Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Receiving and Resisting Influence

He who walks with wise men will be wise,

but a companion of fools will be destroyed.

Proverbs 13:20

This world is filled with influences. They are all around us, all the time. Some influences are good, and some are evil. If you welcome good influences and resist evil influences, you are wise, but if you welcome evil influences and resist good ones, you are foolish.

No one in this world can escape being influenced. It is an inescapable fact of life. The only issue is, Are we wise in our choice of influences, or are we foolish?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Solomon Really Saw

It can be a dangerous thing to be intelligent enough to see the vanity, the emptiness, of everything in this life. Solomon was given the wisdom to see it, and his wisdom would have driven him insane if the Lord hadn’t rescued him. Many a person who sees this world’s emptiness and vanity has fallen into the deep ditch of depression and turned to such things as drunkenness and drugs for relief. But it is so much better to turn to Jesus instead.

A depressed person looks at a lawn that needs mowing and says, “What’s the use of mowing it? It’s just going to grow back,” or “What’s the use of washing clothes? They are just going to get dirty again.” And if depression completely takes control of them, they may even ask such things as, “What’s the use of eating? I’m just going to get hungry again.” That may sound strange to some of you, but millions of people have struggled, or are struggling now, with such thoughts. An awareness of the complete emptiness of things in this life has driven multitudes into such depths of despondency that they have even come to hate being alive in a world like this and have killed themselves.

Solomon’s observations about this life sound so pessimistic that some biblical commentators say he was suffering from depression. He was not; he just saw earthly life the way it really is, since man fell into sin and was cursed. Thinking Solomon was depressed, however, is an easy conclusion to reach if one misses the other, more important part of his message. In fact, if you miss Solomon’s main point, then reading his Ecclesiastes can actually make you feel depressed!

In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about the wind endlessly coming and going, coming and going, and then he speaks about the cycle of rain falling, flowing to the sea, and then returning to the sky, only to fall to earth and start the process again. He talks about the futile cycle of people being born, living, and dying, and then another generation coming to live and die, and so, the pointless cycle is continued, generation after generation. Solomon’s summary of everything on earth was that it was all futile because it was just “for a time”. And that is true, except for the fact that God chose to come be a part of this vain world with us and show us how to live above the futility Solomon felt.

God is altogether a God of relationships, and from that, we learn what is not futile, and not useless: our relationships with one another and with Him. It matters how we make others feel, and it matters a lot. There is nothing useless about kindness, patience, love, faithfulness, and the other godly qualities that enable us to bless the lives around us. A godly person does not make another person’s life harder or less pleasant by getting depressed and letting his own life “go to pot”. He cares enough about his neighbor to keep his yard and his house in order. It may be frustrating for you to have to mow the yard again (and so soon!), but that’s not the point. The point is, how will it make your neighbor feel if you take care of your yard? Or, how will they feel if you do not?

A godly person cares enough about how he makes his family feel to do his part around the house. He does whatever he needs to do to make the lives of those around him happier, and to make them feel valued. He encourages; he helps; he stays close to Jesus so that everything he does and says, or even the way he looks at people, helps them on their way. The person who lives in the love of God lives an exciting life, not a depressed one. He loves people the way God does, and when we love people the way God loves them, we really live, aware that every single thing we do matters because everything we do touches someone else’s life. An old hymn that I learned from saints now gone has this wise exhortation in it:

Every act you perform is a seed to someone,

For the influence will never die.

Then, be careful each day, what you do, what you say,

For you’ll meet it again, by and by.

When we see what Solomon really saw, that this life has a very important point, we do not waste our lives wallowing in depression and frustration at the useless cycle of everything. We can acknowledge that Solomon was right when he said of things in this world, “Useless, useless, all is useless”. At the same time, the people in this world are important to our Creator, and we will give an account to God for every word we speak to them, but more importantly, how we speak to them; and for every deed we do, but more importantly, how we do it. Each moment of your life is filled with opportunity to sow good seed into another’s life. The very expression on your face, your whole body language, says something to those around you about what you think of them, and you will reap what ever kind of seed you sow many times over. Be eager to sow the kind of seed that makes others feel valued and loved.

