Monday, September 24, 2012

Philippians 3:1-2 The Security of Sound Doctrine Part III

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.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philippians 3:1-2 The Security of Sound Doctrine Part II

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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Phillipians 3:1-2 The Security of Sound Doctrine Part I

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.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Be Encouraged!!

Living as a child of God has never been an easy thing to do in this world. However, it seems now it is more difficult than ever before.  As a Christian, it is easy to feel discouraged and want to give up contending for the faith (Jude 1:3). However, you and I can find encouragement in the word of God to stand strong as we strive to live as salt and light in this sin filled world.

Writing to churches that were under persecution, John the apostle penned the book of Revelation. To encourage these believers, he writes that this letter was not only from him but also from Christ. In chapter 1 verse 5 of this book, John writes that the letter is from “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (NASB). John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe Christ with these titles because he was writing to men and women who were facing government sponsored persecution. Reminding them of who Christ was and what He faced on this earth was a way for John to encourage these believers.

First of all, notice that he calls Christ “the faithful witness”. The Lord came and declared boldly the message of God everywhere He went and proclaimed the good news of the Gospel. He never backed down from the task in spite of being threatened, rejected, and ignored. He did exactly what God the Father sent Him to do and did it exactly the way God directed Him to do it. He was our example by being completely faithful (Hebrews 3:2). When we face persecutions and difficulties in this world, we can encourage ourselves and one another by remembering that our Lord completed His mission. Because He was a faithful witness, we should seek to follow His example.

Furthermore, we see the extent to which He was faithful. Not only was He a faithful witness but he was also “the firstborn of the dead”. Now, in some parts of the world being a witness for our Lord may be a matter of life or death. There are brothers and sisters in other countries who have died and will die proclaiming the good news of Christ and living out their faith. The situation in the day that John lived was very similar. People were killed for professing faith in Jesus. That is not the case in this country today. However, people might choose to not associate with us at school or work. If we take a bold stand for Jesus, family or friends might very well shun us or label us “Bible thumpers”. However, we know that just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, we also will live forever in heaven. His resurrection from the dead proves that God is also going to resurrect us (Romans 8:11). Therefore, whatever happens to us in this world, we can be encouraged that we have a home waiting for us in heaven.

Lastly, John reminded these believers that governments of this earth do not have the final say. These believers were suffering from officially sanctioned, legal government persecution. John reminds them, then, that the king does not have the final say but in fact Jesus Himself is “the ruler of the kings of the earth”. They may have power and authority over us for a time, but in the end they, like everyone else, will answer to our Lord. We may see people in authority on this earth make decisions that are sinful according to the word of God but we can be encouraged that God is ultimately in control of them. He does not cause anyone to sin but, in some mysterious way, He is able to use sinful men and women to accomplish His purposes in spite of their rebellion. As we see laws made and policies enacted that we know are wrong, let us remember that God is still the Lord over the entire universe.

We face a time in our nation that is similar in many ways to the situations that the early Christians faced. We can be encouraged by these words just as those early Christians were.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Notes On Grammar-Galatians 6:1

It's important when interpreting the Bible to remember two things.  Well, more than two things, but these are two things you should try to remember.

1)  The Bible was not written in English.
2)  The rules of English grammar don't apply to the original languages of the Bible.  But the rules of Greek grammar do apply.

For instance, in the following verse
Galatians 6:1-Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

you can't take the words "spirit of gentleness" and claim that is a direct object and therefore the present imperative verb "should restore" is no longer a command.  First of all, the words "spirit of gentleness" describe how you should restore.  They are describing the manner in which the clear command of God "" should be carried out.  Second of all, the presence of a direct object does not change the fact that katartiz┼Ź (the word translated "should restore") is anything other than an active (you're the supposed to act) present (an action taking place now that is repeated) imperative (a command).  Claiming that the verb "should restore" is not an imperative would be as silly as saying "You were a new comer in class and you questioned my interpretation but when I blogged about the incident and I wasn't blogging about you" or "Process these transactions after lunch" as if the phrase "after lunch" all of a sudden made it an optional request rather than a command.  Lastly, the English word "should" is not translated from a Greek word, but is added to emphasize the fact that the verb is an imperative--a command.  Therefore, the word "should" does  not suggest or imply that what the verse is talking about is optional.  Rather, it is still a command because it is a present imperative.

Silly rabbit.  Biblical interpretation doesn't work that way. 

