Friday, February 23, 2018
We live in a world where there is constant competition, whether for food, or a mate, business, or political power. Unfortunately, many times people reach a point where winning a competition becomes the most important thing. A famous coach said, winning is not the most important thing, it is the only thing that matters. People with such an attitude cheat, even crippling or killing a competitor who might beat them. It is important for us to realize the competitiveness is a result of man’s sin. It is not a spiritual gift, and when it comes into the church, it causes problems.
We see an example in Matthew 20:20-23. “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou?
She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
They say unto him, We are able.
And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.”
James and Johns mother was quite ambitious for her two sons, asking that they receive the highest positions in the heavenly kingdom. Jesus asked if they thought they could fulfil his position and do what he was here to accomplish. Like many competitive or ambitious people, they were not about to admit someone else might be able to do something better than they could, insisting they could do anything he could. Jesus went on to warn them that they would experience some of same experiences he did, but that even when they did, it would not entitle them to the rewards they were asking for. Those positions were reserved for the ones God the father had chosen. Caligula became emperor in 37 Ad, and appointed Herod Agrippa I king over Judea. Acts 12:1-2 describes Herod having James killed, and Herod died in 44 AD, as described in Acts 12:23. John would be imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos as described in Revelation 1:9, which he wrote about 93 AD, some thirty years after Jerusalem had been destroyed.
Ambition and competitiveness invariably causes conflicts in the church, and as Matthew 20:24 tells us, it caused conflict between the apostles. “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. “ Jesus intervened, teaching a very important point about church leadership, in Matthew 20:25-28. “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus pointed out that in Gentile cultures such as the Roman Empire, there was a very strong hierarchy, with each person answering to their immediate superior. Among Christians there is to be no such hierarchy. Ultimately, each person is directly accountable to God, just as God had originally planned for Israel. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 both tell us, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Israel’s choosing a king was an act of rebellion against God as I Samuel 10:19 explains. “And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us…” Only after they rejected God’s plan did Israel begin to use a system like other “civilized” groups.
Leaders were to be chosen because they served others, helping them accomplish things that were needed, rather than making the people do what they wanted. It was the example Jesus set before the disciples, more concerned about his followers than about getting his own way. As we see in Matthew 23:8 they were not even to use titles which set one above another, because we are equal before God. “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” There is no place for competition or ambition in God’s church. If they are serving the Lord as they should be, we should be playing on the same team. If they are not, we are not playing the same game, and don’t need to worry about what they are doing.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
Jesus had just made it clear that a person who was willing to put christ ahead of everything else would be blessed, in Matthew 19:29-30. “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” He also warned them that the rewards would not be based on who was most respected, or who got saved first.
He then used a proverb to illustrate his point, in Matthew 20:1-15 “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us.
He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”
The householder had agreed to pay a penny a day for each man who worked in his field. Unfortunately, there were not enough workers available when he started, so he had to go back to find additional workers several times in an effort to get the grapes picked before they started to spoil. The last group the hired had been out looking for work, but had not found anyone to hire them, so he put them to work just an hour before quitting time. At the end of the day he paid each man a full day’s pay even though some had only worked for an hour or so.
Some of those who had worked the entire day felt that it was unfair that they didn’t get paid more than those who only worked an hour. The owner pointed out they had been paid what they had agreed to work for. It was his money, and he had the right to give the same pay to those who came later if he chose to. He was not cheating those who came first by paying everyone the same amount for coming and helping him out. Similarly, God will not be cheating anyone by giving the same salvation to those who got saved on their deathbed as those who got saved as a little child. It is God’s kingdom and he has the right to make the rules as he sees fit. He has made salvation available to everyone, but not everyone will accept Christ, and thus some will not receive it. Judas had the same opportunity to be saved as the other disciples, but he chose not to believe, and was condemned.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Jesus had just told the rich young man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions,” in Matthew 19:21-22. The young man walked away, unwilling to do what Jesus said. Jesus had then pointed out that people who were into physical things such as wealth rarely were willing to give them up for God’s sake, and as a result few would ever be saved or get into heaven.
Unlike the rich young man, Peter, Andrew, James and John had given up their fishing businesses, and Matthew had given up a lucrative position as a tax collector. Others had given up other careers and businesses, and left their families behind to follow Christ. Matthew 19:27 tells us, “Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” They had done what Jesus said would be necessary to get into heaven and now they wanted to know if it would get them into heaven. Originally, the disciples had simply believed Jesus was the Messiah, with no thought of rewards for following him. It just seemed like what they should do. Jesus comments had made them think about what rewards there might be.
Jesus reassured them in Matthew 19:28-30. “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”
Because they had followed him with no concern for their own benefit, they would be placed in authority over the nation of Israel when Christ sets up his earthly kingdom. It is believed they will be part of the elders mentioned in Revelation 4:4-5 and 10-11, and again in Revelation 20:4. The last passage not only refers to the twelve apostles, but also to every person who has made a similar commitment to Christ, willing to give up their earthly ambitions and possessions simply because they believe in Christ, and are not thinking about what the rewards will be.
