Thursday, January 29, 2015

Waiting for the Spirit's Prompting

1Co 16:2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

While preaching through this passage the thought came to me that often and especially when it suits our purposes we can get real mystical and think it is okay to “wait” for the Spirit to “lead” us before doing things; and by things I mean things the Bible commands us to.  In the above verse Paul tells the church to give regularly as the Lord blesses you.  This means that I cannot wait until the Spirit leads me to give to the church because the Spirit has already told me to do so when he moved Paul to write this.

My point here is not about giving but the false notion that if I don’t feel like doing something then I don’t have to do it.  In this case the Spirit is leading me (better said, commanding me) to tithe by inspiring Paul to write this imperative down.  Therefore if I don’t obey immediately I am resisting the Holy Spirit.  Waiting for my feelings and emotions to catch up is merely an excuse to disobey the Lord.

We might argue that if  I am not obeying from the heart then I am not really obeying.  There is truth in that but I would counter that all saints have been given a new heart that loves to obey, so what are we arguing about?  Clearly our new hearts are not perfect godly hearts but we shouldn’t have to be talked into doing what the Lord commands us to do, we should be seeking clarity as to what are his commands.

I am not saying that the Holy Spirit never prompts us inwardly to action, but his primary means of prompting comes through the written Word.  Any inward thoughts must be judged by the Scriptures.  If they don’t line up with the Word then they have come from our remaining corruption, not the Holy Spirit. 

It is always disturbing to hear someone say that the Spirit hasn’t led them to take communion, join the church, be baptized, etc. and I am left wondering why feelings and promptings take precedent over words written down in black and white! 

Perhaps it goes back to their upbringing.  We taught our children that godly obedience was immediate and with the right heart attitude.  But they learned real quickly that whether they had the right attitude or not, or whether they felt like it or not, true obedience began with immediate compliance.  Am I to assume that while God loves a cheerful giver that if I am not happy about giving to him I don’t have to give?  No, I know that I have two things in which to obey him; giving as he has blessed me because all I have comes from him and is his to begin with and giving joyfully because I am only a miserable sinner saved by his precious grace and owe him my entire being.

To use another often used example.  More than once I have been informed by someone that they do not take communion because they have sin in their life and so don’t want to take communion unworthily.  Excuse the expression, but this is sanctimonious horse hockey.  What they are saying is that I would rather remain in rebellion to the Lord and continue to sin rather than obey him and repent so I can take communion.  He is waiting for a feeling of repentance or whatever to overcome him before he will obey the clear teaching of the Bible.  It is a dangerous mysticism that is just an excuse for sin.  

The main work of the Holy Spirit is to prompt us to understand and obey the Word he has given to us.  To expect him to prompt us beyond that before we will obey it seems to be an excuse to disobey.  May the Lord cause us to pray with David in Psalm 119 to keep his Word at all times, Psa 119:10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  May we never blame the Holy Spirit for not immediately obeying the Lord with the right heart attitude.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Work of the Lord

Jas 1:2  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, Jas 1:3  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

1Co 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Let me try and combine these two verses hopefully in a way that brings out proper application for both of them.  1 Cor. 15:58 says to always abound in the work of the Lord and James 1:2 says that one aspect of the work of the Lord is to count it all joy when we are tested through trials of various kinds.  Then if we go back to 1 Cor. 15:58 we see that to be faithful will mean that our labor is not in vain which I would take to mean that it will glorify God and bring reward.

So the reason I want to combine these two verses is to consider what the work of the Lord is.  Too often it might be seen as full time Christian service or when we are actively involved in some sort of Christian ministry as a lay person and all that is the work of the Lord for sure but it involves much more than these things.  If we boiled it down further we might say that the work of the Lord involves being faithful at all times in everything that comes our way in life.  Whether we are helping someone out with a problem or on vacation or driving home from work; a Christian is always to be doing work of the Lord. 

I think this helps us see how James 1:2-3 fits into 1 Cor. 15:58.  Since the Lord brings all types of afflictions and trials into our life to build us up in the faith then these must be seen as part of the work of the Lord.  And it seems that often our main pursuit when we encounter trials is to get out of it as soon as possible!  I think of martyrs who patiently endure persecution knowing that escape is impossible or missionaries who are deliberately living under extremely difficult circumstances and are in it for the long haul because this is an expression of their love for the Lord.  But then I think of how many of us when some difficulty comes immediately are consumed with trying to escape. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Suffering by definition is painful and if we can be free of it then we should; if we can do so in a godly fashion.  If we can avoid sickness then by all means do so.  The same would be true if we can improve our financial lot in life without compromise and sin.  But there is something else to consider in all this as well.  The trials that we suffer are given to us as a means to serve; they are not given to us so that we can consume our lives with trying to remove them!  What is to consume us is how to serve the Lord even in affliction; secondly we can look for removal. 

