Posts Tagged 'False Teachers'

Glory, Part 5

So far in our look at a handful of uses of the word “glory,” we’ve discovered that, for the most part, as far as the believer is concerned, “glory” is something in the future.  For example, we may experience “the glory of God” in the here-and-now, but compared to what we will experience of His glory in the future, what we may experience today is the barest sliver of what’s to come.

We’ve considered the believer’s “hope of glory,” when we studied Colossians 1:27.  That hope is the one thing all believers, from all dispensations, from all of the world, have in common.  It’s the hope that one day, our faith will become sight and be completely vindicated in the light of His glory.

We also looked at our “glorified bodies,” that Paul mentioned in Philippians 3:21.  When Christ comes, He will transform our fleshly body into a “glorious” body like His own.   That refers not only to the end of death and decay and corruption, but also the end sin.

We found out that according to Ephesians 1:18, believers are considered to be “God’s glorious inheritance!”  That’s a fact that’s hard to swallow.  You and I, by virtue of our relationship with Jesus Christ, have become extremely valuable to God – an inheritance.

And we studied these amazing verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  (Romans 8:20-21 | NIV84)

When Jesus returns and our redemption is made complete, our freedom from sin and the the grip of this world is finally broken and we, along with all of creation, will be made right.

And that gets us to the fifth use of the word glory, and it’s from the very brief letter written by a man named Jude, which is just one chapter long:

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  (Jude 1:24-25 | NIV84)

We call those two verses a “doxology,” and among all the doxologies in Scripture, Jude’s is truly unique and majestic.  And it fits his short letter perfectly; a letter warning its readers of the dangers inherent in entertaining false teachers and adopting their corrupt teachings.  

A brief overview of the letter

The author of this letter is self-identified:  Jude, the brother of James.  Theories abound as to who exactly this person was, but it seems reasonable to conclude that Jude, the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus, was the writer of this letter.

Jude starts out stating his purpose in writing this letter:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.   (Jude 1:3 | NIV84)

He started out wanting to talk about “the salvation we share.”  And why wouldn’t he?  No matter where a believer is from, his salvation is something he has in common with all believers, everywhere.  Styles of worship may differ, sometimes practices and even doctrines may vary slightly from culture to culture, but we all share a common salvation.  

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12 | NIV84)

“Under heaven” means everywhere.   Jesus Christ is the only way to God.  From Him alone comes the free gift of salvation of all people.  This is what Jude wanted his letter to be about.  But something changed his mind, and so instead of writing about our common salvation, Jude wrote about “contending for the faith.”  So he went from wanting to talk about salvation to fighting for it.  Sometimes a Christian has to “contend for the faith.”  Sometimes he doesn’t have a choice but to defend the salvation he possesses.  Here are a number of verses about this very topic:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….  (1 Peter 3:15 | NIV84)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.   (2 Corinthians 10:5 | NIV84)

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.   (Titus 1:9 | NIV84)

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  (Ephesians 5:11 | NIV84)

False teachers, false teaching

We don’t have any of the details, but somehow Jude found out that the people to whom he was writing had gotten themselves into a little trouble:

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.   (Jude 1:4 | NIV84)

Some false false teachers had wormed their way into the church Jude was writing to.  The way Jude wrote this is telling.  There were “certain men,” or just a few of them, but there would be more coming.  False teachers are like cockroaches.  There’s never just one.  And they’re a crafty lot – they literally “creep in” and “insinuate themselves” among the true believers; they pretend to be something they are not.  

As you read through the New Testament, you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to get the drift that this problem was not just something that Jude wrote about.  Paul, Peter, and John all wrote letters earnestly trying to “contend for the faith.”  It seems almost impossible to conceive that mere years from the the ascension of Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the founding of the Church, that this was such a big problem.  There were false teachers everywhere, threatening every congregation with their weird, aberrant philosophies that were more often than not a mixture of Christian, Jewish, and Eastern theologies and philosophies.  And, sadly, these early Christians were just a gullible as this present generation is.  These days it seems like Christians will believe just any teaching that barely approximates the truth.  There’s a definite lack of wisdom and discernment among the members of the Body of Christ.   

Here’s Jude’s estimate of the ones he was concerned about:

These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead.  They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.  (Jude 1:12-13 | NIV84)

It sounds like there’s plenty of hyperbole going on in those two verses, but there are facts in behind the hyperbole.  These false teachers were an embarrassment to the church.  They were gluttons at the church dinner.  In fact, they were worse than that.  The early church had “love feasts,” an odd name by today’s standards to be sure, but they served a real purpose back then.  A “love feast” really was a church dinner that celebrated and promoted a sense of community and brotherly love within a congregation, but it also helped out the poorer members of the church – they got a good free meal.  Yet these heretics took advantage of these “love feasts” to promote gluttony and immorality.  They were blowhards who talked a blue streak but were really saying nothing.  These false teachers pushed their ridiculous but dangerous heresies and because Christians want to believe the best about people, many members were falling hook-line-and-sinker for what they were peddling.  They turned a blind eye to the sinful behavior and embraced their vain philosophies.

But even worse than all that is this:

These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.   (Jude 1:19 | NIV84)

False teachers are divisive persons.  God is a God of order, and wherever in the church or in society where you see lawlessness and disorder, you may be sure God is not in it. 

A true response

So what exactly is a good Christian supposed to do with guys like this?  Well, as we already saw, Christians ought to be ready to defend and refute the truth whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.  But there’s more.  The ultimate judge of all false teachers is God and their fate is already decided:  “Blackest darkness has been reserved (for them) forever” (verse 13b).

But we who are mature, grounded believers have a responsibility to make sure what we believe is true and defendable.

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  (Jude 1:20 | NIV84)

We also have a responsibility to watch for those who aren’t mature:

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.   (Jude 1:22-23 | NIV84)

We need to care for each other and when we see a weaker brother or sister slipping away, we need to “snatch them from the fire and save them.”  

And that gets us to the “great benediction” of Jude.  As it began, so this letter ends:  With words of assurance for the people of God living in these dark days.  These are dark days for the believer.  Christians are the most persecuted people on earth, according to recent studies.  Almost 100,000 Christians killed worldwide in 2016 alone.   (http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/748061/Christians-world-s-most-persecuted-religious-group-Vatican-Radio-Massimo-Introvigne-Islam)

But you don’t have to be killed to be persecuted.  You can be mocked, derided, and made fun of.  You can be tempted to adopt all manner of false teachings that will put your salvation in jeopardy.  How can you live rightside up in an upside down culture like this?  Jude makes it clear that you can live rightside up because the One who died for you is able to keep you from falling.  

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy….  (Jude 1:24 | NIV84)

Centuries before Jude wrote verse 24, Solomon gave us the secret to never becoming an apostate:

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.  My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.  Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble….  (Proverbs 3:19c-23 | NIV84)

If you don’t want to be taken in by false teaching; if you want to stay above the strife and division that characterizes our culture today, make it your purpose in life to seek the wisdom of God and be guided by Word of God, which will bring understanding and knowledge of His will to you.  

Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.   (Proverbs 4:10c-12 | NIV84)

Nothing can take the place of the wisdom that comes from the pages of the Bible.  That’s how God is able to “keep you” from stumbling.  But, if you do, all is not lost:

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.   (Psalms 37:23c-24 | NIV84)

We will be kept safe and we will be presented to God in the glory of His presence.  That’s a promise. Today, we walk the narrow path of faith, sometimes straying, sometimes stumbling, sometimes being tempted by false teachings.  But one day, like Enoch, we will be translated into God’s glorious presence, never to fall again.  

 

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Peter and Jude, Part 6

That this very short letter was not lost in the early years of the Church is a miracle. It’s a good thing the Holy Spirit miraculously preserved it for us because it deals with a problem that has persisted in the Church of Jesus Christ since it’s inception: false teachers.

These 25 verses were written by James’ brother, Jude.

From: Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James. To: Christians everywhere-beloved of God and chosen by him. (Jude vs 1 | TLB)

This is the same James who was the well-known leader of the Jerusalem Church. While we know a lot about James and his ministry, we know nothing about his brother Jude except for a question he may have asked in the Upper Room:

Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but his other disciple with that name) said to him, “Sir, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us disciples and not to the world at large?”. (John 14:22 | TLB)

Scholars aren’t 100% certain that Judas the apostle is the Jude who wrote this short letter, but it’s entirely possible. Regardless, Jude was an itinerant preacher who addressed his letter to “Christians everywhere,” likely referring to congregations in which he had preached and taught the Word.

Jude’s letter is strikingly similar to Peter’s second letter, which is why they are frequently studied together.

As to why he wrote the letter, verse 3 gives us the impression that Jude was a little conflicted as to the reason he put pen to paper:

Dearly loved friends, I had been planning to write you some thoughts about the salvation God has given us, but now I find I must write of something else instead, urging you to stoutly defend the truth that God gave once for all to his people to keep without change through the years. (Jude vs 3 | TLB)

So he started out wanting to write about doctrine, but now Jude has decided to write about the urgency of defending sound doctrine. Jude may have been an itinerant preacher, but he is still considered a pastor of sorts and the primary job of the pastor is to feed his people the Word of God, on the Lord’s Day and at other times. Paul in his second letter to a young pastor named Timothy said as much:

preach the Word of God urgently at all times, whenever you get the chance, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not. Correct and rebuke your people when they need it, encourage them to do right, and all the time be feeding them patiently with God’s Word. (2 Timothy 4:2 | TLB)

In these 25 verses, we see Jude doing exactly what any pastor should be doing if members under his care are being harassed and threatened by, in this case, false teachers and false teaching. It seems as though some false teachers had sneaked into some of the churches Jude was familiar with and were causing trouble:

I say this because some godless teachers have wormed their way in among you, saying that after we become Christians we can do just as we like without fear of God’s punishment. The fate of such people was written long ago, for they have turned against our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude vs 4 | TLB)

Contending for the faith

Jude verse 3 is a call to arms and verse 4 gives the reason. Jude’s readers needed to get ready to do spiritual (and perhaps physical) battle against those sneaky false teachers. False teachers are always sneaky; they never come right out in the open with their false doctrines. For the ignorant or unaware, false teaching can be almost indistinguishable from the truth. False teaching may take many forms, and here it’s pretty simple: The false teachers were saying that a change in behavior wasn’t necessary; that a Christian could go on sinning, assured that God would forgive them. This was a case of turning the grace of God into a license to sin. It was an attractive heresy, to be sure, but no matter how good it sounded it was contrary to the doctrine of the Bible.

This brand of heresy was a branch of Gnosticism, which is still alive and well in the church today. It taught that the human body was essentially evil, and therefore it didn’t matter what a person did with his appetites, desires, and passions. For the Christian,, if God’s grace is great enough to cancel, cleanse, and cover all sin, why be concerned about sin, since grace is greater than any sin. It’s a crazy teaching, but you can see how some Christians would be tempted to use it to justify their sins.

The opposite of Gnosticism would have been the teaching of asceticism, a teaching very popular during Bible days.. This teaching, also very attractive to Christians today, taught that a believer needed to abstain from all worldly pleasures, whether condemned in the Bible or not. This teaching may be found in some of the “holiness”-type churches, which stress behavior and dress as a way to attain holiness, something definitely not taught in Scripture.

These false teachers may have been, at one time, genuine believers. The Living Bible seems to indicate that, saying they “turned against” Christ. That may have been the case, and if so, then their fate which Jude referred to may have been this:

Then he began to pour out his denunciations against the cities where he had done most of his miracles, because they hadn’t turned to God. Truly, Sodom will be better off at the Judgment Day than you.” (Matthew 11:20, 24 | TLB)

Defending the faith or contending for the faith is something Christians have been engaged in since the earliest days of the Church. O.S. Williams once wrote:

We must never cease to earnestly contend for the faith…And how? By loving the faith. By learning the faith. By living the faith.

Debating a non-believer or false teacher may or may not do any good, depending on how skilled a debater you may be. But living the faith boldly every day likely influences more onlookers than any debate ever could.

Characteristics of false teachers

Yet these false teachers carelessly go right on living their evil, immoral lives, degrading their bodies and laughing at those in authority over them, even scoffing at the Glorious Ones. (Jude vs 8 | TLB)

The false teachers “degrade their bodies.” Sin always ends in death, both spiritual and physical. Non-believers, and especially false teachers, live in such a way as to always meet the demands of their bodies. So they over-eat, get drunk, do drugs, and engage in all manner of risky behavior. Living to only please yourself almost always results in harm to the body. That’s a stark contrast to the Biblical teaching that our bodies are precious and are temples of the Holy Spirit!

Further, they “laugh at those in authority.” There is some question as to who these “authorities” are. Calvin thought Jude was referring to the civil authorities. Others think he had church leaders in mind. The former is likely the case, given the over all purpose of the letter. Worse than laughing at church leaders, these false teachers went to far as to “scoff at the glorious ones.” They made fun of angels and even the notion of the supernatural.

Even though this attitude marks a false teacher, there are those in the church today who are pleased to call themselves Christians, yet stubbornly refuse to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ nor under the godly discipline of the Church, preferring to live as they please.

But these men mock and curse at anything they do not understand, and like animals, they do whatever they feel like, thereby ruining their souls. (Jude vs 10 | TLB)

These men “mock and curse at anything they do not understand.” It’s a trait of the sinful person to speak loudest about which they don’t understand or know about the least.

And they behave “like animals.” They were irrational and without even knowing it, they were killing their souls.

Woe upon them! For they follow the example of Cain who killed his brother; and like Balaam, they will do anything for money; and like Korah, they have disobeyed God and will die under his curse. When these men join you at the love feasts of the church, they are evil smears among you, laughing and carrying on, gorging and stuffing themselves without a thought for others. They are like clouds blowing over dry land without giving rain, promising much, but producing nothing. They are like fruit trees without any fruit at picking time. They are not only dead, but doubly dead, for they have been pulled out, roots and all, to be burned. (Jude vs 11, 12 | TLB)

These false teachers were following in the footsteps of Cain, the first murderer. Balaam was a false prophet-for-hire, who would say whatever he was paid to say. And Korah rebelled against Moses, who was put in a position of authority by God Himself.

They were obsessed with eating and laughing and carrying on. They had no shame at all. They were selfish. Verse 12 gives you a pretty good idea of how these false teachers lived and worked.

