One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

TOMS: Philippians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 27, 2007

Paul begins this new section with an important warning against the Judaizers, whose influence would not go away: 
"Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (3:2-3) 

I'm sure the Judaizers did not appreciate being called dogs, but that is what Paul calls them. Notice that Paul says the true circumcision, the true followers of God, are those who put no confidence in the flesh.

I don't like to break up a contextual thought, but I did in this case, just so you can better see the introduction Paul gives to this next section: 
"Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (3:4-9)

If anybody had Jewish credentials, it was Paul. And he fervently pursued Judaism for many years. But after he gave his life to the Lord, all that was put behind him. Paul's point is that the Philippians need to do the same thing, and not get trapped into following religious dogma trying to please God. A life truly committed to God is always a life of faith: always has been, always will be.

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." (3:12-15, ESV)

Paul took the Christian life seriously, and he tells the Philippians to do the same. We are not on a pleasure cruise here. I know that our vision of our reward in heaven is too small. If we could see this life the way God does, we would take it way more seriously. God has so many good things He wants to do for us and that He has in store for us in heaven, and we get stuck trying to live a "normal" life here. How foolish. C.S. Lewis compared this attitude to a child who wants to keep playing in a mudhole instead of taking the offer to go to the beach.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

TOMS: Philippians 2, Part 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 26, 2007

"Therefore, my beloved, 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." (2:12-13)

This is the most profound juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory statements that I can think of in Scripture. First of all, Paul tells us we are supposed to work out our own salvation. Clearly this does not mean that we are to do good works to stay saved, because if that was necessary, none of us would make it to heaven. 

To me this means a couple of things. First, we have to come to our own conclusions in our faith. If we try to live our lives exactly like someone else, we are not being true to ourselves nor to the Lord. Preachers or other leaders who try to press everybody into a mold to look just like them are doing a disservice to those who follow them. I have way more respect for someone who disagrees with me on several things but I can tell they came to their own conclusions after their own study than I do for someone who agrees with me on almost everything but they only think that way because their family or their church told them to think that way.

Secondly, it means that we are responsible for our growth. Yes, God is at work in our lives, as we will discuss in a second, but He is not going to drag us into something we do not want to do. We have to be willing to follow the Lord wherever He leads.

Now the second part. Thankfully, we do not have to generate spiritual maturity on our own, because we would never get there. And the few who did would be so proud of themselves that they would be useless. Thankfully the Lord is patient and works together with us to bring us to where we need to be. God is faithful and will do His work in our lives.

"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me." (2:19-30, ESV)

In context, Paul uses Timothy and Epaphroditus as further examples of selfless service, expanding on the example of the Lord Jesus earlier in this chapter. Timothy is a very interesting character. Paul seems to baby him at times. Timothy clearly had some problems with self-esteem, with taking the initiative as a leader in the church, and apparently physical problems as well. But yet Paul could see that Timothy had a heart for the Lord and worked with him for years. Epaphroditus seems to have been a wonderful man. He was probably the man Paul left in charge of the church at Philippi.

Monday, September 28, 2015

TOMS: Philippians 2, Part 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 25, 2007

This is one of the richest chapters in all the Bible. We will see if I have to divide this into two. (I know it is not very long, but there is so much here.)

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from participation in the Spirit, any love, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (2:1-11, ESV)

There is no way I can cover everything in this passage here. First of all I want you to notice that Paul is telling us that Christ is our example of humility and love for each other. It is so easy to get our minds off of the Lord Jesus and on our neighbors. We want to prove that we are somehow better than them as if everyone is ranking one another on some other sort of competition or comparison. Thankfully Jesus did not come to earth with that kind of attitude. It is also important to note that late in Chapter 1 Paul talks about those who preached the Gospel out of spite. Paul said earlier that he rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached, but here he says that it is still wrong to do things to stir up strife or to lift ourselves up in pride.

The last section, which tells us about the humility of Christ, is probably an early Christian hymn that Paul immortalized forever in the Bible. Some people twist this passage, saying that the fact that Jesus did not "count equality with God a thing to be grasped" means that He was not really God. But of course these arguments only work on those who do not read for themselves. When you look at this passage in context, it is clear this phrase means that He did not hang on to His privileges as God, but humbled Himself to become a man. 

