A – Jonah

Proud. Arrogant.   Ethnocentric. Stubborn. Self-centered egotist. A pouting nationalist. Jealous.   Who would ever think that these were the characteristics of the only foreign missionary of Israel? If Jonah were typical of the Israelites at the time of his mission in the early reign of Jeroboam II, then we would understand why the Israelites as a nation of priests failed in their national responsibility to minister the God of all humanity to the world.

 A.  Historical/social background:

At this time in history, around 780 B.C., Israel, the northern kingdom of ten tribes, had digressed to the attitude of what was characteristic of the attitude of the reluctant missionary Jonah.   It was a time when nationalistic pride was on the rise, for during the reign of Jeroboam II, the northern kingdom had extended its borders to the extent they claimed during the reigns of David and Solomon. Once again, they had restored national pride and prosperity. But there was danger looming in the future, danger that would come upon them because of their departure from the law of God and any identity that they were the people of God. Their national pride would bring them down, for they trusted in themselves and not in God.

The book of Jonah is primarily about Jonah himself. God was working in preparation for the future, and thus, Jonah’s mission and story was recorded by Jonah in order to remind Israel throughout the centuries to come, that God was still on their side regardless of their rebellion. As all Jews during these grand years, Jonah was certainly patriotic to his homeland, so much so, that he rebelled against his call to go to Nineveh to a people he knew that one day they would fight against his own people.   God had asked him to pray for and preach to his enemy. Jonah found it very difficult to believe that God would forgive a nation that would within about sixty years wipe Israel from the face of the Palestinian map.   His mission was just too emotionally difficult for him to accept. Jonah believed that God was asking too much for him to preach to a nation against which he felt so much resentment because they were Israel’s enemy.

Jonah knew what would happen if he preached to those against whom he was so prejudiced. He later wrote, “For I knew that You [God] are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and One who relents from doing harm” (Jh 4:2).

And herein may be the reason for the mission of Jonah. It was a time in history when God was closing the book on the northern kingdom of Israel. This would eventually happen in 722/21 B.C. with the conquest of Samaria. Amos and Hosea were prophets sent to the northern kingdom who would immediately follow Jonah. The rebellious religious leaders in the north would run Amos back to his farm in Judah. They would slander and reject Hosea. It may have been a time in history, therefore, that God wanted Israel to know that the nation that He would use by proxy to terminate the northern kingdom of Israel, was more God-fearing at the time than Israel.   As the story turned out, if the message that Jonah preached in Nineveh were preached in Samaria, they would have run Jonah out of town.

At the time of Jonah’s commission to Nineveh, Nineveh was a city “wherein are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also many animals” (Jh 4:11). Since the great repentance took place in the city from the simple prophetic message that Jonah preached, then the repentance of the people of Nineveh would be a testimony against the rebellion of Israel. Nineveh repented, but Samaria did not. Jesus preached this message to His unrepentant generation of Jewish religionists:

The men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because they repented unto the preaching of Jonah. And behold, someone greater than Jonah is here (Mt 12:41).

So when Jonah eventually made his reluctant way to Nineveh, he preached a message of eight words: Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown(Jh 3:4). And the result was that …

… the people of Nineveh believed God.   And they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them (Jh 3:5).

The Ninevites knew that there was an impending danger of falling to their enemies. They repented unto the message of Jonah, whereas Jonah’s own countrymen continued to rebel against the same message of obedient repentance. The people of God who had all the privileges and blessings from the time they were delivered from Egyptian captivity, should have been ashamed of their wayward ways. But they were not, neither in Jonah’s time, nor during the ministry of Jesus.   Subsequently, Samaria, the capital of Israel, was destroyed in 722/21 B.C. And in Jesus’ day, Jerusalem, the capital of national Israel, was destroyed in A.D. 70. The religious and political scenarios were the same, both in the days leading up to the destruction of Samaria and the destruction of Jerusalem. When nations are patriotic in their own pride as a nation, but forget the God who led them to where they are, then doom lies in the future. No nation on earth has continued without end on earth.

 

[See you tomorrow.]

 

 

4 – Major and Minor Prophets

Major and Minor prophets:

 Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are considered the major prophets. They are classified as major only because of the length of their books, and sometimes by the length of their ministry. The minor prophets were often contemporary with the major prophets. When the major and minor prophets ministered at the same time in history, both delivered their message from different locations and to either the northern or southern kingdoms, though Jonah directed his message to Nineveh and Obadiah to Edom. The message of the minor prophets often complemented the ministry and message of the major prophets. The minor prophets had the task of delivering a short message to their God-ordained audience in order to warn the people of impending doom because of their state of apostasy. The major prophets ministered over a lengthy period of time in order to preserve the people from further digression into moral and social apostasy.

The minor prophets, whose writings we have in the Bible, ministered between about 786 to 400 B.C. Their ministry began before the dividing of the twelve tribes of Israel into the northern (Israel) and south (Judah) kingdoms. They preached through the time of division after the death of Solomon, and then into the time when the Jews were taken into captivity. Their ministry extended through the Assyrian, Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires. Their work among the Israelites concluded until some time after the final return of captives to the land of Palestine in 444 B.C.

Message of the prophets:

There is a general pattern to the message of each book of the minor prophets. Within each book there is (1) a call for repentance in view of impending judgment, (2) a message of judgment and doom if there was no repentance, (3) a promise that there would be a remnant who would return to the promised land after the captivity, and (4) hope for a messianic future when God would consummate Israel with the coming of the Messiah.

Statements concerning these four points are scattered throughout the writings of the prophets. But one common theme of the message of the prophets permeates all the Old Testament. That message is the Bright and Morning Star that would eventually rise in the future of Israel. This would be the Righteous Branch who would signal the consummation of Israel through the revelation of the eternal plan of God to save man. Though this theme was difficult to discover by the immediate recipients of the prophets’ message and ministry, the very reason for God’s call of the prophets was to preserve an identity of Israel until the promises of the Blessing to the fathers was fulfilled in Christ (See Gn 12:1-4).

All the ministry of the prophets was to come to the climax of what Jesus stated to the apostles after His resurrection and immediately before His ascension to the right hand of God:

These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, concerning Me (Lk 24:44).

Preaching from the prophets:

The apostasy of the people of God from His word gave rise to the necessity of the prophets. The religious world today is not unlike the religious environment in which the prophets ministered.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge [of the word of God], I will also reject you so that you will be no priest to Me. Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children (Hs 4:6).

Because history often repeats itself in reference to our relationship with God through the knowledge of His word, what the prophets addressed during their day is often strikingly similar to situations throughout history. It is certainly true today. We believe, therefore, that the message of the prophets to God’s people in the Old Testament should never be considered as simply good Old Testament literature.   The prophets’ message to those who are in rebellion against God will never be irrelevant in a world where there are those who refuse to know the word of God. When people stop studying their Bibles, then we know we are in the midst of a worldwide apostasy.

As disciples of Jesus who are venturing through the message of the prophets, our first response is to immediately examine social and religious structures today that are parallel to those that led to the fall of Israel. In the immediate historical setting of the prophets in their time, however, God would bring judgment on Israel through captivity. But now, God is waiting for the final doom that will arrive with the coming of His Son. The application of the principle message of the prophets, therefore, is relevant today as preachers stand up before the people with a call to repentance. And thus, the dead preachers of the Old Testament still speak today because their message has not lost its relevance (Hb 11:4).   Preachers today have the responsibility to remind themselves of the ministry of the preachers of the Old Testament because “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, so that we through patience and encouragement of the Scriptures [of the prophets], might have hope” (Rm 15:4). What happened to Israel as a result of their lack of repentance should be a warning to all those today who have forgotten the word of God.

Now these things happened to them [Israel] as an example, and they were written [by the prophets] for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Co 10:11).

If there is no repentance among those today who have followed after the crafty teaching of false prophets, then they too will go into the destruction of an eternal separation from God (2 Th 1:6-9).   Israel went into a captivity from which only a remnant returned. Unfortunately, this is where the parallel message of the prophets ends for us today.   There will be no remnant taken from captivity and returned to the land. What is coming for those today who have rejected a knowledge of the word of God is the following message of doom from Jesus: “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41).

 

[Lectures start tomorrow with Jonah, May 5.]

 

 

3 – Prophecy and Prediction

During the era of the Old Testament prophets, prophecy was generally unique with the faith of Israel. Buddhism, and other religions that are not focused on the Bible, did not resort to prophecy in order to gain supporters or validate the faith of the supporters. The prophets of these religions were believed because the religion of the prophets was first believed. But with Israel, the prophets existed because the people had forsaken the law of God.   In the religious world today, Christendom abounds with “prophets” who purport to pronounce teachings and end-of-time events outside the clear teachings of the word of God, but according to the religion of self-proclaimed prophets. The people believe such prophets because they believe the religion of the prophets.

We live in an era of predictionists, who, through their practice of deceiving their adherents into believing their assumptions, are eager to gain an audience for the benefit of financial gain. The definition of two words will help clear up most of the confusion, and thus, aid faithful truth-seekers to make a distinction between the true prophet of God, and the opportunistic and self-appointed predictionist. As we venture through a study of the prophets of the Old Testament, we must keep the following definitions in mind as the Holy Spirit sought to make a distinction between the true prophets of God and the false prophets who stood against God’s men.

 A.  Prophecy: When forth-telling something in the future, the true prophet of God announced something that was often totally new and without any hints by immediate surroundings.   In fact, when the Old Testament prophets announced events concerning the future, it was usually events that involved a new paradigm of how God would be working among His people. The new paradigm was so different, that the prophets’ immediate audiences had a difficult time believing what the prophets were saying.

In the historical context of the writing prophets, the prophet usually proclaimed (A) that once the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel were terminated, a remnant of Israel would return to the promised land in order to identity again the people of Israel until (B) the new paradigm of the Messianic age of the Branch was revealed. The immediate audience could have hope in the prophecy of a remnant, but they had little understanding of the gospel age of the Messiah that was coming. And because they had little understanding of the coming of the Messiah, they did not understand the details of Messianic prophecies. The prophecies were understood only when they were fulfilled.   The New Testament, therefore, is our “dictionary” of fulfilled prophecy.

 B.  Prediction: Prediction of future events is based on hints of surrounding events. The predictionist bases his proclamations of future events around the present circumstances in which he lives. For example, in 1994 we could have made the prediction that the African National Congress (ANC) would win all the elections of the country for the next twenty years. But our prediction would have been based on the fact that the country of South Africa was at least 75% ANC, and would remain close to that percentage for the next twenty years. If we had made the prediction based on the advantageous percentage of the ANC, then would we now be proclaimed a “prophet”? Some have self-proclaimed themselves to be prophets in a similar manner.   What is unfortunate is that people know their Bibles so little that they cannot make a distinction between true prophecy and prediction.

Now when a predictionist becomes bold and arrogant, he will often make proclamations of events outside the indicators of his present circumstances. He will take his calculator or computer and go to the Scriptures in order to calculate the end of the world. Multitudes upon multitudes of such predictionists have plagued Christendom for centuries with their presumptuous postulations in reference to the end of times. But the calculated dates of supposedly end-time events have come and gone without being fulfilled. Nevertheless, faithful, if not gullible adherents to their favorite predictionists, buy the books and wait for the next prognosticator to come along and tease their imagination. Such is the religious world in which we now live, which religious world has existed since people have refused to use the Bible as the foundation of their faith.

In our study of the prophets, we must at least learn that the religious environment in which the true prophets of God lived, is similar to that in which we live today. There were numerous false prophets in existence throughout Israel at any one time than there were true prophets of God. In fact, the situation was so dire at one time in the history of Israel that the false prophets outnumbered the true prophets by a ratio of 850 to 1. One true prophet, Elijah, stood alone against the proclamations of 450 Baal prophets and 400 Asherah prophets who were working against him (See 1 Kg 18).   The opposition is no less today as true preachers of the word of God stand against the horde of false predictionists who pass themselves off as prophets of God. We are willing to work with such ratios of opposition simply because we know that the word of God will always prevail over those prophetic practitioners who seek to inflate pomp and purse at the expense of a “itching-ear” people who are willing to be led about by crafty men (Ep 4:14).

[Next segment tomorrow, May 3.]

 

 

2 – Test Of A Prophet

God knew that there would always be those who would rise up among His people and presume to be prophets for the people.   Since the people would have a difficult time separating the false prophets from the true prophets, He gave two tests that would determine if one were a true prophet of God, or simply some self-proclaimed religionist who wanted to be someone special among the people.   Since there are always too many of those who have too much pomp and pride, and thus, want to proclaim themselves to be a prophet of God, the people of God must always resort to these tests by which they can determine if a self-proclaimed prophet is a fraud, or truly one who is sent from God. If people today would simply use these two tests of a prophet, there would be few problems in sorting out the assortment of self-proclaimed prophets who stand up today and assume that they are speaking for God:

 A.  The foretold events of the future must come to pass:   As you read through the following test by which a prophet was to be judged a true prophet, think of all those modern-day, self-proclaimed prophets whose prophecies of future events never came to pass. According to the following test of a prophet, they would be judged false prophets:

But the prophet who will presume to speak a word in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who will speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet will die. And if you say in your heart, “How will we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?”   When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not follow or come to pass, that is the thing that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You will not be afraid of him (Dt 18:20-22).

