Friday, August 29, 2014

BE FILLED (Ephesians Chapter 5)

Ephesians 5:18-21, “And so not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ.”

How important is being “filled with the Spirit?"  In his book, “How to Be Filled with The Spirit,” A. W. Tozer, addressed the matter, "Satan has opposed the doctrine of the Spirit-filled life about as bitterly as any other doctrine there is.  He has confused it, opposed it, surrounded it with false notions and fears.  He has blocked every effort of the Church of Christ to receive from the Father her divine and blood-bought patrimony.  The Church has tragically neglected this great liberating truth--that there is now for the child of God a full and wonderful and completely satisfying anointing with the Holy Ghost."

While every believer in Christ is indwelt by the Spirit (Cf. Romans 8:9), not every believer is “filled with the Spirit” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1, 3).  The command to be filled with the Spirit is contrasted with the negative command “Do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18).  In the cultural context the worship of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest (in which the Ephesians had previously been involved), was characterized by drunkenness.  Ecstatic activities—erotic dancing, drunkenness, sexual activities--were all a part of it.  This was all done in order that Dionysus might supposedly fill the worshipper imparting “health and fertility.”

The negative command in Ephesians 5:18 is paired with the positive command, "but be filled with the Spirit," because they both have something in common.  To be drunk with wine is to be under the influence of wine.  To be filled with the Spirit is to be under the influence of the Spirit.  The cult worshippers supposed that in drunkenness they were filled with the spirit of the wine-God.  God's design for the believer is that he be so “under the influence,” in subjection to the Spirit of God, that the Spirit’s life-transforming and empowering presence might pervasively fill him (Cf. John 7:37-39).   

The verb translated “be filled” is in the present tense, passive voice, and imperative mood.  It is an all-the-time command that might better be translated “be being kept filled.”  It is in the passive voice—we don’t fill ourselves, we are filled from an external source.  It is in the imperative mood—since God commands it, it is both possible and expected of us.

W.A. Criswell, “For the Spirit to have us, we must yield ourselves to Him.  We must be emptied of self to be filled with all of His fullness.  Our hands cannot be filled with other things if they are to know the fullness of God.  Our hearts cannot be filled with worldly affection and ambition if we are to possess the Spirit without measure.  Our souls must be emptied of self when we bring them to the fountain of heaven for blessing.  It seems that Paul’s motto was “not I but Christ” (Gal. 2:20).  Oh, that we could surrender ourselves to a like commitment!”  

Ephesians 5:19f describes the result when a person is filled with the Spirit.  A cause and effect relationship in indicated.  The cause?  Being filled with the Spirit.  The effect?  Praise and thanksgiving (acceptable worship) and a right-ordering of a person’s relationship with others.  A comparison of Colossians 3:16f reveals that similar effects are traced back to a different cause.  In Colossians 3:16 the cause is letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within.  This should not surprise us since the Holy Spirit is the author of the Word of God and it His ministry to apply the Word of God to the heart of the believer.  The correlation of these two passages gives insight into what Jesus meant when He spoke of the demand that acceptable worship be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). 

The comparison between Ephesians 5:18f and Colossians 3:16f is also instructive as to how a person is to be filled with the Spirit.  To be filled with the Spirit is practically synonymous with allowing the Word of Christ to richly dwell within.  Colossians 3:16 speaks to more than a knowledge of doctrine and truths related to the Scripture, it speaks to possessing a receptive heart that is richly indwelt by the Word of Christ.  The command here is Ephesians 5:18 is of great importance.  The matter represents a “watershed” truth of preeminent concern to every believer.  A host of spiritual blessings are availed to the believer through the Helper’s Christ-manifesting ministry (Cf. John 16:13-14).  On the other side of the equation, it is impossible to live the Christian life in a God-pleasing fashion apart from Him (Cf. John 6:63; Matthew 26:41).  When a person is filled by the Spirit, acceptable worship is the result (Cf. Philippians 3:3).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

WATCH YOUR WORDS (Ephesians Chapter 4)

Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

I remember a day on one of my visits to Uganda when the words from the Hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” came to mind in my prayer time.  The entire hymn represents a beautiful prayer of consecration and submission to God, but the phrase that I was thinking about that morning was “Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.”  And so I headed off into my day purposed—by the Spirit—to speak such words.  I can’t remember all the specific details of the day, but I remember the phrase governing my thoughts.  It is not a simple or automatic thing and I doubt that I was entirely successful.  To have one’s lips filled with messages that are befitting our identity in Christ is at the heart of this verse.

In its context the verse speaks to the process of Biblical change that God works in the life of the believer.  It is one aspect of the “put off-put on” particulars that are consistent to God’s transforming work “through the renewing of the spirit of (the) mind” (Cf. Ephesians 4:22-24).  Falsehood is to give way to truth-speaking, sinful-anger to forgiveness, stealing to honest-labor, etc. (Ephesians 4:25-28).  That put-off put-on process is likewise to be applied to our speech.

The word translated “corrupting” is from a term that was used "primarily, of vegetable and animal substances" and "expresses what is of poor quality, unfit for use, putrid" (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  Corrupting talk represents that which is of poor quality and therefore worthless.  There are lots of kinds of speech that fall into this category: angry words (Cf. Ephesians 4:31); boastful speech (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:2); blasphemy (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:20); coarse jesting (Cf. Ephesians 5:4); deceptive speech (Cf. Ephesians 4:25, 5:6); flattery (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:6); empty chatter (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:20); gossip and slander (Cf. Ephesians 4:31, 1 Timothy 5:13); filthy speech (Cf. Ephesians 5:4); and quarrelsome words (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24).  The speech of the unbeliever is characterized by such language (Cf. Romans 3:10-14).  It ushers forth from the heart and is sourced ultimately in hell itself (Cf. Matthew 12:35-36; James 3:6). 

Though man can tame all kinds of beasts, he cannot tame the tongue (Cf. James 3:8).  To change that which ushers from the heart it is necessary first for the heart to be changed.  God alone can do that through salvation.  The tongue of the “new creation” in Christ is thus enabled by the Spirit to speak that which “is good for building up” (Cf. Ephesians 4:29).  It is by the Spirit alone that God-pleasing words can flow from our lips--words that glorify God and work to build up and encourage others.

