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Weekly Word

Friday
May112018

The Identity of Jesus

Colossians 1:15-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 6, 2018.

We have been looking at the book of Colossians.  Paul in the verses before this section has focused on how thankful Christians should be.  The apex of this is to be thankful that we are in “the Kingdom of the Son of His love.”  Though the world of darkness is still around us, believers are part of the Kingdom of Jesus and need not fear the darkness.

In verses 15-20, Paul expands on just who this Jesus is for whom he says we should be thankful.  What Jesus did for us ultimately hinges upon who He is.  Both are important.  So who is this Jesus who has redeemed us to God by His blood at the cross (see verse 14)? 

We are in the Kingdom of the Son of His Love

All kingdoms have a king and Jesus is the King of all believers.  However, he is far more than this.  The Colossians had been influenced by several different views about Jesus.  Some who had a Jewish background saw Jesus as something to be added to the law.  Thus they promoted circumcision and the prohibition of certain foods etc.  Some, who had a Greek background-especially Gnostic ideologies- had difficulty mentally accepting that Jesus could be both fully God and fully human.   Thus you would run various ideas that made Jesus less than the Apostles had taught.  Paul here reminds the Colossians just who Jesus is.

The first point we run into is that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  This is an important concept because in Genesis we are told that mankind was created in God’s image.  We have the ability to reflect attributes of the God who created us.    This is different than being God, but is important nonetheless.  The fall in the Garden of Eden impacted the ability of people to reflect God’s attributes.  The interference of that ancient serpent, the devil, led mankind to experience sin and its death.  Since the Garden no human has perfectly reflected God’s image nor even come close.  This is compounded by the fact that sin separates us from God.  Jesus in his totality is the image of the invisible God in its totality.  He is the only way we have to truly understand what the invisible God is like.  To see One of them is to have seen the other.  Hebrews 1:3 makes this even clearer by saying that Jesus is the “express image” or “the exact imprint” of the Father.

For everyone who has ever wanted God to come down out of the heavens and show Himself, God sends Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t just look like the Father, but He is the manifestation that the Father has given to us so that we may know exactly what He looks like, how He thinks, and just exactly what His plan is.  This is why it is important for us to take the time to find out what God’s Word says about Jesus, not just what people in their wisdom are saying about Him.  Sure we need the help of those who are mature in the faith to get insight into the Word.  But we can never abdicate our responsibility to find out just who Jesus is for ourselves.  Do you want to know what God is like?  Take time to read the Bible, but also spiritually ask God to open your eyes to what the Word is saying about just who Jesus is.  Thus there is a natural part and a spiritual part that go hand in hand.

Next we are told that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation.  Some have tried to make this mean that Jesus is part of the creation and is merely the first created thing.  To them Jesus is not divine in the sense that He is the same essence of the Father.  Rather they would call him divine in the same way that we call angels divine (i.e. that which comes from God).  The problem with this is that this is not what the phrase is emphasizing.  To call Jesus the firstborn is not a way of removing distinctions between Him and creation, but rather inserting one.  If we are talking literally, the firstborn is just as human as his brothers.  But this is clearly a metaphorical use.  The firstborn is not just another brother.  He not only receives a double-portion of the inheritance, but He will be the patriarch when the Father dies.  Thus the firstborn is distinct from his younger brothers.  To say that Jesus is the firstborn of creation emphasizes His authority and place over all of creation.  He is heir to all that belongs to the Father, that is, all of creation.

Now the following words go on to make the last point obvious.  Notice that the creation, both heavenly and earthly, was created by Jesus.  This is made even more explicit in John 1:3.  “All things were made through Him [The Word who is Jesus], and without Him nothing was made that was made.”  Thus Jesus stands outside of the created order, or all things that were made, as The One through who all created things were made.  The logic of these verses makes it impossible to see Jesus as a part of the creation, except for the human form that He took upon Himself at a particular point in time.

Thus the firstborn is used to present the man Jesus in a category that is different than all of creation.  He is the heir and the one who is Lord over all of creation, even though he looked like a man.  In fact in verse 16 three prepositional phrases are used to expound the relationship between Jesus and creation.  Creation was created “by Him.”  This means He is the active agent of its existence.  Next we are told that creation was created “through Him.”  This is not to contradict the prior statement, but instead to add to the meaning.  Jesus is the means by which God the Father brought all things into existence.  Lastly, creation was created “for Him.”  The purpose of creation is found in Jesus.  All things exist because He has a purpose in bringing them all into existence.  It is important for all humans to look to Jesus as their Lord, source of being, and source of purpose.  Without Jesus we will continually bump up against the reality of this as we try all manner of our own purposes for living.

