Friday, November 9, 2018

The Church, Part 10a


“Now concerning spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:1), begins Paul’s discussion of the use and misuse of the gifts. This discussion will continue for three chapters. The Greek translated spiritual gifts is a single plural adjective, pneumatikos (spirituals), which is, in itself, ambiguous. It is if Paul interrupted himself but picks up in verse 4 where he introduces the noun, gifts (see Romans 1:11). Thus, Paul relates spirituals with gifts (charisma). Gifting is God’s grace in operation. The first and greatest gift is salvation (Romans 3:23). His many gifts after salvation are designed to bring His own to full maturity in Christ through their service to Him in establishing the church.
The brief detour that Paul takes in verses 2 and 3 is essential, however, to the whole argument. The Gentile believers to whom he writes must realize what they were when Christ saved them—pagans, led astray to mute idols. They formerly rejected natural revelation about the true God, leading them to devotion to false gods (Romans 1:21–23). They were now being redirected through the work of the Spirit to worship the God who speaks. The grace-gifts enabled and benefited this change.
Note that in verses 4 through 6, each of the persons of the Godhead are referenced—the Spirit, the Son (Lord), and the Father (God). The gifts are administered by the Spirit (v. 4) for the purpose of serving the Lord Christ (v. 5) as authorized and enabled by the almighty Father (v. 6). Paul was emphasizing the essential unity of the Godhead, a unity that must also characterize the body. Note verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (sumphoros, ‘to bear or bring together”). This is followed by a listing of the gifts as variously distributed among the saints for the purpose of unity. Paul concludes the section: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 11).
With the past emphasis placed on the primacy of tongues in charismatic teachings concerning one’s relationship to the Holy Spirit, the question must be, how much weight was Paul giving to tongues in light of the Scriptural facts cited above? Observe, first, tongues are most often valued as a personal benefit of the seeker; whereas Paul stresses the gifts’ importance for the unity of the body.
Second, not everyone in the body had all the gifts or even certain ones considered most valuable (see v. 30). For instance, “tongues” had a low ranking of priority. Rather, the listing shows that each particular gift was to be used in concert with other gifts for the mutual benefit of the whole church.
   Third, a believer does not choose what gift he will exercise. That choice is left solely to the Spirit (v. 11). The discussion following verse 11 of the church as a body with its various members supports these observations. Apparently, speaking with tongues was an issue in Corinth because Paul concludes by asking, “Do all speak with tongues?” (v. 30). He adds, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (v. 31).

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Church, Part 9, Conclusion


The church has been the subject of vicious and relentless attack since its beginning. Every New Testament book was written to correct some error seeking to corrupt the doctrine and practice of the church.  On the surface, it appears that many of these efforts were successful to some degree. One need only read Revelation 2 and 3 to see how quickly and significantly the churches had fallen into disgrace.
Theologically and positionally correct, Ephesus had abandoned her first love, which I take to mean that love for Christ and others was no longer evident as the identifying, motivating or driving force for her existence. Smyrna was plagued by an unwarranted fear that would endanger her perseverance in her imminent testing in the crucible of Satanic tribulation.
Pergamum was corrupted with the teaching of Balaam (“not of the people”) leading to compromise with pagan idolatrous practices. This influence was perpetrated by Nicolaitans (nike and laity, “victor over the people”), a pre-gnostic sect that developed the priest-class, greedy for power and money, superior to and dominating the people—the laity (Jude 11). This is evident today in Romanism.
Thyatira had fallen to an evil feminist, Jezebel, a professed prophetess who influenced Christ’s servants to compromise with sexual immorality and idolatry. Sardis was simply spiritually dead because her works incomplete. Laodicea was gripped by prideful self-sufficiency leaving her lukewarm in her devotion to Christ. Only Philadelphia is recorded without rebuke.
Nevertheless, in these churches were some who did not “hold this teaching” and who “have not soiled their garments.” These were exhorted to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” It is these who would conquer and overcome and be rewarded—showered with honor and blessing.
Every negative aspect of these churches can be found in every generation since the churches were founded by Jesus. This includes modern Christianity. As long as Christ’s churches are on earth, they will have these problems. The newly formed churches in Acts were admonished to persevere in the faith because it is “though many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). That admonition stands. “Evil men and seducers shall increase more and more, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). If these threats are overcome victoriously, we prove that “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37); and “If we endure [stay the course], we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
True believers are those who persevere and endure every attack from without or within the churches (Acts 20:29, 30). The mark of a genuine church is perseverance because every true believer that makes up the church is an overcomer. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Church, Part 9, Continued


We pick up where we left off.
There is a wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic” (James 3:14). This is the wisdom of “the wise,” that is, those who think that they are wise. It is this wisdom that God intends to thwart and destroy (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19). He frustrates this wisdom with what these worldly-wise regard as foolish. For example, take the victory that God gave to Israel over the Midianites under Gideon (Judges 6). First, God chose a man, Gideon, who was somewhat doubtful and unbelieving (Judges 6:13) and fearful and cowardly (vv. 15, 27), which is shown in the fleece incident (vv. 36–40) and the hesitancy at the battlefront (7:9–14).
Second, God reduced Israel’s fighting force to a mere 300 men facing an enemy that numbered in the thousands (7:2–9). The reason for this is that God did not want Israel to boast and take credit for the victory (v. 2). The victory over Midian in the power of God was never in doubt, but it appeared to violate all normal expectations of the worldly wise.
Suffering is a similar situation and is important to divine victory. The many biblical references to suffering are largely ignored in western culture because suffering is wrongly equated with weakness. Facing death in a Roman prison, Paul’s final letter to Timothy speaks of the end of his labors, the hope of eternal glory. The path to this glory involved his selflessly enduring suffering for the sake of others (2 Timothy 2:10). He supports this with a hymn that includes “if we endure [hupomeno, to suffer patiently], we will also reign with him.”  What appears as defeat is actually the path to victory for Spirit-guided believers pressing forward in the will of God (1 Corinthians 15:57).
This is illustrated by Jesus’ death, which was carried out under the violent rage of wicked people and rulers against the Lord and His Anointed (Psalm 2:1, 2). However, Christ’s death was a predetermined plan to victory (Isaiah 53:10; Acts 2:30–36; 4:25–28). In their worldly wisdom, wicked men sought to stop Jesus because He threatened their power. As He hung there for several hours, He literally quoted Psalm 22:1 (Matthew 27:46). This Psalm includes “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me” (Psalm 22:12). Although, not specifically quoted, Matthew does record the battalion of Roman soldiers present (v. 27). They were the bulls of Bashan through whom the demonic forces worked, thinking that they were winning the conflict. What they viewed as Christ’s defeat was actually His triumph. As Paul explains, A secret and hidden wisdom of God [is what] God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:7, 8).
To apply this wisdom to the church, understand that when the enemy attacks the church to defeat them with deception, distraction, or opposition, the true churches are already victorious. If the enemy understood this, they would stop what they were doing.

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.