The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is undeniably not true.  Memories of hurtful words are some of the most vivid memories that we maintain.  By way of contrast, memories of helpful and encouraging words stick with us too.  We need to prayerfully guard that which proceeds from our mouths.  On a hill in England there is a gravestone on which is inscribed: "Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, lies Annabella Young, who, on the 24th of May, began to hold her tongue." 

Instead of rotten words God would have us to speak that which “is good for building up” (Ephesians 4:29).  The truth spoken in love works towards this end (Cf. Ephesians 4:15) and included in that kind of speech are wise words (Cf. Colossians 3:16); encouraging words (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:11); comforting words (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:4); kind words (Cf. Ephesians 4:32); words expressing admonishment and forgiveness (Cf. Ephesians 4:32); grace-filled words (Cf. Ephesians 4:29); words which “(fit) the occasion” (Cf. Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 25:11); words characterized by Christ-like love (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

It is easy to complain.  It is easy to be critical.  In this sin-filled world there is plenty to criticize and plenty to complain about.  It is a much more difficult thing to be used by God in the building up of others.  Someone has written: I saw them tearing a building down, a gang of men in a dusty town.  With a "yo heave ho" and a lusty yell, they swung a beam and the side wall fell.  I asked the foreman if these men were as skilled, as the men he'd hire, if he were to build.  He laughed and said, "Oh, no indeed, Common labor is all I need."  For these men can wreck in a day or two, what builders had taken years to do.  I asked myself as I went my way, which kind of role am I to play?  Am I the builder who builds with care, measuring life by the rule and square?  Or, am I the wrecker who walks the town, Content with the role of tearing down.  Watch your words.  They matter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

MORE THAN ABLE (Ephesians Chapter 3)

Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (NASB).

GOD IS…
Able
Able to do 

Able to do what we ask 
Able to do what we think 
Able to do what we ask or think 
Able to do all that we ask or think
Able to do above all that we ask or think 

Able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think 
Able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think

The reality TV series “Extreme Makeover” featured episodes in which families that had faced some extraordinary hardship were provided a home that was rapidly constructed to meet their specific needs.  Interior, exterior and landscaping work were completed by a team of workers.  All the materials and labor were donated.  The family, off on a paid vacation during the time of construction, were brought to the site where they awaited, behind a bus, the unveiling of their new home.  The host of the show then yelled to the driver, “Driver move that bus!” The home was then revealed to a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” and thanks.  The new home was above and beyond what was expected.

Say a prayer.  Think a thought.  God is able to do more, exceedingly more, exceeding abundantly more.  It is by “the power that works within us” that He does this.  Paul’s first prayer in this epistle was that the Ephesians would be Spirit-led to understand the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” made evident in Christ’s resurrection (Ephesians 1:19-20).  The empty tomb of the Risen Savior testifies to God’s ability to accomplish what He has purposed to do in our lives.  Paul’s second prayer in this epistle had to do with comprehending the love of Christ which “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  That work that God has undertaken is founded and completed according to the “breadth and length and height and depth… (of) the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18).

There are countless examples in Scripture that illustrate God’s ability to supersede expectations in the manner in which He works.  But one relates especially to the matter at hand.  The prodigal son left his father’s house and “squandered his property in reckless living” and found himself in need (Luke 15:13-14).  Wallowing in the mire with the pigs—and longing to “be fed with the pods that the pigs ate”—he “came to himself” and purposed to return to his father (Cf. Luke 15:17-20).  He supposed that he might gain employment as one of his father’s hired servant.  But that’s not what happened.  His father not only took him back—he embraced him and kissed him.  He not only welcomed him--he clothed him with a robe, a ring, and shoes.  He then killed the fattened calf and held a celebration.  His Father’s capacity to forgive (to restore) was above and beyond the expectations of the returning prodigal.

Having said all of that—there is a particular matter than verse 20 relates to.  What is work that God is doing that is “exceeding, abundantly beyond?”  According to the context it is us being “filled up with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).  It is the end point of salvation that is spoken of here—being brought into complete conformity with Christ in the perfection of the work that God has begun in us.  Salvation is bigger in scope than we can now imagine.  We might assume it to include forgiveness (Cf. Ephesians 1:7), and so it does, but it is bigger than that.  We might suppose it to involve growth in Christ, and so it does, from one state of glory to the next (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18)—but it is still bigger than that.  We understand it to lead to a future glorified estate when he “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21), but what does that entail (Cf. 1 John 3:1-2)?  How can we perceive or comprehend what that must be (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12)?  His salvation “to the uttermost” (Cf. Hebrews 7:25) is as a mountain peak lying above the clouds.  We anticipate it, but the full measure of its glory eludes us.  But God is at work in us and is more than able to finish the glorious work He started (Cf. Philippians 1:6).  “He is able, more than able, to accomplish what concerns me today.  He is able, more than able, to handle anything that comes my way.  He is able, more than able, to do much more than I could ever dream, He is able, more than able, to make me what He wants me to be.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

DEAD IN SIN (Ephesians Chapter 2)

Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.”

In these verses (Ephesians 2:1-3) Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus of their previous condition—the way they were.  They were spiritually dead before they had been “made…alive together with Christ” in salvation (Ephesians 2:5).  This verse also speaks to the condition of the unbeliever.  He is a person who is spiritually dead to God, and unable to move a spiritual muscle with respect to salvation.  A coroner or medical examiner makes an examination of a corpse.  He ascertains that the person is actually dead and lists on a death certificate the cause.  God has diagnosed the sons of Adam—they are spiritually dead (Cf. Romans 5:12).  He likewise declares to us the cause, which is sin.  The unbeliever is one who is dead to God in sin—that’s bad news of the worse degree.  The bad news is not just that we are all born sinners (Cf. Romans 3:23), but that in sin man is dead to God and helpless to do a thing to change that (Cf. Romans 6:23).  It is important that we understand the gravity of the bad news.  The bad news is not just that man is sick, he is dead.  The bad news cannot be undone with any degree of rehabilitation.  It is the impartation of life that is necessary.  The spiritually dead are akin to Lazarus in the tomb.  Having been entombed for days, his flesh had begun to rot.  No amount of self-exertion or effort on Lazarus’ part could have worked to bring him forth from that tomb.  His condition was emblematic of all the lost.  Christ alone had the power to call Lazarus from that tomb (Cf. John 13:43). 

