WHAT SHOULD THE CHURCH BE DEVOTED TO?

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

19FEb  On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, awaiting the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.  Suddenly the sound of a hurricane rocked Jerusalem. The overpopulated city was drawn to the epicenter of the sound.  There they met one-hundred and twenty disciples of Jesus, praising God miraculously in unlearned languages.  The people assumed the disciples were drunk.  Peter addressed the crowd.  He declares that they were not drunk – they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  As Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the crucified but resurrected Messiah, the people were cut to the heart.  They repented of their sins and trusted Christ for salvation.  Acts 2:41 notes: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”

Acts 2 records the birth of the church.  It also records the growth of the infant church in verses 42-47.  Acts 2:42 is a summary statement: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  “They” refers to the three thousand who were baptized on the day of Pentecost. They devoted themselves “steadfastly.”  This is a word that speaks of fidelity, intensity, and consistency.  These new believers forsook whatever would hinder them from following Jesus.  In John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Acts 2:42 is clear . . .

These new disciples were

Devoted to Christ

 And the church.

Their devotion to Christ

Was expressed by

Their devotion to the church.

The church increasingly struggles to address the modern epidemic of unchurched Christians.  An analysis of the New Testament reveals that they should be considered “unchurched non-Christians.”  I know it is not popular today, but I believe the Bible teaches that real Christian are devoted to the church.  But not just any church.  Real Christians are devoted to real churches.  One characteristic of the genuineness of the early believer’s faith was their commitment to the local gathering of the church.

What does a real church look like?

The Bible says in Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  

 The devotion of the day-old church

Should be the devotion of the church today.

A church can do more than these four things

And still be the church.

But a church cannot do less

Than these four things

And be the church.

Acts 2:42 records four Christian essentials the church should be devoted to:

1) THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING

Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…”  It is not accidental or incidental that “the apostles’ doctrine” comes first in this list.  It always comes first.

  • Precept must come before practice.
  • Doctrine must come before experience.
  • Instruction must come before application.

Acts 2 recorded the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through the church. Yet . . .

These Spirit-filled Christians

Did not think

Their Pentecostal experience

Exempted them

From doctrinal teaching.

The work of the Spirit

And the truth of Scripture

Work together.

In John 16:13, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”  Ephesians 6:17 exhorts Christians soldier to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  The first Christians were open to divine empowerment and divine instruction.  But . . .

These Spirit-indwelt disciples

Did not seek only direct revelation.

They submitted to the apostles’ teaching.

The first mark of a Spirit-filled church

Is its appetite for biblical teaching.

The apostles were with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry.  They were eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus said to the apostles, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  On the day of Pentecost, Peter witnesses for the risen Christ to those who crucified Him.  3,000 people were saved.

The proof they were saved

Is that they did not seek

More sounds from heaven,

Cloven tongues of fire,

Or miracles of languages.

They wanted to be

Taught by the apostles.

  • They did not crave a new experience with Jesus.
  • They craved sound instruction about Jesus.

So, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine.

John R.W. Stott wrote: “One might perhaps say that the Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem that day; its teachers were the apostles whom Jesus had appointed; and there were 3,000 pupils in the kindergarten!”  In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  Amen.”

Jesus taught the apostles.

The apostles were to

Make disciples by

Teaching them to obey Christ.

The apostles’ teaching was anchored in the Word of God.  Faithful churches are teaching, learning, studying churches.  If you are looking for a church, this should be your first question: “What does this church teach?” 

 A true church

Is unapologetically

A teaching church.

A congregation is

A Christian church

To the degree

It is confronted by

And shapes its life

In response to

The Word of God.

Spirit-filled churches are Bible-teaching churches.  What is true of a local church is true of an individual Christian.   If the Spirit who inspired Scripture lives in you, it is impossible to have no desire for studying, learning, and living by the Scripture.  Either you are not saved or you are not filled with the Spirit.  Ask God to change your heart and make you devoted to the apostles’ doctrine.

2) FELLOWSHIP

The Bible says in Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship”  The word “fellowship” translates the Greek word “koinonia.”  It is the most famous New Testament Greek word after “agape.”  It is just as misunderstood.  We use “fellowship” to refer to being together at the same place, having a good time together, or performing religious activities together.  But fellowship is more than that.

  • It is to hold something in common.
  • It is to be in business together.
  • It is to be partners with one another.

This commercial term became

A Christian term on the day of Pentecost.

Fellowship is what it means to be a Christian.

The Bible says in 1 John 1:3, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

We have fellowship with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  We also have fellowship with one another.  We can test our fellowship with God by testing our fellowship with one another.  If there is no fellowship with one another, you are not in fellowship with God.  If there is only fellowship with a select clique, you are not in fellowship with God.

Genuine conversion is evidenced

By faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

And love for all the saints.

You cannot have one

Without the other.

In 1 Timothy 3:15, the Bible describes the church as “. . . the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and ground of the truth.”  I know people who claim they can be fully-devoted Christians without being participating members of the church. I do not know one person who actually is.

The gospel does not make sense,

Without the church that

Makes it make sense.

A pastor visited a member who did not regularly attend church.  The member greeted the pastor, led him to his living room, and offered him a seat near the fireplace.  It was a cold day, but the fireplace warmed the room.  As they talked, the pastor challenged the member about his participation.  But the man was unmoved.  Then the pastor took the tongs from beside the fireplace, opened the screen, and separated the glowing coals until none was touching another.  Then he sat down and watched in silence.  Soon the coals cooled, and the fire died. The man got the message.

Acts 2:44-45 illustrates Christian fellowship at work, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongs and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  This is not communist socialism.  It is Christian fellowship.  True Christians are generous people.  There is nothing wrong with Christians gaining, possessing, or enjoying material wealth.  It is wrong for Christians to have wealth without sharing with those in need.  The Bible tells us in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Preachers think they are being prophetic by denouncing the government failure to help the poor.  But it is foolish to expect unconverted people to practice Christian generosity.  The church can make a difference if Christians would find a need and meet it.

3) THE BREAKING OF BREAD

The Bible continues in Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread…”  The meaning of the phrase “in the breaking of bread” has been the subject of vigorous debate.  It is grammatically connected to fellowship.  But it is not a parallel for fellowship. “Breaking of bread” is used at times for eating a meal.  But Luke could not simply mean they ate meals. That would be out of place, alongside the distinctively Christian acts of teaching, fellowship, and prayer. The three thousand ate meals before they became Christians.  And they ate meals after they became Christians.

The phrase ‘breaking bread”

Was uniquely Christian.

In the ancient near East,

Sharing a meal was

About fellowship, not food.

This is why the religious leaders grumbled against Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them.  Luke presents eating together as a mark of a united church.  Acts 2:46 says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”  In the early church, the church ate together every day.  They called it “the love feast.”  This daily meal became a weekly meal.  As a part of their corporate worship meetings, the saints would break bread together.

These common meals had a special element.  As they broke bread, they ate bread and drank wine in remembrance of Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 says: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

 “Breaking bread” points to the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Table is a regular reminder

That Jesus is our all-sufficient

Prophet, Priest, and King!

The call to remember

Is a call to worship.

A devoted church is

A Christ-centered church,

A Christ-focused church,

A Christ-exalting church.

The Bible says in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church. Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”  

 Jesus is the supreme One

Who has first place, full control,

And final authority in everything.

He is to have first place

In all creation.

He is to have first place

In the church.

He is to have first place

In your life.

The Bible says in Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in His who is the head of all principality and power.”

 4) PRAYER

Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”   

 The verse begins with

The church’s devotion

To the apostles’ teaching.

The verse ends with

The church’s devotion to prayer.

Devotion to both is essential

To be a healthy, growing,

And fruitful church.

 What was the church doing in the Upper Room between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit?  Acts 1:14 says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”  During this vulnerable time of transition, the disciples did not call a business meeting.  They held a ten-day prayer meeting.  Even the important decision about who would replace Judas as the twelfth apostle was made in prayer.  Acts 1:24-25 says, “And they prayed and said, ‘You, O Lord, who know the heart of all, show which  of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.””

Acts 2:1 says, “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”  The church was born in a prayer meeting.  But they did not stop praying after they received the power of the Spirit.

These early Christians knew

That they could not meet

Life in their own strengthen

And that they did not need to.

They always went to God

Before they went out to the world;

They were able to meet

The problems of life

Because they had first met Him.

A real church is devoted to prayer. Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” 

Why pray?

  • We pray to obey the command of God.
  • We pray to enjoy the presence of God.
  • We pray to claim the promises of God.
  • We pray to experience the power of God.
  • We pray to advertise our dependence upon God.

Believing prayer invokes

Divine intervention that

Exalts sovereign glory!

Raymond McHenry wrote, “May we never experience success without prayer.”   A tour guide led tourists through Westminster Abby.  After he boasted about the classic architecture, expensive appointments, and famous celebrities who had worshiped in the cathedral, he asked, “Are there any questions?” One old woman said, “Yes, sir. Has anyone been saved here lately?”

The success of a church

Cannot be measured by

Buildings, budgets, and bodies.

It is measured by changed lives!

Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  

And Acts 2:47b says, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

  • The Lord did not add anyone to the church without saving them.
  • The Lord did not save anyone without adding them to the church.

Luke does not say the church did evangelism.  But we can assume the church witnessed for Jesus.  The Bible says in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Someone had to be telling sinners about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  But Luke does not give the saints any credit.  The Lord added to the church those who were being saved!

Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation is of the Lord.”  This is called monergism.  Synergism is when different elements work together to produce a different or greater result than they can produce separately.  Monergism means only God saves.  Pray to God for the salvation of the lost.  Praise God for the salvation of the lost. Psalm 115:1 “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to You name give glory because of Your mercy, because of Your truth.”

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

 Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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No Back Door Believers

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

18Feb  Have you ever had a friend get you into some place special, but the only way in was through the back door?  When I was in high school, one of my friends worked at the local theater and the manager would let him bring a few friends in for the final movie of the night if there were empty seats. We had to come in through the back door.  It was a great feeling to have a friend who could get us into the movies for free.  Now, as “awesome” as that was for us kids, I want to tell you about something that is truly awesome:

In the Body of Christ,

There are no

“Back door believers.”

There are those in the church today who are convinced that if they make it into heaven at all, it will be by the way of the back door.  They mistakenly believe that the spiritual superstars will be ushered in the front door, to enter into the joy of their Master’s happiness.  The believers who lived a pretty good life might slip in through the side door.  But for those who struggled and stumbled through the Christian life, the back door is the only possible way of getting in.  Do you subscribe to this kind of thinking?  If you do I pray that the Lord will shake your world and strengthen your walk with Him through an understanding of the following truth.

The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.  For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive an abundant welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

You ought to read that passage again.  Notice the kind of welcome every believer will receive on that day they are received into glory:

An Abundant Welcome!

There will be no easing in the side door or creeping in through the back door.  An “abundant welcome” presupposes that we will be received with a great celebration as we enter into our eternal rest . . . through the front doorway of heaven.

Every believer who has been on

The receiving end of God’s

Calling and election will receive

An abundant rich welcome,

Not because of anything

They have done,

But because of everything

Jesus has done for them.

Jesus will say to us in Matthew 25:34, “’Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

What a welcome God has planned

For all those who are in Christ!

We have been given a living hope because of what Jesus has secured for us through His life, death, and resurrection.

Don’t misunderstand the words, “Make every effort to confirm your calling and election . . . [by doing] these things” as something we must do in order to receive our abundant welcome.  That is not what Peter is teaching here.

The things we are to be doing

Do not earn our rich welcome;

They prove it is already prepared for us!

1 John 3:10 explains, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not practice righteousness  is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”  And remember, the first fruit of our union with Jesus is a change in the desire of our heart.  When we desire to do what Jesus wants us to do, we can be assured we are His, and when we are His we can rest in the knowledge that our welcome is assured because of what He has already done for us.

  • Not our work . . . His work
  • Not our effort . . . His effort
  • Not our righteousness . . . His righteousness
  • Not our goodness . . . His goodness
  • Not our strength . . . His strength
  • Not our love . . . His love
  • Not our commitment . . . His commitment

The abundant welcome that awaits every believer is dependent upon all that Jesus has done for the believer . . . not what the believer has done for Jesus.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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A Faith-Filled Four-Letter Word

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

17Feb

I believe today’s message will offer a word of great comfort and encouragement right where this finds you.  There are many places in the Bible where this four-letter is mentioned.  Note the verses I have listed below:

 “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Psalm 27:14

 “Wait for the Lord and keep His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:34)

 “Blessed are all those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18)

 “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him . . . It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”   (Lamentations 3:25a, 26)

“While staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4)

When was the last time you enjoyed waiting for ANYTHING?  From the check-out line in the grocery story . . . to the doctor’s office . . . to the fast food drive-through line . . . to that check you have been told is in the mail.  None of us likes to wait for anything!

But what about waiting on God?

The verses above are just a tiny sampling of the scores of biblical admonitions for the people of God to wait upon their Lord.  We must be careful never to thoughtlessly put God in any of our other “hate-to-wait” categories.  Why?  Because . . .

Often the blessing God has ordained for us

Will only be found on the other side of waiting.

WAIT is a “faith-filled four- letter word” when we are waiting on God, because His timing is always perfect.  God knows exactly what we need and precisely when we need it!

He has ordained waiting

As one of His ways

To increase our faith

AND our appreciation

When we actually do get

What we have been asking for.

Anyone who has been following Jesus for some time knows there are times we pray and God says “No.”  Yet, if we wait (there’s that word again!) and watch, when we look back on that situation we will see why . . . because God had something better!  Then there are those times God says “Yes” . . . but that faith-filled four-letter word is attached to the “Yes.”  Frequently what we were asking for comes to us in a completely different way than what we were expecting.

Waiting on our Lord

Is nothing more

– And nothing less –

Than putting our trust in Him

For what we need,

Knowing that it will

Be delivered to us

In His way and in His timing.

We can all look back in life and thank God for the times He said “No” to our petitions, as well as those times He said “Wait” . . . because God alone knows what is in the best interest of His children.

Let us prayerfully seek to develop the patient understanding of the psalmist who knew God’s timing is perfect:

“I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in your hands.”  (Psalm 31:14-15)

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

 

Loving Others … Definitely A Fault, But Not Without Grace

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

14Feb

I want to use my blog today to talk about an aspect of Valentine’s Day that is not considered very much when we talk about this subject.  Valentine’s Day focuses on couples sharing with each other in ways that communicates their deep and abiding love to one another.  Yet . . .

For the Christian,

We are called

To live each day

In such a way

That reflects Christ’s

Love to everyone.

In my daily devotions the other day, I read the account in Scripture where some disciples were having a very real conflict with one another.  Actually, there are four accounts of the disciples dealing with this subject – Matthew 18:1-5; 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45.  Luke also records a similar account in Luke 946-48 but it is similar to the Matthew 18:1-5 passage.  The disciples seemed to be preoccupied with jockeying to determine which one of them was to be viewed as the greatest in the Kingdom.  The Bible says in Luke 9:46, “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.”

More than once, I have heard a pointed message surrounding this low moment of the disciples.  I have preached on this scene a couple of times myself.  Invariably, whoever is teaching or preaching it gets around to slamming the disciples for their overt arrogance, blind pride, and deep presumption.  Could you imagine the audacity of any of us carrying on a conversation like this today?  Can you conceive of declaring to other believers that you are the greatest in the group?  We are far too pious to engage one another concerning who is a superior asset in the Kingdom.  We would blush to be engaged in such a conversation – to exalt our position, our gifting, our education, our pedigree – never!  Right?

Yet, I suggest that it is possible that we actually do this far more often than we might think.

  • When you talk negatively of another in their absence, you are emulating the same spirit the disciples did in Luke 9:46.
  • When your inner thoughts or your spoken words lend themselves to lowering the value of another person in your own eyes, or in the eyes of the people with whom you are speaking, you are mimicking the disciples in Luke 9:46.
  • When your critique of what another brings to the Kingdom by way of service, gifting, offering, or investment is made in contrast to what you bring to the Kingdom, you have fallen into the same hole that the disciples did in Luke 9:46.
  • In each and every instance wherein we find ourselves lowering the value of another in order to elevate the value we assign to ourselves, we have become the thirteenth disciple in that infamous dialogue in Luke 9:46.

We are far too sophisticated to come right out and declare to another believer, “I am greater than you are.”  Yet, if we listen carefully to our own thoughts and dare to analyze our own words, I believe we will find ourselves made aware that we are occasionally no different than the twelve disciples; men who jousted with one another for the rank of superiority in the Kingdom.

Here are some things I have learned over the years that help me to tame that kind of undesirable spirit that lurks within all of our hearts:

  1. There is always someone far more capable, noble, spiritual, wise, gifted, and sincere than me.  I accept that to always be true.  I am not the best, the greatest, or the highest example against which others should measure themselves.  There is always someone greater than me.
  2. We are taught in 2 Corinthians 10:12 that it is always unwise to compare ourselves with others.  Typically, when we do this, we make sure we are comparing ourselves with someone we deem to be less than we are.  This is the exact opposite of loving that person.
  3. Nobody has to be devalued in order for me to understand my own value.  I do not become greater by thinking or speaking of them in ways that deflate their worth.
  4. The only valid comparison in the Kingdom is when God compares us to His holy, righteous, and perfect Son, Jesus.  When that comparison is made in Scripture, the conclusion is that we are dead, unrighteous, ignorant, blind and condemned sinners worthy of eternal judgement.  That comparison is worthy of all of our attention.  If we keep that comparison in the forefront of our thinking, we will not be susceptible to devaluing others.
  5. God has, in spite of all that is lacking in us, made us complete, accepted, and treasured in Jesus. The Father actually foregoes His judicial evaluation of us once we are in Christ.  He views us completely on the imputed merits of His perfect Son.  In light of this, how in the world can I not accept His other children in that exact same manner?
  6. Solomon taught that hatred stirs up division while love compensates for weaknesses and sins (Proverbs 10:12).  Peter declared that, when we love one another, we will act in ways that do not disclose others’ sins, weaknesses, or failures (1 Peter 4:8).  The great revelation of love in 1 Corinthians 13 clearly shows that love goes out of its way to elevate the other person, to seek their highest good, and to interact with the other person in kindness and humility. When we critique, slander, gossip, or compare others, we are not operating in love.  We are in the flesh.

These guidelines have helped me over the years to keep my heart in check.  More times than I can count, these same principles have enforced a silence upon me when I am around others who are taking verbal shots at one of their Christian brothers or sisters. When that nasty-little-something wants to rise up in me in order to declare that I am greater than another, the Holy Spirit consistently brings me back to that place where I am reminded very clearly that . . .

