any preaching of Bible subjects that they would judge to be “doctrine.” For this reason, there has arisen a flood of “psychology preachers” who preach only “feel-good” lessons in order not to offend anyone who might be a possible adherent to the church for which the preacher receives his salary. Their psychology lessons could just as well be presented in the local psychiatric ward wherein the patients would be mentally soothed to live another day.   But to pass off such to be “preaching the word of God” is to masquerade oneself as a preacher of the word of God.

Preaching that avoids truth that is revealed in the Bible is not preaching. It is religious lecturing. What is happening across Christendom is a non-convicting “faith” that is void of the word of God. Emphasis on truth that comes to us through the Bible seems to be something of the past, for those who seek to build great assemblies focus more on the “ear tickling” speeches of those who are skilled in rhetoric, but less in the word of God.   The pews of big churches are thus packed with “ear ticklers” who would run away from their church if the preacher started preaching from a Bible book, chapter and verse that deals with truths that are absolutely necessary to believe and obey in order to be saved.

In our realm of the “developing world,” the curse seems to go beyond the lecturers of smooth and fair lessons. In our world, churches pop up across the continent under the leadership of those who can shout the loudest. No Bible knowledge required. Someone referred to these as “mushroom churches” that spontaneously pop up for the sake of producing a source of income for some “shouter” who presumes to be a representative of the word of God.

In view of this move away from the Bible as our sole source of belief and behavior, we felt it necessary to write this book in view of this move to noncommittal religion that is not based on Bible truth, but the religiosity of men. Those who are of the camp of God’s people, and who are searching the Scriptures, will understand fully our concerns. Though these faithful Bible searchers are few in the world, they are still that group of disciples who love their Bibles, and subsequently, study them every day lest they be deceived by the tidal wave of Bible ignorance that flows contrary to Bible authority in all matters of faith.

We need to be reminded that Christians are who they are because they are “people of the Book.” The Bible is the Christian’s source of life, for only through the Bible do we discover the one true and living God, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who only has the sacrificial blood to bring us into the eternal presence of God. If you have wandered from this source book of inspiration, then it is our prayer that the following pages will renew your commitment to the word of God.

The existence and survival of our faith depends entirely upon the Bible. Any faith that is based upon any other foundation is simply religious superstition. If one seeks to understand the true and living God apart from the Bible, then he will create a god after his own religious inclinations, a god who will bow to his own will. If we carried out such idolatry of our imaginations, then we would be emotionally wandering people to be pitied by the world of unbelievers. We would be such if it were not for God’s providential work of bringing into our hands a copy of His inspired road map into eternal dwelling.   Therefore, if one would seek to find his way out of the religious quagmire of a religiously misguided world, and into the eternal presence of God, then he must find direction through the word of God. If he does not seek this source for direction, then at the end of his life he will find himself at a destination that is far from that for which he hoped.   Since we all have this spirit of idolatry within us to do it our way and go our own direction, it is imperative that all of us conclude that since God exists, then certainly our way into His eternal presence must be prescribed by Him alone. And since we are often masters at creating a supposed religious reality after our own imaginations, then it is crucial that we seek for guidance into eternity only from Him whose existence can guarantee that for which we so earnestly yearn. We seek to live forever, and thus, we must thirst for that which will lead us into the presence of Him who can grant us eternality. We must seek for God’s message into eternity, which message is revealed through His word. There is no other way.

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BE SURE TO CHECK IN DECEMBER 4TH WHEN THE LECTURESHIP BEGINS.  THERE WILL BE DAILY LECTURES FOR TEN DAYS.

Lecture 16: Godly Giver

Special Responsibilities

 Since money is an indication of our life, it is a part of our Christian living. We give our time to produce money, and thus, the money is a symbol of our time. When we contribute our money unselfishly, it is the same as giving our time unselfishly to a specific cause or individual. This was Paul’s point in Philippians 4:17 when he stated that the fruit of his labors went to the Philippians because they had supported him once and again when he preached in Thessalonica. They were blessed with the fruit because they did not personally reap from the contribution. Giving to the evangelist in his preaching somewhere in the world was what the Philippians were doing.   They were not supporting a local preacher, or purchasing song books for themselves, or doing building repairs where they would personally benefit. Theirs was unselfish giving for something from which they would not receive personal benefit. We do not say this because it would be wrong to support something from which we receive personal benefit. It is simply a fact that in the New Testament the giving was directed to someone or some famine victims from which the givers did not receive any personally benefit. New Testament giving was always for someone else, not for self. It was as God gave unselfishly to us, we give unselfishly to others.

There are other financial responsibilities where contributors can share their time, and thus reap fruit from their sacrifices.   These opportunities to produce fruit identify the nature of our discipleship, which is to say, they are opportunities to manifest our love. They are also manifestations of the nature of the church of our Lord.

 A.  Enrolled widows:

James identified “pure religion” with the statement, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to take care of the orphans and widows in their affliction …” (Js 1:27).   Taking care of orphans is simply being a part of the human race. There need be no commandments in reference to this ministry. James’ statement of James 1:27, therefore, is simply a declarative statement, not an imperative. But when it comes to taking care of widows, the Holy Spirit knew that the disciples needed some special instructions in order that their love not be abused by those women who might become Christians just to get on the payroll of the church.

In the early days of the existence of the church, one of the first points of identity of the church was a common distribution to widows. What is interesting to note is that we have this event recorded in the New Testament, not in reference to making this ministry a mandate, but simply as something that Christians did. In the case of Acts 6:1-7 there were some problems with the distribution. But we must keep in mind that as preaching the gospel to the lost was normal for a disciple, so was caring for widows.

But as this behavior of the church progressed throughout the first century, there was some abuse of the sharing love of the disciples in this matter. By the time Paul wrote the first letter to Timothy, the Holy Spirit had to lay down some qualifications for the church’s support of widows. When we study through these qualifications for a widow to be supported, it is interesting to note that the church does not have the responsibility of supporting all widows.

Paul wrote, Honor widows who are truly widows” (1 Tm 5:3). The word “honor” here means to support financially, or to provide for all their needs. By using the word “truly,” Paul was instructing that the church must support only those widows who are defined to be true widows according to the instructions that he was about to give. The word “truly” excludes some widows who are not qualified to be supported according to the limitations that he gives. The church is not obligated to support every Christian widow. The following would be the defining qualifications that would warrant a widow to be supported by the church:

 

  1. A childless widow: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety at home and to repay their parents, for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Tm 5:4). But if a Christian widow does not have children or grandchildren, then she must be considered by the church to receive church support.

 

  1. Spiritually minded: “Now she who is truly a widow and desolate trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Tm 5:5). The widow who is not continuing in supplications and prayers has no right to be supported by the church. If she is “desolate,” and she has no other means of support, then she is eligible for the support of the church. Being “desolate” would be subjective, and thus, the church must make a decision if a widow is truly desolate. If she is living in a mansion that was left to her by her husband, then she probably is not desolate. The church should ask her to sell the mansion, bring down her standard of living, and then she would be considered to be enrolled as a widow to be supported by the church. An older woman is not truly a desolate widow if she has a retirement plan or pension that will service her needs. A Christian widow must always remember what Paul added, “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Tm 5:6). The church is under no obligation to support a widow who is spiritually dead and unfaithful to the Lord.

 

  1. Children first: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8).   The word “household” in the first century context meant more than immediate children. A household included the immediate children, husband and wife, but also servants and relatives. What Paul was instructing in the above statement was that relatives first have the responsibility of taking care of the widows within the household.   This would mean that a Christian family who had employed a Christian servant, has the responsibility of taking care of the widow of a Christian servant. If the head of a household does not take care of the widows of his household, then he is worse than the unbelievers who feel no obligation of taking care of widows. The heads of families cannot obligate the church to do that which is their responsibility. Therefore, if a head of a household is negligent in carrying out this responsibility, then it is the responsibility of the church to approach such a person, for he has denied the faith.

 

  1. The limitation of sixty: “Let no one be enrolled as a widow who is under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man” (1 Tm 5:9). No widow under sixty can apply for support from the church. If she is sixty and older, then she must have been the wife of one man, and thus not a polygamist. If she was a polygamist, then she was not living a faithful Christian life. It could be argued that she may have been a polygamist before she became a Christian, but remained with one man after her baptism. Thus the phrase, “having been the wife of one man” could apply only to the time she was a faithful Christian. We would assume that this would be the proper interpretation simply because some young woman may have lived a rebellious life in her younger years as an unbeliever, having more than one husband. Such a person may have been as the woman caught in adultery, to whom Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go. From now on sin no more” (Jn 8:11). If this woman went and sinned no more by having only one husband and living a faithful Christian life, then we would conclude that she would be enrolled as a widow when her husband died because she was faithful at the time of her husband’s death.

