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Showing posts from February, 2017

Godly or Religious?

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Tim. 6:6-8)These three verses give us a very sweet formula for living: godliness + contentment.

The contentment is provided by God, who also provides our food and clothing. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:31-33).

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). That is religion that is godly. However, being godly is not the same as being religious. Most religion (including Christian religion) is a m…

How to Handle Gossip

Here are a few suggestions for what to do when you are on the receiving end of gossip:

1. Draw their attention to Romans 1:29-32: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” And 2 Corinthians 12:20: “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”

The first reference is speaking of unbelievers; the second one of believers, or at least church m…

Bad Words

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Eph. 5:1-5)Our speech is to be with thanksgiving and for the encouragement of others. It should not contain unwholesome talk—“obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking.”

There are no definitions of unwholesome talk, obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking in the Bible. The Apostle Paul seems to assume that the people he is writing to know what he is talking about. The words that are commonly understood to be obscene or filthy in the English language cannot be found in most English dictionaries. They have a definition understood by constant usage.…

Bridling the Tongue

Chris Vlachos was on CCM staff in Provo, Utah, for 10 years, pastored a church in American Fork, Utah, for 18 years, and is now on the faculty at Wheaton College. We have had a request for his article Bridling the Tongue, so I thought I would send it to all of you.

Some time ago, a magnetic storm occurred in New York state that caused a conversation on a telephone line to interfere with the radio waves emitted from a nearby radio station. As a result, the conversation was broadcast on the radio without the knowledge of the two talkers. It was a coast-to-coast program!

All of us at one time or another have been guilty of gossip. In fact, there is enough gossip in many a church to make the recording angel weep as he records it. It is a sinful practice which God takes seriously and wants us to stop.

Paul speaks of gossip in 1 Timothy 3:11: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” Lest we think that men are immune to this disease, P…

Why Are You Silent, Lord?

“They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor” (Hab. 1:7). God is speaking of the Babylonians here. In fact, earlier (v. 6) God said that He was “raising up the Babylonians.” This was in answer to Habakkuk’s complaint that God did not listen (v. 2) and tolerated wrong (v. 3). God was going to punish evil nations with an evil nation.

Habakkuk further complains: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab. 1:13).

In Habakkuk 2:1-12, God gives several answers to these questions, but in the end they are moot questions because verse 13 gives a comprehensive answer. “Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the water…

Knowledge, Love & Grace

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1:14)Paul was a man of great wisdom and knowledge, but he plays them down. More than that, he writes them off.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor. 8:1b)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:18-21)When we speak, do we display our knowledge or our love?

Are we conscious of the abundance of grace, faith, and love that was poured out on us when we received Christ…

Taking Up Your Cross Daily

What does it mean to take up your cross daily?
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27)This paragraph is about dying. Better yet, it is about values and choices, dying being one of the choices based upon following Jesus.

“Take up your cross.” This is not an unbearable task, a thorn in the flesh, or someone unpleasant, like a roommate we have to endure daily. The cross is an instrument of shameful, physical execution, like the electric chair, the…

Applying the Word 3

Here is another query I received on applying the Word: “Jim, I appreciate this. How are you doing in these areas?”

That is a good question. It would be better for you to see me than to ask me. If I was not obeying any of the texts, I would be an accomplished hypocrite.

At one time, I tried to obey by willpower and effort. I was not successful. In recent years, I have learned to obey by grace. (I have also written a book on obedience by grace. It is available here.) When I do not obey, I acknowledge it as sin and get forgiven by grace.

However, I put more time into being an example than into teaching. It is a more effective way of teaching and puts visible truth to the teaching. Paul said it this way: “For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17).

Applying the Word 2

I received this request in response to the last post: “Jim, please give me a couple of examples.”

There are many examples where Christians are hesitant to obey clear commands.

• Church discipline. Read 1 Corinthians 5, especially verses 9-13.
• Our relationships with evil people and enemies. Read Matthew 5:39-45.
• The qualifications for elders and deacons. Read 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.
• Complaining and arguing: Philippians 2:14.
• Being thankful: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
• Hospitality: Luke 14:12-14.

The list could keep going.

The examples above all have to do with obedience. Here are a few examples on statements of fact: Colossians 3:9, Romans 1:6, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:9. These are stand-alone verses. The chapters they are in make the truths much clearer. I have not shared interpretations with you. In many cases, the interpretation takes away the power and the clarity of the text.

Applying the Word

As evangelicals, we stand on the full inspiration of the Word of God. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16).

We are not so firm in our stand when it comes to applying the Word of God: “…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

We believe the Bible from cover to cover, in debate. When we look inside the covers, we have problems. Those problems are not of failing to understand. They are problems of clear understanding of texts that we do not believe. These problems may be with history, prophecy, promises, commands, or statements of fact. It does not matter which theological position we hold. Our solutions are 1) stay ignorant, 2) run lightly over the text, 3) do much explaining away on what the text “really means,” or 4) explain why we are not believing and obeying the text.

Let Us Draw Near

This is another article written some years ago by my wife Bessie.

"Let us draw near to God with a sincere [“true” in KJV] heart…having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience." (Heb. 10:22 NIV)

Hebrews is a reasoned treatise explaining how Christ fulfilled all the Levitical law in offering Himself as a sacrifice for sin. On the basis of all that Christ did for us in opening a new and living way (10:20), the exhortation follows: Let us draw near to God.

