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 (, 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 (, 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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Church, Part 3

Revelation 19:7 informs us that Christ’s intention is to present His bride to Himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle . . . holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). Such work can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, but what does that work look like?
Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:24–26).
Observe three powerful truths in this statement: (1) Paul was Christ’s instrument for the sake of His body. This service involved suffering, which one can easily determine about Paul from reading Acts and his letters. Nevertheless, Paul rejoiced in his hardships because he recognized that his service was Christ’s means to advance His goals for the church.
(2) Advancing these goals was seen as “filling up” what was “lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” This must not be regarded as an insufficiency in Christ’s cross work; there was nothing lacking in His substitutionary suffering for His own. This lacking refers to what believers understood of their participation—what they would endure until Christ’s return. This was how the church’s claims would be fully vindicated. They would suffer, not to contribute anything to their redemption, but because of it. This transformational process (becoming holy and without blemish) requires this. Sufferings complete what is lacking in the sense that Christ’s body shares His suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5; note also 4:10).
(3) Paul saw himself as a minister (diaconos, a royal servant, an errand boy) with a stewardship to be fulfilled in behalf of the King. To be effective, Paul gave up everything he previously valued (Philippians 3:8–9) so that “I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10, 11). Again, Paul was not worried about his spot in the resurrection. Rather, he understood that suffering like Christ now in His service was the spiritual evidence that he would be raised like Christ at His coming.
Paul informed the church that his suffering and service was God’s means to benefit them. They would understand the glorious mystery of the ages, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). In this way, understanding and evidencing this truth, the church would be presented mature in Christ. That is goal of Christ’s suffering, as noted above. For this goal, Paul states “I toil [laboring to exhaustion] with all his energy that he powerfully works with me” (v. 29). Again, it was not Paul but the Spirit working through him. He did not tell them his experience to brag, but to illustrate what they also would experience, if they truly belonged to Christ.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Church, Part 2

     We are looking at how the New Testament defines what a church is and comparing that with what we find in our church and other churches that exist in our generation. In Part One we focused on Paul’s descriptive in Colossians 1:21–23, which emphasizes the Lord’s purpose to “reconcile to himself all things” (v. 20). God, through Christ, has reconciled a host of alienated sinners into His body, the church (see v. 18) in order to present them holy and blameless before Him. That is what a church is supposed to look like—a body of redeemed rebels, blood-bought, Spirit-filled, and spiritually growing people being sanctified to look like their head and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom they devotedly follow (Romans 8:29, 30).
     The average church in the culture looks nothing like this. Every community has several religious organizations that claim to be Christ’s church. Each asserts to represent exclusively and accurately the truth of Scripture but in his own particular denominational twist. Although, often these churches will suppress the denominational identification, opting for general nondenominational names, such as Triumphant Outreach, Agape Fellowship, Living Waters, or other similar appellations. They are, however, corporate entities (businesses) organized with officers, by-laws, and objectives and will do whatever is expedient to promote growth and revenue. These entities are, in turn, measured by humanistic standards such as attendance size, popularity of the pastoral staff and programs, and the nature and size of buildings and property. Indeed, most people identify a church with a location and building.
     The only eyes with which the church is to be occupied belong to the One described in Revelation as having eyes “like a flame of fire” in a face “like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:14, 16). He is “the first and the last, the living one” (v. 17; see Isaiah 41:4). He has the keys of Death and Hell (v. 18). It must never matter what any man thinks of a particular congregation, but only what the Sovereign One thinks.
     It is significant to notice that John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:7, 20), “fell at His feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17) when He saw His Lord in this glorious vision. Is it not ironic that most church members presume that Jesus is only lovingly tolerant and indulgent with them when it comes to their distracted and half-hearted devotion and service to Him? Such people cannot endure the truth and will hop from one congregation to another in an effort to satisfy their egos with self-gratifying entertainment posing as worship.
     Before the Lord returns for His bride, Revelation 19:7 declares that “His bride has made herself ready.” If Jesus is to present His church to Himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle . . . holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27), His bride needs some radical alterations.  It is time for those whom the Lord has reconciled to Himself to pursue this course of preparation through holiness and godliness by separating from the world, uniting in loving and singular devotion to Christ, obediently serving Him as a true people of God, and shining forth as His lights in the world.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Church, Part 1