The above was written by Moses before Israel went in to possess the land of promise. Before any prophets were raised up among them, they were given this test of a prophet. Many years later, after Israel had listened to hundreds of presumptuous false prophets, who eventually led them into captivity, God again reminded the people that the fulfillment of prophecy was the real test of a true prophet:

 The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet will come to pass, then will the prophet be known that the Lord has truly sent him (Jr 28:9).

The historical context of this statement occurred when the false prophet Nananiah said there would be peace in the land.   However, Jeremiah was saying that the Babylonians were about to conquer the city of Jerusalem. The people had listened to the false prophets for so long that it was too late to repent and escape the impending termination of the theocracy of Israel in the land of Palestine. Because they listened to the false prophets, they would never again reside as an independent theocratic nation in the land of promise. They would not because they listened to self-proclaimed prophets who spoke well of their rebellious behavior and beliefs.

We believe the same religious environment exists today among those who are obsessed with prophecies upon which to base their faith. There are too many self-proclaimed prophets today who presumptuously speak of future events. And because the people are so fascinated with these predictions, they will not, as the Israelites, turn away from the exciting stories about end-of-time predictions. When our faith is based more on what could happen in the future than what happen in the past on the cross, then we will go from one prophet to another in search of some validation for our faith.

The test to determine a true prophet is so simple.   Regardless of the simplicity of the test, however, the test is ignored in the religious world today as it was ignored among the apostate Israelites during the latter years of Israel. The true prophets of God were given short-term knowledge of future events in order that they be validated as true prophets of God. But this opportunity was not given to self-proclaimed predictionists who claimed to be prophets.   Nevertheless, the people still listened to the false prophets, rather than the true prophets of God.

When the people did accept false prophets who presumptuously spoke their predictions, God challenged these prophets to be brought forth before the people in order that their claims be tested (See Is 43:9,10).   If what was spoken by a certain predictionist did not come to pass, then that person was a false prophet. And to emphasize the seriousness of presuming to be a prophet of God, false prophets were to be put to death (Dt 18:20-22).

Some will wonder why the people were so eager to listen to the false prophets. There is a simple answer to this problem about which the apostle Paul wrote.

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 (2 Tm 4:3).

“Itching ears” means that the people seek to create a religion after their own desires. And in order to feel good in their religious behavior, they seek those who will condone their beliefs and behavior. Therefore, the people will surround themselves with those who proclaim that they are the prophets of God, and thus, these false prophets will speak those things the people want to hear. What Paul is saying is that presumptuous men will simply take advantage of the opportunity that is presented by people who no longer have a desire to be taught the sound teaching of the Bible.

We know when we are in apostasy, therefore, when there arises among us so many prophets (predictionists) who presume to be speaking for God. The presumptuous false prophet is only the manifestation of the apostate state of the people who no longer study their Bibles. The people find it easier to listen to some self-proclaimed prophet, than to open their Bibles and be noble minded as the Bereans who daily searched the Scriptures (At 17:11).

We must always keep in mind that there are some very crafty people in the religious world who have a great deal of skill in deceiving people. Therefore, in order not to be spiritually immature in the faith, and thus “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men in cleverness to the deceitfulness of error,” we must open our Bibles (Ep 4:14).

Those who have a tendency to be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching concerning prophecy must remember one very important point: If a Bible interpreter develops from his own interpretation some calculated theory that is unique concerning the signs of the times, or end of time, then we can be assured that he is wrong.

Understanding prophecy has always been a group matter, not an individual opportunity. Though the people of the Old Testament did not understand all that was revealed in a particular prophecy, they as a group at least knew that no one individual had an advantage to understand any particular prophecy. Prophecy was given for the benefit of the group to understand, not for any particular individual to interpret.

There was no such thing as inspired interpretation of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Neither does such exist today. If one would presumptuously assume that he has a particular insight into prophecy that others do not have, then we know that such a person is not interpreting prophecy according to the common means by which God intended the common person to read the prophecy and understand. Again, there is no such teaching as “inspired interpretation.”   The Bible was written to common folks, who, upon study can understand the word of God (See 2 Tm 2:15). Some things may be hard to understand, but they are not impossible to understand (See 2 Pt 3:15,16).

The person who has a tendency to be tossed to and fro should remember all the presumptuous seers of the past who based their interpretation of prophecy on some presumed date of fulfillment. The date came and went without the fulfillment of the prophecy of some end-of-time event. One should ask himself if he is now tossed to another prophet in order to believe his presumptuous predictions of the end of the world.

 B.  Speak according to the will of God. This second test of a true prophet is objective. It is a solid foundation upon which one can determine if one is either a true or false prophet. A true prophet would never speak anything that was contrary to the already revealed word of God. A true prophet would always speak according to what Peter wrote: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God (1 Pt 4:11).

God is not a God of contradictions. He would never speak anything that contradicted that which He had already revealed. In the early church, and in absence of the yet-to-be written New Testament books, the disciples were given the miraculous gift of testing the word of those who claimed to be spokesmen for God (1 Jn 4:1). As a result of this testing, some were proved to be liars (See Rv 2:2). When Peter made the statement, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God,” He had in mind a list of false prophets who had throughout history led the people of God astray with their presumptuous predictions.

As in the first century, we will always have this most powerful test of anyone who would claim to be a prophet of God.   This test is particularly in reference to obedience to the gospel. Paul defined the gospel (good news) as the death of Jesus for our sins, His burial, and resurrection for our hope (1 Co 15:1-4). He also revealed that disciples are immersed in water (baptized) in order to obey the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for the remission of sins (At 2:38; Rm 6:1-6). And if one does not obey the gospel for remission of sins, then he will be separated from God for eternity (2 Th 1:6-9). If one professes to be a prophet of God today, but does not teach this message of the gospel, then he or she is a false prophet! We should then listen to the words of Moses: The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You will not be afraid of him” (Dt 18:22). Any self-proclaimed spokesman for God who does not preach the gospel, and obedience thereof, cannot be a true spokesman for God.

We are blessed today with the written word of God. For this reason, every Christian can have a copy of the Bible by which to know the word of God and test those who presume to be teachers of the word. Having a copy of the Old Testament law was not always possible during the era of the Old Testament prophets. Therefore, the people could know the law only as it was taught them through the teaching ministry of the Levites and prophets. The preachers (prophets) were inspired to know the will of God, and thus, they preached to the people by inspiration. The Levites studied the law, and then they taught it to the people when the people came with their sacrifices.

In the first century, and before the writing and distribution of numerous copies of the New Testament Scriptures, the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to the early disciples by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (See At 8:18,19). One of these gifts was the testing of the spirits (1 Co 12:10). But when copies of the written Scriptures were circulated throughout the churches, there was no more the need of the directly inspired New Testament prophets. And thus, there was no more the need for the miraculous gift of testing the prophets (1 Jn 4:1; Rv 2:2). Every Christian today has the privilege and opportunity to test any prophet (preacher) by the New Testament that he has in his hand.

The fact that most people do not study their Bibles today has laid the foundation for many self-proclaimed prophets to arise and take advantage of the innocent. As long as people refuse to study the Bible there will always exist those opportunists who seek a following by leading others to and fro with their meaningless predictions. The only way to bring down the opportunistic prophet is to do what God’s people of old did.   They tested the prophets by the existing word of God. People today must be encouraged to study the word of God and test every self-proclaimed prophet. A finger on a passage and a smile on one’s face will always lead to the vanquishing of false prophets.

 

[Next segment to introduction is tomorrow, May 2.]

 

 

1 – The Prophet

It was the task of God’s prophets to keep Israel pointed in the direction of God’s purpose for the existence of Israel. In times of rebellion and apostasy, it was especially significant that the prophets preach a clear message of repentance and judgment to a people who seemed to be determined to go in their own direction, a direction of rebellion against the will of God. Though the prophets ministered the word of God throughout the history of Israel, the “writing prophets” ministered primarily after the dividing of the twelve tribes into two nations. In this division into two kingdoms, the ten tribes of the north were commonly referred to as Israel (the northern kingdom). The southern two tribes were referred to as Judah (the southern kingdom). The mission of the prophets was the following:

Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah by the prophets and by all the seers, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments and statutes, according to all the law that I commanded your fathers [at Mount Sinai], and which I sent to you My servants the prophets (2 Kg 17:13).

The term “prophet” is probably one of the most confused terms used by modern-day religionists. When the term is used today, most people believe that reference is to someone who can tell us something that is going to happen in the future. And then there are those prophets today who presume to prophesy the end of the world. These religious charlatans come and go without their predictions of the end being fulfilled. Nevertheless, fickle people simply wait for the next prognosticator to come along in order to have their ears tickled with “end-of-time” predictions (2 Tm 4:3). And thus, the religious world today is “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 presumptuous prophets of today find their validation in a misunderstanding of the ministry of the writing prophets of the Old Testament. When most hear the word “prophet,” they think of one who is foretelling the future.   This was certainly true with some of the prophets whose writings are part of the Old Testament. However, this was only a small part of their ministry as a prophet.

The word “prophet” meant “a spokesman for God.”   And as God’s spokesman, it was the work of the prophet to do what God intended him to do, as is explained in the preceding statement of 2 Kings 17:13. Prophets were to go among God’s people in order to preach the commandments and statutes of the law that God revealed on Mount Sinai and delivered through Moses. Their ministry was in preaching and teaching. In reference to their call for repentance in the times of Israel’s apostasy, they proclaimed the future captivity of the people if they did not turn from the error of their ways. This was not a new message. The prophets simply stated what God knew they would do, and thus, recorded the warning in the law (Dt 31:14-20).

During the days of Saul and David, there was a “company” of prophets who ministered the word of God to the people (1 Sm 19:20; see 1 Kg 20:41; 2 Kg 2:3). It was the work of the “sons of the prophets” to go among the people in order to teach, exhort and admonish. It was not their primary work to foretell the future. They spoke of destruction in the future only if the people moved away from the law of God (See Dt 31:14-20).

Because many today have determined that their ministry as a prophet is taken from the example of a few Old Testament prophets who wrote of future events, they conclude that the primary ministry of the prophet is to speak of future events. But this is a twisted understanding of the ministry of the Old Testament prophets. Though God gave “short term” prophecies to be fulfilled in order to confirm a prophet, the prophet’s ministry was not in foretelling the future. It was in preaching the word of God to the people in order to encourage repentance. Those who did not know the Sinai law were not, and could not, be prophets of God.   The same would be true today.   Anyone who would presume to be a prophet/preacher today, but does not read and study his Bible, cannot be a prophet/preacher.

 Almost all the prophets who moved among the people of God throughout the history of Israel never wrote one inspired piece of Old Testament literature. Throughout the history of Israel, there were hundreds of prophets. We have only a few whose prophecies of future things in the history of Israel were recorded. These written prophecies are a part of our Bible. But we should never think that this was the extent of the prophet’s work in order to keep the people of God directed to the Messiah who was to come. Therefore, when considering the recorded prophets of the Old Testament, we must not conclude that what is stated in the writings of the recorded prophets was the primary message of the prophets. If we do this, then we will have a distorted view of the ministry of the prophets (preachers) as they worked among the people of God throughout the history of Israel.

It is interesting to note that most of the prophets were products of rural Palestine. When the twelve tribes entered the land around 1,400 B.C., every tribe was allotted a portion of land that they were to put into production for the livelihood of their families. God intended that Israel be a rural-farming society in which every person was to live off the land from the fruits of his own labors. The Levites were given the cities. The farmer/herdsman supported the Levites in their allotted cities. The rural economy of Israel went well for over 500 hundred years after the Israelites first settled in the land.

God called many of His prophets from their farms.   He knew that the farmers and herdsmen had remained close to Him in nature, and thus, the farmer/herdsman had the spiritual heart of where He wanted the people to be in their relationship with Him. The solitude of the farm culture produced a person whose focus was more on spiritual things, than the social-material overload of the city. And as this author has experienced, there is a connection with God through nature that is unique in farm life, and not available in the concrete jungles of urban centers. Urban centers produce a social and material overload that distracts from the simply life of the farm.

The farmer/herdsman’s connection with the Creator is not something that can be produced as effectively in a complex social/business urban environment wherein inhabitants are struggling to survive.   We feel that the unique rural personality that was developed in the solitude of nature was more suitable for God’s use in representing Him before a people who had disconnected with Him.   We affirm, therefore, that most of the prophets originated from the rural areas of Palestine. They were men and women who could write material as Psalm 23. These were words that could only come from a herdsman prophet, and thus, explain the relationship that God intends for each of us to have with Him.

[New segment of Introduction is tomorrow.] 

 

9 – BEAMING LIGHTS

It was once said, “An ounce of example is worth a pound of advice.” It is for this reason that people observe our behavior for six days throughout the week in order to determine if we mean what we profess on Sunday morning.   Walking what we talk as Christians is a way of life. And until we walk our talk about being servants of Jesus, we are hypocrites before the world.

We know today that the plaster that was used years ago contained lime. Benjamin Franklin, as an early American farmer, tried to get his neighbors to use plaster to fertilize their fields in order to grow better crops. As most farmers, they were somewhat difficult to convince, for they depended on the “old ways of farming.” So with one of his fields, Franklin used plaster only on a certain part of the field. Once the crop grew, the neighbors could read where Franklin used the plaster. He had written with the plaster, “This has been plastered.”

Sometimes we need to use example, rather than words, in order to get the point across. At least this is what was behind Peter’s statement to wives who had unbelieving husbands: “… be submissive to your own husbands so that if any do not obey the word, they, without the word, may be won by the behavior [example] of the wives (1 Pt 3:1).

