Monday, May 31, 2010

He Didn’t Do It

James 1:12-17

When all the homes were heated with wood stoves, there was a constant danger of little children being seriously burned. The stove, especially one with glass so the flame was visible was a constant source of temptation. Parents would tell their child “no, it’s hot” over and over. It was not the parent’s fault the stove was such a temptation. Children want to do what their parents do, they are attracted by bright colors, and sometimes they just decide to disobey. Sometimes they decide their parents are just trying to keep them from enjoying something.

In an effort to teach the child not to touch the stove, some parents would allow the fire to die down to where the stove was still hot enough to be painful, but not enough to inflict a severe burn, then pretend not to see the child reaching out to touch the stove. When th pain was felt and the hand jerked back, they’d say “hot” so the child would understand. In this manner they were able to teach the child while controlling the seriousness of the injury.

Most children who were taught this way learned to trust their parents warnings about other things as well. Though they might be tempted, they believed their parents warnings, and hesitated to take the chance, avoiding many dangerous situations. Since it is impossible to protect the child from every danger, the quicker he learns to trust his parents judgment, the better for all concerned. Rewarding a child for doing what he’d been told encouraged further obedience. God uses similar means with us, because they work.

Just as the parent controlled the fire to limit the pain the child might experience, God controls the temptations we are exposed to, according to I Corinthians 10:13. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Like the parent, he may allow us to be tempted to see if we have learned to obey, rewarding us if so or letting us experience the consequences if we haven’t.

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12)

On the other hand, God does not shove our hand against the hot stove or force us into a position where we cannot avoid sin. Some Mormons believe that in Genesis 3, the forbidden fruit involved sex in some way, and that Adam had to choose whether to have sex, in disobedience to God, or to not populate the earth as God had commanded them. They refer to this as a “paradox,” Because you have to choose which wrong is better. James is very specific that God does not put us in such a position.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:13-15)

God never brings us into a position where our only choices are sin. In fact, our temptation is always a result of our own desires. It is popular in our society to blame some one else for our sin, and has been since Adam blamed Eve. We cannot legitimately blame God for sin, nor can we blame Satan. Though Satan presents something that he has found tempting to people, we are only tempted as we choose to consider the thing. That consideration becomes intent, which leads to action. It is this process that Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:27-28. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

When the person begins to consider how it would feel and how he could do it, the intent has formed, although the action has not yet been taken. The old idea, “the Devil Made me do it” is completely bogus. We chose to consider and to do the sin. God promised to make ways available to us so we can escape temptation in I Corinthians 10:13. There are two main ways to escape temptation that are always available.

When we become aware that our lusts are being excited, Paul advised “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart,” in II Timothy 2:22. Instead of concentrating on the pleasure the sin would produce, focus on what is right, on love, and trusting God, and what makes for peace and contentment, associating with those who serve the Lord. Our choice of associates will greatly affect our success.

The second way is by walking in the Spirit, letting him control our thoughts. Galatians 5:16 promises, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” The desires and lusts of the Spirit are antithetical to those of the flesh, so as our thoughts are controlled by him, the lusts of the flesh lose any attraction, even becoming repugnant. Galatians 5:17 states, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The fruit of the spirit is manifested in our attitude.

To blame God for our temptations is to deny his very nature. He is a holy and righteous God. He cannot lie. He loves, and as Hebrews 12:9-10 tells us, unlike human parents, who sometimes punish for their own benefit, God never acts except with our best interests at heart. “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” It is a serious mistake to blame God for our temptation, and even more so to blame our sin on him.

“Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:16-17)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Greater Profit

James 1:9-12

There is a perception by many that riches are proof of God’s blessings and that poverty is evidence of his rejection. There are many who believe that if we do things properly, God is obligated to make us wealthy. I Timothy 6:5 describes some such false teachers and advises that they love the philosophies of “… men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”

In Luke 12;15, Jesus Made it very clear that life, and happiness are not about possessions. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” He then went on to present an illustration of what he meant in verses 16-20. “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?

And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”

No amount of riches will prevent our death, despite efforts to do so by unethical doctors using life support systems or charletons offering cryogenics as possible substitute. Luke 12:21 warns that the result is no different. “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” I Timothy 6:7 states. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” A person may have his belongings buried with him, like the Egyptian pharaohs. King Tut’s riches are enjoyed by millions of observers, but he doesn’t benefit. A godly and contented life is far better than a lot of belongings according to I Timothy 6:6. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

The philosophy that riches were proof of God’s blessings was prevalent among the Jews, and hampered the spiritual life of many. Matthew 13:22 warns, “…and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” This prompted James to address the problem.

“Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (James 1:9-11)

Whether rich, or poor, I Timothy 6:8 instructs, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” We need to make a choice to be content with what we have. Failure to make such a choice exposes us to serious danger as I Timothy 6:9 warns. “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”

People fall into this temptation because they are more concerned about themselves than they are about God. Philippians 2:21 states, “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.” Unfortunately, what ever one attains in this pursuit is all that there will ever be. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation,” (Luke 6:24). When this life ends, there won’t be any more.