What kind of seed are you sowing? Or, let me ask that question this way: How do you make those around you feel?

My father told me that depression is hatred, turned inward instead of turned on people. If that is true, then the opposite of depression is love turned outward instead of toward yourself. Solomon felt the hatred, turned inward, that this vain world makes one feel, and he did struggle with a time of depression, even saying at one point, “I hated life” (Eccl. 2:17). But he said that before he fully realized the wonder and the thrill of life itself, of having the precious opportunity to live and do good! God rescued Solomon from depression by letting him see that each moment presented him with the chance to do something good, and to be blessed for it.

Solomon made a list of the events on earth that are forced to repeat themselves because they are cursed with time. These are some of Solomon’s most famous words, though his meaning is almost never fully understood:

Ecclesiastes 3

1. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6. A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Solomon’s conclusion, just a few verses later, was as simple as his wisdom was profound:

12. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

So, according to Solomon, as far as the ordinary events of this life are concerned, “there is no good in them” - and this list even includes the time of peace and the time of love! The only value Solomon found in any of these earthly events is the good that we do for one another while we are going through them!

Get excited! You are still alive! Take advantage today of your fleeting opportunity to do good for others. Don’t waste your life depressed about the uselessness of earthly things, but spend your time concentrating on the good you can do for the people you know. If you do that, you will find that nothing is more exciting and interesting than the life that God has given to you! Don’t grow old with regrets! Your life is now, and your opportunity is here, just waiting for you to take hold of it and make something of it.

Lastly, let me reiterate the point that the true measure of our deeds is not so much the details of what we have done or not done, or said or not said, but how we have made others feel. The hearts of the people around us will always be the truest indicators of the quality of our lives. How have you made the people in your life feel today?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Light of the World

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Jesus, in John 9:5

I just saw another of those silly Christian cliches that sounds good, but is just plain wrong. It said, "Jesus is the Light of the world." Is he? Jesus himself said that he was the light of the world only "as long as I am in the world" (Jn. 9:5).

No one can be the light of the world if he is not in the world. If the light of the world is in heaven, the world has no light. It is OUR time to be the light of the world now because we are the ones who are here, and pointing to Jesus, who is no longer here, is, I believe, one way that religious people have found to make themselves look good without being good. If Jesus is the light, we don't have to shine, do we?

For Christians to boldly proclaim to the world that Jesus is the light of the world can make them appear to be devout and wise, but it just is not true - according to the Jesus they are referring to.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Not Far from the Kingdom

And the scribe said to him, “Well said, Teacher! You have spoken truthfully, for there is one God, and there is no other but He, and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love a neighbor as oneself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he had answered with discretion, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:34-36

If we ever really grasp the concept that ceremonies and rituals are worthless in God's kingdom in comparison to the quality of our relationships, and that true righteousness is a matter entirely of the heart, we will not be far from the kingdom of God, either! The kingdom of God is not an outward, fleshly thing (Lk. 17:20; Rom. 14:17a), but is simply “righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy ghost” (Rom. 14:17b). And if in these things you walk with God and others, you please God and are pleased with Him. Walking in the Spirit, you need no ceremonies, but more importantly, you have no desire for them.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Then and Now

Under the Old Covenant, the knowledge of God came through Moses and the prophets, but there were false prophets in Israel, too, who gained the confidence of God’s people and stole their hearts away from God’s real messengers. If the people had clung to the right who, they would have trusted in the right what, the law. Instead, they trusted the wrong who and were led away from the law, and lost their souls in the end. In the New Covenant, the knowledge of God comes through anointed ministers of Christ. But just as happened under the Old Testament, false teachers arose along with the apostles, gained the confidence of God’s saints, and stole their hearts away from God’s true ministers, just as Peter said would happen (2Pet. 2:1). If God’s New Testament people had continued trusting the right who, they would have rejected false teachers and the Institution they devised and would have trusted the right what, the Spirit of God.