Jesus said to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works …” (Mt 5:16). The Holy Spirit says to young preachers to “be an example to the believers, in word, in behavior, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tm 4:12). And shepherds must so live that they “have a good report from those outside …” (1 Tm 3:7).   Though we do not always live up to what we believe, at least those around us must see that we are making every effort to be like Jesus. We are giving our best to live Jesus as our light to the world.

We must not forget that simply because we do not live perfectly, this is not an excuse to hide our light. None of us is perfect. But every one of us is seeking to give it his best effort. If people are to understand what Christianity is, then they must see our efforts in action. Regardless of our imperfections in the specifics, there are at least some generics in shining our light before men that must identify us as disciples of Jesus.

 I.  The light of seeking God first:

 Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Mt 6:33). What sometimes happens in our lives is that we live the misinterpretation of what someone said, “Seek first the kingdom of men, and all righteousness will be added to you.” In the developed world this may be more typical of disciples than what Jesus actually meant. It might be good for the materialist to listen to the once famous and prosperous Paul after he realized that Jesus was Lord. “I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things (Ph 3:8). Paul did not make this statement because he lamented over the loss of all things that he had as a Jewish Pharisee, which group of religious leaders were lovers of money (Lk 16:14).   It was his transformed thinking that allowed him the opportunity to lose willingly everything for Christ. He footnoted the previous statement with the words, “I count them rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).   The Greek word for “rubbish” is dung.   Paul’s transformed mind led him to willingly discard what became repulsive to his transformed life. When that which we so treasure becomes repulsive as dung, then we know we have spiritually grown in our attitude toward the things of the world. There will always be a plateau of spiritual growth for those who clutch on to the things of this world.

We live in the world, and thus, we must use the things of the world to survive. This does not mean, however, that we obsess over the things of the world. It is always an inward struggle to live the spiritual example that the things of the world are not the priority of our lives.   Paul wrote how to let go: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gl 2:20). When one crucifies himself with Christ, he will transform in his mind how he sees the things of the world.   Instead of laying up treasures on earth, one starts using the treasures of the world in order to lay up treasures in heaven. It is as Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy ….   But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven …” (Mt 6:19,20). Learning to let go of treasures on this earth is an indication of spiritual growth. It may be time to empty out our storeroom of treasures and have a garage sale. When we empty our storeroom of earthly treasures, it is then that we will feel a great sense of release from the confines of this world. We will never really be free until our storeroom is empty. This is what Paul wrote:

I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. I count them rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Ph 3:8).

We identify the spiritual giants among us by how empty we find their treasure room. But we must not confine “treasures” to worldly possessions alone. We must consider our focus and time. In a world where the cliche “soccer mom” is known throughout society, we know we might have some struggles as to where our focus is in reference to leading our children spiritually. We have raised up a generation where our mothers are more concerned about getting their children to their next ball game, than in getting them to the next assembly of the saints on time. Where are the “Bible class moms” among us?

In an economic society where the average citizen has been allowed to borrow beyond his ability to make payments on his house, have we betrayed what is really first in our lives? The recession of 2008 will go down in church history as the recession that revealed what some Christians really believed should be first in their lives. It was not the possession of a home, but the possession of a house that was far beyond one’s means for which to make the loan payments. We must never forget that our example to the world must reflect what Jesus said.

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).

 II.  The light manifested through dress:

We hear few discussions today on the dress of disciples.   It is as if Christians are now allowed to dress themselves in any manner possible. Some even believe that it is within the realm of freedom that Christians are allowed to dress in any manner, regardless if it is judged to be modest by the standards of the world. It is true that there is a great freedom in this area of Christian behavior.   However, there are some key statements in Scripture that limit the manner by which Christians are to attire themselves in the public. This is particularly true in reference to the sisters. Since God created men to be sexually aroused through sight, we can understand why the Holy Spirit cautioned the sisters concerning their clothing before the public. It need not be mentioned that the manner by which a woman dresses herself is an indication of her spiritual presentation.

Peter instructed, Your adornment should not be outward, as plaiting the hair and wearing of gold, or putting on of clothes” (1 Pt 3:3).   The phrase “putting on of clothes” defines the meaning of the statement. Of course women should put on clothes. It would be obscene for them to be naked. Putting on clothes, therefore, is assumed. What Peter teaches is that the Christian sister should not “put on clothes” in a manner that draws attention to herself. She is not to advertise her body by the manner of her dress. She can wear gold, but she should not wear gold in a manner by which she draws attention to herself.   She can plait her hair, but not in a manner by which she draws attention to herself. On the contrary, her presentation must “be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a meek and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Pt 3:4).

When Christian sisters dress to be precious in the sight of God, then they manifest to the world their spiritual demeanor. When a Christian sister dresses, she should ask herself, “Is this dress precious in the sight of God?” When Christian women dress in a manner by which they seek to use their bodies as a billboard advertisement for sexuality, then we know that their dress is not precious in the sight of God.

Paul instructed “that women dress themselves in modest clothing” (1 Tm 2:9). The word “modest” places a boundary on how women are to dress. Since there is such a thing as “modest,” then there is such a thing as immodest. We may differ in our opinion as to what is immodest, but the fact remains that there is immodest dress. The spiritual minded woman will seek to determine what is modest dress, and thus make a decision to stay within the boundary of modesty.

Since God created men to be sexually motivated through sight, then at least the Christian men have something to say in this matter.   In fact, modesty is in reference to how the men feel about a woman’s dress, not what the women think.   Christian sisters may think that a particular style of dress is modest to them, but the men may have a completely different view. When determining modesty, therefore, it is the brethren who are to determine the boundaries, not the sisters.

In the context of dressing modestly, Paul does give some guidelines. The Christian sisters must dress “with decency and sobriety” (1 Tm 2:9). Again, if there is clothing that is decent, then there is clothing that is indecent. Spiritual women seek to dress decently.

“Sobriety” refers to the attitude that the woman wants to reflect to the public through her dress. By the dress of the Christian woman, the public can determine the focus of the woman. If a woman craves the attention of others, then her craving is often reflected in the manner by which she dresses herself. This is where a Christian father or husband can advise a sister concerning her dress. Fathers who allow their daughters, or wives, to broadcast their bodies as objects of sexual arousal of other men are certainly failing in their duties as disciples of Christ.

In order to clothe oneself with decency and sobriety, Paul instructs that the woman should not present herself to the public with emphasis on “braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing” (1 Tm 2:9).   The societies in which the Christian sisters lived in the first century were not much different than they are today.   The Holy Spirit is admonishing the Christian sisters not to use braided hair, gold, pearls and costly clothing as a means to broadcast oneself as the queen of the party.

As Christians, we must focus on being “clothed with humility” (1 Pt 5:5). Our focus must not be on the outward clothing, but the inward heart of a godly sister. The Holy Spirit wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gl 3:27). Our presentation to the public through clothing will reveal whether we have dressed ourselves with Christ, or whether we are still seeking to conform to the dress codes of the world.   As baptized disciples, Christian disciples must “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ep 4:23,24). When a child of God awakes in the morning and prepares to clothe herself for the public, she must remember that when she was baptized, she “put on the new man” (Cl 3:10). The old man was washed away in the waters of baptism. And when the old man was washed away, then the new man must empty his closet of all immodest clothes.

 III.  The light of good habits:

 Our habits reveal our spiritual character. They do so because bad habits are an indication that we have not brought everything of this world that may control us under control.   It was for this reason that Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, … I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co 9:27).

Every emotion and action of the Christian must be brought under control. And to do so, it takes a great deal of discipline. Discipline building can be fine tuned by fasting from some particular food we crave to eat or activity in which we like to engage. We once had a friend who was a military colonel.   Playing golf with his military officers was a primary activity in which the officers of the base participated on a regular basis. One day my friend woke up and discovered that he had an obsession with playing golf.   It was such an obsession that he neglected his family in order to play golf with his friends. When we met him several years after retiring from the military, he had not played one game of golf since. He said that golf had controlled his life, and as a Christian, there were more important things than the pleasures of golf. He was on a prolonged fast from golf.

Moses did not engage in the obsession of golf. But there were other pleasures in Egypt in which royalty could engage themselves in order to be entertained. But when he discovered his destiny, it was written about him: “By faith Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer mistreatment with the people of God than to temporarily enjoy the pleasures of sin (Hb 11:24,25). We are sure that “pleasures of sin” included habits that were ungodly. But if a particular habit is not ungodly, but controls one’s life, it can become ungodly if it hinders our relationships with others.

Habits reveal the focus of our lives. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Co 10:32). In another similar statement he said, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus …” (Cl 3:17). Now where would we place our habits, or our obsessions? If we are engaged in something that cannot be named under Jesus, or eaten in thanksgiving to God, then it is time to reconsider our habits. We all live with habits, but our habits must not inhibit our spiritual growth. The things that we personally enjoy should not control our lives to the point that we have no time to minister to the needs of others. Ministry means time, and if our time is consumed with ourselves, then we have no ministry time for others.

The Americans use mealie (maise) to cook what they call cornbread. Eating cornbread is great!   The story was told that there was the man who ate cornbread in the morning for breakfast. He carried cornbread to work to eat at lunch. He snacked on cornbread. If there was no cornbread in the house, he would immediately ask his wife to make some cornbread. There is nothing wrong with cornbread, but it had become wrong for the “cornbread man” because he obsessed over cornbread. He needed to discipline his body not to crave cornbread.

Peter would exhort the “cornbread man” to add “to knowledge self-control, and to self-control patience …” (2 Pt 1:16).   Paul would admonish the “cornbread man” to be self-controlled (Ti 1:8), knowing that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gl 5:23). And if self- control is a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, then one who is out of control with a habit is not manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in his life.

Sometimes our habits infringe on others, and thus become very selfish. Smoking is such a habit. Most nonsmokers will agree that smoking is not only a danger to one’s health, but it is also one of the most selfish habits a person can have. The smoker is more concerned about the enjoyment of his habit than those nonsmokers around him who have to breathe his leftover smoke.   The first admonition the smoker violates is the Spirit’s instruction that we be considerate of others (Hb 10:24).

Romans 15:1 should be considered here: “We then who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Any bad habit that infringes on another should be terminated immediately. Christianity is about relationships, and if we harbor a habit that may be right within itself, but infringes on the conscience of other brothers, then we have no right to continue the habit. In the context of Romans 15, strong brethren are given the responsibility to encourage weak brethren who still associated the eating of meat with pagan sacrifices. The strong had the right to eat the meat, but if they encouraged their weak brethren to eat against their conscience, then they were not walking in love.   Christian relationships mean that “if your brother is grieved with your meat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy him with your meat for whom Christ died (Rm 14:15). Paul concluded, “It is good neither to eat meat, nor to drink wine, nor do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Rm 14:21). This is good advice when considering those habits that infringe on one’s brother in Christ, or present an example that would steal away the time of a brother that should be devoted to others. If we persist in maintaining a habit that offends, then we are not walking in love.   Paul wrote, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in that thing which he approves” (Rm 14:22).   Something may be right within itself, but if it hinders the spiritual growth of one’s brother then it should be suspended.

The story is told of a bird who became so hungry, that in order to satisfy his lust of the flesh and eat, he traded with a sly fox a feather for a worm. After the first trade, he immediately flew away. However, since the fox was the source of the worms, then the next day when the bird was hungry, he traded a feather for a worm. Instead of taking the time to hunt for a worm, he returned to the fox and traded another feather for a worm every day. When he had traded so many feathers that he could not fly away, the fox said, “Now I am hungry.” Habits have the habit of bringing us into the captivity of our own selves.

Our habits can build us up or brings us down. It is by the example of our habits that people determine where our focus is in life. Habits can identify whether our focus is on spiritual things, or things of this world wherein we seek to please ourselves above others. Decades ago someone once wrote,

 You tell on yourself by the friends you seek,

By the very manner in which you speak,

By the way you employ your leisure time,

By the use you make of dollar and dime.

 You tell what you are by the things you wear,

By the spirit in which your burdens bear,

By the kind of things at which you laugh,

By the records you play on the phonograph.

 You tell what you are by the way you walk,

By the things of which you delight to talk,

By the manner in which you bear defeat,

By so simply a thing as how you eat.

By the books you choose from off the shelf,

In these ways and more you tell on yourself.

So there’s really not a particle of sense,

In an effort to keep up false pretense.

 The Holy Spirit allowed Paul to use his life as an example for others to follow. “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). But for some, it is what Montaigne said of himself, “Virtuous men do good by setting themselves up as models before the public, but I do good by setting myself as a warning.”

The Holy Spirit knew that we needed models to follow in order to exemplify Jesus in our lives. We follow Paul insofar as we see Christ in Paul. Every disciple of Jesus must understand that he is the example for someone to follow.   Either the example will lead others closer to Jesus, or the example will give others an excuse not to go down our road.   We do not live unto ourselves, and thus we become responsible for those who would follow us. We must always remember as some preacher said,

 You can never tell when you do an act,

Just what the result will be.

But with every kind deed you are sowing a seed,

Though the harvest you cannot see.

 We would be as Paul exhorted the Philippians, “Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ …” (Ph 1:27). And because Paul submitted his behavior to be worthy of the gospel, he could write, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and note those who so walk according to the example you have in us” (Ph 3:17).