Now I always wonder what it meant to be God and man at the same time. I don't think we will ever fully comprehend what Jesus went through, and there really is no reason we should, but it has always been fascinating to me: how Jesus could be all-knowing and all-powerful and yet be a man. I guess Jesus kind of got used to it and was able to put it out of His mind and concentrate on the moment. We know that Jesus told Nathaniel that He saw him under the fig tree, so that means He must have been just as aware of an Indian huddled over a campfire on the banks of the Missouri River. Seems like that would be a lot of background noise that Jesus had to put behind Him in order to function.

Oh well. I have a lot I want to say about the next section, so I guess I will save that for tomorrow.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

TOMS: Philippians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 24, 2007

Philippians is another of the prison epistles, along with Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. 

Paul starts off his letter with some words of reassurance: 
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (1:3-11)

I am thankful that the Lord is at work and will continue to work in my life. It is wonderful that the Lord does not give up on us, even when we stray from his plan.

The next section is very interesting: 
"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." (1:12-18)

This is interesting to me. I would like to know what exactly was happening when these people were preaching out of envy and rivalry. But Paul was going to rejoice that the Gospel was being preached, even when people were preaching for the wrong motives. I think this can apply to those who hold odd beliefs but still preach the Gospel. Yes they have problems, but they are still preaching the Gospel and carrying forward the work of God, so in that we can be glad.

"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again." (1:18-26, ESV)

Paul was never the same after his vision of heaven. He knew what he was missing by staying here. But he also knew that once we get to heaven, it is all over. He wanted to do more for the Lord on this earth. So he was in an odd situation. But this is the way any true believer should feel. Our true home is heaven, and we should be looking forward to being there, because that is where our heart is.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

TOMS: Ephesians 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 22, 2007

Paul wraps up this book with several general warnings and admonishments. The first is to parents and children: 
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.' Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (6:1-4) 

This passage is pretty self-explanatory, but I do wonder how many Christian parents make a conscious effort to bring up their children in the "discipline and instruction of the Lord." Raising children is serious business, but so many just think it happens.

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him." (6:5-9)

Some use this passage and others to say that Paul approved of slavery, and doubtless some Southerners 150 years ago used passages like this to try to justify slavery. But we must take these passages in their historical context. Slavery was a fact of life in the Roman Empire. In fact, there were probably more slaves than free people in the entire Empire. If not at this point in the first century, then certainly 150 years or so later that would have been the case. The main point Paul was making is that these believers not to try to lead a social revolution. The church is to be characterized by love and acceptance, not militarism. Somehow the church has lost that vision, and now we are a cog in the political machine. The Lord never intended for us to be that.

The next passage falls into the category of those passages, like the Beatitudes and the Fruit of the Spirit, that are beat to death by shallow hacks pretending to be deep thinkers: 
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." (6:10-20)

Paul is simply using the imagery of a soldier, something everyone was familiar with, to explain the warfare that we are in as believers. I don't think, if you would have asked him, that Paul had in mind that we are to wake up each morning and pray as we put on each piece of spiritual armor, as I have heard this passage taught. Now maybe I am wrong, but I don't think we can put that much significance in this passage. He would have expounded on this more if he had wanted so much emphasis placed on it. As I have written before, Paul's lists should be taken as exemplary of the topic at hand, not an exhaustive treatment of it. At least one other time, Paul used this imagery: "But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." (I Thessalonians 5:8, ESV) I have never heard any sermons on that passage, at least not that I can think of. 

Of course this passage is good to study, as all scripture is, but this is another example of well-meaning Christians yanking scripture that sounds interesting out of its context and telling us they have found something really important. I'm not going to pretend I have everything figured out, because I don't. And maybe my emphasis on trying to understand a passage in the context of the entire epistle is misplaced or unbalanced. Feel free to correct me if you feel that it is. But honestly, I don't feel that it is fair to the writer or to us to interpret the epistles by emphasizing a brief passage that seems to make an interesting point. The epistles should be studied as a whole, not broken down into passages. The Gospels, for example, are quite episodic and it is OK to interpret them that way. But the epistles are personal letters written by a leader of the church to a group of people. They should be interpreted as such.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

TOMS: Ephesians 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 21, 2007

The extended riffs begin to die down now, as Paul gets down to business. He has a lot he wants to say, and so he crams a lot into these sections:
"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (5:1-5)

I think the fact that Paul says these sins must not be named among believers implies that we are to be watchful for these things in the lives of others. That is antithetical to the Western mindset. I know when I hear about something somebody is doing, I usually think, "Well that's their business, that's between them and God." But Paul says that when it comes to the church, we need to take the offensive against evil.