God has accepted me

Not because of

Who I am or

What I have done,

But because of

Who Jesus is and

What He has done –

Nothing more

And

Nothing less.

He doesn’t constantly critique me to keep me in my place.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not get together to gossip about all that is lacking in me as they rest in their absolute perfection and clear superiority to me.

In fact . . .

When God deals with me

It is ALWAYS in GRACE.

He is not above correcting me but, truth be known, the vast majority of those corrections are brought to me privately – just between Him and me.  He never demeans me to another one of His children.  He has no need to knock me down a few pegs in order to preserve His greatness.  Actually . . .

He displays that greatness and superiority

By stooping in grace to meet me

In the midst of all that is lacking in me.

That’s how God interacts with me . . .

I want to be like Him

In my interactions with you.

I am to endure what is lacking in others as they endure what is lacking in me.  I am to build them up, not criticize them to others.  When we gossip, we are partnering in that moment with Satan himself – who is “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). We literally join up with the enemy when we belittle others.  When we bless, encourage, edify and speak well of others, we are partnering with God himself.

Maybe the twelve strutting disciples in Luke 9:46 were not as different from us as we think.  Maybe we would do well to not criticize them for doing openly what we do in shadows of pious religiosity.

We certainly are not without guilt

Yet . . . hallelujah . . .

We are not without grace

 That will lead us change.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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The Permanence Of Love

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

11Feb  Today, we come to the final portion of 1 Corinthians 13.  We will concentrate verses 8 through 13.

A while back, I met with some fellow pastors and we were discussing the subject of love and attempting various definitions of the particular form of love called “agape,” according to the teaching of the Word of God.  One of the younger pastors suggested this definition, which we felt was a good one: “Agape, or God’s kind of love, is a deliberate choice to act for the best interests of another person.”  That is indeed true love.  It is to put another’s need and fulfillment ahead of your own, and to act deliberately to help to fulfill that need and that purpose.

Paul makes clear here, however, that love has something more to it than that.  I was a little unsatisfied with the above definition because it seemed so cold.  The apostle adds the element of warmth.  He says that love “is patient, kind, and rejoices in the truth.”

It is very difficult to combine truth and love.  There is a passage in the letter to the Ephesians that has always intrigued me.  In my judgment it constitutes the simplest, briefest, and yet the most profound definition of Christian maturity that I know anything about.  I seek to measure myself against this, and I measure others as to whether they are mature or not in the degree to which they manifest this quality: It is in Ephesians 4:15a, there where the Bible exhorts us to “speak the truth in love.”

It is hard to combine those two.  It is easy to speak the truth sometimes, to be blunt and caustic and even embittered, and you can speak truth, but there is no love in it.  Or you can be loving, as we think of it, and refuse to hurt another and never tell him anything that is unpleasant or distasteful.  But that is a quality that really reveals a lack of courage; it is a form of deception.  It is the man or woman who can learn to speak the truth in love who is growing up in Christ. That is what this chapter is describing for us.

We have already looked at Paul’s great word about the preeminence of love, how it is of more value than everything else; and we have also looked at the practice of love, how it comes out in a practical way, both in the negative and the positive of it.  Now, beginning in Verse 8, we have Paul’s amplifying of the persistence of love and the permanence of it – It is all put in the opening words of Verse 8: “Love never fails.”

The apostle Paul has employed a very unusual Greek word here that literally means, “to fall.”  That sounds strange to our ears, but it is meant in the sense that love never “falls away and disappears; it never quits; it is never used up; love keeps on coming; the more you use it the more there is.”  That is the point Paul is making here.

Many of us have discovered this.  We begin to exercise this kind of love and we find yourself enabled to exercise it even more all the time; the more we give it away the more you seem to have. Love is like bailing out a boat with a hole in it — the more water you throw out, the more there is; it just keeps coming in all the time.  That is the thought behind this, “love never fails;” it never stops coming on.  One of my mom’s favorite hymns that I recall since I was a young Christian was, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.”

That is the idea;

Love that persists

Despite all the rebuffs

That it may experience.

In verse 8, Paul contrasts this quality of love with the things that will not last; the things that do quit; the things that pass away, “Love never fails; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”

Obviously, he is comparing this to the spiritual gifts.  This is not knowledge in general or prophecy in general; this is the “gift of knowledge,” the “gift of prophecy,” the “gift of tongues” that he is talking about.  These were the three favorite gifts at the church in Corinth.  They were making much of them in the church there.  Paul is telling them that . . .

As important and God-given these gifts are,

They were never intended to last

In contrast to love, which never quits.

Prophesying is the gift of unveiling the mysteries of God, making known to man these divine truths about humanity and society that are revealed in the Bible which the secular world can never discover.  It is not the gift of predicting the future so much as revealing the meaning of the present, and, therefore, of the future, because the present is always becoming the future and the future is becoming the present.  This, therefore, is a great gift.

The gift of tongues is the gift of supernatural utterance of a language never learned in praise and thanksgiving to God.  We learn this more completely in chapter 14 – It is called glossolalia, the ability to speak a language, a true language, that was never learned.

The gift of knowledge is the ability to grasp a great range of Biblical truth, to systematize it, and to know it, teach it, and live it before others.  It too is a great gift.  But of the three, Paul says, tongues will absolutely cease.  He uses a different word about tongues than he does for the others, as we also see more clearly in chapter 14.  This is because tongues is a “sign” gift, given as a sign to unbelievers, designed to arrest their attention.  When that is accomplished there is no further need for the gift, so it ceases in the individual.

The other two gifts, prophesying and knowledge, will fade away gradually, Paul suggests.  That is inherent in the word he employs.  They are gradually being replaced by something else, which he calls the “perfect” thing.  We can see how clear this is in Verses 9 and 10: “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.”

Clearly that is a gradual process.  The question that it raises in our minds, of course, is, “What is this perfect thing which, gradually increasing in our life, replaces our concern about gifts?” It is interesting to see the many guesses the commentaries make about this:

Some of them suggest that the “perfect” thing here is the written Word of God. They tell us that here, in the first century, they did not have the New Testament as we have it today.  They relied upon the teaching of prophets, evangelists, apostles and others who spoke bits and pieces of the mind of God, but as the complete, written account of that mind of God took shape and form in the New Testament, all the need for these gifts would pass away.  It is the claim of those who teach this that as the Word of God, as we think of it, came into being in the written New Testament, these gifts began to fade, so that all the gifts of prophesying and of tongues and of knowledge have all long since ceased and we are now shut up to the Word of God.

Now, there are elements of truth in that, but that is not what this is referring to at all; that is to totally ignore the context in which this word “perfect” appears.

Others have suggested that what Paul is talking about is heaven. Heaven is the perfect place.  Life is imperfect, and one of these days we will all fold our earthly tents, the wheels of this earthly life will cease their turning, and we will go to heaven and then the “perfect” comes.

Now, there are also strong elements of truth in that.  In fact, Paul is going to return to that theme a little bit later in the paragraph.  But, again, that is not what he means by the word “perfect” here at all.

If we take the passage in its full context, in relationship to all that he has said here and in the surrounding passages, it is clear that the word “perfect” refers to love.

Love is that “perfect” thing,

Which, as it grows in our life,

Replaces our need for

And concern with

The gifts of the Spirit.

We find ourselves growing up

Into that to which the gifts

Are designed to lead us,

So, when the end begins

To be accomplished,

The means to that end

Are no longer as fully required.

This is what Paul is saying, and it is confirmed by the illustration he employs in Verse 11, where he says: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.”  There is nothing wrong with that.  Children are supposed to act like children; everybody expects them to, and it would be folly and a shame if they did not.  Paul says he did these things when he was a child, but, “when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11b)

Why?  Because he had become a man.  That is the end toward which a child always moves — maturity — and therefore these things were no longer needed.  Now, what Paul is saying, of course, to these Corinthians (and to us), is that the mark of maturity is the ability to love, to love the unlovely, the selfish, the distasteful, the ungrateful, and to not let that change your attitude or your actions toward them but to keep on working fully for their best interests.  As the ability to do that increases in our life, it will replace all our childish concern about the gifts of the Spirit.

To make much ado about gifts,

As though they were the overall

Important thing that God wants

To emphasize, is to be

Childish in our attitudes.

Have you ever watched children playing on Christmas morning after they have opened their gifts?  Their minds are focused on all these new toys; there are so many of them they cannot take them all in; they are so excited about them.  They always seem to want the one that somebody else has.  They play with one for a few moments, cast it aside, and get another one until their brother or sister grabs the one they have just discarded.  Then it seems to assume great importance in their eyes.  They grab it away, and pretty soon there is a squabble going on over the gifts they have received.

That is what happens in churches. To make so much over gifts as though they were the important thing is to miss the whole thrust of this passage on gifts.

Gifts are designed to lead you to love;

That is the whole point of it.  Prophesying is to teach us in the revelation of the mystery of God that we have a power the world knows nothing of: It is called “resurrection power,” the power to love as God loves, and that we can exercise it any time we choose to.

We will not feel it ahead of time; it does not surge up into our being to remind us that it is there waiting.  We make the decision only because we ought to, that is all, in obedience to God.  But when we choose to, and respond in obedience, the power is supplied to us.  That is what prophesying teaches us; this remarkable element of truth is that we have a new secret revealed – the power to love.