George Whitefield once spoke to this matter by way of invitation, "Come, ye dead, Christ-less, unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, locked-up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone on the top of it.  View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him.  Ah!  How he stinketh…Was he bound hand and foot with grave clothes?  So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions: and as a stone was laid on the sepulcher, so is there a stone of unbelief upon thy heart.  Perhaps thou hast lain in this state, not only for days, but many years…And, what is still more effecting, thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long.  Thou mayest try the power of thy own boasted free-will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments; but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigor, will prove fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said, "Take away the stone," and "Lazarus, come forth." also quicken you.  Apart from the quickening voice of God there is no hope for any man.  With it the deadest and vilest of sinners can be saved."

Jim Thompson was an elder in our church.  Before he died and departed to be with Jesus, he had the unique distinction of having been declared dead twice.  Many years ago he was travelling from Astoria to Portland along Hwy 26.  Jim was a Navy Recruiter and he was accompanied by a Navy Recruit.  He did not realize it at the time but the Quartz Creek Bridge was covered with ice.  He came to the bridge and his car spun out of control.  He ended up hitting another car and in the process was ejected from his car onto the pavement.  When the police officer arrived at the scene he saw Jim and told Jim's passenger that Jim was dead.  Needless to say--the police officer was wrong.  Jim lived for many years after that.

But Jim was actually pronounced dead a second time.  Years ago Pastor Harold Maycumber went to visit Jim in his home.  Up until that day Jim was endeavoring to take his children to church.  He wanted for them to have religious instruction and live moral lives, but that was the extent of Jim’s spiritual concern.  Jim talked to Harold for quite a while about a lot of things, but then it came time for Harold to leave.  As he was at the door, and about to leave, Harold had a final word for Jim.  He turned to Jim and said, "Jim you need Jesus Christ."  In affect what Harold was saying was "Jim you are dead but Jesus can make you alive."  Jim went home that night and bowed in prayer and trusted in Christ for salvation and was “made…alive together” with Him (Cf. Ephesians 2:7).

J. C. Ryle, "How deeply thankful we ought to be for the glorious gospel of the grace of God.  There is a remedy revealed for man's need, as wide and broad and deep as man's disease.  We need not be afraid to look at sin and study its nature, origin, power, extent, and vileness, if we only look as the same time at the almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ.”

Monday, August 25, 2014

TOO MUCH GRACE (Ephesians Chapter 1)

Ephesians 1:7-8, “According to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.”

Ephesians 1:3-14 comprises one long sentence in the Greek with three main divisions.  Each division ends with a note of praise for God, focusing on a different member of the Trinity (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).  The first calls for praise to the Father who has chosen us (v. 4-6).  The second calls for praise to the Son who has redeemed us (v. 7-11).  The third calls for praise to the Spirit who has sealed us (v. 12-14).  These ministrations of the God-head have all come to us by grace and are therefore to “the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).

This passage has much to say about grace.  The term is charis in the Greek and means “that which bestows or occasions pleasure, delight, or causes favorable regard” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  It is generally defined, with respect to salvation and its corresponding blessings, in terms of “unmerited favor.”  Grace cannot be earned or merited, it is by definition a gift (Cf. Romans 4:4; Ephesians 2:8).  In this sense it speaks of the undeserved blessings bestowed on the believer in Christ.  It is sometimes defined as “God’s Rich’s At Christ’s Expense” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).  The source of these spiritual blessings is God.  Paul speaks of “grace” (1:3), “his glorious grace” (1:6), “the riches of his grace” (1:7), “the immeasurable riches of his grace” (2:7).  God’s grace has been “lavished upon” the believer (Cf. Ephesians 1:8).

 Whether he realizes it or not the believer is one has been incredibly blessed by grace with “unsearchable riches in Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).  This blessed estate is possessed “in Christ” alone.  He is both the source and essence of the spiritual blessings referred to, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones once wrote, "If you leave out the "in Christ, you will never have any blessings at all...Every blessing we enjoy as Christian people comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.  God has blessings for all sorts and conditions of men...There are certain common general blessings which are enjoyed by the whole of humanity.  There is what is called "common grace," but that is not what the apostle is dealing with here.  Here he is dealing with a particular grace, with special grace, the blessings that are enjoyed by Christian people only...The ungodly may enjoy much good in this world, and their blessings come to them from God in a general way, but they know nothing of the blessings mentioned in this verse."  Though he be impoverished materially speaking, the believer possesses unmeasurable and eternal riches in Christ.  Though he be rich in this world, the unbeliever lives in and experiences spiritual poverty apart from Christ.

God’s unmerited favor has been “lavished upon” the believer in Christ.  The term “lavished” translates a Greek term which means “abundant, exceeding some number, measure, rank or need, over and above.” The NASB note for Ephesians 1:7 says the phrase means “made abundant toward.” It is the same term used in reference to the loaves that were left over after the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus (Cf. Matthew 14:20).  He not only supplied what was necessary, He provided more than enough.  According to Webster’s the English term “lavish” means “expending or bestowing profusely” and comes from a French term which speaks of a “downpour of rain.”  The riches of God’s grace have not been given in a limited measure of scant provision, they super abound to us.  Lewis Sperry Chafer spoke in his Systematic Theology of “thirty-three stupendous works of God which together comprise the salvation of the soul.”  He noted that “These works are wholly wrought by God, wrought instantaneously, simultaneously and being grounded totally on the merit of Christ Himself, they're eternal.”

Several years ago I was privileged to work with Pastor Enock in choosing a name for a new church that was started in the Masaka Region of Uganda in Muge Village.  I did a lot of praying and thinking about the matter.  On my first visit to that region I spend some time with a group of pastors in the book of Ephesians.  In the survey of the book we focused on the “by riches of His grace” nature of salvation.  So I suggested that we call the new church “Abundant Grace Bible Church.”  I found out that in translation the phrase means literally “too much grace.”  In reality there can never to “too much grace” for we are all very needy.  But whatever the need, we can be confident of God’s superabundant provision to us in Christ.  “His love has no limit; His grace has no measure; His pow’r has no boundary known unto men.  For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!”  We have been richly blessed and should bless God in response (Cf. Ephesians 1:3). 

Friday, August 22, 2014

SOMETHING TO BOAST ABOUT (Galatians Chapter 6)

Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What does the cross of Jesus Christ mean to you?  It is a question of supreme relevance and importance.  As Martyn Lloyd Jones once wrote, “My dear friends, there never can be a more important question than this; what does this cross do to you?”

