Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jesus is Faithful – 2 Tim 2:11-13

This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. (NKJV)
Faithful Sayings
Paul has a list of faithful sayings: 1 Tim 1:15 regarding salvation, 3:1 regarding church officers, 4:9 regarding godliness, 2 Tim 2:11 to be discussed, Titus 3:8 regarding salvation.
Died with Him
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 2:20, 3:27 RSV)
To understand how we can say that we’ve died with Jesus, we need to understand what it means to be baptized into Christ or to put on Christ. Both are biblical terms. The word baptize however, probably has sparked some of the biggest controversies among Christian denominations as any other word. At the root of the word there is a physical and a metaphorical meaning. Physically, it simply means to makes something completely wet with the intent of either making it clean or dying it to completely change its color or appearance. The metaphorical meaning isn’t very different. It means to overwhelm though it could also be physical. When I apply these meanings to the being baptized into Jesus (Rom 6:3-11) I can see all of them coming into play.
I am first of all immersed into Jesus. I’m not sprinkled with Jesus but completely covered. It is easier to understand what it means to be immersed in Jesus if you think of what it looks like for someone to be only sprinkled with Jesus. They get just enough of Jesus to think they are saved and that’s all. They are not willing to deny themselves and follow Jesus (Matt 16:24-25). They want the association but not the commitment. On the other hand, to be baptized into Jesus means making a complete commitment that my life is His. We can’t die with Jesus unless we first die to our selves. We can’t live our own life and His at the same time.
This doesn’t happen on a physical level but a spiritual level. It is a matter of the will to make the decision and to follow through with it. A side note to this is that we must also recognize that while we make the decision, we wouldn’t be able to do that without God enabling us to do it. All of God is involved in saving us (Titus 3:4-6). That is why it is spiritual and not physical.
Put on Jesus
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Rom 13:14 NASB)
When we are baptized into Jesus or put on Jesus, we are made spiritually clean. Prior to this verse, Paul tells us to stop doing a bunch of things. We are also told to put off everything that corrupted our ways before putting on the new life that is now created to be like God in holiness (Eph 4:20-24). The list of things to put off is even longer in Col 3:5-10 and the emphasis is stronger calling us to put to death all the ungodly activities as we put on the new self.
That new self is Jesus. While baptism usually demonstrates an outward cleansing, the truth of being baptized into Jesus must include a changed heart, an inward cleaning. Jesus said that all the evils that we must put off come out of the heart (Matt 15:19). The only way to clean our hearts is to have Jesus there. We must have Jesus in our hearts, which happens when we receive Jesus by faith (Eph 3:17, Rev 3:20). Jesus is in our hearts if we are really saved. Contrary to what some people say (they say that He can’t be in more than one place because He took on a physical body) Jesus can be in my heart and yours at the same time. Not only so, but He is seated at the right hand of the Father at the same time and makes intercession for us. What does that do for your concept of the spiritual realm? It should blow it wide open with no restrictions. It is the only way to explain how we can put on Jesus.
Complete Change
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17 ESV)
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9 ESV)
Dying with Christ or being in Christ is a complete change. I can’t speak to people who became Christians when they were very young. They probably don’t really remember much about their sinful life as a toddler up until they became a Christian. However, I can speak to people who became Christians when they were older. If you can’t remember a change, then your memory is really bad or you didn’t really change and that means you had better take a good, hard look at whether or not you are really a Christian. I’m not trying to say that we become perfect, that is a long process of spiritual growth, but I’m saying that when we are changed we stop making a practice of sinful behaviors. Our desire is no longer to be involved in the despicable things that are clearly condemned in the Bible and we desire to please God by living holy lives. If the desire isn’t there, there hasn’t been a change, there hasn’t been repentance, and that means there hasn’t been any admission of having done wrong.
The rich young ruler in Matt 19:16-22 is a good picture of someone who thinks he is a Christian but isn’t. This is the person who grew up in the church doing all the right stuff. If you were to ask him if he had kept all the commandments, he would say that he had just as the rich young ruler did. He might even be able to tell you the exact date he “received” Christ or was baptized. But Christ has never been first in his life. When confronted with the things that are more important, his idols, he is unwilling to give them up and follow Jesus. He wants to have eternal life, but deep down, he is trusting in his own goodness to save himself.
As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. (Mark 9:13 NIV)
Being baptized into Jesus is to be overwhelmed by Him. Most of the time that people are described as overwhelmed, it isn’t a description of anything good happening. As I read in the Bible, people are overwhelmed with horror (Ps 55:5), physical circumstances such as waves (Ps 78:53), or even anger (Prov 27:4). While being overwhelmed in baptism most logically relates to physically being submerged by a flow of water, the definition of overpowering someone emotionally and even physically by Jesus also applies metaphorically.
If we stop to think about what Jesus went through on the cross to save us, we should be overwhelmed with emotion. When we think about the fact there was nothing we could do to save ourselves and that we were enemies of God, yet Jesus saved us, we should be overwhelmed. When we think of the blessings He has bestowed on us in the heavenly realms, we should be overwhelmed. Considering that we have been adopted as sons of God through Jesus, we should be overwhelmed. Shouldn’t our emotional overwhelming result in an undying love of our Lord and Savior?
Does Jesus overwhelm us metaphorically? Are we like a 95-pound wrestler who tries to fight a 210-pound heavy weight when it comes to our will vs. Jesus’ will? We really should give up and let Jesus overwhelm us if we are really baptized into Him. We should surrender completely to His will and start doing the things He wants.
Unfortunately, many of us still try to squirm and do our own thing instead. All the while we’re pinned to the mat, we are saying that He can hold us down but He can’t break our spirit. How sad to think of being overwhelmed by Jesus like that. We really should be thinking about being overwhelmed by Jesus in terms of the might and strength He provides us as we cooperate with Him. We can do all things through Jesus who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).
Live with Jesus
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NKJV)
To abide in a place means to dwell there. It isn’t a one-time visit to a beautiful location and then return home. When you abide in a place, you are home. When you abide in Jesus you are in a beautiful location with no thought or desire to return to your previous home. That previous home was spiritual death. Who would want to go back there? If we died with Christ, then the desires to go back to that old life should have died at the same time.
Jesus used the symbology of a grape vine and the branches to describe our relationship with Him. A changed life can’t occur when we try to live partly in Jesus and partly in our old way of living, the world. Neither can I imagine a grape branch that somehow only connects to the vine for a few minute a day to get sap. What kind of fruit would it produce? At best, it might have some tiny, bitter grapes. At worst, the blossoms would wilt and never even produce a grape.
