Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Seeing Him as He is

This post will be somewhat related to my previous post on being a faithful and true witness. Where that post was related to speaking though, this post will relate to being and doing.

First John 3:2 says, "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." This verse tells us that in the end we will be like Christ, because the sight of Him in His totality will transform us to be like Him. Thus we could say that to the degree we see Christ as He is to that same degree we will be like Him. It is impossible for us to emulate something we have never seen, or to manifest a virtue we unless we have an idea of how that virtue would look in a given situation. This is one reason why we often fall short of our calling as Christians, sometimes we know what we should do and don't do it, but many times even when we want to follow Christ and be like Him, we miss it because our idea of Christ falls far short of what He really is like. Often we tolerate and even condone all sorts of little things that are not Christlike, and accept it as the norm.


This why discipleship is important, so that younger believers can see what Christianity really looks like. There are a few instances I remember of people I know reacting with grace in trying situations and as I saw it I knew I was seeing "The Way." I was seeing Christ in that person living His life through them in that situation. It gave me something to strive for. Sometimes, though, we can be in a situation where we do not have someone to emulate in our vision. It could be that we are the ones that are to disciple others, and yet we realize that we know so little ourselves.


Thankfully even without a human role-model we still have the God's Word. Scripture and especially the Gospels show us so much of Christ that if we properly study and apply it, we will become more and more like Christ. In the Gospels we see Jesus in all sorts of situations which can be applied to our lives if we are willing to make the effort.


Another way we see Christ is through our direct encounters with Him in His presence. We can learn a lot from these. It was in personal times of worship that I was first struck by the graciousness of God and how He is so humble that we often do not realize how much He humbles Himself to be around us, and sometimes we even take Him for granted. To me that graciousness became a goal to aspire toward. Other times I have had the Lord give me kind words in spite of my bad attitudes at the time, and learned how kindness can sometimes cut far deeper than a sever rebuke ever could. When God reveals Himself to us it is not just that we should know it, but that we might become it.


There were two apostles specifically that I think saw attributes of Christ and then manifested them. The first one was John, who was the apostle of love because he was first the apostle that Jesus loved. It was as he received of this love and saw its workings in his own life that he was able to give it out to others. The second apostle was Paul who in 1 Timothy 1:16 refers to himself as a pattern of longsuffering. Paul manifested the longsuffering of God throughout his many shipwrecks, beatings and other trials, but first he had been a recipient of the longsuffering of God who had waited for the right moment to appear to him on the Damascus road as he was persecuting the believers. It was likely Paul's own realization of all that Christ had borne with in him that enabled him to bear so much himself.


May God grant each of us a greater realization of Himself that we may be it to others! Amen.


Friday, December 03, 2010

The Faithful and True Witness

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: "The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation..." (Rev. 3:14).


A while ago, I wrote on how it was interesting how when Christ addressed the seven churches in Revelation that the title He chose for Himself showed Him to be what was needed in each specific situation. I was going to post a link to that post here, but I am unable to find it myself. In this post, I would specifically like to look at the title Christ gave Himself when addressing Laodicea. To the blind and naked church which felt it had need of nothing, because of its material prosperity He addressed Himself as the Amen and faithful and true witness. In other words what He said was true reality which the church needed to hear and align itself with. The Laodicean church had deceived itself and had doubtless had teachers with itching ears who had told them what they wanted to hear, but Christ was the Amen, the So-be-it, whose word was final, and the faithful and true witness who would tell what was needful regardless of what they wanted to hear. Not only in regard to this church but in His earthly ministry and even as He relates to us in our lives Christ is the faithful and true witness. He told Pilate that the reason He was born was to bear witness to the truth, and He desires to also form us into faithful and true witnesses. To better prepare us to be faithful and true witnesses we should examine what is required to be a witness.


Firstly, we have to see something to be a witness. I realize that is very basic, but sometimes we can forget that to bear witness we have to have witnessed something first. Christ could bear witness to the Father because He saw Him and knew Him (Matt. 11:27). Christ could also judge situations and people rightly as Isaiah prophesied because He did not rely on His own sight and understanding (Isa. 11:3-4).


What we see is very important, and it is very much effected by what is in our hearts. The heart is the window through which we interpret what we see, this is why even though the twelve spies sent into Canaan all saw the same things, they still saw different things – ten had evil hearts of unbelief and two had hearts of faith. It is also interesting to note that the evil report given by the ten spies was not exactly false, it was basically factually accurate, but had a perspective of no faith in the power of God to overcome the giants (Num. 13:25-33). Having God's perspective is very important or we could state facts, and yet still bear a false witness.


Another example of this is Moses' tirade against the children of Israel, which kept him out of the Promised Land. It was very understandable, frankly, very deserved, but when struck the rock instead of speaking to it, he failed to bear witness to type God was bringing out, and in calling the rebellious people, "rebels" he forgot temporarily that they were also the called ones of God in spite of their wayward character. It would be hard to imagine as vexing a situation as Moses was in, but I think the apostle Paul shows a right response to similar situation in his Corinthian epistles. When he was faced with carnal bickering believers who questioned his authority challenged his leadership and allowed blatant sin in their midst, he still began his epistles by addressing them as saints - considering their greatly unsaintly conduct at the time that must have required grace on his part. Then having reminded them of who they were he proceeded to truthfully point out their faults and bring correction. Moses in losing his temper lost balance of perspective, Paul managed to see both the faults and also remember the good and the call given to these wayward Corinthians. In the letters to the seven churches, Christ not only addresses faults but also gives whatever commendation He could, as humans we tend to go to extremes, and see only people's faults or their good qualities at a given time, but Christ is able to weigh all at once, and we need to learn more balance in what we see.


Having seen something we then need to be faithful to share it at appropriate times. Christ did not indiscriminately spout off everything, but specifically taught in parables, and through much of His trial remained quiet. It was only when an oath by the High Priest forced Him to bear witness or be guilty of withholding truth that He plainly claimed to be the Son of God. The man born blind in John chapter 9 is another good example of a faithful witness, and interestingly enough right after he bore witness and was cast out of the synagogue Christ came looking for him. He found him and revealed Himself as the Son of God to him and received worship from him – a very rare privilege this man had to worship the pre-resurrection Jesus. This was given to him because he was faithful to witness what he knew and had seen and God trusted him with greater knowledge because of that. May we also bear witness faithfully that we might be found worthy to bear greater witness and please our Lord! Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 7 – without hypocrisy

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


I think it is fairly apparent that Christ's ministry was totally without hypocrisy. As Luke wrote in the beginning of Acts his first book showed what Jesus did and taught (Acts 1:1). Christ's teaching was phenomenal, so much so that even many atheists have praised it, but more remarkably He lived what He taught. He not only told us to love our enemies, but He loved His, He prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified Him and wept over the coming destruction of the city that rejected Him. Studying His actions is the best way to understand what He meant when He spoke things, because with Him His actions were never at variance with His words. Jesus told His generation that a greater than Solomon was with them, Solomon had been renowned for his wisdom and yet an even cursory comparison of his proverbs with his life, shows a great variance in what He said and what he did (Compare Proverbs 25:16 with Ecc. 2:10 for example). One problem that we often have with the truth is that when we first hear it and it enlightens us we rejoice, but yet when it comes to really assimilating it, it can be difficult. This is much like the scrolls given to Ezekiel and John sweet to the mouth, but bitter to the stomach (Eze. 2:8-10, Rev. 10:9-10).


There are two basic types of hypocrisy to which humans are prone. The one is to think that because we know something we can get away with not actually doing it. That is what could be called blatant hypocrisy. The other type is perhaps more common and is a hypocrisy caused by ignorance of how we are contradicting what we say with our lives. This second sort of hypocrisy is the type that even good Christians can get caught in, like Peter did before Paul took him publicly to task (Gal. 2:11-18). This hypocrisy can often be caused because we want to be well received or we want to avoid persecution. Christ was true because He sought not His own glory but the glory of the One who sent Him. Public opinion had no hold on Him.