Most people identify a church with a location and building. How does the Bible identify a church? Read Colossians 1:21–23 and carefully notice who Paul is addressing: “And you” (pronoun second person plural) refers to the collective—the believers in Colossae, the church, a particular congregation (ecclesia, an assembly), not individuals and not a building. This collective is identified by the former, present, and future condition of its members. They “once were alienated [from God] and hostile in mind [toward the things of God], doing evil deeds [in disobedience to God](v. 21). However, through the gospel, these are “now reconciled in [Christ’s] body of flesh [the church] by his death.” (Note 1:20 where Paul states that Christ is to reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of His cross.) His goal is to present the church “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22; Ephesians 5:26, 27). However, there is a condition: “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23). Is this a warning to individual believers? That would be a mistake, for it is a church thing. Here is where one must focus if he is to understand the current church problem.
If Christ saves a person, it is forever (John 10:27–30). He cannot fall away. Churches, however, can fall away, as evidenced in Revelation 2 and 3. Congregations can be overrun by false believers, deceived through false doctrine, and infiltrated by false teachers. This has been the problem since the church began. For example, Paul admonished the elders from Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28–32).
The church is compared to a flock needing care and protection, not a corporation that uses people in order to prosper. The church is a collective of redeemed and reconciled people struggling against sin and rebellion in the slow and painful process of sanctification. The church is a body of people sharing the same burdens in their joint pursuit of holiness. The church is an army of spiritual warriors standing shoulder to shoulder against principalities and powers, striving together and persevering in prayer. The church’s condition depends on God and His grace, not human programs and means. Read again Colossians 1:21–23 and study this passage and learn to think of the church in biblical terms.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Exhortations Reveal, Not Convince

The exhortations in Scripture are often misunderstood by casual Bible readers. Yes, they are God’s means to guide His people into holiness, but they are often seen as hopeful but vain attempts to convince the reluctant to obedience. Things could be wonderful if only more people would be convinced to heed His counsel and do what He wants them to do.
There is a notion that the church either succeeds or fails as people are convinced to cooperate. However, when the culture becomes worldly, doing “church” can be difficult if not impossible. “If only Christians could be coaxed to pray for revival, then the church would thrive.” People tend to see God like themselves, wringing His hands in frustration and disappointment at the lack of interest in His program. It would appear that the church’s strategy needs some tweaking. A 2013 statistic reveals that 80% of Americans find more fulfilling ways to spend their weekends than attending church. It is probably worse in 2018.
Scripture, however, paints a totally different picture of God’s kingdom-building program for this age. God does not try anything. He is sovereign over all things. “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isaiah 45:23). “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. . . . I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it’” (Isaiah 46:9–11).
Jesus affirmed that He would build His assembly (Matthew 16:18). Acts 2:47 states, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” In Ephesians 1 Paul extols “the immeasurable greatness of His power . . . [when] according to the working of His great might . . . He put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (vv.19–23). In other words, His church is exactly what He wants it to be. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
God’s work in the church will progress “until all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). His will is unfolding exactly as He planned through the “grace given to each one according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
Nevertheless, many have attached themselves to the church who have not received the grace of salvation. As a result, they can be a problem. Paul warned Timothy of those who “will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Therefore, exhortations not only prod the saints to obedience; they reveal the disobedient.

The Last Enemy

Paul addresses a concern in the Corinthian church regarding some who taught that there is no resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). If these people were right, then Christ must still be dead. If that is the case, Christian preaching is false and foolish; Christian faith is nonsense; Christian doctrine misrepresents God; and, worst of all, there is no salvation—no hope of eternal life (I Corinthians 15:13–19).
The deniers were the ones in error as Paul proved in the first eleven verses of chapter fifteen. Christ did indeed rise from the dead as confirmed by irrefutable testimony. On that fact Paul drills down on the hope that this truth brings to those in Christ. Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, the beginning of the greater harvest to follow. In other words, because Christ was raised from the dead, having borne the penalty of His people’s sin, they too, must be raised from the dead because they are no longer under the curse of sin (Romans 6:23).
All for whom Christ died will be raised just as He was raised. That is Paul’s argument in verses 21 and 22. The first man, Adam, was the representative head of the human race. Because he sinned, all his posterity sinned in him. Like Adam, all in him incur sin’s penalty, death. In the same way, all in Christ will benefit from Christ’s obedience and will pass from death to life. They will, like Christ, be raised from the dead to eternal life.
So, when will this resurrection take place? In the following verses (23–28), Paul lays out a simple and profound map of the end of time. Christ, as firstfruits, was raised in the first century of the “last days” with the promise that He would return to earth again (John 14:3). Paul confirms this by showing that all who belong to Him will be raised at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23). In four words (v. 24), Paul literally destroys most of the popular and sensational teachings about end times: “Then comes the end” (v. 24). The end is when Christ delivers the kingdom to God.
Christ defeated the devil at the cross and took back the kingdom Satan usurped from Adam. Christ rose from dead and ascended to the right hand of God where He is to reign until all God’s enemies are conquered (Psalm 110:1, 2). Paul clearly references these verses from Psalm 110 as his proof of argument (vv. 24, 25). When all the enemies are subdued, the King gives the kingdom back to God.
 Finally, the nail in the coffin is verse 26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus will raise all the dead for judgment (John 5:28, 29; note also Daniel 12:1–4). This means that Christ’s ruling and the conquering of all his enemies must take place before His return and the resurrection of His own. This simple teaching eliminates any future “millennial” kingdom on earth in which people will die, if death has been destroyed. Neither can this kingdom end with the battle of Armageddon if the last enemy is no more.  

