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Are You Missing Out?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

If you grew up in a family committed to Christ, you may have felt, especially during your adolescent years, that you were missing out on many of the common experiences that your other ‘normal’ friends enjoyed. There may have been times when you felt, with more than a little bitterness, the “thou-shalt-nots” of the Bible governed your life. And that incessant voice was always whispering, “Go on, what’s the big deal? Everyone else is doing it.” This temptation is especially strong in our youth but it doesn’t go away entirely with age. Living as a Christian at any stage in life can feel like being an island in the middle of a sea.

When we’re tempted to go with the flow of culture around us instead of being set apart for God in the world (Jn. 17:15-18), we need to hear the voice of wisdom and reason that says, “All that glitters is not gold… gilded tombs do worms enfold.” Or, if you’re not hip to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, all is not what it seems. Some things that attract us are far less so when seen beneath the surface (Lk. 16:15).

There is a Biblical story that speaks to this struggle. In Hebrews 11:24-26, the author gives us a brief summary of Moses’ life that is meant to encourage faithfulness to Christ against peer pressure.

MOSES’ REFUSAL (v.24)

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter”

Pharaoh’s daughter found the infant Moses in a basket at edge of the river Nile and adopted him as her son (Ex. 2:5-10). He was raised in the royal household and was “trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). Moses knew he wasn’t an Egyptian and when he grew up, he decided to renounce his Egyptian identity to be counted among his kinsmen, the Hebrews, instead. He cut ties with the family that raised him and embraced a life with the people of promise. That choice was a demonstration of his “faith.”

Moses’ story mirrors our own. Our choice to follow the Lord was a choice to forsake the world. We knew certain behaviors were off limits when we made that choice. We “counted the cost” (Lk. 14:25-33) and were joined to a new family and a new way of life in Christ. As a Christian, just by abstaining from certain things, others “malign” us (1 Pet. 4:4). So it was with Moses and all those who choose to live “by faith.”

MOSES’ CHOICE (v.25)

“choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Moses’ choice put him in a position of disgrace. He forfeited his social standing, his dignity in the eyes of the Egyptians and his adoptive family, and a life of luxury in the royal house. He chose instead to be associated with Hebrew slaves, a kind of double stigma (Gen. 43:32; 46:34). Why would he make such a radical choice?

At some point, Moses understood it would have been sinful for him to remain in Pharaoh’s house. Pharaoh considered himself the son of a god. He brutally oppressed Moses’ people and even committed infanticide against them (Ex. 1). Egyptian culture was idolatrous and materialistic. As Moses matured, his conscience would not have allow him to live in that world any longer.

He knew any pleasure he would have enjoyed as an Egyptian would have been temporary. By faith, he looked into the future that God promised his people and saw that there was something far better and longer lasting than any earthly pleasure. He cherished his relationship with God more than he cherished his relationship with his adoptive family. He could not live in both worlds. He had to make a choice (cf. Mt. 6:24; Jas. 4:4).

He chose to sacrifice the easy life and take up with slaves. Was Moses missing out? Absolutely! But what was he missing out on? A life of ease, wealth, status and pleasure. But Moses knew “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). Moses also 'missed out' on a life of sin, saving himself the heartache of regret that would have come if he stayed in Egypt.

MOSES’ TREASURE (v.26)

“He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

In what historians call the New Kingdom Period, Egypt’s wealth was legendary. The temples were storehouses for Pharaoh's gold. The archeological evidence of such wealth during this time only serves to emphasize the magnitude of Moses’ choice and the sacrifice it entailed. Was he missing out? Only on the most wealthy, opulent lifestyle imaginable! But Moses forsook the great wealth of Egypt because he believed he would gain an even “greater” treasure with God's people.

Moses’ choice foreshadowed the kind of choice you and I make to follow Jesus. We either choose the “reproach of Christ” or the deceptive comfort of the world. Like us, when Moses “considered” the two choices, the answer was obvious because “he was looking to the reward.” He was looking toward an unseen but promised future. Yes, the problems and temptations of the present seem more pressing. But by faith, Moses was able to look past all those hardships and sacrifices of the present to see the true reward of following Lord.

