Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Church, Part 9


The church has not failed in this gospel age, nor will she fail. The church is the Lord’s body, the instrument through which He subdues all things to Himself (Ephesians 1:20–23). The resurrected Christ is presently seated at the Father’s right hand, a position of great power and authority. As per Psalm 110, Jesus is to occupy this position until the Lord makes His enemies His footstool (v. 1), that is, until He defeats and puts them under complete subjection. That text is quoted four times (Mark 12:26; Acts 2:35; Hebrews 1:13; 10:13). First Corinthians 15:24–28 deals with the same theme, citing Psalm 8:6. Jesus will not return until, “after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (v. 24), He is ready to deliver the kingdom back to the Father. Thus, the work being accomplished in this gospel age is that of subjecting all things to the authority of Jesus Christ.
Commenting on Psalm 8:8 (“putting everything in subjection to him”), Paul observes, “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Hebrews 2:8). Two things are true: what one sees in today’s church culture leads to a conclusion that the church is in trouble. The church does not appear to be militant and triumphant. It is divided, compromised, weak, neglected, discouraged, and diminished. She has little authority over her own members, let alone the culture she is to influence with light and truth. However, this is just what Paul said: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Nevertheless, it is clear that everything is subject to Jesus and is fully in His control.
In the demonic territory of Bashan in the shadow of Satan’s mountain, Hermon, Jesus informed the disciples that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not be able to stand against the church’s advance (Matthew 16:18). There are periods when this could be observed but not generally in church history. Jesus was not mistaken. Perhaps we are looking at it wrongly.
The wisdom of heaven does not look like success to those who are the wise of this world. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This statement is supported by a quote from Isaiah 29:14 in which the Lord states His determination to destroy the wisdom of the wise. From this proposition, Paul lays out an argument to prove this to believers living in a city that prized the wisdom of the Greeks. He concludes his argument by showing the natural man regards the things of the Spirit as foolishness (2:14).
The wisdom of this world has its origin with the god of this world, Satan. Thus, the wisdom of God looks like foolishness because God intends to bring victory under the nose of Satan without his notice. Using Isaiah 64:4 as his basis, Paul proves this: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him—” (2:9).
To be continued.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Loving Jesus


Among the hard sayings of Jesus is the charge that one cannot be His follower if he does not love Jesus more than mother, wife, brothers and sister, or his own life (Luke 14:26). This is a non-negotiable issue. One may believe in Jesus as He is correctly revealed in Scripture. One may believe that only in Jesus is salvation, but if that faith is not rooted in cherishing Jesus above everything else, particularly those things that one would regard as most valuable, he cannot claim to be truly saved.
Now, one may not fully understand this requirement when he first becomes a Christian, but when that claim is presented, a saved person will unquestioningly embrace it. Love for Jesus is the key defining issue of true faith. Love for God is the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:34–40). Israel failed that test: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8, 9). Love is treasuring Jesus above even life itself, a deep and intense passion of the heart that regards the Savior as supremely worthy of all honor and devotion.
I have long, but mistakenly, held that love was primarily not an emotion but an act of will.  I saw love first and foremost as doing something for another—seeking the welfare of another no matter at what cost or sacrifice. I could not say that I loved Jesus if I did not obey Him. Thus, loving was equated with obedience. After all, Jesus could not command someone to love Him if love were primarily an emotion. I did believe that emotions would follow willing obedience. I was wrong. Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If I truly loved Jesus, emotionally valued and treasured Him supremely, I would also naturally desire to obey Him. It is also true that loving obedience grows into a rich and ever-deepening experience of that love, but it is the passion that first motivates its active demonstration.
This truth is illustrated by the loving worship of a forgiven woman of the street in Luke 7. She stood behind Jesus as He lay at table, dining with the Pharisee who invited Him. She wept and washed His feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing and anointing them. This was met with the Pharisee’s horror and rebuke. Jesus responded with a parable of two debtors, one who owed little and the other who owed much. Both debts were forgiven. Jesus followed with the question, “Which forgiven debtor will love the benefactor more?” Obviously, the one with the greater forgiven debt. Jesus then applied the principle to the woman: “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for [as a consequence] she loved much.” Her self-humbling and sacrificial worship was her response of overwhelming love and gratitude she felt for her Savior at the great debt forgiven. She loved much.
I fear that many who profess salvation are more like the Pharisee. These sinners feel that it is Jesus who should love them for their willingness to accept Him, and, thus, they do little for Him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Church, Part 8