 

  1. The light of salted speech:

 

Someone once said, “Your manner of speech is an indication of your manner of life.” And true this is. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). Our spirituality is manifested by the things we say, by the things we talk about, and by the jokes at which we laugh. It is our speech that either reaffirms our Christianity or betrays our hypocrisy. For some it is as James wrote, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing” (Js 3:10). As disciples of Jesus, we know that such things should not be. But sometimes, the tongue “is an unruly evil full of deadly poison” (Js 3:8).

 

The only guard one has against an unruly tongue is to train our speech by our focus on the word of God. It is as Peter exhorted, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pt 4:11). When the word of God is on one’s mind at all times, then he will direct his speech according to the oracles of God. One can always determine if a person is a student of the Bible. His words and phrases in his speech continually reflect on the vocabulary of the Bible and events recorded in Bible times. If one is filled with the speech of the world, then his speech will betray him.

 IV.  The light of submission:

 The spiritual person manifests a spirit of submission to the needs of others. He has submitted to the will of God by being born again in the waters of baptism. As a disciple, he continually submits to the needs of his brothers and sisters in Christ, and those of the world in which he lives (Gl 6:10). It is as Jesus said, “And whoever of you desires to be the first will be the bondservant of all” (Mk 10:44).

The Christian’s life began with the call: “… submit yourselves to God” (Js 4:7). This life-style was initiated with our personal submission to God, but is carried over into every aspect of our lives. “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands …” (1 Pt 3:1).   Disciples are continually “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ep 5:21). “Obey those who lead you and be submissive” (Hb 13:17).

I urge you, brethren, you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints, that you submit to such, and to everyone who works with us and labors (1 Co 16:15,16).

Need we go on? The spirit of submission is what characterizes those who seek to grow spiritually. If there is no submission, but only rebellion, then one has sacrificed his opportunity to grow spiritual for the sake of having one’s own way. Our example of submission to our God and the needs of His people, is one of the most powerful means by which we draw people to Christ. The spirit of submission develops our personality to be approachable. People are drawn to those who seek to submit to their needs.

The world believes that it is an oxymoron that leadership among the disciples of Jesus is by submission to those who are the greatest slaves. In the world, leaders take command by authority and position. But those who would lead among the submissive disciples of Jesus are those who dedicate themselves to submit to the needs of the submitted.   Is this not what Jesus taught His disciples in Mark 10:42,43? When the disciples put his principle of submission into action, they truly turned the world upside down.

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you. But whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant.

We know the spiritual giants among us by Jesus’ concluding statement on the subject: And whoever of you desires to be first will be the bondservant of all (Mk 10:44).

 

[End of series.  This will be Book 61 in the Biblical Research Library at www.africainternational.org]

[Next series of lectures:  DEAD PREACHERS]

 

 

 

 

8 – A ROAD MAP TO SPIRITUAL POWER

The only road to spiritual heights is to first recognize our spiritual low. And in order to do this, we sometimes must go to a solitude place on a mountain or desert where we can be alone with God. We once had to make a very important decision concerning a major worldwide ministry. So we packed up our tent and headed for the Namibian desert. We stayed there for several days in prayer until a decision was made. There is something about places of solitude that help us reflect on ourselves and our abilities to do our ministry for God.   We seek to grow spiritually. But we too often stumble over all the activities of the world that surround us. An activity-oriented life is not conducive to personal reflection.

One time during His ministry, Jesus took a multitude of people to a mountain. In the solitude of the environment, He delivered what is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. It was Jesus’ road map to spiritual growth. Unless we follow this map, we will never get to where we should be in our spiritual relationship with Him. Therefore, we must progress with Jesus as He takes us on an adventure of growing in the grace and knowledge of Him (2 Pt 3:18). He explains in Matthew 5:3-12 how to make this journey to the mountain peaks of spirituality in order to discover an intimate relationship with Him.

 I.  Spiritual poverty puts us on the road to spiritual growth.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3).

The first step to spiritual growth is to recognize how far we are away from our desired destination. Recognition of our spiritual poverty initiates our spiritual journey toward Jesus. In order to go down this road, we cannot come to Jesus with a notebook of good deeds.   We cannot, as the rich young ruler, approach Jesus with a completed checklist of all the laws of God that we have kept (Mk 10:17-31). This is the reason why so many sit Sunday after Sunday in a legal assembly, but feel empty. They know something is wrong with their legal approach to worship, but they do not know what is wrong. We cannot begin our journey toward Jesus by checking off legal ceremonies of worship.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus with a checklist.   He subsequently walked away from Jesus sad, as many walk away from legal assemblies that are intended to bring one closer to Jesus. We simply must never forget that law can take one only so far down the road of spiritual growth. If we seek to be as close as possible to Jesus in this life, we must realize how far meritorious law-keeping keeps us away from being where we so earnestly desire.   When we realize we are lawbreakers, then, we will begin to experience that about which John was seeking to convey in the statement, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). They are not burdensome when we understand that our obedience is not meritorious, but in appreciation of God’s grace (See 1 Co 15:10).

We can dutifully keep all the commandments, but still we must be on our knees confessing that “we are unprofitable bondservants …” (Lk 17:10). After all the good deeds fail to bring atonement, and after all the law-keeping fails to bring the satisfaction of justification, we must ask Jesus the same question His disciples asked Him: “Who then can be saved?” (Mk 10:26). There is only one answer to this question. With men it is impossible, but not with God (Mk 10:27). With our performance of law, no one can be saved before God (Gl 2:16). With no amount of good deeds can one atone for his own sins (Rm 11:6).   We simply cannot demand a spiritual relationship with God on the basis of meritorious law-keeping. And we cannot arbitrate with God with our notebook of good deeds. Mourning over sin in the pits of our own spiritual insufficiency leads to the discovery of grace. It is with this discovery that we begin our journey into the arms of God.

When we recognize and confess our spiritual poverty, then we are on our way. When we confess that our legal performance of law is flawed, then we start to reach out for grace. This is hard because we are so self-sufficient. Declaring spiritual bankruptcy is humbling, for we want to take pride in our good deeds and performance of law. Our arrogance pushes us to trust in our own abilities. Our culture teaches us to be winners in all things. But when we start our journey to spiritual growth, we must confess that we are spiritual losers.

In our present social-media generation, we have taken so many “selfies” (pictures of ourselves) that we have convinced ourselves that we ourselves are important to God. We conclude that since we are the stars of our own little Facebook worlds, then certainly God needs us. He needs our glory in order to add to His. When He sees our shelves loaded with awards and trophies, surely, we conclude, God would accept us on the basis of how important we are. But when it comes to running the spiritual race for the prize, this is one time when we will always come in last at the finish line. We must come to the point in our lives when we wreck our lives into the wall of pride and pomp in order that we begin to understand that the objective of our desire in the realm of spirituality is a God thing, not an accomplishment of man.

When we recognize our spiritual poverty, and our inability to bring ourselves into the presence of God on the foundation of our performance of law or good deeds, then we start reaching out to God. It is then that we will come into the realm of His blessing.   It is then that we will possess the kingdom reign of Jesus as He begins to reign in our hearts. His word will begin to be done on earth in our hearts as it is done in heaven (Mt 6:10).

We admire the great ministry of the apostle Paul. It was a ministry upon which the salvation of millions of souls will be in heaven. Not a week goes by that we do not read his Spirit-inspired writings. If one could successfully plead his case before God on the basis of meritorious works, then certainly Paul would have been a winner.   But in all his works of ministry, he is the one the Holy Spirit chose to write the oracles of Galatians and Romans, which oracles proclaim the futility of doing good in order to save ourselves.   As Paul’s own “works world” came crashing down after the Damascus road experience, he realized that only grace could put the pieces of his life together again.

Before the ink dried on the first seven chapters of Romans, Paul was about to inscribe the greatest literature ever written on the subject of grace. After proclaiming the insufficiently of our efforts to save ourselves according to law, he concluded chapter 7 with the outcry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24). Unless we come to this point in our lives, our spiritual growth will always be on a plateau of frustration.

No matter how important we may think we are in reference to kingdom business, no matter how puffed up we make our selves through the wearing of robes and gowns to set ourselves above the people, no matter how many degrees we have on our office walls, no matter how many titles we pronounce upon ourselves, no matter how many selfies we take of ourselves, each one of us must fall on our faces before God and cry out, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”

 II.  Spiritual poverty produces mourning.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Mt 5:4).

As Paul, who was in the midst of having revealed to him the climax of grace in Romans, we too must confess before God and mourn over our spiritual poverty (Rm 7:24). We must be brought to spiritual agony, tormented by our own insufficiency. It is only then that we can cry out as Paul, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rm 7:25). If we never humble ourselves before God and confess our spiritual poverty, then we will never begin the road to mourning over that which we cannot do in reference to drawing near to God. The mourning must begin before the comforting is given.

The road to closeness with God is covered with our tears. We mourn in frustration when we realize that we cannot dig ourselves out of our spiritual hole. We have seen light at the top of our pit of sin, but we have frustrated ourselves in trying to scale the slippery walls that are covered with our sins. So in our frustration, we cry out to Jesus to come for us.

Friends can never get us out of our dungeon of sin and into the presence of God. Worldly activities will never make the mournful sinner forget that he is so far away from God, that there is no human way to make our way closer to Him. We are so far down, only He can come and lift us up. The Corinthians were brought to this low by the judgmental words of the Spirit (1 Co 5:1,2). They were allowing sinful behavior to continue in their fellowship. However, they were obedient to the Spirit’s call for repentance, and thus, they repented.   The sinful man in their midst also repented. After everyone’s repentance, the Spirit wrote, For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation that is not to be regretted. But the sorrow of the world brings forth death” (2 Co 7:9).

If we mourn after the pronouncements of God, then there is salvation. But if we continue to satisfy spiritual poverty through worldly means, then there is only frustration.   When we begin to sink into the stormy sea of life, as Peter in a tempestuous sea, the only recourse is, “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30). And when the Lord extends His hand to save us and keep us from drowning in sin and self-pity, it is not for a handshake. We grasp and cling to His hand. We never want to let go. We are never on our way to spiritual recovery until in desperation we can make the same outcry as Peter as he grasped for the saving hand of Jesus.

Our mourning over our lack of spirituality is the beginning to our spiritual recovery. Our mourning can never start too soon, for we never know when it will be too late.   Does this mourning over our spiritual poverty ever end? Paul would answer, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co 9:27). If mourning ends, we do as John wrote, we “commit sin unto death” (1 Jn 5:16). We are doomed.

Mourning over sin is a demeanor of discipleship life. It is not a onetime recognition of sinfulness, and then immersion in water to wash away sin (At 22:16). In order to fully appreciate the comfort of the grace of God, we continue to be mournful over our own inadequate selves. It was for this reason that Paul continued to manifest his appreciation for the grace of God by the obedient behavior of his life. He wrote, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Co 15:10). Sins are washed away in baptism (At 22:16). But unless we walk in the light of Jesus’ word, we will not have the benefit of His continual cleansing of our sins (1 Jn 1:7). It is for this reason, that we are comforted throughout our Christian lives because of our realization that by grace we are continually cleansed of our stumbles (Ep 2:8; 1 Jn 1:7).

A tragedy in life may spark our mourning and repentance.   But after that initial tragedy when we promised to commit ourselves to Jesus, there need be no continuing tragedies to keep us on the spiritual growth road. If it takes another tragedy to get us back on the road to recovery, then the first may be questionable. Once Jesus knocked Paul off a horse on his way to Damascus, that was it for the rest of his life (See At 9:1-19). He never turned back. He remembered what Jesus said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). We are sure that Peter never again wanted to hear the sound of a rooster crow. And Paul, probably with some apprehension he mounted horses the rest of his life.

 III.  Mourning produces meekness.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Mt 5:5).

When we recognize our spiritual poverty, we are driven to mourn over our inability to perform that which would atone for our sins. In true mourning, somehow arrogance and pride are all swept away. The selfies on our facebook page seem to vanish. We realize that we are simply clods of dirt in which God has temporarily invested a spirit. When we join with others who are like-minded, there is no competition for who would be first. We have begun to discover the mind of Christ, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:7). It is a marvelous discovery. It is a discovery that is life changing. When we are brought to meekness, we begin to understand the purpose for our existence. We understand that we were created by Him and for Him (Cl 1:16).

Meekness is not synonymous with frailty. It is power under control. Moses was acclaimed by God to be a meek man. “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were on the face of the earth” (Nm 12:3). Notice how the Holy Spirit wanted this great leader of a nation to be identified for posterity. In order to be “above,” one has to go below. If we would pride ourselves with our own abilities to be “above” our fellow man, then we are following the ways of the world. If we entitle ourselves to be above other disciples, then we are seeking glory, not meekness. But if through meekness, others set us above, then we are on our way to spiritual greatness. Therefore, we will not seek the “chief seats” (Mt 23:6).

Meekness helps us understand the nature of the leaders whom Jesus would have among us. In response to James and John, and the other disciples who sought to compete for prominent positions after a worldly manner in order to exercise power, Jesus said, “And whoever of you desires to be first will be the bondservant of all (Mk 10:44). As Moses, leadership among God’s people is through meekness. But whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant (Mk 10:43). This is not the world speaking. This is the One who said, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).   The leader who seeks to lead through the delegation of responsibilities to others must caution himself if he is doing such in order to be served, or to make sure that the needs of others are being serviced.

