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

Friday, January 29, 2016

TOMS: Jude

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 28, 2008

Jude was a younger half-brother of the Lord Jesus. He introduces himself in his short epistle as the brother of James, but the Gospels mention several of Jesus' brothers, and one of them is Judas or Jude. Obviously this is not the same Judas who betrayed Jesus. Judas (or Judah) was quite a common name in 1st century Israel, particularly since most of the Jews living there were from the tribe of Judah.

Jude's book is quite short, but it is a very powerful condemnation of false teachers. This epistle was written late in the first century, certainly at a much later time than his brother James' epistle. Jude does not mention much specific doctrinal error like John does, but he does attack the motives of the false teachers. If you are around someone for very long, you know what motivates them, whether it is money or power or something more positive.

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." (vs. 3-7)

Jude jumps right in to this book with a warning about tolerating false teachers. Jude reminds his readers about the fact that people practicing wickedness throughout history have been judged by God and that they need to separate themselves from that wickedness, if for no other reason than to get out of the way of the coming judgment. God judged the angels who fell, He judged the people of Sodom for their wickedness and He judged the people of Israel who rejected Him, even after He saved them from Egypt.

"Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.' But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever." (vs. 8-13)

These are dangerous people Jude's readers are dealing with. Don't get the wrong idea by the term "love feasts." This is just a reference to a meal shared by all the people in a church. Jude says that these people are a reef. A reef is, among other things, a hidden danger to ships as they sail through what looks like safe waters. These people were right in the midst of the church, and they were wicked men, unsaved and creating problems. Apparently some of them were leaders in the church, since Jude says they were like shepherds feeding themselves instead of feeding the flock. We need to be very careful of the people we put in leadership positions in the church. The Lord takes His church very seriously, and we should be very careful to make sure that those in authority take the church seriously as well.

Apparently, among their many other errors, they were preoccupied with demons. They were obsessed with casting them out and blaming all of people's problems on demons. I have met a couple of people like that. I knew one man, who later abandoned his wife and left the ministry, whose whole ministry seemed to change after he became preoccupied with the idea of demons. When I was very young, he came and preached several times at my church and was very good. He had a profitable ministry. But then things took a bizarre turn and his sermons started being all about demons and he had stories about all the demons he cast out of people and that sort of thing. Of course demons are real, but honestly it is not our job to try to confront them directly. Jude says here that not even Michael, the most powerful of the angels, came against Satan in his own power, but came in the power of the Lord Himself. As a general rule, don't trust someone who is preoccupied with demons as the source of evil in the world.

The story about Michael and Satan is actually an old Jewish legend that Jude records as fact in Scripture. In the next passage Jude quotes from another apocryphal source, the prophecy of Enoch. These days, people are obsessed with the apocryphal writings, particularly of the New Testament period. The "Da Vinci Code" book and movie, along with hundreds of other books touting "new evidence" about the origins of Christianity, is based on these writings. The church thoroughly studied and proved these writings to be false more than 1,800 years ago, but today these "brilliant" writers have dredged them back up pretending they have found something new. The moral of Jude's use of such material here is that they often can have accurate historical information in them, but if what they say goes against the plain teaching of Scripture, it is imperative that we leave that stuff alone and stick with the Bible. I have actually read some of the Apocrypha, the books that are included in the Catholic Bible. Most of what I have read is interesting historical information, but neither the Jews nor most orthodox Christians recognize it as scripture. Not even the Catholic church places it on the same level as the traditional Old and New Testaments.

"It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, 'Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.' These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage." (vs. 14-16)

Jude continues here with his theme of judgment on wicked men, and what these believers need to do to get out of the way of the coming judgment. He quotes Enoch, who prophesied thousands of years ago that the Lord was coming to bring about judgment.

"But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.' It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit." (vs. 17-19)

This passage is certainly a clue that this epistle was written late in the Apostolic Age. Jude mentions that the Apostles had already written about the fact that there will be mockers in the last days. This quote sounds an awful lot like II Peter 3, but Paul also wrote something similar in II Timothy 3, and there are other passages as well that warn about apostasy in the last days. Certainly things have only gotten progressively worse as the centuries have passed. 