Some don't give too much thought to it, as Oswald Chambers, once said, "All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more less ignore its meaning."  To some it simply doesn't appear to be all that important.  Years ago this assessment was offered by someone regarding the preaching of the liberal church, "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."  The modern church likewise has worked to diminish and undermine the preeminence of the cross.  Many refrain from the mere mention of sin or Christ's death or future judgment.  Someone has said that "it is a sin to call people sinners."  Self-help sermons are in vogue, the cross not so much.

The cross is a subject that elicits varying responses.  The Galatian believers apparently were confused about it.  Paul wrote to address that matter.  He himself had been used by God in the founding of the church.  He had proclaimed the message of the cross to them (Cf. Galatians 1:11, 3:1).  He had taught them to believe in Christ and that salvation was by faith in Him, but others—legalistic false teachers--had come bearing a different kind of teaching.  They were preaching another gospel (Galatians 1:6); that faith alone was not sufficient; that a person needed to be circumcised and do the works of the law to be saved.  Some of the Galatians were buying into what the false teachers were selling and were confused about the relevance of the cross to their lives.

Others are opposed to the cross.  That was the case of the false teachers (Cf. Galatians 6:12-13).  They were compelling people to be circumcised and to keep the law.  They were motivated by two things.  They had a desire to "boast in (their) flesh” (Galatians 6:13).  In their prideful self-righteousness they sought superiority through the gaining of followers.  In addition, they did not want to “be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:12).  The cross was, and continues to be, a litmus test for the identification of those who truly belong to God.  The cross represents different things to different people.  To the saved it is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).  To the unsaved it is a "stumbling block" or “folly” (1 Corinthians 1:23)."  The Judaizers were of this second opinion.  It was a “stumbling block” to them.  They didn’t understand it.  They opposed its message. 

Paul had a much different perspective on the cross.  His statement in Galatians 6:14 is a bold statement.  There is tremendous truth here.  What was Paul saying?  What does it mean to boast in something?  The word Paul uses here appears some 37 times in the NT, usually in a negative sense.  It means “to boast or glory” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  Paul uses the term here with the sense of having great regard and high affection for.  We might say "I take pride in."  Paul is saying that He takes no pride in anything except the cross of Jesus Christ.  He takes no pride in himself.  He takes no pride in his gifts.  He takes no pride in his deeds or his accomplishments.  He takes no pride in his abilities.  The only thing that He is willing to take pride in is the cross of Jesus.  His life provides the best illustration of what he means. 

Saul was a Pharisee.  Before he came to know Jesus he was consumed with zealous observance of the law.  He was perfect religious specimen with respect to his religious heritage and practice (Cf. Philippians 3:3-7).  He had much to boast about by way of his own achievements.  But in his salvation he came to esteem such things “as rubbish” in view of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).  Paul was saved and radically transformed by means of the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).  He henceforth refused to boast about anything related to his own accomplishments—his position (he referred to himself as a servant; Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1); his own accomplishments (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10); his own abilities (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5); his spiritual stature (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:14). 

This is really quite a remarkable thing.  Paul was the greatest missionary the church has ever known.  He reached more lost souls for Christ than any other human being.  He wrote more books of the Bible that anyone else.  His writings contain the deepest and most profound thoughts.  From a human perspective he had much reason to boast--but He says "but far be it from me to boast, except in the cross” (Galatians 6:14).  God would have us to say the same.  “Jesus, keep me near the cross—There a precious fountain, Free to all a healing stream, Flows from Calvary’s mountain.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

CHRISTIAN CANNIBALISM (Galatians Chapter 5)

Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out lest you be consumed by one another.”

We’ve got two dogs—Bean and Rory.  Bean is a black and white half-Lab/half-Dalmatian.  Rory is a 3 year old Golden Retriever.  They’re friends and most of the time they get along pretty well—sometimes Bean will even lick and clean Rory’s ears for her.  But Rory is kind of spoiled and tends to get a little more attention.  Bean’s response?—he sneaks in behind her, chomps on her leg, and pulls.  Kind one minute, chomping on her the next.  Dogs can be sometimes unpredictable in their behavior—just like humans.

Some time back our Men’s Bible study did a study through a book by Alexander Strauch entitled “If You Bite and Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict.”  The title for the book comes from Galatians 5:15.  The book was a great resource which I would heartily recommend.  The title and verse speak to a very real problem—it is possible for Christians to engage in “Christian cannibalism.”  I’m not speaking, of course, of the physical kind, but Paul used such language to graphically depict what happens when Christians fail to act by the Spirit in love in their relationships with one another.  The sad reality is that you don’t have to be a Christian very long until you’ve been “chomped on” by a fellow brother or sister in Christ.

That we would engage is such behavior is testimony to the reality and tenacity of sin. Though forgiven, the believer is nonetheless still capable, in the flesh, of engaging in gross acts of unloving behavior.  You’ve probably got a few pieces of missing flesh or at least some tooth marks.  And you’ve likely, on more than one occasion, taken a bite out of a fellow saint.  Not very tasty!

We are prone to varying responses to difficult situations.  Sometimes we flee the situation (how many Christians leave a church because of their unwillingness to lovingly respond to a difficult situation?).  We can fight—“enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions” are listed amongst the various deeds of the flesh (Cf. Galatians 5:20).  These kind of responses require no effort on our part.  We tend to gravitate towards them.

The remedy for our tendency to respond in fleshly ways is to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).  Apart from the Spirit we lack the wisdom, power, or compassion to respond to difficult situations in a God-honoring way.  It is by the Spirit that Divine resources and Christ-like virtues are borne in us and work to supercede our fleshly tendencies.  The person of the Spirit (the “Helper;” John 14:16) works through the Word to change and empower us.  It is only as the “Word of Christ richly dwells within us” that we are Spirit-led and enabled to relate to one another properly (Cf. Ephesians 5:18f; Colossians 3:16f).