"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret." (5:6-12)

Here Paul expands upon his warning. The last two sentences seem to be a contradiction: we are to expose the works of darkness, and it is shameful to speak of them. But we have to conclude Paul is not contradicting himself in the same paragraph, so what does it mean? I think Paul is saying that the sinful things people do bring such shame on the church that it is necessary to expose them. Don't lose the context here. This whole section is about how we are to act in the church.

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (5:15-21)

I think we are often too guilty of chopping sections like this up into verses and ignoring the entire context. I have heard lots of sermons on verse 18, which talks about not being drunk but being filled with the Spirit, but I have heard very few preachers go on and read the rest of the sentence, which gives the results of being filled with the Spirit. Some will read the next verse about music, but I don't know if I have ever heard one that mentions thanksgiving and mutual submission. Most sermons I have heard about this passage preach being filled with the Spirit as this almost unattainable ideal. Paul puts that to rest, showing us that the normal Christian life is what he has in mind.

The rest of this passage is about the husband and wife relationship. I'm going to post it, but I don't really think I am the right person to comment much on it: 
"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (5:22-33, ESV)

One thing I do want you to notice is Paul's (and by extension God's) definition of love found here. Paul says that no one ever hated his own flesh, but provides for it. That's what love always does: it meets needs. God so loved the world that He gave Jesus. Jesus provides for the church's needs. We show love for one another when we provide for each other. Husbands and wives show love when they provide for each others' needs. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

TOMS: Ephesians 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 20, 2007

This chapter opens with a call from Paul to unity: 
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (4:1-6)

Unity is probably the most underrated element of the church today. Christians spend most of their time comparing their differences. Now of course doctrinal orthodoxy has to come first, but as a Baptist I know lots of people who won't have anything to do with people who are a different brand of Baptist. That is foolish. I am not saying that it is wrong that we have denominational differences. The Lord allowed these differences after the church became comfortable and allowed doctrinal error. It would have been ideal if the Lord had allowed one brand of church to survive for 2,000 years, but the church is made up of people, and people tend to corrupt things. Just because we are scattered does not mean we have to hate each other or deny one another's faith.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the shepherds evangelists, the and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (4:11-16)

I really don't like the translation "shepherds" here. I know that the word "pastor" derives from the Latin word for shepherd, and I would be willing to guess that the actual Greek word is the word for shepherd. But you have the other words that are theologically charged, you should include pastor there as well. 

Anyway, this passage outlines the purpose of the church. The church is supposed to teach doctrine and build up one another in the Lord.

I'm skipping a big section here. I don't really have a lot of time here, unfortunately.

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (4:25-32, ESV)

This is an incredible passage of scripture. So much practical teaching. If one could live a lifetime and learn to practice verse 29, which talks about all of our speech giving "grace to those who hear," that would be a life well spent. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

TOMS: Ephesians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 19, 2007

I didn't think Ephesians would be this hard for me to write about. Ephesians is a very important book, but at least the first half is hard to follow, just because Paul does all these riffs that seem to stray from the subject. 

Paul starts this chapter talking about the mystery of free Gentile salvation: 
"For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are members of the same body, and fellow heirs, partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (3:1-6)

I just heard a preacher on the radio last night comment on this passage, and I think he missed the point. He was reading from I think the New King James, which follows the old King James and uses "dispensation" instead of "stewardship" in verse 2. He waxed eloquent about the dispensation of grace that we are living in now. Now I am a dispensationalist, but if you read this passage, and it was obvious as I heard him read his translation last night, this passage is talking about Paul's special position as an apostle to the Gentiles, not about the general dispensation (used as a technical theological term). In this case, "stewardship" is a much better translation because it does not confuse the reader. The word "dispensation" was a fine word to use 400 years ago, but now that word comes with a lot of baggage, and it was unwise for the New King James to use it.