Verse 17 reminds us that Christ is “before all things.”  Before anything existed that has been created, Jesus existed in a relationship with the Father.  At this time He did not have a human body, but was as the Father is.  This is similar to the functioning of Genesis 1:1.  Here we find that before anything was brought into existence, God was already in a state of being.  John emphasizes this in his gospel (John 1:1) by referring to Jesus in His pre-creation state as “The Word.”  This preexistence of Jesus was hard for the religious leaders of His day to swallow (read John 8).  However, to the apostles and those who experienced the powerful words and wonderful acts of Jesus, it was proven in every way and was the only logical explanation (not to imply that they determined this through human reasoning).

Verse 17 also says that in Jesus “all things hold together.”  The idea is that in Jesus all things have been set in relation to each other.  Another way to see this is to look deeper at the word translated here.  The word is translated as “consist” in some translations.  We can compare the word “consist” with the word “exist.”  Existence emphasizes the individual thing has being.  It exists.  However, consistence or to say that something consists is to emphasize its being in relation to everything around it.  Thus even the phrase “all things holds together” falls short of the full spectrum of this word.  Our existence and we fit into all the systems of this creation, whether natural or spiritual, are His doing.

Verse 18 says that Jesus is the head of the body [or Church].  Body is a reference to the Church being the “body of Christ.”  Head refers to the authority, but even more importantly it points to a vital influence that it cannot be without.  Jesus isn’t just the head authority of the Church, but just as a body cannot live without connection to a brain, so the Church has no existence without Christ who is its head.  Thus the image of the headwaters of a river could be used.   The vitality of the Church depends upon its connection to Christ who is our head.  He is the source of our relationship to all of creation (including Father God), but also the source of our purpose and function within it.

The phrase that “He is the beginning” most likely goes with the next phrase that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead.  However it can just be another way of saying He created all things.  So let’s deal with this second firstborn phrase.  Again, the firstborn is intended to set Jesus apart from all that have died.  He alone of all who have died has firstborn status.  This is important because typically if the firstborn dies, someone else has to take his place.  However, Jesus is such a being that his firstborn status is not overcome by death.  Just as He is the firstborn of the living, so He is to those who have died.  This is proven in that He is the only one to enter into death and come back by His own power.  John 10:18 says, “No one takes it [his life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This command I have received from my Father.”  Thus, those who are dead have not “missed out” on Jesus.  They are included in His authority and as such will be given the right to one day take up their bodily life again, as He has.  In Jesus an emptying of the grave is begun. Throughout history all of humanity has come into being, lived, and then died.  This cycle is overcome and brought to an end in Jesus.  In fact 1 Corinthians 15:22 uses the phrase that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have died.”  His resurrection is a signal that a greater resurrection is coming and for which we can hope.

Verse 18 ends with the statement that it is God’s purpose that Jesus should have first place in all things.  All spiritual beings, such as angels and cherubim, and all physical beings, such as mankind, are to look up to Christ as the One who has first place and authority over them.  John 5:22-23 says, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  Also Philippians 2:9-11 says it this way, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Verse 19 states that, it is the Father’s pleasure that in Jesus all the fullness dwells.  “The Fullness” is a phrase that was used at the time to refer to the totality of divine powers and attributes.  This is important for those Greek thinking peoples who had the concept of hybrid beings that were only partially divine.  Jesus wasn’t just full of the Holy Spirit, although that is true.  He embodies the totality of the divine powers and attributes.  Thus He is the source of all that we need and could ever ask for.  When one is in right relationship with “The Fullness” then one never needs to worry.  The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.

As we end this section, Paul points out that it is through Jesus that all things are reconciled to God.  Jesus started the process of reconciling the creation back to The Father.  The chaos of individual choices and sin, whether in the heavenly beings or earthly, has put all of creation out of whack and proper order.  But the work of Jesus at the cross was the place where this reconciliation process was made possible and began.  How about you today?  Are you in right relationship with the Father and His Son, Jesus?  Has your life been reconciled to God by Christ?  Let Jesus become the Lord of your life and He will help you set all things in proper order before the Father as you walk with Him.  How can you say “No” to such an amazing savior?  Trust Jesus as Lord today!

Identity of Jesus Audio

Tuesday
May012018

Our Needs as Followers of Christ

Colossians 1:1-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 29, 2018.

The book of the Bible that we call Colossians was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to believers in the city of Colosse (sometimes spelled Colossae).  Like all new believers, the Colossians were in danger of listening to false teachers who would take advantage of their new faith in order to manipulate it towards a mixture of Christian beliefs with those of the Greeks or Jews.  The word that we use for such a mixture is “syncretism.”

In many ways this word describes much of the world today, who treat religion like a buffet table.  When we “cherry-pick” from different religions all the things that make sense to us, several things happen.  First, we have set ourselves up as the judge of what is truth, and yet by searching we confess that we do not know what is true.  So how could we be the best judge?  What guarantee is there that I will somehow choose wisely?  There is none.  Second, we end up with a number of ideas and lifestyle choices that are not coherent, or do not logically tie together (in fact they are often downright contradictions).  We end up with a philosophy of life that is inconsistent and even hypocritical.