The meek will inherit the earth simply because the earth will seek to follow them. It is only natural for men to follow the one who has the dirtiest towel (See Jn 13:1-20).   When we meekly wash the feet of others through loving service, we seek to follow the God of the towel. And in so following this God, others follow our towel. The earth belongs to those who have made themselves the meek servants of the world. When the meek dedicate “themselves to the ministry of the saints,” the saints humbly submit to their service (1 Co 16:15,16).   We are led by the meek, because it is they who service our needs.

 IV.  Meekness produces hunger.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled (Mt 5:6).

There is no desire to be filled, unless one realizes that he is spiritually empty. One does not recognize his spiritual emptiness unless he is meek of heart, and thus, is willing to accept spiritual filling from God. We cannot be filled with the Spirit if we are full of ourselves.   One does not become meek of heart, until he mourns over his spiritual ineptitude and emptiness. And one does not mourn over his spiritual ineptitude until he confesses his spiritual poverty. It is then that we seek to fill the void of our emptiness with the word of God. Those who are not students of the Bible have a pseudo spirituality that is either controlled by another or sustained by self. The only thing that truly fills the emptiness of our soul is word from Him with whom we seek an eternal relationship. All other “fillings” only result in spiritualism. And when we are spiritualistic, we never know if we are right with our Creator.

The truly meek seek divine guidance. They hunger for the Bread of Life. Jesus fills our hunger. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never hunger. And He who believes in Me will never thirst (Jn 6:35). The spiritually poor will find no real fulfillment until they find that which is above themselves. No amount of the world’s possessions can satisfy the inner yearnings of the one who seeks spiritual justification before His Creator.   It is the way God made us. Men as C. S. Lewis, who wrote Mere Christianity, simply reasoned themselves out of atheism because they realized that there was fulfillment for their spiritual poverty only in faith. Paul wrote,

For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse (Rm 1:20).

If one would answer the natural call of the soul for his Creator, then he will find his way to God. God left enough evidence in creation to trigger one’s search for Him.   Paul simply said that there is enough witness of God in that which has been created to direct one to begin his search in the direction of God. In 1976, Dr. Thomas B. Warren had a public discussion in Denton, Texas, with the world renowned atheist, Dr. Antony G. N. Flew. Flew argued his case the best one could in denying that intelligence permeated the universe, and thus was the origin of all life. Warren argued that it is more reasonable to believe on the basis that intelligence and design cannot be denied. Since that public forum decades ago, which drew up to five thousand people together to hear two respected philosophers debate the existence of God, Flew, in his recent conclusions concerning the intelligence embedded in the DNA of every cell, has reasoned that the existence of life cannot be accounted for on a naturalistic basis. And so, he has made his first steps toward belief. He has at least admitted that something was there, and here to create the intelligence that is embedded in the DNA of every cell. Do we see some “hungering” and “thirsting” from Dr. Flew in his old age?

“Hungering” and “thirsting” is an admission that we lack something in our inner soul. If we would relinquish to the “hungering” and “thirsting,” then we will find our way out of intellectual and emotional darkness into which we have so often entombed ourselves. We will find our way to the Bread of Life. And if we eat of the Bread, we will never hunger again.

One of the greatest illustrations of the yearning for spirituality in modern times took place after the Cultural Revolution of China. The Cultural Revolution was initiated by Chairman Mao Zedong of the Communist Party. It was launched in May 1966, and continued until its final demise in 1976.   It was a movement to eradicate any form of capitalism and religion from society in order to establish the true Maoist policies of communism. A few years later in 1981, the Communist Party announced that it had eradicated the failed movement of Mao, declaring that the movement was …

… responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic (11th Central Committee of the Communist Part of China, June 27, 1981).

And today there is no stopping of the revival of faith throughout China. It is a natural phenomenon of the swing of the spiritual pendulum of oppression to the free-will of the people to seek faith. As a result, faith is spreading like wild fire throughout the nation. The Cultural Revolution failed because it was a movement against the innate nature of man that was embedded by God in every soul since creation. When men strip themselves of pride and power, and are subsequently humbled to their knees, it is only then that the inner self is discovered. It is then that the journey begins to develop a spiritual giant. Oppressive governments may suppress this inner desire. But once the oppression is removed, society seeks to spiritually heal itself. As spiritual healing in society reacts to an oppressive past, society as a whole is on its way to making up for lost time.

The fountain of faith from which we must drink in order to reach mountain peaks of spiritually can come only from one source. So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rm 10:17). When speaking of spiritual growth, one thing is certain: Satan will seek to detour those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. One thing distinguishes true spiritual growth from spiritism. This faith originates from the word of God. If one seeks to grow spiritually outside the guiding principles of the word of God, then he will end up only religious, or worse, only “spiritual.”   When we see people who are obsessed over Bible study, then we see people who are seeking to be more than simply religious. We see people who are searching for their Creator. Those who seek the creation only will end up with a religion they have created after their own desires. Those who seek the righteousness of God, end up with a faith that is based on the word of God.

The first stumbling block over which people usually fall on their quest for spiritual growth is to fall for the spiritual placebos of Satan.   These detours come in many forms.   Some have assumed that spiritual growth comes from a more organized religiosity. So creeds and catechism are written in order supposedly produce spirituality by making sure that the orders of “the church” are ritualistically obeyed. But such legal ordinances fail.   They fail because it is the nature of ritual and order to stymie spiritual growth. If spiritual growth must be accomplished on the foundation of organized religiosity, then we will never reach our quest because we will always know that we are trying to orchestrate our own spiritual road maps to God.

Organized religion is burdened with an inherent system of death.   The adherents know that the organization is man-made. They realize that their obedience to rituals is a meritorious effort that is based on their abilities to live up to their creeds. And if they have studied their Bibles enough to know that we are saved by grace, then they have also come to the conclusion that legal performances of man-made rituals and traditions will never atone for the sins over which we mourn.   We must remember that the more ecclesiastically organized we become, the less spiritual we are. Ecclesiastical orders are an outward pretense to spirituality. This is true because we become so worried about keeping the ecclesiastical rites of our organization that we forget our spiritual well-being. At the end of the day, our spiritual growth is not based on inventing more orders of worship in order to become more spiritual. After we make our way through all the quagmire of religious orders, all that is necessary for spiritual sustenance is a little wine, a little bread and a book.

If we are to reach the spiritual heights to which we so earnestly desire, then only God can take us there. And the only way He can take us there is through His word. We must confess that the greatest spiritual ecstacy that came over us was when we spent ten hours a day deep in study of the word of God in order to write a commentary on the entire Old Testament. There is no word from the dictionary to which we could resort to explain the surreal emotional state of connection one has with God than when one is totally immersed in a study of word of God. It is a feeling as if the world can simply pass by without notice. Social perils and international conflicts find no consideration in a mind that is whisked away into total communion with God. Our feeling was celebrated with the final period at the end of the last sentence. After that period was made, there was an inner urge to start it all over again. We long for that emotional environment, that suspended mind that was lifted above the affairs of this world and into the realm of a relationship with God that only His word can produce. We continue to hunger and thirst. We continue to involve our being in the ocean of His revelation.

You can go there too through the memorization of the Scriptures. We seem to have forsaken a culture that thrived on memorizing the word of God. For one example of the past, Fanny Crosby wrote almost 9,000 spiritual songs during her lifetime. By the time she was twelve years old, she had memorized the Bible books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She once wrote, “The Bible verses were like friends that cheered me up whenever I felt sad about not going to school.” And why could she not go to school? Six weeks after she was born, she was blinded because of medical malpractice. Since the time of her life in the nineteenth century, over 100,000,000 copies of her spiritual songs have been printed and sung worldwide. Many have been translated into hundreds of languages.   Remember the following songs?

 All the Way My Savior Leads Me

Blessed Assurance

Close to Thee

I Am Thine Oh Lord

Rescue the Perishing

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

To God be the Glory

 They were all written by a totally blind person who loved her Bible. Yes, we have fallen. We have fallen from an era when the word of God was most precious to our hearts. We feel it is time to call for a restoration to that which can satisfy our spiritual hungering and thirsting.

 V.  Hungering and thirsting produces mercy.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy (Mt 5:7).

It is at this stage in one’s adventure in spiritual growth that self-realization changes one’s spirit. This is the point in our journey where we encounter the signpost that reads, “Life Change Ahead.” We begin to understand what James wrote: “For judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (Js 2:13). Those who realize that God has poured out His mercy on them, reciprocate with mercy toward others. This is the “stone-dropping” moment of spiritual growth. The judgmental crowd that surrounded a woman caught in the very act of adultery sought to trap Jesus with the question, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us that such a person should be stoned. But what do You say?” (Jn 8:5).

It was now time for reflection. Those who hunger and thirst after the word of God start looking in the mirror of the word of God. They look into the mirror of the word and see themselves (Js 1:23). Those who are not mourning over their sins, do not like what they see, and thus, they turn away (Js 1:24). But those who are remorseful over what they see, are changed forever.   They are blessed in their change.

 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues to abide in it, not being a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in his deed (Js 1:25).

In the case of the those with stones in their hands, ready to cast them on the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said,He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7).   We can hear the stones drop with a thud to the ground as one-by-one the judges realized that they too were sinners.

But the unforgiving servant in a parable of Jesus was self-righteous and unforgiving (Mt 18:21-35). Once he had been forgiven a tremendous debt, he went out and found someone who owed him a trivial amount of money. He demanded, “Pay me what you owe” (Mt 18:28). The forgiven are often unforgiving. But the appreciative and mournful soul who has been forgiven so much, is always willing to pass on mercy to others.

God’s mercy and forgiveness in our lives obligates us.   We are obligated to be merciful to others. Jesus taught the disciples to pray: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Mt 6:12).   It is for this reason that spiritual giants continue to grow. They realize that God’s mercy on them is contingent on their mercy that they extend toward others. By our mercy we extend to others we obtain the mercy of God. It is because His mercy is conditional that we are encouraged to remain on the road to mercy.

 VI.  Mercy produces purity in heart.

         Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God(Mt 5:8).

The merciful person starts to understand His creator who has extended mercy toward him. It is the same as having a loving spirit. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Therefore, “he who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). The loving person can “see” God, because he understands the nature of the God of love. Righteousness, faith, love and peace are to be characteristics of “those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tm 2:22). And thus, “to the pure all things are pure” (Ti 1:15). Paul reminded Titus, “But to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure” (Ti 1:15). But those who are of a pure heart can understand (“see”) God. They can see God because they are living the nature of God. And unless one lives mercy, he cannot understand the God of mercy.

The unbelieving and defiled do not understand who God is, for they create a god after their own unforgiving nature. Such was the spiritual problem of the scribes and Pharisees.

Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!   For you are like whitewashed tombs and indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness (Mt 23:27).

We place flowers on the coffin of the dead. In a similar way we often dress up in our “Sunday best,” but inwardly we are spiritually dead. Exterior beauty is no solution for interior death. But when one behaves mercifully toward others, then he begins his inward cleansing. It is then that he realizes that “the purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith …” (1 Tm 1:5).

 VII.  Purity of heart produces peacemakers.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God (Mt 5:9).

The Hebrew writer explains, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man will see the Lord (Hb 12:14).   Those who are of a pure heart understand the nature of God, and thus, they seek to establish peace among men as God brought peace between Himself and man through Jesus Christ. “For He [Jesus] is our peace, who has made both one …” (Ep 2:14). Jesus not only brought peace between God and man, He also brought peace between all men.   He “has broken down the middle wall of separation” between men, specifically between those who are of different cultures (Ep 2:14). If we would be a disciple of Jesus, therefore, we will be peacemakers, for such was the ministry of Jesus. Such was the ministry of God to man through Jesus.

Those who are characterized by the heart of God are peacemakers after the nature of their Father. Those who go forth to represent God, have shod their “feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ep 6:15). The peace was characteristic of the early disciples as they went forth to preach the gospel of peace between God and man. Their nature of peace even became their common greeting with one another.   It was as Paul when he addressed the disciples in his letters: “Grace to you and peace from God …” (Ph 1:2; see 1 Co 1:3; 2 Co 1:2; Gl 1:3; Ep 1:2). The early Christians went forth as peacemakers because they represented the God of peace (Ph 4:9). They were thus the children of the God of peace they proclaimed to the world.

The spiritual giants among us will be identified by their desire to bring peace, not contention and argument. While some reveal their immaturity through contention, those who began their spiritual journey to become peacemakers are revealed in times of conflict. When Paul wrote to Titus, he encouraged him to maintain his spirit of peace. When there were controversies concerning matters of opinion, Paul instructed that Titus should function as a peacemaker by not involving himself in meetings that produce contention.

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

The peacemaker maintains peace by not showing up at the meetings that concern discussions over “unprofitable and worthless” controversies. He does not show up because such meetings generate more strife. “Avoid foolish and unlearned questions,” Paul wrote to Timothy, knowing that they generate strife (2 Tm 2:23). Sometimes peacemaking involves avoiding foolish meetings that are conducted over matters of nonsense. If one would judge a meeting to be over a matter of unprofitable and worthless discussions, then he would violate Paul’s instructions to avoid foolish controversies if he attended such a meeting. Those who would call such meetings are factious, perverted and sinning.   They are self-condemned.

It is certain that when one has spiritually grown to be a peacemaker, he will be condemned by the contentious for not showing up at controversial meetings that are conducted by those who are sinning. Nevertheless, the peacemaker must remember that …

the servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God perhaps will grant them repentance leading to a full knowledge of the truth (2 Tm 2:24,25).

