Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Gustav-Please pray

I think we should all pray for those in the path of this Tropical Storm/Hurricane. I had a dog named Gustav and if this hurricane is anything like him it's going to be bad--real bad.

This isn't Gustav but is rather his sister Sasha. She's pretty crazy too but not anything close to the level that was Gustav.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Irving Bible Church-Women in the pulpit

Irving Bible church has recently decided that it will allow women to preach in the pulpit of their church. It is a sad day when churches decide they want to ignore the clear, direct admontions of scripture to accomodate political correctness and poor exegisis. You can read a great blog post about this here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Matthew 5:9 Children of peace in a world of strife

Particularly in an election year, people are prone to debate. You’ll see all sorts of local and national campaign advertisements where candidates impugn the character of their opponents as well as debates where politicians try to prove that they can talk for extended periods of time without saying a doggone thing. It seems even in the Christian community people catch the political bug. While I would certainly affirm that as citizens of this country we should vote our biblical convictions I think we would do well to remember that our God has not called us to live in constant contention with other people. In fact, as we observe in this verse, the Lord has called us to live in peace.

We see in verse 9 that Christ describes someone as being spiritually happy (“Blessed”) who is a “peacemaker”. Rather than being a source of strife and contention, a person who is called “blessed” lives in peace. In a world like the one we live in, this is certainly a difficult beatitude to live out. I believe scripture mandates, however, that we should live the truth of this beatitude not only in our relationships with others but also in our ministry.

First of all, we should live at peace with other people. In one sense, this is a passive activity. When we are attacked or provoked, when should remember how much our Lord has forgiven us for (v. 7) and then make the choice to react in a manner that exemplifies peace. For instance, as Paul writes in Romans 12:18 “18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Other people can vilify us and attempt to draw us into conflict. When they do, we can choose to draw upon the power of God’s Holy Spirit and respond peacefully. Also, we should follow the biblical example of interceding to bring peace where we can. For example, Paul wrote the letter of Philemon for the express purpose of reconciling the run-away slave Onesimus to his former master. He knew the penalty the law imposed on run away slaves and he also knew that Onesimus had wronged Philemon. However, he made it his business to intercede and make peace on behalf of Onesimus with Philemon. Further, in the book of Philippians, Paul writes to encourage the church to intercede in a dispute between two Christian women. He writes in chapter 4 verses 2 and 3 “2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.3 Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” While both of these examples involve Christians, we can and I believe should take opportunities to intercede in conflicts when we have an appropriate occasion to make peace where we can.

Further, I believe our role as peacemakers should influence our ministry. Obviously, we cannot save anyone. There is only one mediator between God and man and that is our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5). Further, we know that in Christ, God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:19 “19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” However, the verse doesn’t end their. Yes, God has done the work through Christ Jesus but, as Paul continues, “He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” We are called, therefore, to take the message that God forgives sinners when they repent of their sins to this whole world. In that sense, we are bringing them to peace with God by announcing that He has made that peace available.

By doing this, we will be identified as “sons of God”. We don’t take this title for ourselves. Just as God announced that Jesus was His Son when Jesus was baptized, we will be recognized as God’s children. It will probably not be proclaimed with a loud voice from heaven while we live on this earth. However, I believer people will recognize the manner in which we live—that we live as peacemakers. We will then have the chance to witness to the life changing power of our Lord. Also, when this life is over we will be welcomed in as joint heirs with Jesus into heaven. There, it will truly be proclaimed that we are “sons of God”. Praise God for His Holy Spirit that allows us to live in a world of strife as peacemakers.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Best of-----Philippians 3:11-12: Our Future Hope

This is the third in a "Best of" series of previous posts from my blog. My schedule has been a little nutty at work lately and I appologize for that. I pray that you are blessed by this study in Philippians. I will be back to work on Matthew and 2 Peter this week. Thank you.

Christians live in two realities in a sense. Of course, we live and minister in this world as Christ Jesus said in John 17:15 “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world but that You should keep them from the evil one.” However, Paul notes in Ephesians 2:6 that God has “raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Quite simply, we are strangers in this world and we long in our spirit to be completely redeemed and at home with our Lord and Savior. The fact that we are not home here even though we reside here creates a tension in our lives. The apostle Paul, in the above verses, explains to us this struggle in his own life and gives us insight into what he does in response to this kind of “dual” existence.