Take for instance the reality that modern philosophy promotes a humanistic materialism.  The evolutionary theory that comes from such a view has no true basis for ethic or morality.  There is no such thing as absolute truth.  Who am I to tell a serial killer that what they do is wrong?  We are all just accidents that do not have true thoughts, but only a neuro-electrical version of the old Plinko game.  Yet, we cannot escape the fact that people find it impossible to live out such philosophies with consistency.  The first time someone steals something of yours, a deep inner compulsion pushes you to declare it as wrong.  To remain true to our philosophy we would have to recognize it is just a trick of our bodies and that it has no true validity.  Thus modern man finds himself clinging to a humanistic, evolutionary view of the world, while inconsistently absconding with views from Christianity or any other religion, hoping that know one notices (usually not even noticing ourselves).  Some sense of morality is helpful to a society regardless of whether or not we can make a logical case for the necessity of it without God.

As we look into this letter, we will find that God has spoken into the world and Jesus is that Word that He has spoken to us.  Man's attempts to find meaning outside God are barren.

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse.

Before we get into chapter 1 verse 1, it would be helpful to know exactly where Colosse was.  This city was in what we call Turkey today.  Here is a link to a map that will give you an idea (Thank you BibleAtlas.org).  It was very close to another city mentioned in the book of Revelation, Laodicea.

From what little information that we have in the Bible, it appears that this was not a city that Paul had evangelized.  A convert named Epaphras, who was from Colosse, seems to have brought the gospel to them and a church developed.

We also know that Paul wrote the letter from one of his imprisonments.  He later tells them to remember his chains (4:18).  It is believed the letter was written around AD 63 +/- several years.  While in prison, word had come to Paul about this community in Colosse and some of the doctrinal issues that had cropped up among them.  Thus Paul writes a letter concerning those issues, so that the believers of Colosse could have confidence in what they should believe and how they should live.

We also see that Paul instructs the Colossians to share this letter with the believers of Laodicea, and to read the letter that was written to the believers of Laodicea (4:16).  This helps us to see how the word of God was spread throughout these early churches.  It wasn’t until later that large groups of the Gospels and letters were put together and circulated more widely.

Paul gives thanks for these new believers.

In verses 3-8 Paul mentions several things for which he is thankful.  First, he is thankful for their faith in Jesus.  The reports of how they had embraced the truth about Christ, and the larger body of believers that they were joining, had come to Paul.  Their faith had expressed itself in a love for the saints.  Now remember that “saints” here does not mean an elite group of believers.  It is a term used of all believers that emphasized that each one had been set apart by God for His own purposes, a holy purpose. 

He also reminds them that this faith in Jesus gives them a hope that was laid up in heaven.  Peter uses the phrase, “reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4).”  Our inheritance is for us to be transformed into glorified bodies and to inherit the world with Jesus at His Second Coming.  We can see a familiar theme of Paul’s here with the three great virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

He is also thankful that the word of truth was bringing forth fruit.  It is not enough to hear the word of the Lord, it must bear fruit to be of any value to us and to the world.  Part of that transforming fruit is their “Love in the Spirit” mentioned at the end of verse 8.

Love is an important principle among any people who are going to accomplish something together.  However, without the Holy Spirit, human love continually falls short.  It is here today and gone tomorrow.  For the believer, it is the presence of the Spirit of God that stirs us up to love one another.  When we refuse to listen to the Spirit, then dissension and divisions break out.  Such Spirit-led love has a strength that overcomes all adversity and human frailty that we may find within each other.  our love for one another is not based upon each other, but upon the Spirit of God that is teaching us how to love one another.  Thus the fruit of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  This affects our relationship with other believers and with the world.  Paul is welcoming these new believers and rejoicing for their presence within the greater body of Christ.

As we look over this list, we may notice that Paul placed an emphasis on things that are not possessions and wealth.  It is good for believers to be thankful for the material blessings that they have in Christ.  But may we also learn to be even more thankful for the things that Paul listed.  Are you thankful for the people that God used to bring the gospel into your life?  Are you thankful for other believers?  Are you thankful for the grace to believe in Christ and become part of his family?  Are you thankful for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in your life?  These are the things that we need most and for which we ought to give thanks to God most.

Paul prays for these new believers.

In verses 9-14, Paul lets them know the things he was praying for them.  It is good for us to hear this list because our prayers can become only a list of the material things that we are seeking from God.  Here Paul lists things that are far more important than new cars, houses, business deals, money, etc.

Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.  Of course the will of God is to embrace Jesus as our Lord, but it is clear that Paul is thinking more than just our initial acceptance of Jesus.  The phrases, “all wisdom” and “spiritual understanding” speak to living out our lives as believers in Jesus.  We run into all kinds of situations and temptations, in which we need the wisdom and understanding of the Spirit of God in order to do what God wants us to do.  In a nutshell the letters that Paul and the other apostles wrote were doing just that.  Paul was helping them to understand what God’s will was in every situation. Yes, God wants us to embrace Jesus and to be a person in which His Spirit can dwell.  But, then, through a dynamic relationship, He wants to transform our minds and our lives into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul also prays that they would walk worthy of the Lord.  Paul is using the phrase to emphasize that we are capable of not listening to the Spirit from time to time.  The believer should never be comfortable with this.  The works of the flesh are obvious and believers need to recognize that the Lord Jesus is so glorious that we do not want to tarnish Him before the world.  Many might fear that this will tend towards legalism.  But, Paul’s point is not to create a legalism, but rather, to inspire us to proper actions.  Like a coach reminding students that they represent their school, Paul reminds us that we represent Jesus and our actions reflect upon Him.  

So is it possible to be fully pleasing to the Lord?  We are fully pleasing to the Lord when we listen to the Holy Spirit in regards to how we should live.  Of course this also involves those times when we fail.  Too often people forget that the Holy Spirit also leads us to repentance and forgiveness for those times when we fail.  It is not a phrase that seeks to disqualify and kick us out.  Rather, it is intended to motivate us.

Paul also prays that they would be fruitful in every good work.  This is another way of looking at the concept of walking worthy of the Lord.  A person who follows the Spirit of God will be fruitful in their life.  They will also be beneficial to others much like a fruit tree is beneficial to those who come upon it.  We will be a tree of life and a fresh water spring to the people around us because the Life of the Spirit will flow into us and through us.

Paul also prays that they will be strengthened with all might.  All of this talk about being like Christ and following the Holy Spirit requires much inner strength.  Intestinal fortitude, or “guts” for short, cannot come from our flesh.  It must have a spiritual source.  The closer we get to following Jesus the more our flesh gets queasy and weak.  We need the strength of Christ's glorious power working in us in order to put the desires of the flesh to death.  This daily dying to self and living in Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit, if we yield to Him.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul was reminded by the Lord that “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  In that passage the weakness is that which we have in our flesh.  When our flesh is weak, the powerful strength of the Lord will shine through and do its perfect work.  People will recognize that the power is of God and not of me.

Lastly, Paul prays that they will be thankful to God with Him.  We should be thankful that God has qualified us to be partakers in the inheritance of the saints.  This is what Daniel saw in chapter 7 verses 21-22.  “I was watching and the same horn was making war against the saints and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.”

We are also to be thankful that God has delivered us from the power of darkness (spiritual darkness and spiritual powers) and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.  Wow! Talk about a new immigration status.  Without Christ we are stuck under the powers of darkness that rule over this world.  Their kingdom will never bring peace and joy to the earth.  Yet, mankind continues to operate in league with them.  Through Christ we are able to break out of that spiritual matrix that enslaves the whole world.  We are then enabled to participate in the kingdom of Jesus.  That kingdom exists in part already.  But the fullness of it will be known when He returns to earth to set up an earthly kingdom.

We should also give thanks to the Father that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven.  Jesus paid the price with his blood that purchased us back from the auction block and slavery of sin.  His death made it possible that our sins might be removed from us as far as the east is from the west.

Now as I close, be honest.  Are these the things in which you are most thankful and most likely to be praying for?  May the word of God instruct us in the things that truly make for our joy and that we truly need.  Of course we are instructed to pray for our daily bread.  But let’s pray for the things that Paul is praying, both for yourself and for fellow believers.  We all need these things even more than we need the material.

Our Needs audio

Tuesday
Apr242018

When the Truth is Made Known

Matthew 10:24-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 22, 2018.

Is it possible to have joy when difficult things are happening to you?  According to Jesus in his “beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed when people revile us, persecute us, and say all manner of evil things against us falsely for Christ’s sake.  Then he goes further and tells us to rejoice and be glad for great is our reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-11).  These are not the words of a man who was protected by privilege and position in this world.  He had grown up labeled as an illegitimate child, and then rejected and mistreated by entrenched religious leaders.  Ultimately he was headed to a cross and yet he tells us we are blessed in such cases and should rejoice and be glad.  How is such an incredible response possible?

It may be easy to dismiss this by saying that it was easy for Jesus because He was God.  But such arguments are themselves a cop-out.  How are we to know that it wasn’t actually harder for Him because He was God?  We can’t because we can only know for sure what it is like to be human.  Jesus was fully human and yet fully God.  So we should dispense with such intellectual dishonesty and recognize that Jesus expects this to be our experience in times of persecution or suffering.  How could he expect this of us?

As we look at the words of Jesus in our passage today, we will find that it is the knowledge that there will be a day when all that is hidden will be brought to light.  This is a scary thing for those who have ulterior motives.  But, for the believer, the day of revelation will be a joyous moment in which all that has been slandered against us will be cast down by Christ Himself.  Let’s look at the passage.