Paul instructed Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)

Neither riches, nor the lack of them makes one more or less spiritual or better, and the riches are of limited power and duration. Concentrating on the things of God instead will produce more and better profit. It is eternal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Trusting God

James 1:1-7

James was one of the primary leaders of the church at Jerusalem. Many believe him to be somewhat legalistic and that he and the church at Jerusalem were somewhat in opposition to What Paul was teaching. It was actually James himself who declared that gentile Christians should not be held to a legalistic standard, although they should maintain a standard that would not drive Jews away from the gospel, as recorded in Acts 15:19-21. “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” Clearly, James did not think Being a Christian depended on keeping the law. He was in agreement with Paul’s statement about the Christian life in Romans 14:7. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

Paul is very specific that those who took the legalistic approach James is accused of were in fact pretending to be Christians in an attempt to take over the church and led to James’ statement. Galatians 2:4 states, “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” He goes on to describe the unity of purpose and agreement between the leaders of the church, including Peter, James, and John, and himself. “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do,” (Galatians 2:9-10). The conflict was with false Christians , not true believers, and definitely between James and Paul. In fact, James is quite outspoken in denouncing some of the same issues Paul denounced in Galatians.

James is written to Christian Jews, or so called ‘Messianic Jews,’ to
Give specific instructions as to how they should live as Christians. It is a very practical approach dealing with both the spiritual attitude, and the physical practices. The book of James is more truly the Epistle to the Hebrews than is the one We call the book of Hebrews. James states that it is to the Jews, whereas Hebrews makes no such statement, nor is it implied anywhere in the book.

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” (James 1:1)

Because God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ, the book applies equally to all Christians although it deals with issues which particularly affected Christians of Jewish background. They were especially likely to focus on ritual or traditional behavior, the religious appearance, rather than actual spiritual attitudes and actions.

James dives straight into these practical matters where tradition and spiritual development collide, starting with the Jewish way of dealing with suffering. Like many others, the Jews assumed that suffering and trials were always a result of wrongdoing by the sufferer. The disciples question in John 9:2 illustrates this belief. “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” As a result, they were inclined to make a production of sorrow, demonstrating a sad face, smearing ashes on their faces and rending their clothes to induce God to take away the trials. It is somewhat like a little child crying or moping about to try to convince his parents to let him have his way, and it is not limited to those of Jewish background.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in John 9:3 reveals a completely different point of view. “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” God rarely uses earthly trials and suffering solely to punish. It is always administered to bring people to a place of fellowship with him. Romans 8:28 declares, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Instead of putting on a big show of repentance, James says Christians should accept their temptations and trials as an opportunity for God to accomplish his will in their lives, and make their faith to grow. It will only happen as they allow the Holy Spirit to change their attitude.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Because of the Pharisee’s very restrictive interpretation of the Law, Jews frequently found themselves faced with moral dilemmas. Jesus dealt with these repeatedly, especially when it came to healing on the Sabbath, or eating with out washing the hands in the prescribed manner. Sometimes the Law conflicts with Gods purpose. Romans 7:6 declares that Christians are to fulfill the intent of the law, not just the wording. “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” God will not be upset if he is asked what to do in such cases, nor will he hold back an answer.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.“ (James 1:5-7)

In his asking, the Christian is to trust God to give the right answer. If he expects God to answer his prayer, he must be willing to commit himself to obey. Speaking of acting on our beliefs regarding things where there is a question, Romans 14: 5 commands, “…Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14: 23 warns, “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

A person who is not willing to commit himself changes his position every time something changes. He mustn’t expect God to just meet every whim he might have. Until he commits, God will not commit to give what he is asking for. It is kind of like a little boy asking for several things without really deciding what he wants. Why should the parents try to buy it all since most will never be used. Why should God? God will not answer any of his requests until he decides what he wants. According to Luke 14, that includes even his salvation. He can’t just try Jesus. He has to commit to him. As James says,

“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)

Jesus was very clear in his statements about the need to commit to a single course of action, a single focus. Matthew 6:22-24 warns us, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

A choice must be made or the person will be unable to accomplish anything. He has to Choose whether to obey and believe God or to get the things of the world. As I John 2:15 warns, it is not possible to love both. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

It is equally impossible to be a Christian while still depending on the Jewish laws and traditions. Any attempt to do so results in an unstable and unsatisfactory life. Paul states the conflict in Galatians 3:11-12. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” Since the just are to live by faith and the law isn’t of faith, one cannot do both. Living by the law excludes us from faith, as Galatians 5:4 declares. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” We have to choose which we desire. It is equally true of any other religion.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Glory Belongs To God

Romans 16:21-27

In the first few verses of Romans 16, Paul sent greetings to many other Christians, encouraging them by acknowledging what they had done, and encouraging the church to do the same. We need recognition just as others do. In his letters, Paul is very specific to acknowledge the people he is writing to. Here, not only Paul, but his associates as well acknowledge the church at Rome. He lists each by name. making it more specific than everybody says, “hi”.
Without proper recognition we begin to feel isolated and depressed, some what like Elijah, when prayed in I Kings 19:10. “And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

One of the main purposes of the church is to exhort or encourage each other. We go to church to encourage others, but we also receive encouragement. If the church has learned to show love properly, we are made aware of the concern of others for our welfare. Galatians 6:2 instructs us, “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Observe the mention of Paul’s associates.

“Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord. Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 16:21-24)

At the same time we need to understand that we may not receive the recognition we think we deserve. If we are not careful we become like the hypocritical Pharisees described in Matthew 23:5-11. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”

The Pharisees were focused on getting men’s admiration and respect, rather than on pleasing God. They were constantly trying to increase their standing by making more important contacts, being seen in the right places, and insisting on special titles so people would acknowledge them. Like Balaam, they believed getting what they wanted was more important than what God said. God said they already had all the reward they would receive, because they were doing it for the recognition, rather than for God. We are unlikely to receive full recognition until we get to heaven. Jesus gave the following illustration.

“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:7-10)

While we may feel very proud of our accomplishments, it is really only what should be expected. Too often we have become like restaurants, where the waiter is expected to be tipped, even though he has only done what his employer paid him to do. It is common to emphasize some one who gave up wealth or fame to serve God, but the truth is he gave up no more than anyone else. Luke 14:33 declares, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” A hundred dollars is just as big to a man who only has a hundred as a million is to a man who has a million. It is just as big a sacrifice to give it up. Neither has anything left.

In addition, our accomplishments are not the fruit of our own labor, but what God has done in us. Philippians 2:13 states, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Both the desire and the ability come from God, and he determines the outcome. Paul declared, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase,” in I Corinthians 3:6-7. Since it is a result of his work, and not of our efforts, the glory goes to him, not to us.

"Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)

In order that God would get the glory, rather than Paul he was very careful to be sure he preached only what God had said, rather than what others had according to I Corinthians 2:4-5. “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” An oracle was a prophet or person who received his message from God and delivered it to the people as God spoke it. Paul directs us to do our ministry in the same way, whether it be preaching, giving, or helping those who are sick.

“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Peter 4:10-11)

If our preaching is just his word, and everything we do is by his power, we cannot burn out, and the glory all will be his. We will be like the cabinet makers router, worn out from long and constant use. It had a part in making beautiful furniture, but the accomplishment is the cabinet makers, not the router’s.

When we act on our own, we are like the same router sitting on a piece of wood, starting up by itself with no one to guide it. It may damage a piece the cabinet maker intended to use, but cannot accomplish anything of real value unless someone controls it. Allow God to have control so he gets the glory.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Scriptural Separation

Romans 16:17-20

Mankind has been trying to promote a unified world almost from the beginning. It was the goal for the Tower of Babel as we find in Genesis 11:4. “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” God destroyed that plan because it would empower rebellion against him, since they would no longer see any need for him.

The Satanically empowered Beast of Revelation 13 is a leader who unites the world, according to Revelation 17. He uses religion to gain control, under the auspices of a false prophet. Revelation 19:20 describes his end. “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”

Today we are constantly told that we need to work for world peace, and especially if we are Christians. Christ said exactly the opposite in Luke 12:51. “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” The idea that we should just all get together and not worry about what God says is totally anti Christian. Jesus stressed that Christians are not part of the world in John 17:14, and will not be accepted because they are different. “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

On the other hand there should be unity between believers. Jesus prayed for unity among them in John 17:20-22. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.”

Paul stated that divisions and controversies were proof of a worldly, unspiritual state in I Corinthians 3:3. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? In Romans 14 and 15 he stated that we were not to let opinions or beliefs become issues when the scripture gave no clear guidance. These are not the kind of issues Paul is talking about when he commands us to separate from certain ones.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)

We are to separate ourselves from those who are teaching things contrary to God’s word. I Timothy 4: 1-4 gives example of the kinds of things thy will teach. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

The teachings range from outright denial of God, and idolatry, to setting standards of diet, or dress which God has not set. They are teaching these things because they have turned their backs on the truth. These teachings and the conflict they cause make us aware of who is actually serving God properly, as I Corinthians 11:19 states. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” When controversies and false doctrines arise, someone is not letting God lead them.

“For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:18)

These teachers are not teaching to please God, but to gain some advantage for themselves. It may be to convince others of their own goodness like the Pharisees, to sell books, or get people to give them money, or to just control people. They teach these things fool and lead the uninformed and untaught away from the truth. Titus 1:10-11 declares, “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.”

The only way to prevent the spreading of the confusion is to stop their message from being heard or believed. We should try to show them what God said, because they may have just believed what some one else said, but if they persist, we must not allow them to speak to our people, not should we imply we agree by associating with them. Titus 3:10-11 instructs, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” If he refuses to listen to God’s word, clearly he has a different agenda.