He went on to warn them that some of those who were most respected would miss out completely while some of those who were unknown would receive the greatest rewards. A prime example is Judas Iscariot. Judas was so highly respected among the disciples they had put him in charge of their finances. When Jesus announced in John 13:21-29 that one of them would betray him, none of them thought it could be Judas.
“When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.”
Even after Jesus told them the one who will betray me is the one I give this piece of bread to, the disciples didn’t believe Judas would betray Jesus, but assumed he was being given some special job to do for the Lord. They thought it more likely that they would personally betray Jesus than that Judas would. He probably seemed like the most spiritual man among them. Jesus’ statement reminds us of what God told Samuel in I Samuel 16:7, “…for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” Often, all we see is the outward appearances and actions, but God knows a person’s heart. We need to be careful not to follow people simply because others think they are above reproach or because they seem to be doing great things.
II Corinthians 11:13-15 warns some of the best known and most respected are false teachers pretending to be from God. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” God is not fooled, and they will be rewarded according to what they do. Jesus is reinforcing what he told them in Matthew 7:21-23.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
A man came to Jesus in Matthew 19:16 asking a question that religious people have been asking for thousands of years. “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Religion focuses on man’s actions, whether following some specific moral code, fasting and praying to obtain some spiritual sign or power, destroying other religions, or giving to some specific cause. If they just do enough good things, surely they can earn eternal life. Even many who are called Christians have this idea, often illustrating it with a scale comparing a person’s good deeds to their bad ones. If the good outweighs the bad, they believe they will got heaven, and if the bad outweighs the good, they will go to hell.
People can fool us with their words or actions as Solomon warned in Proverbs 23:6-8, their attitude determines what kind of person they really are, as Proverbs 23:7 states. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” This was the point Jesus was making in Matthew 19:17. “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Human attitudes are inherently evil, as Genesis 6:5 tells us. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” As a result, Romans 3:10-12 tells us, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
If a person were truly good enough to get into heaven they would naturally do the things God has commanded, as Jesus told him. People nearly always understand they haven’t kept them all, and want to know which ones they have to keep, like the man in Matthew 19:18-19. “He saith unto him, Which?
Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Thesew are all straightforward actions people can do even though they may resent having to do them, and Matthew 19:20 tells us the young man was confidant he had. “The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” Despite his confidence in having done those things he knew something was lacking.
To be good enough to get into heaven would require more than mechanically keeping the law, as Jesus told him in Matthew 19:21-22. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” Jesus told the young man the same thing he told the multitude in Luke 14:26-33. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
While he wanted eternal life, they young man did not want it enough to give up his earthly life to get it. Jesus warned his disciples that most people who have a good life here will not be willing to give it up to get saved, in Matthew 19:23-24. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” The focus on material belongings and earthly attainments overrides most people’s concern about eternity, if they are forced to make a choice.
The disciples were just as shocked by Jesus’ statement as many Christians are today at the idea that salvation requires more than simply praying the sinner’s prayer, as we see in Matthew 19:25-26. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” If what Jesus said was true, how could anyone ever make such a commitment by faith? It is hard to motivate people to give up today’s pleasure without some kind of short term rewards. Jesus said only God could give people that kind of faith. Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Salvation is a gift from God obtained through faith, but even that faith comes from God. No amount of psychological tricks or motivational preaching will produce it. John 6:44 tells us, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” While God may use our witnessing to reach people, they only get saved as a result of his working, not our impassioned pleas. Only God can change the heart attitude to make a person fit for heaven.
Monday, February 19, 2018
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
Several years ago, while on deputation, I was shocked at the number of campgrounds that did not allow children because the older people did not want to be disturbed. When I looked around, I found that many neighborhood associations and apartments had similar policies. I met grandparents who told me they rented a single bedroom apartment so that they would not have to put up with their grandkids overnight. Hundreds of young women postpone having children, because they do not want anything to interfere with their career, and those who have children put them in daycare or hire babysitters as soon as possible so that they can enjoy their career. Thousands of women have abortions because a child would interfere with their education or chosen lifestyle. With such an attitude toward children, it is not surprising that so many of them have a selfish and rebellious attitude.
Sadly, the same attitude has come into the church. Several years ago, I started a bus route to a small community to pick up kids for church because the pastor of a church in the community had told the people the children were too disruptive and should not be brought. A rather famous pastor told the people not to bring children into the main service because they might cause a disturbance and quench the spirit. Many times children’s church programs are primarily for keeping the kids from causing a disturbance. As a result, the kids do not feel like they are an important part of the church and drop out when they start high school or college.