So it is with a Christian who thinks that Jesus can be just a part of his life instead of the center of it. Unless our life is centered in Jesus, our fruit will be stunted. Our joy will be lacking, our love will be fickle, our peace will be disrupted, our patience will be short, our kindness will be crude, our faith will be lacking, our gentleness will be rough, and our self-control will be volatile. If we don’t see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal 5:22-23), then we need to see if we are really abiding in Jesus or if we are abiding in the world.
Many people only consider their life with Christ to start when they reach heaven. They tend to forget that how we live our lives with Jesus now will determine what our eternal life with Him will be like. Jesus taught with parables about this when He told of servants who were entrusted with money while their master was away. Those who used it wisely were granted authority over cities, one ten and another five. The one who didn’t even use his money lost it (Luke 19:12-27).
Endure and Reign
to the one who overcomes … I will … (Rev 2:7, Rev 2:11, Rev 2:17, Rev 2:26, Rev 3:5, Rev 3:12, Rev 3:21)
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Rev 21:7 KJV)
Paul says that we will reign with Jesus if we endure. Jesus makes similar promises to the people of the churches in Revelation if they persevere during this lifetime. If we take abiding with Jesus seriously, we know that we will face problems just as the churches in Revelation. If we overcome everything from apathy to persecutions we will reap the promises described by Jesus in eternity. God affirms that if we overcome, are victorious, or conquer by putting to death the old self and abiding in Christ, we will inherit all these promises, but the icing on the cake is that He will be our God and we will be His sons.
This isn’t to say that He isn’t our God now or that we aren’t already His sons because the Bible tells us that we are (Eph 1:3-14). What we will see when we persevere to the end of our lives will be the completion of the process.
This is a reoccurring theme in the Bible. Eternity will be much different than most people will expect. Some think only of strumming harps on clouds on one extreme and other think only of one long worship session as described in Revelation chapter four. The latter is more accurate, but that is only part of the picture. The whole concept of reigning with Christ must expand our thoughts of eternity. How, will this occur, who will we reign over? Ponder these questions in light of what we know in the Bible and we realize that heaven will not be boring as some are afraid, neither will it be only a single eternal worship session.
You make known to me  the path of life; in your presence there is  fullness of joy; at your right hand are  pleasures forevermore. (Ps 16:11 ESV )
Denial vs. Faithfulness
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matt 10:33 KJV)
In Matt 10:28-33, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we have to make a decision to follow Him. We must decide if we value our earthly existence more than our eternal existence with Him. He tells us that His omniscient Father, who even pays attention to sparrows, values us much more than the birds. Therefore, we shouldn’t fear what others can or will do to us if we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior. However, even as much as He values us, if we let fear cause us to deny Him, He will deny us before the Father.
If we are faithful, then we will acknowledge Jesus and we won’t do it in secret. Certainly there are places in the world today where some attempt to keep their faith secret because it means a death sentences. However, even in these places, when their secret is found out they have to decide what is more important. If we truly know Jesus, then He will give us the courage to admit it. That is one way He is faithful.
However, there is another way that He remains faithful. Jesus is the Word, therefore every truth in the Bible is about Jesus. When Jesus says that He will deny someone who has denied Him, He won’t change His mind otherwise He would be proved a liar. Jesus can’t deny Himself so He can’t go back on anything He has said.
When Jesus says that He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), then He hasn’t changed that to include all other religions or so called paths to enlightenment. If He added any way that depend on the adherent to do something for salvation, then He would be denying Himself. It means that Jesus doesn’t need help of any other priest, prophet, or system to save anyone. If we need anything other than faith and obedience to Jesus for salvation, then it would prove Jesus as faithless and He would have denied Himself.
When Jesus says that He gives us eternal life and that no one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28), then we can rest on that promise. Once we have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24), once we have put on Jesus, there is no way that we or anyone else can take us away from Jesus. If we could, then we would prove Jesus faithless.
Jesus also said that there would be many who will come and claim to be the Christ (Matt 24:5). They will even use the name Jesus but they come to deceive and lead people away from the real Jesus. They may want salvation but don’t want the real Jesus for many different reason. A false Jesus will always deny the real Jesus in one way or another. Jesus is faithful in that He has warned us about the false christs.
This makes it all the more imperative to acknowledge the one true Jesus of the Bible as Lord and Savior while we are alive. We won’t get a second chance after we die (Heb 9:27). There will not be any do-overs. Jesus pointed this out in many parables. Five virgins were doing all the right stuff, but didn’t know the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-12). They didn’t get a second chance.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Cor 13:5 NASB)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Results of Evangelism – 2 Tim 2:9-10

And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. (NLT)
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:15-16 RSV)
Paul knew exactly what was going to happen to him after he became a Christian. The Lord told Ananias Paul’s mission. How often are we told either before or immediately after we surrender our lives to Jesus what is in store for our future service? Most of us probably had no clue that suffering (1 Peter 4:16), persecution (Matt 5:10-12), ridicule (Luke 14:27-30), false accusations (1 Peter 2:12), and being ostracized (Matt 10:34-39) would be in our future because of our decision to follow Christ yet that is what the Bible says we should expect.
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Peter 4:16 KJV)
In today’s world, as it was when Peter wrote, people are often ashamed when they suffer. They attribute the suffering to their own failures or a lack of faith. The prosperity gospel and the positive thinking gospel has permeated the Church to the extent that when hardships fall upon believers, they can expect to find well-meaning people lined up at their door to tell them why they are suffering. “You have a hidden sin and you must confess it. Your suffering is a result of a generational sin that your parents or grandparents have passed on to you. You need to have more faith, this wouldn’t be happening if you had more faith. You haven’t been praying enough or reading your Bible enough.”
While it is possible that any one of these may be true, few attribute the trials to simply trying to follow Jesus in a fallen world which is more likely the problem. Even fewer will recognize the final phrase in 1 Peter 4:16, to glorify God. While God certainly teaches us through hardships, too many of us have a mindset that it is all about me. It isn’t all about us; it is all about God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Suffering as a Christian will bring glory to God. This is a reoccurring theme in the Bible. The central message of the Bible, the redemption of mankind, is to bring glory to God. We can’t forget that or we will be ashamed of our suffering and live some very poor Christian lives.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12 NASB)
Jesus proclaimed in the Beatitudes that persecution is what happens when we try to live a righteous life. If we are destined for heaven, to be part of God’s glorious kingdom and we are living like it, we can expect those who are not to hate us and persecute us for it. Our attitude during this should be that we are blessed. It confirms that we are on the right path. Unfortunately, many Christians have been told that blessings mean the absences of pain and turmoil in their lives. They haven’t been told that the reason to rejoice is what is waiting for them in heaven. Most likely, the majority of Christians on this dust ball will not have the blessings of prosperity and good health.