Galatians 5:13-14 instructs us in the God-approved manner in which we are to relate to one another: “Through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Christ-like love is to govern our relationships within the body of Christ and our response to difficult situations.  There is never an “opt-out” when it comes to the command for us to love one another (Cf. John 13:34-35).  In our day one cannot mention the command to love without qualifying it according to its Biblical definition.  Love does not equate to tolerance, love is something far greater than that.  It has been defined for us in the loving sacrifice of the Lord Jesus (Cf. 1 John 3:16).  In the context of what is taught elsewhere in Scripture, a good definition of Christ-like love would be: that which actively and purposefully pursues that which is best for its object.  Love coexists with truth and can only be understood in the sense of desiring “Christ’s best” for those whom we care about.  The exercise of Christ-like love depends on knowledge of the truth and discernment (Cf. Philippians 1:6).  This is the kind of love that we are to show to others, even when they don’t respond in kind.  To love like Jesus is to respond to others in terms of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  With respect to His preeminent example it is readily apparent that we all have room to grow.

That reality helps us when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.  Christ has for us to grow.  There is no way to avoid difficult situations.  We are all going to be “chomped on” sometime—that’s something we can’t control.  But here’s something we can control—our response.  We can respond, by the Spirit in love, in a way that honors God, contributes to healthy relationships, and adorns our testimony before the lost. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

THE HEAVEN-SENT SON (Galatians Chapter 4)

Galatians 4:5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

We have here in this verse a wonderful explanation of the cause and effect of Christ’s incarnation.  The immediate context of Galatians 4:4 has to do with the deliverance of the “enslaved” (Galatians 4:3, 8).  This deliverance was availed by God’s intervention through the redemptive ministry of His Son. 

God sent forth his Son when the “fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4).  Theologically speaking, it happened according to the exact timing of the One who works “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).  Biblically speaking, in a careful orchestration of divinely timed events numerous prophecies met their exact fulfillment in Jesus’ birth, life, and death (i.e. the timing and location of Christ’s birth; the arrival of His messenger; His flight to Egypt; etc.)  Historically speaking Christ’s coming took place in an advantageous period of time in which there was a well-established road system (constructed by the Romans) and the widespread usage of one language (Greek).  These and other factors worked to facilitate the rapid spread of the gospel across the Roman Empire.  Morally speaking, it was a time of great need.  Henry Scougal once commented about this: “God hath long contended with a stubborn world, and thrown down many a blessing upon them; and when all his other gifts could not prevail, he at last made a gift of himself.”

In the fullness of time “God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4).  The rebelled against and much offended God of the universe sent forth His Son.  The God who is seldom thanked and commonly accused sent forth His Son.  What kind of love is this that God would send His dearly beloved Son to such a place?  Romans 5:8 explains, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The truth of the incarnation is set forth—“his Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4).  Both His deity and His humanity are affirmed here.  It is a matter of “transcendent truth”, as Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”  Both are true and necessary aspects of His personhood.  That He is the divine Son of God is affirmed here and elsewhere (Cf. John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-16).  He is human, having been born of a woman (Cf. Galatians 4:4).  Doctrinally speaking, this truth regarding the “God-man” nature of Christ is of great importance (Cf. 1 John 4:2).  But it is important for another reason as well inasmuch as it speaks to the truth of who God is.  Does God care?  In sending forth His Son He initiated the greatest of all missionary endeavors.  How far was God willing to go to rescue lost sinners?  The incarnation answers these questions (Cf. 1 John 3:16; John 3:16; Hebrews 2:14-15).

St. Augustine, an early Church father, once commented on these matters in a Christmas sermon: “The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us.  He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for his human birth.  In the bosom of His Father He existed before the cycles of the ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of years this day.  The Maker of man became man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread of life, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain of life, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied on the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended on a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.  To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all the ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years.  He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil, and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

BY THE SPIRIT (Galatians Chapter 3)

Galatians 3:1-5, “O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?”

In the book of Galatians Paul defends and explains the superiority of the gospel of grace as opposed to the legalism that was being promulgated by the false teachers.  His question, “who has bewitched you?” speaks to their naivety and lack of discernment with respect to these matters.  Paul had proclaimed the gospel to them.  They had trusted in Christ for salvation. They had suffered for Christ and had begun a walk by the Spirit, but were “deserting him who called (them) in the grace of Christ and (were) turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).  Paul was astonished and disheartened.  The book of Galatians represents his corrective response.

Three important statements are made regarding the Spirit in this passage.  The Spirit is, of course, the person of the Holy Spirit.  He whom Jesus promised to send—“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).  The word “Helper” translates the Greek parakletos which means literally “called to one’s side” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  Jesus comforted His troubled disciples with news of the Spirit’s coming—“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).  His is a Christ-revealing and Christ-glorifying ministry (Cf. John 16:12-14).

The believers in Galatia had received the Spirit (Cf. Galatians 3:2).  Paul’s rhetorical question demands one response: they had received the Spirit “by hearing with faith” and not “by the works of the law” (Galatians 3:2).  As An immediate result of faith in Christ a person receives the Spirit.  Every born again believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God (Cf. Romans 8:9).  From salvation on the Helper is at work in the believer, lovingly and patiently working to instruct, empower, and transform. 

The believers in Galatia had “begun by the Spirit” (Cf. Galatians 3:3), but had digressed.  The Christian life is a walk by the Spirit.  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14; Cf. Galatians 5:18).  Though there are commands to be obeyed, the Christian life is not a religious construct of do’s and don’ts.  No one can be “perfected by the flesh,” because the flesh is incapable of such a thing (Cf. Colossians 2:23; John 6:63).  It can only do the “works of the flesh” and none of them have anything to do with perfection (Cf. Galatians 5:19-21).  By the Spirit alone can the “deeds of the body” be “put to death” (Romans 8:13).  By the Spirit alone can transformation into Christ-likeness take place (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

The believers in Galatia had been supplied with the Spirit “by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:5).  God had “graced them” with the Spirit and had worked miracles amongst them.  Those things happened not as a result of their own religious doings.  How foolish it is to suppose that we can, in our own self efforts, do that which the divine Spirit alone can do.  By the Spirit alone the miracle of regeneration takes place.  By the Spirit alone can we have assurance (Cf. Romans 8:16).  By the Spirit alone are we sanctified (Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).  By the Spirit alone can we understand truth and gain assistance in our prayers (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12; Romans 8:26).  By the Spirit alone Christ-like fruit is borne in us (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23).  How incredibly blessed we are to have such a Helper!  We did not obtain Him by merit or self-effort, He was given to us as a gift.  To be filled with Him (Cf. Ephesians 5:18) and to walk by Him (Cf. Galatians 5:16) is a matter of great privilege and is the only means by which we can walk in a manner worthy of the calling which we have received. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

THE EXCHANGED LIFE (Galatians Chapter 2)

Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  And the life I now life in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission, once referenced this verse with regards to that which he called “The Exchanged Life."  In a particularly challenging period of his ministry he came to the realization that it is impossible to live the Christian life in one’s own strength and that is necessary instead to depend entirely on Christ.  The Christian life is not about our own doing (trying harder to be better), but Christ living and doing in and through us.