Christ was the way (how He walked is the way we should walk), the truth (The reality of what things are), and the life (the ability and source for all we do). As the embodiment of Truth He did not lie or evade even when it would have saved His life, when the high priest adjured Him to say whether He was the Christ, He replied in the affirmative (Matt. 26:63-65). When He stood before Pilate He acknowledged His Kingship, but not as an earthly ruler, even in His darkest hour He was true and bore witness to the truth. May we be a faithful and true witness even as He was the Faithful and True Witness. Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 6 – without partiality

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


We will now look at the impartiality of God's wisdom as see n in Christ. By impartiality, we do not mean a strict equality, since even among the disciples of Christ, there were three who were His most constant companions (Peter, James and John), and even of those John was specifically known as the one Jesus loved, yet the reasons for this are impartial, not arbitrary (John was special both in his love to Jesus and in his faithfulness during the crucifixion). One of Christ's greatest battles in His day was with the Jewish mindset that placed more value on the covenant that God had made with Israel than any real individual fellowship with the God who made the covenant. This was a problem even among Christ's disciples who in spite of all that Christ had said to them were still shocked when the way of salvation was opened to Gentiles several years after Christ had ascended. God was never partial to Israel even though He had made a covenant with them, if they did not have personal faith in Him. The most conclusive proof of this in the Old Testament is seen with Rahab, who was allowed to remain in the land of Canaan because of her faith in God even though as a Canaanite she was under the ban, while shortly before this the whole first generation of Israel was excluded from the land because of their lack of faith in spite of the promise they had received. God has always been good to those who have believed His Word and trusted Him, but those who do not believe His Words and promises, even if they were the recipients of the promises do not see them.


Jesus showed the impartiality of God's love in many ways. When He healed the ten lepers, it was the attitude of the one who returned to give thanks for his healing that brought on him a further blessing especially since he was apparently the only non-Jew among them (Luke 17:11-19). It was the faith of the centurion that caused Christ to marvel, especially since he was again a non-Israelite (Matt. 8:5-13). It should be noted that the fact that Christ marveled at his faith probably has more reference to his having so much less to base his faith on than a Jew who had been raised in the Word of God, and yet what he had learned he had spiritually grasped and applied. In a sense God is almost surprised when in the midst of His followers that only barely listen to Him someone hears the things He hides deeply within His own heart, such as David seeking to build the temple, and this centurion realizing that it did not matter whether Christ came or spoke His word carried authority.


Jesus also proved in opposition to the prevalent nationalistic notions of His day that God had always been a God of Gentiles as well as Jews. He did this by pointing out that in the days of Elijah, God sent him to a widow in the territory of Sidon, and there provided food for her and the prophet. He further mentioned the healing of Naaman the Syrian by Elisha, when there were many other lepers in Israel that could have been healed but were not, yet the attitude that Naaman manifested when he was healed and his turning to follow the God of Israel showed that God know whose heart is for Him in any nation.


Because God is without partiality, we draw as near to Him as we really want. He will give us opportunities to see what really is in our hearts and to choose to draw near to Him or turn away. We all come from different backgrounds and circumstances with different struggles to overcome, but if we come to the Lord with the right attitude He will bring us into the plan He has for us. This is the God that could say even to a Cain who was about to kill his brother, "If you do well will you not be accepted?" If we seek Him no matter who we are He will lead us into a deeper relationship with Him if we respond to His Word. May God grant us obedient hearts! Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 5 – full of mercy and fruits

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


One of the primary attributes of Christ in His life on earth was mercy. On two separate occasions Christ quoted Hosea 6:6 to His Pharisee opponents showing that what God really desired of His people was mercy (Matt. 9:13, 12:7). Christ's life mission was one of mercy to reconcile a wayward creation to its Creator. He came to call the sinners to repentance. The self-righteous Pharisees were shocked that Christ would allow a sinful woman to touch Him and wash His feet with her tears, yet that was only because they did not realize how sinful they themselves were and how much it cost the sinless Son of God to come down from heaven and walk in a sin-filled world (Luke 7:36-50).


Of all the cries for mercy given by afflicted and sick humanity to Christ we never see a single instance of His refusal to show mercy. He was truly full of mercy. This wisdom of mercy resulted in multitudes of sinners repenting of their sinful ways and becoming people who loved God and sought to please Him. That was something that hardhearted Pharisaism never produced, but wisdom is justified by her children. Zacchaeus had been a burden and drain on his community, but having been shown mercy he restored fourfold of all he had wrongfully taken, which in itself would help those he had afflicted, but even more above that he gave half of his goods to the poor. Thus a man, who had been a curse to his community through his oppression, became a blessing and joy to it!


Not only did Christ show mercy to those who came to Him who had never known Him, but He continually extended mercy to His disciples as they required it in their faltering faith. It was mercy that calmed a storm when out of shaken faith they woke the Saviour and questioned His caring for them, an attitude unfortunately all too human in life's storms (Mark 4:36-41). It was mercy again that first called to Peter to come out of the boat and then extended a hand when he faltered. It was mercy that overlooked the humanness of the disciples and their misapprehension of things He said and spiritual immaturity, which thankfully He continues to show to His similarly afflicted saints today. It was mercy that caused Him to restore Peter and the wisdom of this restoration is seen in Peter's subsequent life. It was mercy that provided the proof which Thomas had requested of the resurrection, when by his attitude he could have been lost. It was mercy that resulted in a post-resurrection appearance to His brother, James, which resulted in his conversion and untold good to the church at Jerusalem and even us today.


Thank God that He is merciful, because we all need mercy. It may be the mercy of picking us up after we have utterly failed and restoring us, it may be the mercy which keeps us from wandering where in our ignorant feet might take us, or even the interposing of a firm hand when we knowingly want to do wrong, but we all need mercy. It is not of him that runs or him that wills, but of God that shows mercy. Amen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 4 – Easy to be entreated

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The wisdom from above is easy to be entreated – compliant, willing to yield, persuadable. One of the ironies of life is that God who truly knows all is very approachable and willing to listen, whereas we who know far less than we even realize can often be very stubborn and difficult. Jesus in manifesting the Father showed Himself to be very approachable and compliant, often in contrast to His disciples, who were learning just as we learn.

One of the first things noticeable in the life of Christ on earth is that there is no recorded instance of His ever turning away someone who came with a need and brought that need to Him. No time was too inconvenient for Him, on the way to Jairus house, He paused to address the woman who had been healed by touching His garment and speak peace to her (Luke 8:41-56). She was afraid when He first called for her, but His desire was not to reprove but rather to put His blessing upon her "stolen" healing.

When the two blind men called out for Christ, the crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but Jesus responded by healing them (Matt. 20:29-34). Desperation causes people to do things that they would ordinarily not do, it can be a beautiful thing, because it takes no thought for custom, which helps everything flow smoothly by making sure everyone does little things that don't matter as long as they don't do anything really important. Queen Esther was desperate that is the only reason she was willing to come unbidden before the king. It involved great risk, but even her willingness to take the risk gained more favor for her in the eyes of the king. Many times our greatest hindrance to spiritual progress is our lack of desperation.

Christ also showed Himself to be very approachable to the children who were brought for His blessing. The disciples saw only an added burden of inconvenience and a seemingly unimportant one, and so rebuked the ones who brought the children. This apparently caused Christ to come as close to losing His temper as He ever did with His disciples (Mark 10:13-16). Christ showed that not only was He willing to receive those brought to Him, but it was His delight to do so. We should never fear our feelings of unimportance, unworthiness, or any other impediment when approaching the Lord, because He is always more than willing to be approached and to be imposed upon. Let us draw near to Him. Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 3 - gentle

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The wisdom that is from above is gentle. There are several words used in Greek which are sometimes translated gentle in English, essentially they all bear the thought of mildness, kindness, and moderation. Gentleness is a controlled strength, it applies what is needed in the mildest way possible, and in a kind way.