Have you ever been part of a prayer chain? If you haven’t, you can probably find some website that allows people to post their requests and read them. My experience is that most prayers are for health issues, followed by financial, then marriages and other family problems.
As you look through the Gospels, people came to Jesus mainly to be healed. Our God is very gracious and Jesus does heal, but all the miracles of the Gospels had one primary purpose, to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah and that believing in Him we can have eternal life (John 20:30). Yes, the miracles also demonstrated His compassion and care for us, but the ultimate demonstration of His compassion was His own suffering and death on the cross so that we could have eternal life with Him.
On the prayer lists, every once in a while you will see someone asking for prayer to be a good witness through the difficulties and glorify God in them. While they would like healing, they are not asking for an exemption from the problems of life but to glorify God through them. We must not forget that this life is temporary and that our eternal home is with Jesus. Persecution now will bring glory to God in eternity especially when it results in bringing people to Jesus.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him. (Luke 14:27-30 ESV)
Christians are often ridiculed because the unbelieving world sees only an unfinished foundation. They see us making decisions that are not politically correct because we have a foundation (1 Cor 3:11) that they don’t understand. That foundation shouldn’t change from culture to culture or year to year because we are following Jesus and He doesn’t change (Heb 13:8).
Christians are also ridiculed because many people start well but don’t finish. They are dragged away by the cares of the world and end up no better or even worse than they started (2 Peter 2:20). While some may argue that they weren’t really Christians if they fall away (1 John 2:19), the point is lost on the unbelieving world.
We may be ridiculed but it shouldn’t change our commitment to follow Jesus and prove to be His disciple.
False Accusations
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)
If you want to find out what many people think of Christianity, go to the internet and search for “dangerous radical Christianity” or some other variation of the topic. You may be surprised at the number of people who have formed their opinions based on various things including personal experience, history (distorted or not), crazy preachers, or biblical preachers.
A common thread is that they perceive that Christianity is out to change the world, country, or their personal freedoms. They are right! Our goal is to change all these things, just think about the implications of Matt 28:19-20. If we follow Jesus’ command then our goal is to teach everyone to obey Jesus. That is downright frightening to people who want to do their own thing. It is very threatening to them. They will always accuse us of something, right or wrong, to protect what is important to them.
However, Peter clarifies that we should live godly lives among them so that when Jesus comes back He will be glorified. When we teach, we should do it with gentleness and respect so that they will be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16). Unfortunately, many will not be ashamed until they see Jesus come back. In the mean time, we keep on teaching and expecting false accusations. Rather than focusing on the false accusations, we should live godly lives and stick to the Gospel message.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt 10:34-39 KJV)
These are really tough words. Many people have come to Christ and started to follow Jesus only to find out that members of their own family have turned against them. In some parts of the world, it means death either at the hands of family members or when they are reported to authorities. For them, the sword is a real physical consequence of following Jesus. More often, the result is divorce or alienation from family members who want nothing to do with Jesus or Jesus followers. 
For some who are considering surrender to Jesus, this is a huge obstacle. They know their family well enough to know that there will be problems. They wisely count the cost of becoming a Christian, but they don’t always understand the consequence of not following Jesus.
Jesus summed it up in verse 39. Whoever decides to have a life that doesn’t risk losing everything for Jesus will end up actually losing that life. Whoever is willing to give up everything to follow Jesus will find real life now and in eternity (Luke 18:29-30).
It boils down to surrendering your will to Jesus. Who or what do you love the most? God made it very clear in the first commandment that He is to be first (Ex 20:3). He commanded His people to love Him so completely (Deut 6:5) that any other love naturally has to take a second place. This is what Jesus was reiterating.
Not all are called to lose family members over Jesus. Many come to Jesus after one family member is brave enough to follow Jesus. Sometimes there is a single holdout. Not all people are persecuted, ridiculed, or accused. Sometimes neighbor, friends, and co-workers come to Christ as a result of one person’s conversion. We don’t know what will happen, but the point is that we need to make the decision to follow Jesus regardless of the consequences. Are you willing?
Bound or Not
Paul was willing to suffer the consequences of preaching the Gospel. He took the next step in following Jesus to urge others to do the same. So here’s Paul sitting in prison with chains on him so that he couldn’t escape. Does he get all depressed and want to die? Not at all. He looks at his bonds and sees them in contrast to the Word of God.
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isa 55:11 KJV)
Why can’t God’s Word be chained? It is because of Him who sends it. God is Sovereign. When He wants something done, all He needs to do is declare it. Look at the first chapter Genesis. Look at the first chapter of John. Jesus is the Word. Jesus is God and He created all things (Col 1:16). Whether we are talking about Jesus or the Bible when we speak of the Word of God, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference because God is accomplishing His purpose.
People in all parts of the earth have tried to destroy the Bible. One of the earliest recorded events is in Jeremiah 36. The Lord told Jeremiah to have his servant, Baruch, write on a scroll then read it in public. Some of King Zedekiah’s officials heard it and were scared because of the prophecy of destruction on Jerusalem. They knew it was God’s Word through Jeremiah even though it was read by Baruch. King Zedekiah heard the words and cut the scroll in pieces and burned it. Was the Word destroyed? Was that the end of the matter? Not at all. God simply had Jeremiah dictate the same to Baruch and added to the prophecy because of Zedekiah’s disdain for the Word.
It is important to see in this account that Zedekiah’s officials recognized the authority of God’s Word even though it was not given to them directly by the prophet. This is the same thing that we see in the Bible. We don’t have the very original writings, but God’s imprint is on it. We see His authority when we read the Bible.
It is also important to see that even though the original was destroyed, God was able to provide another copy. The original wasn’t diminished and in this case, more of the same was added to it (Jer 36:32). The message didn’t change. God didn’t consider that Zedekiah didn’t like or ignored what he heard and therefore decided to say something different. While the Bible hasn’t changed, His servants continue to preach the Word from pulpits around the world and in books. Faithful preachers don’t change what is written, but use additional words to explain and proclaim the truth of what God has said. As long as there are people who know the Lord, His Word can’t be destroyed, even if it were possible to burn every Bible, take down every web server, and wipe every memory device in the world. There would still be people who know God’s Word and would be able to faithfully recreate the Bible.
Look at Paul’s words. He said he was willing to endure everything so that the people God has chosen for salvation would be able to hear it. He isn’t alone and most importantly, God is working through faithful people today.