Anyway, Paul in this passage claims special revelation from God as to the salvation of Gentiles. Paul continues that discussion here: 
"Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him." (3:7-12)

Paul concludes this chapter with a prayer for the church. This is a prayer that we can all pray for ourselves and for each other: 
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith— that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (3:14-19, ESV)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

TOMS: Ephesians 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 18, 2007

Ephesians is full of these wonderful riffs, where Paul just gets started on a topic and can't stop. The first few verses of Chapter 2 are a good example: 
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (2:1-7)

This is of course very rich, but it is hard to know where to start. I think it is important for us as Christians, especially those like me who lived a sort of "Christian" (in the very generic sense) life since day one, to recognize how far we had to come in order to be saved. It is thrilling to hear the stories of someone who was way out there in sin and the Lord saved them, but an unsaved kid growing up in church is just as much a sinner and just as much an enemy of God as the outwardly wicked person.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (2:8-10)

This is an important passage of scripture about the nature of salvation. The most important thing we need to learn is that the whole of salvation is a gift of God. Even our faith is a gift. The problem is that we don't see it that way when we are in the process. It seems to us that we are being persuaded and that we are the ones reaching for God. But our feelings and memories don't change the facts clearly laid out in Scripture. I still don't understand it all, but "this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" is a very clear statement. No one will get to heaven and be able to claim any credit for making "the right choice."

"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called 'the uncircumcision' by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." (2:11-18)

The relationship between Jews and Gentiles was an important issue in the early church, and Paul addresses it here once again. One very important thing to point out is that Paul states very clearly that Jesus "abolish(ed) the law of commandments expressed in ordinances." I know this is not a very popular position, but verses like this make it clear that we as Christians are under no obligation to obey any of Moses' Law. You will not find anywhere in either the Old or New Testament where the "ceremonial law" is separate from the "judicial law" or whatever.

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (2:19-22, ESV)

This verse clearly disproves the notion that there is no mention in the Bible of a universal body of believers. There clearly is a body of Christ made up of all believers, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. God is at work building His church. We are merely privileged to be a part of it. Of course we must avoid the opposite extreme of putting all of our trust in a church hierarchical authority. You won't find that in the Bible, either. Not saying a denominational system is bad, but I can't find where God gave us any clear instructions for how to organize the church. God is capable on His own, and He can use all sorts of methods.

Friday, September 18, 2015

TOMS: Ephesians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 17, 2007

This is, of course, a great book. There is at least a smidge of controversy about the name of this book. Apparently there are a number of manuscripts that mention a different city than Ephesus or none at all. There are some who believe that this book is the letter to the Laodiceans Paul mentions that another church should read. I know I run the risk of bringing down people's faith in the Bible, but I also don't want to pull the wool over your eyes. The controversy does not extend to any of the text beyond the first verse and the title.

After his greeting, Paul lets loose with this: 
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, possession of it,who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory." (1:3-14)

Wow, there is so much in there, it is hard to pick out just one or two things. The one obvious thing is the recurring phrase, "to the praise of his glory." That is why we were "predestined for adoption as sons": for the praise of His glory. That's why He is uniting all things according to His purpose. This is one of the clearest passages that outlines the fact and the purpose of salvation: so that He can receive all the glory.

Next, Paul outlines his prayer for these believers (it is quite a prayer): 
"For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." (1:15-23, ESV)

Notice that Paul prays for a spirit of wisdom, that they may be encouraged and edified to do God's work. 

I kind of feel like this first chapter is so good, it doesn't really need a lot of comment from me. Plus I am kind of behind today, so I guess we will leave it at that. (And I'm kind of in the same predicament eight years later.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

TOMS: Galatians 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 15, 2007

Paul finishes this book with some very interesting instructions. They kind of run the gamut, but they are all good. 

"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load." (6:1-5)

This is an important warning. The first section kind of outlines one of the main purposes of the church: that those who are spiritual leaders should help those who are struggling with overcoming sin and living a fruitful Christian life. The second part tells us the danger involved in this. It is easy to become lifted up with pride when we look at what we are doing for God, especially compared to others. Most of us tend to overestimate what we are doing and underestimate others. But we are responsible to God for our own selves and should not fall into the trap of thinking we are doing great because we are doing more than others. That's what bearing our own load means.

"One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." (6:6-10)

This is something I have never seen before. These are very familiar verses, but I had never really sat down and put them together like this to see that the entire context is about giving. If you have been reading this blog very consistently, you know that is something the Lord has been dealing with me about, and here we are again. It starts out by saying the one who is taught, meaning the congregation, must share with those who are teaching, namely the church leadership. The rest of the passage flows from that context. The sowing and reaping principle is true at all times and in all situations, but I had never noticed that in context it is talking about giving. That is quite interesting.