Encouraged By The Gospel

Yesterday morning, my pastor was preaching out of Acts 22, and while he was preaching the text he took the time to explain the gospel.  It was a clear, simple presentation that anyone could understand.  My family and I were so encouraged because, as the old hymn says, "...those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest".

The gospel is not something that you believe and then move on from it.  No, friend.  What I've found is that the gospel is something you need just as much after you have repented and placed your faith in Christ.  It is the only thing that makes this world make sense--the only thing that gives life meaning.

What is the gospel, you ask?

The gospel is that God is holy, but man is utterly sinful. Because God is perfectly just, He must punish and condemn all sinners eternally to hell. Because God is so loving, He sent Jesus to earth. Jesus lived a perfectly obediant life, perfectly fulfilled God’s law, and was punished for sin on Calvary’s cross. He suffered God's wrath against sin in our place.  He was punished as our substitute.  He rose from the dead 3 days later. Now, if anyone repents of their sins and personally, consciously places their faith in Christ, God will forgive them of their sins and they’ll go to heaven. If someone does not repent and doesn’t personally, consciously place their faith in Christ in this lifetime, they will go to hell no matter how sweet they were, how sincere they were in another faith, and how kind they were to others.

Friday, September 7, 2012

That hurt your feelings? Good!

I'm glad that caused you pain and made you suffer.  That brings me a great deal of happiness knowing that I did that.  Thank you for encouraging me.

Truth hurts, huh Doc?
Now, that's not what Paul said in II Corinthians 7:8-12, but it's a pretty good summation of his attitude.  He had written the church to confront a sin, which is what Christians are commanded by God to do, and his letter made them sorrowful.  I suspect when they first read it, they thought his words were disrespectful and unwarranted.  I mean, they might have even thought "Way to proverbially kick someone when they're down, Paul".  Ultimately, though, the genuineness of their faith was proven.

It was proven by their repentance.  You see, when a Christian is shown that they have sinned, they don't argue "Well, no I didn't write that about you" or "I didn't have that attitude" or even "You must have misunderstood me".  The response of a Christian is "You're right.  I'm sorry". 

Let's all pray that God will give us a repentant heart that is sensitive to sin in our lives.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Matthew 9:32-34 Evil Motives Can Blind Your Eyes

When someone who claims to be a Christian is shown what God’s word says and they reject it (because they don’t want to obey it), you can pretty well bet (a) they’re not a Christian or (b) they are rebelling against God and will be punished (Hebrew 12:6).  Oh, you’ll see them do all sorts of verbal gymnastics (i.e. Galatians 6:1 isn’t a command) but when they can’t prove through what’s said in the text on the page, they’ll resort to name calling.  In our text today, we see the same sorts of things happening—the Pharisees see evidence of who Jesus is but because of the evil motivation of their hearts, they reject the truth.

First of all, notice with me that again that people brought someone who needed to be healed to Jesus (Matthew 9:32).  I think we can conclude from the times we’ve read in this gospel of Matthew where people brought sick folks to Jesus to be healed that word had spread about the miracles He performed.  This didn’t spread as fast as Twitter or a viral YouTube video, but none the less, people knew that if they or someone needed to be healed, Jesus could do it.  In fact, he’d made lame people walk, blind people see, raised the dead all in the span of this chapter.  He didn’t seek to draw attention but the miracles were so spectacular that people took notice.  I guess that’s part of human nature.
So, when these people brought a “demon possessed man who was mute” to Jesus, Jesus cast out the demon.  Healings were rare.  I think the only recorded instance of an exorcism outside of the New Testament was when David played to soothe Saul (I Samuel 6:13).  So, what Jesus did was extraordinary not only for the time that the Pharisees and the people lived; it was extraordinary for any time and place.  Now, knowing this, the people rightly concluded “Never was anything like this seen in Israel”.  I don’t mean to suggest that all these people had saving faith, although some of them might, but certainly some of them realized that Jesus was the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6).  The implication of their statement is “We know the prophets came from God and were empowered by God.  This Man is doing greater things than they did.  He must be sent from God too”.
Now, the Pharisees who knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, knew what the crowds knew and saw what the crowds saw.  Their conclusion—“But the Pharisees said, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons.’”   Friends, they had all the truth they needed to conclude who Jesus was and because of their foolish pride they ignored the truth and decided He was from Satan.  It is a very, very dangerous thing to reject the truth of Christ—that He was the substitute, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, and that it is only by faith in Him and repentance from sin that anyone can be saved.  If you reject that, as the Pharisees did, you reject it to your eternal doom.
Look at the evidence, friend.  If you haven’t trusted Christ, do so today.