Christ is not specifically called gentle in Scripture, yet He must have been well known for His gentleness, because the apostle Paul entreated the Corinthians by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1). Christ's meekness is well known and He even invited all to learn of Him who was meek and lowly, but His gentleness must have been also have struck those who were with Him and left a deep impression on them so that the Corinthians who would never have known Christ in the flesh still would have heard of His gentleness.

Gentleness is also an attribute of a shepherd, so among other things when Jesus said I am the Good Shepherd, He was claiming to be gentle. The shepherds of that time would bring their flocks into folds and stand in the door way as they came in (they would also sleep there as the door) as the sheep came in they would cause it to pass under the rod – that is he would place the rod on them to make them pause, and then inspect them for wounds or disease individually as they came in. Shepherds also would follow or lead their sheep, but not drive them, which is again a mark of gentleness, if the flock moved at too fast a pace it could cause the young in the flock to die (Gen. 33:13). With all this in mind it is worthy to notice that one of the favorite early Christian decorations of the first 3 centuries was the Good Shepherd (usually seen holding a lamb) with His flock. When the Church was enduring persecution, and had no settled place in the world, it took hope in the fact of having a good Shepherd who was watching over them and leading them through difficulties into greener pastures.

We see the gentleness of Christ shown in the way He reproved His disciples when necessary. To those who were not His sheep such as the Pharisees He could at time be severe, because even the gentlest of shepherds is fierce towards the wolves, but to His disciples His reproofs were in gentleness. His words to Martha in reply to her agitation with Mary vindicated Mary, but with such gentleness towards Martha that He showed that far from being uncaring towards her predicament He pointed the way to release from the anxieties she was carrying (Luke 10:38-42). In general all of His reproofs given to the disciples were done in a gentle manner, the most gentle of all being perhaps the one given to Peter as he uttered the third denial, were the reproof was a mere look, yet a look which brought the consciousness of guilt to Peter far more than any "I told you so" ever could.

The gentleness of Christ was also seen in the miracles He performed, as it spring to my mind most especially when He reached out to touch the leper (Mat. 8:2-3) and when He raised Jarius' daughter from the dead (Luke 8:51-56).

Probably His greatest manifestation of gentleness and care for others though is shown in His commending of His mother to the care of John at the crucifixion (John 19:26-27). This was an act of utmost care and kindness toward His mother, done in the most gentle way possible, showing Christ's thoughts for others even in His own intense agony. Pain tends to bring out the worst in people and yet out of Christ even on the cross flowed out gentleness and mercy. Behold the Lamb of God!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 2 - Peaceable

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The second attribute of the wisdom from above is that it is peaceable. Christ's life was a life lived out of peace and bringing peace. Even His birth was announced by angels singing peace on earth and goodwill to men. He came to restore peace between sinful men and sin-offended Deity. Not only that but the cost of the restoration was not to be born by the offender, but rather by the One who had a right to be offended. Yet, we read, "…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). The cross showed God's willingness to overlook human sin and Christ's willingness to suffer on the cross was really only possible by a sort of provisional forgiveness, prior to His actually paying the price of sin. It would have been impossible for Him to actually suffer on behalf of sinners if there had not been some sort of shutting His eyes to their guilt against Him so He could actually pay the price. In light of the tremendous gulf that the cross thus bridged between man and God it is no wonder that it also brought down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:13-16). Since then the whole of Christ's coming was really a mission of peace from God between God and man, as well as, man and man, we see why peacemakers are in a special sense called the children of God, because they manifest something that was so dear to God's heart that He gave His Son to bring it about.

To further see just how peaceable Christ was I would like to highlight a few times where I see it especially manifested.

One instance of Christ's peaceableness was in His meek response to rejection by a Samaritan village. He merely went on to another village. His response is highlighted by the very different response of James and John who wanted to exact severe revenge on the place for its lack of hospitality (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus here, as well as in the case of Gadara (Matt. 8:28-9:1), showed the peace of leaving meekly when refused.

Another very revealing incident is found in Matthew 17:24-27. Here Christ works a miracle to pay the temple tax, after having showed Peter that as the Son of God the maintenance of the temple could not with propriety be expected of Him. His reason for paying the tax was simply not to offend the authorities. When we consider that these authorities were greedy men, who did not particularly need this extra source of income which they pressed out of the people, and more than that these very funds were going to go into the pockets of the ones who would soon crucify Him, we can perhaps see just how far it depends on us to live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). Often we say we have done our part long before we really have.

The last episode I would like to look at in this all to brief view of Christ's peaceableness is the Last Supper. Here we see Him bringing peace into a situation where peace had been destroyed through ambition and self-seeking. Only a short time before James and John had produced displeasure in the other disciples by requesting special honours in Christ's Kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). Christ had told them then that the greatest in the kingdom was the one who was the servant, but He knew they needed another practical illustration of what He meant. So He took upon Himself the one task that had He requested it of any of His disciples they would have felt belittled. He directed the disciples away from their own position seeking when they saw the One who truly had preeminence take the place of the lowest servant. It must have shamed them all when they considered it in retrospect. It certainly made a deep impact on John, who begins his account of the footwashing by a realization that Christ knew full well His own divinity and all that was due to Him, and in full knowledge of this stopped to wash their feet (John 13:3-5). Christ here showed what it means to esteem others better than yourself in lowliness of mind (Phil. 2:3). In this act of humility Christ brought peace to His disciples, because contention comes only by pride. He also showed a way of peace which mankind has so little used in history, the wisdom of the locust (Prov. 30:27), which is able to work together without jostling for position and power. Even a cursory glance at history will show us just how much mankind has suffered because of striving for power and position to the detriment of any real progress. At best it results in a lot of effort that could be better used elsewhere, more often it results in actual destruction and infighting which not only hinders progress but actually brings destruction. By being willing to take the low place Christ showed Himself to be beyond any earthly king or ruler and indeed to be truly beyond human.

I hope that in this post we have seen just a little bit of the peaceable Christ. He first had peace and then He could say, "My peace I give to you." May we too know the peaceableness of wisdom. Amen.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 1 - Pure

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The first attribute of the wisdom that is from above is purity. Our motives for what we do are of primary importance. Bad motives turn even the best of deeds into worthless things (1 Cor. 13:3). It is motive that provides spirit to every action. Christ was totally free from self-seeking, because He came to do the Father's will not his own, and His actions flowed out of love to others (John 6:38).

The Pharisees could not understand Christ because they were not pure in their motives, it was with them as Paul wrote Titus, "To the pure all things are pure. But to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (Titus 1:15). They could not understand how Christ could eat with sinners, because their motives for doing everything were essentially either financial gain or popularity (Luke 16:13-15, John 5:44), thus assuming Christ to be like themselves they could see no reason for His eating with sinners but a bad one. When the world questions the motives of true believers for the self-sacrifice they do they really condemn themselves. Christ's motive was merely to call the sinners to repentance, and because wisdom is justified by her children in many cases it worked.


Even Christ's brothers did not at first understand His motives, and thought that He was seeking popularity (John 7:3-5). Only later did James and Jude come to a realization of who Christ was and what He actually was doing in His earthly ministry. Far from seeking popularity or power, He actually fled when He knew the people would try to crown Him king (John 6:15).


The ministry of Christ was actuated by an earnest desire to please His Father and a deep compassion for people. If He had been motivated by selfish motives He would never would have worked some of His healing miracles, because they often caused Him serious inconvenience through provoking opposition and jealousy, and also by causing throngs of people to surround Him everywhere He went. Many times in the Gospels we read that Jesus worked miracles because He was moved with compassion. Faith works by love, the greater our love for God and others the more the faith of God will be able to flow. It was not with the lifeless rod of authority, but only by real contact that Elisha was able to raise the child of the Shunammite from the dead. In the same way unless the plight of people moves our hearts deeply, we cannot expect our prayers to move God's heart and bring down a miracle.