The coming judgment

Jude was sure that these false prophets fulfilled an ancient prophecy and quoted from the earliest known prophetic voice on judgment – Enoch’s – and then from something Jesus said.

Enoch, who lived seven generations after Adam, knew about these men and said this about them: “See, the Lord is coming with millions of his holy ones. He will bring the people of the world before him in judgment, to receive just punishment and to prove the terrible things they have done in rebellion against God, revealing all they have said against him.”. (Jude vs 14, 15 | TLB)

You can scour the bible, but you won’t find this prophecy anywhere. Of course, you will find Enoch, a fairly well-known Old Testament fellow whose claim to fame is that he may not have actually died but simply “walked with the Lord.” The prophecy Jude quotes is from the apocryphal book of Enoch, which his Jewish readers would have been very familiar with.

Without getting into the high grass of why Jude quoted from the apocrypha – that’s a discussion for another day – what is notable is that his words stressed the utter, complete depravity of the ungodly. And since these sentences are included in our Scriptures, they are authoritative and may be taken as a word from the Lord. The false teachers and the ungodly will stand before the Lord in judgment and they will be punished on account of the “terrible things they have done in rebellion against God.” They may seem to be getting away with it now, but the wicked they’ve done and said against God will be revealed for all the universe to see and they will pay the price for their ungodliness.

Even though Jude applies Enoch’s words to the false teachers of his day, the sentiment is highly relevant to our time. There is a lot scoffing at God and mocking of His Word going on today. The church is largely silent on the issue; the hell-fire and brimstone sermon has gone way out of fashion. As Leonard Ravenhill quipped:

The tide is completely turned from “sinners in the hands of an angry God” to “God in the hands of angry sinners.

Response of faithful believers

But you, dear friends, must build up your lives ever more strongly upon the foundation of our holy faith, learning to pray in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners. (Jude vs 20 – 23 | TLB)

In response to the threat of the false teachers, the first thing believer should do is to “build up [their] lives.” When faced with false teachers, make sure you’re strong in the faith. Further, “pray in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.” Jude isn’t the first New Testament writer to give this kind of advice. The New Testament is replete with admonitions to build and pray. Christians should be builders and prayers. Why should we be praying in the Spirit? False teachers may be mortal human beings, but Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against people.

For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies-the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world. (Ephesians 6:12 | TLB)

True believers are to “stay (keep) within the boundaries of God’s love.” That’s a Greek word that’s very urgent. In spite of what he says later on about God keeping us, Jude’s little letter is all about the fight – the good fight of faith. God does His part, and we must do our part. Believers are kept within the bounds of God’s love by practicing three disciplines: building up our lives, praying in the Spirit, and waiting patiently for eternal life. Essentially, believers are to depend upon God at every turn in their fight against apostasy.

God keeps us, and we must keep ourselves. Or, as Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I in you.”

Peter and Jude, Part 5

For some reason, the doctrine of our Lord’s Second Coming has always produced division in His Church. And it’s not just a recent thing, either. Even back in the days of the apostles, this precious doctrine was mocked, laughed at, and doubted.

They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4 | NIV84)

For his part, Peter had absolutely no doubt that Jesus would keep His word and come back. Why would the apostle doubt it? With his very own eyes, Peter saw Jesus’ transfiguration on the mount and had experienced a slight foretaste of the future glory.

The people to whom Peter wrote this second letter were having their doubts; they were succumbing to false teaching and that resulted in a disbelief in the Second Coming. No Christian can afford to disregard or doubt this doctrine for to do so is to bring into question the veracity of the words of Jesus Himself! Not only that, belief in the Second Coming results in holy living, and that’s not unimportant.

Up to this point, chapter 3 in 2 Peter, Peter had been dealing with the libertines – these immoral and disreputable false teachers – and their victims. Of them, Peter concluded,

For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:18, 19 | NIV84)

Some of their “empty, boastful words” dealt with the Second Coming. They didn’t believe it and they mocked those who did. With a new chapter comes a new line of thought. Peter wants his readers to think and think hard about the words spoken by the prophets and the apostles.

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. (2 Peter 3:1, 2 | NIV84)

As one scholar wisely noted,

No state of grace this side of heaven exempts men from the need of repeated reminders of the truths of the Christian message, and all of this becomes the more urgent in the light of Christ’s imminent return to earth.

It’s not that the readers of this letter were morally depraved, but they were in danger of losing the purity of doctrine they had once held so tightly to. They were having niggling doubts about the Second Coming and as a result, they were just beginning to take on the characteristics of their nasty false teachers.

It’s so easy for believers of any generation to get distracted from the truth. It’s one thing to get distracted, though, but very often a mindless distraction can turn into the wedge that separates us from the truth of God’s Word. J.C. Ryle’s words on this are a powerful reminder of how wispy thin our grasp on the truth may be:

Amidst the flood of dangerous reading, I plead for my Master’s book; I call upon you not to forget the book of the soul. Do not let newspapers, novels, and romances be read, while the prophets and apostles are despised. Do not let the exciting and sensual swallow up your attention, while the edifying and sanctifying can find no place in your mind.

The day will come

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3, 4 | NIV84)

That phrase, “first of all,” means what Peter is about to say is of vital importance. What was so important for his readers to know? Simply that in “the last days, scoffers would come.” Obviously, Peter believed he was living in the last days, so we today may be confident that we are most definitely living in the last of the last days! And in these last days, people who lead self-indulgent lives will come to doubt the coming of the Lord. They will deny the coming of the Lord because to them, it will have become a ridiculous notion.

It is true that there have always been doubters and scoffers. There were those who mocked and made fun of Noah, and of Lot in Sodom, and even of Jesus Himself. Some people may doubt honestly, like Thomas, but the honest doubter is not who Peter has in mind here. The people Peter wrote about were not merely doubters, but men who had now come to violently oppose the doctrine of the Second Coming. These false teachers repudiated the promise of His coming because, they argued, things never change. They taught that God created everything, but that He never intervenes in the course of human history. Their God is a cold, impersonal one. Surely that line of thinking characterizes 21st century man; God is not real to him therefore he feels no obligation to live righteously. Even in the Church of Jesus Christ there are those who never give a moment’s thought to the Lord’s return.

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:5 – 7 | NIV84)

Peter’s handling of the false teachers was nothing less than brilliant. The scoffers insisted that God never intervenes; that things have always been the same, yet that isn’t true! Creation itself was a divine intervention and a disruption in history. Not only that, the same God who spoke about the Second Coming, also spoke the world into existence and He can speak it out existence. God’s Word starts, sustains, and stops all life. These false teachers were playing with the worst kind of fire; in the end this fire of God’s truth would consume them.