God’s true prophets cried out for Israel to heed the law of God, stressing that the only acceptable way for them to serve God was the way He told them to serve Him; that is, by following the law of Moses. God’s true ministers now cry out for the children of God to follow the Spirit, stressing that the only acceptable way for them to serve God is the way Jesus told them to; that is, “in spirit and in truth”. The law was Israel’s only access to God; every true Old Testament prophet proclaimed that truth. In this covenant, the Spirit is our only access to God (Eph. 2:18), and every true minister of God preaches that truth. Moses told God’s people that the law was their life (Dt. 32:46-47), and every one in ancient Israel who believed Moses and lived by God’s law will be given everlasting life in the Final Judgment. Jesus and Paul told God’s people that the Spirit is their life (Jn. 6:63; Rom. 8:10), and every one who believes them and lives by the Spirit will also be given everlasting life in the Final Judgment.

Pay attention to what you hear. Anyone who tells you that receiving the Spirit of God is just an added blessing, an extra gift, and that you do not need to walk in it to be saved in the end is one of those who would steal your attention from the servants of God who are telling you the truth. We are baptized into the body of Christ by the holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:13), and without that holy Spirit of God we are, as Paul said, “none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Judgment.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Who Really Loves God?

Everyone who truly loves God also loves Jesus who was sent from heaven in the Father’s name (Jn. 5:43). Likewise, everyone who truly loves Jesus loves the holy ghost that was sent from heaven in Jesus’ name (Jn. 14:26). To reject Jesus is to reject the Father who sent him (Mt. 10:40), and to reject the Spirit is to reject the Son who sent it (Rom. 8:9).

Many in Israel who appeared to be godly were exposed as evil by their rejection of the Son of God , while many who appeared evil were revealed to be righteous by their love for him. To the envious religious rulers who despised him, Jesus said, “You are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). On the other hand, the Master encouraged those who loved him with these words: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).

“The kingdom of God”, wrote Paul, “is righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy ghost” (Rom. 14:17). So, when Jesus said that his Father would “give the kingdom”, he was saying that He would give them the holy ghost. This promise was fulfilled when his disciples “were all with one accord in one place, and there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the holy ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2).

It is only to the extent that the Spirit of God leads us that we are rightly led. Only to the extent that the Spirit governs is the body of Christ governed well. Only to the extent that the Spirit gives wisdom is there sound judgment among us. And only to the extent that the Spirit anoints is there ever true ministry. To desire God is to desire the Spirit, and to love God is to love the Spirit. There are many who claim to love God, when in fact what they really love is a god of their own imagination. It is a person’s response to the Spirit that came on the day of Pentecost which brings to light what that person really wants and loves.

The Spirit guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). If anyone knows any truth, if anyone understands anything rightly concerning God, that knowledge came from the holy Spirit. Said Paul, “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1Cor. 2:11). What little uprightness exists in the world today exists only by virtue of the influence of God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit that convicts men of sin and then convinces them of what is right (Eph. 4:30; Jn. 16:8). It is the Spirit alone that cleanses from sin (1Cor. 6:9-11), and it is only by the indwelling of the Spirit that one possesses the precious hope of being raised from the dead into eternal life (Rom. 8:11). One of the Spirit’s titles is “the Spirit of Grace” (Heb. 10:29), and we are being “saved by grace” only if we are filled with the Spirit, for it is by the Spirit, and by it alone, that the grace of God is ministered to the soul.

Christ Jesus and his Father dwell in the hearts of believers only by the Spirit (Jn. 14:23)! Jesus himself is inside of no one. He is in heaven with his Father, waiting for the day when the Father will send him back for us. We either have the holy Spirit within us, or we have nothing holy in us at all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking the Name of the Lord

The first thing Jesus himself ever taught me, in the summer of 1975, was that "taking the Lord's name" means becoming a part of God's family, or being converted. From the point of conversion, the newly "born again" person belongs to that nation of believers who belong to God and are called by His name (e.g., "people of the Lord" or "a child of God"); in other words, they have taken His name upon themselves. So, to "take the Lord's name" means simply to become one of His people.