In this world Christians will be persecuted.

Jesus never promised us a rose garden in this life and this passage is one of many that prove it.  The apostle tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” They had been warned by Jesus.  A pernicious mentality has developed among some Christians today.  It is the idea that if we were more like Jesus in faith and power, that we could fix the ills of the world and save everybody.  As wonderful as that idea is, it is not a biblical one, nor is it particularly Christian.  It is not a Christian idea because it purports to put us and the power of our faith above the Lord who bought us with His blood.  Here Jesus makes it clear that those who follow Him are going to encounter persecution in this world.

This will happen precisely because we are not greater than Him.   Jesus uses three different relationships to help us see why we will be persecuted as well.  There is the relationship of the teacher to the student, the lord to a servant, and the master of a house to the members of that household.  The student learns from the teacher in order to be like his master.  If a servant’s master is hated by the world, then so too will the servant.  Ultimately, Jesus is pointing out that if we are in relationship with him then we will experience whatever it is that he receives.  Whatever lot comes to Jesus also comes to us.  The only way to avoid it is to reject Him, or at least to minimize his lordship in your life.

In the end it was the lot of Jesus to be persecuted in this world.  Thus those who follow Him will also encounter persecution.  Sure, it will vary depending on the place and time that you live.  Jesus points out that just as they accused Him of being in league with the prince of demons, so they will accuse His disciples of being evil.    They also called him a heretic that was causing dissension.  He was labeled an insurrectionist and revolutionary.  All of these were false accusations.  

Herein lies the problem.  The above mentioned relationships between us and Jesus, and the Scriptures themselves, teach that the Spirit of God is laboring to make us more like Jesus.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  So how can it be that Christianity can convert the whole world and create a Utopia by having the power and faith that Jesus had?  Such power and faith led to Jesus being persecuted and killed.  How can it lead us to anything new?  Yes, if Jesus so determines, it could be so.  But here he promises the opposite.  Perhaps the only way it can be is if I am not operating in the same faith and power that He did.

Regardless, notice how verse 25 is worded, “It is enough...”. Jesus puts it in a statement form.  But we should ask it as a question.  Is it enough for me to simply be like Jesus?  Clearly it is enough from God’s perspective because Jesus states it so.  But is it enough for me?  Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher, said, “God was slandered in paradise, and Christ on Calvary.  How can we expect to escape?”

It is each thing that Jesus was not that draw our hearts away from Him and towards the world; away from the relationships of Teacher-student, Lord-servant, Master of the house-household member.  We are drawn either completely away from Christ, or we are deluded with the fanciful notion that we can have Christ and the world as our teachers.  Friend, recognize today that Jesus really is enough for you.  However, your flesh will not think so, and the world around you will not tell you so.  When the Christian Corrie Ten Boom came out of the German concentration camp of WWII, she had a message for the world.  “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  He is enough.

In some ways modern society has become “more righteous” than God Himself.  It makes accusations of conspiracy, and rejects biblical ethics and morality.  Don’t listen to those voices that seduce you with becoming greater than Jesus, whether from within Christian circles or from the world.  When Jesus is enough for us, then we will know the peace and rest that God has for our souls and the joy of His Holy Spirit in times of difficulty.

There is a day in which all will be revealed.

In verse 26 Jesus reminds us of a principle that is as sure as any law of physics.  The hidden things will come to light.  This is both a warning and an encouragement.  It is a warning for those who would conceal evil, and an encouragement to those who are falsely accused of such.  All things that are done leave evidence behind.  Even when a person is framed by planted evidence, there will always be some evidence that it was planted, whether we are able to recapture it or not (God can recapture it).  Truth has a way of coming out in the end, precisely because it is real.  So it will be in eternity as all that has truly happened comes to the surface and God gives His judgments based upon reality, truth.

Jesus was not like the secret societies of our days.  He did not teach one thing in public and another to his top 3 disciples.  Sure they received more than the crowds, but Jesus was not publicly worshipping Yahweh, while privately promoting Beelzebub.  The false slander of the religious authorities came from an attempt to hold to two irreconcilable positions: Jesus was doing incontrovertible miracles, and yet He cannot be the Messiah.  Jesus was silent at His trial precisely because He had said and done everything out in the open.  If they were still going to pretend He was evil, what could he say to overturn their minds?  Christians reject those who use secret society techniques, who promote one thing to the masses and another to the inner elite.  This is the way of Satan, not Jesus.  The longer you are with Christ the more you recognize that His teachings do not become different as you draw closer to Him.  Rather, it is you who becomes different, and the teachings of Christ become deeper than we ever imagined.  This is what Corrie Ten Boom found in the depths of an earthly hell:  Jesus was still with her and His love had not abandoned her, even though she was in a place destitute of love and faithfulness.  So as the disciples of Jesus, we have nothing to hide, even though the world accuses us of hypocrisy, conspiracy, and idiocy (granted such do exist under the tent of Christianity).