"But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (vs. 20-25, ESV)

This is Jude's conclusion. He reminds his readers to remain faithful to the Lord through whatever comes and to be faithful witnesses. They were to be witnesses both to those outside the church and those inside the church who were led astray by the false teachers. Lots of people like to quote verse 22 in the King James: "And of some have compassion, making a difference." The preacher in church yesterday said, "The Bible says, 'Compassion makes a difference.'" Well of course compassion does make a difference, but looking at it in context, what it is saying here is that Jude's readers (and that would include us) need to have compassion on those who have been led astray by the false teachers. When he tells us to "make a difference," it means to make a difference between the false teachers, who should be shunned, and those led astray by the false teachers - “those who doubt” - who can still be led to true Biblical faith. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

TOMS: 3 John

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 25, 2008

John addresses this short epistle to Gaius, a man about whom we know very little other than the fact that John wrote an epistle to him. Gaius was a common Roman name, and there are a few men by the name of Gaius mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

"The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (vs. 1-4)

Perhaps John wrote this about wishing Gaius' physical health would prosper as his soul because Gaius was a sickly individual or had a medical condition. Or it may have been a more general greeting. Either way, John is obviously pleased with Gaius and his ministry on the whole, although there are a couple of issues John wants to address. John calls Gaius one of his children in verse 4. Most likely this means that Gaius was a spiritual son of John. It is unlikely a Jew like John would give his son such an obviously Roman name.

"Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." (vs. 5-8)

In 2 John, the Apostle addresses problems that arise when well-meaning Christians help false teachers. In 3 John, he addresses the problems that arise when Christians do not do enough to support genuine servants of the Lord. These traveling teachers probably were similar to what we would consider evangelists now. They traveled from church to church, teaching sound doctrine directly from the Apostles and further encouraging the churches. Gaius and his congregation were apparently not doing their part to further these men's ministries. What a shame it is that, even today, false teachers rake in donations by the millions while those who are really doing a good work for the Lord seem to struggle to get by. Now I know that there are a lot of issues involved, but the fact remains that those of us who know the Lord and are trying to live by the Word of God should be giving more to help brothers and sisters who are honorably doing the Lord's work. I know the Lord tells us to give as we see fit, but the fact still remains (at least for me) that I need to see fit to give more.

As a passing note, when John says these men accepted nothing from the Gentiles, John is most likely using that term to describe the lost world. The word Gentiles is used in that context several times in the epistles. Basically it means that the church was the only means of support for these teachers.

"I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true." (vs. 9-12, ESV)

People like Diotrephes are a detriment to the church. Doubtless Diotrephes was well-respected in the community and the church. Many may have called him a natural leader. But unfortunately he was using his God-given abilities (and probably wealth and other influences) to stir up trouble in the church. He was very critical of these teachers that John mentions earlier as honorable servants of God. He personally did not like them, and tried to run off or even discipline those who did. Diotrephes was probably a big reason Gaius' church was not doing enough to meet the needs of the evangelists. 

Church leaders need to be very careful whom they put in leadership. Someone like Diotrephes can wreak so much havoc in the church it is scary. Not only in the church, but his stubbornness and hatefulness even reached outside the church, affecting these evangelists and causing the Apostle John enough grief that he felt compelled to write this letter. The church has to be bigger than any one man.

Later John mentions an example of a man who deserved more esteem in the church, namely Demetrius. Perhaps Gaius needed his eyes opened to see the problems that were right in front of his face. It seems that he and the church as a whole were relying too much on Diotrephes for leadership, a critical, narrow-minded man, and were overlooking the gifts of Demetrius, a humble, generous man who was doing the Lord's work without drawing much attention to himself. Lord give us more Demetriuses and fewer Diotrepheses in our day!

Monday, January 25, 2016

TOMS: 2 John

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 24, 2008

This little letter (the shortest book in the Bible) was written by John to the "elect lady," whoever that may have been. If you have read the rest of John's writings, the themes here are quite similar.

"The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love." (vs. 1-3)

Whoever this lady was, she was probably well-known at the time among the first-century church. Other than that, this is a pretty standard opening for an epistle.

"I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady— not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning— that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward." (vs. 4-8)

Once again we find John reminding his readers to love one another. Love is a vital element for the Christian life. You notice that John also points out that true Christian love involves more than a feeling: it requires walking in God's commandments.

We also find John warning against the error of gnosticism. The gnostics denied the humanity of Christ and taught that He was merely a spirit being. John made a point of pointing out that it is false doctrine to deny that Jesus came in the flesh.