One way we can see how this can be confused is when we examine our prayer requests.  Are they mostly requests for the removal of trials or for faithfulness in them?  For instance, you hear this a lot when someone asks for prayer for an unsaved relative who is sick or in some sort of trouble.  They want lots of prayer for physical health but it is much rarer to hear requests for their spiritual problems.  But is it not wrong to ask that God would heal an unsaved person with no thought of what that extended life will accomplish for Christ?  It is not unusual for a lost person to ask me to pray for them for some physical problem because I am a preacher.  But I try to be clear that while I don’t like to see them suffer and will pray for them, my first concern is that they get right with God and if their affliction is used to that end then my first concern is not their ease but their soul. 

I can image a scenario where Hitler was a boy who attended church and came down with a serious health issue.  His parents asked the church to pray that he would recover.  But perhaps that is all they asked for because that was really all they cared about.  It never crossed their minds that he would recover so that he might be saved and become a servant of the Lord; just that he could live a long life.  Well, that prayer would have been answered but the lack of spiritual depth of their prayers actually turned out far different than they might have imagined.

And this holds true when we pray for the saints.  Is God pleased if we get sick and all our prayers are for healing but the thought of why we want to be healed never goes beyond the fact that we don’t like pain?  Should we ever ask for help if our motivation isn’t firstly so that we can be better servants of the Lord?  Is asking for help but for other motivations just asking “amiss”? 

How often do we hear of trying to determine what the Lord’s calling is for your life?  And by that they mean job or career, etc.  But the calling that we had better learn to focus on is not how you make money but how well you serve in every situation.  The calling of a saint is to serve well while sick or poor or depressed and not to get out from under the trial as fast as we can.  This is why Paul could say he has learned to be content in any situation.  Php 4:11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php 4:12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Php 4:13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me

Let us always be abounding in the work of the Lord because the reward for our labor is not getting healthy or wealthy or a fulfilling career or perfect family.  It is to stand in the presence of God forever already secured for us in Christ.  Let’s face it, some of us are just going to suffer severely until the day they die and if all we ever want is for the suffering to end and all we ever do is pray for it to end, we will not be content and we will forget to serve in the meantime.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Dead Shall Rise First

1Th 4:13  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 1Th 4:14  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 1Th 4:15  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. 1Th 4:16  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. 1Th 4:17  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. 1Th 4:18  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

In preaching through 1 Cor. 15 I have been studying the events of the 2nd Coming, in particular the resurrection of the dead.  If anything, it has confirmed my understanding that the Bible never speaks of these two events as happening apart from each other.  In short, the next event on the biblical calendar is the 2nd Coming of the Lord, the general resurrection of all mankind. 

The text above lays this out for us.  In vs. 15 Paul refers to the “coming of the Lord” and the NT always presents this as the thing we in the church age are waiting for.  He even says as much when he says, “We who are alive, who are left until the coming…”  Many in Paul’s day assumed it was going to happen during their life time.  By definition this must be the 2nd Coming.

Verse 16 also says the Lord will descend.  In other words he is coming down here to get us.  I know the Dispensationalist make a lot of the fact that we are caught up in the air with him as if this is to be taken as Jesus not actually touching the ground so therefore it isn’t technically the 2nd Coming, but that is mere eisegesis  in my estimation; reading into the text.  Paul refers to this as the time of the last trump in 1 Cor. 15:52, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  So clearly in these two texts he is speaking of the same time period and the 2nd Coming of the Lord which is the next thing on his calendar and that which all Christians are looking for.

I believe the Dispensationalist have a problem here.  What if you are reading this during the supposed Tribulation or during the Millennial Reign?  It has already happened!  Even men like John MacArthur end up saying that this isn’t really the last trumpet; just the last one for saints in the church age.  In his commentary of 1 Corinthians he says there are 4 and possibly 5 different resurrections in order to fit them all into the Dispensational scheme.  I am left wondering why Paul doesn’t explain the events at the end of the supposed Great Tribulation and coming Millennial Reign so that those saints can know what is going to happen.  I believe the answer is because no such periods exist.

A couple of other things to note: If the 2nd Coming is really at the end of a tribulation period then really that would be the 3rd Coming since Paul refers to this as also a coming of Christ.  To separate the Rapture from the “2nd Coming” is unbiblical since Paul says the 2nd Coming is the next thing to happen which would make Jesus’ coming at the end of the tribulation period the third one.  Of course one of the great weaknesses of Dispensationalism is the many comings, resurrections and judgments that come at the many “ends” yet to come.