Some of the hardest things Christ ever spoke to a man, were spoken to the rich young ruler, a young man who was very respectable and was trying hard to keep God's commands. These words though were spoken out of love (Mark 10:21). Jesus never tried to conciliate people at the expense of their true good.


One of the ways in which we Christians often fall far short of God's wisdom is in purity. Especially in Western churches where we tend to be very goal orientated, people tend to be viewed in a utilitarian manner. God looks at things differently though. If we compare Ephesians 4:8-13 with Psalm 68:18, where verse 8 is taken from in a modified form, we see that God's purpose in receiving gifts from people (and giving ministerial gifts to people) is to establish relationship. If God only desired to have work done He could do it Himself or have angels do it. He uses men and women so that in their working for Him they can develop a relationship with Him. If churches become to focused on the work side, and forget the relationship part, people feel used, and people who feel used do as little as is necessary and that grudgingly. However when people feel loved they will be willing to do amazing things very willingly and sometimes without even being asked to do them. Much effort is often wasted because we try to encourage people who feel used to get more involved (and consequently they feel more used), and the reason we do this is often because we are building our own kingdoms instead of really seeking what is best for God and others. When we have pure motives like Christ, we will also be able to accomplish great things like Him. Paul could write to the Corinthians, "I seek not yours, but you." May God grant we can say the same. Amen.




Monday, November 08, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ - Introduction

Many times we can gain a better practical perspective on Scripture by studying Scripture in unconventional ways. In the next few posts I would like to look at the life of Christ through the lens of James 3:17, and see how He manifested in a practical way these attributes of the wisdom from above. In doing this I hope to gain insight for myself and those reading of what God's wisdom really looks like in a practical sense. Christ is the best person to study in this sense because He is the embodiment of God's wisdom.

When John declared that Christ was the Logos (John 1:1-5), he was stating two allied things:

  1. He was showing that Christ was the internalized thought of God, the logic of the Godhead, if you would put it that way. This is actually the first meaning of logos, the thought, reason and motive as it is internally expressed to the thinker. This is how Christ is shown in Proverbs chapter 8, the all-pervading Wisdom of God which enables proper government of the world and which was with God in His forming of the world. It was by Him that He made the worlds (Heb. 1:2).


  2. He was also showing that Christ was the thought vocalized or expressed – the Word. Every word that comes from our mouth first began as an inward thought and came out of our hearts (Luke 6:45). What we say is a very real reflection of what we are thinking, and also of who we are. In the same way Christ is a concrete expression of what is in the heart of God, vocalized to make the intentions of God's heart clear to us. This is why He could say He that has seen Me has seen the Father, because He was such a full expression of all that God is.


It is further interesting to note, when looking at thoughts and words, about the beauty of communication – that is not only are words born of thoughts, but when given utterance they plant thoughts in others, which can then give birth to more words or further thoughts. In this way, Christ Himself, His life as seen in the gospels, and all of Scripture carry the logic of God within them. They bring God's way of thinking and His motivations and feelings down to us so we can respond to them. In this way through Scripture reading and personal encounters with Christ – either in our times of prayer and worship or as we encounter Him in His people – we begin to reason as He reasons and see as He sees. It is my hope in this study for me personally to see more of how Christ flowed in the wisdom from above in His earthly life, so that I can better imitate Him in this. I further hope that it may produce a similar effect in any reading this. May God grant us all to see and follow Christ more fully! Amen.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wisdom is full of mercy

Jas 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.


Recently I was considering how the wisdom that is from above is full of mercy. What brought this about was meeting a young man who is hoping to study in our next Bible School term. The problem is that he has had to major instances of instability and backsliding in the past three years. He is however back in a good church now, and will be talking to my father about what he will need to do to be accepted back.

He may have to meet some stringent requirements for admission because of the past, but there are things that give me hope for him. 1. He was noticeably ashamed to talk to me. Many times people are caught red-handed and yet will still deny and be totally unashamed of what they have done. However it is those whose heads are hung in shame for what they have done that can know God as the lifter of their head (Psa. 3:3). 2. He seems to still have a heart for the Lord in spite of everything. 3. His life has potential, if only he will meet with God and obtain the ability to walk straight from Him.

Mercy makes sense. It is an attribute of wisdom. When someone fails perhaps our first attitude is to replace them, but a replacement would require all the effort and training that was placed into the first individual to be placed into the replacement to prepare them for the same work. Having done that then that person would also be tested and could very possibly fail in the same way as the previous person starting a new cycle. If the one who has failed can be restored – really restored – then the effort, time and training spent on that person are not wasted. This makes sense even for us, but imagine how much God has spent on this person. First consider whatever ministry he has received through the local church and how all of that was really God's investment in him. Then going further back think of all the times the person has responded to the drawing of God's Spirit directly, and all the grace received up to this point to get where they were. If the person is lost all that becomes wasted, if there is some sort of restoration then God will receive something for all that He has poured in.

Restoration is thus very desirable, but it requires a wisdom of its own to accomplish properly. Joseph showed remarkable wisdom in how he dealt with his brothers to see – both for his own and their sakes – if they still were jealous of a favored brother as they had been of him. They showed a marked change, especially Judah who was willing to lay down his own freedom for his brother Benjamin. This is the key of real restoration, not only ascertaining that the person has truly repented and changed but showing them so that they can realize that they are not the same person either. Jesus required a three-fold confession publicly of Peter to atone for his three-fold denial, but also included a three-fold commission to show His acceptance of Peter (John 21:15-17). It also appears to me that one reason for the inclusion of 1 Kings 1:1-4 in Scripture is to show to David and to others that David had changed as a result of his fall and restoration.

Truly the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost and to change wasted, purposeless lives into joyful, productive ones that are filled with Him and His love. To Him be glory forever!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Some Thoughts on Col. 2:18-19

Let no one defraud you, delighting in humility and worship of the angels, intruding into things which he has not seen, without a cause being vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from whom all the body, having been supplied through the joints and bands, and having been joined together, will grow with the growth of God.


In the book of Colossians, Paul confronts false teaching that had been spreading among the church. There was a false humility that they engendered and a severe asceticism that they practiced. In these two verses Paul goes to the root of the whole problem. Essentially it is the same problem seen in Jeremiah 2:13, where God's people had forsaken the fountain of living water and hewed out their own broken cisterns of water. Paul's way back from this waywardness begins by abandoning the broken cistern and then returning to the fountain.


  1. The broken cistern

The false teachers were having the people effect a humility and a worship of angels. While it is likely that this referred to spiritual beings, the word angel means messenger (see Mark 1:2), and it is possible that the people were also worshipping these supposed messengers. This resulted in their being defrauded of true spiritual benefit which only flows from the living fountain.


Ironically, while these men taught humility to others they were puffed up in their own minds with their own ideas. The sort of humility they enjoined among their followers can be seen in 2 Corinthians 11:20-21, "For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of--I am speaking as a fool--I also dare to boast of that." The Apostle Paul never exalted himself in that way, but apparently these other ministers did and what is worse the church in Corinth, and perhaps Colosse too, endured it.


Unfortunately this is by no means a first century problem, and recently there have been notable instances of ministers who exalt angels or themselves to such a degree that they cease to be a conduit for God and are in effect making themselves the source that is to be sought whatever needs people have. This is a sign of false ministry – drawing away disciples after yourself (Acts 20:30). The antidote to this is found in Holding to the Head.


  1. The True Fountain

It is from the Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we all receive the nourishment that we need to grow and thrive and produce fruit. We are to abide in Him (John 15). Apart from Him we are and can do nothing. He is and ever remains the source, and we are merely conduits. There are two wrong ways of thinking that Paul also incidentally touches on as he encourages believers to hold to the Head.