John includes another serious warning as well: we can lose rewards in heaven if we are unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians we have the privilege of earning rewards in heaven. But those rewards are conditional upon our faithfulness. 

"Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." (vs. 9-11, ESV)

God takes doctrinal purity seriously. There are minor things that no Christians will ever agree completely on. To divide over these things is foolish and unnecessary. But there are a number of things in Scripture that are non-negotiable. John goes so far as to say that we should have nothing to do with these false teachers, not even a greeting. That is serious. In our society, we are told to be tolerant of everyone, even those with whom we disagree (those who use the word "tolerance" the most are often some of the least tolerant people out there, but that is another topic for another time). Instead of trying to win them back, we need to just have nothing to do with them until they show signs of repentance. Now of course this goes for teachers, leaders in the Christian community. I don't think John is telling us not to have anything to do with relatives, friends or neighbors who hold unorthodox doctrine; I think he is talking about teachers and about how the church should deal with them.

Friday, January 22, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 22, 2008

John wraps up his epistle with a summary of a lot of the things he has already written.
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (5:1-5)

There is no great secret to a victorious Christian life. The two things we must do are to love God and keep His commandments. By these two things we will gain victory over the world and have confidence in the Lord.

"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. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (5:6-12)

John here points out the baptism of Christ: "water" - the physical death of Christ: "blood" - and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to prove that Christ came in the flesh and was and is the Son of God. These three never change and speak to all people at all times of the work of Christ. In addition, we as believers have the confirmation of the Spirit in our own lives, and as we tell others, that makes a fourth witness. The reference to the blood is very important, since a spirit cannot shed blood. John was once again seeking to refute the false teaching of gnosticism by proving that the Lord Jesus was 100% fleshly man, yet without sin.

No discussion of this passage is complete without discussing the Johanine Comma. Here is how the King James Version renders verses 7-8: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." Now of course the added statement is true. The doctrine of the Trinity is firmly established in Scripture. The question is, is that what John originally wrote? Now of course I am not an expert in this subject, but the nearly unanimous agreement among all scholars is that John never wrote that. I did a little bit of research on it, and apparently it was first found in copies of the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible that was the standard for the Catholic Church for nearly 1,000 years. The Catholic Church also worked to preserve the Greek text (of course they were not the only organization to do so, but they had the most resources and were the most systematic). The verse started showing up in copies of the Greek New Testament about the year 900, apparently as someone decided to add in Greek what was there in some Latin copies. Again, I don't know how they date them, but there are ways to read a manuscript and tell about what time and what place the manuscript was written. Even though it is a true statement, it is best to look at the evidence and conclude that it is probably not what John originally wrote and discard it. The Comma interrupts John's argument. He is arguing that there are three witnesses that testify about Christ, and then all of a sudden you have that other verse thrown in. I know there are other disjointed arguments in Scripture, but it is a consideration.

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life— to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (5:16-21, ESV)

John concludes his epistle with a strange warning. He says that we should pray for our brothers who sin, but he adds that there is a sin unto death, that we should not pray for. That really seems odd. Clearly, the only sin for which man cannot be forgiven is the sin of rejecting Christ. All other sins can be forgiven and have been forgiven by the Lord. I guess what John is trying to say here - and I could be completely wrong - is that God will work on our behalf in the life of a brother who is sinning when we pray for him. But God cannot help those who are constantly rejecting the Gospel of Christ. At least not in the same way.

John concludes his book by reminding his readers of the simplicity of Scripture. He says that they have been given understanding from the Lord, and they know the truth. The problems come when we are seduced by false teachers and we forget to weigh their teaching against what we already know to be true. All of the error and falsehood that is in Christianity today is directly traceable to that fact: people heard something that sounded good and they did not review it against the Scripture.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 21, 2008

John goes directly at the heart of gnosticism at the beginning of this chapter.

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (4:1-6)

Gnosticism, among other things, taught that the material world and everything in it is evil. The Gnostics began from that premise and taught that Jesus did not come in a fleshly body, but instead was only a spirit form. Not only did John know better than this because he witnessed Jesus' ministry, but he also recognized the serious doctrinal error involved. These teachers were denying the humanity of Jesus. John attacks this directly. He tells his readers that they need to listen carefully to all their teachers and make sure they are teaching the truth. And one sure sign that they are teaching error is that they deny the humanity of the Lord Jesus. 