Verse 7 is not a prophecy so much as a promise: There will come a day when this world as we have come to know it, will be renovated by fire and the wicked judged. Indeed, things cannot and will not continue as they have been. The apostle John wrote about this very thing in Revelation 20:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (revelation 20:1 | NIV84)

When we read what Peter wrote, those sobering words lead us to two inescapable conclusions: God is absolutely in control of this world, from beginning to end. Regardless of some people may teach or believe, God is control. And second, we Christians need to trust God and His Word.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8, 9 | NIV84)

Not only is God 100% in control, but He is always on time. The scoffers would have believers think that God has either abandoned them or is taking a nap or just doesn’t keep His promises, but God is not bound by man’s version of time. God exists way, way, way outside of any concept of time and space man’s puny brain can conceive. No, God is not dragging His feet when it comes to keeping His promises. God is not late, He’s never early, but always on time. God’s timing is never determined by outside circumstances or other people. He is always in control and His only motivation is love. God loved the world so much He gave the world His only Son. And it is because of His love for the world that Jesus has not come back yet. Ravi Zacharias wrote,

Time is the brush of God, as He paints His masterpiece on the heart of humanity.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:10 | NIV84)

Scoffers and doubters and false teachers may come, most people may ignore the Word of God concerning the Second Coming, but as Peter put it, “the day of the Lord WILL come,” end of discussion. Our Lord said essentially the same thing:

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:44 | NIV84)

The Day of the Lord may begin in secret, but it will end with stunning earth-changes that Peter mentioned in verse 7. This planet of ours that we consider so permanent and dependable will not endure as it is today. It will change as God does His thing.

Live as if it can happen any day

The great Adrian Rogers once said this:

We ought to be living as if Jesus died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back this afternoon.

He’s right. The suddenness of our Lord’s return is a great motivating factor in living right. This was a favorite teaching of Peter:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:11, 12 | NIV84)

This is Peter’s practical application for the heady doctrine of the Second Coming. All Christian doctrine should influence how we live because there must be a connection between what we believe and how we live. For the Christians of Peter’s day, the kind of global destruction Peter described would have seemed impossible. But in our day, it is not only possible but probable. Peter says it is not only probable, but an abslute certainty. It’s all part of God’s plan for man and the world. Given that, we should be ready and prepared for it can happen any time. Part of being ready for Jesus Christ’s return is living lives marked by righteousness and holiness.

Closely connected to how we should live is the worldview we adopt. Christians should be “looking forward to” the Second Coming. And, while God has His own timetable, apparently Christians can hasten or speed up the day by fulfilling some necessary conditions for it to take place. Some of those conditions could be these:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 | NIV84)

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. (Acts 3:19, 20 | NIV84)

The doctrine of the Second Coming was never intended to be divisive. It should unite all believers in a common belief that encourages them keep the faith, keep trusting God, and keep living right. Matthew Henry said it best:

God will work when He pleases, how He pleases, and by what means He pleases. He is not bound to keep our time, but He will perform His word, honor our faith, and reward them that diligently seek Him.

The Master Multiplier, Part 6

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 | TNIV)

I’ve come to the end of another series, and, as they say, I saved the best for last. Throughout this series, we discovered that God is a giver. He’s the greatest giver ever. God gives His people:

• Abundant grace – more grace than enough!
• Life – and He sustains all life
• Victory – over death, hell, and the grave
• Wisdom – in the midst of all of life’s difficulties, God gives us perspective
• Gifts – and the ability to use them in His service

God is simply amazing, and He gives us so much. The final gift I want to look at is the most amazing gift all: He gives us everything for our enjoyment! It doesn’t get better than EVERYTHING, does it?!

Paul wrote this verse to a young pastor. I was a young pastor once, and I can tell you it wasn’t easy. If I was told that God could give me “everything for my enjoyment,” I’d wonder when He was going to get around to it! Barely scraping by in small churches, living paycheck to paycheck is hardly enjoyable! There were lots of things I could have used to make my life more enjoyable that I never got – from God or anybody else, for that matter.

So, what was Paul getting at when he made that statement? Let’s take a look.

Letters to pastors

Paul was a prolific letter-writer. Had be been active in our time, he likely would have been the kind of person who is constantly checking his email, responding to emails, sending out text messages or tweeting all day long. We have only a fraction – a small fraction – of his letters, preserved for us in the Bible. Almost all of the letters we have were written by Paul were written to various churches, with the exception of Philemon, which was written to person, and a small group of letters that have come be known as “the Pastorals.” They were written to pastors, whose names are forever a part of our Bible theology: Timothy and Titus.

Paul’s letters were meant to be read aloud to the congregations they were sent to, and even Philemon, addressed to a man, was to be read out loud to the congregation that met in his home. And even these personal letters written to pastors were obviously copied and circulated since we have them collected in our Bible. Paul probably wrote letters to other pastors and church leaders. We could easily imagine the apostle scribbling out a letter or two to Barnabas and Luke, Mark and Apollos. We don’t have those letters, but we do have these letters written to Timothy and Titus. The Holy Spirit thought enough of what Paul wrote to these men in these letters that He supernaturally preserved them for us. That means that we should take special note of his advice. You may or may not be a pastor or church worker, but his advice and counsel is timeless and of great import for all believers.

The Pastorals were written by Paul late in his career, probably after his first Roman imprisonment, around 61 or 62 AD. Tradition tells us that Paul was martyred in the late 60’s, so we’re reading things that were on the great apostle’s mind near the end of his life. Most scholars think that Paul wrote 1 Timothy, followed by his letter to Titus, and then a second letter to Timothy.

Who was Timothy?

To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2 | TNIV)

That’s how this letter is addressed. Timothy was Paul’s “true son in the faith.” Naturally Timothy wasn’t Paul’s real son. He didn’t have children as far as we know. Timothy was his “son in the faith,” or his “spiritual son,” meaning that Paul was instrumental in leading this young man to the Lord and then disciplining him in the faith.

The first mention of Timothy is all the way back in the book of Acts, a history of the early church:

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1 – 3 | TNIV)

This chapter tells the story of Paul’s second visit to Derbe and Lystry, and it’s not unreasonable to think that he was directly responsible for leading Timothy’s mother (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois) to the Lord. If you know your Bible, then you know that it was here in Lystra that Paul faced some bitter opposition and persecution and it was in the home of Eunice that he likely found solace and safety.

Timothy was around 17 years of age when all this happened, so assuming he was led to the Lord during this period, then he would have been in his mid-30’s when Paul wrote his first letter to him. But in the years inbetween, Timothy traveled with Paul and others as they took the Gospel to the known world.

It’s evident that this young man was special to Paul and to his ministry. Timothy was fiercely loyal to Paul and to the work of the ministry and devoted to believers in all churches. Here’s Paul’s appraisal of this young man’s worth:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. (Philippians 2:19 – 22 | TNIV)

The pastor’s potential problem

We get the impression that all early Christians were poor – unemployed, persecuted, world-weary men and women who had virtually no resources of their own. That’s just not true. There were many converts to Christianity who were had been wealthy, influential people who gave up some or all to follow Christ, but they didn’t stay that way. There were poor and down-trodden Christians to be sure, but there were church members who were middle class, upper middle class, and wealthy people. All kinds of people were reached and transformed by the Gospel. And that’s why Paul wrote this piece of advice to Pastor Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 | TNIV)

It seems clear that Timothy had some of “those who are rich” in his church. This verse occurs in the midst of a very important issue: How people in the various strata of society ought to live out their faith in the world.

Christian slaves and Christian masters, 6:1, 2

The first two groups of people that made up Timothy’s congregation were slaves and slave owners. Here’s his advice to these two very disparate groups:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.

Today’s Christian may cringe when they read the words “slave” and “master,” but they shouldn’t impose our 21st century values upon those living in the first century. Those “slaves” back then would be roughly equivalent to today’s employee or perhaps “household help,” and the “master” would be the “employer,” for the sake of making a reasonable application. Timothy was to teach and insist upon proper behavior from both employee and employer. Dr McGee summarizes the duty of the slave like this:

The Christian is to turn in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.