What can we learn from the story of Moses?

  1. Faithful choices result in temporary loss. If we choose to follow Jesus, we will miss out on many things. Like Moses, we may lose family relationships (Mt. 10:34-49). We will miss out on the passing pleasures of sin (1 Jn. 2:17). By identifying with Christ and his people we will lose face with our peers in the world (1 Pet. 3:16). Most of all, we will lose ourselves (Lk. 9:23-25). But, like Moses, this temporary loss results in eternal gain!
  2. Faithful choices result in eternal gain. We gain a supportive spiritual family network in the Lord (Mk. 3:31-35). We gain far greater riches in Christ (Eph. 2:4-9). We gain a greater reward than anything we can find on earth (1 Pet. 1:3-5). Ironically, in losing ourselves, we gain Christ and find ourselves in him (Phil. 3:8; Lk. 9:23-27). In Christ, we lose the shame, guilt and punishment associated with sin and we gain the eternal love, grace and mercy of God!
  3. This eternal reward comes only to those who live “by faith.” Living “by faith” doesn’t mean we close our eyes and turn off our brain, however. Like Moses, faithful choices are carefully considered. Our decisions have far-reaching consequences and require weighing short-term gains against long-term gains. Faith banks on the eternal reward (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). Heaven will be so great we will wonder why we ever doubted making the choice of faith!

Let us “count the cost” like Moses by weighing passing pleasures against eternal pain, momentary affliction against eternal joy. Whatever choice we make, we’re going to miss out on some things. We will either miss out on the fake, temporary stuff now or the real, eternal stuff later. As one man said, "If you miss out on heaven, you've missed it all."

The Witness of God

Saturday, August 15, 2020

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."

1 John 5:6-11

The first letter of John was written to encourage and protect Christians from the error of false teachers, further establishing them in their faith. In this short letter, which reads more like a sermon, John explains his purpose for writing in three statements: to complete Christian joy (1 Jn. 1:4), to encourage holy living (1 Jn. 2:1), and to provide believers with assurance of their salvation (1 Jn. 5:13). Whereas John's gospel was written to produce faith in Christ "and that by believing [they] may have life in his name" (Jn. 20:31), John's letter was written to encourage those who already believe that they "may know that [they] have eternal life" (1 Jn. 5:13). 

Throughout the book, John weaves together three tests by which Christians can confirm their standing with God against the counterfeit assurance of unbelievers: the doctrinal test of believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (1 Jn. 3:23; 5:5, 10, 13); the moral test of keeping God's commands (1 Jn. 1:5; 3:5, 9); and the social test of loving other Christians (1 Jn. 4:7-11). 

It is difficult to know the identity of the false teachers but John describes them as "false prophets" (1 Jn. 4:1-6), "deceivers" (2 Jn. 7) and "antichrists" (1 Jn. 2:18, 22). At one time, they passed as true Christians but had since seceded from the Christian community (1 Jn. 2:19) and "gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1; cf. 2 Jn. 7) to spread their lies about Jesus. They denied the fleshly incarnation of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7) and their theological error resulted in making outrageous claims about sin that led to moral degradation (1 Jn. 1:6-10; 2:29-3:10).

After teaching that we can overcome the world through our faith in Jesus as "the Son of God" (1 Jn. 5:5), John confirms Jesus' identity by bearing witness to it (1 Jn. 5:6-11). He presents three "external" witnesses that all agree (Spirit, water, blood, v.8) along with two "internal" witnesses that agree (faith, v.10, and eternal life, v.11). The reason for presenting all this evidence is to confirm for the believer that their faith in Christ is not in vain and that through that faith they overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:5). 