Lastly we have Paul's final warning about the Judaizers: 
"It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." (6:12-16, ESV)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TOMS: Galatians 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 14, 2007

Paul is not done with making strong statements: 
"Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. severed from Christ,You are you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (5:2-6)

Paul says very plainly here that if you are trusting in your good works or your adherence to a system of rules to get to heaven, you will never make it. Now there are some out there who say the phrase, "fallen away from grace," teaches that people can lose their salvation. But there is so much scripture that plainly teaches that God's election is without repentance that this teaching must mean something else. It must mean that the people who can give up their belief in Christ to follow another system are not truly born again in the first place. They may be attending church, they seem to be saved or on their way there, but to embrace man-made systems is to reject Christ.

"You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish  those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!" (5:7-12)

I used to think that last phrase was a somewhat dirty joke inserted by Paul, but as I was studying this a couple of years ago, I came across information about the goddess Cybele, who was one of the principal deities of Galatia and who was later added to the Greek and Roman pantheon. Her priests were all castrated men. What Paul really seems to be saying here is there is no difference between the pagan religion of their culture and adding Judaism to Christianity. They might as well go ahead and join back up with Cybelian worship as to fall into the trap of the Judaizers.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another." (5:13-15)

Now finally Paul moves from teaching about the Law to other matters. It is always vital to remember not to use our liberty as a stumbling block to others. It is very tempting, once you learn that you are free from these man-made regulations, to go too far in your enjoyment of your liberty. 

The next passage is one that is often misapplied, in my opinion: 
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control; gentleness, against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (5:16-24)

This is Paul's answer to those who say that if we throw out the Law, then people will be free to live in sin. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are neither under the Law, nor do they gratify their flesh. It's really that simple. Man (with help from Satan) tries to make the Christian life a difficult burden, something impossible to do. But God says a life in the Spirit is as easy as walking. 

A small part of the second part of this passage is very popular (I'm sure you already know what I am talking about), but it is almost always divorced from its context. When Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit, he was actually making a contrast against the works of the flesh. I don't think Paul intended for this passage to be severely dissected and each one of his terms studied very carefully. Of course I am not saying that is wrong, but it is the result of a shallow handling of Scripture (in one man's opinion, of course). It is more important for us to see the contrast and to understand Paul's point that the working of the Spirit in our lives will lead us to lead a peaceable life with all men, while the flesh will get us in trouble.

Monday, September 14, 2015

TOMS: Galatians 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 13, 2007

Paul is quite blunt in this chapter, as we shall see. It is obvious that his concern for these people is very strong, but he has to be an honest broker and tell them the truth. Anyway, the topic of sonship is very important in this chapter: 
"I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (4:1-7)

As Christians we are adopted into God's family. As children, we are not expected to live as slaves, but free. But the Galatians were not leading a free, fulfilled life: 
"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain." (4:8-11) 

This is the first of several personal statements by Paul in which he expresses deep regret for the way the Galatians are doing things. I'm sure the false teachers did not appreciate their teachings being called "worthless elementary principles of the world," but that's what Paul calls them. 

Next, the Apostle wants the Galatians to recall what it was like when he first came to them:
"You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (4:12-16)

This is the passage which many point to as proof that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was an eye problem. It very well may have been, but I think it was left vague so that we all may be encouraged by Paul's example. These people loved Paul when he came to them, and they cared for him. But now they have been led astray by these false teachers, and Paul takes it personally. I'm sure these believers had no idea they were hurting Paul by adopting some of these practices, but Paul said they were. This is a perfect example of the concept presented in Hebrews 13:17, which reads: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your 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." Clearly Paul was doing a lot of "groaning" as he watched these trusting believers be led astray by the Judaizers.

Finally, Paul brings an analogy between Isaac and Ishmael to demonstrate the relationship between Christians and Jews in this church age: 
"I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, 'Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.' Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? 'Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.' So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman." (4:20-31, ESV)

As I have mentioned before, it can be dangerous for us to come up with such allegories from the Bible. But as Apostles and inspired, Paul and the other writers had the authority to draw analogies like this. Paul said that Hagar represents the Jews of the church age. They are (temporarily of course) outside the promises of God. God's promises have fallen to the spiritual children, the church. Now of course this passage is used to prove the idea that God is through with any sort of dealings with the Jews, but there is too much other scripture that proves otherwise. Ishmael, Hagar's son, represents those who try to mix Christianity and Judaism, namely the Judaizers.  Paul's command to the Galatians about the Judaizers comes straight from the mouth of Sarah: "Cast out the slave woman and her son!" 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