What Is Wrong with the Church?

I recently read an article entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.”* The piece debunked an article by Ed Stetzer (Christianity Today) contending that the church in America is not dying, just transitioning. Steve McSwain countered by citing the Hartford Institute of Religion Research that more than 40% of Americans “say” they go to church weekly, but less than 20% actually do. “In other words,” says author McSwain, “more than 80% of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends.” To him, the church in America is dying and he has the evidence to prove it.
I contend biblically that the church is not dying. No, the true church is doing just fine. Indeed, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
One might disagree and turn to Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia minor recorded in Revelation (2 and 3). Ephesus lost her first love. Pergamum tolerated false teachers. Thyatira suffered a professed prophetess, Jezebel, to seduce Christ’s servants to commit terrible sins. Sardis pretended life, but her works were incomplete. Self-deceived Laodicea shut out Jesus in her supposed prosperity. Only suffering Smyrna and obedient Philadelphia escape the Lord’s the stinging rebukes.
The issue here, however, is not apostasy but sanctification. Every true church is made up of imperfect believers who are on the path of sanctification, becoming progressively more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).  Each church is admonished, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). True believers have ears to hear, the Spirit speaks to them through His word so that they will overcome, persevere, and conquer (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Nevertheless, Satan has infiltrated the churches with false believers, and there lies the problem.
There will be a great apostasy ending the new covenant era, involving those who refused the truth and take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:3). These will be deceived and perish (2:9–12). On the other hand, the true but confused saints in Thessalonica were reminded that they were chosen to salvation and sanctified through the spirit for belief in the truth (2:13). These were called through the gospel to obtain the glory of the Lord (v. 14). Understanding this, they should “stand firm and hold to the traditions” taught them (v. 15).
The victorious and conquering church is not always evident because of the overwhelming number of false believers who obscure, suppress, and discourage the saints. The hope of true saints is God, for whom they are to do good (1 Timothy 6:17–19). They “put on” “as God’s chosen ones” “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” forgiving offenses, and holding to “love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12–17).
The encouragement of the true church rests in Jesus’ work to “put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). This work will appear to the uninformed observer that the church is failing. For example, in 2013, 7000 churches closed up permanently. However, that is actually good news. Let the true church shine forth!
* The Blog (, updated January 23, 2014.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Great Evil