 VIII.  Peacemaking produces persecution.

         Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake(Mt 5:10). Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you for My sake (Mt 5:11).

The persecution of the peacemaker will come from two sources:

 A.  Persecution comes from the world: Jesus forewarned His disciples, “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20). “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). Jesus explained that because they did not conform to the ways of the world, then the world would pour out persecution upon them. “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19).

 B.  Persecution comes from the perverted: We must not conclude that the persecution of spiritual giants will only come from those who are worldly. The misguided religious leaders of Jesus’ day nailed Him to the cross. They were those who cried out to a Roman leader of the world, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him” (Lk 23:21).

Both Timothy and Titus were certainly persecuted when they did not show up at the meeting of those who sought to debate the meaningless issues of the perverted. Perverted debaters will most certainly slander their opponents when their calls for senseless controversies are not answered. When Timothy and Titus did not show up at the meetings over contentions and controversies, then certainly they were slandered because they followed the instructions of the Holy Spirit not to become involved in meaningless debates.

Spiritual giants must always keep in mind that those who call for meetings over senseless controversies, become arrogant when their pleas to debate are not heeded. They manifest their arrogance because they seek to impose their opinions on others through intimidation, or pronouncements that one is “dividing the church.” And since the sincere do not want to “divide the church,” they will often succumb to the proclamations of the perverted who are sinning and self-condemned. They will inadvertently allow the opinions of the arrogant to become law for the intimidated. The intimidated will often allow such by forsaking their freedom in Christ in order to please the opinionated person who seeks to either bind or loose his opinions. Those who spiritually grow in Christ, must expect the wicked tactics of the self-condemned to be launched against them.

When one’s journey of mourning has taken him from hopelessness in sin to the mountain peak of willingly being silent in times of persecution, then certainly he has reached the spiritual caliber of being able to kneel down, as Stephen, and say to his persecutors, “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge” (At 7:60). It is then that we become “the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). We are then “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). Jesus would conclude, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

We conclude, therefore, that Jesus’ reference to “good works” in this statement is more than a reference to good behavior as a disciple.   He was speaking of a demeanor of life.   When the world observes the behavior of spiritual giants, they give glory to God who is the cause of our good life. True spirituality, therefore, will always bring glory to God, and not to ourselves. We must not, therefore, hide our spiritual behavior from those of the world. The world must know that there are spiritual giants in the land.

[Next lecture:  April 24th]

 

7 – OUT OF DUTY

We can thank God that we do not have to stand before Jesus with a notebook of our works in order to have earned, or worst, to demand entrance through the “pearly gates.” We can throw away our notebook records of our meritorious works. We can thank Jesus for the sufficient sacrifice that He paid through His incarnation and sacrificial death on the cross. His taking of our burden of sin to the cross has relieved us of a tremendous burden. So it is in view of this sacrificial event that was coming in the lives of His immediate disciples that Jesus said,

… when you have done all those things that are commanded you, say, “We are unprofitable bondservants. We have done that which was our duty to do (Lk 17:10).

After we have performed the best we can in obedience to His commands, we must conclude that our performance was only our duty to do. We must remember that we are still unprofitable bondservants. We still lack. We are still a long way from that which we so earnestly desire. So we are not ashamed to quote over and over again, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). Eternal life with Jesus is a gift because it could not be earned out of duty.   No duty could ever be performed to earn such an awesome gift.

But there is still duty. Duty means responsibility. It means taking ownership of the commandments of Jesus in order that we manifest our desire to be His disciples. “If you love Me,” Jesus reminded His disciples, “you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15). “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words” (Jn 14:23). And why do we keep His commandments? Jesus explained, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love (Jn 15:10). So duty is necessary. Doing our duty is a manifestation of our taking ownership of our discipleship.   And if we do not do His word, then we are out of duty. We will fail to grow spiritually. We can identify the spiritual giants among us by their love of, and obedience to, the word of Jesus. The Holy Spirit called the Bible students in Berea “noble minded” because they were students of the word of God (At 17:11).

I.  The duties of discipleship:

The word “Christian” is a noun. In today’s religious usage the name has lost much of its New Testament meaning. It is now a name that is used to portray anyone who would believe that Jesus is the Son of God, regardless of his beliefs and behavior. But we know that only those who know and do the will of the Father have a right to cry out, “Lord, Lord,” because they are doing the will of the Father (See Mt 7:15-23).

Now the word “disciple” is inherently filled with action. This is the word that means “a follower,” “a learner,” one who willingly submits to a teacher who leads the student in the direction of the teacher. This is why the word “disciple” was used in reference to God’s people at least ten years before the name Christian came into existence. For it was about ten years after the events in Acts 2, that “… the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (At 11:26). And they were called Christians by the unbelievers. Christians did not name themselves Christians. But since the name was appropriate to identify those who were “of Christ,” the name stuck and the Holy Spirit sanctioned it when He used it about fifteen years later in the statement, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian …” (1 Pt 4:16).

Here is something that is quite interesting.   It was the Holy Spirit’s purpose to reveal in the book of Acts the function of the early disciples going about doing their duty. Through the guidance of the Spirit, Luke reveals to Theophilus in Acts the organic function of the early disciples as they carried out their duties as disciples.   Throughout the document of Acts, therefore, Luke uses the word “disciple” to explain the function of those who went about as the body of Christ. The word “Christian” is only used twice in Acts, once in Acts 11:26, and when Paul almost convinced King Agrippa to be a Christian (At 26:28).   But the word is only used in a noun form, whereas “disciple” is used in order to reveal the function of the organic body of Christ. In other words, Luke wanted Theophilus to know that disciples were on duty at all times.   They were functioning parts of a universal body. They were going about the world doing that which was their duty to do as a part of the body of Christ. If one was doing nothing, then he was “out of duty” as a disciple.

If one would be a disciple, therefore, he must be at work carrying out the duties of a disciple. It is easy to label oneself a Christian. But if one does no ministry, and yet claims to be a disciple of Jesus, then his claim is empty. Maybe this is the reason why the name Christian is so commonly used today, and the word “disciple” used so infrequently. One can claim to be a Christian based on what he believes.   But one who claims to be a disciple must prove his discipleship by what he does. We have thought it interesting that few people who say they are Christians, also claim that they are disciples.

Remember what Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (Jn 8:31). We have found it amazing that people will assemble on Sunday with exciting and colorful concert exhibitions, close their assembly, and then never study the word of Jesus. It is actually quite hypocritical. And it was as if Jesus knew there would be those who would claim to be His disciples, and yet be totally ignorant of His word. He spoke of such people: “Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven (Mt 7:21). Jesus was saying that it is inconceivable that one would presumptuously claim to be “marching to Zion” without any knowledge of the “will of My Father.”

People must remember that 450 prophets of Baal religiously jumped up and down on Mount Carmel in a plea that their gods manifest themselves before Elijah. But their religious concert of praise that led to their cutting of themselves with knives was useless. We can only do as Elijah who mocked such prophets with the words, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is meditating or he is busy or he is on a journey. Perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kg 18:27).   But the emotionally misdirected worshipers “cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out of them” (1 Kg 18:28). Now we must confess that this was certainly an exciting worship service. When the worshipers are rolling on the ground, cutting themselves with knives, then you know they have judged their worship to be acceptable to their god. It was their customary religious practice to behave this way in their worship. Nevertheless, regardless of their emotionally intense worship service, we look at this as religious hysteria. And yet, save for the knives, the same carries on with assemblies of churches throughout the world today. The unbeliever looks on and judges such people to be mad (See 1 Co 14:23).

“Blood gushing” assemblies are a signal that people are out of duty and out of control in reference to their knowledge of Jesus.   If one by chance shows up at an assembly where they are passing out knives, it would be best to be absent from the assembly.

As disciples, we must be into the word of Jesus, lest we deceive ourselves into creating a god after our own imagination.   The only way to keep ourselves from creating our own gods is that we discover the one true God in the pages of the Bible. Remember that “these things were written for our learning” (Rm 15:4; see 1 Co 10:11). If we are not students of the word of God, then we are out of duty, and subsequently, out of control as we plead for our god to act, which god is possibly sleeping or on a long journey.

 II.  The duties of priesthood:

1 Peter 2:5 & 9 explain a very important status of the disciples of Jesus. Disciples “are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). Besides being a “holy priesthood,” Peter says that we are also a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a special people, so that” we can proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness (1 Pt 2:9). Every Christian is a priest, and thus, every Christian is on duty to carry out his priestly duties to offer up spiritual sacrifices and praises to God.

Priests are to proclaim the praises of God to the unbelieving world. It is their duty to let the world know their origin and their destiny. There are no part time priests. All priests have presented their bodies a living sacrifice, separated from the world, and thus acceptable to God as His witness before the world (Rm 12:1). Any priest who might think that he can occasionally put off his priestly duties, therefore, is out of duty.   Such a person does not have a priestly mind.

Under the Sinai law of the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was set apart as a people of priests. There was within the nation a designated group of priests (Levites) who ministered to the people of priests. These were the Levites. But every Israelite was to represent God before the world as a priest of God.

The same is true of the church. Every member of the church is a priest of God.   The more we might think that we have a special class of designated priests (“clergymen”) among us, the less we assume our responsibility to be priests before the world. Jesus is now our high priest. “We have such a high priest who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hb 8:1). But we are the priests of God on earth before the world.   It is our duty as priests of God, therefore, to do the work of a priest for the world. Every disciple who is not doing his priestly duties to the world around him is simply out of duty as a priest of God.

 III.  The duties of sainthood:

The Greek word hagios (holy) means to set apart. When Paul wrote to the disciples in Rome, he referred to them as those “called to be saints [holy] (Rm 1:7). The ekklesia, therefore, is the called out assembly of those who are to be saints, and thus, set apart from the world. Saints are in the world, but not of the world (1 Co 5:10).

A saint is on duty in the world because he has been called out of the world. Paul explained, “If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above …” (Cl 3:1). In other words, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Cl 3:2). The saint’s life has been “hidden with Christ in God” (Cl 3:3). He is no longer his own person because he has been “bought with a price” (1 Co 6:20). For this reason, the saint must glorify God in his body (1 Co 6:20). The life of a saint is as Paul explained of his own life:

I have been crucified with Christ.   And it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gl 2:20).

It would be superfluous for a Christian to say that he can take time off from being a saint. Sainthood is what the Christian is. It is not something that he does. Christians simply cannot cease being saints. They cannot because they have the responsibility of being the living proclamations before the world of the changed life. Spiritual giants recognize their priestly duties, and thus, they carry on daily performing their priestly duties to all those around them.

 IV.  The duties of brotherhood:

 Spiritual blood runs thicker through the veins of those who are in Christ, than the blood of those who are only physical brothers and sisters. This is true because brothers and sisters in Christ know that they will be spending eternity with one another. Their brotherhood is a reference to eternity, whereas physical brotherhood is earthly and temporary.

A.  Physical responsibilities: Brotherhood means that those who are in a brother relationship with one another have responsibilities toward one another. James wrote,

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them those things that are needful to the body, what does it profit? (Js 2:15,16).

There is no brotherhood without obligations between those who compose the brotherhood. When Peter commanded that we “love the brotherhood,” he meant that we must take ownership of our responsibilities toward one another (1 Pt 2:17). John even stated that if we do not assume our responsibilities to the brotherhood of saints, we are not children of God. “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). In fact, John was a little more specific in the following statement: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 Jn 3:14). If we do not think that these are great responsibilities, then we have not understood the nature or extent of the fellowship that must be characteristic of a disciple of Jesus. True love of the brotherhood is simply natural in being a disciple of Jesus.

 

Brotherhood means, as someone said, “We’re not put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.”   And if we do not spiritually grow to the point of helping see our brothers and sisters through this world, then the love of God is not in us.

Brotherhood is our test for eternity. John explains: “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not from God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10). So in brotherhood, John cautioned, “… let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). We must put our actions where our mouth is. “And by this we will know that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” (1 Jn 3:19). If we feel bad because we do not help our brother who is in need, then our feeling of guilt will condemn us (1 Jn 3:20). But “if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 Jn 3:21). We have confidence because we are doing what love would do, that is, taking action to preserve our brotherhood because we are taking care of one another’s needs.

 B.  Freedom responsibilities: Brothers and sisters in Christ will often disagree. We can ask Paul, Barnabas, Euodia and Syntyche about this (See At 15:36; Ph 4:2).   Nevertheless, after their disagreement, neither Paul nor Barnabas turned from doing the work of evangelism, for they returned to exhort the disciples in the areas that they initially visited on the first mission journey (At 15:37-41). The names of Euodia and Syntyche were still written in the book of life, regardless of their disagreement (Ph 4:3).

When brethren disagree, it is the responsibility of both parties to maintain communication and harmony, though both parties have the right in matters of opinion to maintain their opinions or methods of work. God never intended for us to be clones of one another’s ministry or minds. If we were clones, then there would rise up among us those who would demand that all of us be unified after their particular opinions. Brotherhood is maintained, not by agreement upon common opinions or methods of work. On the contrary, brotherhood is maintained by allowing freedom in matters of opinion and methods of ministry. This was what Paul sought to guard among brethren when he gave the following mandate:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Gl 5:1).