Firstly, while we hold to the Head we are not isolated from the rest of the body. As we hold to the Head we will be joined with the other joints that are also joined to the Head and will promote mutual growth. Christianity is a religion of personal relationship with God, but from that flows relationship with others. This is seen even in the Lord's prayer which begins by saying "Our Father" expressing both relationship to God and others at the same time.


Secondly, there is another tendency to gauge the degree of a person's holding to the Head by their denominational loyalty and connectedness. Yet, we are not to hold to the Head through others, but directly. It is from the Head, both directly and indirectly that the whole body is supplied. As we are joined to the Head, we will have grace to be joined to the body. In all honesty we need a direct source of grace to put up with the humanness of our fellow believers. If we are looking to them as the source rather than the Head, we will never have the grace we need to stay connected to them. However as we all hold to the Head, we are enabled to keep together as well. True Christian unity is always found in uniting under the one and only Head. To Him be glory forever! Amen.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Hebrews 13:12-14

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.


The book of Hebrews is a book that covers a lot of doctrinal subjects and which gives an exposition of the New Covenant and how it is superior to the Old Covenant. That is however not the purpose of the book. Too often as Christians we view Christianity as a series of doctrines to be learned, but in the early church doctrine was taught to promote godly living. The whole purpose of showing the superiority of the New Covenant is to bring the recalcitrant Jewish believers to this conclusion – go outside the camp. What did this mean to them and how does it apply to us?

The Jews could boast in many ways of their society and culture. They were the only nation in antiquity that did not abandon unwanted children or practice abortion. They had a high literacy rate especially among their male population, because of their synagogue schools. They could even boast as no other culture could that much of their cultural framework was from God, because it was based on the law. The superiority, on the whole, of Jewish morality and their just claim to having received their cultural framework from God made it very hard for them to break with their traditions.

Peter told God, "No" three times when he saw the vision of the sheet with unclean animals come down and was commanded to kill and eat one (Acts 10:9-16). Even after that when he preached to Cornelius and the Holy Spirit fell on him and those with him, Peter and the Jews still had reservations, but they knew it was of God. Peter then had to make a defense of his conduct in Acts 11. All of this shows just how difficult it was to break with the Jewish culture and traditions for even the most godly of men, who had already given up so much for Jesus.

Yet in spite of all the good things that could have been truthfully said of the Jewish culture at the time there were serious problems with it. It majored on minor details and neglected what God considered very important. While it forbade polygamy and other flagrant forms of immorality, it was very lax concerning divorce and remarriage. It also tended to place the welfare of the Jewish nation above its proper place and above the glory of God. As can be seen in the prophets, especially Jeremiah, this was something that the Jews had repeatedly done (Jer. 7:4).

For Jewish Christians the danger was that they could avoid much persecution if they outwardly conformed to Jewish tradition while at the same time they remained Christians. They had endured persecution before (Heb. 10:34) and it was understandable that they would want to avoid further persecution. Yet this attitude of desiring to fit in with Jewish culture placed them in danger of backsliding as they were continually warned in Hebrews.

Here is where this message becomes applicable for us. No matter where we are or what culture we are in Christianity will run counter to it in some way. In rural places in Malawi there is great pressure put on mothers to have their children where charms from witchdoctors to prevent disease. Even many Christians do this because if they don't and the child becomes sick the family all converges on the parents and applies pressure on them. In the 1850's and 1860's in America, while there was what could be called a godly culture in some ways, yet it tolerated slavery in the South and sweatshops in the North, and little was said about it in the churches. Victorian England for all its supposed piety fought a war so that they could continue to sell opium in China. The mixture of Christianity with culture and national pride has seriously disrupted the testimony of the Church many times in history. Nietzsche wrote that one could only be a German or a Christian not both, and the rise of Nazism was only possible because many Christians decided that being German came first.

As an American who has spent his life from the age of nine outside of America with the exception of two years I have a different perspective on culture than most people. As I see it now in the American churches there are two main groups, the one group goes along with the current American culture fads and desires to fit in as much as possible, the second group wants to return America to the way it was in the fifties. It is my belief that neither of these groups truly please God in these endeavors. The one group ends up watering down the Gospel in the name of tolerance, the other group though more conservative often also substitutes American culture for the Gospel - it's just the American culture of yesteryear. The problem with that is that if the Church in America in the fifties was doing so well, we wouldn't have gotten into the mess we are in now anyway. True Christians will follow Christ in their generation. There are different battles in each national culture and each generation, but a true Christian will never really be at home in any culture or generation of the world. The Booths were outcasts in the work they began, Spurgeon died outside of the denomination he had been with for years, Wesley was an Anglican that most Anglicans didn't want. Hudson Taylor was considered very odd in his day too.

These people all saw that Christ was outside the camp, and they were willing to forsake all for the Gospel. It is in forgetting our father's house that we win the heart of our heavenly Bridegroom (Psa. 45:10-11). We will only have a shallow and superficial Christianity unless we take this lesson deeply to heart. Let us go outside the camp. We do not go because we are mavericks, but we go because the One we love is already out there, and He is being mocked in this world and we want to be with Him even in His shame and sufferings. To Him be glory forever!

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Sonship and Training

In all relationships there are levels. There are some things we readily share with people, and other things that we say little of, and then only to those very close to us. The things we speak little of are important to us, however, that is precisely why we don't share them with everyone, because they are so near to our heart. For someone to learn of these things they must first be near to our heart, it is no coincidence that it was John as he was leaning on Jesus breast that heard who the traitor was at the last supper. Some things are only heard if we are near enough. One thing that is very near to the heart of God is His Children and His plans for them.

Isaiah 45:9-11 shows us something of the nearness to God's heart of God's plans for His children, "Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles'? Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in labor?' Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: 'Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?'" This passage written in a somewhat ironical tone shows that among the things God does not readily share with everyone, especially not with His critics, are His plans for His children and the way that He works and governs the world.


Yet, God does share something of the plans that He has for His children with His people. Abraham was told concerning the coming Egyptian captivity and Exodus (Gen. 15:13-14). Jacob was given prophecies concerning each of his twelve sons revealing the council of the Lord for them and their descendants (Gen. 49). God's progressive revelation of His plans for His children continued throughout the Old Testament as prophets received promises concerning the Babylonian captivity and return, and also the final deliverance of Israel and millennial reign of peace following the second coming of Christ. Yet even all these plans are not a full exposition of God's plans concerning His children, because Paul quoting Isaiah writes, "But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him'" (1 Cor. 2:9).


We are the sons of God and it does not now appear what we shall be. We don't usually consider it this way, but long before he developed his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein crawled on the ground. He also likely made a mess trying to feed himself, and wet his diapers. If I were a betting man, I would also wager that long before he learned to articulate his desires and wants in an understandable manner his cries filled his family home.


Mankind starts with a rather unpromising beginning both naturally and spiritually, but as a man is born again within him is placed the very nature of Christ. This nature will grow and mature to produce the full stature of Christ in the believer. The whole reason why God ordained the fivefold ministry in His Church is to bring this about (Eph. 4:11-13). Not only that but God intends to reveal in some manner His power and glory in the Church not only now but in the ages to come (Heb. 6:5; Eph. 3:21). With this in mind every triumph that believers experience on earth is the acquisition of skills and attitudes that fit them for their eternal position. Conversely, even a failure is only a momentary setback which if remedied by God will not inhibit the final victory of becoming a mature child of God who walks as Christ walked. This is Christ in us the hope of glory, and when we see Him we shall be like Him! Amen.



Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 8 – If God permit

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


To complete this series on the foundational doctrines I want to look briefly at this last phrase, "If God permit." At first it may seem strange, because if it is God's desire as expressed here in Hebrews that His people go on from these elementary doctrines then why would He not permit them to go on? The same could be asked of a teacher – what teacher desires to fail one of their students, and yet as much as they would love to pass a student if the work does not merit it they will fail the student. It is God that gives light, it is God that continually leads us on in Him. If we are willing to learn we will learn and go on. However if we refuse to go on we can eventually be no longer permitted to do so.

