Friday, February 28, 2014

The Gospel is Good News Only to Sinners

2Co 4:1  Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  2Co 4:2  But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.  2Co 4:3  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  2Co 4:4  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  2Co 4:5  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

It is pretty apparent that when Paul and the other Apostles approached someone with the gospel that they did so by openly telling them that they were sinners under the judgment of God and that their only hope was in Christ.  Their conversation and timing varied but eventually they got to the main point.  Paul says in the above verses that even though often he was rejected out of hand and even mistreated he did not lose heart in evangelism because the gospel’s success is in the sovereign work of the Lord.  If people rejected the gospel it was because they were in darkness and it was only if the Lord opened their heart that they were going to believe anyway.

In verse 2 he is contrasting the way many pagan religions work with the way the gospel works.  They use trickery and mysticism to gain followers but he didn’t have to since the truth of the gospel is the power by which sinners are converted.  God either gave success or he didn’t but Paul didn’t have to manipulate people to come to God for salvation.  In fact, to do so only worked to keep them in darkness because only the Truth can set us free.

My point in all this is that there is a troubling trend among even otherwise doctrinally sound people today to try and gain respect with the lost in order to win them to Christ.  I am not speaking of trying to be likeable and loving to the lost but in trying to not do anything that offends the world in order to win the world.  It is to compromise truth so as not to offend and it ends up as being underhanded in trying to get people into the church and to come to Christ.

It is seen in the way that many are approaching the issues of homosexuality today.  They tell us that we shouldn’t be against it or make a big deal over it.  I read where one pastor said that it isn’t important what position you take on the issue.  They say if we continue to condemn this behavior we drive people away.  Some point out that churches are driving away their young people by taking a stance against homosexuality because we have already lost the issue with the under 30 age.  But there are some big problems with such thinking by Christians.

Can you image the early church in Rome evangelizing by telling their neighbors that it is ok for them to continue having their orgies and drunken parties; it is okay to continue sacrificing to their idols; God loves you anyway and just come to Christ, he will save you whether you repent from your sin or not?  If our young people or anyone else for that matter don’t think we should make sin an issue then they aren’t part of the church anyway.  The problem is that our culture has been making it a habit of redefining what is sin for some time now and the church has not been making much of a fuss and now that we finally do with homosexuality the world rightly calls us on our hypocrisy.  We have allowed members to commit adultery and divorce for any reason and have pretty much ignored church discipline and when we take a stand the world wonders why we look at sexual perversity differently all of the sudden.

We need to remember what the Lord said about how the world hated him and it will hate us.  We are looking for the sheep; those that the Lord is going to regenerate and bring into the kingdom.  They are among the goats and our duty is to proclaim Christ and his sheep will hear his voice and come out from the flock of goats and into Christ’s flock.  We are not told to try and win the respect of the goats because they aren’t going to be saved anyway. 

Yes, I know that we don’t know who the sheep or the elect are but I am saying that we find them by preaching the gospel which says that the only way to get right with God is by repentance of sin and faith in Christ.  If we start trying to gain the respect of the world by going along with their definition of sin we lose any reason to preach the gospel of repentance.  Homosexuality is just the latest of a long list of sins that the world refuses to acknowledge as displeasing to God; of course, they deny God as well; at least the God of the Bible.  It isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time the world refuses to admit their sin. 

John the Baptist was beheaded because he told Herod that his divorce was sin and Jesus had nothing but good to say about John and his ministry.  What Herod needed was a reason to believe in Christ and if you don’t show him his sin what reason did he have.  Yet today many are telling us that Christians are narrow and bigoted when we do the same thing.  It is disturbing when people who claim to love the Lord immediate bow to the PC police in these matters because all we do is compromise the very gospel itself.  We need to be less concerned with attracting goats and start looking for sheep and they are attracted by truth, not compromise.  

Perhaps Romans 1:16 is so familiar to us that we forget what Paul is getting at, Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  Friendship and compromise has never gotten the job done; only being honest with people by proclaiming the truth of the gospel, both repentance from sin and faith in Christ, will the Holy Spirit bring one into the kingdom of God.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Serving the Lord With Gladness

Neh 8:8, They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading…

Neh 8:17  And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.

As we read through the last part of Nehemiah we notice certain things.  Ezra read the Word of God to the people and explained it.  This had a profound effect on the people so that they repented of having not obeyed the Lord as they should have and made efforts to change their ways. 

