Friday, January 25, 2013

Convinced but not Critical 130127

Romans 14:5-13, One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Last week we talked about diversity without division. It's sad to see the world we live in becoming so polarized. Obviously, Paul observed the same thing happening in his world. He had never been to Rome, but he had had many reports from Rome about the conditions in the church there. There was a conflict in the church over whether to eat meat or not. Now, we find that there was disagreement with regard to observing certain days. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, urges the church to accept all sides as brothers in the Lord. We will all give an account for ourselves to the Lord. That being true, we should not pass judgment on one another.
In our day, as in and theirs, there is a dispute over Saturday as the Sabbath. First, let me say that Saturday is the Sabbath. Sunday is the Lord's day! Saturday memorializes the old creation that fell, along with Adam and Eve when they rebelled against God.
Sunday is the first day of the week and as such memorializes the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Jesus appeared to the disciples on the first day of the week Jesus appeared inside the room to the eleven disciples eight days after the first day of the week. The Jewish way of measuring days meant that it was again Sunday. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, the first day of the week. The first sermon was preached by Peter on the first day of the week. Three thousand converts joined the church on the first day of the week. The three thousand were baptized on the first day of the week. The Christians assembled and broke bread on the first day of the week. The Christians at Troas also heard a message from Paul on the first day of the week. Paul instructed the churches to put aside contributions on the first day of the week. Jesus gave the apostle John the vision of Revelation on the first day of the week.
You can see from this list that I am convinced that the first day of the week — Sunday — is the proper day for Christian worship. I don't believe Sunday is a required day of rest but it should be put aside for worship and service to God. We must remember that no matter how convinced we are we must not be critical of those who disagree. We are to…
Judge not.
Jesus gave that command. Listen while I read Matthew 7:1-5, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.…"
Jesus very clearly said, "Judge not, that you be not judged." He was not talking about an observation made about something happening in another person's life. He was talking about being judgmental. Attributing an inner motive to a person is something we should not, and in reality cannot, do. I can only know what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears. We must remember, "There but for the grace of God go I". There must've been some real chuckles in Jesus' crowd when they heard him give the comparison of trying to pick the speck out of your brother's eye while having a log in your own. Obviously it's not possible to have a real log in your eye but our fault could be as large as a log compared to a speck.
So we are to first put our own house in order before trying to correct another. Not only did Jesus make this statement, or command, but…
James restated the command. Listen while I read James 5:9, Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
I think it's interesting that James uses the term "grumble" instead of "judge". But he completes his statement the same as Jesus did, "so that you may not be judged". And then James adds to Jesus' command, "behold, the Judge is standing at the door." We will see in a few moments that we have no right to judge others because the only true judge is God himself. What we say is affected by how we say it and what our body language is. You see, our…
Attitude is very important. The way we present ourselves and our tone of voice is a great deal to do with whether we are being judgmental or not. One problem that we have, when it is absolutely necessary to correct another brother, is that we wait until the pressure builds to a point that we can't hold it back. Then we explode, or at least our voice rises and perhaps breaks a little. Then, what could have been good advice becomes a stern lecture that causes the recipient to become defensive. The response often causes the counselor to become more judgmental. It is very important that we be convinced in our own mind concerning matters of disagreement. However, it is possible to disagree agreeably. Our attitude in correcting a brother or sister in the Lord must always be carefully measured. We must…
Be fully convinced but not critical.
In everything we are to honor God. Let's look at what Paul said to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 10:28-33, But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Now we're back to the subject of meat. This passage makes it clearer than our Romans' passage. In first century Corinth, apparently, meat sold in the marketplace might have been offered in sacrifice to a pagan idol. Paul instructs the church to take a, "don't ask, don't tell" attitude. However, if someone points out that the meat was offered in sacrifice to a pagan idol then they are instructed not to eat it. Not because it would have any effect on the eater but because it might be construed by the person who pointed out the origin of the meat as honoring the pagan idol and his conscience be affected.
Earlier, in First Corinthians Paul had said that he was free to do as he chose but, in the hopes of winning others to the gospel, he would submit himself to others. To the Jews, he lived like a Jew in order to win Jews. If they were bound by the law, he would submit himself to it so that he could win those who were bound by the law, etc.. He said that he became all things to all men, that by all means he might win some.