To use another biblical metaphor, to "take the Lord's name" can mean to enter into a sort of marriage covenant with God and become the "bride of Christ". Old Testament Israel was regularly referred to by the prophets as the wife of God. It was a frequent theme in the prophets that in worshiping foreign gods, Israel was unfaithful to her husband (God) and had become an adulteress (e.g., Ezek. 16).

In sum, "to take the name of the Lord in vain" means to become a believer and then to be unfaithful to the Lord in whom you have believed. People often speak, with romantic flair, of "the promises of God". There are even pretty, little books written about God's promises, usually with lovely, flower-covered covers. But the authors of those books are very selective when choosing which promises to write about. Some of God's promises are terrifying, such as the promise He made to believers who "take His name in vain":

"The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain"
Exodus 20:7

In other words, faithfulness to Jesus is required of "the bride of Christ". Jesus made that clear when he said concerning the Final Judgment of any unfaithfulness servant, "The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and he shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 24:50-51). That terrifying judgment awaiting unfaithful believers is also a "promise of God", but such promises don't fit easily in a book decorated with flowers and butterflies, does it?

The whole point is that if we take God's name upon ourselves by becoming His, then He expects us to live according to His will, and "be holy, for He is holy". Entire Christian sects have been founded on the premise that such is not the case, that once a person is converted, he will be saved in the end regardless of how he or she lives in this world. But the truth is that we cannot escape the promise that God made to those who take His name and then do not do His will. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me. 'Lord! Lord!' will enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven." Every account of the Day of Judgment found in the Bible tells us that we will be judge "according to our deeds", not "according to what we claim".

You are not "saved" yet. None of us are. You may be converted; you may have taken the name of the lord, but salvation is the reward that Jesus will give in the end to those who not only take God's name but are also faithful to Him after they take His name. As Jesus told his disciples, "Many false prophets will arise, and will deceive many. And because of a great increase in lawlessness, the love of many [for God] will grow cold. But he who endures to the end [in his love for God], the same shall be saved" (Mt. 24:11-13).

Monday, May 23, 2011


How many times, after finding ourselves in a bad situation, have we have said to ourselves, “I knew something didn’t feel right”? We have all, at times, hurried past the “still, small voice” of the Lord, and later remembered having a nagging feeling that “it didn’t feel right” before we made the mistake we made. If you stop and think about it, however, we know that an “it” can’t feel anything. It takes life to have feelings, and the “it” that we often feel is really a “he”. And the “he” is Jesus, talking to us, telling us what he sees coming. Paul told the Corinthians that “the Lord is the Spirit” (2Cor. 3:17), and the Spirit of God inside His children is always giving them right feelings and thoughts, the feelings and thoughts of God.

Many have spoken of times they felt to slow their vehicles down, for no apparent reason, and they slowed down just in time to avoid having an accident. One man of God I knew “just had a feeling” not to go straight home one day after a prayer meeting, not knowing that an angry, wicked man was waiting to ambush the preacher at his home. By the time the preacher got home, the would-be murderer had sobered up, grown tired of waiting, and gone away.

The feelings of the Spirit don’t just come out of the air; they come from the heart of God, and they are always intended for our good. If we brush those feelings off as just “something” talking to us, we risk running into trouble, or missing a blessing. If “it” doesn’t feel right to you, it is not “it”; it is Jesus himself warning you of something you don’t see. If “something” is talking to you, Jesus is talking. Listen! A blessing is in it.