The Christian’s Future Condition

Paul writes in Philippians 3:11 “if, by any means, I may attain resurrection from the dead”. He is concluding a thought he began he began in verse 8. In short, since his conversion, Paul came to realize that his man-made righteousness was not sufficient to please God and that true righteousness was found only in Jesus Christ. He says in verse 9 that this righteousness comes “through faith”. When we read Paul’s statement in verse 11, we must keep the facts about his conversion in mind. In other words, he does not say “if” in order to suggest that he doubts the truth of his salvation. In fact, he says “if, by any means, I” with a sense of humility. Paul was humble and realized the kind of life he had lived and was grateful that God would chose to save him. In 1st Timothy, he called himself the chief of sinners. Paul also says, in this phrase, “by any means” meaning that there is no other way that he is going to be saved. If God saves someone, he always accomplishes this by faith. Therefore, Paul is not expressing doubt about his future but proclaims the source of his hope about the future. In others words, the “means” he mentions in verse 11 is the “faith” he mentions in verse 9.
He acknowledges that his ultimate redemption is still in the future. He says “I may attain resurrection from the dead”. In my study of this passage, I have read theologians who debate what resurrection Paul is referring to. Is he talking about the general resurrection before the White Throne judgment or is he talking about the resurrection of the dead at the Rapture. To be perfectly honest, I don’t claim to know and I’m not 100% sure it even matters. I mean, at the end of the day, when we stand before God after we are resurrected we will be fully, completely redeemed. We won’t hurt anymore. There will be no more death, no more sin, and no more pain. We will praise Him forever more and live in perfect fellowship. Paul recognizes that he has not arrived at that destination of being resurrected. The word “attain” translates a Greek word katantao (2658) which means literally “to arrive at”. Paul is saying, then, that he has not “arrived” at the resurrection. We can be encouraged by this statement of Paul as he reminds us that our redemption is still ahead. The best is yet to come.

The Christian’s Present Condition

Our present condition is summed up in one word: “Not”. We’re not there yet. We’re in this world and, as our Savior told us, we will have trouble. As Peter told us, we will endure fiery trials. While spiritually we have been sanctified positionally, we grow and mature as Christians as we walk the Christian walk and become more and more sanctified practically. In the 12 verse, Paul states “Not that I have already attained or am already perfected”. Now here was the greatest evangelist, theologian, and pastor that has ever lived who was a mature teacher and preacher of God’s truth and he realized that he was not yet perfected. If he realized that he still had growing to do, how much more room for growth do we have as Christians. He says that there is still a goal in his sights-a prize to be won. He says “Not that I have already attained” and in verse 14 he says his goal is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. He pictures this prize he seeks to attain as something external to him. He uses a word lambano (2983) which is often translated “to take”. He sees this prize as a goal in his future that he wants to lay his hands on. He also sees a personal transformation that will occur when he is redeemed. Paul says that he also is not “already perfected”. In the New Testament, the idea of perfection means to be complete or finished. Paul recognized that, in this life, we should grow more Christ like but we will never attain perfection until we are with Christ. In Romans 8:29, Paul writes that God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son”. Paul also says that Christ intends to “present [us] to Himself, a glorious church, not having a spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”. Eventually, we will be perfect and complete. However, in this world, we’re not there yet. So, what do we do? Paul set an example that I think we should follow. He said “I press on”. We do not cooperate with God in our salvation and it is through His power that we are able to become more Christlike. However, we must exercise our spiritual muscles to develop them. When I use a pen to write, that pen lays the ink on the paper but I am the one doing the writing. In much the same way, Paul tells us to “work out” our own salvation but that God is the one working in us. The Greek word Paul uses here that is translated “press on” is dioko (1377) and it is used to describe an athlete exerting maximum effort in a competition. It is the same word that Paul uses in verse 6 of this chapter to describe persecuting the church. In other words, the same effort and intensity that Paul showed in his effort to imprison and kill God’s church was the same effort and intensity that he displayed in his pursuit of godliness. This was not a passive, halfhearted kind of faith. He was chasing this prize. As he states in verse 1st Corinthian 9:24, we should run as if we were trying to win a prize. We should follow Paul’s example then and “Go for the gold” in our pursuit of God.

Paul also displays intensity in how he describes his goal. He says that he presses on in order that he “may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me”. The word translated “lay hold of” is katalambano (2638). The preposition kata is used to show intensity of the verb lambano which he used earlier in this verse. When he said lambano it was translated “attained” and he was expressing the idea that he wanted to take the prize. Now, he has said he would “press on” (chase after) this prize so that he may “lay hold” (seize, take as his own) of it. He also recognizes that ultimately this desire to become more godly is given to him by God. In His providence, God chose Paul before the foundation of the world just as He also chose us. Paul recognizes that he was chosen as an instrument of God’s sovereign will and that it was Christ who “has also laid hold of” Paul. We read in the book of Acts how God called Paul on the road to Damascus. He intervened in Paul’s life and took Paul as His instrument to share the gospel with the Gentiles.