Now he tells us that whatever we do we are to do it to the glory of God and we are to make every effort to offend no one unnecessarily for the sake of the gospel. We are to approach everything…
With Christ's mind. It is important that we agree, not so much with each other, but with Christ. Listen while I read the magnificent words Paul wrote in Philippians 2:1-8, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, 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.
We are to be in agreement with the mind of Christ. Disagreement with our brother or sister in the Lord always leads to inner turmoil on both sides. That may well be the way the world operates but it should not be the way the church operates. We are continually instructed in Scripture to love one another, to support and encourage one another and to strengthen one another.
Jesus humbled himself by becoming a man, walking on earth among men, bearing our sins on the cross and being buried. The consequence of that, praise God, is that he was raised from the dead giving us victory over death and hell when we put our faith in him.
If he could humble himself in that way then we certainly can humble ourselves before those we disagree with. We have a responsibility to carry the gospel that is much more important than winning the argument. We need to have the mind of Christ …
And His attitude. Let me show you three examples from the gospel of Matthew first: Matthew 9:36, Jesus had been traveling around the country and had been teaching, proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick. Then, When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
We have a picture of the creator of the universe walking among men looking at their condition seeing that they were like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless. Instead of looking upon them with a superior attitude of disgust he felt compassion for them. Sometimes we might hear someone say, "I feel your pain", and sometimes they really mean it. But sometimes it's just something to say. Jesus really felt the pain of the people.
Jesus could hardly escape the people as he traveled. In Matthew 14:14, we find him traveling by boat only to have the crowds hurry around the shore to meet him when he arrived. Matthew tells us, When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Again we find Jesus confronted by many needs. Instead of throwing up his hands and saying, "I can't get away from them!", He had compassion on them and healed the sick.
Another time, recorded by Matthew is found in chapter 15 verse 32. Again he had been teaching and healing and a great crowd had gathered. He called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
Then he sat them down, took seven loaves of bread and a few small fish and fed 4000 men besides women and children. Jesus had compassion on the crowd! How much more today does he have compassion on a world of 7 billion people many of whom have never heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And at the same time they are harassed and helpless, hungry, sick and tired.
We need to be fully convinced of our position but we are to have a non-critical attitude. That is the example given to us by Jesus. Too often Christians spend their time grumbling at one another while the world literally is going to hell! We must remember that…
Judgment belongs to God.
Jesus, as man, deferred to the Father. I give you two examples from the gospel John. First, John 5:30, here Jesus has been teaching his disciples about the authority he has as the son of God. Listen while I read, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. …"
Jesus had just before this said that ultimately judgment will be in his hands. He is to be treated with the same honor as we treat the Father. Yet, while he was on earth, he clearly states (at least twice) that he could do nothing on his own. He can only do the will of the one who sent him. He deferred judgment to the Father while he was on earth. We must have the same attitude as Jesus did. We must defer judgment to God.
A little while later Jesus, knowing that he was near the end, continued to teach his disciples. Listen while I read from…
John 12:47-49, If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
Jesus very clearly taught that he did not come to judge but to save. While he was on earth he deferred all judgment to the Father.
There is coming a time when he will return to judge. But while he was on earth that was not his purpose. Folks, if it wasn't Jesus' purpose to judge, it certainly isn't our purpose to judge one another.
Remember, Each of us will answer to God. Listen while I read from the last book of the Bible, Revelation 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
"Books were opened". There are books in the world to come that will be the source of judgment. In the vision that John saw everyone was brought before a great white throne. Everyone was judged by what was written in the books! Folks, if we are to be judged by what is written in the books we are in a lot of trouble! You see Scripture leaves no room for debate. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and, the wages of sin is death! When the books are opened our condemnation would be sure except for one thing. There is "another book" called the book of life. Praise God! He has another book! This book is mentioned at least twice before in Revelation as having been written before the foundation of the world. God knew who would be his before he created the earth. He wrote their names in a book to be opened at the end of the age!
Jesus told a parable about a man who planted good seed and afterward an enemy sowed weed seed in the same field. When the weeds came up along with the wheat the field hands wanted to know if they should try to pull the weeds up. The master said that they should not because the division would be made at the harvest. The field is the world. The good seed are God's people and the weeds are planted by the enemy. Judgment will come at the end of the age — the harvest! Are you ready for the harvest? If not come to Jesus for salvation. If you feel a desire to be saved from the judgment to come he will not turn you away!
We're not to judge. We are to be fully convinced but not critical because judgment belongs to God.