According to the Law of Moses, evidence was confirmed based upon the testimony of "two or three witnesses" (Deut. 19:15). These, God has provided concerning his Son. The "water" refers to Jesus' baptism whereby both the Father and the Spirit testified to his identity as God's Son (Mt. 3:16-17), and the "blood" refers to Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross, witnessed by the Spirit in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 53). The "Spirit" also bore witness to Jesus' identity as God's Son at his baptism (Jn. 1:32), during his ministry as he performed miracles (Heb. 2:3-4), and after his ascension through the apostles (Acts 1:8). The Spirit continues to testify to Jesus' identity in the Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:19-21). 

These three witnesses all agree and tell the truth about Jesus. This is God's testimony concerning his Son. If we believe our fellow man in a court of law based on the testimony of two or three witnesses, how much more ought we to believe God? (1 Jn. 5:9) To those who accept God's testimony he gives "eternal life" in his Son (1 Jn. 5:11). Those who reject God's testimony accuse him of lying (1 Jn. 5:10; 1:10). In forfeiting the Son, they forfeit eternal life (1 Jn. 5:12). 

An important textual note regarding 1 John 5:7-8 must be made. The King James Version, which bases its translation on the Textus Receptus, includes what textual critics call the Comma Johanneum

"in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth"

The evidence, both internal or external, is against its authenticity. Externally, this longer reading is found only in ten very late manuscripts (mss), four of which have the words in a marginal note. These mss range in date from the 10th century to the 18th. It was inserted into the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, probably to affirm in one convenient place the trinitarian view of God. Internally, the context of John shows that this was a later addition: John is talking about the witness in regards to Jesus as God's Son. The truth of God as one in three persons can be well established elsewhere in the Bible without this spurious addition to Scripture.

Preparing for the End

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Our culture is obsessed with the end of the world. Disreputable sources tell us that zombies will soon take over, we will suffer a nuclear holocaust or a massive geologic catastrophe will wipe out all humanity. Religious people seem especially drawn to interpreting so-called “apocalyptic” events, usually from the book of Revelation. This kind of shoddy eschatology (study of "end-times") is sometimes followed with instructions to stock up on non-perishables, ammunition, and fuel while we all begin building our underground bunkers.

The Bible does teach that "the end of all things is near" but underground bunkers won't be of any use (Rev. 1:7; 6:15-16). Jesus spoke often about the coming day of judgment (Mt. 25:31-46). He promises to return in power and glory to vindicate the faithful and punish the wicked (2 Thess. 1:5-12). At that time, we will see "the end" of the world as we know it and "the beginning" of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:1-13). "The end" will be the culmination of all things, the completion of God's eternal redemptive plan which he set forth in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). In contrast to our culture, however, the apostle Peter teaches us to make some very different preparations for the end in 1 Peter 4:7-11

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Peter emphasizes the coming judgment (4:5, 17) to remind the suffering Christians he wrote to that all things would be made right by the just Judge in the future. Christ is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5). Some Christians had already died which may have drawn ridicule from critics (4:6). You can almost hear the taunts of first century scoffers, “Your Christ said you would live forever but his followers die like everyone else! What use is your faith?” to which Peter asserts, "the end of all things is near." 

He didn’t know when but neither did Jesus (Mt. 24:36) which makes all our speculation about the timing of the end useless. Leave the timing to God (2 Pet. 3:3-10). Ours is to believe “the end” is certain and “near” and prepare for it by living holy lives (2 Pet. 3:11-12). Here are three ways to prepare for "the end of all things" so that "God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" in us.

First, we must focus on glorifying God through prayer (4:7b). The act of prayer is humbling. By praying in faith, we are acknowledging our inadequacy and demonstrating our trust and reliance upon God (Mt. 6:5-6). To not pray is, in effect, to assert our own sufficiency and claim we have no need of God’s strength. Peter gives us guidelines to help us with our prayer lives. 

He teaches us to be of "sound judgment." For some people, knowing the end is near will cause them to indulge in immorality and lose all inhibition (Rom. 13:11-14). Peter says we are to do just the opposite. Knowing the end is near should motivate Christians to live self-controlled lives "for the sake of your prayers." In other words, we are to live in such a way that will not hinder our prayers to God.