Some years ago, Brother Earl and I decided to go visit some saints. We were two young men in the Lord, happy, singing, and talking about the things of God as we drove along the highway. All of a sudden, the Spirit fell on me and I heard myself exclaim, “Earl, we are going to have a visitor from the Lord tomorrow!” Brother Earl and I continued on our journey, but I could not forget what the Lord had promised us. I spent the next day working hard on the old house that my wife and I had bought. As the afternoon progressed, “something” kept telling me that it was time to stop and get cleaned up, but there seemed to always be just one more board to cut, or just a little more old wood to tear out. Several times “it” felt that I should quit, but I pushed on. Later in the day, I finally did quit and went to get cleaned up. I was just stepping out of the shower when I heard a knock at the front door. Barbara was in the back part of the old house, the part we lived in. She could not hear the knock. Everyone who knew us came to the back door, and so I knew it must be a visitor -- then it struck me -- the visitor from the Lord! As quickly as humanly possible, I dried myself, jumped into my clothes, and rushed to the door. Nobody there. I ran out onto the sidewalk. I could see a long way in both directions, but no one was there. “I knew ‘it’ felt like I should quit work,” I told myself as I walked back into the house, knowing I had missed a blessing.

Brother Earl told me about a certain time he went to town on business. When he parked the truck and got out, he was about to lock and shut the door when a gentle voice asked, “Are you sure you want to do that?” Brother Earl was a little surprised, paused for just a moment, then thought to himself, “Of course I want to do that!” Then he shut the door and went on to do his business. Later, when he returned, he reached in his pocket for his keys. They weren’t there. Brother Earl looked through the truck window and saw them inside the locked truck. He remembered that “something” had asked him if he was sure he wanted to shut his truck door. Now he understood. It was not that “it didn’t feel right” that he should shut the truck door; it was that Jesus didn’t feel right about it.

Slow Down

Some years ago, I spent two days alone praying and seeking God. I needed some time away from everything and everybody to see if the Lord had anything he wanted me to see or know. Before I left the little mountain house where I was staying, I decided that I would write down the things I felt the Lord had shown me. At the top of the page, even above the first of the numbered things the Lord showed me to do, and written in large capital letters were these words: “SLOW DOWN!” And at the bottom of the paper, after the list of things the Lord had impressed on me, and again in large capital letters were the words, “SLOW DOWN!” By far the most important thing the Lord wanted me to do was simply to slow down.

Solomon said that the man who lives in a hurry is sinning (Prov. 19:2). What makes us sin when we are rushing about in a hurry is that when we live like that, we tend to forget that “the Lord is the Spirit” and shrug off the Lord’s feelings and thoughts as if an “it”, or a “something”, is talking to us, and rush on into a big mess. Then we stop and say, “I knew ‘something’ didn’t feel right.” But if we will just trust God and slow down, we will recognize His voice as being Him, not an “it”, and we will be saved from a lot of trouble.

The Lord is the Spirit, and what we feel in the Spirit can help us. We are neither wise enough or good enough to take care of ourselves, but our heavenly Father is, and the “it” we so often feel is Him trying to help us. He is doing His part. Those unexpected feelings and thoughts that surprise us do not come from something. They are from Someone who loves us and is letting us feel what He feels. Every time we listen to Him, our lives are made better, and every time we do not slow down and listen to that “still, small voice” of the Lord, it costs us something good.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Seed of the Woman

I will put enmity between you [the serpent]

and the woman,

and between your seed and her seed;

it shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.

Genesis 3:15

And the dragon was enraged over the woman

and went away to make war against

the rest of her seed,

those who keep the commandments of God

and have the witness of Jesus.

Revelation 12:17

There is no one in the Bible but Jesus Christ who is referred to as the seed of a woman, instead of the seed of a man. God caused the virgin Mary to conceive, not her espoused husband Joseph; therefore, her child, Jesus, was no man’s seed.

Going from the first book of the Bible, where God foretold of the woman’s seed coming to crush the serpent’s head, we go to the last book of the Bible, where we see in action the enmity that God set between the serpent and the woman. At first, the serpent tries and fails to destroy the woman; then, frustrated, the serpent turns his anger against the woman’s seed; that is, against those who have the witness (the holy ghost) of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Those who are “in Christ” are, like Jesus, the seed of the woman, the true Israel, because we are born of God, not man, as Jesus was. Paul speaks of this often, so as to encourage us Gentiles who believe in Christ. He pointed out to the saints in Rome that the Jews who are physically of the seed of Abraham are not the children of God; instead, they are the children of God who are “born again” by receiving the promise of the Spirit:

Romans 9

7. Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children, but, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.”