The gift of knowledge is to help us systematize truth so that we can instruct and help others in these great facts, and that is the action of love. 

The gift of languages, the gift of tongues, is given to arrest the attention of unbelievers (Paul specifically says that in the next chapter), so that they will give heed to the magnificences of God as they did on the Day of Pentecost when they heard 120 different people speaking in languages. What were they doing with those languages? Preaching the gospel?  No. They were praising God.  That arrested the attention of this secular crowd, and they began to listen, and take heed to the fact that God was at work, and it provided opportunity for them to hear the Gospel.  That is propose for the gift of tongues.  That is the goal of love, and it is designed to lead us to love, praise, and seek to glorify God and to love others.

To focus on gifts and forget

The end to which they lead

Is foolish and hurtful and destructive.

To squabble over them

Is the utmost in folly in a church.

Gifts are good, but they are passing away.  What we ought to be writing books about, and issuing magazines over, and broadcasting over the radio and television today is the ability available through the Gospel and God’s grace to love, to reach out to the hurtful, to minister to them, and tell them of One who died for them, lives today for them, and loves them.

I will be honest with you, I get so grieved and tired with all the demands and requests of what I think of as phony Christian broadcasts today.  They are bleeding the people of God to support spectacular showmanship going on in the Christian world and wasting all their time, money, and effort instead of learning the simplicity and the grass roots process of learning the Word of God which will help them love God and their neighbor as yourself.

The quality of Christianity does not lie in its showmanship (how we need to get away from that), but in its ability to love, to love the hurting, the weak and the foolish.  Love then is the “perfect” thing, and, Paul says, one day it will be perfectly ours.  Verse 12:

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”

Clearly here he is anticipating the end of life, the dawning of a new day when the morning will break and every shadow will flee away; all the imperfection of life will come to an end, and love will stand face to face with love.  Paul says it is like looking in a mirror dimly.  He is talking about the way we are able to love.  These ancient mirrors were not like the silvered glass ones we have today that give a clear and beautiful image, as they did not understand that process then.  Their mirrors were simply highly polished metal, so that, when you looked in them, all you got was a rather indistinct, blurred image.  This is a beautiful symbol for life: Paul says that is the way we love today.

We sometimes try to visualize the face of Jesus, but I think it is instructive that the Spirit of God has never given us a physical description of Him.  I do not like pictures of Jesus because, to me, they distract from what the Spirit is trying to impart, which is the true beauty of His being, His life, His character.  Paul says our efforts to visualize and to sense the personality and the glory of Jesus are imperfect now, as we do not see Him very clearly.  But one of these days all those barriers will fade away, the mist will be dissolved, and we will suddenly find ourselves face to face with the Lord Jesus.

The disciples experienced a little of this on the Day of Pentecost. The Bible records that incident in the Upper Room in John 16:7, when the Lord had said to them, “It is to your advantage that I go away.”  I am sure they looked at Him with unbelieving eyes.  They must have been thinking in their hearts. “How could that be?  To lose you, to lose our chief treasure is to leave life empty and meaningless, dull and dreary.  We can hardly stand the thought of it.  Are you telling us that it is to our advantage that you go away? How could that be?”  But on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit came to reveal Christ to them, they understood what He meant because suddenly all the questions they had been asking, all the doubts they had felt were resolved.  An inner confidence sprang up within them that He was alive, and with them.  They understood what He had said; words that they had been puzzling over, that had raised endless doubts and misconceptions in their minds, were suddenly clear and striking and startling.  And, that was just a foretaste of what is going to happen on the day when we stand in the presence of Jesus.

Paul suggests that will happen with our knowledge as well.  During many of difficult experiences of life we find ourselves wondering, “Why did God allow it to happen?” As we face that question, we find ourselves able to see only very dimly, only to get blurred and incomplete images of what God was doing; little glimpses, fragments of insight perhaps, but nothing very clear. But, one of these days, Paul says, we shall understand; we shall know Him as fully as He now knows us.  All our questions will be answered; all our problems will be resolved.

In his final summary in verse 13, Paul gathers it all up in the things that abide: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Faith abides because

Faith is a human response

To a divine provision.

Faith is doing something

With what God has given you,

And that is going to go

On through all eternity.

We lack everything;

We human beings

Have nothing in ourselves.

We are constantly taking

Wisdom, power, instruction and

Ability from the hand of God.

Everyone is, whether he knows it or not.

There is no ability to function

As a human being without

The gift of God to you first.

Faith is a simple, deliberate response to the provision of God, therefore it abides, because we will go on doing that throughout eternity.

Hope abides because hope is the expectation of yet more to come.  There is a phrase earlier in this letter where Paul speaks of “the things God has prepared for those who love Him,” 1 Corinthians 2:9b ).  We are beginning to dabble in the shallows of that now; we have found a few of those things already, but the thing Paul is talking are an infinite number, and finiteness can never encompass infinity.  God, therefore, is going to keep on opening our eyes to new vistas, opening our spirits to new opportunities, our lives to new adventures of faith.  It will never grow old; it will never get less; it will go on forever and ever because He is infinite.  Hope, therefore, abides.

But love abides too, and the reason love is the greatest is because God is love.  God is not faith; God is not hope; but God is love.  Therefore, to learn to love is to achieve the absolute, paramount value of the entire universe — to become like God. That is what it is all about, isn’t it?  The lie of the devil in the Garden of Eden was, if you disobey God you will be like God; you will learn how to have a fulfilled life.  That lie and its sad results are visible all around us, in our own lives and in the world today. But the Word of God says to trust Him; to follow Him.  To use what He gives you is one day to discover that the clouds pass away, the mists all melt, the morning breaks, the shadows flee, and you are face to face with Him and you are like Him.  When we see Him “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” (1 John 3:2).  Therefore, love abides — and “the greatest of these is love.”

Paul really concludes this section with the opening words of Chapter 14 verse 1, “Therefore, make love your aim…”

The word “aim” means “pursue it; set your heart on it; make it your chief goal; work at it; think about it; aim toward it; follow it.”

That is the idea;

That is what life

Is all about –

To know God

And  become a loving,

compassionate, patient, kind,

truthful person

Is the reason we exist.

Everything else must either minister to us to that end or be regarded as useless and wasted time.  May God help us to hold this clearly in our minds and understand the reality of these words, “the greatest of these is love.”

We feel so incapable of

Manifesting this quality of life,

And yet God’s Word assures us

That that is what was intended.

We do not have this ability in ourselves, b

But we have it supplied to us

In unending quantity

If we but choose to use it.

May God help us

To make that our goal.

Beginning the rest of today, and all of next week, and for the rest of our lives, let’s choose to “owe no man anything, but to love one another.”

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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The Practice Of Love

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

11Feb   Today, we are looking in the second section of 1 Corinthians 13 (verses 4-8) where Paul goes on to show us that love must be practical.  Love is not an “out-of-this-world” thing; nor is it just an ideal you talk about.  It is something that takes place in and operates down in the normal, ordinary pursuits and aspects of life.  That is where love is to be manifest.  There is nothing more helpful, when reading through this chapter, than to ask yourself . . .

  • “Am I growing in love?
  • “Looking back over a year, am I easier to live with now?”
  • “Am I able to handle people more graciously, more courteously?”
  • “Am I more compassionate, more patient?”

These are the measurements of life.

This is why we were given

Physical life, and need to have

The life of God given to us

Through faith in Jesus –

That we might learn

How to act in love.

Nothing else can be substituted for it.  There is no use holding up any other quality we possess if we lack this one.

It is the paramount goal

Of every human life,

And it is well to measure

Yourself from time to time

By this standard.

To help us in doing that,

The apostle gives us

Some very practical

Ways of testing love.

He says in Verses 4-6, “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.

Notice in these verses there are only three positives; all the rest are negatives.  So, love is really only three simple things, basically – It is patient, it is kind, and it rejoices in the right. (The word really is “truth.” It rejoices in the truth).  The quality of love we are talking about is that which produces patience, kindness and gladness of heart.

The negatives that are given here are associated with love because these are the things we must set aside in order to let the love of God, which is patient, kind, and honest, manifest itself.

We do not have to produce this love in our lives.

 That is the Holy Spirit’s work.

We only have to get the things

That are hindering it out of the way.

Those are the negatives that are suggested here.

All progress in the Christian life comes by first experiencing the cross and then the resurrection.  That is a picture of all we repeatedly go through as Christians.

To give up the pleasure

Which these negative expressions

Give us is to experience

A kind dying to self.

That is the way

Of the cross.

But it always results

In a resurrection,

A release of the power of God

To reach out in patience,

In kindness, and in honesty.

That is the way to love.

Many people admire this chapter on love, but they do not understand how to produce this kind of love.  Paul has been telling us all along through the whole book — that God is ready to love through us if we are ready to renounce the false, the negative expression of our sinful life.  I do not have to argue with you about that.  We all know the temporal pleasure we get out of some of these negative qualities.  We do not want to give them up.  It is so natural to want to rip people apart, give them a piece of your mind, make them suffer for all the injuries they have done to you; or to freeze them out, be silent toward them, and let them stew a little bit.  You know how delightful that is, don’t you?  We want love, but first we want the flesh.  That is why we do not experience the love of God.  Therefore, we are given these negative qualities to help us to understand what we must renounce.