It is vs. 17 especially that I want to think about for a moment.  The point here is not that they hadn’t kept the Feast of Booths at all from the time of Joshua until now.  At least a couple of times we read of them keeping it during this time.  I think in this context the point is that they were keeping it outwardly yet not keeping it as the Lord demanded of them which was from the heart.  When the commands to keep feasts and other observances were given the Lord tells the people over and over again that they are to rejoice as they keep the laws and feasts.  When he gives the law concerning this Feast of Booths the Lord specifically says you are to rejoice the entire time while you do this, Lev 23:40  And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.

In other words this wasn’t just some religious rite they were to keep to show that they would merely obey the Lord.  Such a view of religion suggests that the Lord just likes to watch us scurry around doing things.  What he was after was for them to remember that he was the One who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt and it was to make them glad.  We see another example of this in Isa_58:13  "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly.”  The Lord was never content for Israel or anyone to obey him merely because he tells us to.  He want us to understand who he is and what he has done for us and why his commands are given and delight in him and be thankful for mercy and grace; to worship and serve him because it is our desire to do so. 

For generations the Jews had mostly observed the Law because that is what was expected of them but they had lost the meaning of the Law.  It taught them of God and especially how he was going to save them.  So when Ezra had the Word read to the people and had the Levites give the meaning or the sense to the people revival broke out because now they began to realize what all these “activities” really meant.  Now there was great rejoicing in the Lord, something that had been missing for the most part during Israel’s history which was why they were in this situation to begin with.

Going through the motions without understanding why can many times describe us.  We have lost the joy of the Lord because we have forgotten the pit he lifted us out of; we have ceased to live in light of the gospel and have become religious.  And in so doing we cease to honor the Lord as we should and we cease to be a pleasing aroma to him.  If we don’t know why we go to church and sing and pray and study and just think that God wants us to so we do them to please him; we actually have ceased pleasing him.  Go through the Psalms and read how many times David speaks of delighting in the Law.  And if they could delight in the Old Covenant, how much more should we be able to rejoice in the finished work of Jesus Christ?

I think this will solve or at least help us in the problem areas of life as well.  When we act and live without a good sense of why, without a good understanding, whether it be in our marriages, raising our children and our relationships it can become a drudgery and unfulfilling because we have forgotten why all these things are important.  When we forget to serve the Lord in everything, a marriage can stop being a delight and become daily routine, drudgery and unfulfilling.  Only as the gospel permeates every aspect of our being can we honor the Lord as we should.

So to connect this in Nehemiah chapter 8: it wasn’t until they had heard the Word and had a firm grasp of its meaning that they were able to serve the Lord with accuracy and gladness and actually please him.  Service and the understanding of God’s Word cannot be separated.  Worship and service isn’t just singing a lot of praise songs, lifting up our hands or whatever.  It arises from understanding Truth.  From such understanding comes a firm sense of why we are doing what we do and with meaning comes purpose and with these comes joy. 

Why do so many battle depression and meaninglessness?  Because they are told from the cradle that there is no purpose to life beyond pleasure.  Meaning begins with the Truth of God’s Word.  Without Truth there can be no faith and without faith we cannot please God.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Are We a Weak or a Strong Christian?

1Co 8:1  Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." This "knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. 1Co 8:2  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 1Co 8:3  But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

I have just finished studying through 1 Cor. 8 and went through Rom. 14 some time ago.  In both of these chapters Paul deals with Christian liberty but in both chapters he is quite clear that what we can and cannot do as Christians is not the most important factor when it comes to Christian liberty.  I think it is easy to miss something important in all this because Paul uses the terms weak and strong when referring to saints.  Now as I go back through these passages I notice that he uses weak much more than strong.  In fact I believe he only uses the term strong once in Rom. 15:1.  I wonder if he does this because we are much more prone to see ourselves as the strong rather than the weak.

But I want to make some comments on how we can determine whether we are weak or strong.  I think it is good for us to differentiate between weak and strong as Paul uses it here and being immature or spiritual.  They are connected but not the same thing I believe. 

On the one hand Paul in both chapters refers to those who have a certain level of knowledge of biblical truths as the stronger, although he doesn’t use that term in 1 Cor. 8.  In both chapters he is actually speaking directly to the stronger because they have a greater responsibility to the weak.  The basic difference between the two groups is that one group has a better understanding of biblical truth than the other and so realizes better the freedom they have in life. 

My point is that perhaps we can fall into the trap of assuming that this group is the more spiritual or godly or Christlike or however we could describe them.  But I think if we read through chapter 8 carefully we see that this is not necessarily the case.  My contention is that spiritual maturity isn’t wrapped up in how much of the Bible we understand even through that is an important part of it.  The “weak” in these chapters, I believe, can be even more godly than the strong and here is why.