Another sign of a false teacher is that they put down or disregard the teaching of the Apostles. This is what John means when he says that a true teacher "listens to us." Of course the Apostles are no longer with us, but any teacher who tries to explain away or deny the plain truth of the Word of God is a false teacher.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (4:7-11)

Once again, John returns to the theme of love. He states in this passage that God is love. Since love is an essential attribute of God, it follows naturally that those to whom He gives His Spirit will display love in their lives. There could be no clearer statement than "anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." 

John explains this concept even further in the rest of the chapter:
"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." (4:13-21, ESV)

Love is not an outward action. True love will certainly produce loving actions, but it begins in the heart. And a heart of love comes from God. And that love from God will spill over and display itself in all sorts of visible ways in love for each other. John is merely stating a fact here, and it is an important fact.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 18, 2008

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (3:1-3)

This is a great passage. Who we are in the Lord Jesus is a wonderful privilege. And what we get in the future is even better. It is so good even John admits he does not understand what all will be involved, he just knows it will be good. That's really all we need to know.

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (3:4-9)

This is an important passage that needs to be read very carefully. John has already stated earlier in his epistle that no one, not even the best Christian in the world, lives without sin. So John cannot be saying that Christians do not sin. When you come to two passages or statements that seem to contradict each other, go back and check your premises. One or possibly both of them is wrong. That is the logical law of non-contradiction. What John is saying here is that someone who habitually indulges in sin cannot be a believer. A person who has no compunction about sinning is not born again.

"By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (3:10-15)

The ultimate act of hatred is murder, which is what Cain did to Abel. Hatred of a fellow human being is not an attribute of a truly born again person. Love, however, is an attribute of a Christian. You all know people that demonstrate this fact, in both ways. People who love everyone they meet, and people who seem to hate everyone they meet. Which of those two kinds of people do you like to be around?

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything." (3:16-20, ESV)

There is more to love than just a positive feeling. Genuine love is demonstrated by actions. You can say you love someone all day long, but if you never do anything for them, they will not believe it. True love will give to the person or thing loved, whether it is meeting a physical need or just being with the person and spending time with them.

Notice John also allows for doubts on our part from time to time. As fallen creatures, there will always be times (or at least there are for me) when I doubt my salvation or even if God is there or just a figment of someone's imagination that I happen to be following. But then the Lord always comes through with confirmation. It is wonderful to see and be a part of. I am truly blessed.

Monday, January 18, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 16, 2008

John's writings are focused on certainties: things that we can know for sure from God. Apparently, among their errors of gnosticism and perfectionism, the recipients of this letter (and probably John's gospel as well) suffered from doubt. Maybe they thought there was no way we can know a lot of things about our faith. John is here to remind these people that Christianity is all about knowing for sure.

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (2:1-6)

Notice here once again that John does not say that we have to repeat every one of our sins to God. He just reminds them that as believers Christ our propitiation pleads our case before the Father. There is no need to wallow in guilt over past sin. That is simply giving in to the attack of Satan. Instead we can be confident that God still loves us and wants to use us, because He chose us in the first place. 

John tells us that the way we know we are born again is that we follow God's commandments. This is important for us to realize. As believers we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. He leads us to follow God's Word. Obviously we will not always follow it perfectly, but if we do not have a desire to follow God, then we are not born again.

"Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (2:9-11)

Here is another proof of our salvation. No one who is born again can absolutely hate anyone. Certainly there will be people we choose not to be around, and there will be people we dislike and distrust. Paul even mentions that there will be believers from whom at some point we will need to separate from because of sin or false doctrine. But hating people is not something a Christian does. But there is something we need to hate:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (2:15-17)

Here is another different use of the word "world" than we found in verse 2. Obviously this is not talking about the world of people, but instead the world system. The world, in this sense, is always going to be opposed to God. A lot of people make a big deal of the three things John lists as being in the world. It seems to me there are more bad things in the world than just those, although you can certainly boil a lot of things down to something similar to those three things. The clincher here is verse 17: the whole point is that the world is passing away. Therefore to waste our time loving it (the word used in verse 15 is a derivative of "agape") and spending all our resources on advancement in it is shameful and wrong.