What are the things that keep us from being “patient?”  (That word, by the way, is always used with regard to people, not circumstances).  This word always describes one who is being patient with people so that you do not immediately wipe them out, or turn them off or away; but you are understanding, you wait patiently, and let them work things out.  The word literally means “a great suffering” – enduring some suffering in order to let people have a chance to work out their problem.  That is patience.

“Kindness” means “courteousness, to be gracious, to be pleasant to people.”  That is what love is. What are the things that stop that?

First on Paul’s list is “jealousy.”  We are often not patient or kind because we are jealous.  We are spiteful and short with people because we see them enjoying something that we want.  They have a relationship that we envy; they have a quality about themselves that we do not have and we are angry about it, so we are short and spiteful.  That is one reason why we are not patient and kind.

Next on Paul’s list is “boastfulness.””  Oftentimes we are not patient because we cannot wait to listen to others.  We are so anxious to brag about ourselves so they can begin to admire us.  But that must be surrendered for love to appear.

Then, Paul says, love “is not arrogant.”  Arrogance is disdain, lack of respect for another person, ignoring how he will feel and asserting yourself regardless of what the result may be.  Nor is love “rude,” Paul says.  This is to ignore another’s rights; literally, the term is, “to be puffed up.” It means “to be haughty. or cutting, sarcastic.”  One of the major expressions of rudeness is sarcasm.

And “love does not insist on its own way.”  Literally the word indicates that love is not “stubborn. intractable, inflexible, insisting that everybody else adjust.”  It is willing to find a way, to examine a matter, to look at it from a different angle.  When we get stubborn and inflexible and refuse to even talk about a matter, we are choosing to exercise the self-centeredness of the flesh.  Therefore, we cannot allow the love and patience and kindness of God to appear in that situation.

Then love “is not irritable or resentful.”  Nothing destroys human relationships more than that.  Henry Drummond, in his great little message on this passage, The Greatest Thing in the World, writes about this: “No form of vice – not worldliness, nor greed of gold, nor drunkenness does more damage to people and things than an evil temper.  For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for taking the innocence out of childhood, in short, this sinful evil stands alone.

Finally, love “does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Love is not gloating over other people’s miseries or mistakes.  Love does not gloat over another’s misfortune, but rejoices in honesty and truth when it is brought out.  Love is willing to hear even the truth about itself.  It is not so concerned about being protected from hurt or injury as it is in knowing what is really happening.  This is a great quality of true love.

Paul now gathers it all up with this beautiful expression in verse 7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

First, “Bear all things” literally means “covers everything.”  Love covers (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8).  When it does learn something unpleasant about another it does not run and scatter it all over the neighborhood.  It does not take delight in some of the misdeeds of others.  Love covers it over, keeps it silent.  Not that it will not do something about it, but it does not spread it about for others to hear.

Secondly, “Love believes all things.”  That does not mean love is gullible. but some have read it that way.  When Jesus was kissed by Judas in the garden He did not say to him, “Oh, Judas, what a beautiful kiss. I’m so glad you have changed your mind and are showing this.”  No, he understood that this was a traitorous action.  He said to Judas, “Would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).  He was not gullible.  He saw Judas’ action for what it was.

What this phrase does mean is that “love is ready to believe anything that has a ground of reality to it.”  It is always ready to start over.  What this phrase means is that “it is ready to trust somebody anew.”  It does not assume the attitude, “Well you’ve done that three times before and you did not do it right so I’m not going to trust you anymore.” If somebody wants another chance love grants it.

Thirdly, love “hopes all things.”  This word means that no cause, no situation, no person is ever regarded as totally hopeless.  There is always a place to for recovery, for reconciliation, and to begin again.  Love will find it; it never gives up hope.  Then Paul adds the final word in this section, love “endures all things.”  Love never quits; it never gives up on anyone.

It has been pointed out that you could take this paragraph and insert “Jesus” in place of the word “love” and you would find that it fits perfectly: “Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus is not jealous or boastful; He is not arrogant or rude; He does not insist on His own way; He is not irritable or resentful; He does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Jesus bears all things; He believes all things; He hopes all things; He endures all things.”

When you read it that way

It is clearly evident that

Love is the character of Christ.

That is what the Holy Spirit

Is seeking to reproduce in us,

So that becoming Christlike

Means becoming a more loving person.

This is the measure of our spiritual growth.

I know Christians who do not seem to have changed in twenty years.  They are just as cantankerous and difficult twenty years after they became Christians as they were at the beginning.  Something is wrong in a life like that.

The whole purpose

And thrust of the work

Of the Holy Spirit

Is to teach us to be

Loving, patient, kind, Forgiving,

Understanding, giving others chance,

Trying over again, open to correction

And instruction ourselves,

Easy to be entreated.

These are all the qualities that can be produced in a Christian life.  That is what makes life worth the living.  This is the measure of true Christian spirituality.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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The Preeminence Of Love

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

11Feb  Our theme over the next three days will be love.  We will look at the most beautiful chapter in the whole New Testament, First Corinthians 13.  This chapter is famous, not only for its majestic language, but for the lofty idealism of its subject matter and the very practical behavior it describes.

Someone has said that “analyzing these words is almost like taking a beautiful flower and tearing it apart.”  But some analysis is necessary in order that we might fully grasp what the Apostle Paul is saying here in this great apostrophe to love.  There are three aspects of love which we will consider over the next few days:

  1. The preeminence of love.
  2. The practice of love.
  3. The permanence of love.

We should remember that this chapter on love, though it is often read separately from the rest of the content, really fits beautifully with what the apostle has been talking about in the previous section.  Beginning with Chapter 12 he introduced the subject of matters pertaining to the Spirit of God.  The first part of that chapter was the focus of the Spirit on the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus is Lord;

This is always the

Emphasis of the Holy Spirit.

He makes Christ real to us.

If we have any sense

At all of the reality and living

Presence of Christ

It is because of the work

Of the Holy Spirit within.

Then Paul talked about the gifts of the Spirit.  The Bible teaches that every believer is equipped with certain spiritual gifts that put him into the ministry. If you are not learning to use those gifts, you are going to sabotage the program of God as far as you are concerned.  He has given them that you so you might have a ministry within the Body of Christ.

In Chapter 13, we come to the fruit of the Spirit.  The apostle has introduced it with a hint already that the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than the gifts of the Spirit.

That we become loving people

Is far more important

Than whether we are active, busy people.

Both are necessary, but one is greater than the other.  Paul has said so in verse 31 of the previous chapter – There is a more excellent way . . . That is the way of love.

I call this the “fruit of the Spirit” because in the letter to the Galatians, in the famous passage in Chapter 5, the apostle details for us what the fruit of the Spirit is.  It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  It has been pointed out that all of those qualities really are manifestations of the first one, love — that, after all . . .

  • Joy is love enjoying itself;
  • Peace is love resting;
  • Patience is love waiting;
  • Kindness is love reacting;
  • Goodness is love choosing;
  • Faithfulness is love keeping its word;
  • Gentleness is love empathizing;
  • And self-control is love resisting temptation.

Love is the key; love is the main thing.

This chapter, therefore, is setting forth

That quality of love which is

The work of the Spirit of God within us

Reproducing the character of Christ.

The Bible teaches that once you have love, all the other qualities that are part of the fruit of the Spirit are possible to you.  If we have the love of God in our hearts, then we can be patient; we can be peaceful; we can be good, loving, faithful, gentle, kind, and all these other qualities.  But without love all we can do is imitate these qualities, and that is what produces a phony love.

One of the most deadly enemies of the Christian cause is phony love.  That is why, in Romans 12:9a, the Bible says, “Let love be genuine.”  When you come into the church, especially among the people of God, love must be genuine.  If it is not, it is hypocrisy.  If it is put on just for the moment, if it is an attempt to put on a facade, to act like you are kind, thoughtful. gracious, faithful, and so on, but it all disappears as soon as the situation changes, that spreads death within the whole community.  Genuine love, however, will produce all these qualities.

The word “love,” that is used here is not the Greek word “eros.”  That word is used to describe “erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you “fall in love,” a passionate attraction to another person.”  That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God, strangely enough, though it is a common form of love today.

The word “love” that is used here is not “philia,” which means “affection, friendship, a feeling of warmth toward someone else.”  This too is a universally distributed love, but this is not what is mentioned here.

Paul is talking about “agape,” which islove that it is divine, self-sacrificing, one-way, and a commitment of the will to cherish, uphold another person, and work for their best interest.”  This love is not romantic, saccharine, or sentimental love because the issue is not emotion but attitude.  Agape love is “divine” because this love comes from God.  This love is self-sacrificing and not selfish.  Self-sacrificing love is willing to place others above self.  It is one-way in that it does not depend on the other person to love us back.  Moreover, it is free to relate to others and does not carry “soul-kinks” such as bitterness, resentment, and hostility toward others.  It is free from those attitudinal sins. This love is unconditional for it loves in the face of faults and failures.  It is a choice to love the unworthy in our perception.

It is a word, therefore, addressed to the will.

It is a decision that you make and

A commitment that you have launched upon

To treat another person with concern,

With care, with thoughtfulness,

And to work for his or her best interests.

That is what love is, and this

Is what Paul is talking about.

This kind of love is possible only to those who first love God.

Any attempt to try to exercise love like this without having first loved God is to present a phony love, a selfish, fleshly kind of love.  The reason I say that is because the Bible tells us there are two great commandments.  The first is, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”  The second one is, “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Matthew 22:37-9, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27).