It is an easy matter to slip into a critical attitude. In fact it is very common among Christians to be critical of one another. It seems as though, having become convinced of a particular position, we believe that everyone must agree with us. Remember on the playground as a child how important it was for the other kid to agree with you. It was as though their disagreement somehow made our whole idea come into question. And so the argument usually devolved into, "Did so", "Did Not", "Did so", "Did Not", etc.. Well, our attitude should be the same as that of the apostle Paul, "Having become a man I put away childish things." Let's encourage one another to grow up and be mature in the faith. The most important thing is Jesus Christ and him crucified, buried and raised again! Have you put your trust in him? Has he called you?
All scripture quotes from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Diversity Without Division 130120

Romans 14:1-4, As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One of the greatest problems with the church today is poor management of diverse opinions. A friend of mine used to say, "Opinions are like noses, everybody has at least one." And often opinions are based on something less than fact. Everyone in the church has a variety of opinions about a variety of subjects. How can we make it so that everyone can hold their opinions without quarreling? The apostle brings this subject up at least three more times in his writings. Here, he uses the example of people who hold a very strong opinion about eating meat, or not. Not for the health reasons given today but for spiritual reasons. After all, the meat may have been part of a sacrifice to a pagan god. How can we deal with differences of opinion in the church today?
Our differences would fall into different categories than in the days of Paul. Today, when you go into the market, you're not looking at meat that was originally part of a sacrifice to a pagan idol. Instead, our differences of opinion are more along the lines of how one should dress at church. Or, whether there should be chairs or pews. We might disagree over whether, or not, videos should be shown in the church, or, whether food should be eaten in the same room where we worship. The list could go on and I'm sure you can think of some things to add to it. But none of these things are central to our faith. They're all peripheral not essential. Sometimes these differences lead to serious consequences and would be "funny" if they were not so sad. One example, posted in 2007, goes like this:
GREELEY - A little Jewish praise word caused a lot of controversy as a Colorado church, divided over the proper spelling of 'hallelujah, ' split up and re-formed as separate congregations.
The problem arose when the board of elders at Full Gospel Temple budgeted money for a praise banner to hang from the sanctuary ceiling bearing the word "hallelujah, " or "alleluia." One faction insisted the word be spelled the first way, while the other wouldn't budge from the second way. Petitions were drawn up, rallies held and late-night threats received by both sides. One man, an "alleluia" supporter, was nearly clobbered by a rock that came through his window. The rock bore a note that said, simply, "hallelujah! "
Both sides were adamant that since they had grown up with a particular spelling, theirs was correct.
"It makes a tremendous difference, when you open your eyes and see it there on the banner spelled wrong," said a hallelujah supporter. "It's so jarring to see it without the 'h' at the beginning. Nobody spells it that way anymore."
"I was so sick about it I couldn't sleep," said one woman, an equally ardent 'alleluia' supporter who carried a sign during a recent day of picketing. "To think some people spell this wonderful word with a 'j' in it. It's not something where I question their salvation, but at times you have to wonder."
The two churches now meet in separate school auditoriums, and each has fashioned a banner to suit its own preference. Worship, says one parishioner, is "much better now." .
How do we, or any church, avoid that kind of disagreement? Well, first of all…
The strong should be patient with those who are weak.
When a person stumbles into sin. We should not be quick to condemn. Listen while I read Paul's words to the Galatians 6:1-4, 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.
"Caught in any transgression" is a phrase that causes the mind to begin a process of trying to determine what that means. As with all Scripture, it means what it says. Paul is not talking about particular transgressions, or sins, he is talking about ANY transgression. When we see someone fall into sin we should approach them with gentleness. We need to add to our vocabulary the sentence, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
You see, under similar circumstances we might have, let me emphasize "might have", done something similar — or even worse! We should be slow to speak and quick to listen. That is why, someone said, God gave us two ears and only one mouth. Now I realize some people give the impression that they may have more than one mouth. But they don't.
With gentleness. and careful conversation. correct a person who has gone astray.
Be merciful when others doubt. Listen to what Jude had to say about this topic, Jude 22-23, 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.
Obviously, the Church has had problems with people who struggle in immature faith. When we look on someone who has doubts we should be merciful and patient. After all, those men who had been closest to Jesus often struggled with doubt.
Matthew tells us, at the very end of his gospel, they worshiped him, but some doubted! Think about it! These men had walked with him for the greater part of three years. They had seen him heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, feed 5000 men (besides women and children) with five loaves and two fish. They had seen him walk on the water and calm the storm. And after all that, "some doubted"!