Paul was addressing those who were seeking—as a result of false teaching they had received--to be justified through the works of the law.  Legalists had infiltrated the church in Galatia and were promoting a slavish observance to the Law as means to attaining righteousness.  Paul speaks in this verse to his own experience whereby he had been elevated in salvation by grace to a higher plane of living through union with Christ. 

Paul had himself been in the place of the false teachers.  He had lived the life of a fully invested legalist.  His was an impressive religious resume—“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).  Paul had possessed that which the false teachers were proclaiming, but everything changed for Paul when he met Jesus.  “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish” (Philippians 3:7-8).  The life Paul possessed by way of Christ’s indwelling presence was infinitely superior to that of his previous experience. 

Paul’s “Christ lives in me” experience was not unique to him, it represents the condition which is true for every born again believer.  Kenneth Wuest commented on this matter, “It is no longer a self-centered life that he lives, but a Christ-centered one. His new life is a Person, the Lord Jesus living in Paul. And through the ministry of the Holy Spirit the Lord Jesus is manifest in his life. The new life is no longer, like the former one, dependent upon the ineffectual efforts of a man attempting to draw near to God in his own righteousness. The new life is a Person within a person, living out His life in that person. Instead of attempting to live his life in obedience to a set of rules in the form of the legal enactments of the Mosaic law, Paul now yields to the indwelling Holy Spirit and cooperates with Him in the production of a life pleasing to God, energized by the divine life resident in him through the regenerating work of the Spirit. Instead of a sinner with a totally depraved nature attempting to find acceptance with God by attempted obedience to a set of outward laws, it is now the saint living his life on a new principle, that of the indwelling Holy Spirit manifesting forth the Lord Jesus. That is what Paul means when he says: And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Wuest, K. S. Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).”

The believer in Christ is indwelt by the Risen Savior!  This glorious truth differentiates Biblical Christianity from mere religion.  The One who has triumphed over sin and death works a radical transformation in the life of the believer.  The Risen Christ takes up residence in his heart.  Christ is not far from him--He indwells him (Cf. Colossians 1:27)!  The believer doesn’t merely look to Jesus for life, He is his life (Cf. Colossians 3:4).  Christ’s resurrection power is availed to him and courses through his being (Cf. Ephesians 1:19f).  His immeasurable love fills his heart (Cf. Ephesians 3:14f).  As a branch to a vine he derives life and fruit-bearing power from Jesus alone (Cf. John 15:5).  His is not a dead, dry, powerless religiosity (Cf. Colossians 2:23; Galatians 3:3), but a “river of living water” flowing from his heart experience (Cf. John 7:38).  In a moment-by-moment submission to and dependence on Christ, the believer is empowered to do that which he could never hope to do in his own strength (Cf. Philippians 4:13).  “Christ lives in me!”  The “Son of God” who “loved me and gave himself for me” now resides in me (Cf. Galatians 2:20).  It is a glorious and wondrous truth that it represented to us in this verse!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ANOTHER GOSPEL (Galatians Chapter 1)

Galatians 1:6-9, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Most of Paul’s epistles are introduced by some expression of praise with respect to the church to which he was writing.  But there is no expression of praise or thanksgiving in the beginnings of this letter.  Instead, Paul wrote of his astonishment as to what was happening in the church in Galatia—the people were abandoning the true gospel in favor of legalism under the sway of some false teachers.  These verses introduce the primary matter of concern dealt with in the remainder of the epistle.

Paul was concerned because of the desertion of the Galatians.  The term “deserting” translates a Greek term meaning “to move a person or thing from one place to another” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  Vine’s also comments that “the present tense suggests that the defection of the Galatians from the truth was not yet complete and would continue unless they changed their views” and that “the middle voice indicates that they were themselves responsible for their declension, rather than the Judaizers who had influenced them.”  The Judaizers were the legalists who were presenting a false gospel requiring circumcision and other such religious observances.  The Galatians were in the process of abandoning the true gospel for the sake of a good-news-less legalism.

There is a tragic element to what was transpiring.  The Galatian believers had been called by God.  He had called them out of rebellion and ignorance to worship Him.  He had called them by grace.  They hadn’t deserved salvation and had done nothing to merit it, but God who is rich in grace and mercy freely bestowed in on them in Christ.  They had been saved by grace through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Peter 3:18).  By grace they had been immeasurably blessed.  Their desertion from God in pursuit of a burdensome legalism was especially troublesome and surprising to Paul.

Their desertion came “quickly.”  The church in Galatia came into existence through the preaching of the gospel.  They had received the Spirit.  They had “begun by the Spirit” (Galatians 3:1-5).  But the legalists quickly intervened and worked to spread their lies.  The church listened.

They were “turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).  Two different Greek terms are translated “another” in our English Bibles.  The first “allos,” speaks of something that is “another of the same sort.”  The second, “heteros,” speaks of something that is “another of a different sort.”  Both terms are used here: “a different (“heteros”) gospel—not that there is another (“allos”) one” (Galatians 1:6-7).  The gospel of grace constituted good news.  The gospel of the legalists was not good news at all.

The gospel of the legalists was a distorted gospel.  The term “distort” translates a Greek term meaning “to transform into something of an opposite character” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  The “gospel of the glory of the blessed God” is a beautiful and praiseworthy representation of who God is (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:11).  The distorted man-invented gospel of the legalists was a “Frankensteinian” monster.

The gospel of the legalists was contrary to the gospel that Paul had preached to them.  But the Galatians failed to exercise discernment.  They didn’t recognize the difference when the legalists came offering their counterfeit wares.  It is sometimes said in our day, “They all preach the gospel.”  But that sentiment is both dangerous and na├»ve.  Paul doubly warned the Galatians of their need to practice discernment--and even subjected his own preaching to it--“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).  Paul condemned any false teacher of another gospel using the strongest possible language.  How could it be otherwise?  The glory of Christ and the salvation of souls are at stake in the matter.