Isaiah 14:12–14 records the five “I wills” of Satan. Ezekiel also records the same prideful spirit as the power behind the king of Babylon. Satan is driven by prideful ambition, the same ambition he works in “the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1).
The great evil of human existence is pride—the self-deception that one can rightly trust himself (Proverbs 8:13). God says that He hates evil, which is identified in the proverb as pride. Pride drives a person to destructive living and speaking. The Hebrew for perverse or froward means “habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition.” Eve sinned in Eden when Satan deceived her into believing God was dishonest, keeping something good from her. She was convinced she deserved this power to choose for herself and would have it if she just disobeyed God’s prohibition. Adam, however, was not deceived but knowingly followed Eve in her experiment. Pride now controlled their hearts and would be genetically passed to all their offspring (Romans 5:12). Of the seven things God hates, a proud look—the exalting of oneself—heads the list (Proverbs 6:16–19; Psalm 18:27).
God’s remedy for pride is humbling (Isaiah 2:11, 17; Zephaniah 3:8–13). God charged His remnant in Zephaniah 8 to “wait for me (for salvation) in the day I pour out my indignation and remove the proudly exultant ones” (paraphrasing vv. 8 and 11). The same catastrophic judgment that destroys the proud saves the “humble and lowly” (v. 12; James 4:10).
Pride is deceptive, often lurking in a believer’s expectations of God. There is a very pervasive but false doctrine that God is just waiting to bless and reward people with greatness and prosperity if only they will believe that He will. Someone may greatly desire something, praying long and hard. He expects that God will grant his request simply because the one praying wants it? When the request is not realized, the expectant believer becomes discouraged, discontented, and perhaps angry, frustrated, and filled with doubt. That is a reaction of pride. The truth is that God is not there to reward our ambitions or to fulfill all our dreams and desires. 
True faith believes what God says in His Word, acting in obedience to God’s will, not the believer’s. In Gethsemane, Jesus asked God to remove the cup of suffering. However, He humbly submitted to God’s will and trusted God’s purpose. God did not remove the cup, but “saved” Him through His suffering, raising and exalting Him and, thereby, “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
Humble saints wait on the Lord. They know that He is working all things for their good and His glory. While they do have desires and seek His face in prayer for these, they also submit to His will and rejoice in His goodness, even when their request is denied.
Jim Elliff of Christian Communicators Worldwide recently posted about what God wants of us: “to always know how much we need Him, and to always be amazed at Him.” How simply and profoundly does this describe a truly humble believer who has died to himself to live in Christ (Colossians 3:3).

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Day of the Lord

There is a coming day of God’s final judgment on earth referred to as the “day of the Lord.” Its “first mention” is Isaiah 13:6: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!” (See also Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:15; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 14.)
There have been a series of “days of the Lord” in history, such as the flood of Noah. Peter reminds nay-sayers denying Christ’s coming that they should remember the flood (2 Peter 3:3–10). The Jews experienced two days of the Lord: the first was the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (587 b.c.), and the second was the Roman destruction of the city (a.d. 70). All these were, as Peter shows, precursors for the grand and final day (2 Peter 3:10).
The Revelation introduces the seven-sealed scroll, which is the title deed to the earth over which He has been exalted to rule (Revelation 5:12–14). Jesus declared that God had given all judgment over to Him (John 5:22, 27). Thus, the Lamb is given the scroll, and opening the seals commences that “day.” Upon opening the sixth seal, the elite, both rich and poor alike, flee to caves and dens in the mountains, “calling” for them to hide them from God and the Lamb, “for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand” (Revelation 6:17).
The seventh seal is that day of wrath, but the first five seals precede and prepare the earth. Seals one through four describe the fall of the globalist world-system under the image of the four horsemen bringing in the apocalypse (Revelation 6:1–8). The rider on the white horse is generally viewed as the coming “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4) or antichrist. It is my opinion that the rider is Jesus Christ Himself, metaphorically conquering the kingdom of Satan and building His earthly kingdom through the gospel (compare Revelation 19:11–16). The other three horses and their riders describe the New World Order satanic cabal that is ruling the world, responding to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. The fifth seal reveals the martyrs of Jesus “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (6:9). They prayed that the Sovereign Lord would avenge their blood (v. 10). The answer to their prayer is the sixth seal, threatening the wrath of the Lamb. Christ returns to judge the earth in the day of the Lord, described by the seventh seal (8:1–5).
    A secret cabal rules the earth through the power of Satan, hiding behind duly constituted governments. They often reveal their plans in coded messages through music, movies, games, symbols, and other means that few even notice, much less understand. The horsemen of the apocalypse mimic globalist tactics to subdue nations and keep them in tow, showing that God is aware. They use wars, conflicts, famines, and pestilence, from which they profit greatly while remaining isolated from the just retribution they deserve. God is keeping account, and the day of the Lord is coming soon!