If that could happen to them then we should be very gentle with someone today who struggles with doubt. We should likewise be patient with ourselves when doubts arise.
Jonathan Oatman, Jr. penned these words more than 100 years ago (449 in our hymnal) just the first two verses.
I'm pressing on the upward way, new heights I'm gaining every day; still praying as I onward bound, "Lord, plant my feet on higher ground." Lord, lift me up and let me stand, by faith, on heaven's tableland, a higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay; though some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim is higher ground. Lord, lift me up and let me stand, by faith, on heaven's tableland, a higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
That old hymn should characterize our attitude about doubts and fears. We should wish for our brothers and sisters, as well as for ourselves, a life without doubt and fear with our feet firmly planted on heaven's tableland.
Instead of condemning, discouraging and shunning those who are in trouble we should…
Admonish, encourage, and help. Listen while I read, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Be at peace among yourselves. Inasmuch as it is in your power to do so you should be at peace with everyone. This should be especially true of relationships in the church and between Christians.
We have the right, no, we have the responsibility to admonish the idle. Paul said if they don't work, they don't eat! Admonish, not condemn! We also have the responsibility to encourage the fainthearted. Many people in the church, and in the world around us, are simply not bold and need encouragement. I believe, without a formal organization, this church has a "Barnabas ministry". "Barnabas" means son of encouragement. We have people in this church who encourage others on a regular basis. A note, or a card, sent at the right time. A phone call, or a visit, can be very encouraging to a fainthearted person. We are to help the weak not push them aside. In all cases we are to be gentle. I often think of times that a few gentle words would have helped a great deal more than the harsh words that were actually said. One thing for sure, words that have been spoken can never be recalled.
Those who are strong should be patient with those who are weak. They also should…
Insist on the essentials and not the peripherals.
Churches, almost never, split over essential doctrine. They split over things like how to spell a word, what time to have a worship service, or what kind of music is used in worship. Folks, those things are just peripherals. They're not in the center of what's important in church life. We need to insist on what is…
Of first importance. Listen while I read what Paul said to the Corinthians in, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
That which is of first importance is Jesus! Condemned, crucified, buried and raised again for our sins and our salvation. That's what really counts!
Satan will do anything in his power to get God's people fighting among themselves. He doesn't try to get people to argue over salvation. He would much rather turn the argument towards the color of paint in the worship area or the name of the church. None of that has anything to do with the soul salvation of anyone. You see there is…
Only one source of salvation. Peter and John had been brought before the ruling Council. The charges against him were simple. A man had been healed of a lifelong illness. The Council wanted to know what the source of their power was. Peter boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus and then added Acts 4:12, And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Not only had the name of Jesus healed this man but they also wanted to be clear that there is only one name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. And folks, that name is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, The Son of the Living God. There is only one way…
Not many. Listen while I read what Paul wrote to the Ephesians 4:2-6, 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.
One body! And that is not Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or any other particular church. That body is the body of Christ! The church triumphant that extends through all ages and all regions of the world.
One Spirit! And that is the Holy Spirit — the force that now works in all believers. The fact that the one Spirit indwells all believers makes us equal in all things spiritual. We have different gifts and responsibilities but only one Spirit.
One hope! The hope of our calling sets us apart from the world and allows us to focus our attention on the world to come. Our hope releases God's riches in our life.
One Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ; one faith, belief in the one true God by grace through faith; one baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit in our life; one God, Yahweh the Lord of heaven and earth, over all, through all and in all. Because of these things we should…
Avoid quarreling. Yet some people seem to rejoice in quarreling. When I was a boy I went out of my way to argue with people. In a more formal sense I guess it might be said that I enjoyed debating. One day I discovered that I might be winning arguments but I was losing friends. And friends are much more important than opinions. So I adopted the policy I try to follow now. And that is, everyone has the right to be wrong! When we do disagree, and voice our disagreement, we need to be…
Gently correcting. Look at Paul's instruction to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Be kind to everyone. Oh, there are people who are easy to be kind to. They are sweet and gentle and nice to be around. But they are not "everyone"! When you extend the policy to "everyone" it becomes much harder to carry out. Every believer is able to be kind and teach others. You see, it's not our work, it's God's work and if His Spirit indwells us — and he does — then we can do all things through the one who gives us strength.