The first generation of the children of Israel were promised the land of Canaan. God's part had already been done, and indeed the whole journey was provided for by God from the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3). Of that generation, though, only two men actually entered into what was promised, prepared and provided for them. The others who were all equally delivered, called and lead by God died in the wilderness having failed the ten tests that God had lead them through. After the last test God forbade any of that generation other than Caleb and Joshua to go in. Some tried the next day anyway and were utterly defeated in battle. Having failed all the tests God had set for them, they were not permitted to go into the land (Deut. 1:39-46).

The permission of God is very important to understand. We can study the Scripture for years, but unless God opens our minds we will not really grasp it. This is also why we should not look down on others who we might think have less understanding of the Scriptures, because if God gives them light they could excel us, and God could even withhold further light from us or even take away what we have because of a prideful attitude. This is also why it is so important to obey what God speaks to us, because Jesus said in Mark 4:24-25, "Take heed what you hear. With that measure which you measure, it shall be measured to you. And to you who hear, more shall be given. For he who has, more shall be given to him; and he who has not, from him shall be taken even that which he has." What are we willing to hear God say? God told Balaam not to go curse Israel, then because he would not heed that He told him he could go if the messengers came to get him in the morning. When the messengers left without speaking to him in the morning, he went anyway, which angered the Lord who was going to kill him. After the talking donkey incident Balaam offered to go back, but God told him to go ahead and go. In a certain sense Balaam could say that God told him to go. God did, but only because it was what he wanted to hear. Balaam uttered some awesome prophecies and earnestly desired to die the death of the righteous, but yet he actually died in the camp of God's enemies.


Paul wrote to Timothy concerning the various vessels that are present in a household, and that purging is necessary so that a vessel can be used for every good work (2 Tim. 2:20-21). God uses His people and calls them higher in Him by His upward call, but if they do not respond to the upward call they may disqualify themselves from some of the works that God has for them. God needs people to expose errors in His church, and sometimes a bitter, and vindictive person is the best one to do that because they have the desire. However, as long as they are bitter and vindictive they cannot be of use in building up the body of Christ in a way which requires gentleness. Martin Luther was mightily used of God to bring in the Reformation, and yet as his life progressed he became a very angry person. By his own confession in his later years he could hardly pray without cursing the pope, and he once expressed the desire to be a ghost when he died so that he could give all the prelates a thousand times more problems dead then he could alive. His later years make for sad reading with much of them being spent attacking other reformers. Let this be a warning to us that we allow God to purge us so that we are fit for the tasks He has for us and we are not relegated to other lower though still good uses. Amen.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 7 – Eternal Judgment

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The doctrine of eternal judgment is a foundational teaching of the Christian life. The early Church lived in a state of constant consciousness of the Day of Judgment – so much so that they referred to it as "that day." It is the only day on earth of any real importance. Paul prayed that one who had assisted him would find mercy of God on that day (2 Tim. 1:18). It was on "that day" that Paul expected to receive what had given to Christ and Christ was keeping for him (2 Tim. 1:12). The book of Hebrews encourages its readers to meet together and exhort each other continually, especially as the day approaches (Heb. 10:25). James reminded his readers that they should not grumble because the judge stood at the door (James 5:9). From all this we see the emphasis that the early church placed upon eternal judgment. Now let us look at what they taught concerning eternal judgment: what will be judged; when will it be judged and how will it be judged?


  1. What will be judged

All of our works done in our body will be judged and will be either rewarded or punished according to their merit (2 Cor. 5:10). We will be judged for every word we speak, even the idle chit-chat we engage in (Matt. 12:36-37). When those who fear the Lord speak together that is noted and written down by God (Mal. 3:16). Even our consciences will bear witness either for us or against us in what we have done, and then every secret of our hearts will be revealed (Rom. 2:15-16). Since both our attitudes and actions toward God and man will be judged, Paul strove to always have a conscience that was without offense towards either (Acts 24:26). As we see that absolutely everything will be judged, we should also remember that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Without forgiveness from God through the merits of Christ no one could stand in this judgment.

  1. When will it be judged

These things will all be judged on the day that God has appointed (Acts 17:31). This is the day of the Lord – a great and terrible day. It is the day for which we all must prepare. This life is the stage rehearsal for that day. It does not matter how much we may look like a failure now, nor how successful we appear now, what matters is how do we appear when the curtain opens on the final day and we are seen as we really are. The date of this day is not known to man. God has reserved it for Himself. In the same way we do not usually know the day of our approaching death, but we know that after that day will come the judgment.

  1. How will it be judged

When a person dies they are immediately taken to one of two intermediary states to await the final judgment. The first place is for the souls of those who have died in the Lord - that is in a saving relationship with Christ Jesus. This place is known as heaven. Heaven is not the final destination of the saints, because they still await the redemption of their bodies as well as their souls (Rom. 8:23). The final destination is the new heaven and the new earth which the saints will enter after the second coming of Christ, the millennium and the White throne judgment. For now however we know that for a saint to be absent in body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8).

The second state is the state of the lost, who go to an intermediary place called hell. Here they experience all sorts of mental and physical anguish (though not corporeal because their bodies are not yet present with them). Descriptions of this suffering are found in many places in the scripture some of the most vivid being Ezekiel 32:17-32 which shows how people are grouped in hell with those they were associated in life, and remain as they were in life to their eternal shame – the warriors still have their weapons with them, but it only shows their powerlessness; and Luke 16:19-31 which gives the story of Lazarus and the rich man and shows the difference in the state of the righteous and the wicked as it was before the time of Christ's resurrection when He led captivity captive and took the Old Testament saints from Abraham's bosom into heaven. On the final day, all the wicked dead will be reunited with their bodies and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). This is the final doom of all the wicked.


As we are closing this brief look at eternal judgment I would like to notice a few things. In the story told by Jesus, the rich man is not named, but Lazarus is. The righteous have an everlasting name and everlasting remembrance, but in the new heaven and new earth the former things will not be remembered (Isa. 65:17). In the same way the number of years of life are given for all of the godly line of Seth (Gen. 5), but not the number of years for the line of Cain (Gen. 4:17-24). The righteous may have had falls, and may have wasted some of their earthly years, but in the end even those wasted years were used by God to form some character in them which remains for all eternity. However Cain's descendants who were ungodly had wasted lives, we are not given the length of them, but ultimately the length does not matter because their lives were spent apart from God and ended apart from God. Let us have lives that count for eternity!

Before closing this series I would like to do one more post looking at the Phrase "if God permit."

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 6 – The Resurrection of the Dead

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The doctrine we will be examining in this post is the resurrection of the dead. This doctrine was understood though dimly in the Old Testament. Indeed many pagans had some understanding of this doctrine though polluted through their rejection of the true God. This is why in Mesopotamia and Egypt and elsewhere even in the Americas dead rulers were interred with food, tools, and sometimes servants to serve them in the next life. In the inner most part of man is a knowledge of the eternal and a recognition of good and evil, and even the most hardened atheist has knowledge of this at sometime though they fight against it and sear their own consciences to remove its effects.


  1. The Resurrection as seen in the Old Testament

Job in the time of the patriarchs stated as clearly as possible a belief in a resurrection. "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25-27). Job knew that one day his physical eyes would look upon God, even if his body had long since decomposed.


In Psalm 22:19 another hint at the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is given with the promise that all that go down to the dust (ie. die) will bow before Christ. This is mentioned again in Isaiah where it is confirmed by God's own oath (Isaiah 45:23). All will one day bow before Christ whether as willing servants or powerless prisoners.


By the time of the exile in Babylon, the doctrine of the resurrection of the just and unjust to stand before God and be judged is fully seen. Daniel teaches this in Daniel 12:2-3. He was also promised that he would have a specific place appointed to him after his death (Dan. 12:13).