As Christians, we are being transformed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In this life, we will never reach perfection. However, we are called in the Bible to give our effort to putting into practice the faith that we believe. We do not live godly lives to obtain salvation. We live godly lives as a result of our salvation. Let us pray for a desire like Paul to “press on” and win the race.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Best of-----Phillipians 3:3: Characteristics of Genuine Saving Faith

This is the second post in a "Best of" series I am doing due to a crazy schedule at work. I will be back to Matthew and 2 Peter next week. I pray you are encouraged by this bit from Philippians. I had the privilage to teach this in a Sunday School class about a year ago.

Paul, in verses one and two of this chapter, gives the Philippians markers that identify the false teachers who were trying to come in the church to spread their poisonous doctrine. These teachers claimed to have authority and appeared to be religious. Therefore, Paul writes in this verse a description of what a true follower of Christ looks like to remind them of the purity of their faith in contrast with the religion of the false teachers.

The Identity of Genuine Saving Faith

Paul, in verse 3 of chapter 3, tells the believers that “we are the circumcision”. The emphasis in the phrase is on the word we in the Greek. Paul wants to stress to the believers that it is they who are the true circumcision as opposed to the Jewish legalizers who are in fact the false circumcision or “mutilation” as he calls them in the previous verse. As we noted last week, the Jews were proud of their circumcision and felt that it gave them a spiritual advantage before God. However, scripture has a different testimony regarding circumcision. First of all, we should realize that circumcision itself was not a Jewish invention. It was actually practiced by other people before Abraham was told to do it as the sign of the covenant. The spiritual significance of the procedure was totally missed by the Jews. God required a spiritual purity. No physical procedure could provide that. However, the physical here is used to point to a spiritual truth. In fact, the Old Testament records that God in fact revealed this truth about circumcision to the Jewish people. For instance, in Deuteronomy 30:6, scripture records that “the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, that you may live.” Also, Moses called the people to “circumcise the foreskin” of their hearts in Deuteronomy 10:16. To have their hearts circumcised means to have their sin nature put off so that they would be clean before God and able to serve Him with a pure heart. Paul also wrote about this truth in the New Testament. In Colossians 2:11, Paul refers to this spiritual circumcision as “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Also, in Romans 2:28-29, Paul writes, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is in the outward flesh but he is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not from men but from God.” Therefore, the title Jews claimed for themselves in a prideful way actually belonged to Christians because the Jews missed the true spiritual application.

The Activity of Genuine Saving Faith

Christianity is not a spectator sport. We, when we gather as the body of Christ for worship, are not an audience being treated to a free show. As Christians, we are called to service. Paul teaches the Philippians this when he tells them that they are the circumcision “who worship God in the Spirit”. The English word worship is used to translate several Greek words in the New Testament. Sometimes, worship is used to translate the Greek word proskuneo (4352) means to prostrate oneself or fall on your knees and touch the ground with your forehead in reverence. In other words, it means to bow. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14:25, Paul writes “…falling down on his face, he will worship God…” Also, in Matthew chapter 2, when the wise men came from the East, they stated they had come to worship (proskuneo) Jesus. However, the word translated worship here is the Greek word latreuo. The root word of this word is the word latris which means “a hired servant”. The word latreuo is usually translated as serve. In fact, Jesus Himself uses this word when being tempted by Satan. In Matthew 4:10, He says “Away with you Satan! For it is written ‘You shall worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve (latreuo)’.” Certainly, worshipping our God corporately and singing praises to Him is proper and edifying. Corporate worship is important and God certainly deserves the praise of our lips. I was personally drawn into the church through children’s choir and youth choir. However, if that is the only way we worship our God, something is missing. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that true saving faith will change the way we live and give us a desire to serve our God. Romans 12:1 tells us that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God is our “reasonable service”. The word service is the translation of the Greek word latreia (2999) which is similar to latreuo. In the NASB, this verse calls our sacrifice our “spiritual act of worship”. We do not serve in order to obtain salvation. Rather, we serve because we are so thankful for what Christ has done for us. Our worship as service comes from heart that is thankful. The power that enables us to serve is spiritual. In the New King James version, the text reads that we “worship God in the spirit.” Other versions read that we “worship in the Spirit of God.” In either case, our service is not just something we do but it is rather action that is the overflow of the effect of the Holy Spirits presence in our lives. The action of service is physical but the motivation behind it is spiritual. In fact, Jesus said in John 4:24 that the worship of God must be in “spirit and in truth”. Paul says that true believers “rejoice in Christ Jesus”. The word that is translated rejoice is the Greek word kauchaomai (2744). The word means to boast or to glory. Therefore, Paul is saying that Christians should boast in Christ. Why? Obviously it is because we have nothing to do with our salvation. Romans 8:29-30 tells us that He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that even the faith we have to believe was not ours but that it was the gift of God. Boasting in Christ Jesus and recognizing the miracle of salvation is a humbling activity. It is also exclusive in the sense that proclaiming salvation through Christ alone means that there is no salvation available anywhere else. In this day and time, people don’t like absolutes. Even people who call themselves Christians appear squeamish when faced with the possibility of proclaiming Jesus as the only way. Our culture of “tolerance” loves to talk about spirituality and even God. However, when you bring up Jesus people are ready to argue that point to the end.