We need to patiently endure even evil when necessary to reach a person for the gospel. We need to correct others but we need to do it gently not argumentative or quarrelsome. We need to win the argument in such a way that we also win our opponent. The book of Proverbs tells us, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (15:1) As I said before, it took me a while to learn this but when I finally "got it" it became an effective tool to be used to win people over. I am not perfect by any means but I try to follow the word of God and do it with a gentle spirit. We can't always avoid differences of opinion and sometimes we will have to…
Deal with dividers. See Paul's instruction to Titus in chapter 3:9-11, But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
We can see from this instruction some of the things the early church fought about. Paul calls them "foolish controversies" and things haven't changed much over the centuries. Most of the controversies today within the church are foolish.
Someone once said that we have to be careful when we get into disagreement. We need to decide if the issue is really important. We need to ask ourselves, "Is this a hill I'm willing to die on?" If it's not, we need to put it aside and go ahead with our ministry. But if it is important and is used by someone to stir up division in the church then we are to warn the person who's causing division once or twice and then shun them — have nothing more to do with him, or her!
Of course there are issues of major importance that have to be taken care of and we need to…
Be wise and gracious. Listen to Paul's words Colossians 4:5-6, Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Walk in wisdom? Where would we get that from? The Bible tells us that the Lord gives wisdom! James said that if anyone lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives generously without reproach. He went on to say later in his book that the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Gracious in speech! That means never talking down to another person. Always being kind and considerate of them. It matters little if we tell the truth if no one is listening. We need to tell the truth in such a way that each person will listen. We need to always be prepared to answer any one who questions our faith.
As long as people think for themselves there will be differences of opinion. A person doesn't have to think clearly to have an opinion. How we deal with the difference is very important.
We need to be patient with those who are still struggling with their faith. We need to insist on sticking to the essential issues and letting God deal with the peripheral issues. We need to avoid arguments and focus on gently guiding the conversation toward the gospel.
We live today in a culture of division, acrimony and hostility. It seems that disagreement always has to be harsh and divisive. This is true even in the church and among Christian people. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be true! Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers…". James, the Lord's brother, said, "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." I'm grateful to God that the Stamford Baptist Church has never been known for quarreling and division. May it always be so!

All scripture quotes from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Our Focus and Function 130113

Romans 13:11-14, Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Paul has taken his readers in Rome, and us, through a basic course in gospel theology. He began with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He stated, with confidence, that he was not ashamed of the gospel! Then he showed us the tremendous danger that sin brings into the life of a person. Paul demonstrated the weakness of the law in regards to salvation. He introduced the example of Abraham, who believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. He showed us that in Adam we die but in Christ we can have life. The believer does not have to be in bondage or live under condemnation. Instead, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And much more, but here he asks us to remember what our focus and function should be.
It's pretty easy to get off point, or out of focus, in life. The pressures of the world, the flesh, and the devil, continually cause us to forget who we are and, much more importantly, whose we are! Paul reminds the Romans that they should live a life that is focused on the facts and not feelings. Salvation is drawing nearer every day. That salvation he is referring to is the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ! Every day each of us are closer to our final salvation. Whether it takes the form of the Lord Jesus appearing in the air or, it takes the form of a death-bed. If he returns while we live we will be caught up to be with him. If His coming is further delayed we shall go to be with him through the grave. Either way…

Salvation is drawing near, wake up!
Jesus will return for his own, let's look at what Jesus had to say about it in John 14:1-3, Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Jesus knew that he would soon be facing death and leaving his disciples behind. He knew that in a few days he would be arrested, beaten, tried, and sentenced to death on a cross. At least three times he had told his disciples this would happen and tried to reassure them that he would rise again. But obviously they were troubled. When we are troubled by the events around us or the things we believe are about to happen we often fall back into our self-centered lifestyle. If we really believe that God is in charge and has a plan for our good then we should not be troubled. So Jesus calls on his disciples, who believe in God, to believe him also. He had told them that he was going to prepare a place for them and he wouldn't have told them that if it were not true. He wanted them to understand that if he was preparing a place for them he would come back for them and take them to be with him. He will return for his believers one by one or all together for those who are left.
One by one. It's very clear that Paul himself believed that death would bring him into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen while I read Philippians 1:21-23, 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.