Ezekiel saw a vision of a resurrection of the valley of dry bones which typified the return of Israel to their land (Eze. 37). Indeed Israel's history as a nation is a continuing proof of God's power and a sign that the resurrection of individuals will take place. Ezekiel's vision seems to go beyond the return from Babylon and point to the return of Israel as well as Judah. This event still to come is also foretold by Zechariah (Zech. 10:6-10), and Jeremiah (Jer. 23:6-8) which mentions how this deliverance will surpass even the deliverance from Egypt in the Jewish national consciousness. That hasn't happened yet, but it is amazing how Jews, even secular and atheistic Jews will remember the deliverance from Egypt, even if it is in a mocking or irreverent way. They still await the final conversion which will be as life from the dead (Rom. 11:15).


  1. The Resurrection as seen in the New Testament

Jesus confirmed the fact of the resurrection against the Sadducees who opposed it by quoting from the Pentateuch (Luke 20:34-38). He also stated that those who are in this resurrection will have bodies that surpass the ones we lose with death. His own resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples showed something of the body that we can expect. He was touchable and ate with them, yet He apparently was able to pass through locked doors (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:26)!


Our resurrection follows as a consequence of the resurrection of Christ. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23). His resurrection showed in its preeminence the power of God. He overcame death and hell because they had no power to hold Him back (Acts 2:24). This is the power of His resurrection - The power that gave Him the keys of death and hell, and overturned the hold that the fear of death had always had upon man. If the same Spirit dwells in us He shall also enliven our bodies – on the last day, but also even now as required.


The resurrection is a critical Christian doctrine. Paul wrote that if the resurrection is not true than all of what we do is worthless (1 Cor. 15:12-17). It was the resurrection from the dead that shows that Christ's Sonship and thus that His sacrifice was accepted by God (Rom. 1:4). We now await the day when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of Man and will awaken to His tribunal (John 5:26-29).


In both the Old and New Testaments it is shown that there will be a resurrection of both the good and evil for judgment. As we study Scripture it appears that there will be two separate resurrections – the first consisting of those who will rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years, the second one following after the thousand years (Rev. 20). It seems to me that not all Christians will necessarily be part of the first resurrection, since Paul was striving very hard so that he could obtain it near the end of his life (Phil. 3:11). He also taught that there will be different levels of glory in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:38-43). In the faith chapter of Hebrews we see that some chose to be martyred rather than escape torture so that they could obtain a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35). There is a promise with a condition that IF we suffer with Him we will reign with Him. Christians who follow Christ from a far and do not share in His sufferings may very possibly miss the privilege of reigning with Him in the millennium, though they will still be saved and go into the New heavens and New earth.


We now begin to touch on eternal judgment which we will cover in the next post.




Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 5 – The Laying on of Hands

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


The doctrine I would like to examine in this post is the laying on of hands. This doctrine is important and foundational, yet is not widely understood by the church. The laying on of hands is a means of impartation, which dates back to the Old Testament times, and continued in the New Testament. What was imparted depended on the circumstances. A brief survey of both Testaments will show us the uses of the laying on of hands.

  1. Laying on hands for blessing

This is what Jacob did to Joseph's two sons (Gen. 48:13-22). In doing this he was receiving them as his own children and placing the blessing and promise he had received from God upon them so that they would also be included in it. He laid the right hand of stronger blessing upon Ephraim, the second-born, which initially displeased Joseph, but was done under the influence of prophecy. In the history of these tribes we see the fulfillment of this prophecy which also attests to the reality of impartation in the laying on of hands.

  1. Laying on of hands to impart sin

In the sin offerings of the Old Testament the offerer laid his hands upon the victim so that it would bear away his sin with it. This was also done with the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:21). Interestingly enough in the case of blasphemy all the witnesses who heard the blasphemy were to lay their hands on the head of the offender before he was stoned, as if they were putting away the utterance which had polluted their ears back upon the one who uttered it (Lev. 24:10-16). The transfer of sin by laying on of hands is not done in the church today, because our Sacrifice has been offered once and for all, but it still should be remembered that sin can be imparted through the laying on of hands and we should know the character of the one laying hands on us, and if we are going to lay hands on others we want to be in the right frame of mind to do that. Paul warned Timothy against laying hands on people suddenly (1 Tim. 5:22). While perhaps someone sick or in need may ask for prayer and we should lay hands on them, we should never do it in a flippant manner as though it is just the thing to be done. If we have reason to believe we will be praying for people and laying hands on them, we should do most of our praying, and perhaps even fasting, beforehand.

  1. Laying on of hands for healing

This ministry of laying hands on the sick for their healing belongs to all believers. It is specifically given by Christ as a sign for those who believe (Mark 16:18). This differs from the anointing with oil by the elders which is linked to their office and includes a promise of forgiveness as well as healing (James 5:14-15). Ananias, who is designated as merely a disciple, was sent by God to the blind Saul of Tarsus to impart sight to him (Acts 9:10-18). In addition to receiving healing Saul also received the infilling of the Holy Ghost at this time, which brings us to the next point.

  1. Laying on of hands for imparting spiritual gifts

Usually, the baptism of the Holy Ghost is received by the laying on of hands. In general it is Church leadership that lays hands on the one desiring to receive. Philip the evangelist preached and baptized converts, but did not lay hands on them so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John specifically came out to do that (Acts 8:5-23). Whether Philip could have laid hands and imparted the Holy Ghost to the people is not known. He apparently did not try. The importance placed upon the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is shown by the fact that early church specifically sent out Peter and John to make sure the converts received the Holy Spirit. People sometimes criticize Pentecostals for focusing too much on getting people to receive the Baptism of the Spirit. To this we can only reply that this was the feeling of the earliest of the early church – they did not leave their converts saved, baptized and yet without the Baptism of the Spirit. Dare we do less?

Some would say that the impartation of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is apostolic, but Ananias is an exception to that. Thus I would say that God is able to use any Spirit-filled believer to impart the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to others, but usually God uses those in the five-fold ministry.

Other spiritual gifts can also be imparted through the laying on of hands. Timothy had received a spiritual gift through the laying on of Paul's hands (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6). Often as in the case of Timothy, prophecy can tell what gift is being imparted and therefore gives guidance to the recipient as to what they should focus on. Spiritual gifts establish believers by giving them an outlet for ministry and a place of service in Christ's body (Rom. 1:11-12). When we have received a spiritual gift we should focus on using it for God's glory and the edification of the Church. This prevents us from being a mere pew-warmer. Often gifts are imparted at the same time as the person is set apart to God's service, which is the last attribute of laying on of hands we will look at.

  1. Laying on of hands for service

In this case hands are laid upon an individual to set them apart for the ministry to which God has called them. This is sometimes called ordination. It was done to Joshua so that he would be able to assume the leadership of Israel after Moses' passing (Num. 27:15-23; Deut. 34:9). It should be noticed here that Moses did not choose Joshua, he called to God to choose and God told him to lay hands on Joshua. The five-fold ministry is set in the church by Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). When man lays hands in ordination they are not making that person into a member of the five-fold ministry, they are merely recognizing what God has already done and releasing the person into what God has already called. Often as this is done gifts to aid in the work to be done will be imparted as it was with Timothy and with Joshua. Paul and Barnabas are prime examples of sending people into the work that God had for them (Acts 13:1-3). They were called already by God, but the leadership acknowledged the call and set them apart so they could fulfill it. They were sent off in fasting with prayer and the laying on of hands.

This concludes our study of the doctrine of the laying on of hands next we will look at the resurrection of the dead.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Look at the Foundational Doctrines of Hebrews 6 – Part 4 – Baptisms

Heb 6:1 Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.