We try to turn that around.  Many of us are trying to love our neighbor, whoever he may be, in our family or anywhere else, without having loved God, and it is impossible to do that.

It is “the love of God

Shed abroad in our hearts

By the Holy Spirit,”

(Romans 5:5),

That fulfills the definition

That is given in this chapter,

And only that love.

Therefore, you cannot love other people until you first love God.

When you really think about it, love for God is not difficult, because all you need to do is be aware of how He has loved you – in creation, in the supply of all you need, in leading and putting you in various places with various persons.  But above all else He has loved you in having given His Son for you, having redeemed you, having forgiven you, having changed your heart and destiny.  Your sin; your guilt is taken away.  God has called you to Himself and has given you a standing before Him as a son or daughter within his family.

To remember all that is to be stirred with love for God.  When you love God, you awaken your capacity to love people.  Therefore, it is very important that we understand, in reading this passage, what Paul has been reminding us of all through this letter, that . . .

Love is a supernatural quality.

God alone can give this kind of love.

God alone can lead you to make a choice

To love somebody who does not appeal to you,

Who does not awaken anything within you.

Yet that is what God’s love is.

That is what is so desperately needed

And so beautifully described in this passage.

It can only come as we love God

And love is awakened within us by the Holy Spirit.

It is important for us to remember that this chapter comes after Paul has said that all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit, made a part of the Body of Christ.  As Jesus put it, we are “in Him” by that process (John 14:19-20).  All believers have been filled with the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, “made to drink of one Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:13b).  By that process our Lord’s words, “I in you” (John 14:20c), have been fulfilled.

Because of that

We all have the capacity

To act in love.

All that Paul is saying in this passage is, “If you have that capacity then do it.  Love one another.”

To encourage this he shows us some of the qualities of love:

The first is what we are looking at in today’s blog – the preeminent value of love.  Paul contrasts love here with certain things that were highly regarded in Corinth and are still highly regarded in the world today.

The first is the ability to communicate.

These Corinthians valued communication.  They enjoyed eloquence; they admired oratory.  They were especially entranced by the gift of tongues, the ability to speak in languages that had never been learned, which had been given among them, but which by the power of the Spirit enabled person to pray and praise God.  They were making much of this gift, as many are today, so Paul begins on that note. He says in verse 1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

There is no suggestion in this that the gift of glossolalia — which is speaking in tongues — is identical to what Paul refers to as “the tongues of angels.”  I know people today who claim that the gift of tongues enables you to speak with the tongues of angels, but Paul does not say that at all.  In fact, it is a pure, arbitrary assumption on the part of anybody that the gift of tongues constitutes the tongues of angels.  We know that angels do communicate in heaven (Isaiah 6:2) and to man (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:13, 26-28).  This is the only reference in all the Scriptures to the tongues of angels.

All Paul is saying is that to be

A loving person is more important

Than to be able to speak

In all the languages

Of earth or heaven.

Therefore, it is essential to learn to love.  Communication without love is a useless thing.

Second, the ability to know and believe.

Paul compares love to these two qualities that were admired in Corinth and are admired in our age as well.  Verse 2 says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Prophecy is a greater gift (14:1-5) than tongues (verse1).  In its primary sense, the gift of prophecy is the ability to know divine truth apart from human knowledge.  Prophecy is the ability to receive knowledge directly from God by divine revelation.  This was a primary gift during the completing of the canon of Scripture in the first century.  Once God completed the canon, He limited the gift to exposition (13:8), so in its secondary sense, prophecy is the ability to expound the Word of God (chapter 14).

“Mysteries” are truths not revealed to the point of understanding.  They are not something spooky or mysterious.  We can find a usage of “mystery” as a truth not previously revealed (Ephesians 2:15-18; 3:3-5).

“Understanding” is insight and “knowledge” is the capacity to gather facts of divine revelation.  The gifts referred to here are a combination of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Capacities of understanding and knowledge hold the great danger of arrogance and pride if not held in humility.

A mountain is a worldwide symbol for something immovable.  It was a figure of speech for doing the impossible.  Faith enough to move a mountain is synonymous for great faith.

Paul is thinking of theologians particularly, men and women with great ability to detect and understand the mysteries of the Scriptures and to answer all Biblical questions, riddles and parables.  I am sure you have been asked these questions, or maybe you have even had them yourselves: “Why does the devil exist?” “Where did Cain get his wife if he was the only person in the world?” “Why does God allow injustice, accidents and tragedies in our world?”  These are questions asked of every Bible teacher.  Paul says, “If I could answer all those questions, if I could explain all those mysterious movements of God and still was not a loving person, if I was difficult, cantankerous, hard to get along with, even though I could move mountains by faith, if I lacked a loving spirit, it is all nothing.” 

Finally, he takes up the matter of sacrificial zeal.

He says in verse 3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”  There are many reasons why people give away things.  Sometimes they give because they are deeply concerned about certain cause or a need.  They are willing to sacrifice their own possessions in order to meet that.  But sometimes people give for very selfish reasons, although it appears to be a generous gift.  I have known people who gave great sums of money to a cause they actually had no interest in at all, no more use for than a hog has for hip pockets, and still they gave their money.  Why?  Because they had a selfish interest in it. Now you can do that.  You can give away everything.  You can impress people with tremendous willingness on your part to sacrifice.  Giving our body to be burned as a martyr is a horrific form of martyrdom.  Nothing could be of greater sacrifice, but it does not profit us if we do not do it out of love.

The word “profits” means “to prevail, to be advantageous, beneficial, useful, or expedient.”  Doing things without love is not beneficial to us personally.  Note the progression of “nothing:” I say nothing, verse 1 … I am nothing, verse 2 … I gain nothing, verse 3.

Love is the important thing.

Nothing can underscore

That fact more than these words.

This is what life is all about.

We are born to learn to about God’s love and we are born-again to let others hear and see God’s love through our lives.  To live without learning to love is to have wasted our time, no matter how impressive our achievements in other ways may be.

Tomorrow we will look at verses 4 through 8 of 1 Corinthians 13 and see how love must be practical.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Comfortable or Comforter?

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

10Feb The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

In reading through the life of the apostle Paul, we see a great many circumstances marked by the crushing conflict he faced, both within the church and out in the world.  Yet through it all, he makes it crystal clear that God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in every challenging circumstance we face.  Why?

Our Lord does not do it

To make us comfortable,

But to make us comforters

For others who are encountering

Challenging times of their own.

We can and should expect challenging circumstances to arise outside the church.  But as we see in the life of Paul, we should not be surprised when conflict confronts us inside the church also. There was a rebellious minority in the church at Corinth that made life difficult for everyone, but for Paul in particular.  They accused Paul of everything from personal pride to mental instability.  They even denigrated his looks and his manner of speaking, saying “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Corinthians 10:10).  But through it all . . .

Paul looked up instead of out,

And he trusted God

To carry him through

Every wave of challenge

That washed over him.

And Paul understood the primary reason why God sustained him:

So that through the comfort

God provided to him,

He could draw strength

To comfort others.

Can the same be said about you?  Looking back over your life, can you see how often God has comforted you in challenging times?  I am sure that as you think about this, you can recall how the compassion of Christ has brought you through some very uncomfortable circumstances; you may even have emerged from them feeling quite comfortable!

But . . .

Being comfortable is not

God’s ultimate goal

For bringing us through

Difficult circumstances;

Being a comforter to others is.

Who in your life right now needs to experience the compassion of God through the comfort you can provide?  Perhaps a word of encouragement is needed?  Maybe a personal visit to deliver a hug or a holy kiss?  How about an unexpected call from you to share the love of Christ?

Remember . . .

God has faithfully brought you

Heavenly comfort over the years,

Time and time again

– Not to make you comfortable,

But to make you a comforter

For His glory and the good of others.

Why not bring some of the comfort of Christ to someone in need today?  I promise, you will be glad you did . . . and they will be too!

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Further Exhortations Regarding Living While We Wait For Christ To Return, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

07Feb  We will conclude our journey through first and second Thessalonians today.  In these final verses Paul wraps his instructions on how to deal with idleness and busybodies.  The Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15, “For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat.  But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right.  But if anyone does not obey our message through this epistle, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, to put him to shame.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

The Needed Exhortation To The Church

In verse 11, the apostle first mentions the reports he had received regarding those who were leading an undisciplined (idle) life.  Two things characterized their behavior: (1) doing no work at all and as a further result, (2) meddling in the affairs of others; they became busybodies rather than busy self-supporting workers engaged in a productive occupation.

By working they would become

A blessing to themselves

And benefit to others.

But their idleness had

Led to the opposite.

The Greek word for “meddling” is made up of two words: “peri,” “around,” and “ergazomai,” “to work, labor.”  It literally means “to work around or in a circle.”  It came to mean “to do something useless, to be busy, but accomplishing nothing.”  You have heard people say or perhaps said this yourself, “I feel like I have been going in circles.”  What we mean is obvious.  We mean that, though busy, we feel like we have not been getting anything done.  1 Timothy 5:13 describes the results of such behavior, “And besides that, going around from house to house they learn to be lazy; and they are not only lazy, but also gossips and busybodies.”

Almost every culture has its sayings about idleness.

  • The Romans said, “By doing nothing, men learn to do evil.”
  • Isaac Watts wrote: “For Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do.”
  • The Jewish rabbis taught, “He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to be a thief.”
  • My mother and grandmother use to say to me, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.”