What encouraging words these are! I have learned over the years to refer to death as equal to, or better than, life on this earth. Folks, if you're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ then it is either here or there. To live is Christ! To die is gain! The older I get the more I understand Paul saying that his real desire was to depart and be with Christ rather than to stay on the earth. But that is not our choice. It is strictly up to God. Paul knew that if he remained behind it would be for the benefit of the church. He was ready to be offered up. He had fought the fight of faith and was now ready to depart when God was ready for him. Many times I've heard accounts of believers passing from this world into the next with great anticipation. My own father, just as he breathed his last, set up in bed and said, "Oh my Lord" and immediately died. I believe he saw the Lord Jesus standing to receive him into heaven. So, Christ will return for us one at a time and then at the end…
For all that are left. In what was probably Paul's earliest letter he talked about Christ's return. Listen while I read 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
In those early days of his ministry the apostle Paul clearly believed that he would be alive when Jesus returned. He says, "we who are alive, who are left," obviously including himself among the group that would be caught up to be with the Lord. By the time he wrote to the Philippians from the jail in Rome it seems that he had come to believe he would not leave this earth rising into the air to meet Jesus but rather he would shed his earthsuit and put on his heavensuit. In other words, he would die and go to be with the Lord. And that may be what happens with us. On the other hand, it may very well be that we will be in that group who hears the trumpet sound, steps out of this world into that world all together. In the meantime we have a responsibility. As children of the light we need to…
Aviod the works of darkness.
People naturally love darkness. Jesus came into the world as light and was rejected by the world. Listen to what he had to say John 3:19-21, And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
Paul may have been thinking of these words of Jesus when he said to the Romans, "let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." The world we live in has a clear preference for darkness over light. Of course I'm talking about spiritual light not physical light. Violence, hatred, and self-centered lifestyles abound around us. It is easy for Christians to be drawn away from the light. Too often we find ourselves where we should not be. Robert Robinson got it right when he penned the old song, "Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing". I think especially of the last two verses in the old style. They go like this:
O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.
O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless day.
The natural tendency, even of believers, is to wander away from the realms of endless day. If those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ would simply focus themselves on living a life filled with the light of faith we could change the world we live in! We have a responsibility to live as children of the light and as such…
We should not participate in darkness. Listen while I read Paul's words to the Ephesians 5:3-13, 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. 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.
The works of darkness are comprehensively spelled out for us. Sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (which is idolatry), filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking all represent spiritual darkness. These things are out of place in the Christian community and should not represent in any way the lifestyle of the people of God. Not only should we not allow our lives to be represented by the darkness we should not be partners with those who live that way. And we're not just to not participate but we are to expose the unfruitful works of darkness. When they're brought into the light they will shrivel up and lose their power to attract. We are to absolutely not participate in the works of darkness instead we are to…
Focus on the light. Our Lord described himself for us…
Jesus is the light of the world. He said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The word “Christian” means "like Christ". It was not a name that was adopted by the church but rather one given by the world. Jesus is the light of the world and we are to be like him. We are to do as he taught in the sermon on the Mount when he said, "You are the light of the world" and, "let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven."
We are not only to be "like him" but we are, most importantly, to be "in him". Again and again the Bible tells us that when we are born again we are in Christ Jesus. We are to abide in him. Like the branch abides in the vine we are to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the promises of God are "yes" in him. In him we become the righteousness of God. In him we have redemption through his blood and in him we have an inheritance that cannot be taken away from us. He is our strength and protection. As the light of the world he is…
Our armor. Our potection is his light. Listen while I read 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11, 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. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Every day of our life we are in danger of spiritual attack. Our enemy has many resources and as such is able to surprise us again and again. We belong to the day, the light of God, not to the night. The night represents the darkness of Satan. It fills our world and does not comprehend the light of God's day.
Since we belong to the kingdom of light we should walk, or live, like those who reflect the light of God rather than dwelling in the darkness of Satan. The darkness is recognized, according to our original text, in orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling and jealousy. That description certainly applies to the world of today as much as it did to the Roman world of Paul's day. To counter the darkness in our world we need to take up the armor of light. We are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
When it's all over and this world has passed away to be replaced by an eternal kingdom of light then…
Finally, he will be our light. Let's look at what John saw in the coming city of God, or rather, what he did not see. Revelation 21:22-25, And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
He saw no temple because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of heaven. He saw no sun or moon because the glory of God gives it light. And the lamp is the Lamb.