 

  1. A reputation for good works: Paul now lists a series of things that the church must follow in order to register a widow to receive support from the church. The prospective enrolled widow must have …

… a reputation for good works; if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work (1 Tm 5:10).

From what Paul states here as qualifications for support from the church, we would assume that a problem prevailed where Timothy was located. The problem was probably in the area of widows of the community lining up for support from the only people in town who took care of widows. Since it was the obligation of the church to support widows, the word got out to everyone in the community that the local church puts widows on a pension plan. In all these qualifications, one point is very clear: If a widow has not been a faithful Christian for some time, then she has no right to be supported by the church. In other words, those widows who would seek to be members of the church in order to be supported by the church have no hope of support. The church is under no obligation to take care of any widow who has not become known for being a faithful servant to the saints.

 6.  No young widows need to apply: “But refuse the younger widows …” (1 Tm 5:11). If a widow is under the age of sixty, then she is not to be supported by the church. Because of the temptations that face young widows, Paul said, “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house …” (1 Tm 5:14).   Paul’s qualification of one being a “young widow” would be a woman who still had the ability to bear children.   This would be a young Christian woman who was relatively young, and thus had the opportunity to marry and bear children.

Paul’s final instructions concerning the care of widows is significant. “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them assist them, and do not let the church be burdened, so that it may relieve those who are truly widows” (1 Tm 5:16). A Christian man has the responsibility of taking care of his widowed mother. A younger single Christian woman also has the responsibility of taking care of her widowed mother. If those of the household do not support the widows of the household, then the church would possibly have to neglect those who were truly widows. This is the organic body of Christ functioning properly in order to make sure that every faithful widow is cared for in the fellowship of love.

 B.  Supported elders:

 In reference to the support of elders, Paul wrote, “Let the elders who direct well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tm 5:17).   This statement needs little explanation. “Double honor” refers to double pay. When Paul said in a previous verse of this chapter, “honor widows …,” he meant the same thing as he means here. Reference is to support, not giving respect, though the young are taught to respect their elders. We say this because some have tried to excuse themselves from supporting elders by interpreting Paul’s use of the word “honor” in this text to mean giving great respect. Such would be an inconsistent interpretation, and in being inconsistent, one might neglect his responsibility of supporting worthy elders.

Paul’s instructions to support elders is based on the Old Testament principle, “You will not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tm 5:18).   Paul explains two worthy works of those elders (shepherds) who should be supported by the church. These are those elders who choose to work in the area of preaching the gospel to the lost and those who seek to teach the saved.   However, he uses the word “especially” to refer to the specific ministries of some elders. In general, the elder is to be supported, but specifically, those who labor in preaching and teaching must be supported if they do not have any other livelihood.

The elder must be supported with “double” wages.   If one truly understands the nature of a godly elder, then he will have no difficulty understanding what is meant in this statement. Godly elders are with the people. And when the people are in need, the elder reaches into his own pockets. A godly elder will never consume upon his own lusts, and thus will always die a poor man. The church has the responsibility of ministering to the poor through the elders who are with the sheep, ministering aid when aid is needed.   Worldly minded and greedy people have no understanding of what is meant in the double pay of elders. And thus, the church should under no circumstances allow the twisted minds of greedy people to discourage the church from obeying the mandate of the Holy Spirit in reference to the double pay of elders.   When elders are ministering in growing the church through the preaching of the gospel, and edifying the converts through teaching the word of God, then they must be encouraged to continue their work through double pay lest they give themselves into poverty.

 C.  Concerning orphans:

Outside the statement of James 1:27, there are no instructions in the New Testament concerning the care of orphans. As previously recognized, there is a great deal of information concerning the support of widows. In the past chapters, we have studied at length the support of evangelists who go forth to preach the gospel. There is also a great deal of information in the New Testament concerning the contribution of funds to those brethren who are suffering from a natural disaster. We have the instructions of the previous point in reference to the support of elders.   But there is nothing about the support of orphans. Nevertheless, James stated that pure religion is identified by people who take care of orphans.

Since there are no instructions concerning orphans, then we can make only one conclusion. Taking care of orphans is simply a natural thing to do as a citizen of the human race. There need be no instructions, no commandments. To turn away from an orphan is to deny the very principle of humanity.

But one might reconsider the context of James 1:27. In this chapter, we have reviewed the church’s responsibility of taking care of widows. However, the church does not have the responsibility of taking care of all widows. Only those widows who have been faithful Christians are to be listed for support. We would not come to this conclusion in reference to orphans, for orphans would have no life history of service that would qualify them for church support as the widows.   We could conclude, therefore, that when James spoke of orphans, he spoke of any orphan. It is simply the responsibility of Christians to do the best they can in taking care of orphans. No qualification is needed on the part of the orphan in order to be supported. Taking care of orphans is a way by which we can determine if we are still citizens of the human race.

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Lecture 15: Godly Giver

Giving With Purpose

 If we could learn anything from the negligent Achaians, specifically those in Corinth, it would be to put our money where our mouth is. They at first had good intentions to do what was right in reference to contributing to the famine victims of Judea. However, their performance certainly lacked. It lacked so much that it took the Holy Spirit, through the inspired mind of the apostle Paul, to correct their financial dysfunction. In His instructions to correct their procrastination, the Holy Spirit gave some points that we must seriously consider in order that we too not fall victim to the same procrastination.

Among all the instructions that were given in the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians, there are some points that will help us to get on with getting the job done in reference to our contributions. If any of these points are ignored, our contributions and collections for any ministry of the body of Christ will certainly be an indication of our lack of concern for God’s work through the body, or at least our procrastination in doing what we have promised to do.

 A.  Purpose our contribution:

Paul instructed, “Let each one give according as he purposes in his heart …” (2 Co 9:7). Contributing to the work of God is not something that is done nonchalantly. It is determined before the act of giving actually takes place. The Greek word for “purposes” is proaireomai.   This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used. It seems that the Holy Spirit looked throughout the Greek dictionary in order to choose a specific word to enjoin upon Christians a life-style of intended sacrificial giving. The word means “to prefer,” “to choose,” or “to purpose with considerable intent.”   The passage could be translated, “Let every one give as he has determined before hand.”

The use of the Greek word indicates that one should make a heart-determined plan to make his contributions. When one is purposing in his heart, he is forming his life around his contributions. The contributions, therefore, are the indication of one who has the Lord’s work at heart. When one has given his heart to the Lord, then his offerings are intentional, directed and planned.   There is no sporadic action on his part. On the contrary, with great consideration, he sets aside that which he intends to give. There is no “spur of the moment” contribution with the one who has purposed in his heart.

Because we are to plan beforehand what we intend to give, then purposing our contributions is a sign of faithful discipleship. Making plans as to how we will return to God that which is His is simply the behavioral pattern of a faithful disciple. If one is not giving anything, then certainly his discipleshp of Jesus would be questioned. But in the context of Paul’s instructions concerning planned giving, we might question whether one truly has the heart of a disciple if he is not planning his giving. Disciples plan to give, for they understand that giving is a part of being a disciple of the One who gave us all. As the Father planned to give His Son before the creation of the world, so Christians must plan their giving before the collection is taken by the church.

 B.  Promise the purposed giving.

Paul introduced his instructions on making a purposed contribution with the words, “Therefore, I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren so that they go before to you and make up beforehand your previously promised generous contribution …” (2 Co 9:5). What he was saying to the Corinthians was that they needed to fulfill what they had promised in reference to a special contribution for the famine victims of Judea. For a variety of reasons, they had fudged on their promise. And since he was on his way to them with some of the brethren from Macedonia, Paul was writing in order that they not be embarrassed about making promises and not keeping them (See 2 Co 9:3,4).