I think Paul’s point especially in 1 Cor. 8 is that real growth and maturity is seen not in how well you understand what you can and cannot do but how well you love the Lord and can live with and work with and love each other.  Some of these saints were absolutely orthodox but they were sinning in the way they were living out these truths by not being sensitive to those who didn’t understand what they did.  Another way to put this is that it is one thing to be weak in your understanding of godliness and think that it is a matter of cutting out that and doing this, etc.  But it is another thing to be weak in love for Christ and his body and unconcerned for their edification and encouragement. 

Having a good understanding of biblical theology is necessary for any saint but it is not necessarily the difference in whether one is mature and Christlike.  What I am saying is that even the weakest of us in these matters of understanding can still be the godliest of us all because of why they do what they do.  If this one is abstaining from meat offered to idols because he will only do what his conscience will allow because he thinks about everything he does, whether it pleases the Lord or not, then he Christlike.  The one who is more concerned with his freedom but cares little about thinking these things through in light of his brothers and sisters is further behind.

The mature Christian isn’t the one who goes around telling us what we can and cannot do or all the things we don’t do that we should be doing; that would be the immature saint if all he does is divide or elevate himself.  The mature saint is the one who does whatever he can for Christ and the good of Christ’s children.  That is why here and in Rom. 14 Paul doesn’t try to persuade the “weak” to just do it because they can.  He speaks to all of us to be patient and loving with each other, especially the ones who should know better.  

Let us desire to be strong in the Word and also spiritual in its application.  To be strong in the Word and yet unloving towards our brothers and sisters is not Christlike.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Is Tobiah Living in Our Temple?

Neh 13:4  Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, Neh 13:5  prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. ….

Neh 13:7  and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. Neh 13:8  And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.

The Book of Nehemiah ends with Nehemiah coming back to Jerusalem after an extended absence and finding that there had been a lot of compromise with the people and their service and worship of God.  The above verses deal with one particular instance where he finds that the quintessential enemy of the Jews was being allowed to live in the very Temple complex itself.  This had resulted in less storage room and so some of the Levites and singers had to leave off their service and go work in the fields to support themselves.

It is not hard to see an illustration of compromise with worldly things and people and the destruction it causes.  When we understand that in one sense our bodies are the New Covenant fulfillment of this Temple it becomes clearer still.  Back in Ch. 6 we see that the compromise with Tobiah had begun years before even during the time in which he openly opposed Nehemiah’s work.  Neh 6:17  Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah's letters came to them. Neh 6:18  For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife.
Neh 6:19  Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.

As it turns out Tobiah was related to some of them and we all know that standing against friends and family can be difficult for most of us.  Let me make a few comments on how we are to view the lost who are the enemies of Christ regardless of what they might say and do.  And we must keep in mind that this applies to friends and family as well.

All the unconverted hate Christ or they would be believers.  They might be very religious in Christendom but they have not submitted to him.   Because of this we must always relate to all unsaved people, even if it is your mommy, as enemies of the faith.  I am not speaking of hating them or running away from them and having nothing to do with them.  I am saying that we must always keep our guard up as to what they love and what they do not love and evalute everything they say and do in light of that.  As Jesus taught, Mat 7:17  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Mat 7:18  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

When we start to admire the lost; whether they are a family, philanthropists, novelists, singers, poets, politicians, philosophers, it doesn’t matter, and we forget that they hate God, then we let our guard down and start to listen to what they have to say as if there is no potential danger.  And just like in our text Satan gets a place in our thinking by subtly getting us to admire enemies of the cross. 

That isn’t to say that the lost can’t have good and profitable things to say at times but at some point they will always divert us away from Christ if we let them because diseased hearts can’t bear good fruit.  Our influence from the lost must always be tempered with truth and we can never allow ourselves unbridled enthusiasm to anyone but especially those that are in darkness.  Even when they offer great insight we must always compare it to Scripture and realize where they are coming from.  We can’t become so infatuated with someone because of their style or ability to put some words together that you forget who they really are.  They aren’t your friends in any real sense, they are Tobiahs.

This is no call to not interact with lost people of course, but it is a call to be wise as serpents, to not be na├»ve.  It is a call to recognize that the enemies of Christ are your enemies also in that they have no desire to help you glorify the Lord and do his will; and if we let them, they will draw us away from him and truth.  Let’s examine our “Temples” and see if we are allowing any Tobiah’s to influence us in the way we think and live.  Let us make sure that the time we are listening to this world is very small compared to the time we listen to the Word and the Lord’s servants.