Based on the reports mentioned in verse 11, the rule of verse 10 is reinforced in verses 12-15 with three more instructions.

First, in verse 12 and with the words, “in or by the authority of the Lord Jesus,” Paul specifically addressed the idle meddlers who are commanded and urged “to work quietly and to provide for their own food to eat.”  This instruction gives us further insight into the behavior of these idlers: (1) their false views about the return of Christ had evidently led them into a kind of feverish excitement which they were seeking to spread from person to person as they went about from household to household; (2) They eventually ran out of money and food and began to expect others to support them.  Thus, Paul commands and urges them to settle down and then to go back to work.

But what if these idlers again refuse to follow these instructions (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 5:14)?  With this possibility in view, the apostle gives instructions to the rest of the Thessalonian Christians to show them how they should deal with idlers who might not obey these instructions (3:13-15):

Second, they are urged to “not grow weary in doing what is right.” “Grow weary” means “to become tired; to loose heart; despair.” One is often the result of the other.  In struggling with a matter, some might lose heart in struggling with their idle brothers.

Doing what is right

Would include remaining

Examples themselves by working,

By reprimanding the disorderly

Idlers of verse 10, and

By refusing to support those

Who refused to work.

To continue to support those who refuse to work is wrong for all concerned.

Third, the apostle speaks to the matter of church discipline (verse 14).  This is a subject that is too often avoided today, but not without serious consequences to the body of Christ.  It is applied here to those who refused to obey their instruction, which clearly illustrated a rebellious spirit and a wrong relationship to the Savior Himself.  Thus, specific and tough measures were needed.  First, they were to take special note of such people. “Take note” literally means “to mark.”  It is in the plural and in the middle voice which suggests “note for oneself,” with the implication that all the members of the congregation were to take responsibility for following these instructions.  Church discipline will have little effect if not followed by the whole body.  Second, they were not to associate closely with one who refused to work.  The verb here is a triple compound word meaning “to mix up together,” and then “to associate closely with.”

There is a difference between acquaintanceship, friendship, and fellowship.  For obedient saints to treat disobedient Christians with the same friendship they show to other dedicated saints is to give approval to their sins.

In essence, those who refused to obey were to be ostracized from intimate fellowship with the believers of the assembly as a means of shaming them into repentance and change.  This should not be confused with formal excommunication as in Matthew 18.  Rather, it appears to be more a matter of group disapproval and social ostracism.  In our country today, Christians will often just change churches to avoid such discipline, but this was a serious thing for believers at that time in a heathen society and the same would apply to many countries today where believers are faced with serious persecution for their faith.

They are not to be regarded as enemies, but to be admonished as brothers.  That this was not total excommunication is suggested by the third instruction given in verse 15, “Yet do not regard (“to think of, consider, regard”) him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”  “Not as an enemy” means “not as one who is opposed to Christ.”  “But as a brother” could be taken to mean “as though he were a brother,” but the idea is “because he is a brother (i.e., a fellow member of the body of Christ).”

This draws our attention to a couple of important principles in church discipline: First is the fact that the goal of church discipline is never punishment, but tough actions of love done with a view to reformation and restoration to fellowship with Christ and the body of Christ.  Second is the issue of extremes.  Rather than being balanced as with the Lord Jesus who was full of “grace and truth,” people tend to go to extremes – they are either too lenient or too harsh.  Thus, Paul stresses they were not to be treated as enemies, but admonished as brethren, as fellow believers.

“Admonish” means “to warn, instruct.”  The fundamental idea is to put sense or biblical wisdom into the mind so that it changes behavior.  It includes an admonishment to change through instruction, consequences of sin, and godly aims, etc.  The idler was not to be cut off from all contact, but was allowed to continue in a brotherly status.  So, lines of communication were kept open for continued warnings about his behavior.

  1. The Necessary Enablement Of The Lord

Verses 16-18 say, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.  I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, which is how I write in every letter.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

The Prayer for Peace and the Lord’s Presence.

With these words the apostle not only brings the epistle to a close, but reminds us that . .  .

Spiritual change in the lives of men,

Or ministry to people of any kind

That effectively brings peace

At all times and in all circumstances

Is not something we can do

Or experience alone.

It requires the supernatural

And gracious hand of the Lord Himself.

“Himself” is emphatic and stresses this very point.  Here the Lord – a reference to the Lord Jesus (cf. verse 18) – is called “the Lord of peace.”  They, as all believers, had come to have peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus (Romans 5:1); their faith in Christ also meant the capacity for peace with one another (Philippians 4:9; Colossians 3:15); and their faith in Christ allowed them, in their own hearts to have a vital relationship with the Savior, the Prince of Peace, the Peacemaker (Ephesians 2:14-17; Philippians 1:7).  The Lord Jesus is called “the Lord of peace” because He is the author and source of peace.  If they or we are to know real peace, we must walk in intimate fellowship with the Savior and be in obedience to His commands (John 14:27). Interestingly, in Paul’s concluding remarks in the first epistle he used the phrase, “the God of Peace” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and now he concludes with “the Lord of Peace,” which certainly demonstrates his estimation of Christ as being Himself God.

The closing emphasis or focus here on “peace” and “at all times and in every way” reminds us that life is loaded with trouble and circumstances that can unsettle us, as it had occurred in the church at Thessalonica.  But . . .

Whether it is trouble

Brought about from

False doctrine or

From undisciplined believers,

It is the Lord Himself

Who gives us peace

And such will only occur

When we allow Him

To have the place of Lord

And reign in our lives.

In the statement “the Lord be with you all,” Paul was praying that they might experience the power and blessing of the Lord on their lives for spiritual growth and well-being.  The Lord he promised that He is always with us and will never leave nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5), but we may ignore His presence and fail to experience it.  So, the apostle prays that this might not be the case.

The Personalized Petition.

With verse 17, the apostle picked up the pen of the one writing the letter as Paul dictated it to him and closed with this personal greeting and sign of authority and authenticity.

Paul had been dictating this letter, but when he gets to these final words beginning in verse 17, he took the pen into his own hand to add a closing greeting.  Though he undoubtedly did this quite frequently he has called attention to it only here and in Romans 16:22; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Colossians 4:18).  The greeting in his own hand, “which is the distinguishing mark” in all his letters (verse 17), includes also the benediction of verse 18.

Apparently, Paul followed this practice consistently, expecting churches where he had served to recall his distinctive handwriting.  It was particularly needed in this Epistle as a deterrent against any future attempt to forge a letter in his name (cf. 2:2).  The practice was customary in ancient times.  When Paul says “in all my letters” (verse 17), he does not mean just the letters previous to this, for he was also to follow this procedure later.  Neither is the expression to be limited only to books found in the New Testament, because he is known to have written other Epistles besides these (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9).  The handwriting furnished a key by which his Thessalonian readers could recognize a spurious Epistle bearing his name.

With the phrase in verse 18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” we are reminded of (1) the necessity of the grace of the Lord Jesus for the Christian life, and (2) with the word “all,” God’s desire that all Christians experience this in life.

He had commended some

And he had censured others,

But his final benediction was upon all.

There is here a final appeal

For unity, obedience, and blessing

Including, of course, the idlers.

Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians have stressed the return of the Savior and shown us how this should and should not impact our daily lives.  The fact that the Savior is coming again and could come today should promote godly living and give great peace, comfort, joy, and encouragement to endure the trials of life.  Such stability is one of the key purposes of prophecy.  By contrast, it should never lead to the kind of idleness or to a kind of idle feverishness as had occurred with some at Thessalonica.  When this occurs, it hurts the cause of Christ by causing ridicule from the world and unrest within the body of Christ.

When believers act like the idlers at Thessalonica, they become disobedient soldiers who are out of rank and a poor testimony for the Savior.  It shows they are indifferent, if not walking in direct rebellion against the specific instructions of the Word and the commands of their Savior.  As disorderly Christians, they are a cause of disorder in the church, but church problems are always individual problems and can only be solved when Christians start listening to and living by the instructions of the Word of God.

The Lord is coming again and He is coming for His church, the bride of Christ.  May we live properly in the light of His any moment return, which means obediently to Scripture.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

GraceForTheJourneyBottomOfPagePicture

 

 

Exhortations Regarding Idleness in the Church, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

07Feb  We will look at 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 in today’s blog.  As we come to the conclusion of our journey through this letter, Paul is led to address a dangerous problem that had developed in the thinking of these believers.

If left untreated, disorder in the church, like physical ailments, will only increase causing greater and greater sickness and pain. Because of a wrong response to the imminent return of the Lord, the problem of idleness touched on briefly in 1 Thessalonians, seems to have only grown worse.  There were those in the church at Thessalonica who had evidently stopped working and were running around in excited idleness from house to house in anticipation of the Lord’s return at any moment.

This wrong response to prophetic truth not only led to idleness and the lack of ability to support oneself and family, but it had resulted in becoming busybodies.  It appears they also expected the church to support them.  It is entirely possible that it was this group that had been spreading some or perhaps all of the false teaching discussed in chapter 2 of this epistle.  Furthermore, they were probably guilty of spreading rumors or gossip about others in the church.  Warren Wiersbe puts it this way, “They had time on their hands and gossip on their lips, but they defended themselves by arguing, ‘The Lord is coming soon!’”