He also teaches us to be of "sober spirit." Sobriety is mentioned twice in first Peter in connection with the judgment (1:13; 5:8). Sobriety is about more than simply not getting drunk. It means to be watchful, alert, ready to respond. The opposite is to be asleep (1 Thess. 5:6-8). By the way, Peter knows a thing or two about being asleep when he should have been awake (Mt. 26:39-41). Spiritual drowsiness leads to temptation and sin. Because the end is near we must keep our spiritual eyes peeled and be vigilant and watchful in prayer. 

Secondly, we’re told to glorify God through loving one another (4:8-9). Peter emphasizes that loving one another is central to our faith (1:22). It’s easy to love most brethren but some require a little more effort. We must love one another as God loves us: unconditionally, constantly, faithfully, and regardless of the loveliness of the other person (1 Jn. 3:10-11; 4:9-10).

That's why Peter says to “keep fervent” in our love for one another. Our love should be sustained by constant, strenuous effort. “Fervent” literally means to strain or stretch as an athlete stretches toward the finish line. We can do this only by first grasping the love God has shown us in Christ (1 Jn. 4:9-10). As the end draws near, let us exert ourselves in our love toward one another. We can express that earnest love through the acts of forgiveness (Prov. 10:12Eph. 4:32) and sincere hospitality (4:9).

Lastly, we must glorify God through serving one another (4:10-11). We may not have the miraculous spiritual gifts that Christians exercised in the first century, but God has blessed each one of us with unique abilities to serve in some way (Eph. 4:7Rom. 12:3-8). We are expected to be so motivated by Christ’s servant spirit (Phil. 2:1-11) that we would use all we are given in his service (Mt. 25:13-30). It doesn’t matter what God has given you or how much, he expects you to use it for his glory!

God’s gracious gifts are “manifold”, that is, variegated. Each Christian is uniquely equipped for a distinct function. No gift is insignificant in the church because what one member has another lacks. If your contribution to God's work is teaching, faithfulness to God's word is paramount (speak only "the utterances of God"). No matter how ordinary or how monotonous the task, serve with the strength that God supplies (2 Thess. 3:13). The only way to avoid "growing weary in doing good" is to rely on the strength of God. Remember, "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for hisgood pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) 

The goal for our Christian service, love and devotion in prayer is the glory of God (1 Pet. 4:11b). Some may superficially be involved in God's work for their own gain. But Christians pray in secret, serve on the sidelines, and love unselfishly all for the sake of God's glory. The "end of all things is near." Christians are not to sit around waiting for the end but are to be busy preparing for and hastening the end through living for God's glory (2 Pet. 3:12).

Overseen not Overlooked

Saturday, August 01, 2020

"For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

(1 Peter 2:25)

People need oversight. Employees need supervisors: the workplace with an effective supervisor is more productive. Students need teachers: the classroom with competent teachers creates an environment conducive to learning. Children need parents: homes with loving parents are better in every way. However, in all these relationships there remains the danger of being overlooked. Overlooked employees feel underappreciated; overlooked students feel left behind; overlooked children feel unloved. We have a great need to be overseen but all too often we end up being overlooked instead. In keeping with God's character, he has made abundant provision for his people in this regard.

It is God's will that Christians bind together in "teams" where they live. These "teams," or churches, work and worship the Lord together in unity (Acts 2:42-47). When Paul explained his reason for leaving Titus in Crete, he specified that Titus was to “put what remained (or what was lacking) into order, and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5). Elders are to act as shepherds and overseers in the local congregation (see 1 Peter 5:1-3 all three terms are used interchangeably). From Titus 1:5 we must infer that a church without elders is lacking and 'out of order.'