The Word of God is essential to the Christian life. Paul assured Timothy, who had been familiar with the Scriptures from childhood, that he would be made wise for salvation through faith in Christ if he continued in them. This assurance came because the Scriptures were breathed out by God, that is, they give life because the life of God is in them by His Spirit (2 Timothy 3:14–17). The Scriptures are absolutely necessary for spiritual life and growth.
This admonition was given to Timothy to instruct him about the means God has provided for the ongoing work of salvation in believing hearts. Our salvation in the sanctification process will continue until we achieve Christlikeness at His return (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:49–54). In the meantime, Scripture teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains the saints in righteousness that they may be fully mature and properly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). This is the process that makes the believer wise in the salvation process. No one can call himself a Christian who does not make his interaction with Scripture an essential part of his daily routine.
Paul’s emphasizing this truth to Timothy was not for his personal life only, but also for the foundation of his ministry in the church (2 Timothy 4:1–5). In his first letter Paul instructed Timothy to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).
Some excellent instruction and encouragement is given for the public reading of Scripture in another article by Jim Elliff:
I’m no prophet, but I believe we may soon see a swelling interest in reading the Bible both together & alone that could rebuild our faltering churches and improve the good ones. My information is purely anecdotal but substantial. I’m certainly not the only one seeing this tremendous need and trying to do something about it. Perhaps God will use each of us who care about this to repair the crumbling base in these slanderous, corrupt and morally compromised days. Ask for God’s wisdom and strength and do your part in the lives of those you might influence.
One simple suggestion outside of your own reading and meditation on Scripture is to read the Bible together with feeling with others. Read a chapter or section perhaps three or four times aloud. If there are insights or matters of explanation, conviction or encouragement, talk about them. Read with the express purpose of obeying. If nothing remarkable is said that time, do not be concerned. Just pray for each other and others and conclude. There is no pressure and always benefit by doing this. And anyone can do it. Some of you will be able to do this kind of reading with more than one person or group each week. It does not have to be approved by anyone. Take this on as a ministry of love for others and God. *
*Jim Elliff, Christian Communicator’s Worldwide (https://www.ccwtoday.org), in an online article, “Rebuilding Our Churches with Bible Reading,” dated January 20, 2018.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Church, Part 7

There are no clear references to any particular individual as pastor/elder of any church in the New Testament. There are instructions on qualifications, duties, warnings, and so forth, but no one pastor/elder is specifically singled out for who he was or what he accomplished. Some have argued that the exception was James, the half-brother of Jesus and pastor of the church at Jerusalem. Was he? He is never called a pastor. He was a leader in that church and spoke with authority in the council of Acts 15. His authority was more likely due to his being an apostle (Galatians 1:19, possibly replacing James, the brother of John martyred by Herod in Acts 12).
Paul responded somewhat negatively to the hierarchy of authority in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:6, 9). He does so to show that his ministry is not subject to the Jewish apostles or to any order coming out of the Jewish church. On the contrary, Paul shows that these “leaders” recognized and celebrated the authority of Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles by the grace of God (Galatians 2:7–10).
This information is given to show that the contemporary church has strayed from the New Testament standard, exalting the leadership of individuals. It is true that God calls certain to be leaders, gifting them for ministry to feed and shepherd His people. However, the emphasis is not on their personality but on their example of humble service to the body for Christ. The tendency in the culture is to glorify persons as per the Hollywood entertainment industry. Modern Christianity loves celebrating celebrity pastors, and this practice is wrong.
Jim Elliff gives the following reasons why he believes that no church in the New Testament is notable for its pastor:
1. There were multiple pastors in the local churches making up a team of elders.
2. Others within the body of believers shared in the verbal ministry that was designed to strengthen the believers, though elders were to be skilled in teaching with a main responsibility to shepherd the believers as exemplary designated leaders.
3. The churches were subdivided into homes or apartments (insula) so that no one elder became known for being the church’s primary teacher and leader for the whole.
Elliff followed up by commenting:
These patterns eventually changed, and the churches became more institutionalized so that single leaders became prominent above the others.
As far as I can tell, how the churches today structure their lives together is not mandated in the New Testament though the precedent is well-defined. God has used both. It is up to the churches to determine the way they will proceed. I am explaining the reasons why I believe early New Testament believers didn’t designate their churches by the name of a pastor as we do. (They attend ———’s Church.) *
God has used the pastor-led model for many years; however, that model is fraught with many dangers to both church and pastor. Would not the church be better served by returning to the early church practice of anonymous pastoral servanthood, glorifying Christ and not men?