If he is allowed to teach, it will result in ungodly behavior and sin in the church, and turn people away. I Timothy 6:3-5 again warns to get away from such teachers. “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”

The Christians at Berea were declared to be greater than those in Thessalonica because of their study of the scripture in Acts 17:11. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. II Timothy 2:15 commands, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” If we recognize that we cannot depend on any man, but only God for truth, and study God’s word, the Holy spirit will guide us to the truth. Romans 3:4 warns we must understand that the best scholars and authors can still be wrong. “…let God be true, but every man a liar…” Following man’s ideas is the most common source of heresy and conflict, so test everything against the scripture. If you do, they can say the same thing Paul says about the church at Rome.

“For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (Romans 16:19-20)

We are often told we need to know what various cults or false teachers are teaching. As a result some devote much of their time to studying these things. Paul said he’d rather they not know these things, concentrating on the truth instead. It isn’t relevant what others believe. The only thing that really matters is that you do what God wants. II Timothy 3:14 commands, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Ministry of Exhortation

Romans 16:1-16

There are several ministries that every Christian should be involved with just because he is a Christian. Prayer is one of them. Another is exhortation, or encouragement. One of the most important reasons for attending church is found in Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” We are to go just to encourage those who are there to continue in their Christian life.

Encouragement is one of the most important functions of the church. Paul stressed it’s importance repeatedly. In I Timothy 4:13 he commanded, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” And in II Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” It is an essential part of the Church’s ministry, and depends on sound doctrine according to Titus 1:9. “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

Exhortation should be part of every message or service. Few will continue to serve God without positive feedback. Even Jeremiah became discouraged at times. Hebrews 13:13 commands, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Many fall away because they have no encouragement. Often nothing more than a little recognition is required, and Paul sets us an example.

“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.”( Romans 16:1-2)

Phoebe was one who worked in the church in Cenchrea, Whatever part she played, she’d helped others, and it was necessary to help her as needed. It would greatly encourage her.

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.” (Romans 16:3-5)

Priscilla and Aquila played a major role in helping start several churches, and teaching others, including Apollos. To ignore their part would be discouraging to them and to the church they were currently working in. It is not only important to recognize the pastors, but also the people in the church. Each one is important.

Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Romans 16:6-7)

Older Christians should not be neglected jus because they are old, but esteemed because of their faithfulness. Time needs to be taken to recognize each Christian for their individual contributions to the church, whether great or small.

“Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.

Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.” (Romans 16:8-15)

Make the recognition personal. It ought not be just a quick and impersonal hand shake like we see so often in modern churches. The quick walk around shaking hands may be more personal attention than most people receive, but Paul says we need to go farther than that.

“Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” (Romans 16:16)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Ministry of Prayer

Romans 15:30-33

President Obama cancelled the national day of prayer because some non Christians might be offended, but declared a nationasl day of prayer for Moslems, upsetting many Christians. Many are upset about forbidding prayer in many schools. I believe some of them are legitimate concerns, but they are not new. Many similar restrictions were in effect in Jesus’ day.

While public prayer may be banned in our schools, prayer is not restricted at all. It is not possible to ban prayer. Some of the things we are concerned about relating to prayer are challenged by Christ himself. For example, some have insisted in having a preyer meeting around the flagpole at school so others would know they are Christians. Matthew 6:5 calls the practice into question. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

If we live in a manner that is pleasing to God everyday, it will not be necessary to make a show of being Christian. They will already know. It is hypoctitical to make a show if we don’t live that way daily. Rather than making such a show, Matthew 6: 6 instructs, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Far too often, public prayer concentrates on pleasing the hearers, rather than on communicating with God.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told of an unjust Judge, with no interest in what was right. Even he was willing to give what was desired to get the widow to quit bugging him. “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”

God is not like the unjust judge. He can be trusted to do what is right without nagging him. Repeating the same prayers and requests implies that we can not trust God to keep his promises. We are like the unbelievers who hope to get results by repeated demands. Matthew 6:7-8 commands us not to behave in such a manner. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

Many people become concerned that they don’t know how to pray like they ought to. As a result, different groups wrote prayer books or memorized certain prayers, and others recommend praying the scriptures. The concern about not praying properly is unfounded. God already knows what you need. Romans 8:26-27 Addresses this more fully. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

Rather than repeating some words that don’t quite express what we mean or that we don’t quite understand, we can express our own thoughts freely and trust the Holy Spirit to convey the meaning to God properly. It is not really your prayer but someone else’s. Jesus then proceeds to give us an example of how to pray. Couched in King James English it is easy to miss the point that this prayer is as a child talking to his Dad, whom he respects and loves, and who loves him. It was far less formal than even most modern translations make it, yet far more expressive of the love and respect the child has.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Notice the love and respect expressed in the concern that God be pleased with what is done, and that he be recognized. The requests are not demands, or focused on one’s own way, and acknowledges our dependence on God for what we receive. It also acknowledges our responsibilities before God, requesting his guidance in fulfilling them. Jesus is quite clear that like a parent, God is not obligated to do as we ask, and especially when we have not fulfilled our responsibilities. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

It is with these guidelines for prayer that Paul advised Timothy of the Christians responsibility to pray in I Timothy 2:1-3. “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.” While we are to pray for everyone, and in particular our leaders, even ones we dislike, there is a special need for those who serve the Lord. Notice the things Paul said we need to pray for in their lives.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:30-33)

Numerous books have been written about prayer. Most have stressed having a particular place and time to pray. Paul’s instruction is different. I Timothy 2:8 states, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” It is not to be limited to a particular place. Modern churches have stressed the idea of lifting the hands, but the implication here is more in the sense of the traditional supplication than the modern position.