Keeping and Holding

In Revelation 12 the dragon, Satan, is powerless against the woman because she is protected by Almighty God. The woman is God’s covenant community, identified in this age as Jesus’ covenant assembly, the church (Matthew 16:18). In that reference, Jesus declared that the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the advance of His church. That advance involves the rest of her offspring (v. 17), individual believers living on earth engaging the enemy. They are soldiers on the frontlines of this eternal conflict. This means that they are us—right here, right now.
Specifically, note how these soldier/saints are identified. The Lord will not put His troops on the frontline ill-equipped and unprepared. That would be foolish. So, His ideal and necessary preparation of these servants to engage in this spiritual conflict is enabling their obedience to His orders. Thus, they are described here as keeping the commandments of God—obedient to the Word and the Spirit. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me” (John 14:21). Tell me, what does the army do with soldiers who won’t obey orders?
Second, they hold the testimony of Jesus. What is it to hold the testimony of Jesus? The Greek word here for testimony is the one from which we get the word martyr. A martyr is a witness, one who gives a true testimony, no matter what it costs him. Jesus gave orders to the faithful church at Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Why? A faithful witness to Jesus is more important that self-preservation. Every true child of God is a first-hand witness to the truth of Jesus and His great work of salvation. They hold this truth faithfully, keeping it close, and proclaiming it widely, letting the Lord deal with the consequences.
More importantly, this is the testimony of Jesus—it is Jesus’ own testimony. It is not our testimony about Jesus. It is not about what we do or believe; it is about Jesus. The whole hope of eternal life rests on Christ and His work on our behalf—what He has done, is doing, and will do, not only saving us from our sin and its penalty but saving us from ourselves (Romans 6:10, 11). Soldiers must let go of their own self-interests to serve the king rightly (2 Timothy 2:4). Tell me, what does the army do with soldiers who are so self-involved that they can’t work together against the enemy?
Jesus’s testimony is that He came to do the Father’s will and to finish His work (John 4:34). He promised His followers that they will also have His life in them so that they, too, will do His will and accomplish His work (John 14:12, 13).  Let me ask you again: what does the army do with disobedient soldiers who get so distracted with their own pursuits that they fail to engage the enemy? Are you doing the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21)?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Introducing the Problem (Jude 4)

Jude was compelled to warn his readers of the enemy’s attempt to neutralize the church from within by inserting false believers into the congregation. The very nature of the Christian faith demands that believers extend loving and welcoming gestures toward all sinners, following the example of Christ (Mark 2:15–17). Such a desire to reach people with the gospel and bring them to Christ, however, has a great negative aspect—failure to determine carefully the sincerity of those showing interest. Sadly, some “interested” people have wicked designs to harm the body of Christ. This is why Jude writes his epistle and does so with such intensity.
It is without question that many churches in this modern age have long ago become utterly devoid of spiritual power. In the words of the Puritan, Thomas Manton, “We think to fill the church, but we do but fill the house with thieves: wicked men ever prove a trouble.” These “thieves” are robbing the church of its spiritual power and kingdom influence in the community. This tragedy has occurred because the church in its zeal to increase numbers has abandoned careful examination of inquirers. Then, in order to keep them, the church no longer practices discipline (Titus 1:7, 8). Paul warned, “a little leaven leavens the whole” (Galatians 5:9).
Scripture points us to what a true church looks like in this respect. In Acts 5 a couple, following the example of Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 37), sold a parcel of land and gave the proceeds to the church. Their motive, apparently, was to get the recognition showered on Barnabas for his godliness. Tragically, Ananias and Sapphira were not doing what they did in obedience to Christ. Their spiritual poverty was apparent because greed tempted them to lie to the church and retain a portion for their own use. The land was theirs. They did not need to sell it nor did they need to give the money at all. Their whole design was to appear falsely as spiritual people in order to impress the church.
Because the church was spiritually vital, the Spirit of God was free to work mightily. Ananias and his wife were quickly exposed and suffered punishment from God. The bottom line is found in verses 13 and 14: “None of the rest [those like Ananias] dared join them, but the people held them [the true spiritual leadership] in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
The question we must ask is why God allowed these ungodly people to operate within the body? Jude plainly states that “they were before ordained to this condemnation.” They crept in unnoticed by the church but not unnoticed by God. They were His agents to provoke watchfulness in the body, a watchfulness attended by earnest prayer and careful observation. Christ commended the Ephesian saints for “testing those who call themselves apostles and are not” (Revelation 2:2). On the other hand, Thyatira is called out because the church “tolerate[d] that woman, Jezebel” teaching “the deep things of Satan” (Revelation 2:20, 24). Jude is earnest that his readers also be watchful, “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20; see Mark 14:38).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Necessity (Jude 3, 4)