The Mentality of Genuine Saving Faith

The reason Jesus is such a touchy subject to non-Christians is because of what He represents. Most people, have been blinded to the truth of the Gospel by the Devil, regard salvation and heaven as something they can earn through their own goodness. They believe either they are capable of attaining righteousness on their own or that they are already righteous. However, Christ’s death on the Cross destroys that theory. By His death, He affirmed that sin demanded a penalty. He also demonstrated that sin’s penalty was death. Therefore, if I recognize that He paid my debt by His death and His resurrection is true, then I must conclude that He is God and I have to stop doing things my way and submit to Him. To do so, I would have to acknowledge my sin and my inability to make myself right with God. People want to create their own righteousness and earn their way to heaven so they don’t have to submit to God. However, we who are Christians, have ”no confidence in the flesh”. We do not believe that our flesh has any power to save us. In fact, we have come to Christ and trusted in Him for just that reason. In Romans 7:18-25, Paul says “18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” We submit to God and trust Christ when we have come to the conclusion that we are incapable of producing righteousness. A true, saving faith is characterized by our mindset and our actions. Ultimately, those who trust Christ for their salvation rather than trusting themselves and those who serve the Lord are the ones who are spiritually circumcised.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Best of------Philippians 3:1-2: The Security of Sound Doctrine

Hello all.

I am in the middle of working a lot of overtime at work. We are in the process of the largest audit that our office does and there is no relief anywhere in sight. Therefore, I am taking a break this week from Matthew and 2 Peter and I'm going to take the opportunity to re-post a series that I taught in Sunday School when I was substitute teaching for my normal Sunday School teacher. I will be back on a regular schedule on Matthew and 2 Peter next week.

Thank you. I pray God's blessing on your and yours.

Roach poison is made of over 98 % dog food. Less than 2% of the substance used is poison. When I found that out, I was quite surprised. A little bit, so the saying goes, certainly goes a long way. In much the same way, false doctrine, if tolerated in the church, doesn’t have to rise to the level of outright heresy to be deadly. People can mix in a little pop psychology, secular business models, or culturally relevant ideas and create confusion among Christians. In the world today, it is paramount that the Bible be taught as meaning what it means and saying what it says. To fail to do so leaves people vulnerable to the trappings of false teachers who have as their goal to lead people away from the truth to destruction.

Paul’s Celebration

In verse one of chapter 3, we find Paul concluding a thought that he had begun in chapter 2 verse 18. In verse 17, Paul asks the Philippians that even if he was “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” to “be glad and rejoice” (v.18) with him. Paul called for the believers to model Christ’s humility in serving (2:5) just as he (2:17) and his companions (2:22, 30) also serve sacrificially. Because of these examples, Paul calls them to “rejoice” with him in verse 18 and again in verse one of chapter 3.