In I Thessalonians 5:17-18 Paul directs, “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Hebrews 13:15 emphasizes the thanks giving. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”

To fulfill Paul’s instruction requires more than just praying in a particular place for a certain amount of time. It will require maintaining an attitude of prayer throughout the day. I am reminded of a lady whose children complained she never finished a prayer, never said, “Amen.” She would periodically ask for help or thank God for something throughout the day, with no warning. Watch a happily married couple to see how it works. Most communication takes place in an informal manner. Serious conversations occur spontaneously and are not a struggle, because communication has been maintained steadily.

Prayer, like communication in a marriage, should be a freely flowing expression of thoughts and concerns. When it is not, but is a burden, there is a serious problem. If one is afraid to express his own thoughts or feelings, trust is lacking. Spiritual life is hampered.

Several Marriage counselors have recommended that a couple sit down and talk for an hour a day. Try it. Rather than enhancing communication, it prevented it. The entire hour was spent trying to think of something to say. While we talked for the hour, the main thing that was communicated was our discomfort. Trying to pray for a specified amount of time has the same effect.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do Your Own Work

Romans 15:17-29

Several years ago, in Temple Baptist Church, a well known “evangelist” told the church that they should send their tithes to him because he won more people to Christ than any church he knew of. Bro. Goldman, the pastor, confronted him about his comments and did not have him back for any more revivals. After all, the Bible teaches that the tithe is to be brought to the church.

More importantly, the evangelist did not win all those souls. People in the church witnessed to them, lived a godly example before them and brought them to the church. In effect, they plowed the ground, planted the seed, watered it, and pulled the weeds. He just harvested the crop when it was ready. The souls that were saved were the result of the church’s labors, not of his. They would have probably been saved whether he came or not.

In I Corinthians 3:6-8 Paul talks about recognizing where the rightly belongs. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.”

It was this confidence that God was aware of what he’d done that enabled Paul to endure his tribulation without quitting, as he explained in II Timothy 1:12. “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” He was also very aware that no matter how much effort he put forth, the only results of any value came from God.

“I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:17-19)

Paul doesn’t consider even his own accomplishments as of particular importance, though others might well be impressed by them. Even they are the result of God’s enabling. He is especially concerned that he not take credit for some one else’s efforts. Because he has gone where there was no one else to take responsibility, he has not been free to go to other areas. The ministry he had took precedence over any personal desires or benefit, and he would not neglect it even to preach in the church at Rome. We need that same commitment to the job God has given us.

“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand. For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.” (Romans 15:20-22)

Both Mark 9:33-42 and Mark 10:35-45 record a competitive spirit between the apostles as to who would be the greatest. Jesus made it very clear both times that the competitive spirit was carnal. It is that same carnal spirit that leads us to compare each other’s ministries. As a result, Christians often exaggerate their successes and minimize their failures.

Working with the Navajo Indians, I was troubled by the missionaries who would have notify each other of special events so they could bring their churches and make a good show when they had visiting preachers, or claim each other’s works while on deputation. It was especially frustrating to read a missionary letter claiming the church I was pastoring as the work of a man I’d never met. In at least two cases where similar claims were made, support to the missionaries who were actually doing the work was dropped because the one making the claims was such a great missionary that he would never lie. Paul was concerned that he never get caught up in this carnal attitude. He goes into even more detail in II Corinthians.

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand.

But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” (II Corinthians 10:12-18)

If we look at Jeremiah’s ministry by most modern standards, he was total failure. He preached for nearly thirty years and no one acted on his preaching. They came to listen and then did the opposite. John Maxwell says that if no one follows you are not a leader. Romans 14:4 asks, “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.” When we read Jeremiah 7:27, we find that this is exactly what God said would happen. “Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee: thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee.” Jeremiah did exactly as he was told, and had exactly the results God expected. It wasn’t his fault no one listened. He did what he was supposed to.

Understanding that any judgment by others is based on a carnal idea of what we should do, Paul chose to ignore man’s approval or censure. The only valid judgment is by God. I Corinthians 4:3-5 states’ “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

We are not even qualified to judge ourselves, and thus should not beat ourselves up when we don’t measure up to what we think should have been done, except when we haven’t done what we knew we should. If others think we are failures or forget, we can depend on God to remember, and to make a valid judgment. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10) Galatians 6:7 warns, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” God isn’t fooled by lies.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Adjusting to a New Way

Romans 15:8-16

When building a highway, it is often necessary to build temporary access roads and detours to enable people to get to where they need to go until the main highway is complete. When the highway is completed, their must still be access to the businesses and destinations, so the old routes will be eliminated or modified as needed to provide necessary access.