Having greeted and blessed his readers, Jude proceeded to state the purpose of his epistle. We noted last week that Jude was very eager to share with the saints the blessings of their common salvation. However, a far more urgent need forced his pen in another direction.
We are in a raging spiritual war and we hardly notice. If guns were blazing and bombs exploding all around us, we would be taking decisive action. A spiritual war is unseen and unfelt but just as real and deadly. In Satan’s futile effort to prevent God’s repair of sin’s devastating effects on creation and His progress in retaking the kingdom he usurped, he has launched an all-out assault on the instruments, the home and the church, God has chosen to accomplish this plan. The enemy believes that he can stop God’s plan if he infiltrates the church and destroys its effectiveness. God is sovereign, and although Satan may do much damage, he is already defeated. He is cunning and powerful, which makes him very dangerous, nonetheless.
Jude’s epistle is aimed at awakening the churches to Satan’s crafty schemes against them. The key verse of this small book is verse 3, particularly the exhortation “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Three very important things stand out: (1) the need for the appeal, (2) the action appealed, and (3) the importance of the action. The issue prompting this call to action is found in verse four: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed . . . ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The enemy has infiltrated the church with false teachers and false believers; therefore, the saints need to be aware of his methods and discerning of his doctrines. It is far more important to defend the faith than to celebrate it. Failure to contend has left modern evangelical Christianity almost unrecognizable compared to the early church. It is as Paul warned that in the final hour there would be a great departure from the faith (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1–5). Judas betrayed Jesus; false professors betray His body, the church. That is why the Bible warns us, Jesus prays for us (John 17:11, 12, 15; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and God guards us (1 Peter 1:5), but we also must be prepared to withstand in the evil day (Ephesians 6:10–18).
Jude urges his readers to earnestly contend for the faith (from epi and agonidzomai). The saints are to fight with great savagery to maintain the purity of truth. Such action calls for the saints to devote themselves wholly to this project. It must not be left to others to undertake. Every believer must set himself to watch (1 Corinthians 10:12; Ephesians 5:15; Hebrews 3:12), pray (Romans 15:30), and fight (Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:12). This faith, this truth concerning salvation, has been delivered to us once and for all time. It is a great treasure that has been entrusted to us. We have a great responsibility (2 Timothy 1:13, 14).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Our Common Salvation (Jude 3)

After the initial greeting (vv. 1, 2), Jude proceeds to preface the occasion of his epistle (v. 3). He first expresses his original desire to speak of their common salvation. Three things should grab our attention. First, Jude addresses his intention to those he labeled as beloved. We must not pass this off as scenery that comes with the territory, missing its significance. The term reflects the very ground of our common salvation, resting in Christ’s “new” commandment that we love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). We are to be operating by this core principle because all believers are united in the same body under the one head, Jesus Christ.
The brotherhood of Christ has far greater implications than that of mere family. Siblings share a mutually unifying principle, the same mother, and thus belong to one family. However, as we all have seen, siblings can be divided in their interests and affections. Believers, on the other hand, have a far more intimate relationship, being members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4–6). Dysfunctionality in one’s family can be painful but nothing like a disruption in one’s own body (1 Corinthians 12:26; see Ephesians 5:28–30). Another consideration is that in the family, children are expected to honor parents by respect and obedience (Ephesians 6:1–4). Children do not always do that, but in the body, all members are wholly subject to the will of the head (Mark 3:35; Romans 12:2).
Second, Jude demonstrates the attitude that we are to have in pursuing care of the body. He writes, “I was very eager to write to you.” The AV has, “I gave all diligence.” This term speaks of earnestness in pursuing a common interest, of doing so sacrificially to promote the common good (2 Corinthians 12:15). This attitude implies seeking out every opportunity and all means to do whatever is good for those in the body, promoting its welfare at all costs. Peter urged the elders to exercise oversight with a “ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2), which the ESV translates as eagerly (note also 1 Corinthians 9:16, 17). The importance of this carefulness and earnestness is aggravated both by the evil of our times and the lateness of the hour (Ephesians 5:16).
Third, Jude’s heart or priority was the common salvation. So, what was this “common salvation”? It consisted of the shared experience of the one body in Christ, as previously addressed. Peter referred to it as “like precious faith” or “faith of equal standing” (2 Peter 1:1). All who are saved by Christ are united in the communion of faith, the fellowship of the saints in light (1 John 1:7). Further, Jude’s concern was for those in the same body but in a distant location, so he wrote to these about this glorious faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” A true believer cannot get enough of this wonderful news. He cannot hear enough, study enough, or converse enough about this common salvation. It captivates his attention, thrills his heart, engages his mind, and overwhelms his emotions because it is superior to everything else.