DO YOU HAVE THE SON? (2 Corinthians Chapter 13)

2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

We’ve all taken tests.  They vary as to their degree of importance.  Few have life and death implications.  None rise to the level of importance of the matter spoken of here.  The key question in this spiritual self-examination relates to one’s relationship to Jesus Christ.  Are you “in the faith?”  Is “Jesus Christ in you?” 

With respect to salvation this is the key concern.  Religions falter at this point.  They forever deal with peripheral matters that have no bearing on a person’s eternal destiny.  The question is not “Are you a good person?”  Nor is it “Have you been baptized?” or “Do you go to church?” or “Do you read your Bible and pray?” or “Do you have church membership?” or “Were you raised in a Christian family?” or “Have you said the sinners prayer?”  John 1:13 speaks of the various ways by which a person cannot be saved.  No one can inherit salvation (“not of blood”).  Nor can they earn it by doing good (“will of the flesh”).  Likewise it is impossible to become a child of God through human decision (“will of man”).  Man cannot inherit, earn, or decide his salvation, it is instead a “right” given to those who receive Jesus, to those “who believed in his name” (John 1:12).

The issue is where do you stand with Jesus Christ.  And it is more than an academic matter.  A person might have doctrinally clarity regarding with the person and work of Christ, without being saved.  Another way to ask what Paul asked is to ask, “Are you born again?”  Have you trusted in Jesus?  Have you been born-again by the Spirit as a result of placing your faith in Him?  Where do you stand with Jesus?  Have you “been born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine?”

Charles Spurgeon commented on this text, “Oh!  says one, "You may examine me whether I am in the faith; I am an orthodox Christian, fully up to the standard, good genuine weight; there is no fear whatever of my coming up to the mark, and going a little beyond it too.”  Ah!  but, my friend, that is not the question; I would have you orthodox, for a man who is heterodox in his opinions, will most likely be heterodox in his actions; but the question now is not whether you believe the truth—but whether you are in the truth?  Just to give you an illustration of what I mean.  There is the ark; and a number of men around it.  "Ah!" says one, I believe that ark will swim.”    Oh!" says another, "I believe that ark is made of gopher-wood, and is strong from stem to stern; I am quite sure that ark will float, come what may; I am a firm believer in that ark.”  Ay, but when the rain descended, and the flood came, it was not believing the ark as a matter of fact—it was being in the ark that saved men, and only those that were in it escaped in that dread day of deluge…Now, what is it to have Jesus Christ in you?  The Roman Catholic hangs the cross on his bosom; the true Christian carries the cross in his heart; and a cross inside the heart, my friends, is one of the sweetest cares for a cross on the back.  If you have a cross in your heart—Christ crucified in you, the hope of glory—all the cross of this world's troubles will seem to you light enough, and you will easily he able to sustain it.  Christ in the heart means Christ believed in, Christ beloved, Christ trusted, Christ espoused, Christ communed with, Christ as our daily food, and ourselves as the temple and palace wherein Jesus Christ daily walks.  Ah!  There are many here that are total strangers to the meaning of this phrase.  They do not know what it is to have Jesus Christ in them.  Though ye know a little about Christ on Calvary, ye know nothing about Christ in the heart.  Now, remember, that Christ on Calvary will save no man, unless Christ be in the heart.  The Son of Mary, born in the manger, will not save a soul, unless he be also born in your hearts, and live there—your joy, your strength, and your consolation.  "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"

1 John 5:11-12, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  Do you have the Son?  That’s the question.  It is a question of great importance bearing eternal consequence.

A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN (2 Corinthians Chapter 12)

2 Corinthians 12:1-4, “I must go on boasting.  Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

As I write this a movie has recently been released entitled “Heaven is for Real.”  The movie is based on a book that tells the real life story of a father who endeavors to share of his son’s near-death experience and corresponding trips to heaven (or what he thought to be heaven).  There have been many others who have spoken of having had similar experiences, but as with all such matters, it is important to “test everything” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Paul “was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).  The context clearly affirms that he was the “man in Christ who fourteen years ago” of whom he was speaking (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7).  It is interesting and instructive to contrast his response to that heavenly experience with that of those we hear of from time to time.

Paul reluctantly shared of his heavenly experience.  We don’t find him speaking of it elsewhere in his epistles.  Even here, in 2 Corinthians, he shares of it only because he was compelled to.  In boasting of it, he acknowledged that he was speaking “as a fool” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:17).  But his boasting was not as men are typically prone to do.  Paul was an opponent of human boasting (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:29, 5:6, 13:4).  And boasting is never good when it is done to draw attention to oneself.  Paul boasted not for that reason, but to re-affirm to his opponents his apostolic ministry credentials (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, 13:3).  Paul had been called to proclaim the truth about Christ and nothing mattered more to him than that.  He labored in ministry towards that end.  Since some were doubting him, he offered to them proof lest he lose the opportunity to freely speak to them of that which he himself gloried in—Christ and His cross (Cf. Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:3).  He understood himself to be merely a “by-grace” servant of Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1, 15:10). 

Paul spoke in guarded terms of his experience.  Paul’s hesitancy to boast is apparent in the manner in which he spoke of his experience.  He deliberately “played down” his own part in it (“I know a man”).  Paul’s reference to “the third heaven” is a reference to the unseen realm in which God dwells, the first and second heavens referring respectively to the atmosphere and the expanse of heaven.  Paul had that experience, a revelation of “surpassing greatness” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7), but he was limited as to what he could share about it.  “He heard things which cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4).  What Paul heard, human words would be wholly inadequate to relate.  Additionally, he was not permitted to share the content of what he had experienced.  The experience was for him alone, no doubt working to strengthen and encourage him in his future service amidst his sufferings (Cf. Acts 9:16; Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29; Philippians 1:21-24).