*Jim Elliff, Christian Communicator’s Worldwide (https://www.ccwtoday.org), Facebook post, August 7, 2018.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Church, Part 6


When I was young, I had the privilege of hearing many “men of God” who were very popular. I confess that I wanted to be like them, however, it did not take long before I realized that I lacked the personality suitable for such notoriety. Also, God graciously allowed me to see that such elevation of personality is both unbiblical and dangerous.
Over the years, I have witnessed several of these powerful men fail morally to some degree. One pastor, seeking to cover himself, knowing that he was about to be exposed, preached in a conference that God would overlook sin in a preacher’s life to the degree that his success in ministry outweighed his failure. There was no Biblical proof-text cited but he used Samson to support the claim.
The Scripture never commands the followers of Jesus to follow anyone who says that he was “called of God” to build his own following. Yes, Paul did admonish the Corinthians to “Be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 10:11). However, Paul qualified the charge, “as I am of Christ.” The Corinthians were to follow Paul only to the degree that he followed Christ. That is the only biblical standard, but, sadly, many are led to believe that the Bible demands that the laity are to yield unquestioning compliance to some just because they are in the clergy. This error is a holdover from the Romanist church and its Judaistic corruption. John warned, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world . . . Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). Because of this fact, the apostle warned them, “Watch yourselves, so that you do not lose what we have worked for but may win a full reward” (v. 8).
Satan’s plan is to destroy the church. Paul warned, “As the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). This occurs when false teachers insist that their followers give unquestioning submission to them, using "proof texts" to support their own agenda (2 Peter 3:16). Micah 3 denounces Israel’s leadership, exposing them for serving only for personal advantage but failing the needs of the people. Sadly, many churches are in the grips of such teachers who use people to their own advantage. Paul warned Timothy, “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
We may learn a great deal from Peter. Jesus called him away from his nets to follow Him and to learn to “catch men” (Luke 5:10). When Jesus queried the disciples about who He was, Peter rightly confessed, “You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:16), to which Jesus responded, “Blessed are you” (v. 17). However, just minutes later, as Jesus revealed God’s plan (v. 21), Peter, who had another agenda, rebuked Him, to which Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan” (v. 23). In the end, Peter, with all his faults, was used of the Lord to feed and guide the sheep as a true servant of Christ (John 21:15–19). True servants simply follow Jesus. 