Two thousand years ago John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him beside the Jordan River. I can imagine the scene. John is standing on a rock or a high place on the bank of the river. There's a great crowd around him because they have come to hear him preach and to be baptized by him. But this day, perhaps in the midst of his sermon, he sees Jesus approaching! Suddenly, he is filled with understanding from the Spirit of God and then he points toward his approaching cousin and says, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!"
Jesus is the Lamb seen in the book of Revelation. In the end of time, as we know it, there will be no need for the sun or moon. Or, they will simply not be seen because of the brightness of the light in the eternal city of God.
But we don't have to wait until then! He is our light today. He was the light that came into the world and because of his resurrection from the dead he remains "light" for all who believe in him. And he gives light, as the word of God, to our feet and becomes a lamp to our path.
Jesus, the light of the world, comes into the life of the believer and becomes a shield of light. We need not only to cast off the works of darkness but also to work to defeat the darkness in this world. As Christians we have a responsibility to live our lives in such a way that the world can see that we are followers of the Lord Jesus. Yet, during my lifetime there has been a drifting away from the Christian lifestyle even, perhaps especially, among those who claim to be Christian! Let's commit ourselves to live out our lives in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

All scripture quotes from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Law and Love 121230

Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
In our attempts to follow Christ it is very easy to be drawn into a legalistic mindset. When that happens, we find ourselves missing the most important part — LOVE! Pharisees of Jesus' day lived that kind of life. One day Jesus said to them, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and then neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others." Then he called them "blind guides" because they could not see the truths contained in their own Scripture. In their legalism they missed the most important things. In the same way, Paul points out that love fulfills the law.
Our Debt is Love
According to Jesus' command found in. John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Please note that Jesus says here that all people will know that we are his disciples if we have love for one another. It's little wonder that the world doubts the validity of the Christian faith when they see how little we love one another. One of the most important testimonies we can give to the world is to act out our love for others. Remember, love is not the way we feel! Love is how we act – it is an act of our will. It is possible, literally, to love another person without having any strong feelings of liking them. When Jesus gives the command that we love one another he quantifies it by adding, "just as I have loved you,". This means that we are to die to our own selfish desires and ambitions in order to serve others. The world believes that those who are important are to be served. Jesus said that he came to be a servant and then said we should be like him, even unto death. The life we live is his life being lived through us. That life is one that is marked, preminently, by acts of love and compassion.
Love binds everything else. If you have your Bible turn with me to Colossians 3:12-14, and listen while I read. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Since we are chosen by God and set apart to his service (that's what "holy" means), and are loved by him, we are to "put on" compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We are to bear with one another even to the point of forgiving another that you have a complaint against. After all, that's what God did for us. He loved us, sought us out, forgave our sins and adopted us into his family. Yet, as comprehensive as the "put on" list is there is even more! Not only are we to "put on" compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience; bearing with and forgiving one another. Above all these, we are to put on love that binds everything together in perfect harmony.
This should be the goal of our teaching! Listen while I read 1 Timothy 1:5, The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Someone once said that if you have no goal in life you are bound to be successful. Without a goal you never have to worry about achieving it. Paul said he had a goal for his teaching. This goal was simply "Love". Not some "touchy-feely" kind of love like the world offers, instead, it was to be God's kind of love. The word "Love" actually characterizes God. John, in his writings, tells us, again and again, that God is love. God's love comes to us in purity. Purity is one of the things we need in our lives. The only place we can get it is in the presence of a holy God. We need to come to him and confess our sins for cleansing.
When we confess our sins he forgives our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness. That kind of cleansing comes from the pure heart of God and enables us to give love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
When we look at the multiple tragedies going on the world today we know that something is missing. That something is morality based on the loving heart of God. These people who murder others and then take their own lives cannot believe that God exists or that he exercises judgment in this world and in the world to come. They have missed out entirely on the love of God.
The love we have in us should be like that Shown in the "human relations" commandments. By that term I mean the commandments that are directed toward our relations with others. In our text for today, Paul gives us four commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” these all reflect how we treat other people. They are all "human relations" commandments.
Jesus gave a longer list. A young man came to Jesus with a burning question, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Listen while I read from Matthew 19:18-19. Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Obviously, Jesus knew the 10 Commandments and he also knew this young man. He knew that throughout his life this young man had tried very hard to live according to the rules. In fact, after Jesus' statement he affirmed that he had kept all these from his youth up but he still knew he had a need, a great need, in order to be worthy of eternal life. Like most people on earth today, he believed that he had to do "something great or good " in order to inherit eternal life. He was in bondage to the law and did not understand that the law is simply a schoolmaster to bring us to the end of ourselves — to bring us to Christ! Only one man has ever kept the law in its entirety and that man is Jesus Christ! He knew no sin, had no sin of his own, and therefore could take our sins into his own body and nail them to the cross. From the cross Jesus passed through the grave and arose a victor over death, sin and the grave.