Paul’s Concern

As Paul writes asking these believers to join with him in rejoicing, he also writes to reaffirm doctrine he has taught them before. With the heart of a true pastor, he writes these believers in verse 1 that “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” Paul, in all his epistles, wrote a consistent doctrine as revealed by God through the Holy Spirit. While it is not clear if Paul is referring to another letter he may have written the Philippian church (not a lost book of the Bible, just possibly another letter he wrote) or simply other epistles that he had written that they had obtained copies of, Paul includes doctrine in this epistle that is found in other of his epistles. However, at no time does he feel like “Here we go again. I thought I had already taught you this. Haven’t you already learned your lesson by now?” Paul tells them that writing them about doctrines he has already written about is not “tedious” or tiresome. The word that is translated “tedious” is the Greek word okneros (3636). According to Vincent’s Word Studies, this word reflects “the vexation arising from weary waiting”. When I read that, I got the picture in my head of a person waiting for another person to get ready to go somewhere. Because he loves these people and wants to help them grow and mature in Christ, Paul brings the Word of God to the people of God. To do so is not a source of frustration to him nor is it the feeling of having to wait on somebody to finally catch up. He brings God’s Word to God’s people because, as a shepherd, he is responsible for the safety of sheep. The surest protection for the flock of God from the deadly poison of false doctrine is to teach God revealed truth. Paul says to the believers in Phillipi that “for you it is safe” when he talks about writing the “same things”. The word translated “safe” is the Greek word asphales (804). This word is translated certain in the book of Acts (21:34, 22:30, and 26:26) and as sure in Hebrews 6:19. Therefore, the idea that Paul is trying to convey seems to be that he writes these same things to provide them security through a solid foundation of doctrine that they can be certain of. The churches Paul wrote to did not have a New Testament, commentaries, or seminary trained pastors. They didn’t the luxury of studying the work of great preachers and teachers of God’s Word throughout the centuries who have taught the true doctrines of our faith. They had the apostles and prophets who had been given to them and God’s Word as revealed in the Old Testament. However, as Paul and others brought new revelation that would become the New Testament that shed light on the Old Testament, believers were learning things about God and salvation that had never been revealed before. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul continually and consistently taught these doctrines in his writings. He didn’t view it as laborious or tedious because of his love for his fellow Christians.

Paul’s Caution

Paul, when writing to these believers, gives them a word of caution in verse 2. Even with the safety provided by his God inspired epistle, Paul instructs the believers to “Beware” three times. As Christians, we should beware of false doctrine. It promotes disunity, causes confusion, and undermines evangelism. Quite frankly, it is a spiritual poison and must be avoided along with anyone who teaches it. The Greek word Paul uses which is translated here as “Beware” is blepo (991), which is translated elsewhere as take heed (Mark 4:24, Luke 21:8). In Greek, the sense of the verb is that the believers should keep being aware. They should be vigilant and always on guard. There is no room for middle ground. False doctrine cannot be tolerated or permitted in the church. Compromise is not an option. In identifying those who would corrupt the church and lead people astray with false doctrine, Paul uses three different terms.

First of all, Paul calls these people “Dogs” which is kind of funny because Jews used this term for Gentiles. Here, Paul takes their own slur and turns it around on them to describe their character. We must remember that these are not cute little furry pets that sleep at your feet at night and play fetch with you when you’re playing in the front yard. These are snarling, vicious, carnivorous, disease ridden, filthy, nasty, mean creatures. They were quite dangerous. In Vincent’s Word Studies, the author writes about these animals that “[t]hey lie about the streets in such numbers as to render it difficult and often dangerous to pick one's way over and amongst them - a lean, hungry, and sinister brood. They have no owners, but upon some principle known only to themselves, they combine into gangs, each of which assumes jurisdiction over a particular street; and they attack with the utmost ferocity all canine intruders into their territory. In those contests, and especially during the night, they keep up an incessant barking and howling, such as is rarely heard in any European city.” They roamed in packs and were guided by their own hungers. In much the same way, a false teacher is more dangerous than any foamy mouthed dog. The false teaching they spread is worse than any disease spread by these mangy mutts, and they also follow their own lusts. As Peter notes in 2 Peter 2:12, these false teachers are “like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption.” These people lead others astray for their own selfish gain. They truly are vicious “dogs”.

Paul also tells these believers to “beware of evil workers”. If you were to look at the website for the National Council of Churches, you would find that they have lots of activities going on. They work to feed starving children. They work to bring disaster relief to storm damaged areas. These are worthwhile activities. Certainly meeting people physical needs is one way to minister to them. I would have to imagine if you asked most of the people involved in these activities why they were doing them, their answer would be something like “For Jesus, of course.” However, the NCC represents churches that deny the virgin birth of our Lord, the inspiration of the Word of God, and they allow homosexuals and women to serve in pastoral roles. These people are doing things that they call ministry. They are quite active and work hard at what they do. However, since their heart is not right with God, they are not good workers but “evil workers”. The word “evil” translates the Greek word kakos (2556) which can mean worthless, injurious, or evil. The Greek word ergates is translated “workers” and literally means a toiler. When Jesus Himself spoke of these people in Matthew 7:22 that “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” In much the same manner, Paul reminds the Philippian church that these people, because of the wrong condition of their heart, are not actually performing good works but evil works. We must remember, as Paul here warns these Christians, that activity is never a substitute for a relationship.