When a church appoints elders based upon the godly characteristics Scripture lays out in places like Acts 20, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5, that group of Christians is blessed by God. Elders are not expected to be perfect but they are to be mature in their faith. All the attributes listed in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 concerning elders, with the exception of being married and having children (1 Tim. 3:2-5), are essential for every Christian to be growing in. So an elder is "not a recent convert" (1 Tim. 3:6) but a mature disciple of Christ. If mature Christians are appointed as elders according to God’s plan then a local congregation enjoys the peace and stability that God intended.

One of the greatest blessings of being under an eldership striving to fulfill their duty is that of oversight. Whereas the evangelist is to keep a close watch on himself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16), the overseer is to pay close attention to himself and the flock (Act. 20:28). These ought to be comforting words to us. Don't mistake the watchful and vigilant oversight of our elders for intrusive meddling. These are faithful men who are watching out for us, to encourage and correct us so that we can have the best possible chance to stand in the grace of God on the Day of Judgment. We have the blessing of serving our Lord Jesus under overseers who are busy “keeping watch over [our] souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17) Are we a source of joy or groaning to our elders? It's something to always keep in mind!

When godly men serve as shepherds taking their lead from Jesus (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and saints reciprocate their shepherds' service with Christlike submission and obedience, we are acting out the paradigm of Christ and his church. So then, let us rejoice that God has blessed this church with capable men to serve as our overseers. Let us especially rejoice as we consider Jesus, our chief Shepherd, the perfect Overseer, who guides and comforts us through the dark valley of this life. As part of his flock, take heart that the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him (Jn. 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19) and that we will be overseen but never overlooked.

Humble Striving

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." 

(2 Peter 3:18)

Peter knew his time on earth was ending (2 Pet. 1:12-15; cf. Jn. 21:18-19) so he wrote his second letter reminding and urging Christians to "grow in grace" (3:18). After his brief introduction, he lays out a chain of seven Christian virtues (1:5-7). For us to enter "into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v.11) these qualities must be evident and growing in our lives (vv.8-9).   We are to "supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." 

The apostle puts a great deal of emphasis on our part in the development of these Christ-like qualities using phrases like “make every effort” (v.5) and “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (v.10). But Peter makes it abundantly clear that this spiritual growth doesn’t all depend on us. Far from it! He points out that God is the one who has “richly provided” us with everything necessary to transform us into the people we were meant to be (v.3) and bring us to glory (v.11). So he begins and ends his admonition to "grow in grace" by highlighting God's blessing toward us that makes growth possible. Knowledge of the gospel should evoke a maturing and practical moral response from us.

This combined effort of human exertion and divine grace is the key to unlocking our salvation and entrance into the eternal kingdom (1:11; Eph. 2:8-9). Paul sums it up best when he says “… as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) God is at work when we are at work. Christian growth does not happen without our effort but neither does it happen without God's power.

But even with those caveats, does this much emphasis on “our part” of salvation contradict the doctrine of grace? Does our effort somehow negate God’s grace? Does our diligent striving turn God’s gift into a wage that he owes us? (Rom. 4:4-5

We understand no one can be justified in God’s sight by earning their salvation (Rom. 1-4). But obedience to the gospel is clearly required (Rom. 6). In fact, on this side of the cross, everything we do for God and others should come as a direct response for what God has done for us (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1, etc.). Our faith and humble obedience is always initiated by God’s gracious work. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). So humble effort in no way contradicts God’s grace. The contradiction to grace is pride. Jesus lived in humble obedience as an example for us to follow (Heb. 5:8-9).

James 4:6 says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”" Peter teaches us to "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Pet. 5:6) Check out the handy chart by Doy Moyer below.

GRACEPRIDE
HumbleSelf-righteous
Trust in GodTrust in self
ServeBeing served
Obey to pleaseDo to get
SubmissiveSelf-willed
Salvation givenSalvation earned
ContentDiscontent
God-exaltedSelf-extalted

God is gracious to those who humbly strive for him. Let us, then, "be all the more diligent to make [our] calling and election sure" by putting forth "every effort" to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

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