The Greek word for “previously promised” in 2 Corinthians 9:5 is prokatangello. The word means “to announce beforehand.” A year before, the disciples of Achaia made a promise to give to the collection that was being made for the famine victims in Judea (2 Co 9:2). They had made a public declaration that they too would give to the need, which promise Paul had announced to other disciples in order to spur them on to likewise contribute. In Paul’s instructions concerning what they had promised, there are a great number of lessons to be learned concerning contributions. Read carefully what he instructed them in 2 Corinthians 8:10,11:

And in this I give advice: For this is advantageous for you who were the first a year ago not only to do, but also to desire to do this thing [contribution]. But now finish doing it so that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there may be also a completion out of what you have.

 Desire without completion means nothing. Talk without the financial walk of what one has promised manifests a lack of integrity. We must commend the Achaians for their desire. But desire means nothing if there is no performance. At least the Achaian disciples were better than the person who makes no commitment at all to give, or the one who says he just cannot afford to make a promise.

The disciple who has given his heart to the Lord, has also given his promise to do the business of the Lord. Before one becomes a disciple, therefore, he must seriously consider how he will purpose in his heart that which he is going to give to the Lord, as well as, make a promise that he will complete his planned giving. Jesus reminds all of us,

 For which one of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him. (Lk 14:28,29).

 C.  Perform the promise:

The Achaians had the desire. They evidently made a promise of giving a substantial amount, for Paul used their promised contribution as an example for the Macedonians (See 2 Co 9:1,2). But now they had to perform, as Paul wrote, But now finish doing it …” (2 Co 8:11).   The Greek word that Paul used here is from the root word epiteleo which means “to bring to completion.”   What Paul was now asking of the Achaians was that they execute that which they had previously purposed and promised a year before.

The contribution about which Paul was writing was a special contribution for a special need. We have discovered that people will often do well in making such contributions. In all their dysfunction as members of the body of Christ, the disciples in Achaia at least responded to the special needs of those who were suffering from a famine in Judea. We cannot fault their desire to help, though their performance somewhat lacked. Nevertheless, they did make the contribution. They purposed in their hearts to get the job done, and with some encouragement from the Holy Spirit through Paul, the deed was done.   If disciples make such promises today, but procrastinate, then the leaders need to be teaching the exhortations of 1 & 2 Corinthians.

We feel it is also significant to mention that when the Achaians made their promise to give the special contribution for the special need of famine victims, they were probably less than five years old in the faith. We mention this because we know of disciples who are decades old in the faith, and yet, they have never been challenged to make a special contribution to a need outside their local area. They have never given to mission efforts outside their local area. They have never given to any disaster relief needs outside their local area. Their contributions have usually been for those things they could personally enjoy.   Consequently, the selfish motive for their contributions has led them to never being blessed for their contributions.   Giving to our “building fund” has its selfish ulterior motives. Giving to increase our comforts in worship is not sacrificial giving.

The Achaians had no New Testaments in their possession to read these instructions as we have today.   We might fault them concerning their delay in performing the deed of unselfish contributions, but we cannot fault them on their response to the instructions of the Holy Spirit to contribute to needs outside their local area, and thus to something that they would not personally enjoy. Now we have no excuse if we have failed to purpose in our hearts to give. We have no excuse because we can simply pick up a New Testament and read the instructions that moved the Corinthians to get the job done. The godly giver seeks to live after the One to whom he has given his life. He reads with interest every instruction concerning that must be done to follow the God who owns everything. There is thus only joy in the heart of the one who seeks to be as Jesus who gave all for us.

Lecture 14: Godly Giver

WELL-DOING DISCSCIPLESHIP

 When discussing the sin of covetousness, we must review the life of one who lived in total contrast to a covetousness life-style.   Gaius was an unselfish disciple who understood the purpose of discipleship, and thus, through the apostle John’s letter, the Holy Spirit gave him an overwhelming testimony that he was walking in the truth by his well-doing sacrifices to partner with evangelists in the preaching of the gospel to the world.

Romans 10:14 explains the mandate of Gaius’ obedience. This statement of Paul explains the organic function of the body in reference to the financial partnership that members have with those who go forth to preach the gospel. It explains the well-doing of Gaius.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

The sending forth and support of preachers is a function of the body of Christ to take the gospel into all the world. This is what the body does.   When this function is either ignored by the members of the body, as in the case of the Corinthians, or disrupted by dominating leadership, as in the case of Diotrephes, then the body is financially dysfunctional. In the context of John’s letter to Gaius, if this responsibility is ignored by any individual Christian, then that Christian is dysfunctional in reference to his or her responsibilies to send forth preachers to preach the gospel to the lost.   Such was the case with the disciples in the area where Gaius lived. The problem was so grave that Gaius may have been in doubt concerning his financial responsibilities to support preachers. For some reason, he wrote to John concerning one who was disrupting the organic function of the body in reference to what Paul stated in Romans 10:14,15.

John subsequently wrote a comforting letter to Gaius in order to reassure him that what he was doing in supporting evangelists was walking in the truth. “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in truth (3 Jn 3). In this context, Gaius’ walking in truth was his financial support of the preaching of the gospel. From what John said of Gaius, therefore, we would conclude that one is not walking in the truth unless he is doing that which Gaius was doing in supporting preachers to go forth to preach the gospel.

Supporting traveling evangelists was a faithful work and walk in the truth. “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and especially for strangers” (3 Jn 5). Those who had been helped by Gaius on their journeys reported his faithful work to other disciples wherever they went. The extent of Gaius’ hospitality of those who came by his way is revealed in the fact that some were not formerly known by Gaius. They were strangers to him. But the fact that they were preaching the gospel was reason enough to warrant his support. John commended Gaius, “… who have borne witness of your love before the church” (3 Jn 6).

Gaius’ support of the traveling evangelists was a manifestation of his love, and thus, in John’s statement of 3 John 6, one definition of Christian love is identified to be one’s support of those who go forth to preach the gospel. Gaius’ godliness was revealed in his giving. “You will do well to support them [the preachers] on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 Jn 6). In order to be worthy of God, individual Christians as Gaius, should support those who are going forth to preach the gospel. The other side of the situation is also true. If one does not support the preaching of the gospel through the support of preachers who go forth, then he is not worthy of God. He does not know God, for God is love, and love manifests itself in the support of those who go forth to preach the gospel for God’s love of the world through Jesus (Jn 3:16).

The word “support” in 3 John 6 comes from the Greek word propempo. It means to set one forward on his journey with whatever it takes to get the evangelist on to his next location. The word assumes, therefore, that the evangelist is not staying at home. He is gone! He has gone into all the world to preach the gospel. The context of John’s discussion of 3 John is not the passage to be used for those who want to stay at home, and yet be supported according to John’s instructions. There are other passages that teach the church’s responsibility to support their teachers (See Gl 6:6).

In the evangelistic function of the early church, there were evangelists going throughout the world preaching the gospel.   Paul, for example, sought to go on to Spain after he visited the disciples in Rome. When he wrote to the disciples in Rome, he hoped to be supported by them in his travel on to Spain. “… whenever I make my journey into Spain, I hope to see you in my journey and to be supported on my way there by you …” (Rm 15:24).

In 3 John, John explained the reason behind Paul’s statement in Romans 10:14. It is the responsibility of every disciple to do what Gaius was doing in supporting those who would go forth to preach the gospel. In 3 John 7,8, John gives three reasons why each individual member of the body should do this.

 

  1.   The evangelists went forth to preach Christ. If we would claim to be “of Christ” (Christian), then it is our obligation to support those who preach the One in whom we believe.
  2.   The evangelists did not take contributions from the unbelievers. We should support evangelists in order that they and their families can live, and not bring shame upon the gospel message by living in need of material sustenance (1 Co 9:14).
  3. We must be fellow workers for the truth that the evangelists preach. We join in with those evangelists who go forth by supporting them on their journeys.   We partake of the fruit of their labors when we partner with them through our giving of support (Ph 4:17).

The preceding evangelistic function of the body was disrupted by one man in the vicinity of Gaius. The case here is similar to that in Corinth. There was a group in Corinth who were puffed up and arrogant, and subsequently hindered the Corinthians from supporting Paul, whom they accused of all sorts of nonsense. The same happened with Gaius when Diotrephes, who was puffed up, disrupted the financial function of the body by slandering the evangelists and John with malicious words. One of the evils in which some involve themselves in order not to support a certain preacher is to make slanderous statements to others of the church about the preacher.