This and other passages don’t even hint that this coming is only for the saints of the church age and that there are other resurrections to come.  Yet John MacArthur for instance says that at the Rapture only those saints who died since Pentecost are going to be raised, all other saints from the OT and Tribulation will be raised at the end of the Tribulation.  Pretty soon one has to sit back and see how convoluted this begins to be.

The other thing I find interesting in this passage is that Paul makes a point that those who have died will be raised before those who are alive when Christ comes back; in fact he mentions it twice.  There seems to be a point of honor that the dead get beyond those that do not die.  Allow me to speculate.

We sometimes joke that the dead are six feet further down so they need a head start or they have decayed and so they need some extra time for their bodies to be put together, but I think probably that is not the reason and there might not be any specific reason.  But the thought has occurred to me that perhaps it is a point of honor in that they have all died in the Lord while those who are alive at his coming will not have the opportunity to die in the Lord. 

They have done one thing that those alive have not; they have remained faithful even unto death.  They have continued unto the end; they have laid on their deathbed in many cases and have not denied the Lord but have died in hope.  Perhaps for this they have this special honor.  Nothing will testify of what the Lord means to us like how we profess him in the face of death.  Many die in accidents and suddenly and wouldn’t fall into this category and I suppose that would be an argument against what I am saying, but Paul finishes with these words, “Therefore encourage one another with these words”. 

I want to die in the Lord, not kicking and screaming, not full of fear but with the sweet smile of anticipation.  I mean, if a child can go to sleep anticipating getting gifts on Christmas morning, certainly we can die with much greater hope and with much greater excitement that we are going to see Jesus.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why Are There Four Gospels?

Eze 1:5  And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, Eze 1:10  As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.

You might wonder what the above verses have to do with the number of Gospels we have in the Bible.  I recognize that not everyone agrees with the meaning of the four faces of these creatures and to some degree we can only speculate.  But there has to be some reason why we have four different accounts of Jesus’s incarnation and there is an obvious connection between these four creatures and the four ways the Gospels present our Lord.

Matthew presents Jesus as the King of the Jews or lion, Mark presents him as a servant or ox.  In Luke Jesus is seen as the perfect man or human and John tells us that he is the Son of God, fully divine seen in the face of the eagle.  Whether this is why God created them like this or not, we can at least see a parallel.  Along with this it is important to know the purpose of the Gospels is to relate to us who Jesus was and what he did and I would suggests that this is their main purpose more so than relating to us what Jesus said! 

I don’t want to minimize Jesus’s teachings of course since greater and more important words have not been spoken.  But it is not uncommon for many to think that Jesus’s greatest contribution was his teachings but this is an error.  The Gospel is not what Jesus said but what he did; not words but a work.  I think red-letter editions of the NT have contributed to this error since it assumes that his words are more important than the ones left in black.  But we need to remember that they are all inspired and they all serve the same purpose; to convey who Jesus was and what he did for our salvation.  His words are a proof that he is who he claimed to be.

Jesus did not come primarily to teach us how to behave.  He didn’t teach us a better way; he is the only way!  One of the more important things the Gospels relate to us is that Jesus was fully God and also fully human.  So when we read about him growing tired or hungry this is just as important as letters in red because the Apostles are showing us that he was a man; not God in a man suit but fully man.  When we read of him inviting the disciples to touch his wounds it cements the fact that he had a physical body when he arose from the dead and that we will have such a body in the Resurrection.  Time doesn’t allow us to deal with all the errors of the last 2000 years because of the confusion of who Jesus was and how it all relates to salvation and the eternal state but Paul deals with a lot of this in 1 Cor. 15. 

But the reason there are four Gospels is to reveal fully the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In particular they do this with four aspects of his person; 1. He is God 2. He is Man 3. He is has established a kingdom and 4. He came to do a work, to seek and to save that which is lost by being a servant and giving himself a ransom for many.  This is what we need to know in order to be saved.  When Paul defined the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-3 he didn’t relate what Jesus said, he related what Jesus did.  In fact, he said we will be saved if we hold fast to the word he, Paul, preached to them.  Some think Jesus came to teach us how to live in order to be accepted by God but this is to use Jesus to deny Jesus.  We are saved by faith in what Jesus did, not by living according to his teachings.  Living by his teachings from the heart is evidence that we have already been converted.

We must take the record of the four Gospels seriously.  They were given not to show us how to be good but to tell us about the only One who ever was good.