Jesus promised that nothing of the Law would pass away until it was all fulfilled (Matt 5:18). Peter reiterated that God’s Word will remain forever and that the Word is the good news (1 Peter 1:25). The heart of the good news of the Bible is God redeeming His people from the slavery of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection to prove that we can be reconciled to God through Jesus.
Endure for the Elect
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations … Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you," declares the Lord. (Jer 1:5, 7-8) NASU
Jeremiah was a prophet who endured persecution to faithfully bring the message of God to those God wanted to hear. There are only a handful of people mentioned in the book who were attentive to God and sympathetic to Jeremiah. He watched as Jerusalem was destroyed just as God said it would be. He was rescued from those chained to be exiled to Babylon only to be forced to go to Egypt by the remnant who were still disobeying God. Through it all, he was obedient to proclaim the Word of God.
I wonder how many listened and put their faith in God. I wonder the same about people today. It seems that there are fewer and fewer Christian who are being heard. It used to be that if Billy Graham came to an area for a crusade, people would come from all over the area to hear him. People would even tune in on his television specials. I know because I was a volunteer on the telephone banks talking to people who called wanting to know how to be saved. There were many before him, some of whom would go from town to town and spend a week preaching every evening. They were faithful to endure whatever it took to reach those whom God had called.
Those days are gone, at least in the U.S. they are. But there remains one thing and that is God’s elect. There are still people God has called for salvation in Jesus Christ with eternal glory. However, as it was in Jeremiah’s time, the remnant is smaller and smaller. How many of us are willing to endure everything in order to bring the Gospel to a few people? I’m not talking about going off to some small village in a remote area of the world, though there are some who will go. I’m talking about going to those who are practicing pagans right in our own neighborhoods.
They are people who grew up in homes that never went to church or who rejected Christianity and were taught that whatever spirituality or even no spirituality was fine and acceptable. They believe that whatever truth you have is personal and the next person’s truth is just as valid even if it is completely opposite. There are also many who have immigrated and brought their religion with them.
Some worship other gods, some worship things, others worship self. None worship the one true God. They are like the remnant of Judah that asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord. They promised to do what God said, which was not to go to Egypt. Instead, they went to Egypt and when they were there, they heard from the Lord to turn from idols. They said they would continue to worship the queen of heaven and whatever else they wanted (Jer 42-44).
People today are no different. Yet God want us to endure everything because among them there are some people who will be saved. I pray that I may reach a few that they may have eternal glory with Jesus.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Remember Jesus is the Christ – 2 Tim 2:8

Remember Jesus
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21 KJV)
Paul says to remember Jesus Christ. Jesus is our God and Savior, our Lord. The name of Jesus is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation. When parents decided to name a child Joshua, every time they called him, they were saying, “Jehovah is Salvation.” “Jehovah is Salvation, it’s time for dinner.” “Jehovah is Salvation, stop stomping in the mud.” “Jehovah is Salvation stop hitting your sister.” That could do one of two things for a parent and for a child. It could be a great reminder that God saves or it could become old and trite.
In some cultures, boys are still named Jesus. Unfortunately, as a name, Jesus is only a string of letters making a sound by which the child or parent recognizes the person. There isn’t any clear meaning to the name of Jesus today. When we speak the name of Jesus, people don’t hear “God is Salvation.”
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12 NASU)
When I say the name of Jesus, I should hear, “God is Salvation” but I won’t unless I’ve trained my mind to understand what Jesus means. There is no way to separate Jesus’ name from who He is, salvation from God. When I talk to someone about Jesus, “God is Salvation” should be at the heart of the message because that is why Jesus came, to save us from our sins. His name is the only name by which anyone can be saved because His name is “God is Salvation” (Acts 4:12).
When doubts assail us about salvation, God, our future, or anything else, then we need to remember Jesus; Jesus is God; Jesus is Salvation. 
Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means "Christ"). (John 1:41 NLT)
We need to remember that Jesus is the Christ because our culture not only has a problem remembering who Jesus is, but they also think His surname (last name) is Christ. Even among Christians, Christ has little meaning. Many people know that it is synonymous with Messiah. But what does that mean, and how does remembering that Jesus is the Messiah make a difference when our soul is downcast within us?
The first thing to understand is that Christ or Messiah is Jesus’ title. There isn’t anything special about the word, christ. It is a transliteration of the Greek word without the “os” on the end. It simply means anointed. We christen or anoint children and boats. To understand the significance of Messiah or Anointed one, we need to look at its origin in the Old Testament.
Messiah in the Old Testament
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. (Ps 2:2-3 KJV)
Messiah is the Hebrew word for anointed and was applied to kings (most often David), priests, prophets, and even Cyrus, a pagan. They were all anointed by God. Messiah isn’t significant until it is used as a title. While there are many prophesies about Jesus, the word messiah is seen clearly referring to Jesus when the distant future is in the context of the passage. Psalm 2 is the first place where I read of the Lord’s anointed and it is clear that it is speaking of Jesus. People who don’t know Jesus have set themselves against the Lord and His anointed (Jesus) and want nothing to do with Him.
By demoting the title of Christ to a last name, people don’t understand or are unwilling to accept that they are under His dominion. They are not free to do whatever they want. They don’t know or ignore that there will be a day when they will bow before Him and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11). It will only be then that the full impact of the title, Christ, will be clear to them, but it will be too late for Jesus to be salvation for them. But for us, remembering Christ is remembering who is our Sovereign and who is in control of all our circumstances to which we are grateful.
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself … (Dan 9:25-26 KJV)
The timing of Jesus’ coming as Messiah is predicted in Dan 9:25. Some versions transliterate the word mashiyach as “Messiah”, others translate it “the Anointed One”, but others say “an anointed one” without capitalizing the words. To me there is a big difference between these translations since there is only one Messiah or Anointed One; translating it as “an anointed one” literally means that there could be several Messiahs. Translating it “Messiah” or “the Anointed One” means there is only one and it is specific – it can only be fulfilled by Jesus.
And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David? (Luke 20:41 NKJV)
In remembering Jesus, it is important to remember that Jesus is a descendent of David. The Messiah wasn’t called the anointed one when He was first announced in Gen 3:15. He was simply called the offspring or seed. The promised Savior can be traced through the Old Testament to the line of David and the promises God gave David that he would have a descendent sit on his throne forever (2 Sam 7:13). This is an important part of the Gospel because it shows that the Messiah had to have a human as well as divine origin in order to pay for our sins. Remembering Jesus descended from David reminds us that through all of history, not one prophecy has failed to bring Jesus at the right time through the line of David. We can trust a God who does that.