The Church, part 5


Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Modern church leaders say, “We will build our church.” The modern church is preoccupied with what it can do for Christ. The Bible focuses on what He does through His followers. So, we must each ask, “Am I a Christ-follower, or am I seeking to serve for Him on my terms?”
If Jesus is building His church, what does it look like? What are its characteristics? Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36) but is spiritual in nature and only when He returns does His kingdom come to earth (Revelation 21:1–4). Believers are “called out” of the world and joined in His mystical body, the church (Romans 1:6, 7). This spiritual kingdom is expressed by local congregations on earth as governed by King Jesus seated at the right hand of Majesty. This spiritual kingdom is administrated through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
There are seven defining elements of a New Testament church. (1) The true church is made up of a regenerate membership, partakers of the grace of Christ, forming His body (Galatians 3:28). (2) This invisible body is represented by a local physical organization—e.g., the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). All regenerate persons should be active in such a local church organization to grow in spiritual maturity by hearing the Word preached and obeying it (Acts 2:42–47; 2 Timothy 4:1–4). However, it is possible for one to be a member of such an organization and not be a true believer in Christ (Matthew 7:21–23).
 (3) All truly regenerate church members are separated from the world in fact—saints, sanctified in Christ (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:2) and must thus strive to make it so in practice (Hebrews 12:14). (4) These saints observe the ordinances of Christ (baptism and the Lord’s supper, each of which speaks of Christ’s death and resurrection and the believer’s participation in them). The ordinances consist of Christ in Word and Spirit and are intended to mark death to self in full surrender and obedience to Christ. They are the fruit of faith and are obeyed for neither merit nor approval.
(5) All members are to exercise mutual watch-care over each other in Christian love. Four things characterize this love: exhortation, encouragement, correction, and discipline (Hebrews 10:23–27). Loving is often wrongly perceived as protecting the dignity of others and thus care must be exercised not to offend those who do wrong. What is an offence? Why is telling someone the truth about themselves with the motive of helping their walk with Jesus offensive? The church suffers because there is more concern for preserving feelings than promoting holiness. 
(6) The church is governed by Christ and His Spirit through the gift offices of elders and deacons who provide leadership to the flock as examples and not overlords (Ephesians 4:11–16; 1 Peter 5:2, 3). Finally, (7) The purpose of the assembly is to carry out Christ’s will, to fulfill the great commission in the earth and to glorify Him, watching, praying, and waiting for His return (Matthew 28:16-18).

The Church, Part 4


This process of preparing the church for her eternal state will require much purging. This is a “must be” because His bride will be holy and without blemish before Him (Ephesians 5:27). Jesus purchased her with His own blood (Acts 20:28) in order for her to be like Him. Sadly, the world seems to have too strong a hold on many believers.
Scripture defines “world” as a system of beliefs and practices that opposes God and righteousness (1 John 2:15–17; James 4:4).  Many professed Christians want Jesus and the world too. However, Scripture plainly commands believers: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Elemental spirits are demonic entities that rule the world under Satanic authority. These spirits use deceit to further their agenda.
The goal of demonic deceit is to convince people that the world is spiritually neutral. The lie goes something like this: “True, there is evil in the world, but the world is not evil. One can follow Christ and still enjoy much in the world.” Paul countered this notion: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above . . . not on things that are on earth” (Colossian 3:1, 2). This admonition rests on the fact that “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations” (Colossians 2:20).
What is even more significant is that Paul was defining the deceitful spirits’ efforts against the Colossian believers as Jewish regulations (Colossians 2:16, 17). Paul uses the term philosophy in a specialized sense—Jewish ascetics, corrupted by Babylonian mysticism, promoted doctrines relating to angels (v. 18). These doctrines required observing Jewish practices, which Paul acknowledged but demonstrated to be but shadows of the real substance, Christ. So, how did these Jewish practices become so corrupted? 
In Ezekiel 8, the prophet was taken by an angel to the temple to see something that “provokes to jealously,” “great abominations” committed to drive Yahweh from His sanctuary (vv. 3, 5, 6). Ezekiel saw “the vile abominations that they are committing” (v. 8), every form of idolatrous practice, worshipping the sun, and weeping for Tammuz. Yahweh declared, “Therefore I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare” (v. 18).
The judgment of the captivity did wean Israel from idols; however, the false doctrines of the pagan worship were incorporated into Judaism through demonic influence. These doctrines were prevalent in Jewish practices when Jesus arrived on the scene. His ministry often confronted and rebuked these false practices, such as Sabbath regulations (Matthew 12:1–7).
Will the Lord begin to deal with His professed church in the same manner? In Ezekiel 9, the angel summons the executioners. Before these acted, however, a man with a writing case was commanded to pass through the city and mark all who groaned in lament over these abominations (see Revelation 7:1–4). These were spared His wrath. This purging will be repeated in the church age before Jesus returns.