"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." (2:18-23)

Remember that this was probably written before John wrote Revelation. So the term "Antichrist" was not charged with eschatological meaning like it is now. Anyway, the spirit of Antichrist is always with us, and it is trying to lead everyone, including believers, astray. Thankfully, as believers, we have a defense against this spirit. We have spiritual insight from the Lord to test every new idea that comes along.

"I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him." (2:26-29, ESV)

Here John restates this idea. There are people trying to deceive us all the time, and we need to be on guard. Now when John says we do not need anyone to teach us, don't take that too literally. What he means is that we do not need to follow every new spiritual fad that comes along. There is no "big secret" to the Christian life. God has revealed to us all that we need in His word and through His Spirit. That is all we need.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

TOMS: 1 John 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 15, 2008

This epistle is from John the Apostle, who also wrote the Gospel of John and the Revelation. This first epistle is quite complementary to John's Gospel. It is probable that they were originally sent to the same recipient, whether that was a church or an individual.

John's writing is much later than the other apostles, at least 50 years, likely closer to 60 years, after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The church was more mature, but it also faced new and dangerous problems. Thirty years earlier, it was enough for Paul to set forth the basic doctrines of the church in his epistles. But there were new false doctrines to be addressed by the time John took up his pen. 

The most pressing issue was the cult of gnosticism had crept into vogue with many in the church. This is the idea that the flesh is sinful and the spiritual part of man is good. Now that kind of makes sense in a very general way, and I am sure the gnostic teachers found verses in Paul's writings to back up their teachings. The fact is though (and Jesus clearly taught this, see Matthew 15:16-20), that it is man's sinful soul that is the problem. God created man with a desire for friendship and for procreation, it is the evil of man's heart that abuses this desire in adultery and other sexual sins. God gave man a need and desire for food and drink; it is man's soul that decides to indulge in gluttony and drunkenness.

Anyway, beyond that, the gnostics went even farther and taught that Jesus did not inhabit a fleshly body while on earth. They taught He was a purely spiritual being. Of course if He were only a spiritual being and not a physical man, He could not be a substitute for our sins, but they didn't bring that up. We will see this theme of Jesus coming in the flesh over and over again throughout this epistle, beginning in the first verse:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—" (1:1-2)

Notice in the very first verse that John says, among other things, that he touched Jesus with his hands. This is a direct affront to the gnostic teaching that Jesus was a spirit. John is clearly stating his position as an Apostle, which among other qualifications includes being a witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to attack this false teaching.

"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1:3-7)

This is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible: it gives us the purpose of the church in particular and of Christian fellowship in general. Notice the vertical and horizontal pattern here. We are all to grow in our fellowship with God and in our fellowship with each other. John teaches here that these two relationships complement each other. As we grow in fellowship with God, we will also grow in fellowship with our fellow believers. Imagine a triangle with you on one point, God on another point and fellow believers on the third point (this works a lot better on a chalkboard). As you move closer to God, you are automatically moving closer to the other point, that being fellow believers. And hopefully as you grow in fellowship with God you will encourage your brother in the Lord to draw closer to God, and that will bring the two of you even closer together.

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1:8-10, ESV)

Another popular but false teaching of this time was that a Christian could live above sin in this life. Of course there are people who still believe this today, so little has changed in 1,900 years. John is not excusing sin here: he just wants us to recognize that we do still have sin in our lives, as much as we may not like to admit it. 

In context, I think verse 9 is not saying as much as some people think it does. I have heard lots of preachers tell stories about people who could never live a victorious Christian life until they claimed I John 1:9 and got forgiveness for a sin they committed years ago. I could be wrong, but I think in context John is saying we simply need to acknowledge our sinfulness and our need for God's grace instead of arrogantly claiming perfection. I think it is taking that scripture too far to say that if we don't name every sin we commit each day, that somehow God will hold that against us. God already has forgiven us of all our sin and made us righteous before Him. The problem may not be unconfessed sin as much as it is a guilt trip laid on us - and unfortunately encouraged and fomented by well-meaning preachers and teachers - for things we have done for which we have already received forgiveness.

Friday, January 15, 2016

TOMS: 2 Peter 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 14, 2008

The major theme of this chapter is the return of Christ and the coming judgment. This passage is an exception to the "rule" of the skeptics that Christ's return is only mentioned briefly by Paul. Peter's focus is almost entirely on the Second Coming as opposed to the Rapture.

"Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.' For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished." (3:3-6)

From Peter's time until now, skeptics have debated and mocked the coming of the Lord. Peter says these people are "deliberately ignorant" of two things: the creation and the Flood. The first thing they deliberately ignore is the fact that God created this world and that He is therefore sovereign over all of it. The second thing they are deliberately ignorant of is God's judgment on sin. Basically these people ignore God.

"But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (3:7-9)

The former world passed away by water, but this world will be destroyed by fire, as Peter explains in great detail in the next section. Peter comforts his readers by reminding them that God is not limited by time like we are. Whether we are aware of it or not, God is at work, and He will perform his purpose. Our job is not to try to understand it all; our job is to remain faithful to Him.

Verse 9 is often misquoted and ripped from its context. The "promise" Peter is talking about is Christ's coming and the ensuing judgment, not salvation. Basically what Peter is saying is that God is delaying His judgment so that more people can be saved. This one verse is often used as a trump card by those who dispute the doctrine of election. They often do not even quote the entire verse, they just say, "God is not willing that any should perish." This does not do justice to the context, nor is it honest with the preponderance of scripture that teaches election.

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (3:10-13)

This is an important point that should not be missed. God is going to destroy this earth and everything in it. And yet too many of us, myself included, spend all of our time worrying about our lives here and how we are going to make it and what our future here on earth is going to be like. What a shame. We have the opportunity to lay up treasure in heaven, and yet we waste our time with stuff down here on earth.

"Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. knowing this beforehand,You therefore, beloved, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 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." (3:14-18, ESV)

This is an important fact that too many people ignore. When God gave us the Bible, He did not give us a systematic theology book. He gave us a book of stories, poetry, letters and other literary forms that form a cohesive whole. God chose to preserve His word this way. One of the problems sinful man has is that often he brings his own ideas to the scriptures. When he does, he can find something in the Bible that seems to confirm his erroneous beliefs. Not everyone who does this is intentionally trying to twist the scripture. Often they are well-meaning people who sincerely believe something. But they do not seek God's wisdom to help them understand the Bible. Instead they rely on their own intellect or the ideas of others they trust.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

TOMS: 2 Peter 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 12, 2008

Peter continues the thought about the sufficiency of scripture, but takes it in a new and very important direction.

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2:1-3)

We always need to keep a sharp eye out for false teachers, even among those we consider good people. We always need to base our beliefs on the Word of God, not some man's teaching. When Peter says that these teachers deny the Master who bought them, there are two possibilities: one is that they are genuinely saved but have been carried away by false doctrine, or that they claim to be bought by the Master, but they are not truly born again. I think there are probably false teachers characterized by both, but I would say the vast majority would be the latter- those who claim to know the Lord but they have deceived themselves and are now deceiving others through their homespun teachings.

"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment." (2:4-9)

Peter here gives examples both of the mercy and judgment of God. God must deal with sin, as he did with the demons who fell, the world during the flood and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the last two cases, God preserved righteous men from destruction, Noah and Lot. These two men were far from perfect, but they believed God, and He saved them.

"Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, trained in greed. insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness." (2:10-16)

Man may be the most unaware of God of any of His creatures. Peter says even the demons do not curse God to His face, but men do all the time. I hope you don't know too many people like the ones Peter describes here, but I do know a few. Mankind can become so absorbed by sin that he gets the warped idea that life is not worth living unless he is indulging in drink or sex or some other kind of sin. Notice that Peter says that some of these people are eating with the church. Apparently the recipients of this letter were not doing right by removing some members who had shown themselves not to have any spiritual desires whatsoever.