It may be that only after reading Daniel Jewish scholars started talking of the coming Messiah. However they missed the whole point of verse 26 where Jesus is cut of (killed) not because of anything He did, but for our sins. The title of Messiah for them was a conquering king, they didn’t understand that Messiah was also one who would save us from our sins and that would cost His life.
Messiah in the New Testament
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ." Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. (Mark 8:29-30 NKJV)
Jesus seldom referred to Himself as Christ yet that is one of the major issues that the Jewish rulers used to accuse Jesus before Pilate and taunt Him at the crucifixion (Luke 23:2, 35).  The Jewish rulers understood that the title of Christ was the same as Son of Man and Son of God (Luke 22:66-70). Jesus knew that the title of Christ would mark Him as the coming ruler of Israel but that was not the purpose of His first coming.
After Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, He taught them about His future suffering, death, and resurrection (Mark 8:31). He elaborated on this after His resurrection when He explained that this was predicted by Moses and the prophets (Luke 24:25-27). When we remember the title of Christ or Messiah, we should remember that this is the title of the one who has suffered and died for our sins but who is raised to prove that He is God. His resurrection is a fundamental part of the Gospel and without it, we would not have a Messiah and we would not have hope (1 Cor 15:14).
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt 24:30 KJV)
The conquering Messiah is yet to come. Jesus identified Himself with the conquering Messiah when He talked in Matthew 24 and 25 of His return and the events that will lead up to it. The coming of the Messiah will accomplish two things. The first will be judgment upon the wicked of the world. That is why all the tribes of the earth will mourn. At that time they will realize they had not remembered Jesus. They didn’t turn to Him for salvation when they had a chance. They will see His power and glory and mourn because they will not be a part of it.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ … (Rev 12:10 KJV)
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Rev 20:6 KJV)
The second thing that will be accomplished is the kingdom of God; salvation for all who have trusted in Jesus will be finalized. Christ or Messiah is clearly identified as God’s Christ or God’s Anointed. Salvation for all of us who have yielded to Jesus, God’s Anointed, in this age will be completed when we reign with Him in the millennial kingdom and on into eternity. Remembering Jesus the Messiah assures us of a perfect future without sin and evil.
Why Remember?
… give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (Prov 30:8-9 NIV)
When do doubts come crashing in on you? Is it when you are in despair because of hardship or having too little? Or do doubts come when things are going to easy and you wonder if it is really because of your own abilities that things are going smoothly? The proverb warns that having either too little or too much can lead a person away from the Lord. Which is worse?
We see that ease of life has taken most cultures far away from the Lord as economies boom, people become self sufficient and forget about the Lord. Is that any worse than those within the culture who are poor and despised, who then result to illegal activities to make ends meet? The problem for both is the same. They haven’t remembered Jesus. Even worse, the next generation doesn’t even hear about Jesus. Their emptiness often leads them to other religions and the downward spiral of civilization intensifies.
Psalm 42 is the cry of person who is in deep depression. Doubts assail him as his enemies taunt him asking where his God is (vs. 3). For some reason, he has been cut off from worshipping with others (vs. 4); perhaps he just doesn’t feel like worshipping. He feels as if God is drowning him in sorrow (vs. 7) and has forgotten him (vs. 9). His depression is even causing him to have physical illness (vs. 10). What is his response to all this?
O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee … (Ps 42:6 KJV)
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. (Ps 42:11 KJV)
Can you believe this? His world has come crashing down on him and he starts talking to himself. He tells himself two fundamental things to keep going. First, he makes a decision to remember God. Second, he makes a decision to hope in God. Hope in God is not wishful thinking, it is looking forward to that which we have been assured is true (Heb 11:1). These two things lead him to praise God even in the midst of his problems.
We can raise us up from depression as well when we take some time to remember everything that the Lord has done. We can start in Genesis and praise Him for creation and work our way through the Bible to see how He is in control and works all things together to culminate in the book of Revelation and eternity with Him. We can remember how He has worked in our own lives and if we don’t think He has, then we’d better consider whether or not we belong to Him. If we belong to Him, if we have been born again, then we are assured of our eternity with Him (1 John 5:13).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Applying Biblical Metaphors – 2 Tim 2:3-7

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. (RSV)
So how do we share in suffering? Several versions translate this to share in hardships. Hardships or sufferings, is there a difference? Probably not in Paul’s mind. We saw in the previous lesson that a faithful person must be prepared to endure many things. Some are hardships while others are more serious and I would call them suffering.
The Greek word translated “share in suffering” really should be translated “share in suffering along with …”[1] Since Paul didn’t identify who to share the suffering with, it can be presumed to be Paul or even others who are on the front lines of spreading the Gospel. So sharing in suffering isn’t to be understood as taking the burden from Paul or others but it is a call to enlist to do whatever is necessary to further the kingdom of God. And thus, comes the metaphor of a good soldier.
At this point it is important to make sure this is a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. If we were to take it literally, then it would be a call to do physical violence to anyone opposed to the Gospel as can be seen in other religions that use similar words. Since this is not what Jesus preached (Matt 5:43-48), then we can be assured that Paul is using a metaphor and not expecting us to take up arms to do physical battle (2 Cor 10:3-5). This is further clarified by using two non-military metaphors.
And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:14 KJV)
The first way in which a soldier of Jesus Christ is like a soldier of the world is in having a single-minded purpose. Full time soldiers don’t have businesses on the side. They have to be able to drop everything and deploy. Many soldiers have gone into battle with concerns of the home front instead of the dangers that are immediately around them. They are vulnerable because they are distracted and are more easily killed in action. The follower of Jesus can’t be like the person who claims to have put Christ first in his life but is more concerned with achieving abundance for himself in this life.
The strange part of not being single-minded is being choked. The world teaches us that the more we have, the happier we will be. But these things actually choke our spirits. We may feel good on the outside and appear to be happy, but our spirits are gasping for air. The more we hear the call of the world, the wheezing of our spirit grows quieter. Instead of producing fruit, we are producing thorns. Those thorns tear at our marriages, relationships, work, and even civic duty. Instead of being effective in our service for the Lord, we lose even more time trying to patch our holes and doing that is usually in unbiblical ways.
Satisfy the Commander
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 NASB)
Being a good soldier requires us to remember that God created us for a purpose. This means that He is our Commander. He has a plan and He wants us to accomplish it. He did the hard part when He rescued us through Jesus from our old commander, Satan (Eph 2:1-3). If we thought about that long enough, it should be sufficient to keep us trying to satisfy Him instead of ourselves.