Jesus tells his disciples not to fear those who make such unfounded accusations because the truth will come to light in some way.  It might not come soon enough to keep me from being nailed to a tree, but it will come nonetheless.  

There is a strength that can be derived from trusting the vindication of God Himself in your life.  Think of it.  God is your defense attorney and therefore you can’t lose.  But when I am my own defense attorney and I am constantly fearful at what others think about me, then I will become trapped by my own double-mindedness.  Draw strength from God’s promised rectification and wait for His timing.  

In fact, worry and fear of what others think or say sidetracks us from the mission of Christ.  Instead we pick up a futile mission of our own.  We will never please all of the people all of the time, in fact not even a majority.  Think of it.  If I am working at “reforming my public image,” it puts me at odds with the Holy Spirit’s work of making me to look like Jesus.  How proud we must be to remake our image so as to avoid what Jesus marched purposefully towards.  The only choices that God gives to us is to embrace the image of Jesus and the persecution that goes along with it, or choose an image that the world will accept and avoid it.  It is not our job to reform our image, but rather, in every way to yield to the Spirit’s call to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes God does bring the truth to light in the present.  We will taste some vindication in this life in various ways.  However, our hope goes beyond this.  Few are ever completely vindicated in this life.  Even Jesus has billions who reject His words.  But a day of vindication is coming.  God’s defense of Jesus and those who are following Him never rests.  He will have the final word.

This final vindication will be brought to light when the Lord Jesus comes to reign upon the earth.  As it was in the days of Jesus, so it is today.  Often those who paint the devil on others are most manipulated by the devil themselves.  Jesus and His apostles warned us against judging too quickly, and at the wrong time.  Thus some things, like the hidden motivations of a person’s heart, have to be left up to God.

Humility is a part of following Jesus, and it teaches us to trust in the judgments of God that will be revealed at Christ’s Second Coming.  Romans 8:18-21 says, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the Sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willfully, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  So just who are the children of God and what is their revealing?  He is speaking of Christians and the day of resurrection when we will stand beside Christ in glorified bodies.  It will be clear on that day just who chose wickedness and who chose truth.  It won’t matter what any person thinks, or even if billions of followers shout your praises.  What matters is the judgment of God Himself.  Thus in 1 Corinthians 4:5 we are told, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  Then each one’s praise will come from God.”  Instead of fearing what people think, we can rejoice in knowing already what God thinks.  In fact the life of a believer, is constantly having fellowship with God by His Spirit.  Instead of worrying about what others think, we only worry about what God thinks.  Thus the adage is true, “You don’t want the wrong people to like you.”

Let’s put our trust in the Lord and grow in living out His righteousness.  This is enough for us, regardless of what the world around us might falsely say about us.  We are in good company, for such they did to the prophets of old and especially our Lord Jesus.  If we suffer with Him then we shall be glorified with Him!

Truth Made Known Audio

Wednesday
Apr182018

Joy in the Holy Spirit

There is a song that has been taught to young children in church called “Jesus and Others and You.”  Here are the Lyrics:

"Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.

Jesus and others and you, it’s the life for each girl and each boy.

J- is for Jesus for He has first place,

O- is for others we meet face to face, and

Y- is for you, in whatever you do put yourself last and spell joy."

Of course, when we are not teaching children, it is easy as adults to toss this idea out the window as a simplistic platitude.  It seems to be a foolish recipe for disaster.  “I don’t want to be a doormat,” exclaims our smarter self.  However, when we are honest it is the way of Jesus.  Part of our problem is that we think we know what this song is talking about and yet we generally get the acronym mixed up.

Some think they have tried this, but in all actuality they were spelling JYO.  The Pharisees during the life of Jesus were of this sort (I know they didn’t believe in Jesus, so they were spelling God, You, Others).  Unless we learn the lesson, which we talked about last week, in Matthew 11:28-30, God is not really in first place.  In reality we are in first place with God as our flag or banner.  We make all the decisions and call all the shots, all in the name of God.  Such is a recipe for disaster, for us and others.  When Christ removes the yokes of obligation to others off of our neck and we submit to serving only Him, then we will find a place of joy that others and self cannot steal.  In a word, even when we try to put others second for the sake of Christ, our self often hijacks the attempts and we fail to recognize it.  Thus we walk away cynical and jaded to the path of joy that comes from Christ.  Let’s look at our passage.