Finally, Paul tells the Philippians to “beware the mutilation”. Jewish people placed great spiritual significance on circumcision. They are even called the Circumcision by Paul in Ephesians 2:11. According to rabbinical tradition, for a Jew to go to hell, his circumcision would have to be undone as John MacArthur notes in his commentary on the book of Romans. Some false teachers taught that a Christian had to convert to Judaism before they could become a Christian. Therefore, these Jewish legalizers taught that Christians had to agree to become circumcised. However, they failed to see that the circumcision that God would perform would be a circumcision of the heart (Deu 30:6). Paul uses a Greek term here katatome (2699) that is translated as mutilation. The same word is used in the Septuagint in Leviticus 21:5 when the nation of Israel is forbidden to make any cuttings in their flesh. Paul was probably using a play on words here by calling them the mutilation (katatome) and in the next verse referring to those who are truly saved as peritome (the circumcision). Paul realized by attempting to require these believers to be circumcised, the false teachers were actually trying to force them to submit to their legalistic observance of Mosaic code and their tradition rather then relying on faith in Jesus Christ to save them and transform them. In Galatians 4:10, Paul writes that those Christians were attempting to follow Jewish law in regards to feasts. Paul admonishes them that they were leaving their faith in Christ to turn to “weak and beggarly elements” in order to be saved (Galatians 4:9). Paul says they should not do this. In fact, in the book of Galatians, Paul goes further and says he wishes that those false teachers who troubled those believers with their insistence on ritual circumcision for salvation would simply go ahead and cut themselves off (Galatians 5:12). These false teachers had completely misrepresented the truth of salvation and were attempting to compel others to follow their legalistic standard of righteousness. Even as they did in Paul’s day, we still encounter false teaching today. The only sure defense that we have against false teaching and false teachers is the truth. The only source we have for divine truth is the Word of God. Let us faithfully and boldly proclaim God’s powerful truth in this dark, perverse world.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

Monday, August 11, 2008

II Peter 1:3 The Blessing of Knowing God

In 2003, I found out I was going to be a daddy. It was at the same time one of the happiest and scariest days of my life. I was excited at the prospect of being a father but also scared at the idea of having that much responsibility. I was working at the time for a call center doing technical support and I knew it was not a good enough job as far as pay and benefits. Therefore, I went back to school to study accounting. With the knowledge I gained, I was able to get a better job here in the Nashville area so that I could do a better job taking care of my family. The knowledge I gained improved my life. In a much more significant way the knowledge of God that I have acquired over the years since He graciously chose to call me to salvation has improved my life infinitely more. As we study this verse today, we will see that in contrast to false teaching and counterfeit knowledge, true knowledge of God is the greatest spiritual blessing we could receive.

I think it is important for us to notice that Peter writes in verse 3 that the spiritual blessings we are given come to us “…through the true knowledge of Him…” This “true knowledge” (Greek “epignosis” 1922) is not special, mystical knowledge that comes through human effort or contemplation as the false teachers who pestered these believers asserted. Rather, the knowledge that Peter refers to come as the result of God taking the initiative to reveal Himself to humans by the process of divine revelation. Peter says in the beginning of this verse that the source of our spiritual blessing from God is “His divine power”. The word divine translates the Greek word “theios” (2304) and it describes an attribute of God rather than His character in its essence or totality. In other words, we do not become little gods as some false teachers today proclaim. We become more like Jesus as we learn more and apply what we’ve learned but we are not going to ever be God. The source of His revelation was not only a revelation of His attributed but also a revelation of His supreme might. Peter uses a word “dunamis” (1411) which is translate here as “power”. The Greek word “dunamis” is the root word of dynamo, dynamite, and dynamic. It implies the ability to do something. God, in His power, reveled Himself to Moses who wrote the 1st five books of the Old Testament. Throughout the Bible, God took the initiative to reveal Himself to people until finally He revealed Himself in the perfect, Holy Scriptures. He revealed things that were going to happen before they happened. He comforted the hearts of the sorrowful. He proclaimed His holiness and the penalty for sin. He did all of this according to His “divine power” when He revealed Himself in Scripture. In fact, His divine power still works through scripture today as He continues to convict people of their sins and draw them to Himself.

Peter goes on to describe the scope of the blessing we have from God. He says that God’s divine power has given us “everything that pertains to life and godliness”. The Christian does not lack the resources needed to live a life pleasing to God. God has held nothing back. In the context in which Peter wrote this, we should remember that the false teachers were telling people that there was special or secret knowledge that they needed to really be godly. You could almost say it was the Bible plus other stuff. Peter is saying here that God’s revelation is complete and that a believer, having that revelation, does not posses an inferior or second class knowledge for which some sort of additional education is needed. Peter says that God has given all believers “everything” needed for “life and godliness”.