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:13 ESV)
We must give account for our actions to our employers in the world; how much more should we consider that there will be a day when we must give account to our heavenly Commander? This is one of the big areas that separate true followers of Jesus from those who profess to be Christians but don’t live like it. It’s called surrender. Being ready to give account to our Lord is demonstrated in surrender to His will. He doesn’t need to ask us what we did because He sees all. Instead, He will tell us how well we followed Him (Matt 25:31-46).
The soldier knows that he must obey orders because his life and those in his company depend on it. There are even times when he is called upon to give his life while not understanding the circumstances. Some larger battles have been won because a few obeyed at the cost of their lives in what some would have called a suicide mission. Many lives have been lost because a few have refused to obey similar orders. Then, some have lost their lives senselessly because their leaders are fallible and gave bad orders. 
How much more should we obey our Lord in total surrender to Him? He is infallible. He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). We often baulk at that truth because we don’t see the bigger picture but think that the verse means we should individually receive good out of every trouble. We question God when we don’t see the good in our lives. Our eyes are then only focused on earthly things instead of eternal things. We don’t understand that our suffering or afflictions may not be for us but to strengthen others or even bring them to salvation. We don’t consider the eternal glory that we will receive and more importantly, the glory it brings to Jesus (2 Cor 4:16-18).
Follow the Rules
 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. (John 4:20 KJV)
You would think that God would be pleased when people worshiped Him regardless of where or how. But that isn’t what was required in the Old Testament. God made it clear the there was a place and way to worship Him (Deut 12:11). That didn’t change until Jesus came and offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Heb 10:9-10). So you ask what is Paul talking about with an athlete and competing by the rules.
Just like the people of the Old Testament, people today want to do things their own way. The Old Testament worship pointed to Jesus. There was one way to approach God and that was by the sacrificial system that represented what Jesus would do to make a way for us. There is still only one way to approach God and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Learn what Jesus had to say about living Godly lives in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-7:27) and you will see that even though Jesus paid for all our sins, He expects us to live in a certain way and do His will (Matt 7:21-23). We aren’t left to our own concepts of godly living or ways to approach God. We must follow the rules. The rules don’t save us, but our obedience to Jesus demonstrates that we are saved and that He is living in us. His rules aren’t burdensome (Matt 11:28-30) like the Old Testament because they come from a changed heart that wants to do His will. It comes from a heart that is married to His.
Not following these rules means we are disobedient which demonstrates we are not in the kingdom of God. Jesus says He doesn’t know those who are disobedient. Their hearts are leading them away from God just as those in the Old Testament who ignored God’s provision strayed from God and worshiped on every hill. They soon worshiped other things and sacrificed their own children (2 Kings 16:1-4). Those who attempt to come to the Father through any way except Jesus are doing the same thing.
Share in the Crop
I would venture to say that when most people look at the metaphor of the farmer sharing in the crop, they immediately think about other places in Scripture where a minister of the Gospel is to be materially rewarded. Jesus told the disciple that while they were on the road to stay in one house and eat what was provided (Luke 10:7). Paul made several references to being supported while ministering but he also deferred support so that he wouldn’t be accused of peddling the Gospel (1 Cor 9:10-12, 2 Tim 2:6).
While it is important to make sure that ministers are supported, there is more to this verse than physical support. I say this because the previous two metaphors were talking about our attitude toward service. It seems that the third should have an application that goes beyond getting paid.
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:23 NIV)
Paul often comments that his blessings in spreading the Gospel is not in the physical rewards but in the rewards of seeing people come to Christ.
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. (Phil 4:1 KJV)
Paul established a relationship with those he led to the Lord. Twice in this verse he calls them dearly beloved. He calls them brethren or brothers (I’m sure there were a lot of sisters there too, but that’s the way the talked back then). They were family, the family of God.
His reward was joy, something that is of heavenly origin when someone comes to Christ (Luke 15:7). If you have ever led someone to the Lord, you have experienced this joy as well. He also referred to this joy as a crown. Some have called this the crown of soul winning. But as I look at other similar verses (Phil 2:16, 1 Thess 2:19, and 1 Thess 3:9) they all relate to joy, not a physical or spiritual crown that we will receive. What is even better is that we get a foretaste of that eternal joy when we see the results of our ministry in the lives of people.
Think about It
Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide. Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws. (Ps 119:97-99 NLT)
Paul’s writing has become as important as the rest of God’s Word. His command is to think about what he has written. David knew the importance of mediating on God’s Word. We get better understanding the more we think about the Word. We can contemplate the metaphors Paul used and compare them to other Scripture. As we do that, we will become wiser.
Thinking over instructions such as God has provided through Paul’s writing should be something we do all day long. Of course, we can’t do it every second, but how much better would it be to think and meditate on God’s Word than listening to talk radio on the way to or from work when those programs are designed to aggravate instead of edify. Pundits make a living dividing and making you think that other people are your enemies. If they are your enemies then thinking about God’s commands will make you wiser than them. It will also make you realize that perhaps the commentators don’t always have your best interests at heart.
As we think about and study God’s Word, we will also be able to advance in understanding beyond those who have taught us. We respect godly teachers and try to learn as much as possible from them. But the truth is that they are taking God’s Word and explaining it to us. They aren’t coming up with new revelations that aren’t in Scripture and if they are, then we should be wary of them. We shouldn’t stop listening to godly instruction, but we should be able to dig into the Word and understand it ourselves. Our goal should be to apply the Word to our lives and grow in Christ. We can’t do that if we don’t think it over.
When we think it over, then the Lord gives us understanding. For example, think about these three metaphors. What understanding do you get that you can apply to your life in each of them? Is there more to them than what I’ve said? Is what I’ve said beneficial because it aligns with the Word or is it preaching something else? Think it over and look up other verses from cross references or do a word study. Whatever you do, keep thinking it over when you study God’s Word. Thinking it over fulfils the command in Phil 4:8 and you will have peace because God is with you (Phil 4:9).

[1] NT:4777 sugkakopatheo (soong-kak-op-ath-eh'-o); from NT:4862 and NT:2553; to suffer hardship in company with: (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reliability of the Bible and Bible Teachers – 2 Tim 2:2

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (NIV)
I’ve always looked at this verse strictly as a command to teach and mentor other so that the Gospel will be continued and people will know how to live godly lives. I skipped the first half of the verse that places an emphasis on the witnesses of Paul’s teaching. The Holy Spirit working through witnesses are the key to the reliability of the Bible. Paul’s teaching wasn’t done in secret and the people who heard it would easily correct anyone who tried to change it. The Apostles and leaders of the Church would also be able to call Paul on the carpet if his teaching was in anyway erroneous but it was Paul who initiated the council at Jerusalem when he detected false teaching (Acts 15). If a letter claiming to have come from Paul stated something different than what he had preached, it would be identified as a fake. And we know that some tried to fake his letters as he signed the originals even when dictated by others (Gal 6:11).