8. That is, they who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

Paul’s point is that if a person has the kind of faith Abraham had, then that person is a real child of Abraham:

Galatians 3

7. Know, then, that they are “sons of Abraham” who are of faith.

8. And the Scripture, seeing beforehand God justifying the Gentiles by faith, foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, “In you, all nations will be blessed.”

9. So then, those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

. . .

13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”),

14. in order that, in Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles; namely, that we might receive the promise of the spirit through faith.

. . .

26. for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

27. for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

28. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; nor is there male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

29. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs by means of promise.

The seed by which we are born into the family of God is God’s seed, not man’s, and this birth makes us, as Paul said, “the Israel of God”, not the physical nation of Israel which was produced by the physical seed of Abraham. Peter explained to the saints that, since they were born of a different kind of seed, they were obligated to love each other with a different kind of love:

1 Peter 1

22. . . . see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently,

23 being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides for ever.

There is only one person in the Bible of whom it is said that he was born of the seed of a woman; that is Jesus Christ. At the same time, the apostles maintained that whoever is in Christ has been born of the same kind of seed that produced him.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Satan and Jesus Reaped What They Sowed

You have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven;
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
and I will sit on the mount of congregation, on the far north side.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.
I will be like the Most High.”
But you will go down to the lowest pit of hell.
Isaiah 14:13-15

God highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name

that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus

should bow every knee of heavenly beings,

and of earthly beings,

and of those under the earth, and that every tongue

should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

Paul warned us that we will all certainly reap whatever we sow in this life, whether good or evil (Gal. 6:7; 2Cor. 5:10). When we consider God’s judgment of Satan, we can see how true this is. In Isaiah 14:13, we are told that Satan’s secret scheme was to sit with God on His throne, which was on the farthest north side of the mountain where the “sons of God” met. He wanted to be the closest one to the reins of power, and he believed himself to be the one most worthy of that honor. But in verse 15, we learn that God will reward him for his wickedness by consigning him to the farthest recesses of torment, a place that is furthest from God.

On the other hand, Jesus, who humbled himself lower than anyone had ever humbled himself and “made himself of no reputation”, was later raised up by the power of God and “made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). Moreover, we learn in Revelation 2 that Jesus was granted the place that Satan coveted. It says in Revelation 3:21 that Jesus is now sitting on the throne with his Father, and that those who humble themselves as he did will be exalted to sit on the throne with him.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Judgment within “the congregation of the mighty”

Asaph was a Levitical song leader and prophet during the reign of king David. He wrote a number of the Psalms. In Psalm 82:1, Asaph wrote, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.” The Old Testament “congregation of the mighty” was the nation of Israel, His chosen people. The “gods” referred to in this verse were the rulers of Israel, the elders and priests of “the congregation of the mighty”.

Often, when there is a difference in judgment among the “gods” who rule over God’s people, those rulers are all saying right things. At issue in such cases is not whether the rulers are saying right things; they all are. Rather, the issue is, which of those right things is the right thing to say for the situation at hand. In other words, what is the right “right thing”? In such cases, it is impossible for men of earth to help. The gods in God’s congregation are all wiser than the world can be. In such cases, only God can judge among His “gods” and determine which of them is speaking the right “right thing”, the right thing that applies to the situation at hand. Solomon said, “The thoughts of the righteous are right” (Prov. 12:5). But that is not the point. The point is, which of those right thoughts is what God is thinking at the moment?

This is why Paul stressed the importance for all of us to hear the tender voice of the Spirit and be led by it. All of us who are called by God to Jesus will find ourselves having new, right thoughts. What we need is for our heavenly Father to show us which of those right thoughts applies to the situation we are presently in.