Paul’s experience did not come without cost.  “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7).  Paul was privileged to be given a foretaste of heaven, but the matter was of such privileged significance that it required intervention by God lest Paul become conceited in it.  The nature of the “thorn” is much disputed, but whatever it was it was of such consequence that Paul pleaded three times for its removal.  The Lord said no to Paul’s request, but promised to Paul grace sufficient to meet his weakness (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Paul shared of his heavenly experience not to draw attention to himself or even to the reality of heaven.  He shared no details of what he saw or heard and spoke of the experience only here in his epistles.  By way of contrast he shared openly and repeatedly of his conversion experience (Cf. Acts 22:3-21; 26:9-20; Galatians 1:11-17; 1 Timothy 1:12-17).  The message he consistently proclaimed—and you will find the emphasis throughout his epistles—was Christ and his gospel (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2).  His concern was that people be won to Christ.  If they are won to Christ, Christ will get them to heaven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

SIMPLICITY (2 Corinthians Chapter 11)

2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

Represented to us, is this beautiful phrase, “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” is a statement of divine objective for every born-again child of God.  Inscribe it above your “mind-gate” as that which should govern your innermost longings and aspirations.  Count the matter to be a treasured aspiration which is to be protected and defended at all costs.  Take note that there are forces (i.e. the world, the flesh, and the devil) ever-working to deceive and lead one astray from it.

Paul was concerned for members of the church in Corinth.  He loved them and was constantly concerned for their spiritual well-being (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:28).  His goal in ministry was to “present (the church) as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2; Cf. Colossians 1:28).  He labored in ministry towards that end (Cf. Colossians 1:29).  But false teachers had infiltrated the church in Corinth and some were being led astray by them.  The deceptively introduced false teachings which spoke of “another Jesus,” “a different gospel,” and “a different spirit” than that of which Paul had taught (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:4).  Tragically, some had readily accepted these teachings. 

The phrase, “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” is translated more simply “the simplicity that is in Christ” in the King James Version.  The word “simplicity” translates a Greek term meaning “simplicity, sincerity, unaffectedness” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  According to Webster’s Dictionary, simplicity means, amongst other things, “freedom from pretense or guile.”  Paul’s fear was that his readers might be somehow moved from their sincere devotion to Jesus.

John MacArthur has said, “The Christian life is simple.  It is loving Jesus Christ supremely and only as Savior and Lord.”  Christianity is rightly defined as being rightly related to Jesus Christ.  But it involves more than simply knowing of Him or knowing about Him as one might know of the details of some historical figure.  It is knowing Him by way of personal relationship and experience.  It involves more than simply giving Jesus in a place in one’s life (as one might add a hobby) and even more than having Him in a prominent place (as one thing amongst many to which a greater degree of devotion is rendered), it is loving Him preeminently (as the unrivaled object of one’s affection).

It is not a simple thing to simplify, but there is a need for it.  Forces are at work to complicate our lives with lesser concerns that compete against what should matter most to us.  Deceptive forces tirelessly work to cloud minds with contrary thoughts and pursuits (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5).  “A sincere and pure devotion to Christ” is the object of the Spirit’s work in us (Cf. John 16:13-15; Philippians 3:3).  It is the Spirit of God who applies the Word of God to our hearts always directing us to the glory of the person of Jesus Christ. 

There are some great examples in Scripture of those who possessed “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”  Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” while Martha “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:39-40).  Jesus responded to Martha’s request for help by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  Paul’s testimony was one of single-mindedness of heart and purpose: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”…”but one thing I do” (Philippians 3:8, 13).  The early church was Spirit-born into a single-minded devotion to Christ which was characterized by devotion to His Word and His people (Cf. Acts 2:42).  In fellowship they experienced both mutual encouragement and some degree of spiritual protection.  Simply put, there is nothing more important in life than knowing Jesus Christ and no greater aspiration that we can possess than to know Him better as the preeminent object of our affection.  Paul yearned for that for his readers.  God has the same simple goal for all of us.

Monday, August 11, 2014

THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE (2 Corinthians Chapter 10)

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Chapters 10 through 13 of this epistle have to do with Paul’s direct response to his opponents who were working to undermine him in his God-given apostolic ministry.  They had criticized him for his supposed weakness, saying, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10).  The Corinthians were, as a rule, impressed with skilled orators, but Paul did not come to them “with lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1).  He came instead in the meekness of Christ bearing the message of Christ (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 2:2).  Paul’s opponents supposed Paul to be weak, but he was a warrior and possessed the very best of arsenals.

The text presupposes the existence of a war.  The war spoken of is not of typical variety that go on from time to time in this world, but the spiritual war that has been ongoing since the Adversary first left his appointed place in heaven.  In his great deception he worked to bring the sons of Adam into state of rebellion against their creator.  A long war against God has been raging ever since.  The world, the flesh, and the devil are antagonistic towards God.  No person on earth can avoid the ongoing conflict.

Though delivered from sin’s penalty and power, the believer still wrestles with a foe.  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  There is a “good fight” to “fight” (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7), but it will do no good to fight in our own strength with weapons of the flesh.  We must “put on the whole armor of God” (Cf. Ephesians 6:11).  The Word of God (i.e. truth) is essential to each element of the armor.

It is foolhardy to fight the good fight with inadequate weapons.  When Jesus was arrested Peter drew his sword and cut of the ear of the servant of the High Priest.  He was boldly prepared to take on all of Jesus’ opponents with his sword, one ear at a time (Cf. Matthew 26:51).  Peter’s weaponry was useless in the spiritual conflict that was raging on.  Jesus met the conflict with devotion to prayer and complete submission to the Word.  While Jesus prayed, Peter slept (Cf. Matthew 26:40).  And Peter was not then comprehending the truth.  My friend has compared the attempt to fight with fleshly weapons to engaging the foe with a small plastic cocktail sword (you know the 3 inch kind they stab olives with) and a police badge sized shield.  As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

The battlefield is the mind and the battle is a fight for truth.  It was in departure from truth that Satan won his strategic advantage over man, and it is in truth that victory over him is availed.  The gospel of truth works to gain a positional triumph for the believer, but that’s not the end point of the conflict.  There is the need for the renewing of the mind and that is something that the truth alone can do (Cf. Romans 12:2).  There are thoughts (“strongholds,” “arguments,” every lofty opinion”) contrary to Christ.  Such deceptions prevail in the lives of the lost and linger on in the lives of the saved.  These contrary thoughts “are raised up against the knowledge of God,” and must be taken “captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5; Cf. Philippians 4:8).  They are renegades which work to undermine spiritual health and well-being.  How are they to be identified, marked, and destroyed?

The Word of God has “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3).  Prayer is likewise a powerful weapon.  Having been graciously provisioned (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3), they are in the arsenal of every Christian soldier.  They are what can make us “strong and brave to face the foe.”  We neglect the careful use of them to our own peril.  But in taking up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” and keeping “alert with all perseverance in prayer” we have divinely powerful weapons with which to fight (Cf. 1 John 2:14b).