The Old Testament Law served a similar function. It was not Gods long term plan, but served to provide a means of postponing judgment until propitiation was completed. It ceased to serve that purpose when Christ died. Just as the destinations served by the temporary access roads and detours still must be included in the plan, requiring special connections, Christ bridged the gap between the law and God’s overall plan, to connect the promises to Abraham with God’s love for all of humanity. To do so, it was necessary that he fulfill the conditions of the Law, the circumcision, confirming the promises. At the same time, he made it possible for us to receive the same benefits who had not lived according to the law, taking our punishment for us.

“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. (Romans 15:8-12)

When the new road is finished, the detour is forgotten, and people travel the new road with no awareness of the inconveniences on the detour. They just enjoy the convenience of the new one. God intends for our Christian experience to be the same, free to enjoy what he has done for us

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 15:13)

Those who have lived with a detour for an extended period frequently find that they are intimidated by learning a new route and are not comfortable with the completed highway, especially at first. As they use it, they soon find that it is more satisfactory than the detour was. Paul has spent a great deal of time in Romans explaining what we have and how to use it. Now he encourages us to take advantage of the new way. We will be able to accomplish what is intended. We are not to let these ideas intimidate us. Like using the new highway, if we follow the Holy Spirit’s directions, what is to be done will become fairly obvious in most cases.

“And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 15:14-16)

The one thing which will make the Christian life more difficult is trying to Live it as if we were under the law. It is like trying to use drive just like we used to on the detour. If we are on the old detour, we find that it no longer goes all the way. If we are on the new road, the turns and lanes are different and turning at the same place may cause a wreck.

This is exactly what Paul warns about in Galatians 5:4-7. “ Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” He instructed Timothy to cling to faith, and to God’s forgiveness as a basis of righteousness to prevent a spiritual wreck. “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:” (I Timothy 1:19)

As Galatians 3:11-12 clearly states, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith…”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Consider Our Example

Romans 15:1-7

In his letter about training people for ministry, Paul describes specific requirements that indicate whether a person is truly spirit filled, as qualifications for pastors or bishops. One of those is that he not be insist on having his own way. “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, …” (Titus 1:7). The spiritual man will be concerned about others, both about what they need, and what they want. Giving up his own desires will not require much thought if he has the attitude(mind) of Christ.

“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.” (Romans 15:1-3)

In the Garden just before his crucifixion in Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed, “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He knew what he faced, yet as Philippians 2:8 tells us, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Though he is the very creator of the world, he allowed the Jews and Romans to have their own way, as if he were unable to stop them. Titus 2:14 tells us, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” He did so because of what he hoped to accomplish in our lives.

Jesus Christ is the primary of what we should be like as I Peter 2:21 states. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” Hebrews 12:3 instructs us, “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” In addition, we have records of what happened in many other peoples lives in the Old Testament. I Corinthians 10:11 states, “ Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” We can trust God even if others do wrong. Our hope doesn’t depend on what others do.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

As we allow the Holy Spirit to produce his fruit in us, “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance:…” (Galatians 5:22-23), the failures of others will not greatly upset us, producing only a feeling of compassion for their ignorance. There will be no reason for anger or conflict.

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5-7)

If we are to please God, we are going to have to overlook and forgive those who don’t measure up to our standards. In Ephesians 4;1-3 Paul instructs, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He goes even further in Colossians 3:13. “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Coaching for Maximum Benefit

Romans 14:19-15:1

I hated Physical Education classes in high School. I was not very big, and I wasn’t good at football, basketball or baseball, so I selected last when teams were chosen. I was nearly always a substitute, meaning I only got to play when someone else got hurt, and as soon as someone else was available I was replaced. I did poorly in sprints, and we didn’t do long runs so it wasn’t until my senior year field day that I learned that I could run competitively for long distances.

In our church volleyball games, I became quite proficient and it troubled me that I didn’t do as well at the other sports. In college I took some classes in sports I’d never played before and did fairly well. Finally, I realized that while I’d probably never been a great athlete, I had the capability to do well at all the sports. I had just never had the opportunity to develop skills in the sports.

I was the oldest child, and we lived on a farm where our closest neighbor was a mile away, so I had no one my age to compete with to develop my skills. When I went to school, because I had little skill, I didn’t get to play as much, so my level of skills grew more slowly than the others, inhibiting my chances to be chosen to play, and further hindering skill growth. Phys Ed coaches were concerned with preparing the best players for the high school team and left poorer players to themselves, prolonging and accentuating the deficiencies.

On the other hand, because the church volleyball team included everyone, I was pitted against players better than I was who forced me to increase my skills, and against players I could beat which increased my confidence and motivation. Had the coaches been less interested in the school team and their win loss record, I, and probably several others would have gotten far more enjoyment and benefit from the classes. We might well have had a lifetime of enjoying sports, rather than resenting them.

Phys. Ed classes were originally intended to provide all the students with the knowledge and skills to enjoy participating in sports in hopes of encouraging a more fit life style. The emphasis on building the school team circumvented that purpose, frustrating or discouraging the less skilled, who should have benefited the most.