And if the slave owner – the boss – is a believer who employs fellow believers, he shouldn’t take advantage of them just because they have a common faith. As one scholar put it,

It must have called for an amazing degree of forbearance on the part of both parties to this relationship to make it work.

• False teachers, 6:3 – 5

If you know 1 Timothy, then you know that the young pastor must have been contending with false teaching and false teachers within his own congregation. False teachers are sometimes obvious about it, other times a false teacher may be an otherwise commendable member who has happened to glom onto a bit of false teaching, who then re-teaches it to other members of the church. He’s ignorant; he has no idea that what he’s doing is dangerous.

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions. (1 Timothy 6:3, 4 | TNIV)

Sounds like some people in your church? You know the type: To people like this, everything the church does is wrong – it’s wrong to put up a Christmas tree or sing Christmas carols; Easter is a pagan holiday; Sunday is a pagan day; Christians should only read the KJV; and the list goes on. These people think they know more than you do or more than the pastor does. Paul’s characterization of this type of person is picturesque to say the least: “a pompous ignoramus,” “a swollen headed idiot,” and a “conceited idiot.” The great Martin Luther, whose insults are as legendary as his “reform” theology, said this about such people:

I would not dream of judging or punishing you, except to say that you were born from the behind of the devil, are full of devils, lies, blasphemy, and idolatry; are the instigator of these things, God’s enemy, Antichrist, desolater of Christendom, and steward of Sodom.

And sometimes these false teachers equate monetary gain is a sign of God’s blessing:

who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (1 Timothy 6:5b | TNIV)

The worst kind of false teacher is the one who makes money off of his bad teaching. And Paul’s advice to Pastor Timothy is classic:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11 | TNIV)

Now we get a glimmer of a potential problem with Timothy, and it’s the common affliction of most young preachers, and maybe old ones, too. Often times there isn’t a lot of financial reward in preaching the Gospel. If the pastor of a church isn’t careful, he can start to resent the wealthy members of his church because of their wealth. It might be tempting to latch onto the popular preaching of the day – the pop psychology dressed up and baptized as Christian theology that is so popular nowadays – and make a few extra bucks. It’s tempting. And it’s tempting for the average Christian to grab hold of the kind of theology that promises easy blessings and a kind of faith that makes you rich.
Pastors and all true believers need to “flee from all this” and have nothing to do with false teachers and teachings. True faith may not pay rich dividends to those of us who are trying to practice it, but true faith does bring peace and satisfaction and contentment. And that’s why Paul wrote this famous verse that is often misquoted:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10 | TNIV)

Paul’s concern was not for the rich people in Timothy’s church necessarily, although he was told to teach those people to keep things in perspective. The apostle’s main concern was for young pastor Timothy; he’s the one in danger. It’s so easy for all Christians to look at what others have, especially other Chritians, and to become discouraged because they don’t seem to be as prosperous. People in that state of mind are ripe pickings for false teachers and fall pray to all manner of false teachings.  And people like that often accuse those prosperous Christians of sinful practices because, after all, only in doing something wrong or questionable can a person acquire so much  (that’s a sarcastic statement).

And this is why Paul told Timothy – and us – that God gives us everything for our enjoyment. God is the Great Provider; from Him all good things descend. Timothy’s church was in Ephesus, a place full of prosperous people; full of businesses, and he had lots of these people in his church. To those people, and to people like himself, Timothy was to drive home the point that ALL IS OF GOD, both wealth, the ability to acquire it, and the ability to enjoy it.

 

 

 

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, Part 5

Jesus keeps the believer safe.

JUDE: STICKING WITH THE FAITH!

Jude, an English version of Judas and Judah, was such a common name during the New Testament era, it’s difficult to know who the author of this letter could have been with 100% certainty. There are no less than six Judes or Judases mentioned in the New Testament, and the writer of this short letter was probably one of them. Of the six, scholars believe the author to have been either the apostle Jude (not Iscariot) or Judas, the brother of Jesus. Out of those two, it seems highly probable that Jude, the brother of Jesus wrote this marvelous, little letter.

It’s also difficult to ascertain when Jude wrote his letter and virtually impossible to know whom it was written. It is likely, though, it was written late in the first century, sometime between 60 and 80 AD.

The point of the letter is to contend for the faith. Heretics, Antinomians by name, had come to prominence in the Church and were influencing otherwise godly leaders. These false teachers were Gnostics who believed in a kind of cosmic dualism: the material universe was evil, but the spirit was good. They denied the divinity of Christ and had no respect for spiritual things or even good manners. Jude wrote to encourage his readers to “stay the course” and remain faithful to the Gospel.

1. Contend for the faith, verses 1—4

a. Called, loved, kept, vs. 1, 2

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Assuming the writer to have been the half-brother of Jesus, Jude was a late-comer to the cause. None of Jesus’ brothers followed our Lord during His lifetime. It wasn’t until after Pentecost that they finally saw Jesus for Who He really was and became major influences in the early Church.

We don’t know much about Jude, the brother of Jesus, but we gather he must have been a humble man. Notice how he refrains from mentioning his family relationship to Jesus, preferring to call Himself “a servant of Jesus.” Barclay observes:

Few things tell more about a man than the way in which a man speaks of himself.

The greeting makes three important points about Christians:

  • Christians are called. The Greek word is kletois, which in the New Testament stresses the sovereignty of God’s grace in “calling” the sinner to salvation. As Jesus taught, “Many are called,” but only a “few” actually accept the terms of the call to become the “chosen.”

  • Christians are loved by God. Believers are called by love, to be loved, to love.

  • Christians are kept by Jesus Christ. The word translated “kept” is teteremenois, in the present tense, suggesting an ongoing preservation of the believer. Jesus promised to never leave us or foresake us. No matter how “alone” we may feel, we are never truly alone nor are we ever expected to somehow “fend for ourselves.” He who calls us and loves us also looks after us.

b. The Christian faith, vs. 3

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

This verse begins Jude’s earnest appeal for his readers to stick with the faith. But from this one verse we glean four important aspects of our salvation.

  • It’s a salvation that was entrusted to us. The KJV’s “delivered” gives us deeper understanding of the Gospel of salvation. It did not come to by way of the clever innovations of man. God’s plan of salvation did not spring from the mind of Moses or the mind of some false teacher. It was a divine plan given to man; entrusted to his care.

  • It’s a salvation given once for all. That’s really the key thought: one word in the Greek, hapax, a word full of urgency, meaning the Gospel was given one time and it will never be repeated. There is ONE faith, in other words. It has never been altered or added to an it can never be altered or added to at any time in the future.

  • It’s a salvation given to the saints. The Word of life was given to those who had been set apart by God for Himself. The faith we cherish today was handed down to us by men and women set apart by God, just as we have been set apart by God.

  • It’s a salvation that must be contended for. The faith must be, from time to time, be defended by those who possess it. The word translated “contend for” comes from the Greek root agona, a strong word suggesting a fight or contest.