And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give. (Deut 31:21 ESV)
Paul’s writings are only part of the Bible. The principle of witnesses is important in the preservation of the message of the rest of the Bible as well. Witnesses were not always people, sometimes they were monuments that were set up to remind people of a treaty (Gen 21:30, 31:44). God provided a song as a witness and recorded it in Deuteronomy 32. It has become part of the Bible, faithfully transcribed and passed from generation to generation. Each generation then became witnesses as well.
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:32 KJV)
The disciples were told that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem and eventually, all around the world. They were to tell the truth about what they had seen and heard. Being a witness was a very important part of their message. It verified that what they were saying was true – anyone living during that time could have contradicted their statements but history during that time is silent in opposition to the Gospel. No one came forward to say the Apostles and other witnesses were lying. The Sanhedrin, the highest governmental council of Jesus’ time didn’t deny the truth of the disciple’s witness, they tried to cover it up (Matt 28:11-15), tried to shut it up (Acts 4:13-22), and finally tried to ignore their witness in the hopes it would fade away (Acts 5:34-40). No one said they were liars.
Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This "letter" is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. (2 Cor 3:3 NLT)
We have not seen the events of the first century, but we can be witnesses to the reliability of the Bible as well. Our lives changed from sin to a life of righteousness, love, compassion, and all the other fruits of the Spirit bear witness to the truth of the Gospel and the life-changing ability of a person surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ. If others can’t see the change or the difference between worldly values and Christian values, then there is something seriously wrong with our hearts. If the “letter” the world is reading is full of lies, lust, or licentiousness then our witness isn’t in accord with the Gospel or the Bible.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26 KJV)
One of the arguments that I had before becoming a Christian was that there was no way the disciples could have accurately remembered everything Jesus said. They would have added their own twists to it. Certainly, some of the accounts in the four Gospels vary depending on the author and the emphasis each wants to make and their viewpoints. These minor differences help establish that they were witnesses or wrote based on interviews of witnesses (Luke) rather than agreeing upon a contrived story. However, when it comes to the message of our sinfulness, and God’s redemptive plan through the death of Jesus for our sins according to the Scriptures, His burial, and His resurrection, there is consistency that is brought about by the Holy Spirit.
If we were to approach the Bible and Christianity simply as a religion that is passed on from generation to generation we would expect it to evolve as society changes. This can be seen in a major religion that has changed its rules about the number of wives allowed and people of color and gender being in certain offices. The leaders get a revelation and what used to be wrong is now right. These revelations come when it appears they are losing converts over these issues. They even make significant changes to the wording of their scripture when it fits their needs.
When the Holy Spirit (who is God) is in control, then the message that is preached doesn’t change or contradict the Bible. The Bible may need to be revised as our language changes (King James vs. current English translations) so that we can understand it, but the original language is not changed because the Holy Spirit guided and called to remembrance what the disciples heard. Paul received His teaching as a revelation from Jesus (Gal 1:12). These original witnesses are reliable because of God’s work in them.
Entrust – Qualified
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. (1 Thess 2:4 NASU)
One of the things that we need to look for in a person who can be trusted with passing the Gospel along to others is someone who is more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing men. I remember a preacher telling me that the board of his church wouldn’t allow him to have an altar call for salvations except for twice a year. I suspect that his sermons were also affected by what the board allowed him to say. If the messages were too convicting or too biblical, I’ll bet he heard from them that he needed to be more considerate of people’s feelings.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm for most Christian churches. They want everyone to feel included but not called to repentance. They measure sin and morality not by the Bible but by society. They please people and the Gospel should not be entrusted to them. Paul was approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, modern men who are more concerned with popularity than speaking the truth of the Gospel are not approved by God and their distorted Gospel is proof.
Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. (1 Tim 1:18-19 NIV)
The Gospel should be entrusted to people who are willing to fight for the faith. If they have doubts or concerns, they dig into the Bible to see what it has to say. They don’t let people sway them to strange doctrines, myths, or pop-psychology. They keep their conscience clear not only in their behavior but in the way they handle the Word of God.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt 10:16 RSV)
Jesus wanted His witnesses to have two qualities that we don’t often acknowledge. While we talk a lot about being wise, we seldom associate wisdom with snakes. Since snakes most often represent evil, I would say that Jesus is telling the disciples not to be naïve. Entrust the Gospel message and teachings of godliness to people who are aware of the wolves and the schemes of Satan. There are too many people who minimize Satan’s power and influence because they are naïve. They can be caught off guard and a long way down the wrong path before they realize they’ve been duped, if they eventually wake up.
On the other hand, they also need to be innocent. I don’t think this innocence is just about living godly lives, but in context with the wolves and wisdom. It is easy to resort to human methods to combat wolves and other forces in spiritual battles. However we need to be innocent with respect to the way the world works and wise in the way God works. Our weapons have divine power to remove spiritual strongholds, arguments, and people’s opinions that would try to hinder us (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave —  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-28 NKJV)
A significant characteristic of a person to entrust with teaching others is someone who is humble and puts other first. Jesus pointed to Himself as the example of putting other first. This takes the emphasis off being great and on being a servant. If a person wants to learn how to teach others in order to become a famous preacher, theologian, guru, or wise man, then we can’t stop him. However we can pray that in the process he will learn that he must become a servant and won’t entrust him with a teaching position until he learns that.
We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don't try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (2 Cor 4:2 NLT)
Faithful people will be honest as they present the Word of God. They know that they don’t need to sugar coat or distort the Word for people to come into the God’s fold. People who stage miracles and other phenomena claiming them to be the work of the Holy Spirit may win converts to themselves, but I seriously wonder if the converts find true salvation. When the truth of God is preached, we don’t need anything else.
Some trick people into proclaiming themselves as Christians by presenting a false gospel. They talk of salvation, but the major promise is a good life. They promise troubles will be removed. They promise prosperity for the faithful. They don’t mention that Jesus promised persecution (Matt 5:10-11). They don’t speak of the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:23-26) or obedience to Jesus (Matt 7:21). They don’t talk about repentance (Luke 13:5). The result is a false sense of eternal security that usually crumbles when hardships arise. The faithful teacher must speak all that he has heard and not leave out the tough things.