In this post I would like to look at the doctrine of baptisms. This passage has caused some people to wonder because in Ephesians 4:5, Paul stresses unity in the body of Christ by writing "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Thus some are inclined to place all of these foundational doctrines in a Jewish context and translate baptisms as washings (which is one meaning of the word). Fatal to this theory though is the fact that the first two foundational doctrines are Christian and clearly not Jewish – repentance and faith. Actually the following doctrines, especially the resurrection and eternal judgment, can hardly be construed as specifically Jewish either. Thus these must be Christian doctrines.

How do we reconcile this with Ephesians 4:5 then? In that passage there is pronounced to be only one baptism. There is also said to be only one faith, because we all have the same object of faith – Christ, yet we see that there is both a fruit and a gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:9, Gal. 5:22). The gift is not common to all as is clear from the context of 1 Corinthians, one receives the word of wisdom by the Spirit, another receives faith. This faith cannot be the same faith mentioned in Ephesians because that is common to all believers. Thus in Ephesians, Paul is highlighting unity in what we all receive from Christ – we have one Lord to obey, we have faith in Him, and we identify ourselves with Him in Baptism. We are one in His body, not by virtue of what we are but what He is. God is our Father, not my Father exclusively, but all His children are my siblings if He is my Father. The one baptism is thus not to be exclusively understood, because John the Baptist specifically noted two baptisms – the second one having perhaps a subset (Mark 1:8). The Apostles received both of these baptisms – at least as far as we know, since some of them were John's disciples prior to becoming Christ's disciples, also they baptized others, which would be odd if they were not baptized themselves, especially after the example set by Christ in being baptized Himself. It would be hard to argue that they were not water baptized. Therefore I believe that the passage in Hebrews is referring to two distinct baptisms which the apostles experienced and which we also as Christians should understand and experience, since they are foundational.

  1. Water Baptism

The first baptism is baptism in water. According to Philip the evangelist belief in Christ with all the heart was the prerequisite requirement for this baptism (Acts 8:37). This is implied also in those who responded to Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41), since they were baptized in the Name of Jesus which implies belief in the Name. The jailer in Philippi and all his house first heard the word and believed and then were baptized (Acts 16:30-34). It should be noted that while some argue immersion would have been impossible in these circumstances, the jailer bathed (as opposed to merely washed) their wounds, so immersion was clearly possible here. Lydia was baptized with her family and some would claim this for infant baptism since believing is not mentioned in this passage (Acts 16:14-15). However, how far do they want to take this? If Lydia was married, was her husband baptized on the basis of her faith apart from her own? I don't know of anyone who argues for that. If she was widowed and thus the head of the family, then quite likely any children present there were old enough to have faith themselves.

While paedobaptists can argue that infant baptism dates back along time in the Church, yet believer's baptism was certainly numerically superior in the first three centuries as converts from heathenism all renounced idolatry and other evils and stated their faith in Christ prior to their baptism (as seen in Tertullian and Cyril of Jerusalem). To guard against laying too much stress on testimony of the early Church fathers, it should also be noted that since Justin Martyr (d. c. 165 a.d.) notes that even in his day there were some amillenialists in the Church as well as millenialists, so clearly some in the Church quickly departed from apostolic teaching, whichever eschatological system you want to argue for, and if they departed so quickly in eschatology, can we be certain they were not somewhat aberrant in baptism as well? The Didache (c. 120 a.d.) also allowed for pouring instead of immersion, but only in the case of lack of any other way (Didache 7:3-4). Whether the writer had the authority to alter the Sacrament of Christ is another matter altogether. If it was given by Christ then only Christ could alter it.

Some might think that differences in method and custom are allowable, or merely minor, and it might seem so. Yet Moses when he disobeyed God by striking the rock to procure water a second time rather than speaking to it was kept out of the promised land (Num. 20:8-12). Interestingly, even though Moses moved in disobedience water still came out of the rock, showing that God can still use, if He desires, a wrong method. That does not negate the fact that there will be consequences, perhaps serious ones. Moses being stopped short of the end of his journey seems a little severe for the offense, but he destroyed the type that God was setting forth, Christ the Rock was struck only once, and after that as we speak to Him the water of life flows forth.

Water Baptism is among other things a symbolic act. It shows our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11). This is why immersion is important. While baptism is symbolic, it is not merely a symbol. When we realize that by joining with Christ in His death we also join in His life and resurrection, we see that we have power over sin. There is a power in water baptism to overcome our old sin nature and its sins, and to walk as new creatures. Baptism is not the means of regeneration, because in at least one instance – Cornelius – it followed the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which was taken as evidence of conversion so that baptism could not be forbidden him even though he was a Gentile (Acts 10:44-48). Since Jesus said that the world cannot receive the Comforter, Cornelius must have been born again prior to his baptism (John 14:17). This is not negate the importance of baptism which Christ included in the great commission and to which He Himself submitted though He had no sin to confess. Baptism should not be delayed and be undertaken at the very beginning of our spiritual walk, even as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea almost immediately on partaking the Passover and having the blood applied to their homes (1 Cor. 10:1-2). The New Testament pattern is clearly for believer's baptism following as soon as possible after faith in Christ is ascertained.


  1. Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a mere side doctrine of the Christian life. It is foundational. John the Baptist's ministry was to prepare the way and testify to the coming Christ. His testimony to Christ was twofold – that he was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and also that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Often our focus in churches is on the first and very important ministry of Christ as the Lamb of God, which of the evangelists only John mentions, and we totally neglect the second aspect of Christ's ministry which was noted by all four evangelists. Might I suggest that this baptism is somewhat important if it was mentioned by all four evangelists.

That Christ considered it important is equally clear from the fact that He commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem, until they had received it (Acts 1:4-8). It was this baptism that gave them power to bear witness to Him. Christianity is a life that began as a plan in the mind of God, is begun in us by the power of the Spirit working in our hearts and is completed in the power of the Spirit enabling us to do the works which God foreordained for us to do (John 1:12-13, Gal. 3:3, Phil. 1:6, Eph. 2:10, Rom. 11:36). The great problem in the Church today is man – man's ideas, methods, and leadership instead of God's. Human bodies function best when all parts receive their needed instruction from the head, Christ is and always will be Head of His body and it will prosper to the degree it is willing to listen to Him. When God's power was on Peter in such a way that men were healed when his shadow fell on them, he didn't sell tickets to where he was going to be walking, and he didn't write a book on shadow healing technique. In this way he was very different to us today, we focus more on technique than relationship with Christ and character. Technique has its place, but separated from relationship and character it is mere showmanship. Paul certainly didn't have pulpit personality (2 Cor. 10:10), yet he did far more to change his and succeeding generations than a million flamboyant preachers with feel good messages and platitudes ever could. Technique is dangerous because it can give apparent results with little cost. It costs to get a hold of God in prayer. It costs to really see yourself and see others as they are before God and then declare it, but the results will be everlasting. The Church today barely holds its own against the tide of sin, the early Church changed their world. Even as the glow of the apostolic Church was beginning to fade Justin Martyr could still write of the numberless deliverances from evil spirits worked by the Christians. As the power continued to fade, sacramental ceremonies began to replace the inward life of the Spirit. There is good reason to believe that confirmation originated in the laying on of hands to impart the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, after the actual impartation of the baptism became rare. In the same way extreme unction was originally given in line with James 5:14-15, but as the power of healing began to leave only the hollow form remained.

For more information on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its evidence – speaking in tongues please see my series here.

Before moving on to the next foundational doctrine I should mention something about the baptism of fire. Fire accompanied the first Pentecost of the church and there is no reason to think it is gone now. Personally I had an experience where I felt the power of God come upon me and I felt hot as though I was burning up, it was at an evening church service. Later that night as I still felt warm I continued to pray as I was lying in bed and in the dark I saw a tongue of fire, it was about 8 inches high, and looked like a wavering blue gas burner flash in front of me twice. Not only do we need the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, but we also need God's fire to continually burn in our hearts. Amen.