Jesus was very specific in stating that the children were to be allowed to come along with the adults. While we may assume they get very little out of it, Jesus said, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Though they may seem to pay little attention, it is amazing how much they pick up, and they are strongly influenced by the attitudes of the adults around them. As a child, I remember feeling very important to be allowed to accompany my dad to a meeting even though I had little interest in the meeting at the time, and years later being allowed to go had a tremendous influence on my development as a pastor and missionary. There need to be times when the children sit with the adults and learn they are part of the church, and the adults need to learn to show consideration for them as Romans 15:1 tells us. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” The adults ought to be mature enough to overlook or deal with a little childish behavior. The Holy Spirit is God, and if a child is able to quench the spirit and prevent him from working the spirit involved must not be the Holy Spirit. Jesus said we are not to forbid them to come. When we become so selfish we cannot bear to have little children around we are definitely not walking in the Spirit or showing God’s love.
Friday, February 16, 2018
The Old Testament Law Had given very specific guidelines about marriage and divorce. Over the centuries, the Jews had developed various schools of interpretation of that Law, leading to confusion as to what it actually meant. The Pharisees hoped to use that confusion to entrap Jesus, in Matthew 19:3. “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Essentially, they were asking the question many ask today, as to what are the acceptable grounds for a divorce for those who serve God.
In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus answered the question by referring to God’s creation of mankind and the institution of marriage in Genesis 2. “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Contrary to popular religious or legal practice, a marriage is not the result of a legal or religious ceremony. It is the result of God joining the man and woman together, and I Corinthians 6:16 makes it very clear this is accomplished through the sex act, even if is with a prostitute. “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” Since is is an act of God, no human entity, whether government, religious organization, parents, or the couple themselves have the right to break that marriage.
Just as they do today, people were using all kinds of excuses for getting divorces because the Law had allowed it in certain instances. If divorce was never acceptable, as Jesus said, the Pharisees wanted to know why the law permitted it, as Matthew 19:7 tells us. “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?”
Jesus was very specific that divorce is never God’s will in Matthew 19:8-9. “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Because of man’s sinful rebellious nature the law permitted divorce under certain conditions, but it was never God’s intention. Malachi 2:16 is very clear that God hates divorce. “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…” Because people deliberately do wicked things there are times when divorce can be overlooked, as for example when the mate is physically abusive.
He went on to say that if they separated for any reason other than a sexual affair by their mate, to remarry makes them an adulterer or adulteress, and the one who marries them is also an adulterer. This is exactly the same thing he said in Matthew 5:32. “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The separation exposes one’s mate to temptation, and one needs to realize they will be held accountable for tempting their mate.
Please understand that the word translated divorce refers solely to what we call a legal separation. Before God, they are still married according to Romans 7:2-3. “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” Based on these facts, I Corinthians 7:10-11 is very clear. “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” Incompatibility, an emotional affair, or even abuse does not free one to remarry.
This teaching is unpopular today, and even Jesus’ disciples were bothered by it, according to Matthew 19:10. “His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” Jesus went on to explain that not everyone will be able to live up to this standard, in Matthew 19:11-12. “But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Some people will marry an abusive mate or one who is determined to get divorce, and be forced to violate it, while others will simply lack the commitment. Those who live up to this standard are to be commended, not condemned or considered abnormal because they put God first.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Many Christians find it hard to forgive others, because they seem to do the same things over and over. Peter was struggling with the same things, in Matthew 18:21. “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Surely, to repeat the action seven times indicates he really doesn’t intend to change. Unfortunately, we often forget how hard it is for people to break bad habits. It may take them far longer than that to break the habit, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 18:22. “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Essentially, Jesus is saying we should not be trying to keep track. Jesus then used a parable to demonstrate the reasons behind such forgiveness, In Matthew 18:23-32.
“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”
The first employee owed ten thousand talents. A talent is about seventy pounds, so he owed seven hundred thousand pounds, probably of silver to his master. It would amount to more than a hundred sixty million dollars at today’s prices for silver. Though his boss had the right to take everything he owned and garnish his wages until the debt was paid, he agreed to drop his claim because the servant asked for mercy.
The employee then filed a suit against a man who owed him about two hundred dollars, insisting that his property be seized and his wages garnished until he was paid off. The other employees complained that the first one could get by with not repaying a hundred sixty million dollars yet would file criminal charges over a measly two hundred dollars that was owed to him. His boss agreed and reinstated his claim against the employee, taking his belongings and garnishing his wages until the debt was paid. Obviously, he wasn’t willing to extend the same courtesy to others that he had been given. Matthew 18:35 warns, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Jesus is simply saying we should not expect God to treat us better than we treat others.
He has forgiven us for every sin we committed, and we ought to forgive others just as completely as he has forgiven us. If we refuse, it because we are not willing to admit how much sin he had to forgive. Like the servant, all we cared about was getting out of trouble, not about doing what was right. Salvation is the result of a changed heart attitude, not just saying you’re sorry.