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities [hardships], in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened [punished], and not killed [put to death]; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Cor 6:4-10 KJV)
What a fantastic summary of the attitude and behavior of someone who is entrusted with the Word of God to teach others! What stands out to you in this list of attributes?
Is it the patience? I think of many who serve in difficult nations patiently sharing the Word with whoever will listen and not seeing anyone come to Christ. Some would say that there is something wrong with their calling if they don’t see results. Many quit. Yet history has proven that the seeds sown sprout many years later.
Genuine love is also something that critical. I’ve seen too many who say they love yet they don’t take the time to listen. They speak the words but are so busy or their ministry is so important that they have to get to their next meeting or prepare for their next sermon or lesson that they can’t give a genuine hello to anyone. I’ve know some who would shake your hand as they pulled you past so they could keep on walking to wherever was more important. This is too convicting; let’s move on to another.
Evil reports are often going to follow people who are making an impact for Jesus. The way a trustworthy person handles these is very important. We’ve seen politicians who have protested that they were innocent only to be exposed later. Does a trustworthy person make a big deal out of accusations and fight them fiercely? If they are true, then he acknowledges them. If they are false, then let the wolves howl until they find nothing to complain about. The important thing is to make sure that the reports are not brought because there is a problem. Being true is what is crucial.
If you think you should be teaching others and no one is entrusting you to teach, then you should look back at what you want to teach, look at your character and see what is going on that would keep you from it. You may need to repent and show a good track record before you are entrusted with a teaching position. If you are faithful in these areas but still not entrusted, then it may be time to look for a different calling.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Be a Strong Christian – 2 Tim 2:1

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (NASB)
How can we be strong as Christians? It will certainly take the grace of Jesus. Here are some of the things that are associated with being strong.
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Cor 16:13-14 ESV)
Being watchful is one of the many things Paul has been harping on as he wrote to Timothy. He often warns us, as Jesus did, that false prophets will arise to lead people astray (Matt 7:15, 24:11, 24:24).
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov 16:18 KJV)
Being watchful also requires us to look at our own behavior, goals, and thoughts. One of the biggest reasons false prophets arise is because they think they have something that no one else does. They have something but it isn’t unique, it is too common, it is pride. In the long run, they will fall but being a strong Christian requires self-examination and renunciation of pride so that we don’t fall. Unfortunately, the world has an innate pride factor. In order to achieve in business, politics, relationships, the world teaches assertiveness, aggressiveness, and a go-get-it attitude that feeds pride. While some of it is true, you can’t be successful in these areas without work, the world seldom teaches us to do that work as servants, to put others first and humble ourselves. In fact, Jesus says that to become great, we must first be a servant (Matt 20:26) to others.
Stand Firm
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58 NIV)
We must be able to stand firm in the faith if we are going to be strong. Jesus promised us that we would be persecuted if they recognize us as Christians because Jesus is our Master (John 15:20). Living a godly life brings persecution (2 Tim 3:12) because the world simply doesn’t like to be shown its sinfulness by a person who is able to have Christ-like behavior. When we stand firm in the faith in the face of opposition, we are able to accomplish what the Lord wants.
Being strong recognizes that when we do things in the Lord, it is not futile. We are accomplishing His will and purpose in this world. We may not know exactly what He is doing or when the fruit of our labor will be revealed, but we know it will bring glory to God. Standing firm is being strong by always having the goal of bringing glory to God.
Act like Christians
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Cor 14:20 NASU)
How many times have you told someone or been told to act your age? I like the simple command Paul gives in 1 Cor 16:13. Act like men. If you are a woman, act like a woman. Act your age. Don’t be childish in your thinking. Being strong means we need to act in accordance with the role God has given us, whether we are men or women, youngsters or seniors. I am irritated by people who put traditions or culture above living out our roles the way the Bible tells us. I’ve known Christians who excused their rude behavior because it was part of their culture. I’m not talking about differences in table etiquette, the way you use utensils for example. I’m taking about getting angry and yelling at each other. I’m talking about calling others hurtful names or gossiping; these are all things we are told to put aside when we become Christians. I’m talking about showing respect for your spouse, loving each other and submitting to one another.
Some people put a cultural adjective in front of Christian and that is totally wrong. I’m not a male Christian, I’m a Christian who is a man. Christ affects my role as a man not the other way around. When I attempt to modify my Christian behavior with an adjective in front of it, I’m conforming to the world instead of transforming my thinking and therefore my behavior to be like Christ. To be a strong Christian, I need to dig into the Word and see how I should behave and do it.
Done in Love
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 NKJV)
Being a strong Christian can’t be done without love. In fact, anyone who claims to be a Christian but isn’t loving others is living a lie because he claims to know God and you can’t be a Christian without knowing God (1 John 4:8). Jesus’ love is the standard for love if we want to be strong. We should strive for this kind of love in our lives. We won’t get there in this life, but I’ve seen some Christians who were very far from this kind of love and others who were so close you’d think they were Jesus Himself.
Jesus loved us before He came to the earth. He had to have a love that put us ahead of His own interest otherwise He would have never humbled Himself to take on human flesh (Phil 2:7). He had to give up everything that He was and had – equality with God – to humble Himself. Can we say that we have ever loved anyone like that? What do we give up daily, yearly, or even once in a lifetime to show our love? Why, most people who have one latté a day to won’t even give up one a week to help feed the hungry. The cost of a latté a week would provide a Bible a week for a spiritually thirsty soul in another nation. 
It wasn’t enough that Jesus gave up His position to be incarnated; He gave up His life to pay for our sins. He didn’t know sin. He hadn’t experience sinning and all the heartache that comes from that. He was holy and had never been defiled, feeling the guilt and pain and hopelessness of sin. He had never dreaded eternal damnation. But, on the cross, all that and more came upon Him as He became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He had fellowship with God, His Father until He became sin. That verse doesn’t say sin was put on Him but that He became sin. He was transformed into something that was utterly foreign to Him.
There is no way we can love like that because we can’t become sin for someone else. There is no way we can become righteous by our own efforts. We can only become righteous because God imparts Jesus’ righteousness to us.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NLT)
The only way we can strong Christians is to abide in Christ. We can’t bear fruit, we can’t be strong if we aren’t daily, hourly, moment by moment living in Jesus. Andrew Murray wrote a great short book, Abiding in Christ. In says that one aspect of abiding in Christ is to take a single moment to agree to occupy your place as a branch in the Vine. Say, “Yes, I do abide in Christ.” Then each moment can be another and another until the whole day is spent abiding in Christ.[1]
Will you say yes to Jesus and abide in Him?

[1] Murray, Andrew. "At This Moment." Abiding in Christ. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2003. 93. Print.