TOMS: Galatians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 12, 2007

Paul has a very important question to ask in this chapter:  
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (3:1-3)

Paul does not even provide an answer to this question, because it is so obvious. This is the critical question of the book, and it blows the lid off of legalism. I have heard lots of legalists defend their false teaching by saying that they are not saying you need to follow their rules in order to be saved, but they say these rules are for Christian living. Paul says here that definition is too narrow. Yes, adding man's works to salvation is certainly legalism. But Paul points out that sanctification is just as much a part of salvation as justification. The legalists say that yes, the Lord is able to bring a lost person to justification, but the Lord needs some help in sanctifying that person. He needs my rules to help the young Christian live the life. Now of course there are some obvious rules for Christian living in the Bible that are not negotiable. But to tell a Christian that they are not right with God if they don't do exactly what you do is just as much a sin as it is to tell someone they need to do some penance each day in order to go to heaven.

The rest of the chapter tells us about the example of Abraham, and how we are justified as Abraham was: by faith. 
"Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (3:5-9)

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us— for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." (3:13-14)

Paul explained that Moses' law put people under a curse, since no one could perfectly keep it. Christ's death took away that penalty. Paul explains the purpose of the law: 
"Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (3:21-29, ESV)

The purpose of the law was to act as a guardian or baby sitter until the more perfect way of faith was revealed. Certainly the law was spiritual - read the Psalms if you doubt that - but salvation has always been through faith.

Now the passage about Jew/Greek, slave/free and male/female is an important passage for us to understand. Feminist theologians (yes, they are out there, and it is a growing movement) use this passage to point out that Paul is teaching here that there are no different roles for males and females in the church. They would be those who would discount the "husband of one wife" requirement for pastors as either sexist or not really written by Paul and therefore not as authoritative. If you read this in context, Paul is comparing the male/female to the Jew/Greek relationship, saying that just as God views males and females as equal, He views Jews and Greeks as equals.

Critics of Paul (I don't know how you can claim to be a Christian and be a critic of Paul, but nevertheless) say this passage and a few others prove that Paul approved slavery. Paul's epistles have to be interpreted in the political context in which they were written. Rome was the ultimate authority. If Paul had written his epistles in say, early 19th century America, I think Paul would have been supportive of those who were trying to abolish slavery. But Paul saw that Christianity is not a movement for political change, but instead is a simple, everyday life. And if that means living in a world where there is slavery, we need to make the best of it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

TOMS: Galatians 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 11, 2007

In this chapter Paul continues to describe his experiences as an apostle in order to prove that the Judaizers were false teachers: 
"Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in— who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." (2:1-5) 

When Paul and his group came to visit Jerusalem, the apostles accepted them, even the uncircumcised Gentiles. They did not expect Titus to be circumcised, but these new teachers, who certainly have less authority than the apostles, were telling them they had to be.

"When they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (2:7-10)

These false teachers claimed their authority from the apostles in Jerusalem. Paul's point here is that their claim of authority is a lie, since the apostles clearly endorsed Paul's ministry. It is interesting that Paul threw in the part about giving to the poor, which doesn't seem to be relevant. But it was important to Paul, and it should be more important to churches in our time. It is a shame that the government's welfare state has pitted working people against the poor. A lot of people I know resent the poor, because they benefit from our tax dollars. If the government would get out of the way, the poor would be better off because people would have more money and the poor would receive more meaningful gifts.

Back to the text, the story becomes more personal: 
"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (2:11-14)

So even Peter and Barnabas were led astray by these people. These Galatians were in good company in that they were not the only ones deceived. Next Paul clearly states that the Law is insufficient for salvation: 
"We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (2:15-16)

This is an important point that Paul will bring up later in the book: no one, including the Galatians, was saved by the law; all were saved by grace through Christ. So trying to add in something later is dangerous and is an insult to the power and sufficiency of Christ.

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (2:20-21, ESV)

Lots of people like to quote verse 20, but they miss the point of the passage. A life in Christ does not answer to man-made rules (not that Moses’ Law was man-made, but the imposition of it on the church was) but is answerable only to God Himself. The Judaizers (and the Galatians who followed them) were nullifying the grace of God by adding their own rules to their salvation. I don't want to steal my thunder from the first part of Chapter 3, but it needs to be said now.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

TOMS: Galatians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 10, 2007

The main purpose of this book is to remind the Galatians that they are free in Christ and do not need to follow the Judaizers, the people who were preaching that they needed to become like Jews - even including circumcision - in order to be true Christians.