"These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: 'The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.'" (2:17-22, ESV)

These people proclaim themselves liberated, but they are enslaved by their own lusts. Peter says to be especially careful of those who have professed to know the Lord but return to their sin. Peter says here that it is impossible for someone to be genuinely born again and live an utterly wicked lifestyle. Something has to happen in their life. When it doesn't, they are truly worse off than they ever were, because they think they have religion and therefore they are fine. It is a dreadful responsibility to proclaim the Gospel. It is our responsibility, but it is not our responsibility to save them or even to pronounce them saved. God and the confirmation of the Spirit have to do that. Too many Christians motivated by a misguided zeal for numbers or not having a deep enough understanding of what salvation really is, have unfortunately shipwrecked many lives of people, telling them now they are saved and going to heaven because they went through a ritual. This in no way takes away our responsibility to witness, but we should be more careful not to try to fast-talk people into making a profession or leading people to think that parroting a ritual makes them a Christian. God gives the increase; our job is to faithfully proclaim the entire gospel, including the parts that may offend some people. If you offend someone with the truth, at least they see where they are and could respond positively the next time. Sugar-coating the Gospel does more harm than good.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

TOMS: 2 Peter 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 11, 2008

Today we start with a new epistle, 2 Peter. Peter is more specific in this epistle, pointing out a lot of particular issues in the church he is addressing.

"Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your 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. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1:1-8)

There is so much in this passage, but I did not want to divide it up, so we will have to backtrack a little bit. The most important thing for us to note is the contrast between what is already done and what is yet to be. Peter says very clearly in verses 3 and 4 that God through the Holy Spirit has given us all we need to be complete in Him. We get all of the Holy Spirit when we are saved; there is no need for a second blessing or an additional work of grace. As far as our standing with God is concerned, we are complete at the moment of salvation.

But note the following verses. Yes, God has given us everything we need in the Holy Spirit, and yes, we are recipients of all the promises and are partakers of the divine nature. But now we need to add to our faith. I have heard extended studies on all these things we are supposed to add to our faith, and I am sure you have, too. My purpose is to get you to realize the paradox here: we are complete in Christ, but yet we have so far to go. Here is what makes the Christian life so difficult for many to grasp. People often fall for man-made theories that there is some sort of secret to becoming a mature Christian. Multitudes of authors and preachers have become rich selling books and sermons about some sort of "secret" they have discovered. The fact is there is no secret. We start with everything we need: we don't need to add any more from God at some later point in our lives. Then from there it is a daily walk of slow progress. It just take hard work and applying ourselves.

"Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things." (1:10-15)

Peter's "secret"- to coin a phrase- for spiritual growth is very simple: diligence. Diligence is all that God asks of us. 

I had never noticed before what Peter said about him being near death, "as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me." Of course you remember that Jesus told Peter that when he was old, he would be led by others to a place he did not want to go. I guess he could sense himself getting old and needing help to get from one place to another.

"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (1:16-21, ESV)

Of course Peter is referring to the Transfiguration when he talks about seeing the glory of Christ and hearing the voice from heaven. But Peter says that the Word of God is a more sure proof of Christ's deity and power than even experiencing that magnificent sight. This is a comfort to us who will never experience a physical interaction with the Lord Jesus in this life. We can read for ourselves and know for sure that what we are reading is true. How do we know it is true? Because of inspiration. Peter insists that no one came up with the word on his own, as so many skeptics even today assume, but the Holy Spirit carried the writers along and superintended their work, even when they did not understand what they were writing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

TOMS: 1 Peter 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 10, 2008

This final chapter of Peter's first epistle has a lot of simple instructions about how to conduct ourselves in the church and in life in general.

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (5:1-4)

This is an important instruction for pastors and church leaders. Church leaders are responsible to the Lord for the way they lead their congregation. Thankfully, most church leaders are aware of their responsibility and do a wonderful job. However there are those who violate these instructions from Peter. They domineer their congregations, demanding obedience in the smallest detail, not merely submission to the position. Sadly, others use their office for personal gain or simply for career advancement. 

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." (5:5-10)

We have briefly discussed the concept of elders in the first century church before. Let us just suffice it to say that the elder was viewed as an office in the church, so in context this is talking about following the leadership of the church, and not simply obeying people older than you, which is how most people take it today.

I have to admit: I have a hard time learning to cast all my anxieties on the Lord. I like to think of myself as an independent man, able to take care of my own problems. The Lord is showing me a lot right now about learning to depend upon Him. Some of you know, but I have been out of a job for about a week. It is so humiliating to beg around for a job. I think I am closer to finding a job, but still I am not sure. When you have no money, a lot of bad things happen, or at least they seem bad. The worst thing is when I have a lot of time to sit around and do nothing, and so I sit and stew about things. I know that I need to cast my cares on the Lord, but that is not easy. It is easier for me to hold on to them and worry about them.