This statement was made even in the context of those who would bind on the minds of the brotherhood that which they believed to be doctrinally right. There were some Jewish brothers who believed that circumcision was a matter of salvation (At 15:1). When one binds on the brotherhood that which he thinks is a doctrinal matter, but in actuality is only a matter of opinion or tradition, then he has perverted the gospel of Christ (Gl 1:6,7). When this happens among brothers, Paul’s admonition is the same as what he practiced when false brethren sought to bind circumcision on the Gentiles. “To whom we did not yield in subjection even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might continue …” (Gl 2:5).

Brotherhood can be destroyed by failing to assume our responsibilities toward one another, as well as dogmatically binding opinions and methods upon the brotherhood. Brotherhood is destroyed when we do not guard one another’s freedom in Christ

 C.  Oneness in Christ responsibilities: The disciples in Achaia had some serious problems about calling themselves after different individuals. In doing such they were endangering their brotherhood. The individuals after whom they called themselves had already left the region. The spirit of sectarianism had come in among the disciples to the point that some said, “I am of Paul,” and others, “I am of Apollos,” and then others, “I am of Cephas” (1 Co 1:12).   We feel that Paul was somewhat sarcastic when he chided their immaturity, for he admonished, “I am of Christ” (1 Co 1:13). Paul rebuked, “Is Christ divided?”

The brotherhood of the disciples throughout the province of Achaia, and in Corinth, was established on the foundation of two facts: (1) Christ was crucified for them, and (2) they were baptized in the name of Christ (1 Co 1:13). This was the foundation of their brotherhood.   No man had any right to establish his own foundation by which members become a part of the body of Christ.   And since Christ died for their sins, and they each voluntarily and individually obeyed the gospel through baptism, then calling themselves after any other person than Christ was quite sectarian. When we call ourselves after men on earth, brotherhood is destroyed. Since baptism brings us into the brotherhood of Christ, then certainly, it is not the choice of any man to add any member to any brotherhood than the brotherhood of Christ (At 2:47). When brotherhood is endangered by sectarianism, Paul’s admonition is simple:

Now I urge you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Co 1:10).

If we fail to make sure that all the physical needs of the brotherhood are supplied, then we are out of duty. If we fail to give one another freedom in Christ, we are out of duty. If we divide ourselves after different personalities, then we are out of duty as disciples. It is the goal of every member of the body to eagerly keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ep 4:3).

IV.  The duties of servants:

 Christianity is primarily about ministry, not assemblies.   Assemblies are the result of disciples who are partners in their priesthood ministry to one another and the world. Unfortunately, this order has been reversed with most religious groups.   Assembly has become more important than ministry. In fact, the religious world has moved to the point that if one of two things are supposedly correct, then one has a sure passage into eternal glory.

First, there are those who feel that if they carry out a prescribed ritual in assembly, which ritual is footnoted with a list of supposedly supporting scriptures, then they are somehow justified before God for believing and performing the correct rituals in their assemblies.

Second, there are those who feel that if they feel good after an assembly, their worship is acceptable to God, and thus, their passage into eternal glory is certain. They conclude that a hysterical assembly guarantees that they are in a saved relationship with God regardless of being involved in any ministry.

The fallacy of both the preceding concepts is deceptive. In reference to the first, the adherents are trusting in their legal performance of law in order to guarantee their acceptance before God. But Paul was emphatic when he said, “… for by works of law no flesh will be justified (Gl 2:16). If we base our acceptance before God on the foundation of a worship service that is presumed to be according to law, then we have violated the very principle that Paul argued throughout the books of both Romans and Galatians.

How some can preach from the pulpit salvation by grace, while at the same time making sure that everyone is performing according to the law in a ritualistic assembly, is self deceiving, if not bewildering. For example, think of all the conflicts that have come about among the disciples concerning supposed legal systems as to how the Lord’s Supper is to be carried out during the assembly. We are quite hypocritical.   We give the table talk on grace, and then make sure that we proceed according to law as to how the emblems are to be served. Some are so legally oriented about ceremonies surrounding the Supper that they will set out the grape juice until it ferments into wine so it can be legally and scripturally served as wine.

If there is a legal ritual for assembly, then the assembly becomes a legal identity by which we judge whether one is in fellowship with the body. Sunday morning becomes the legal standard by which we judge one another in reference to the salvation of individuals. Where one sits on Sunday morning, according to legalists, determines one’s eternal destiny. Maybe we need to stand back and take another look at the legalistic and sectarian spirit and behavior we have established in order to make a “five act of worship” the standard by which we judge the eternal destiny of individuals. Are we not hypocritical in trying to worship the God of grace by our strict legal definition of worship? Have we contradicted by our legal worship the statement, “by works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 2:16).

Do not thank that we have gone off course on this matter. We have written these things in order to emphasize the apostasy to which some have gone in order to justify themselves before God according to law, while at the same time, refuse to walk in the light of the gospel after the “closing prayer.” The more emphasis that is placed on the law of assembly (worship), the further we move from our responsibilities to minister to others after the “closing prayer.” We believe that we can save ourselves by a legal worship, and then fail to lead the life of a disciple after our “legal worship.”   When “assembly laws” become that by which we judge our eternal destiny, then ministry will always take a second seat.   It does because we trust in the legalities of our assemblies more than the behavior of our lives.

As disciples of Jesus, we are servants, and service takes place outside assembly. The Greek word that is commonly used in the New Testament to explain the servanthood of the saints is doulos. The doulos are the slaves of the field. There is no metaphorical meaning here. Slaves are slaves, whether they are Christian or unbelievers. Paul was a slave of Jesus (Rm 1:1). He had made himself a slave to all (1 Co 9:19). He preached himself to be a slave for Jesus’ sake (2 Co 4:5). He was not a slave because he performed some ritualistic assembly, but because he behaved Jesus in his life. And so, he says to us, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). Owen Cosgrove once said,

A slave who balks most of the time, who gives halfhearted service and that only rarely, and who shows up only at dinner time is a poor excuse for a truly devoted servant.

Some people want to sit legally in a supposed “scriptural” assembly, but do no slave work outside the assembly. Some people want to concert themselves into euphoria, and thus justify their sainthood through ecstatic utterances, but are worthless to the needs of others. The problem with both legalistic and emotional religiosity is that both lean toward narcissism. They are self-centered and self-gratifying, while at the same time the adherents to such religiosity will walk by the beggar on the steps of the temple.

The legalist leaves his assembly, gratified that he has performed the correct rituals. The emotionalist leaves his assembly too exhausted to even notice the beggar. There is a throne in the life of every worshiper. Either we are sitting on it, or Christ is there. And if Christ is there, we need to remember these words:

Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant …” (Ph 2:5-7).

If a farmer stops planting and harvesting, he has lost his identity as a farmer. He ceases to be a farmer. If a carpenter ceases to work the wood and make the furniture, then he has lost the identity of a carpenter. He ceases to be a carpenter. If a disciple of Jesus ceases to serve others as a slave of Jesus, then he has lost his identity as a disciple. He ceases to be a disciple.

[Next lecture:  April 22nd]

 

6 – Maintaining Contact

Some people define “church” as a series of ceremonial rituals that are performed on a regular basis, hopefully on a weekly basis on Sunday morning. Others define church as a catechism of doctrines that can be conveniently outlined, or possibly presented in a well-written book that explains all the correct proof text of scripture that validates each point of identity.   There are those who define their particular denomination by a manual of traditions or doctrines. And then there is the definition of church to be a relational interaction of people with one another that is based on the members’ common obedience to the gospel and mutual love of one another. We would agree with the latter.

In one passage of Scripture Jesus defined “church”:

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

This is the definition of the ekklesia (church) that Jesus called out of the world through the gospel. And if this is the definition of church—and it is—then doctrinal outlines fall far short of defining the organic body of Christ.   Manuals of common tradition are worthless.

Love is an action word. Outlines and rituals are inert and impersonal. We may content ourselves to feel good about our correct outline of doctrine or common traditions. But we cannot content ourselves if our behavior is not identified by Jesus’ definition of His disciples. What is scary is that the majority of religious people today who are connected in some way to a particular religious group, maintain their connection (fellowship) with their particular church either on the basis of tradition or theology.   Love takes second place to these customary systems of church identity.

The identity of the disciples of Jesus is known by their relational love they have for one another that is based on their common obedience to the gospel. They simply gravitate to one another and enjoy one another’s presence because they have obeyed the gospel. They realize that their interaction with one another on earth is in preparation to be with one another for eternity. If they cannot work out their differences on earth, then it is questionable that they will enjoy being with one another for eternity. It is imperative, therefore, that there be no “once a month” or “periodic disciples” who refrain from being with other disciples. Nevertheless, there are those members who stay away from the body of believers. By doing such, they manifest their self-deception that they will enjoy the company of the disciples in eternity. If one cannot voluntarily fellowship with other Christians on earth, then certainly God will not force this person to be together with Christians in heaven.

The following are some erroneous beliefs of those who have deceived themselves into thinking that they will have an eternal reward for their unloving relationship with their fellow body of believers:

 I.  Legal justification:

Legal justification is illustrated by contributing a few coins to the function of the body, when at the same time, the contributor has many notes in his pocket. If God would meet him on his exit from the legalized assembly, he could at least say he legally made a contribution. No judgment could supposedly be made against him because he dropped in a few coins.

As with legal contributions, one who practices legal fellowship is seeking to be with his fellow Christians as least as possible, and yet, feel justified before God. A preacher friend of ours several years ago mentioned the name of the presumptuous member who was supposedly a part of his fellowship. He said he saw the name of the member in the local newspaper.   The problem was that the man gave the name of the church for which he preached. He told the newspaper that he was a member of this church. But my friend said the man never showed up at the assembly of the church.

Some people deceive themselves into thinking that they are in fellowship with God, when at the same time they maintain no fellowship with His people. John wrote of these people. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn 1:6; see 2:9,10). So the person who claims to be associated with the disciples, but never shows up to be in fellowship with the disciples, has simply deceived himself. The fact would be what Peter and John said to Simon the sorcerer, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God (At 8:21).

 II.  Presumptuous relationships:

If one stayed away from his wife for an extended period of time without any reason, then we would question the man’s love for his wife. If one stayed away from his job for an extended period of time without any excuse, then he would be fired. If one seeks to starve his relationship with his brothers in Christ, then he simply has no love for his brothers in Christ. If one would presume to have a relationship with Christ, but fails to be with the body of Christ, then he has deceived himself. He has presumed to have that which does not exist, that is, a relationship with fellow disciples of Christ.

Christianity is about relationships, and relationships depend on being with one another. Some have often used the text of Hebrews 10:24,25 as a legal code to instill guilt in those who forsake the assembly of the saints. But there is something far more important behind the meaning of Hebrews 10:24,25 than the breaking of a legal code of attendance.   In fact, what is stated in the text is the reason why some stayed away.

We must understand the passage in the context of the time in which it was written.

Let us hold firm to the confession of our faith without wavering, for He is faithful who promised. And let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (Hb 10:23-26).

At the time the letter was written to the Jewish Christians, there was great intimidation of the Jewish Christians to go back into Judaism. The intensity of the Jewish insurrection was rising in the Roman Empire. What eventually happened was that Rome decided to put down the “Jewish problem” by the destruction of the Jewish state in Palestine, which eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and finally the destruction of the stronghold of Masada soon after.

Some Jews who were converted out of Judaism were on the verge of returning to their fellow Jews, and thus, were slipping away from their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Hebrew letter was written in order to argue against their theological case of returning to a legal system of law under the Sinai law. After the Hebrew writer made his theological case, he concluded in chapter 10, But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hb 10:39).   Hebrews 10:24,25 must be understood in this historical context.

In order not to draw back into Judaism, the Jewish disciples must associate with one another. They must encourage one another to remain faithful to their former commitment that Jesus was the Messiah. The “day” about which the writer spoke, was not the final coming of Jesus at the end of time. The Holy Spirit would not lie to the readers, deceiving them into thinking that Jesus was coming in His final coming in their lifetime. All the early Christians had been told the prophecy of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew 24. National Israel, with the final destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, was coming to a close. Jesus was coming, but He was coming in time in judgment in order to conclude the age of Israel. The Hebrew writer, therefore, wrote to save Christian lives by discouraging them from repatriating with national Israel in Jerusalem. If they drew back into Judaism, indeed they would “draw back to destruction” (Hb 10:39).

As a culture of people, the Hebrew writer thus encouraged the Jewish brethren to assemble with one another in order to encourage one another to remain faithful to Jesus as the Messiah (Hb 10:25). And in order to remain faithful, they had to encourage one another to do two things: (1) stir up loving fellowship with one another, and (2) encourage getting to work for Jesus. Hebrew 10:24,25 is not talking about some “hour of worship” wherein one’s faithfulness is determined by his legal presence.   This may be a convenient passage for preachers to beat people on the heart for not attending, but such an interpretation is certainly shallow in reference to the historical context of what was happening in the lives of the Jewish Christians when the passage was written.

The “sin” to which the Hebrew writer was referring was their apostasy to Judaism. In the book, the writer had earlier stated, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hb 3:13). Turning back into “sin” meant turning away from the high priesthood of Jesus. Notice what the writer stated would happen if they turned from the atonement of Jesus: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins(Hb 10:26). If they turned away from Jesus, then they would be turning away from the atoning blood of Jesus.

We would understand “the Truth” in the context according to what Jesus said to the Jews during His earthly ministry: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).   Jesus was the revealed Word (Jn 1:1,2,14). He was the Truth. And it was He, through the cross, who set obedient people free from their sins. The Hebrews had obeyed the truth of the gospel because of their “knowledge of the Truth,” which Jesus was. But if they willfully turned away from the Truth (Jesus), then Jesus could do nothing for their problem of sin. This is something far more serious than missing the “attendance of the saints” on Sunday morning. The Hebrew writer was discussing apostasy, not legal attendance to assemblies, though the lack of attendance at the assembly of the saints is the first signal of a backsliding disciple.