The financial disruption caused by Diotrephes was enshrined in one simple statement made by John: “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not receive us” (3 Jn 9). Diotrephes did not receive and send forth even John, the apostle of love. In his actions to dominate a group, or area of house groups, he disrupted the function of the organic body that was explained by Paul in Romans 10:14,15.   Gaius could not send forth the beautiful feet of those who preached the gospel because Diotrephes wanted to dominate the church, and thus, present himself to be first among the disciples.

John’s letter to Gaius was meant to encourage Gaius during this unfortunate time of financial disruption of his evangelistic outreach through the support of evangelists. “Beloved, do not follow what is evil, but what is good.   He who does good is from God. He who does evil has not seen God” (3 Jn 11).   That which Diotrephes was doing was evil. If Gaius submitted to what Diotrephes was trying to impose on the church, then he would also be doing evil and not walking in truth. The Holy Spirit takes a very dim view of anyone who would disrupt the financial support of those who go forth to preach the gospel.

When any member of the body of Christ disrupts the outreach of the body, then that member is a cancerous evil. His behavior will lead to the death of the body in any particular region where the body is not allowed to preach the gospel.   If the other members of the body allow a dominant member to disrupt the evangelistic outreach of the body, then they have fallen victim to the cancerous evil of the autocratic leader.   We enable evil when we say nothing about these matters, nor refuse to confront the evil of those who would dominate our desire to send forth those who preach.

When the leaders of a group of disciples do not allow a traveling evangelist to speak to the members of the body about the function of the body in evangelism, then they have fallen victim to the cancerous evil of Diotrephetic leadership. When a preacher blocks the coming of a traveling evangelist to speak to the members of the body, then he has become a cancerous evil to the evangelistic function of the body of Christ. When churches as a whole are not receiving and sending forth those who preach the gospel, then they are indeed dead with a cancerous evil. When John wrote to Gaius about Diotrephes’ hindering of the evangelistic financial function of the body, He wanted all of us to know that such is evil, and should be avoided.

We must not ignore or consider lightly the Holy-Spirit inspired words of John in reference to the behavior of Diotrephes in his efforts to block the evangelistic function of the body.   Diotrephes was hindering the function of the body to preach the gospel by not receiving and sending forth those who grow the body into all the world. His actions were contrary to the existence of the church, and thus, his actions were evil. It is for this reason that every disciple, as Gaius, must be assured that receiving and sending evangelists is the function of every member of the body of Christ. Paul concluded his letter to the dysfunctional Corinthians in this matter: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.   Test your own selves. Do you not know your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you are disqualified?” (2 Co 13:5). An old Persian proverb is, “What I kept I lost.   What I spent I had. What I gave I have.” Someone wrote, “If you want to be rich, give; if you want to be poor, grasp, if you want abundance, scatter, if you want to be needy, hoard.”

 

(Be sure and research this subject in the …

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Biblical Research Library, Book 22, Chapter 11

 

Lecture 13: Godly Giver

The Sin Of Covetousness

 Balaam met death because he was tempted with covetousness. He sold his gift for money, and thus paid the ultimate price. Covetousness is the desire of those whose minds are focused on the things of this world. When Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth,” he had the sin of covetousness in mind (Cl 3:2). Every time the collection plate comes by, many people have a brief struggle with the sin of covetousness. The emotion that encourages one to hold back in his contributions is the feeling of having to give up that which one can consume on his own lusts.

 A.  Definition of Covetousness:

The Greek word of covetousness is pleonexia. It is a word that has a wide variety of equivalents in the English language. It can mean greediness, avarice, a desire to take more than one’s share, or a desire to take possession of that which belongs to another. Those who do not give according to how they have prospered are certainly covetous disciples. They hold back on giving according to their prosperity because they realize that they are relinquishing the right to consume upon themselves that which they release to the church.

Throughout the Bible there are is a variety of subpoints that fall under the definition of covetousness.

1.  Covetousness is a desire to possess more than one has.   This was the problem of the rich man about whom Jesus referred in the parable of Luke 12:13-21. Jesus introduced His illustration of the covetousness of the rich man by saying, 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). The fact that Jesus cautioned the disciples about the sin of covetousness should be a warning to everyone that this sin can creep into our lives, bringing with it a desire to possess the things of this world. In the preceding statement, Jesus helped us to examine ourselves. We are covetous if we think that life is to be focused on possessions. Jesus’ explanation of covetousness is the love of possessions.

 2.  Covetousness is a desire to acquire material things in an evil manner. It is the desire to acquire through unfair, dishonest or unscrupulous means the material things of this world. Because of the temptations that come with covetousness, Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians, “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness …” (1 Th 2:5). Since his focus in life was not to possess the things of this world, his relationship with the Thessalonians did not have the ulterior motive of taking possession of their things. But this could not be said of some of the shepherds of Israel when the nation was in a state of backsliding from the Lord. God said of them, “For with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness (See Ez 33:30-32).

 3.  Covetousness is the love of money. This was the sin of the religious leaders of Israel during the time of Jesus. the Holy Spirit stated that the Pharisees were “lovers of money” (Lk 16:14). In the context of his statements in 2 Timothy 3, Paul seems to indicate that covetous religious leaders would arise within the body of Christ.   “Know this also, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, covetous …” (2 Tm 3:1,2). We can understand why Paul was so cautious about this sin. Because of the covetous world in which he preached, he worked with his own hands to support his needs, even paying for everything that he ate. Such behavior seems to indicate that he wanted to shun all appearances of covetousness (2 Th 3:8). He reminded the elders of Ephesus that when he was among them that he “coveted no man’s silver or gold or clothes” (At 20:33). Peter also knew that covetous brethren would take advantage of the church. When in a state of apostasy, Peter warned, “And through covetousness they will with deceptive works exploit you (2 Pt 2:3).

 B.  The curse of covetousness:

Paul wrote, For the love of money is the root of all evils, by which some coveting after have strayed from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (1 Tm 6:10). No greater truth could have been said concerning what seems to be our natural desire to acquire and possess. This urge can be so strong that it can lead one to great dishonesty and the destruction of one’s integrity. It is not the money in and of itself that is evil.   It is the love of the money that corrupts the very soul of a man. It is for this reason that the Bible is filled with exhortations to guard oneself from the sin of covetousness:

  • “You will not covet your neighbor’s house. You will not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17).
  • “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetousness” (Ps 119:36).
  • “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house …” (Pv 15:27).
  • “Woe to those who join house to house, who lay field to field until there is no place, so that they may be placed alone in the midst of the land” (Is 5:8).
  • “Woe to him who increases that which is not his …” (Hk 2:6).
  • “But now I have written to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother if he is a fornicator, or covetous …” (1 Co 5:11).
  • “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Ep 5:3).

 C.  The consequences of covetousness:

The insidious nature of covetousness is that the one who is covetous often has no idea that he is such. To consume upon one’s own desires has simply become the culture of his life and the life of his neighbors around him. Such people often judge themselves as nice people, for they are not drunkards or thieves. They are simply trying to maintain a life-style similar to their neighbors.   They often present themselves as good community leaders, and often present before the church a cloak of piety and spirituality. They are faithful in being with the disciples for prayer and Bible study.   But when the collection is made, they reveal their covetous culture. This is the one about whom John wrote. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not from God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10). And how does one know he loves his brother. John further explained, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren” (1 Jn 3:14). But how does one know that he has passed from death to life, and thus, loves his brother? John explains, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17).

Now we understand why Paul was so hard on the Corinthians in reference to their fufilling of their promise to help their brothers in famine in Judea. But in reference to his personal needs, he reminded them, “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone …” (2 Co 11:9).   Paul simply suffered alone, but later in this and other statements, shammed the Corinthians for their lack of love toward him because they did not help him in his need. Their lack of care for him when he was in physical need revealed a flaw in their understanding of the concept taught in Galatians 6:6. They were thus not yet perfected in righteousness.

When we are covetous, we will not feel the need of those in need, and thus respond with a heart of love. In the context of the preceding words of John about those who would not manifest their love of the brethren by making sure that physical needs are covered, John concluded, “Whoever hates his brother is a murder. And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn 3:15).

Sins of the flesh as drunkenness are clearly evident to all. But the sin of covetousness can reside undetected in the heart of one for years without being clearly manifested. As the rich consume upon their lust, and give only a token when the collection plate is passed, they can hide behind the cloak of a secret contribution. When the poor widow gave all her livelihood, it was known to all. But when the rich gave, their comparatively large contribution was actually a cloak that disguised their covetousness.