The final warning in this passage is about resisting Satan. He is a real force in this world. A lot of people have this caricature of a ugly creature in a red suit running around poking people with his pitchfork. But Satan is much more subtle and smart than that. He hates all of us as God's special creation, and he is at work all the time creating all the havoc he can in God's plan. Sometimes he works through temptation to sin, and other times he works through punishment of believers. In both of these cases, Peter advises us to be strong in the Lord, who will enable us to overcome these testings.

"By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ." (5:12-14, ESV)

The meaning of "Babylon" in this final greeting is enigmatic. Most agree that this is a reference to the city of Rome. Tradition tells us that Peter became the leader of the church at Rome. We do not know much about the later ministry of Peter, since Luke's account in Acts follows Paul almost exclusively in the last half of the book. I just have a hard time with the fact that Peter proclaimed himself as an apostle to the Jews and then we supposedly find him a few years later in Rome, a city from which all Jews were kicked out. I don't know, maybe it is my own mind putting too many restrictions on historical figures.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

TOMS: 1 Peter 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 9, 2008

"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does." (4:1-6)

This is an interesting passage. First of all, Peter says we need to have the same mind that Christ had: the mind that the suffering we endure here is worth the reward and the joy that will follow for those who endure it. Next, Peter points out that the sins of the past have no power over the believer. Several of Peter's readers came from a terrible lifestyle before they were saved. But now they want nothing to do with the sort of things their old sinful man used to enjoy. Meanwhile, their old friends cannot understand why they don't want to participate in those things. Unregenerate man is a twisted, evil being, capable of anything society or family or a sense of respectability prevents him from doing.

"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies— in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (4:7-11)

This is why we do what we do in the church: to glorify God and Christ. That is why we are sober minded, we love one another earnestly, show hospitality and use our gifts. We lose our focus way too often and get sidetracked with things that do not matter toward the ultimate goal of bringing glory to God.

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And 'If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?' Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." (4:12-19, ESV)

God is faithful to his servants that he chooses to put through trials. Nowhere does God promise to keep us out of trials; on the contrary, the Bible is full of teachings about suffering and examples of believers who suffered terrible things. I really love that last verse: "Let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." That pretty much sums it up.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

TOMS: 1 Peter 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

January 7, 2008

This chapter begins with a discussion of the Christian marriage relationship and teaching for women and men in general.

"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external— the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening." (3:1-6)

Peter addresses women first. First of all, he says that a believing wife should try her best to live with her lost husband and hopefully lead him to salvation. Notice the way she can lead him: by her daily life. Peter says Christian ladies should not be characterized by their sense of style or ostentatious display, but by the inner beauty of the heart. Of course this does not mean that they should not look nice or have expensive things, but a Christian lady should have a deeper sense of what is important in life than the world.

The last part of that passage is kind of strange. I think what Peter means (and I may be completely wrong) is that married women should not be afraid to follow their husband, even if he is lost. God will take care of the woman who follows His will by obeying her husband.

"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." (3:7)

Of course you remember that Peter was married, so he was a voice of experience on these matters. I really can't say much about this passage, except that I am looking forward to trying to live out this verse in the near future. It does seem that the Lord takes the man's responsibility seriously, since it says here that a man's prayers will be hindered if he does not treat his wife right.

"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For 'Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'" (3:8-12)

The quote in this passage is from Psalm 34. The Lord will always honor those who follow his plan for their life. That is the main thrust of the quote and of the entire passage, the rest of which follows:

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." (3:13-17)

God has special rewards for those who suffer in this life for serving him. That is a comfort and an encouragement for us to stay the course and not be discouraged when bad things happen.

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." (3:18-22, ESV)

This is a wide-ranging passage. First of all, Peter points out that Christ left us an example, since he suffered for things he did not commit. Then Peter goes beyond the natural world and points out that Christ defeated the forces of wickedness by his death. There are several theories as to what it means when Peter talks about the demons who sinned before the Flood. I don't know exactly what to think, but I think it does indicate that God in his grace is now hindering the work of Satan and his demons in a way that he did not before the Flood. Mankind at that time was so degenerate that Noah preached for 120 years and only converted his little family.

I think it is clear that the reference to baptism in this passage is a reference to the spiritual baptism that all believers experience at salvation. Noah and his family were saved from the flood waters by their obedience, and we are saved from the power of Satan by our obedience to God.