Paul has no tolerance for this teaching: 
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." (1:6-10)

This is a very serious matter. This is not just a difference of opinion. Paul said that those who preach this false gospel should be accursed. He also adds something interesting: these false teachers are preaching in order to please men. Now if you were to ask them, of course they would deny that they were preaching to please men. But that is exactly what they were doing. They were more interested in perpetuating error than in finding out the truth for themselves. This is another common problem today. Some preachers just teach what they have always been taught instead of digging for the truth themselves.

The rest of this chapter and most of chapter 2 gives us some historical background into Paul's ministry and some insight into how the false doctrine of the Judaizers got started. I guess I could separate this out and treat it as one whole passage, but it is quite lengthy. It is more convenient to use the chapter divisions. I put the rest of the chapter here: 

"For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, 'He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' And they glorified God because of me." (1:11-24, ESV)

Notice that Paul is quite insistent that he is not preaching a gospel he received from men, not even from the apostles. It is from this passage that we learn that he went to the desert for a time, where the Lord personally taught him. Even when he came back to Jerusalem, the only apostles Paul saw were Peter and James the Lord's brother. How James became an apostle is an interesting question in and of itself. We know that James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, even more so than Peter and the other apostles, who even though they are not mentioned much in Acts did scatter abroad teaching. Anyway, the main point of this passage is that Paul is preaching the gospel of Christ which he received directly from Him, and these false teachers are preaching a gospel of men. The thought continues in the next chapter.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 13

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 7, 2007

This is the last chapter of this book. Paul wraps up this letter with a dire warning: I am coming, and you need to make sure you are doing right. These believers had a lot of problems, just like we do today. Paul's advice is good for us to take heed as well: 
"Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God." (13:1-4)

The Corinthians doubted Paul's authority because he was harsh both when he visited and in his letters. Paul said there is an easy solution to that: start following Christ. If they are truly following the Lord Jesus, then they will not have a problem with Paul. 

"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?— unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down." (13:5-10, ESV)

This is definitely an important warning for us today. It is easy to get involved in church activities and seem to have everything right, but not really be born again. This is especially true for people like myself who grew up in church and are familiar with the "Christian culture." It is not our place to judge others, but we are to examine ourselves very closely. We can make assumptions based on others' actions, but there is no way we can know for sure. It is not our place to tell someone else in the church, "You need to be saved." But we need to take this more seriously than we do. Everybody always assumes that everybody else is saved and has their life put together better than we do. That is because we are good at hiding our flaws from others. We need to pray more for each other and we need to encourage each other to continue in the faith.

Monday, September 7, 2015

TOMS: 2 Corinthians 12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

September 6, 2007

Paul continues his boasting, telling the Corinthians a special story that we can only find in this book: 
"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (12:2-10)

If you read the whole passage, it is clear that the "man" he "knows" is himself. You can read all kinds of opinions regarding when Paul saw the vision of heaven. I guess most will say this happened when he was stoned and left for dead, but the timeline seems wrong to me. Unless this book was written much later than most people think, it couldn't have been then. Maybe it was when he spent three years in the desert right after he was saved.

You can also read much about what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. There are some who think it was his eyesight, perhaps his appearance, maybe something or someone else. Probably the Corinthians who received this letter knew what it was.

Paul brings up the comparison with the "super-apostles" again: 
"I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!" (12:11-13)

This is a sad commentary on the Corinthian church, but it is an easy trap to fall into. This church was founded by Paul, but they were more excited by these false teachers than they were about Paul's return. We humans tend to fall for the flashier, more charismatic person than the old dependable person who will always do the right thing.

This chapter ends with a strange statement by Paul: 
"For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish— that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced." (12:20-21, ESV)

This seems strange, but it is a sign that Paul loved these people. He wanted to come and find them all serving the Lord and doing a great job. But they knew and Paul knew that he would not hold back if he found sin in the church. He was too concerned about the glory of God to let sin go unreproved. Even though it would hurt him to do so, he would take on the problem and try to get it corrected. Now those "super-apostles," they were fun, because they would come in and put on a big show. It wasn't always fun when Paul came around.