Unfortunately the coaches goal was not the health of the students, but the reputation of the school, and of the coach, often in hopes of receiving a more lucrative offer. Far too often churches become fixated on similar goals, rather than the spiritual development of the entire church. Ephesians 4:11-16 describes the different offices God has placed in the church and the intent of their work.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Clearly, the goal is not to raise a few stars, but to build an entire church with each person able to contribute their share. This is exactly the opposite of those who just “want to get rid of the deadwood.” Lust as encouraging the more skilled to overlook the weaknesses of the less skilled would have benefited the entire student body, a similar attitude will benefit the church. Paul now describes some things which can contribute to the goal.

“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romans 14:19-21)

While highly skilled and confident players may be stimulated by a coach such as Bobby Knight’s displays of anger, those who lack skills or confidence may well be totally demoralized. Most of the people, especially new Christians, lack the confidence to overcome such attacks, and stop trying. Ignoring their development will destroy their growth.

“Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)

If one has developed a certain level of faith, he is not to cram it down weaker peoples throat. God will bless the person who doesn’t offend others by his own standards. When we encourage others to act in a way that violates their standards, we encourage doing things in the flesh to please us, rather than in faith to please God, and that is sin. They’ve put our opinion before God, making us an idol.

“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)

If the strongest sets the pace or the standard everyone else becomes discouraged, but if they adapt to the weakest, and help him, everyone is encouraged by his success.

Several years ago, a couple of Little League players participated in a church softball game. They were quite upset at having to put up with all those little kids that didn’t know how to play, and wanted us to make them stop playing. Finally one of the ladies convinced them that if they’d help them learn how, one day they wouldn’t be so bad.

The pitcher later said that it sure was hard to guess where the little ones would swing and hit their bat, but it was a lot of fun trying, and even more seeing how excited they became if he did. The other player said it was tricky missing their hits and timing throws so they barely made it to the base, but it was a lot more fun than their regular games. Years later, both said that learning to adapt to the skills of others made them better at their jobs, and several of the little kids they helped went on to play for the school. Everyone benefited. That’s is how the church should work. It’s not about winning the game, but about teaching the others.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vigilante Christians

Romans 14:10-18

The United States Constitution establishes a republican form of government. Under a pure democracy, freedoms are not guaranteed by law, and can be taken away by a majority of the people. Under a republic, the majority is restricted by law from taking away the rights of the minority. The legal system is established to enforce those laws, and as Romans 13 makes very clear, is authorized by God.

Law enforcement officials are not authorized to make the laws. They are only authorized to enforce the laws that have been instituted. When they believe a person has violated the law, they bring him into court where guilt or innocence is determined by the proper authority, and penalties are assessed. They then charged with enforcing the court’s decision.

Sometimes people decide the laws are unsatisfactory and decide to enforce their own rules. Others decide the court system is not performing to their satisfaction and administer their own penalties for proper laws. They are called vigilantes, and usurp the authority of the proper authorities. Christians are not to be vigilantes.

“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-11)

We are not authorized to set the standards, to judge whether the standard has been violated, or to assess penalties. Only when God specifies that a certain behavior is wrong, are we authorized to condemn it, and only to the extent God commands. Exceeding our authority brings us under judgment ourselves. We need to be very sure that we do not cause others to sin by setting improper standards, such as not eating certain foods, as described in I Timothy 4:3 “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Forbidding people to marry or to eat certain foods is clearly contradictory to God’s intent.

We also need to avoid causing contention or rebellion. In I Corinthians 11, Paul talks about hair length for men and women, specifically as distinguishing them. I Corinthians 11:16 makes it clear that this is not to be allowed to become a source of conflict or cause rebellion. “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”

“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” (Romans 14:13)

The attitude and intention behind an action is more important than the action itself. Even killing someone is affected by the reason behind it. For example, biblically, a person who killed to protect life or property could not be punished. A person who killed another person unintentionally(manslaughter), was sentenced to life imprisonment in one of the cities of refuge. Intentional killing, or murder, required a mandatory death penalty. Intent was inferred by ambush or use of a deadly weapon. A similar principle is true in other areas.

Ro 14:14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14)

Insisting on our own standards clearly indicates a lack of love, and thus, that we are not walking in the Spirit. We are more concerned with our way than the spiritual development of others. The conclusion of the apostles as to the responsibility of the Gentile believers to avoid eating things which were strangled or the blood was not that it was wrong to eat them, but that it would be offensive to Jewish Christians. At the same time requiring them to meet the Jewish standard would be pointless. Love is demonstrated in the conclusion described in Acts 15:19-21. “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

Ro 14:15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15)

Being a Christian is not about keeping a set of rules. It is about living and walking in the Spirit. We have a right to have our own personal standards as to how we live, but they must not be allowed to become an issue, because they have nothing to do with whether we are Christians or not. We will be pleasing to God when the Holy Spirit manifests himself in our lives.

“Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.” (Romans 14;16-18)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Just the Word, Please

Romans 14:1-9

One church demands that their women wear head coverings. Another forbids men to have long hair. A third forbids wearing women from wearing pants. One preacher claims that any Bible but the King James of 1611is Satanic. Churches and pastors disagree on styles of music, order of church services, and how missions is to be supported. What should we do?

The church at Corinth had gotten caught up in many similar questions, and the entire book of I Corinthians is devoted to how they should deal with the different issues. I Corinthians 3:1-4 explains why they became issues in the first place. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”

The very fact that they were involved in these controversies demonstrated that they were not spiritual. The focus on a particular man or his teaching was another evidence of their lack of spiritual leading. That same carnal attitude prevented them from understanding more than just the most basic Christian doctrines. As I Corinthians 2:14 states, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The carnal Christian functions as a natural man, though he has the Holy Spirit.

Often those who are caught up in such controversies think they are more spiritual than those who are not, and the church at Corinth was no exception. Involvement in the controversies, regardless of the position taken, indicates a carnal attitude according to I Corinthians 11:19. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” Beginning in Romans 14, Paul explains how to avoid leading others to the same carnal state as the church at Corinth. He starts with a very clear command.

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (Romans 14:1)

We are not to involve new or weak Christians in questionable doctrine. How do we know what is unquestionable? II Peter 1:19-21 declares, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

The scripture is sure, because it is what God has said, and as John 17;17 says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” Romans 3:4 makes it clear that only God can be depended on for truth. “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” II Timothy 3:16-17 declares that the scripture alon provides all tha tis needed to serve God completely. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

As a result, Paul gives Timothy a command as to what he ids to teach in II Timothy 4:1-2. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Deuteronomy 4:2 warns, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” We are not to incorporate man’s opinions.

Paul stated, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect,” in I Corinthians 1:17. Only God is qualified to add to his word. Let’s look at some specific examples of how problems arise.

“For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:2-4)

Diet is not to be used as an indicator of spiritual standing. Many times the strongest standards are held by people who are depending on their own actions rather than trusting God. I Timothy 4:1-4 addresses this very problem. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

Sometimes, God may lay it on a person’s heart to do a certain thing for some particular reason such as his direction in Timothy to drink wine instead of water in I Timothy 5:23. “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.” It is not an endorsement of drinking. A special need existed. God’s guidelines are not changed. A person is accountable to God in such a case, not to us. We don’t have the right to prohibit all drinking.

Many in our day believe that it is wrong to celebrate certain holidays, such as Christmas or Easter because of pagan holidays or customs related to the date. Since God did not command Christians either to keep or not to keep them, Paul makes it very clear it is up to the individual. Either way can be used to glorify God. We have no authority to demand others to do as we choose.

“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” (Romans 14:5-6)

According to I Corinthians 7:23, “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” They are not responsible to us, but to God.

"For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Romans 14:7-9)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Stop Procrastinating

Romans 13:8-14

What is love? One group of psychologists say that men give romance to get love and women give love to get romance. This presupposes love to be sex, as is commonly believed in our society, which speaks of sex as love making. In many cases there is no love involved, just momentary pleasure. We also speak of loving a food, and activity, etc. Because we use the word so any ways, people find the concept of love very confusing.

The Greeks used three words which are translated as love. Eros referred strictly to sexual love and lust. It is intended solely for the relationship between husband and wife. Phileo refers to the family bond between brothers and sisters, that develops out of common experiences. It is strongest when the experiences have been most closely shared. Agape is the moral love most commonly referred to in the bible. It refers to an moral affection, a kindly attitude toward something. I Corinthians 13:4-7 describes the characteristics of Godly agape love. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

John 13:34-35 tells us that our love for other Christians, especially from our own church is the main evidence for our Christianity. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” In these next verses, Paul is not just talking about our love for other Christians, but for every human being.

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

When Jesus was asked which law was most important, he stated that everything could be summed up in two in Matthew 22:35-40.
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Mark 12:28-33 repeats the concept. Each part of the law relating to other people was designed to prevent hurting them, and love tries not to hurt others. While it may not always follow the exact rules, it accomplishes what was intended, thus fulfilling the law.

Romans 7:6 focuses on that point, that we are to attend to the new attitude, rather than the old mechanics of the law. “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” When we, by faith, allow the Holy Spirit to produce that love in us, Romans 3:31 declares that we show that the law pointed out God’s intention all along. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” God’s standard has not changed, but only through faith can we meet the standard.

We cannot afford to delay in expressing that love. Moral debts need to be paid immediately. We are specifically told that we are not to know when the Lord will return, but to be prepared at all times. Luke 12:35-38 describes the attitude we are to have. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.” This is exactly Paul’s point.

“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” (Romans 13:11-13)

All too often we are like little children, knowing that we are going to go to some event, but we get busy playing rather than getting dressed. We need to put aside our toys, and get ready instead. The Holy Spirit is already ours, but we need to let him take control.

“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14)

As Galatians 5:16 says, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” We stay in the flesh because we like the lusts.