Jesus told some afflicted people that he healed to “go and sin no more”. But he said on other occasions that the affliction was not caused by sin. He was always perfectly guided by God in all his judgments; he always knew which right thing applied to which person and which situation. He had no formula to follow, and he had no pat answers prepared for all questions. He listened always to the Father so that he would know the truth of the moment.

When To Forgive, and When Not To Forgive

When someone in “the congregation of the mighty” errs, there are various directions which the congregation may take, depending on the type of error and related circumstances. But which one applies to a particular transgression at any given time? Judas confessed to the chief priests in private that he knew Jesus, and knew where he prayed, and was damned forever. His motive was evil. Peter cursed and swore in public that he did not know Jesus at all, and yet he was forgiven and became one of the chief apostles. He was simply overcome by fear. What man could judge such things rightly? Only God can give His people a right judgment because only God knows the hearts.

On the one hand, sin can be handled the compassionate way that Paul taught in Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if a man be overtaken in some transgression, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.”

That’s a godly attitude. But on the other hand, there are times when another approach in dealing with sin in the “congregation of the mighty” is in order, as Paul taught the Corinthian congregation. We need to take some time to consider what he said:

1Corinthians 5

1. It is widely reported that there is immorality among you, and such immorality as is not even known among Gentiles, in that a man has taken his own father’s wife!

Note that Paul is telling the believers in Corinth that they were tolerating such sin as would make decent sinners sick to their stomach.

2. And yet, you are puffed up, and have not mourned instead, so that the one who has done this deed might be put out from your midst.

Paul criticized the saints in Corinth because they were tolerating a scandalous wickedness. The only remedy in their situation was to remove the young man from the assembly. The fact that the Corinthians had not done so told Paul that they had become proud. Therefore, Paul instructs them as to how the humility of Christ would have them to handle this situation.

3. As for me, absent in body but present in spirit, I have already judged, as if present, the one who has done this deed.

4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you and my spirit are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5. deliver such a man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Instead of judging the matter rightly, the body of believers in Corinth had continued holding their meetings as usual, with the wickedness in their midst, rejoicing in the Spirit, singing, testifying, exercising spiritual gifts, and so forth. But with that filthiness in the midst of the congregation, this was Paul’s assessment of their worship:

6a. Your glorying is not good.

The result of these believers continuing with their prayer meetings as usual was that after their meetings, they were in worse condition, spiritually and physically, than before. Paul said so in 1Corinthians 11:17, 30. The apostle James also warned the saints not to worship God when sin was present among them. He said, “If there is bitter envying and strife in your hearts, do not glory!” (Jas. 3:14). Jesus taught his followers the same thing. He said that if you have done wrong to a brother, you should not worship God, but go instead to the offended brother and make things right. Then, he said, you may return and worship God acceptably; that is, with a clear conscience (Mt. 5:23-34).

Here in 1Corinthians, Paul is teaching that the worship of a group of saints is no good if sin is tolerated in the congregation. Sin will influence the spirits around it, and it can pollute the worship of a whole body of believers, making it unacceptable to God. Paul instructed two young ministers, Timothy and Titus, to rebuke sin openly in the congregation. We assume, therefore, that there are occasions when doing so is God’s will for His people (1Tim. 5:20; Tit. 2:15).

After the ancient Israelites won their first battle for Canaan at Jericho, a man from the tribe of Judah, named Achan, took a few articles found in the destroyed city which had been dedicated to God. In the next battle, because sin was now in the camp, thirty-six men of Israel were slain, and the army limped back into camp, defeated. Thirty-six families lost fathers because there was unconfessed sin in the camp. Joshua did not understand why the army lost, and going to God’s altar, he fell on his face, weeping. But God was too angry to be compassionate. He rebuked Joshua, told him to get up off his face, and then thundered, “There is sin in the camp! That is why the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed. Neither will I be with you any more, unless you destroy the accursed from among you!” (excerpt, Josh. 7:10-12).