Liberal giving is the very core of Christianity.   It is the revelation of the heart of the one who truly knows God, and thus seeks to be godly. One has simply deceived himself if he thinks that token contributions can identify him with the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son for our sins.

 It is the curse of legalism that allows the covetous person to hide behind his token contributions (Lk 21:1-4). The legalist deceives himself into thinking that since he gave something, then he has fulfilled the law of giving. But he has conveniently created a religion after this own covetous desires. He has failed to see that we are not under a law of tithing percentages, but under a new commandment of love that moves us to give as we have been given to by the God who owns all things. Unfortunately, the legalist will go down in condemnation crying out that he gave, but never realizing that he did not give himself wholly over to the Lord. His tokens will take him into total destruction from the presence of the One who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

 D.  Character of the covetous:

The covetous person is actually denying the one true and living God. He does so because he substitutes another god for God. In the city of Ephesus, Paul was confronted by the adherents of an idolatrous religion (See At 19). Theirs was a religion of idols, and idolatry is creating a god after one’s own image and own desires. Therefore, when Paul later wrote to the Ephesian Christians, he identified the nature of the covetous person. He wrote that the covetous man “is an idolater” (Ep 5:5). The covetous man is an idolater because covetousness “is idolatry” (Cl 3:5). Covetousness is worship of the creation over the Creator. It is elevating the created things of this world above the One who created the world. Jesus explained,

“No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:24).

David said of those who made idols, “Those who make them are like unto them [idols], as is everyone who trusts in them” (Ps 115:8). The one who idolizes the things of this world are like the things of this world. They are worldly.

A servant is of no value to his master if he serves another master, while pretending to be totally dedicated to his master. When one becomes the servant of wealth, then he cannot be totally committed to God. Not only does the covetous man trouble his own house, he troubles the house of God (See Pv 15:27; 1 Tm 3:15). In the case of Achan, covetousness caused the death of his entire family (Ja 7:21). He saw; he coveted; he took; he died. The idolatrous man can never give his entire devotion to God. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).

It seems that the heart of Demas was on the things of this world which he loved. Paul urged Timothy, “Be diligent to come to me soon, for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world …” (2 Tm 4:10).   As Demas, and Gehazi, many good men have fallen to the idolatrous nature of covetousness (See 2 Kg 5:22-25).

The sin of covetousness became so grave in Israel that the princes of Israel were known for their bribes by which they exploited the people, even to the point of shedding innocent blood to receive them (Ez 22:12). We must never underestimate the sin of covetousness. We must never fail to identify such as sin. And considering all that is stated in the word of God about the sin, we would do well to be on guard in our lives that we do not deceive ourselves that this sin cannot turn us away from God. Covetousness leads to the destruction of the spiritual life we have in Christ. Because it is a relentless curse to the soul of the Christian, it eventually turns one into a hard-hearted person who is void of empathy for the needs of his fellow man.

Through our obedience to the gospel, we have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pt 1:4). It is our struggle to stay away from lusts that lead to spiritual death. Those disciples who would persist in their way of covetousness seriously challenge themselves through personal studies of the eternal sacrifice that Jesus made for us (See 1 Co 5:9-11). Those who with smooth and fair speech prey upon the disciples for gain, must also be challenged (2 Th 3:6). God is serious about the sin of covetousness because such is a character that is totally contrary to the godly nature of Christianity.

For this you know, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive you with empty works, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ep 5:5,6).

The covetous person needs to remember the words of Jesus that were spoken in reference to the rich man who was concerned only about laying up riches on earth for himself: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Lk 12:21). Remember, covetousness comes to light when the collection plate is passed.   One member boasted, “If I had US$1,000 I would give half to the church.” His fellow brother sitting beside him said, “What if you had two pigs?”   The man responded, “That’s not fair.   You know I have two pigs.”

 E.  Repentance from covetousness:

We must remember what the Holy Spirit said of the religious Pharisees. “They were lovers of money” (Lk 16:14). And when religious people who are lovers of money are denied their money by the preaching of the gospel, trouble is unleashed on the preachers of the gospel.

 1.  Simon the sorcerer loved, but lost his money. When Philip went to Samaria, he encountered one who was not unlike some preachers today. Simon was a preacher who was well known throughout the city of Samaria.   For a long time he had “practiced magic and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great (At 8:9). As we said, he was not unlike some preachers today who like to stand before the people with great pomp. And in order to guarantee his right to stand before the people, he worked his “miracles,” which were only magical tricks. And we assume that he was known for the two things that Solomon said would identify the leech: (1) Give! (2) Give! (Pv 30:15).

Simon certainly gained a great deal of money from his “miracle services.” He had the respect of the people he fooled. Luke recorded, “They all, from the least to the greatest, gave heed to him, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God’” (At 8:10). The people gave heed to the “miracle working” preacher “because he had for a long time astonished them with his magical arts” (At 8:11). But then there came to town a preacher of truth. Philip showed up with the message of the gospel. “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (At 8:12). The religious profiteering of the “miracle” working preacher was shut down.

But when religious profiteers are shut down, they do not go down peacefully. Simon lost his source of income. Nevertheless, the text says that “Simon himself also believed … and was baptized” (At 8:13). But when he saw the miracles that were done by the apostles, he possibly saw another “angle” by which he could get back into the religious money-making business.   So “when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money” (At 8:18). Simon saw where he presumed he could cash in on the religious business of miracle working (At 8:19). But notice what Peter said to the covetous preacher Simon, Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money (At 8:20). The reason Simon sought to financially invest in the “laying-on-of-hands” business was because of what Peter pronounced was in his heart. Your heart is not right in the sight of God (At 8:21). Peter identified the problem when he said to Simon, “You are full of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (At 8:23). Bitterness originates out of a heart of one who craves something so much, that when he loses it, he is bitter. Simon lost his position as a “miracle worker” among the people, and thus, he lost his source of great financial wealth. Though he was baptized, he was still in the “bondage of iniquity.” When covetous preachers lose their source of income when their iniquity is discovered, their heart of iniquity will move them to lash out with all sorts of nonsense.

 2.  Demetrius loved and lost his religious money-making business.   In the city of Ephesus, another religious profiteer was endangered by the preaching of the gospel. The occasion was the conversion of people away from idolatry to Christianity. The mass conversion was so great that those who were into the idol-making business became somewhat disturbed. “Then about that time there arose a great disturbance concerning the Way” (At 19:23). The problem was that “a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines for Artemis, was bringing no little profit to the craftsmen” (At 19:24). So Demetrius called the craftsmen together and said, “Sirs, you know that by this craft we have our wealth” (At 19:25).   The problem was that a preacher of the gospel came to town and said “that gods made with hands are not gods” (At 19:26). And so the market for idol gods took a hit, and the wealth of the idol makers had a bad day on the stock market.   Consequently, Demetrius sought to stir up opposition against Paul by appealing to their belief in the idol god Artemis [Diana], that she was in trouble of being “dethroned from her magnificence” if this is continued (At 19:27). So what happens when the wealth of religiously covetous people is endangered? There is mass confusion and opposition against those who preach the truth (See At 19:28-41). One must never underestimate the culture of religious covetousness.

The repentant journey out of covetousness is painful. Sometimes it is so painful that one becomes, as Simon, bitter. To some, as Demetrius, wealth is far more important than truth, and thus, people as Demetrius are willing to stir up a riot against those who endanger their religious profiteering. But for those who seek to serve God, these are those who are willing to endure the pain in order to gain the crown. Those who are wealthy, and who bring their standard of living down for the needs of others, will certainly be blessed with great riches in eternal glory. We must keep in mind that money cannot give itself away. It takes a sincere and godly heart to do that.

 

 

Lecture 12: Godly Giver

BALAAMITE PREACHERS

 It was stated of the sons of Eli that they did not know the Lord (1 Sm 2:12). The fact that they did not know the Lord was revealed in what they did to the people of the Lord. The sons of Eli were taking advantage of the people concerning that which was required by the Lord in reference to sacrifices. The people were to come to the Lord with their sacrifices, but the sons of Eli wanted more than what the law required for the support of the priests.   They were greedy, and thus, they took advantage of what the people were obligated to do (See 1 Sm 2:12-17).   The Holy Spirit thus recorded of them, “Therefore, the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (1 Sm 2:17). That which the people should willing do, that is, give their sacrifices, they despised because the two priests, the sons of Eli, were taking advantage of their offerings. When preachers take advantage of that which the people of God are obligated to do to serve the Lord, then the preachers are doing an evil thing. They “do not know the Lord.”