I once heard someone say that “When all else fails, read the instructions”. The Bible was not just given so that we could fill up bookshelves and blogs writing about it or so preachers would have something to do between rounds of golf. God revealed Himself in scripture so that you and I would know how to live. More importantly, as Peter write, we will know how to live a godly life. We see the holiness and righteousness of God. We read about the punishment for sin. We see the mistakes of men and women in scripture who failed to make God honoring choices as an example of what not to do. Finally, we see the times when people made choices that honored the Lord and we are encouraged to follow in their footsteps. Throughout the pages of scripture, we see practical admonition and examples, both positive and negative, that apply to our everyday life. As we read and study scripture, we see that we do truly have “everything pertaining to life and godliness”. We can praise God that He took the initiative to reveal Himself to us by “His divine power”.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Matthew 5:8 A Clean Heart

As we have studied this chapter in Matthew, we have learned that we must recognize our sin and God’s holiness. In fact, it is obvious that the first three things which our Lord describes as characterizing a person who is “blessed” are impossible for us to attain on our own. We cannot recognize our spiritual poverty (v. 3) apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, our sin nature might be sorry we got caught in our sin but we are not able to truly mourn over our sin apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit (v. 4) nor are we able to be gentle apart from the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 5). This change in our nature from being a child of wrath to a child of God should result in us living differently. What we see in verses 6-12 of chapter five are the result of verses 2-5. Because we are new creatures in Christ we have a different spiritual hunger (v. 6) and because we have been shown such abounding mercy we should likewise be merciful (v. 7). These are not things that we could, out of our own effort, produce within ourselves. They are the product of God’s work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. It’s a good thing too because not only are we not able to produce those I think apart from the indwelling presence of our Lord we wouldn’t want to produce them. As we come to the verse we’re going to look at today to me is the plainest example that what God requires relating righteousness is beyond impossible for us to acquire on our own. We must have God’s help.

Jesus says in verse 8 that some who is supremely happy in their spirit (Blessed) is someone who is “pure”. The word “pure” translates the Greek word “katharos” (2513). In his commentary on the book of Matthew, Dr. John MacArthur observes that it was used often to describe metals that were refined to the point that there was no impurity in them. Applying this word to a person would mean that they had a single minded devotion to God and served Him with spiritual integrity. The same word is used in the Septuagint in Genesis 20:5 when Abimelech was confronted about taking Sarah into his harem. He replies that he took her “in the integrity (katharos) of [his] heart”. This word was also used to describe physical cleanliness as in Matthew 23:26 Jesus tells the Pharisees to clean the inside of their bowls and plates.

There are a few observations I think we should make regarding this idea of purity. First of all, God isn’t grading on a curve. He doesn’t say 99 and 44/100 percent (bless Ronnie MIlsap’s heart) but rather he calls for complete purity. Having come to that recognition, we then must realize that we are completely incapable of being that clean. Even on our best days we’re still just sinners saved by grace and we will be until we go home to be with our Lord. Certainly we should grow spiritually and I believe as we do we will sin less but we’re never going to free ourselves of this sin nature. What we see here, then, is an unattainable goal—for us. However, God can and will conform us to the likeness of His Son Jesus. Even though we fall short of the standard we need to make ourselves ever mindful of it.

This purity that Christ describes as being characteristic of those who are blessed is not an outward purity. This is not the good china or Sunday go-to-meeting clothes that we think makes us more respectable in the eyes of other people. I mean, most of us can clean up nice enough and put on our best behavior when we need to and if someone only knew us in the best of circumstances we’d come out shining. That is the easy part. That is right doing”. What Christ calls us to here is “right being”. An apple tree is always going to be an apple tree regardless of how bad it wants to be a pecan tree. We can clean the outside of the cup, so to speak, but if we’re not a follower of Jesus in our heart we’re just putting on a show. Christ, in this verse, says that those who are blessed are “pure in heart” (Greek “kardia”-2588). We can clean up our appearance, but if we’re not clean in our hearts there is nothing that we ourselves can do about that. We must pray the prayer of David in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God”. If we are going to have the spiritual purity that is required for a relationship with God, only God can produce that. He does that through the Holy Spirit.

The result of our spiritual purity is that, one day, you and I “shall see God”. Those who pretended to be right with God and put on a good show won’t be able to fake it well enough to remain in God’s presence. In fact, Psalm 1:5 tells us that “the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous”. We can be thankful that in the future we will be able to see God and live with Him in heaven forever, completely free from sin. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Excellent post on the sanctity of life

A friend of mine has written a wonderful post about the sin of abortion. Check it out on his blog. You'll be blessed, I think, just as I was.