Jesus quoted to the young man from the last six of the 10 Commandments given on Mount Sinai. Jesus puts them in a different order and even changes the last from no coveting to loving your neighbor as yourself.
A quick glance will show us that what he gave was different from the 10 Commandments. Look at Deuteronomy chapter 5 with me.
Simply stated, the Commandments are as follows: verse seven, No other gods; verse eight, No idols; verse 11, do not take the name of the Lord in vain; verse 12, observe the Sabbath day as a day of rest; verse 16, honor your father and mother; verse 17, no murder; verse 18, no adultery; verse 19, no stealing; verse 20, no lying and verse 21, no coveting. The 10 are divided four toward God and six toward man. The human relations commandments are the ones we must concern ourselves with. If we are careful to carry them out we will show others love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a pure faith.
The apostle Paul tells us that the debt we owe, once our sin debt is paid, is to love each other. If we'll do that, we will fulfill the original intention of the law.
The law is Summed up in this word Paul tells us…
Any other commandment… There are 613!
The Jewish rabbis, who made the study of the law their life, count 613 Commandments. Of course, the key to them all is the 10 Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. All of the others grow out of them. In our text for today Paul takes four of the commandments that all reflect how we treat other people and then says any other commandment is summed up in this word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This goes a long way towards explaining the condition of the world we live in today! I submit to you that we can only love others if we love ourselves. I'm not talking about a narcissistic love that is self-centered and egotistical. I'm talking about a love that recognizes that we are made in the image of God and we should respect ourselves as God's image bearers on this earth. Having done that, we are able to respect others as image bearers of God. We can call them to come to him whose image they bear.
As Jesus ministry began to come to an end he was confronted frequently by the Pharisees and teachers of the law in an attempt to challenge him and prove that he was a heretic. In Matthew 22 we find several such instances. "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" they questioned him. He confounded them thoroughly by simply asking for a coin and then asking whose image was on it. When they told him the image was Caesar's he simply said they should give Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.
Then they brought up a classic problem with the resurrection. According to their story, a woman had seven husbands. "Whose wife would she be in the resurrection?" they asked him. He answered that they simply didn't understand the Scriptures or the power of God. Then he said, contrary to Mormon doctrine, that in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but instead are like the Angels. Note, he didn't say they would be Angels he said they would be "like the Angels".
The Pharisees then decided to try to prove he was a heretic by asking what the greatest commandment in the law was. This opened the door for Jesus to confront them about the real meaning of the law. He put forth two Commandments rather than one. He said the…
Most important is Godward. Listen while I read Matthew 22:36-38, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. …"
Love for God is first and foremost. With all your heart. I think that means with your feelings. We need to choose to feel love for God. With all your soul. I believe that means our personality is to reflect God. With all your mind. I believe that we are to reflect love for God in our thoughts and with that which we store in our mind. I deeply regret many things that I've allowed to be brought into my mind and struggle against them so that I may love him with all that I am.
Jesus had answered their question. But he wasn't through with them. He had a second commandment, the first commandment is Godward, …
The second is manward. Listen while I read Matthew 22:39-40, And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
"All the law and the prophets" is a very comprehensive statement. To love God with all you are and to love your neighbor as yourself sums up the teaching of the Bible. Remember I said earlier that our ability to love others is in direct proportion to our willingness to love ourselves.
In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he gave us a comprehensive statement about the importance of love in chapter 13. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Love never ends! Prophecies? They won't be needed — they'll pass away! Tongues? They will cease! Knowledge? It will pass away! None of these will be needed when the perfect comes.
Paul once said that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom he was chief. The law, given thousands of years before Christ's birth, was never intended to be a source of salvation. In Galatians we are told that the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Jesus did not come to do away with the law he came to fulfill the law. Having met the law's demands he allowed himself be taken and crucified. He had no sin of his own and as such
he took our sins into his own body so that we could become God's righteousness in him. Rather than trying to keep the whole law we need to devote ourselves, by our actions, to loving God and loving each other. Surrender your life to him today and then let him live it out through you. That's what I want to do! Please join me in this.
All scripture quotes from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.