Those whose purpose it is to preach for money are usually, according to Solomon, identified by two things. “The leech has two daughters, crying, ‘Give!   Give!’” (Pv 30:15).   We can know those who are constantly after the contribution with their hands out. They cry from pulpits across the land, “Give! Give!” They continually, as the sons of Eli, stand before the people and cry out for the offerings that the people are obligated to give. The people, therefore, “abor the offering to the Lord.”

The supporters are not always the problem when it comes to the function of money in order to propagate the gospel. We live in a world of Balaamite preachers who take advantage of the innocence of the sheep of God. They abuse the obligation of the church to give their offerings.   These profiteers often drive in fine new vehicles before the poor, promising that “God will bless you, too if you will give to the Lord [actually, ‘give to me’].” Their mansions on earth reveal that their minds are on the things of this world.

When Paul was in Corinth, he did not take support from the Corinthians. He was planning to visit them again after he wrote the second letter. But even on this visit he said he would not take their money (2 Co 11:9). It seems that the Corinthians in general had a tendency to accuse people of teaching for money because there were so many profiteers in the Corinthians society. If this were not a problem in the Corinthian society, then Paul would have willingly accepted their support on his visit after writing the second letter. But Paul did not want to be accused of being a Balaamite preacher, as so many are today in the world of Christendom. We would advise that preachers gain some wisdom from Paul on this matter. Since it is often the case that immature brethren are too quick to accuse preachers of preaching for money, then preachers should be cautioned in reference to the money of the offerings of the brethren.   Preachers must never forget that the One they preach had only one robe and no owned place to lay His head at night (See Mt 8:20).

Unfortunately, there are too many preachers in the religious world who are like Balaam. Balaam was minding his own business, doing the work of God. He was known for his work throughout Pethor. But Balak, king of Moab, had another agenda for Balaam.   He had money and a list of sermons he wanted preached to a people he feared. He was afraid of the blessed people of God, the Israelites, who were coming his way (Nm 22:3,12). He thus sought for a preacher to hire to carry out his agenda against Israel.

Balak had the support, the sermons to be preached, and the audience to whom he wanted them delivered (Nm 22:5,6). So with cash in hand, he went looking for a preacher he could tempt with purse and position in order to carry out his mission.   He knew that there were preachers out there who would sacrifice their freedom and principles for the sake of a salary. Paul knew that there were a host of these hirelings in Corinth who were masquerading themselves as messengers of light (1 Co 11:12-15).

Balak knew how to approach religious hirelings.   He went looking for a dynamic and successful religious leader. He said of Balaam, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Nm 22:6). His method of tempting Balaam to preach his agenda was to send an important delegation of elders to the preacher. With the delegation, he sent the greatest temptation to acquire a hireling preacher.   He sent “the diviner’s fee,” a handsome salary (Nm 22:6). So with an impressive delegation from a foreign land, and the temptation of great support, Balaam was tempted to accept the agenda of someone other than God, and to preach what the supporters demanded.

At first Balaam held out against the temptation of salary and fame by refusing to compromise his principles. He would not allow his faith and freedom to be bought with foreign support from those of a foreign country who had their own agenda.   He even consulted God concerning the request of the delegation of elders. And he initially followed God’s command not to go with the delegation of elders, or to accept their support (Nm 22:8-12). He was following God’s ultimatum. It was not to be changed under any circumstances.

But Balak was relentlessly persistent. He thus sent a greater number of influential people who were more noble and numerous than the first delegation.   These were political people who would appeal to the political ambitions of Balaam (Nm 22:15-17). With the temptation of the high salary he initially received from the first delegation, this time Balaam was tempted by the foreigners with a great position and any request he might have from the nation of the foreigners (Nm 22:17).

Balaam again held out. He refused to go with the political delegation that was sent from the foreigners (Nm 22:18).

But Balaam weakened. He again asked the political delegation to spend the night.   God knew Balaam’s heart, and thus, he accommodated his carnal desires for gain. He thus allowed Balaam to be ensnared in his own greed for gain and fame (Nm 22:19,20). “So Balaam rose in the morning … and went with the princes of Moab.” The mold was then cast for the hireling preacher to sell his gift to another for the sake of support. Balaam wrote his own legacy that the Holy Spirit recorded in Jude 11, when Jude wrote of some who run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit (Jd 11). Balaam established a “way” of behavior that would always be identified with his name and would describe those who compromise their principles for the sake of a salary as Balaamite preachers. Peter defined this behavior: “… the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pt 2:15). The angel to the church of Pergamos condemned those who “hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rv 2:14).

How could a preacher who was minding his own business establish forever a legacy of greed and selfish ambition?   Simple. We must never underestimate the temptation that comes with a delegation of elders from a foreign country who come with a great “diviner’s fee” in order to hire those who would preach their agenda of sermons.   It takes men of great spiritual integrity and dignity not to sell themselves to such great temptations. When preachers live in great poverty, it is not difficult to understand why some would be tempted to sell their gift for a salary. We must always remember the life of Paul in Corinth: “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone …” (2 Co 11:9). Paul did not sell out his gift even when he was in poverty. He did not because he had crucified to himself the carnal things of this world (Gl 2:20). When preachers sell out their gift by preaching whatever the supporters demand, then they have not crucified themselves with Christ. They are Balaamite preachers who will, with smooth and fair speech, tickle the ears of those who sign their pay checks. When we read the following concerning the ministry of Timothy, we conclude that Timothy preached what was necessary, for he did not sell out his gift to supporters:

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires. And they will turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned to fables (2 Tm 4:2-4).

Lecture 11: Godly Giver

STOPPING CHURCH THIEVES

 When dealing with the financial relationship of the taught with the teacher, it is often not a comfortable subject to discuss because the taught are often so negligent in this Christian responsibility.   Nevertheless, because we as disciples seek to live after the mandates of God, we must seriously study these matters.   Therefore, we must examine ourselves in order to determine if we are wayward walking in reference to our responsibilities of taking ownership of our spiritual growth.

The subject of this chapter is a continued discussion from previous studies on this matter of which Paul wrote in the 1 Corinthian letter. Paul repeated some of his principles in the second letter that were revealed a year before when he addressed what seemed to be a problem among the Achaian disciples.   It is important for us, therefore, to repeat with Paul some of the important principles where the same disciples seemed to lack in reference to stewardship responsibilities. These principles are important to study simply because the duty enjoined upon disciples that is discussed by Paul in the context of the 2 Corinthian letter is often ignored by many who are, as the Corinthians, still spiritually immature.

A few examples might illustrate the problem that often prevails. For example, we received an email from a preacher who was complaining. He said he had been preaching for over thirty years.   He had visited a Bible Resource Center and spent some time with the director of the Center. Upon his departure, he asked for a free study Bible, to which the director responded, “There is nothing free. You must pay for them.” The preacher went away frustrated, as we suppose the rich young ruler did when Jesus said that he should sell everything he had and come and follow Him. “But he was sad at this saying and went away grieving …” (Mk 10:22), as did the preacher. But the director of the Center was right. He would not be a “church thief” for the sake of one who should take ownership of this own spiritual responsibilities in paying for a Bible he would use in his ministry.

A Bible printing group once sent over US$1,000 worth of books to a group of church leaders in a particular city.   The books were faithfully delivered on the basis that the recipients promised to pay later. But the payment never came. The recipients thus made the senders church thieves in that they expected something free for their own use. Such cases reminded one of Psalm 37:21. “The wicked borrows and does not repay.”

We had a seminar where the Teacher’s Bible was made available, but no contributions were made, either to the teachers of the seminar or the materials. One student in the seminar drove away in his US$60,000 Hummer with a “free” Teacher’s Bible and other materials. We were made church thieves because other poorer brethren paid for the printing of the materials for the seminar, as well as all the teachers who paid their own expenses to travel to and teach the seminar.