This was similar to Paul’s indignant message to the Corinthian believers (continuing from 1Corinthians 5):

6b. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

7. Purge out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, since you are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us

8. so that we might keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9. In a letter, I wrote to you not to associate with immoral people,

10. not meaning, of course, the immoral of this world, or the covetous, or swindlers, or idolaters, for in that case, you would have to leave the world.

11. But now I write to you not to associate with anyone called a brother, if he be immoral, or covetous, or idolatrous, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -- not even so much as to eat with such a one.

Where do you see such judgment against wickedness in “the congregation” executed in our time? It is rare, admittedly, but it is the will of God, and it is found everywhere that believers enjoy genuine fellowship in the light of Christ because the light of Christ demands it.

Note also that Paul said he had already judged this situation - and he was not even there in Corinth. Paul knew nothing of the notion, which many in our time hold, that making judgments of people and of situations is ungodly. The truth is, it is ungodly for a body of believers NOT to have judgment among themselves. Paul even told the saints here at Corinth that they could escape God’s judgment if they would only exercise their own (1Cor. 11:32).

12. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?

In the next chapter in 1Corinthians, Paul rebukes this “congregation of the mighty” because there was no one there among them godly enough to exercise righteous judgment when it was needed. He said in 1Corinthians 6:5, “I say this to your shame. Is it really so, that there is not a single wise man among you, one who is able to judge among his brothers?” Then, Paul, as one of the “gods” in the “congregation of the mighty”, concluded with this judgment of the situation:

13. Those on the outside, God will judge, but you put that wickedness out from among you!

Where there is genuine fellowship, there is no continuation of worship as usual when sin is discovered in the congregation. When the body is truly one in Christ, it feels God’s displeasure and sorrow, and it cannot rejoice. Sin is a spiritual disease, and it must be cut out, or it’s influence will grow until the whole body is infected. And when the entire body tolerates sin and is corrupted by it, God will reject the praise of the congregation. Remarkably, when a congregation becomes so sick with sin that God rejects its worship, it often happens that the people do not even realize that their worship is being rejected. By the time sin has spread that far, the people’s feelings are so dead that, like the shaven Samson of old, they do not even realize that God has departed from them.

Preacher Clark used to warn us that sin is as catching as diseases are. Catching a cold, for one example, is not something you know has happened until the effects are felt. Then, when the fever, stuffiness, and aching begin, you know that somewhere along the way, the unseen, microscopic disease has infected you. The infection is a “secret” event until its effects show, but it is nevertheless real. That is why Paul warned the congregation in Corinth that a person living in sin, especially such a disgraceful sin as had been committed among them, would ruin the whole congregation if that sin was allowed to remain. That’s not a theory; that’s a fact.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Receiving God’s Messenger

If God sends someone to His people, and that person is faithful, he does not just sit around and talk about anything when he comes, or even express his own opinions, “for he whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn.3:34; 1Pet.4:11). This is true even about Jesus. He himself said, “The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself... but the Father who sent me, He gave me a commandment as to what I should say” (Jn.14:10; 12:49). And on another occasion, Jesus testified, “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me” (Jn.7:16). Anyone who has truly heard from God can say the same thing. For example, the apostle Paul declared that his doctrine was not taught him by any man, but came by revelation from God. Then, Paul proceeded to utter a curse upon anyone, even an angel from heaven, who taught a gospel different from the one he preached (Gal.1:8-9). Paul did not make such a stern statement because he was arrogant or feared competition for the hearts of believers. He made that statement because God had given him what he was teaching, and he he knew that anyone who taught contrary to that gospel would be cursed by God, whose message it was.

For those blessed people to whom God condescends to send a messenger, fellowship with the Father and the Son is predicated upon receiving that messenger. Jesus told his disciples, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me” (Mt.10:40). With these words, Jesus was telling his disciples that no person or group can please God or draw close to Him if they reject the men God anoints and sends to them.

There is no fellowship with God apart from fellowship with His servants who have fellowship with Him. This unalterable fact of spiritual life is demonstrated in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, and it is confirmed by events in our own lives if God will give us the eyes to see it.