Trouble in Paradise

Verses 17 and 18 are part of an important issue in this chapter.  The apostle Paul is dealing with Christians who are arguing over whether Christians should eat meat.  There were several reasons and issues that could lead to such ideas.  For some this had to do with the requirements of the Law of Moses to refrain from certain meats.  Thus the early Christian community had many people who grew up in a society that strictly avoided certain meats.  This created friction in the early community over whether or not a person should eat these meats, and how people who practically disagreed could get along.  Another issue (detailed in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10) is meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.  It was common in the Greco-Roman world to have meat in the marketplace that had been consecrated to the gods in general or to specific ones.  Thus issues developed over whether or not Christians could eat such meat in different circumstances.  In this chapter, Paul does not get into answering questions in this area.  Rather the strongly held beliefs of Christians on either side of this issue were causing them to mistreat one another.  Thus Paul states in verse 3 that those who didn’t eat were “despising” those who did and those who did eat were judging those who didn’t.  I know, I know, it is shocking that Christians had trouble with despising and judging one another back then (sarx).  So we have one group looking down upon another as if they are of no account and to be avoided (despise) and the other group judging them back (perhaps not associating with them).  Both of these words are really two sides of the same coin.

The Bible does not hide the fact that Christians do not always see eye to eye on every matter and we know that this is still true today.  It was the apostles’ job to lay down a firm foundation of what the teachings and “good news or Gospel” of Jesus were.  Here Paul is teaching that what Christians eat or drink should not cause division among them.  In verse 5 he also adds what days we hold special observances. 

Do any of these issues sound a little more familiar?  Our issues today may not be the same as those of the first century, but the overarching principles that the apostle Paul laid down are still necessary for us to listen to because Paul is speaking as a representative of Christ.  We should not let our opinions about food, drink, and special observances, draw us into actively despising and judging one another.  If we want to debate issues that is fine to a degree, but it is secondary to how we treat one another.

In serving the Lord we can lose sight of what He wants and how He wants it done.  The secondary issues, or even lower, can supplant what we are primarily supposed to be accomplishing.  Thus in verse 1 Paul says that we should receive one who is “weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.”  The phrase “weak in the faith” is not intended as a pejorative.  It is intended to make it clear that theologically it did not matter for Christians whether they ate meat or not.  The teachings of Christ, the vision of Peter, and Christ’s words to Paul had settled the issue.  Christians did not need to follow the Mosaic food laws, nor did they need to fear that meat could be spiritually contaminated.   Some people knew these teachings, but still it bothered their consciences.  Thus their faith in these teachings was not very strong in the practice of their life, which is fine because our salvation is not based on whether we eat pork or not.  Neither Jesus nor the apostles created a litmus test for people to join the community that involved eating pork or observing certain days.  Thus we should receive each other as brothers and sisters even if we have some matters of conscience that are different.  Yet, we should not receive them to arguments about such doubtful matters.

This is exactly where Christians have failed throughout the years.  In trying to serve Jesus and the Truth, we often- without even knowing it- confuse our thinking and rationale with what Jesus wants.  We end up sacrificing our brothers and sisters on the altar of our own opinions, instead of remembering what the Kingdom of God is all about.  Is this what God wants?  Is Jesus so concerned about what meat you eat that a person should be despised and shunned as an unbeliever or heretic?  Is Jesus so concerned about what day you worship on or whether or not you celebrate Christmas?  Paul is saying, “No way!”  So what does Christ want and how should it be done?

There are matters that Jesus and His apostles made clear were essential in order to be a Christian.  One must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins on the cross, and gives us peace with the Father.  Also, Jesus made many other strong statements that make it clear that He must be our Lord and Master, if we are to truly be His disciple.  We must believe that he truly came in human flesh.  Thus there are essentials and this is not what Paul is talking about.  He is dealing with doubtful matters, or matters of personal opinion (no matter how biblically based our reasoning is).  A famous phrase on these matters says it this way.  “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things charity.”  Thus Paul is concerned that they are attempting to make doubtful matters essential, and in the process, losing all charity with one another. This is why verses 17 and 18 are so critical to this passage.  Here Paul reminds them just what Jesus is trying to accomplish with this Kingdom of God we have now joined.

The True Purpose of the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God has a dual aspect to it.  On one hand we are already a part of the God’s kingdom.  Jesus is our King; the New Jerusalem is our heavenly capital; the commands of Jesus are our law; we are its citizens; and all of us are joined by one blood (that of Jesus) and one Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.  The Bible promises a day when Christ will come to earth and create an earthly throne, and these things that are now in the spirit realm will be manifest in this world.  Just as Jesus was incarnated into the world, so these things will also come into material existence.  So the Kingdom of God has both now and not yet aspects to it.  This is important to keep in mind as Paul describes what the Kingdom of God is all about.

Having reminded them that the Kingdom of God is not about what you eat, drink, or what days you specially observe, Paul lists three things that the Kingdom of God is actually trying to accomplish.