Verse three is really a “call to arms.” There may be a time when the saints of God must vigorously fight for the faith. To fight for the faith, though, must never be done using man’s weapons. Paul’s teaching on this is important to note:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3—5)

c. Enemies of the faith, vs. 4

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Here is why Jude felt compelled to write his letter. These were a slippery bunch of false teachers who “secretly slipped in among you.” That’s actually one Greek word that always suggests a secret, subtle insinuation of something wicked into a larger group or situation. That’s how false teachers work; they appear to be something they aren’t.

There weren’t a large number of these false teachers—Jude uses the word “certain,” inferring just a few. Their arrival on the scene should not have been a surprise to Jude’s readers. These false teachers had been written about for centuries. There have always been false teachers among God’s people, even back in the Old Testament era. And God cuts false teachers no slack: they are condemned even while they peddle they evil wares.

There is no hope for a false teacher, especially these perverts. The Gnostics believed the body to be a tool of evil, and so according to their thinking, it didn’t matter what a person did in the body. One could live to satisfy any appetite or desire or passion and it didn’t matter because God’s grace would take care of it. God’s grace, in other words, was being perverted into a justification for sin.

2. Expect God’s judgments, verses 5—16

a. Past examples, vs. 5—7

Jude’s readers knew what he was about to write, but that wasn’t going to stop him from reminding them of that which they knew so well. These godless men, too, should have learned their lesson from history. Jude uses three examples of how God dealt sternly with those who rebelled against Him.

  • Unbelieving Israel, vs. 5. When God delivered His people out of Egypt, when God revealed Himself at Mt Sinai, they witnessed the greatest display of divine grace up to that time in history. In spite of the deliverance, the Law, the care and provision during the wilderness wanderings, some Israelites disbelieved and rebelled against God. Even within the covenant family of God, there was a minority of unbelievers and that minority did not escape God’s judgment. Similarly, these ungodly men within the Church will be destroyed because of their unbelief.

  • Unfaithful angels, vs. 6. Even father back in history were the angels that rebelled against God. This likely refers to the “sons of God” who came to earth and mingled with women (Genesis 6:4; Job 1:6; 2:1). These unfaithful angels didn’t do what they were supposed to do and are even now bound over for judgment.

  • Immoral cities, vs 7. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is always cited in Scripture as an example of God’s wrath against sin. Those twin cities were judged and punished about 2,000 BC, but they remain to this very day a type of punishment that will befall all the ungodly: eternal fire.

b. Filthy dreamers and brute beasts, vs. 8—11

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

These were not only false teachers, they were thoroughly nasty men. Because their judgment is certain, Jude pronounces a stern “woe” on them. He gives examples of three others who faced certain judgment.

  • The false teachers have “taken the way of Cain.” The Greek verb Jude used describes one’s religious walk: they walked the way Cain walked. Cain’s walk was a walk devoid of faith; a walk that eventually led to murdering his brother, Abel. Cain’s “religion” was one of his own invention; he made up a way to approach God that God did not approve of.

  • The false teachers involved themselves in Balaam’s error. Balaam is like a prototype of every false teacher, false prophet, and preacher-for-hire down through history. Like Balaam, who prophesied for money, these false teachers were consumed with greed.

  • The false teachers were destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16 and it tells the sad story of the punishment that befell Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 others who rebelled against Moses’ authority. Of course, these false teachers of Jude’s day had not yet been destroyed, their doom was so certain, it is as though they had already been destroyed.

Another way to view this trio of religious rebels is like this: (1) Cain—the man who sacrificed too little; (2) Balaam—the man who prayed too often for the wrong reasons; (3) Korah and the men who professed too much.

c. Empty clouds and wandering stars, vs. 12—16

With unparalleled eloquence, Jude piles figure upon figure to describe these false teachers. Six figures in all, they all add up to one thing:

These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (verse 16)

They were selfish, hypocritical, delusional, deceivers. Bennet characterized them well:

When it was safe to do so, they blustered and bullied, and played the superior person, but they cringed to rich men, and flattered them for the sake of dinners and presents.

3. Remember, build, keep, and rescue, verses 17—25

a. Remember what the apostles said, vs. 17—19

Naturally the New Testament didn’t exist when Jude wrote this letter, but the teachings of the apostles were well known, both from letters written by the likes of Paul and Peter, to the evangelistic efforts of Paul, Barnabas, Mark, Luke, and all the early missionaries who carried the Gospel to the four corners of the earth.

These false teachers, unlike the apostles, did not walk as Christ walked but rather walked in a way that satisfied their own “ungodly desires.” They had no “code of ethics,” but could be considered “spiritual anarchists.” They, like all false teachers do, divided congregations to create schisms and factions, pitting believer against believer.

How could they behave like this? Because they did not have the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

In spite of how wicked these men were, the apostles all knew they were coming; it should be no surprise that false teachers are in the Church.

b. Build and keep, vs. 20, 21

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

This is the burden of Jude! “Keep” comes from the Greek teresate, a terribly urgent word. It is absolutely imperative to “keep yourself in God’s love.” But does God hold us, or do we hold God? Scripture goes both ways, but leave it to Spurgeon to put this idea into a pithy saying: Holding I am held. It’s a mutual holding. We cling to God, and God holds us. Jesus said much the same thing:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. (John 15:4a)

While we are “holding and being held,” we are to be actively building ourselves up in the faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. In regard to the second admonition, we should pray all the time, but when the Holy Spirit takes charge, we pray as we should pray. Praying in the Spirit means that we pray in His strength, and in His wisdom. The Spirit moves our hearts and directs our minds. We build ourselves up in the faith by fellowship with God through His Word and with His people.

c. Rescue those in danger, vs. 22, 23

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

These verses are a powerful reminder of what we owe the other person. What is our response to the overwhelming love and mercy we have experienced in Jesus Christ? We are to show that same love and mercy to those whose walk with Christ isn’t as strong as ours. Stephen Grellet was thought to penned these words, and it should be the hallmark of our lives as Christians:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to my fellow creature. let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

d. The doxology, vs. 24, 24

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

There are many doxologies in the New Testament, but Jude’s is, to some, the most powerful. His warnings about false teachers and their doom could be considered depressing and discouraging. One wonders how overcoming these false teachers is possible! Can the believer ever just serve the Lord in peace and safety? Yes! The believer has nothing whatsoever to fear from any false teacher because God is looking out for them. God the Father is able to keep us from falling. Think of that! God is able to keep us from stumbling or falling; He is able to help us persevere in the faith so that one day we may stand before God without any fear that we have come up short. What a relief! None of us has to live using our own devices.

Jude’s conclusion stirs the soul and should be memorized by all Christians. It’s very easy to distracted by the machinations of man. It’s easy to get discouraged by the evil that’s all around us. Sometimes we wonder if our faith will ever prevail over anything in this life. Jude’s words, when taken to heart, lift us up, beyond the petty conflicts and problems of this life and enables us to gain a glimpse into the heavenly realms where we may see God firmly seated on His throne, in complete control. God’s plan for His people will be carried out. No false teacher will stop Him for fulfilling His will for us.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART 4

CLASSIC EXAMPLES OF GOOD AND BAD LEADERSHIP

3 JOHN

John probably wrote his letters after he wrote the Book of Revelation. If this is the case, then these epistles were written at the close of the first century, close to 100 AD when John was an old man. Even though all three letters were written by the same man, and probably written close together, and have similar themes, they are all quite different. The first letter stresses the importance of the love that holds the family of God together. In his second letter, John warns about the treacherous nature of false teachers and false teaching. As we come to the third letter, we note that it is similar to the second one in that t is also a personal letter, addressed to an individal. It’s theme is also the importance of truth. But it is different. 3 John deals with personalities; with three real people who influenced the church.