But then there are those beautiful stories of faithful brethren who take ownership of their spiritual growth. We labored in teaching for ten hours a day for three days in Lilongwe, Malawi. After the seminar, the delegation of over one hundred preachers who attended the seminar selected a humble fellow laborer of their group to bring, in his raged clothes and worn shoes, a contribution to buy petrol to get us on to the next seminar.   These brethren were mature functional partners in the body of Christ. We went away without being made church thieves, but praising these brethren for their spiritual greatness in Christ. Sometimes, the most poor are the ones who are the most willing to assume their responsibility to fellowship in the ministry of the word to the world.   We are reminded of the poor brethren in Macedonia who, in their deep poverty, went beyond their ability to sacrifice for others (See 2 Co 8:1-4).

We are now ready to delve into the financial dysfunction of the Corinthians that Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 11:7-10.   In this context, Paul sought nothing less than to shame the Corinthians for making him a church thief. He began his shaming of them with an embarrassing question for them to answer:

Have I committed an offense in humbling myself [by making tents] so that you might be exalted [by your opportunity to receive the gospel I preached], because I have preached to you the gospel of God without charge? (2 Co 11:7).

Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla as tentmakers when he preached the gospel in Corinth. After many Corinthians had obeyed the gospel, he taught them for a year and a half before going on to Ephesus (See At 18:1-3,11). He humbled himself through physical work in order that the Corinthians hear and obey the gospel. And because he worked, they could not accuse him of preaching for money.   Paul was no Balaamite. However, after they obeyed the gospel, and thus were brethren in Christ, their financial relationship with him had to change, but it did not.

So as he stated in 2 Corinthians 11:7, did Paul commit an offense? If the Corinthians answered the question correctly, then he did? His offense was that he did not receive wages from them after they became Christians. Within only a few days after their conversion, the Philippians were sending support once and again to Paul, Timothy and Silas when they preached in Thessalonica (Ph 4:16). After only a few weeks in the faith, the Thessalonian disciples were doing the same.   But the Corinthians were still not supporting Paul during the year and a half that he taught the disciples throughout Achaia. Neither did they support him when he, Aquila and Priscilla, went on to Ephesus. The Corinthians made the trio church thieves by their need to receive contributions from the saints in Macedonia. In allowing this financial struggle to happen in the life of Paul, the Corinthians manifested their dysfunctional behavior in reference to the support of their father in the faith.

The Corinthians made Paul a church thief while he ministered to them the word of God. Paul supported himself and took wages from others in order to minister the word of God to the Corinthians without their support. I robbed other churches,He shamed the Corinthians,taking wages from them, in order to serve you (2 Co 11:8). They made Paul a church thief by not partnering with him in his ministry of teaching them.

Paul’s physical situation in Corinth was not good.   He was truly in need of food.   He, Aquila and Priscilla were simply not making enough money from their tentmaking business. His situation eventually reached the ears of the sharing and loving Christians in all Macedonia. And these Christians took action. They poured out their hearts to partner with Paul in all his physical needs.   Paul shamed the Corinthian Christians by saying, “And when I was present with you and in need, I was not a burden to anyone, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied (2 Co 11:9; see Ep 4:16).

Because of the slanderous actions of some in Corinth who accused Paul of enriching himself, though they enriched themselves by the support of the Corinthian church, Paul rebuked them further: “And in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Co 11:9). After shaming them for their lack of consideration for a servant of God, Paul said that now he would not take their support if they offered it. He would not because of the messengers of Satan who were masquerading themselves among them to supposedly be messengers of righteousness (2 Co 11:12-15).

In all his preaching in the province of Achaia, of which one city was Corinth, Paul could boast that he preached the gospel without receiving money from the unbelievers to whom he preached the gospel. But he went beyond this. He did not receive wages from the unbelievers who became believers through their obedience to the gospel. None of the masqueraders could say this. Such is not unlike some preachers today who masquerade as ministers of righteousness, when really they are Balaamites selling their gift for money.   If a preacher would prove his sincerity before the people, it might be a time to do what one Malawian businessman said to a group of local preachers who were complaining about not being supported.   He said to them, “Get a job!”

So Paul had a job. But this was not the problem with those in Corinth. The problem was that Corinthians had not yet fully understood that when one becomes a Christian, he has assumed the responsibility of supporting the preaching of the gospel to unbelievers, and also supporting the teachers who teach the believers. This is God’s manner to preach the gospel and edify the saints.

What the context of 2 Corinthians 11 teaches is that when one becomes a disciple, he is under the obligation of Galatians 6:6. He must take ownership of his own spiritual growth by supporting those who teach spiritual things. Some brethren still have not understood their responsibility that is explained in 1 Corinthians 9:11. “If we [Bible teachers] sowed to you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If a group of disciples allow a Bible teacher to stand before them week after week without supporting the teacher, then they need to pray over Galatians 6:6 and 1 Corinthians 9:11. They are violating a principle by which God meant for the teachers of His word to be supported.

Lecture 7: World As It Is

A ROAD MAP OF GOD’S WORK

 The Old Testament history books are a literary road map of the work of God in the affairs of this world. God has recorded this history for the sake of His people.   When Paul reminded both the disciples in Rome and Achaia of this recorded history, he surely wanted them to remind them of the fact that God was still working in the lives of His people at the time he wrote both Romans and the two Corinthian letters (See Rm 15:4: 1 Co 10:11). We too would give heed to his exhortation in order to do the same. Old Testament history was not simply recorded to give us a historical narrative of Israel, but to give us sign posts of the work of God in the affairs of this world. He thus expects us to conclude that since He worked in such a manner in times of old, then He is doing the same in these times.

From the day the Israelites were baptized unto Moses in the Red Sea (1 Co 10:2), to the time when about 3,000 were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins 1445 years after the Red Sea baptism (At 2:41), God worked among His people in order to bring about the cross of redemption and the phenomenon of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 (At 2:1-4).

Israel was purified through the wilderness wanderings.   After they were purified of their rebellious spirit and bondage mentality, they were placed in the land of promise. All went well until the people began to fall under the influence of the Canaanites they failed to eradicate from the land. They were then consigned to suffering their deportation into all the world. In being scattered throughout the land of their captors, they were again purified. They were spiritually prepared to again participate in the eternal plan of God to preach the gospel to the world.

A.  The scattering:

Because of their rebellion against God, Israel was taken into the wilderness of Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. But we must not forget that God was working in their struggles of captivity in order to turn their rebellion into repentance and to accomplish His plan to bring the Savior into the world. He was working in order to lay the foundation to take the message of the Savior into all the world.

The foundation for world evangelism was first laid when the northern ten tribes of Israel were carried away into Assyrian captivity in 722/21 B.C. Nineveh was the old capital of the Assyrian Empire. As biblical historians, we often make the mistake of viewing the expanse of the empire of Assyria to be from Nineveh to the west, since this is the only history we have of the Empire in the Bible. But we must view the empire to have also expanded far to the east.   We do not know how far east the Assyrians extended their empire, but we can make some guesses. It surely extended as far east as it did west, and thus the territory of the Empire could have extended to the eastern part of modern-day Iran, and possibly into Afganistan and Pakistan.

In the context of the vastness of the Assyrian Empire, we wonder concerning the extent to which the Jewish captives were carried away when the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722/21 B.C.   We wonder because we must understand that God was setting the stage for some awesome that would come centuries later in the history of Israel. So when we read historical statements as the following, we must see God at work for the salvation of man:

For the children of Israel [the northern kingdom] walked in all the sins of Jeroboam that he did. They did not depart from them until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day (2 Kg 17:22,23).

This deportation of Israelites also affected other peoples over which Assyria reigned, for other peoples were brought into the land of Canaan.

And the kingdom of Assyria brought people from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Ava and from Hamath and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel (2 Kg 17:24).

Now keep in mind that in all this movement of peoples, God was establishing a foundation upon which world evangelism would later take place over seven hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.

In order to continue the laying of the foundation for world evangelism, a little over 130 years after the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel, the same process of deportation started with the southern kingdom of Israel, Judah. By the time of this deportation, the Babylonian Empire had conquered the Assyrian Empire. In reference to Judah, it was the same story of taking Jewish captives and spreading them throughout an empire. These captives were being planted in order to bring forth fruit centuries later.

“Now the rest of the people [of Jerusalem] that were left in the city, and the fugitives who fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away (2 Kg 25:11).