The first is righteousness.  The Kingdom of God is about creating true righteousness.  Though Paul is not likely listing these in matter of importance, this is primarily where the Roman believers were failing.  They were not dealing with one another righteously.  Notice that the people on either side of this debate likely believe that they are on the side of righteousness, but they are not dealing righteously with one another.  Doesn’t this say volumes to the things that go on today in our society as a whole and even within the Church?  We should not be despising anyone, and our judgments of one another should be tempered with the truth that we are not the final judge, Jesus is.  Also, our judgments should be tempered with humility and the awareness that the same measure of strictness we judge others will be given to us by the Lord.

Now when it comes to Righteousness, our entry into the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with our own righteousness.  We are brought into the Kingdom of God by the righteousness of Christ.  Thus the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and all people approach God as beggars seeking help.  Once we are in the Kingdom of God, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit within us to hear the Lord’s commands, through His written Word and by the Spirit in our hearts, and to do that which is truly righteous.  The Spirit leads us into all that is righteous, if we will follow Him.  Christians can lose sight of where the Holy Spirit is truly leading.  He is not leading to conformity on what we eat and the days we hold special.  He is leading to us living in true righteousness with one another.  In fact when you contemplate the matter, you will find that it is hard to talk about righteousness without assuming our interactions with other people.  Righteousness is all about how we treat one another, and the only way it can be truly righteous, is to die to ourselves, listen to and follow Jesus.

The second purpose is peace.  The Kingdom of God is about giving us peace, and Jesus wants you to have peace.  That is an amazing statement.  We first receive peace with God through the work that Jesus did on the cross.  Before I put my faith in Him, I was an enemy of God.  I was on the side of the rebellion and under His looming wrath.  However, He is not willing that any should perish and thus sent His Son to make terms of peace between us and Him.  The terms of peace are this.  We put the Son of God to death and therefore are guilty.  But, if we will repent and through faith serve Him as our Lord, then we can be absolved of our crimes. 

This peace with God is intended to then give us peace in our hearts and our minds.  Jesus rises up as the new Lord over that seething cauldron and foaming ocean of thoughts and desires we have within.  He declares, “Peace, be still!”  My thoughts and desires no longer take preeminence.  His is the Lord and it is His desires and commands that take first place.  Part of the problem with doubtful matters or matters of opinion is that instead of trusting the words of Christ and His apostles, we let storms, of logic and desire, rob us of our peace.  We must step aside and daily, moment by moment, allow the Lord to once again speak peace over us.

When we are at peace on the inside, then we can live peacefully among others (at least for our part).  Yes, sometimes others need corrected in the areas of essentials, but it can be done in a peaceful way that follows the Spirit of God rather than our own spirit.

The last purpose is joy in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus wants us to have joy in our hearts, but not just any joy.  It is particularly a joy that is found in the Holy Spirit.  Living in the Spirit is a way of saying that we are hearing Him and following Him.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 the imagery is different, “Joy of the Holy Spirit.” Thus we can think about being in the Holy Spirit (like a sphere of relationship), or we can think about the Holy Spirit being within us (like a constant presence and influence).  Either way the joy Jesus has for us does not come from certain people or things of this life.  It comes from God Himself by His Holy Spirit.  When we find ourselves losing our joy, we must let that be a red flag to us.  We then need to get back to seeking the Lord and listening to His Spirit.

Just as Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, so today we should recognize that the way of the Lord is not intended to grind the joy out of our life.  Rather it should cause it to grow in joy and other fruit.  This is what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Now don’t confuse being happy with having joy.  Being happy has more to do with the surface reactions of our heart to the moment.  This will go up and down as we seek to control our heart and minds before the Lord.  Yet, in the midst of deep and troubling times, we can have a place of joy that the world didn’t give and the world can’t take away.  When we start following ourselves then we start to lose connection to the source of joy that Jesus has for us.    We need to listen to the Holy Spirit each day in order to keep experiencing that joy.

It is interesting that the New Testament talks a lot about joy in circumstances that are contradictory.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was in prison, and yet it focuses on the joy of the believer.  Acts 13:52, after explaining that Paul and Barnabas had been kicked out of a particular province in Asia Minor, immediately states “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  Listen, this would be like saying that a person lost their job…and they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t follow in the natural.  The only way that it works is because they were keeping their eyes on the Lord and listening to the Holy Spirit.  They took joy in the fact that they were experiencing the same things that their Lord had experienced and countless saints down through the ages.  When Jesus is truly Lord in our life, then we will have a proper priority.  Instead of tearing each other down we will work to build each other up in the most, holy faith.

Thus the phrase “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell joy” is not off the mark.  It is exactly what Paul is telling us.  When we see ourselves as “on the side of Jesus” and others as farther away, then we enter into a territory that robs us of our joy.  But when we serve Christ by helping and loving others in a way that pleases Him, by speaking the truth yet in love, then we can know true joy, even in the middle of trials and persecution.  Let’s live for Jesus this week and know His righteousness, His peace, and His joy!

Joy in the Holy Spirit audio