Monday, August 4, 2008

II Peter 1:2 A Prayer for Fellow Believers

As we noted previously, this epistle could very likely have been written to the same group of believers as I Peter. His primary purpose in that epistle was to encourage them as they faced persecution. This epistle seems to be directed more at strengthening the believers against false teachers and their false doctrine. Just as the Christians in that day dealt with heresy, we also see destructive doctrine creep into the church today. We have to constantly be on guard and study to show ourselves approved to God (2 Timothy 2:15). In his salutation to these fellow Christians, Peter gives us a reminder of the reliable source of truth. If we use that truth as the foundation of our convictions we can be sure that we have a solid foundation.

First, in verse two, Peter prays for them to receive spiritual blessings from God. Notice that in verse 2 he prays for “Grace and peace”. The word “grace” translates a Greek word “charis” (5485) which is used frequently through the epistles. Grace is the act of God giving us unmerited favor. Because of His mercy we don’t get what we in fact deserve. By His grace, we get what we don’t deserve. I led a Bible study Sunday night where we discussed the purpose of evil in the world. One of my friends, Ben, made an excellent point that we need to remember who we are in Christ and that anything good that we get is in spite of ourselves. Even as redeemed saints of God we are still sinners. If God were to have given us justice we would split hell wide open. The fact that He doesn’t give us justice demonstrates His mercy. However, He doesn’t leave us in the mire of our own sin. He cleanses us, redeems us, and adopts us into His family. We could never earn that. Through our own efforts, we would never be able to pull ourselves up by the boot straps and have “Our Best Life Now”. God gives us grace by electing us and calling us into a love relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus in spite of our inherent sinful nature and our willful disobedience.

This grace that God shows us is the bedrock for the second thing Peter prays for in this verse. He also prays for “peace” (Greek “eirene” [1515]). The literal meaning of this Greek word is “to join” or to make whole. Something is out of sorts and when it is mended there is “peace”. Jesus promised the disciples He would leave them a supernatural peace that was not the same as the peace offered by the world (John 14:27). The peace we have is rooted in the grace that God has shown us. If God saved us in spite of our sinfulness based solely on our faith in Jesus Christ and our repentance from our sins there is literally nothing in this world that we have to be afraid of. Prior to coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we were enemies of God (Col 1:21). Now, through the precious blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we have ‘peace”. This peace is permanent and is not dependent on our circumstances. It is not rooted in anything in this world but in fact is heavenly in origin.

Furthermore, observe with me that Peter prays for an abundance of the gift. His prayer is that this grace and peace would be “multiplied” to these believers. According to Robertson’s Word Pictures, this Greek verb (“plethuno”-[4129]) is in the first aortist passive opiative. In other words, this is Peter’s wish for the future and he is wishing that God would give this grace and peace to them. When you think about the purpose of this epistle, it kind of makes sense. He is writing to warn them about false teachers and their teaching. He would logically want to pray for God to provide His favor toward them as they stand against these false teachers and peace for them during that conflict. He doesn’t just pray for enough to get them through this period, he prays for an abundance.

Finally, Peter acknowledges the source of the gift. He says the grace and peace will be multiplies “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”. One form of heresy that was present in some form in the early church was Gnosticism. According to this false teaching, there was secret knowledge (gnosis) that one had to learn to achieve a religious experience or be saved. However, Peter here reminds these believers that the root of their unmerited favor from God and the peace they have from Him is rooted in their “knowledge” which translates a Greek word “epignosis’ (1922). The prefix “epi” intensifies the word so it would probably be better to understand it as meaning “full knowledge” or “complete knowledge”. In other words, there are no spiritual truths that exist apart from Jesus Christ. We have the full revelation of God through the Word made flesh just as we have the full revelation of Jesus Christ in the written Word of God. Peter makes the same point when he says that this knowledge is of “God”. Until we understand that there is a sovereign Creator who is holy, perfect, and glorious beyond compare and that there is none like Him we can’t really understand the depth of our sin. Peter says also that the knowledge that provides grace and peace is of “Jesus our Lord (kurios-2962)”. In Christ, we see not only God’s perfect holiness in punishing the sins of all believers on Calvary but also God’s mercy in that He now credits Christ’s righteousness to our account.

With a full knowledge of God and a full knowledge of Christ we certainly do have grace and peace. As we grow in our knowledge and become more conformed to the likeness of our Savior we will experience even more grace and peace. What a wonderful blessing.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.