Jeremiah prophesied during the last days of the southern kingdom. In his prophecies, God promised through Jeremiah that He would scatter His people throughout the nations of the world. At least one thing is certain when we read these prophecies of Jeremiah.   In reference to the scattering of the southern kingdom as a result of their sin, God was using Israel’s rebellion as the foundation upon which He would universally crush Satan. Jeremiah recorded that the Lord said, “And I will cause them to be moved into all kingdoms of the earth …” (Jr 15:4; see Jr 9:7). This global movement of Israelites was presupposing that God would centuries later commission the disciples to “go into all the world” where He had scattered His people (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15). They would go into all these lands to which Jews were scattered in order to preach the gospel of deliverance from the bondage of sin.

Babylon, the capital of the Babylonian Empire, was south and further east of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. We would presume, therefore, that the captives of the Babylonian captivity were carried further east than the captives of the Assyrian deportation. These captives may have been deported as far east as the region called “India” in those days.

The Babylonian Empire was eventually conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire, whose borders extended from India to Ethiopia.   This was a massive empire, an empire throughout which Jews had been deported by the previous empires of Assyria and Babylonia, which kingdoms had been conquered by the Medes and Persians.   During the reign of Ahasuerus, one of the kings of the Medo-Persian Empire, Esther 1:1 states that King Ahasuerus “reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.” When a letter of deliverance was sent throughout the kingdom that the Jews be allowed to deliver themselves from the wicked plan of Haman, this letter went to scattered Jews who were living from India to Ethiopia (Et 8:9). We would conclude, therefore, that by the time of Esther, there were Jews living as far east as India and as far south in Africa as Ethiopia.

B.  The prophecy of the plan:

Now that we have taken a brief tour of Jewish deportation throughout the world, we must consider what this meant in reference to world evangelism and God’s eternal work to take the gospel into all the world.   A very significant prophecy of Isaiah lays the foundation upon which the world would be evangelized through the scattering of the Jews throughout the ancient world. This prophecy was made at the time the northern ten tribes of Israel were initially taken into Assyrian captivity in 722/21 B.C. It was made by Isaiah who prophesied from about 740 to 700 B.C.

With the carrying away of the first Jews into world captivity, God wanted these Jews to know that something would happen in their future that would turn their captivity into a blessing for all the world.   He wanted them to know that He was still working in Israel regardless of their captivity and deportation throughout the world. Isaiah wrote the following historical prophecy:

And it will come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established on top of the mountains, and will be exalted above the hills. And all nations will flow to it. And many people will go and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. And He will teach us His ways and we will walk in His paths,”   For out of Zion will go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Is 2:3,4).

The Passover/Pentecost feast was a time when the Israelites came before the Lord to celebrate their independence from Egyptian captivity. It was an annual event where as many Israelites as possible would be assembled before the Lord. When we combine this annual event with the prophecy of Isaiah 2:2,3, something wonderful was to happen in the future. From the time Isaiah made the prophecy, the thought of his message was in the minds of the Jews for centuries. However, Isaiah had stated something that they could not possibly have understand. It could not be understood until after it was fulfilled. And it would not be fulfilled until over 700 years after Isaiah made the prophecy.

During this 700 years, God was laying the groundwork for world evangelism through the captivities of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. He was scattering His people throughout the world and permanently planting many of the Israelites in the economic culture of the nations to which they were taken as captives. Throughout the centuries, the Jews embedded themselves in the culture and economic structures in whatever nation they lived from Ethiopia to India, and beyond. They were building synagogues as religious/cultural centers in order to maintain their identity in the lands where they lived and prospered for over seven centuries. God did not want them to lose their identity as Israelites, for when the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled, God wanted the world to know that He had kept His promises to His people. God knew what He was doing.

The Israelites surely had no idea that God was working through them as displaced captives. We can come to this conclusion because we have the opportunity of reading the recorded history in the Old Testament, and the final outcome in the New Testament. But when Israel was struggling through the captivities and living the history, they were certainly puzzled as to how God would turn their calamity into their good, but particularly into the good of the world. It is certain that they had no idea that all the scattering of the captives was connected with the mystery of God that even the prophets could not understand when they recorded their inspired prophecies concerning the matter.   The prophets knew something was up, but they had no idea of the mystery that God had in His mind for all the world.   The predicament of the Old Testament prophets is clearly stated by Peter in 1 Peter 1:10-12:

Of this salvation the [Old Testament] prophets have inquired and search diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them did signify, when He testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow. To them it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to you they ministered the things that are now reported to you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven, which things angels desire to look into.

 C.  The fullness of the times:

But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son …” (Gl 4:4). On the Passover/Pentecost feast of A.D. 30, God had a surprise for those travelling Jews who came to Jerusalem from Italy, north Africa and the Far East.   Acts 2 is a record of the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2,3.

During His ministry, Jesus attended at least three Passover/Pentecost feasts. During the last feast, He was crucified, and the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2,3 began.   Of the 3,000 thousand who were obedient to the message of the apostles on the A.D. 30 Passover/Pentecost, some were from the far corners of the Roman Empire, which Empire now encompassed all the preceding world empires of Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia and Greece (See At 2:8-11).

The travelling Jews who experienced the message of the apostles of the A.D. 30 Passover/Pentecost, returned to their homes in far off lands.   They went home with a tremendous message on their hearts of what they had heard and seen, and experienced in obedience to the gospel (At 2:38,41). But we must not forget that there was another Passover/Pentecost a year later in A.D. 31. When this Passover/Pentecost came, those who were at the A.D. 30 feast a year before said to their fellow Jews who were not in Jerusalem the year before, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord …” (Is 2:2,3).

And they went, year after year to the annual Passover/Pentecost feasts. And it was in Jerusalem where the apostles stayed and preached the gospel to the world through those who came. They heard the message of the gospel. The visiting Jews saw the miracles of the apostles. They heard and obeyed the gospel. They then returned home also with a message on their hearts. The change of the paradigm of faith was so great that the early Christians turned the world upside down as the message of the gospel went from synagogue to synagogue, and nation to nation as returning Jews from the Passover/Pentecost feasts in Jerusalem returned to their homeland nations throughout the world (See At 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:4,19; 19:8). The system of evangelism was so effective that Paul could write in A.D. 61,62 that the gospel “was preached to every creature that is under heaven” (Cl 1:23). God’s system of world evangelism through the deportation of His people throughout the world centuries earlier had worked.

 D.  Initial fulfillment of the plan:

So what would we conclude from this planned system that God worked out over seven centuries? There is certainly at least one important conclusion we must make. God is always working things together for good to bring about His eternal purposes. We are sure that the Jews who suffered during the seven centuries of social turmoil did not understand God’s redemption plan, for it was a mystery to everyone. The system by which God would evangelism the world was a mystery. The redemption through His Son was also a mystery.   Though the Jews experienced the captivities, they did not understand what God was doing in allowing them to be scattered among the nations of the world in order to get His redemption plan preached. We must not forget this point.

In order to reestablish the identity of Israel, a remnant of Israel eventually returned to Palestine after the captivities. This return of the remnant was in fulfillment of the promises that were made to the fathers. But the majority of the Jews had to remain scattered throughout the world. God was planning to use their settlement in the lands of their former captors as a means to take the gospel into all the world.   God works, and His work in these global matters is often never detected by those who must live through them by faith.

We must conclude that He is working even today through national calamity in order to bring about good for His people and the finalization of His eternal plan. He is simply not finished with His eternal plan for our existence. Our speculations concerning His work can only be based on the assumption that as He worked in the past He will work in the present and future. Since those things that were written before were written for our learning (Rm 15:4), then we conclude that we must learn from those recorded workings in the past in order to determine how He is working in history today. However, we would be cautious about adding details to His mysterious workings that He is now working out in the affairs of the world.   We serve a mysterious God, one whose ways are past figuring out. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out (Rm 11:33). We would never assume that we understand His “unsearchable judgments” as some modern-day prognosticators would, and subsequently make millions of profit at the expense of the ignorant and curious.

We believe in a God who knows the future. Since He knows the future, then even before He delivered Israel from Egyptian captivity, He knew that the Jews would eventually rebel and go into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. His eternal purpose was always to use Israel as the medium through which He would preach the gospel of Jesus to the world.

As Israel, we are free to make our own moral decisions. But in our freedom to make bad decisions, God can use our failures for His purpose. He did this with the nation of Israel. He can do the same today with us. Though we would be tempted to despair because of the wickedness of the world in which we live, we must continually remind ourselves that God is working everything together for the good of His people. As we stated before, God did not stop working in the affairs of the world at the cross. There is yet the crown that will complete His eternal plan for the creation of this world.