It could be understood, however, that if one does not assemble around those who believe that Jesus is the Truth, then certainly he is falling from the faith. Our sweet fellowship that we have in Christ is that all of us have a “knowledge of the Truth.” We have obeyed the truth of the gospel, and thus are in fellowship with one another.   Whoever would not want to be around like-minded people certainly has little knowledge of the Truth (Jesus).   Christianity is not about attendance at legal assemblies, but about being drawn together in assembly as we draw closer to Jesus. It is as Jesus said: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me (Jn 12:32).

 III.  Estranged relationships:

 Someone once said, “The difference between opinion and conviction is that you hold one and the other holds you.” It is not a matter of opinion that Christians are in fellowship with one another for the purpose of growing one another spiritually.   It is that we are held together because of our commitment to one another. When in the absence of one another, our feelings should be as those expressed by Paul when he was away from the disciples in Thessalonica.

 So affectionately longing for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own souls, because you had become very dear to us (1 Th 2:8).

And to the Roman Christians, he wrote, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another (Rm 12:10). To the Ephesians, he continued, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another …” (Ep 4:32). These are powerful statements in reference to the nature and intensity by which Christians are to desire one another’s presence. Has our digital age of distance communication deprived us of this longing for one another’s personal presence? Have we cheapened fellowship through texting on smart phones?

As we seek Jesus, we seek one another. A missionary friend of ours told of a religious woman in his community who was leprous. He mentioned that in her religious faith and longing for the saints that she crawled for two miles on her crippled hands and knees in order to be with the saints. And then she asked for forgiveness for her unfaithfulness and commitment to them.

We are often in the presence of lukewarm Christians who now define the culture of a lukewarm faith. Such happened to the disciples in the city of Laodicea. But Jesus pronounced judgment on them. “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth (Rv 3:16). The Christians in Laodicea may have been comfortable with one another’s lukewarmness, but Jesus was not. There were possibly some in the church of Laodicea as the husband and father identified in the following poetic statement of a lukewarm Christian:

 Take my wife and let her be,

Consecrated, Lord to thee.

Take my children as thine own,

As for me, I’ll stay at home.

 This husband and father had forgotten Ezekiel 18:4: “Behold, all souls are Mine. As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine. The soul that sins, it will die.”

In the bulletin of a church over a half century ago were the words of an unknown poet.

 His four-year old climbed on his knee,

Intent to have her daddy see,

What she in Sunday school had drawn;

While he stayed home and mowed the lawn.

“See there is Mom and me and Sue,

But Daddy, I could not draw you;

Because you never go with us,

Did you and Jesus have a fuss?”

He bowed his head and felt ashamed,

And found it so hard to explain;

He vowed a vow, and kept it too,

That miss again, he’d never do.

 There is the old Chinese tale of a man traveling through a country. He saw a beggar at the side of the road, and subsequently, gave him six of his seven coins.   While the traveler slept, however, the beggar stole the seventh. We would be harsh with the beggar, but we would do the same with God. He has allowed us to have and use all that we have, but we want to steal the rest.

[Next lecture:  April 20th]

 

5 – Partners in Christ

The New Testament is saturated with “one another” passages in reference to the relationship that Christians are to experience with one another. In our digital communication era, however, the word “relationship” seems to mean something different in this culture than what God intended should be among the members of the body of Christ. In fact, the concept of relationship that is commonly expressed today in the digital cultures of the world is quite different from the relationships that people have in the village life in the middle of India or Africa. Village relationships are closer to first century relationships than that which we witness in large cities today. The concept of a “wireless relationship” through digital smart phone texting (SMS) is not what is meant by the “one another” (relationship) passages of the New Testament. Relationship is defined in the New Testament as personal contact in order to determine if one another’s needs are fulfilled, both physically and spiritually. This can be enhanced by digital communication, but we must always be careful not to allow such communication to be substituted for face-to-face contact. Digital communication should actually bring us closer together, if such is used in reference to the disciples’ connection with one another.

Spiritual growth is directly connected to the relational function of the members of the body of Christ. The following statement defines true relationships that Christians are to have with one another. We do not see smart phones taking the place of Paul’s definition of how Christians are to relate with one another, as he explains in the following statement:

… from whom [Christ] the whole body being fitted and held together by what every join supplies, according to the effective working of each part, causes growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love (Ep 4:16).

This is the relational function of the organic body. We are as the body of Christ, fitted and held together by what we supply to one another. Each part of the body must be working and supplying. And when we are fitted and held together by supplying one another’s needs, then each member is held in fellowship with the whole body. It is then that spiritual growth occurs.

Other than the phrase “one another,” the word “fellowship” is the most common word used in the New Testament to explain the organic function of the body in order that each member spiritually grows.   “Fellowship” is usually the English word that is used to translate the Greek word koinonia. This word has a diversity of meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. However, the word basically means “joint partnership” or “having things in common.”   The context in which the word is used must be the final dictionary to define the word. What is significant about all the contexts in which the word is used, is that the concept of partnership and sharing is always understood.

 A.  Partners in truth:

John explained,

That which we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:3).

Our fellowship (partnership) with the Father and Son is based on the condition of continuing in the truth. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 Jn 1:6).   John further explained, But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another …” (1 Jn 1:7). We do not understand this to mean that we walk in agreement with some catechism of interpretations with which everyone must agree. The problem with such an interpretation of John’s statement is that too many interpreters want to slip in their favorite interpretations, if not opinions. Since God knew that we would do this—the Pharisees were good at this—then we must conclude that “the truth” must be something that is fundamental and clearly stated in Scripture.   In the context in which John made the statement, the truth of Jesus being the resurrected Son of God was under attack. Therefore, we would conclude that if one did not walk in the truth of the resurrected Son of God, then he had no fellowship with the apostles, or God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Paul may shed some light on this. He wrote concerning our “… fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now …” (Ph 1:5). Those who have obeyed the death, burial and resurrection of the Son of God through immersion in water definitely walk in fellowship with one another. This would be the “truth of the gospel” about which Paul wrote, and was in danger of being compromised in the early years of the existence of the church.   To the Galatians he wrote, “To whom [the ‘circumcision brethren’ of Jerusalem] we did not yield in subjection even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might continue with you (Gl 2:5). This truth of the gospel can be compromised. Paul continued to explain to the Galatians concerning the behavior of some Jews in Antioch, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel …” (Gl 2:14). It is the word of God that communicates to us the truth of the gospel (Cl 1:5). If we do not behave according to this record of the truth of the gospel, then we have no fellowship with one another. Obedience to the gospel, therefore, is the foundation upon which we have fellowship with one another. This truth of the gospel is revealed in the New Testament. If one is not following the road map of the New Testament, then he cannot obey the truth of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, for such is revealed only in the New Testament (1 Co 15:1-4). He simply will not know what the truth of the gospel is if he does not read his Bible.

Does obedience to the gospel establish an unending fellowship? Certainly not! One may start out his Christian walk in fellowship with God through his obedience to the gospel, but if Jesus’ teaching in John teaches us anything, there are fundamental truths in which one must walk in order to maintain the fellowship we have in our common obedience to the gospel. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words” (Jn 14:23). It is not difficult to understand this. John explained, “And he who keeps His commandments abides in Him” (1 Jn 3:24). Walking in the light is walking in the truth of Jesus and His commandments.   Jesus simply stated, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (Jn 8:31).

We have been called into fellowship with God through the gospel of the cross and resurrection (2 Th 2:14). Through Jesus on the cross, God calls us into fellowship with His Son (1 Co 1:9). But in order to remain in fellowship with Him, we must walk in the truth. The blessing to our walk in the truth is that we are in partnership with Father (1 Jn 3:24), the Son (1 Co 1:9), the Holy Spirit (1 Co 3:16; 2 Co 13:14), the apostles (1 Jn 1:3), and all other Christians (1 Jn 1:7).

 B.  Partnership in Christ’s suffering:

The Holy Spirit reminded Timothy of one very important principle of living the spiritual life in Christ: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tm 3:12). If we seek to partner with Christ, then we must partner with Him in His suffering. Notice Paul’s description of this fellowship in his letter to the Philippians:

I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being like Him in His death (Ph 3:10).

Most people want “sweet Jesus meek and mild.”   But they forget that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps (1 Pt 2:21). There is no partnership with Jesus unless we are willing to follow Him in His sufferings, even if these sufferings lead us unto death (Rv 2:10).

Discipleship means suffering. It may not be physical suffering, but indeed, there is at least the suffering that comes from being a nonconformist to the ways of the world.   If we truly know Jesus, then we know that He warned everyone who would dare to claim to be His disciple that they would be hated by the world.

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:18,19).

Those who partner with Jesus as His disciples, must partner with His sufferings. We simply need to remember what Jesus said: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20). Someone concluded:

 For every hill I’ve had to climb,

For every stone that bruised my feet,

For all the blood and sweat and grime,

For blinding storms and burning heat,

My heart sang but a grateful song,

These were the things that made me strong.

 If there is no persecution from the world, then we should be cautioned. It may be that we are living according to the world, and the world sees no difference between us and them. It may be that we are silent concerning our beliefs, and thus, the world does not know what we believe. It may be that we have assumed that everyone in the world is saved regardless of whether they believe in Jesus. Or, it may be that all the world is Christian. We think that the latter is not the case, but all the former are true in one’s life if he is not living the life of a disciple.

If we live the life of a disciple, and are headed to eternal glory, then discipleship means sharing what we believe with others. It means rejecting those immoral practices by which the world entertains itself.   Jesus lived in a more religious environment than we do today, and yet, it was the religious world of His day that crucified Him. We thus pause and think about this for a moment. Maybe we have fallen further away from what discipleship means than we think. If there is no persecution from the misguided religious world, then we are probably not engaging the religious world concerning those teachings that are necessary to believe and obey in order to be saved.

 C.  Partnership in burden bearing:

 If we are disciples of Jesus, then there is no such thing as suffering alone. If one is suffering alone, then something is wrong. Either one has separated himself from the fellowship of his fellow disciples, or he is on a long journey among unbelievers. But Christianity is about helping one another through this world.   The definition of “church” is fellowship among those who have partnered in Christ to make sure their journey through this world ends in the eternal presence of the Father. Paul explained, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness …” (Gl 6:1). He continued, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gl 6:2). Paul even wrote a commentary on what we are to do in our fellowship with one another in Christ:

We then who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me” (Rm 15:1-3; see Is 35:3,4).

Christianity is defined by a fellowship of care that people have for one another. Paul concluded his first letter to the newly baptized Thessalonians, “Therefore, comfort one another and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Th 5:11). Even in their newness in the faith, the Thessalonians were “contributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Rm 12:13; see 2 Co 9:12). At the very beginning, Luke defined the organic function of the body in reference to the members’ relational activity with one another: “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common” (At 2:44).   This is the nature of the body of Christ.

 D.  Partnership around the table:

Both Jude and Peter wrote their epistles in the middle or late 60s. In both letters mention is made of the “love feast” (2 Pt 2:13; Jd 12). The love feast was a vital function of the early body of Christ. There is something about eating together that brings people together. So for the first thirty or more years after the beginning in A.D. 30, the early disciples celebrated their common partnership in Christ over a full meal. Their breaking of bread together began in the early days of their fellowship and continued for years (At 2:42,46; 20:7). In fact, the love feast continued among the disciples well into the fourth century.

Because of the nature of the fellowship of the body (Rm 12:13), it was only natural that the early members seek every opportunity to share with one another through food. Though some puffed up Corinthians arrogantly manifested their lack of consideration in how they behaved at the love feast (1 Co 11:17-22), Paul still wanted them to continue eating together. So he gave some basic instructions on how to avoid their confusion.   He instructed them concerning the basic ethics in how to show respect for one another when they came together to eat the love feast. “When you come together to eat,” Paul instruction, “wait for one another” (1 Co 11:33). And if anyone cannot wait to eat at the common love feast, then he should eat something before he comes to the table (1 Co 11:34). If these two simple instructions are honored, then coming together for the love feast accomplishes a great deal in bringing the members of the body together as a family. The love feast becomes the opportunity for spiritual growth. It places spiritually strong Christians in conversational company with weaker brothers. It is a special environment in which the members are bonded together in a social environment of mutual sharing.

The goal of the local members of the body of Christ is to come closer to one another as they come closer to Christ. It is as the spokes of a wheel. Jesus is the hub. As the spokes draw closer to the hub, the closer the spokes come together. Sometimes it is as the fish farmer who had his separate pools of different fish at the bottom of a mountain. Unfortunately, there came a great rain, and subsequent, flash flood. The waters of the flood covered all the individual fish ponds. The different fish in each pond had the opportunity to swim over and enjoy the fellowship of one another’s ponds. Sometimes it takes hardships to bring members out of their independent boxes (ponds) in order that they come together into one family. Every Christian must realize that he or she is not alone in the heat of the battle for Jesus. It is as the Hebrew writer encouraged, “Let brotherly love continue” (Hb 13:1).   We must “love the brotherhood” (1 Pt 2:17). Peter concluded, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion one for another. Love as brethren, be kindhearted, humble” (1 Pt 3:8).