1. Gaius: Faithful and helpful, verses 1-8

To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. (vs. 1)

This is address on the envelope. Like in his second letter, John refers to himself as “the elder.”

a. Heartfelt expressions, vs. 1, 2

“Gaius” was a very common name in the New Testament era. In fact, Paul knew  three of them! Whoever this Gaius was, John thought a lot of him; his relationship with him was founded on love and trust. Four times the elder refers to this Gaius as “beloved” or “(my) dear friend.” He must have had a wonderful, Christ-like character, and this impressed John. When John wrote that he loved Gaius “in the truth” he is indicating that Gaius was a man of sound doctrine. He believed in the deity of Jesus Christ; he believed in the teaching of the apostles. This must have been refreshing to John who, like Paul, spent so much of his time fighting false teachers and encouraging believers to remain faithful. Here was man who was faithful! John’s wish for Gaius is something we ought to wish for all believers:

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

John is hoping that Gaius would continue to be healthy and prosperous; he  was interested in Gaius’ whole life, not just his spiritual life. There is nothing wrong with praying for either good health or prosperity.

b. Reasons to rejoice, vs. 3-8

The “brothers” whom John refers to in verse 3 were probably traveling evangelists or missionaries. They apparently ministered in Gaius’ church and eventually met up with John and told him all about Gaius. Obviously they impressed the brothers greatly. But what was it that impressed these men so much? A clue is given in verses 5-8:

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.

John praises Gaius for this man’s faithful conduct. Not only did Gaius believe the right things, but his conduct grew out of his beliefs. He had given visible proof that he was walking in the truth. These traveling preachers had told John about the kindness of Gaius. Gaius received these “strangers” as friends; as brothers in the Lord. He opened not only his heart to these strangers, but also his home. He showed them “hospitality,” putting these strangers up for a time. This was a big deal, even though it seems like such a simple thing. Traveling preachers and missionaries depended on the hospitality believers, which they didn’t always receive. Recall what Paul, a traveling preacher, asked of Philemon:

And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. (vs. 22)

An interesting piece of extra-biblical writing shows how missionaries and evangelists should both behave and be treated. From “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” we read this:

Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet.

Those who devote themselves to the ministry deserve to be cared for by the Church. Verse 7 seems to indicate that John considered it admirable that these itinerant peachers devoted themselves completely to God’s work, literally not engaging in any kind of secular work at all. Not all members of the church are called to be traveling preachers or missionaries. But helping to support such individuals makes those who stay behind “partners.” Every single believer is a priest, we are all responsible for doing the work of “the ministry” and taking Jesus to the lost. Those who write the check or provide lodging are all involved in doing just that.

2. Diotrephes: Sinfully ambitious, verses 9-11

After heaping much praise on Gaius, John gets to the heart of the matter: a jerk named Diotrephes. He is totally different than Gaius; a polar opposite, in fact. Obviously, Diotrephes was an arrogant person, but elder John comes short of judging him. Instead, John says he will try to visit the church personlly and deal with him in person.

a. Beware of this person, vs. 9-10

We know nothing about this man, except that his name means “foster child of Zeus,” which suggests he was of Greek ancestry. He was leader in Gaius’ church, but he appeared to be using his position for his own personal advanage.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Diotrephes “loves to be first,” meaning that instead of serving his congregation, this man was proud man didn’t recognize any other authority and did what he pleased. His behavior was exactly contrary to the admonition of Jesus found in Matthew 20:26, 27–

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…

To make matters worse, refusing to recognize John’s credentials, Diotrephes was making it impossible for the elder to do his job by spreading false stories and tall tales about both John and the other disciples. Not only that, while Gaius behaved like a true believer, Diotrephes did his best to stop any other preachers from coming to “his” church.” He was a meddler at best, and dictator at worst. We may wonder why John felt the need to discuss Diotrephes with Gaius when both men are members of the same church. One possible explanation could be the fact that Gauis freely submitted to the authority of John, while Diotrephes wanted to assume full authority of the church. This little “power struggle” was probably playing out in churches all over the world at this time, as the death of the apostples was leaving a kind of “leadership vacuum.”

b. Following godly examples, vs. 11

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Diotrephes was a terrible example for any believer to follow, so John warns Gauis accordingly. John is not saying that Gauis is following a bad example, but evil is powerful. Every believer needs to be reminded to shun evil.

3. Demetrius: Highly respected, verses 12-14

Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

a. A man of integrity, vs. 12

Here is a man sound in the faith! Dependable and reliable; the kind of man you’d like to have as a friend. Demetrius was probably one of the members whom Diotrephes was giving a hard time; likely a missionary made to feel unwelcome in Gaius’ church. This is the only time he is mentioned in ScriptureWe know only these things about him for sure:

  • His good reputation preceded him. Notice that “everyone” spoke well of this man.
  • His devotion to the Gospel was obvious to all. He lived according to the teachings of Scripture, and people noticed that.
  • Other elders like John, thought highly of Demetrius.

Given what Demetrius had going for him, Gaius should feel comfortable in not only receiving Demetrius and extending him hospitality.

b. Final words, vs. 13, 14

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

Even though John wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, two of the longest books of the New Testament, he writes here that he would rather rather talk “face to face” than send a letter. 3 John is a true gem that gives us some powerful insights on personal relationships in the church. The koinonia—fellowship—of 1 John is not easily achieved within a local church and its even harder to maintain. It was even more difficult in the first century. But in these three letters, we see the ideal and the way to achieve it. Godly fellowship is made possible only through the way of love. Fellowship cannot be built on any other foundation.

(c) 2012, WitzEnd

GOD’S CHURCH, GOD’S WAY, Part 2

Fight Against False Teachers, 1:3—11

Very quickly Paul gets into the main reasons for writing this letter.  He spent all of two verses on the niceties, and with verse three he jumps right into why he is writing this letter to Pastor Timothy.  Verse three begins with an urgent plea for Timothy to stay put in Ephesus, and so we will begin this teaching with the same urgency.

1.  Stay where you are!  1:3, 4

3As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.

The very first thing Paul urges Timothy to do was clearly the most urgent thing Timothy must do:  remain in Ephesus.  Literally, Paul wrote this:  “Remain still there in Ephesus.”  It is a vigorous command; we might say, “I want you to stay put where you are for now!”

We don’t know a whole a lot about what Paul was doing during these concluding years of his life and ministry, but we are able to deduce that he was drawn to Macedonia and it seemed as though Timothy wanted to travel with him there.   This makes sense because Paul was elderly and in poor health and Timothy was young and vigorous and had proven himself to be a great asset to Paul’s preaching ministry.  It would have made perfect common sense for Timothy to travel with Paul into Macedonia.  However, sometimes the Lord wants His people to do things that go against our much lauded “common sense.”