In his previous epistle, Paul had warned these busybodies to stop such idleness and get back to quietly working with their own hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).  He later urged the believers there to admonish the unruly or undisciplined (ataktos, “out of order, disorderly, undisciplined”).  In view of this chapter, it is clear that either they had not heeded Paul’s admonishment or they had not listened to the admonishments from the church body.

This is a sad illustration of wrong interpretation or wrong application of biblical truth.  The New Testament does teach the imminent, any-moment possibility of the return of the Savior for His church; it is imminent, but no one knows when He will return.  It could be today, but it might not be, as has been the case for hundreds of years.  The principle is that . . .

We are to live as though

It will be today . . .

While working and

Continuing on in life

As though it could

Be tomorrow.

We must hold both truths

In proper balance.

As we learned from 1 Thessalonians, the coming of the Lord with all that it means to believers is to be a strong motivation to living in obedience to the teachings of God’s Word through the power of the Holy Spirit so that God will be glorified.

Misinterpretations and misapplications of the truths of God’s Word can cause endless trouble.  History records the foolishness of people who set dates, sold their possessions, and sat on mountain tops waiting for the Lord to return.  Any teaching that encourages us to disobey any divine teaching is not Bible teaching.

In these verse Paul offers two principles to help these believers get back on course in the lives and ministry.

1) The Exhortations of the Apostolic Team

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition you received from us.”

The seriousness of this exhortation is seen in the use of the word “command,” in Paul’s appeal in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the nature of the command “to keep away.” “Command” means, “give orders, instruct with authority.”  It was used for various directions given from persons in authority like human rulers, Jesus, and the apostles.  Paul used this strong word in connection with the idle busybodies in the first epistle (1 Thessalonians 4:2 and 11) and in this epistle in 3:4, 6, 10, & 12.

The word was a military word often used of a command by a superior officer.  The lesson here is simple:

The church is engaged

In spiritual warfare

(Ephesians 6:10ff))

With each believer a soldier

Whom God has enlisted

Into His army.

When we fail to follow

The directives of the Savior,

It leads to disorderly conduct

Which hurts our effectiveness

(1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2;3-4)

Paul uses another military term to describe the problem at Thessalonica.  Some of the saints were “undisciplined,” literally, “out of order” or “out of rank.” (see also 3:7 and 11).  This family of words was used of soldiers who were out of step or moving in disarray.  For another passage that uses military metaphors, we might compare by way of contrast two words the apostle used in Colossians 2:5 when he wrote, “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see the order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.”  Here the apostle was thankful for the orderly way the Colossians had closed ranks and presented a solid front of soldiers in standing for the cause of Christ.  “Order” means “a fixed succession or order.”  It was a military term used of a rank or orderly array.  “Firmness” means “a solid body; steadfastness, firmness.”  This too was a military word and continues the military metaphor and means, “a solid front;” it was used of Roman soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder with their spears pointing forward.

In this regard, Paul appealed to the Thessalonians in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Commander-in-Chief of the army of God.  In essence, then, these commands came by the authority of Christ.  Paul was passing on authoritative instructions as an apostle, one sent by the Lord Jesus to plant or establish churches and to lay the biblical foundation for the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:20).  To disobey Paul’s directives was to disobey the Lord.

The command is spelled out specifically, “To keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition you received from us.”  “To keep away” originally meant “to set, place, arrange, fit out as an army for an expedition;” hence “to prepare, equip.”  Then it came to mean “to bring together” or “to gather up” as when one furls the sails of a ship.  Hence it came to mean, “to shrink back, restrain, withdraw oneself, hold aloof, avoid.”

The phrase “from any brother” stresses the principle and need of impartiality.  The tendency in exercising church discipline is to show partiality to some because of their standing in the community or in the church, or because of financial status, or simply because they are very likable people, but such cannot purify and toughen up God’s army for spiritual warfare.  As we are warned in 1 Corinthians 5, a little leaven eventually leavens the whole lump.

Paul goes on to pinpoint the specific problem, “Who live an undisciplined life and not according …”  As we break down these words, we can clearly see why Paul needed to so strongly address this issue.  “Who live” is literally, “walking in a disorderly way.”  “Walking” is a common word used in the Bible for one’s way of life or conduct in general.  “Undisciplined” is a vivid word that describes the nature of their behavior. “… The word means “to play truant.”  It occurred in an apprentice’s contract in Paul’s day in which the father agrees that his son must make good any days on which he “absents himself from duty or plays truant.”

The Thessalonians in their excited idleness were truants from duty and from work.  Such truant behavior was foolish because of the natural consequences and because no one knows when the Lord will return.  But it was more than just foolish, it was rebellion because it was contrary to the truth handed down to the Thessalonians previously (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12; 5:14) and to the teaching of the Word in general.  In essence, this constituted walking in disobedience to the Word of God.  This was rebellion and no excuse could justify such behavior. So strong measures were needed.

What does the Bible teach about manual (or menial) labor?  For one thing, labor was a part of man’s life before sin entered the scene.  God gave Adam the job of tending and guarding the Garden (Genesis 2:15).  Although sin turned labor into toil (Genesis 3:17-19), it must never be thought that the necessity for work is a result of sin.  Man needs work for the fulfillment of his own person.  God created him to work.

Have you noticed that God called people who were busy at work?

  • Moses was caring for sheep (Exodus 3).
  • Joshua was Moses’ assistant before he became Moses’ successor (Exodus 33:11).
  • Gideon was threshing wheat when God called him (Judges 6:11ff),
  • David was caring for his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 16:11ff).
  • Our Lord called four fishermen to serve as His disciples.
  • Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3) and used his trade to support his own ministry.

The Jews honored honest labor and required all their rabbis to have a trade.  But the Greeks despised manual labor and left it to their slaves.  This Greek influence, plus their wrong ideas about the doctrine of the Lord’s return, led these believers into an unchristian and unbiblical way of life.

Later, the apostle will show that . . .

The issue here was ultimately

One of unwillingness.

The circumstances of life

(Sickness, loss of a job,

Economic conditions)

Sometimes keep people from working,

So the question was not one

Of inability but unwillingness

(Note verse 10, “if anyone is not willing to work, …”).

2) The Example of the Apostolic Team

1 Thessalonians 3:7-10 says, “For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you.  It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate.  For even when we were with you we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.”

The apostle was always deeply concerned about his own example of Christlikeness, for he knew that a student will become like his teacher (Luke 6:40).  His great concern for this is evident in his statement in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 when he said, “… for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved (literally, “came to be”) to be among you for your sake.”

In these verses, then, Paul was able to turn to his own example and that of his team.  “Imitate” is the Greek word “mimeomai” from which we get our word “mimic.”  The idea of this word is that of modeling, becoming like, or following after another.  It stresses the nature of a particular kind of behavior modeled by another that we are to follow.  In the New Testament, it has a spiritual, ethical or moral emphasis and is generally linked with an obligation to a certain kind of conduct or character as a product of faith in the directives of the Bible and the example of the apostles or other leaders who were also following the Lord Jesus as their ultimate example.

It is linked to certain ones

Who are living examples

For the life of faith

And the character of Christ.

This, the apostle states, is a moral and logical obligation.  He said, “you must imitate us.”  The word “must” refers “to the compulsion of duty, of law, of custom, or of an inner necessity that grows out of the situation.”  Here it is the moral necessity that arises out of the fact these men were their spiritual mentors who followed the Lord Jesus and who had provided them with a godly example.

Thus, Paul adds, “because we did not behave without discipline among you, …”  Though they had the right to receive support from the Thessalonians, they set aside that right in order to provide a fitting example of Christ-like behavior (see verse 9).

This not only provided

An example to new Christians,

But was a way of answering

The false accusations of their accusers.

The word “without discipline” means “to be out of order, out of line.” It’s the verb form of the word used and discussed above in verse 6.

Paul himself was not idle.  His readers could verify this claim (“you yourselves know,” verse 7; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:1; 3:3; 4:2; 5:2).  In imitating Paul, they would be imitating the Lord Himself (1 Thessalonians 1:6) because Paul’s life was so carefully patterned after his Lord’s.  He did not loaf at Thessalonica (verse 7b), nor depend on others to supply him with free food (verse 8a).  He supported himself in spite of much fatigue (“laboring to the point of exhaustion,” verse 8) and many obstacles (“toiling,” verse. 8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:9) in order to relieve the new Christians in Thessalonica of the burden of supporting him.

Paul did not have to exert himself so tirelessly.  As an apostle, he had “the right to such help” (verse 9; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:4ff; 1Thessalonians 2:7) from his converts.  He decided, however, to forego this privilege and leave an example for them to imitate.

With verse 10, the apostle reinforced their example by reminding them of their previous instruction as it pertained to working and supporting oneself and family.  As I noted previously, the instruction here is aimed at those who are “unwilling to work.”

This instruction was not just a matter

Of some cultural tendency

They may have noted

In the Thessalonians,

But of a fundamental biblical principle.

God is Himself a worker.  After all, He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  As such, He designed a working vocation as a necessary part of life even before the fall and He expects each of us to be involved in some form of vocation that we might support ourselves and our families, find a sense of significance and destiny in our labor, and be a productive member of society.

Thus, denying support to those who are unwilling to work is not cruel, but becomes a basic form of discipline to force idlers into reality and into the responsibility of becoming productive people. This kind of discipline is tough love and provides a protection to both the individual and to the society.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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