There are times in life when it is easier to pack it in and move on than to remain in a difficult or uncomfortable situation.  There is an instinct buried deep within all of us to escape from seemingly impossible situations or onerous responsibilities.  The easy way out, or the path of least resistance, often looks very attractive to us and “common sense” would dictate that it would be better to move on than to continue banging our heads against a brick wall.  To escape to greener pastures and have a fresh start just seems to be the right thing to do under certain circumstances.  But when God says, “Stay put!” He has good reasons for it!  Sometimes God says “Go” and sometimes He says “Stay,” but whatever He says, God always has good reasons and we must be sure that we are obedient to His Word and will regardless of how we feel about it or whether or not it makes sense to us.  God’s will always makes perfect sense to Him.

Paul had been released from his two-year stay in a Roman prison and he apparently made a missionary visit to Ephesus.  While he was there, he encountered a problem that needed immediate attention, so he left Timothy there to pastor this important first century church and to correct the problem.  The problem was a common one:  certain men had come into the church teaching false doctrines.  The church has always had false teachers; within a few scant years of its founding, in fact, false teachers had infiltrated its ranks.   Paul does not mention their names, referring to them only as “certain men.”  Probably Timothy knew full well who these “certain men” were so Paul tactfully does not name them.   In verse 20 Paul mentions the names of two trouble makers—Hymenaeus and Alexander—who had succumbed to false teaching, so maybe they are included in the “certain men.”

What was the nature of their false teaching?  Paul gives us a hint, saying it involved “myths and genealogies.”   Most scholars believe these false teachers who wanted to be the “big shots” at the Ephesian church were Gnostics, who peddled a warped combination of Christian/Jewish/pagan mythology.  Verse 7 suggests that they were actually Jewish teachers who were caught up in ancient Jewish myths and legends found in various apocryphal writings during the Old Testament period.  In a parallel passage, we read this—

…pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.  (Titus 1:14)

Paul makes it clear that these new teachings were controversial and did nothing to promote the genuine work of the Gospel.  It may seem hard to imagine that people who had sat under the teachings of a man like Paul could be swayed by the ramblings of “wanna-bees,” but there is a segment of the church that is always anxious to welcome whatever is “new” or different.  The situation in Ephesus brings to mind two other situations, one in Galatia and the other in Athens—

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  (Galatians 1:6—7)

21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  (Acts 17:21)

In Galatia, false teachers had been welcomed into the church and were in the process of stealing its members.  Here were people who had heard the Gospel, responded to it in faith, had been growing in their faith, yet when the “new” and “exciting” teachings came along, they too easily jumped ship to run after them.  In Athens, the people liked to debate and pit their ideologies against whatever they considered to be old fashioned notions taught by “fuddy duddies,” like the Apostle Paul.

In every age there are people who love to indulge in strange mixtures of truth and error.  And it was Timothy’s job as pastor to guard his congregation against such teachings by teaching the truth and by administering discipline to those who went against the truth;   that is “God’s work.”  The word translated “work” is oikonomian, which literally means “stewardship.”  The objective of every pastor and church leader should be faith-centered stewardship based on the Word of God.   Any teaching that gets in the way of that objective or any individual that leads others away from that objective needs to be dealt with accordingly.

2.  Practice brotherly love, 1:5—7

5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

All church discipline should be administered in love.  The highest goal of all preaching and teaching is love—agape love.  It is the Word of God that draws God’s people together.  For church leaders, an expression of that love is combating error with truth through the faithful teaching and exposition of God’s Word and the protection of their congregation from false teachers.

For their part, the false teachers seemed to have gotten a foothold in Ephesus, and while their “new” teachings fascinated some, they only served to cause trouble and push the people apart.   That is a distinguishing mark of false teachers and false teaching:  controversy and consternation.

According to Dr. McGee, there three things that every church should manifest:

  1. Faith.  A church should manifest faith in both God and in His Word.
  2. Love.  Love is more than a word or an emotion; it is an active concern for others in the Body of Christ.  It means that you treat your fellows with respect and concern; you don’t gossip and tell tales.  It means you build them up, not tear them down.
  3. A good conscience.  Conscience is man’s “moral intuition.”  Although your conscience should never be your guide—that task should be left up to the Holy Spirit—it can serve as a kind of umpire, passing judgment on your current state, your thoughts, and your emotions.  In the believer, God often uses the conscience to “produce godly sorrow” which leads to repentance, 2 Corinthians 7:10.

These three things, according to Paul, needed to be manifested first by Timothy, then by his congregation.  These false teachers, though, had completely missed the mark and turned from the truth to “meaningless talk.”  The Greek word is very descriptive and used only here in the New Testament; it means “empty babbling.”  Nothing is emptier than teaching devoid of God’s Word.  Somebody can stand behind a pulpit, look the part, speak well and sound impressive, but if what they are teaching is not of God, they are mere “wordmongers,” saying nothing of value to anybody.  Paul’s opinion of these men couldn’t be clearer:  they thought they are so smart, but in reality they knew nothing, they didn’t even understand what they were trying to teach others.  They deluded people for they themselves were deluded.

3.  Proper teaching, taught properly, yields results, 1:8—11

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Paul had identified the false teachers at Ephesus as men who had appointed themselves as learned teachers of the Law, and now he points out that HE knew all about the Law, and that the Law was good, but that these false teachers had taken it and perverted it.  God never gave the Law to His people as a means of salvation, which was part of the false teaching.

An interesting phrase that needs our attention is:  “[the] law is not made for the righteous.”  What was Paul getting at?  Did he mean that the righteous no longer need to concern themselves with mundane things like right and wrong?  Of course not!  As Paul taught elsewhere, the Law served our “schoolmaster” to lead us to Christ, and to know Christ is to have that Law inscribed on our hearts.  This is part of the “new covenant” as prophesied by Jeremiah—

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  (Jeremiah 31:33)

But that written Law condemns sinners; it points out the wrong in their lives.  Paul gives a list of the kinds of sin and behavior the Law condemns.  As if to drive his point home, at the end of his list, Paul adds, probably with a twinkle in his eye:  and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. In other words, the teaching of these false teachers directed at Timothy and his congregation would be better directed at themselves!   The false teachers immersed themselves in wild and fanciful teachings because they never saw their true state:  sinners in need of the Gospel.  Christians who fall for false teaching need to take heed of this fact.  What does it say about a Christian who is so easily swayed by a phony Gospel?  What does it say about their conscience?  What does it say about the Law that is supposedly inscribed on their hearts?

It is difficult to imagine any teaching more powerful than the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.”  This was the teaching entrusted to Paul and to Timothy.  Sound doctrine demands that a person keep God’s Law.  At the same time, sound doctrine declares that a person cannot keep it; it reveals that without Christ that person is lost.   The Gospel is glorious, and sound doctrine must be taught because people need to know their true condition and the only remedy for it:  the pure Word of God.  False teaching is attractive because it never demands that a person see themselves as God sees them:  a hopeless sinner, lost forever.  Nobody wants to see themselves like that, so they cling to the kind of teachings that make them feel good about themselves.

God loves you and He values your soul to the point where He would rather make you feel uncomfortable  about yourself so that you’ll change than stroke your ego and let you go on living in a fool’s paradise.

God’s church, done God’s way promotes real love founded on the truth of God’s Word and the proclamation of sound doctrine.  It’s easy to manipulate people’s feelings and emotions, but God calls for changed lives and He wants His truth written on our hearts so that we will manifest love for Him and for each other, faith, and be able sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Don’t get flim flammed by false teahers.

(c)  2010 Witzend

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