I have been impressed so often with this thought and have mentioned it enough that our daughter Heather made a cross-stitched sampler of this verse which now hangs on my bedroom wall. I am still hoping and waiting for someone to put it to music because it sings in my heart, and I think it needs expression.

I have been so taken, however, with the thought of drawing near that I have neglected the part of the verse that gives our responsibility in the drawing near. We are to draw near with a sincere heart. How…

Scripture: True or False?

Here are a few thoughts on looking at Scripture, especially when we come across a verse that sounds great to quote but seems hard to live.

As we look at the verse, we should ask ourselves this question: “Is it true or false?” We should make ourselves answer the question. That way we cannot slide over it. Having answered, “True,” we then thank God for it. From now on, we cannot ignore it; we have just given thanks for it.

Here is an example: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

True or false? True! This is God’s will for us.

Thank God.

Now it is just a question of how to do this, not a question of whether we can. We are now willing to obey; we have thanked God.

More on Picking up the Darkness

“Sometimes sharing truth can be called fault-finding. In the light of God’s Word, we are called to hold people accountable to the Word of God as believers. The church today has gone too soft on living for God. We wouldn’t want to call another member to repentance especially if we haven’t dealt with our own sin (1 Cor. 5:11-12).”

Thank you for the reminder. I agree. It is true that people could be called faultfinders when in fact they are confronting a brother biblically. It is also true that a person could be a faultfinder in the bad sense and justify himself that his is only holding Christians accountable to the Word of God.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Gal. 6:1)

Picking up the Darkness

The word “ungodly” is used four times in Jude 15. The next verse gives the characteristics of these ungodly people. The difficulty is that they sound like Christians we all have known: “These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16).

Grumbling and faultfinding is stock in trade for the world. However, Christians who work in the world find it easy to pick up the practice. Instead of providing light, we collect the darkness. Let us remember that Jude says it is an ungodly practice.

Truth & Illustrations

Illustrations are an effective teaching method. They can be used to hammer home a truth and make it easier to apply. They are easy to remember. They also make it difficult for the student to sneak by or ignore a strong command.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he…

More on Searching the Scriptures

I received the following question about searching the Scriptures: “I did not understand this part; please explain: ‘It is wrong to think that the teacher’s veracity is being validated when the student has been given the teacher’s own texts.’’

Suppose that there are several different views that Christians hold concerning a certain aspect of theology. A teacher may teach his beliefs and give the students many Bible references to look up. However, he might only give the Scriptures that agree with what he is teaching. If the student reads only them, of course he agrees with the teacher.

If the student searched the Scriptures, he would be reading a lot more than the references given to him by the teacher. The student might still agree with the teacher. On the other hand, he might find Scriptures that differ with the teacher. His searching should be broad, not narrow.

Search the Scriptures

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)The Bereans were commended for two things: their eagerness to hear the truth, and their insistence on checking to see if it was true. Their authority was the Scriptures, and they searched them.

Teachers today encourage their students to be like the Bereans. They tell their students where to look in the Scriptures. Sure enough, the students look up those verses and realize that their teacher is telling them the truth. They have not searched the Scriptures! They have been led into thinking that they were searching Scripture when they were just given more teaching.

It is not wrong for a teacher to give Scripture. It is wrong to think that the teacher’s veracity is validated when the student has been given the teacher’s own texts.

Gifts: Teachers and Evangelists

And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:26)

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Neh. 8:2-3)

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? D…

Willful Sins

Recently a friend asked a question about Christians today, which got a ready answer from me. There is a prayer in Psalm 19 that does not seem to be applied by many of us. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13).

We do not confess known sins (1 John 1:7-9) or request cleansing from secret sins. We do not request help for obedience in small things or deliverance from addiction to them.

If we did, there would be no danger of us committing any great sin. Great sins are caused by a multitude of unconfessed, willful sins that are now ruling over us. A great transgression is the next event. In many evangelical churches, there is great transgression happening right now. We do not understand how it happened. The answer is simple: the guilty person did not pray verses 12 and 13. He may have been surprised himself by this great sin. Whil…

The Full Armor

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)The first three chapters of Ephesians tell us of the riches we have in Christ. It would be difficult to meditate too much on these riches. After that are two and a half “obedience” chapters, followed by teaching on war—real, deadly war. Notice that verses 10 and 13 both say, “Put on the full armor…” The emphasis is on the wholeness, the completeness of the armor, “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” The devil is not stronger than the armor of God, …

The Gospel

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? (Heb. 3:16)

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. (Heb. 4:1-3)

For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But…

Animism

God in his self-revelation to men started with Adam, then Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, occasional kings, prophets, Zerubbabel, Nehemiah, Ezra, Malachi, Zechariah, and John the Baptist. These men lived across the four thousand years before Jesus. In addition to communicating to them directly, God also had much of His revelation written down in the books of the law, the prophets, and the Psalms. The Israelites disobeyed the prophets and the Scriptures. In the same four thousand years, there were many tribes and nations who did not have the Scriptures nor the men of God to speak to them. They were nations made up of animists and then idolaters.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qu…

Unbelief

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Heb. 3:12)Unbelief is a great sin. It applies to those who have heard the gospel and not believed, those who have not heard the gospel, and those who heard, believed, and in a believing state do not believe God.

Many real Christians fall into this last category. It is possible to understand unbelief in those who have not heard (even though is it still inexcusable—cf. Romans 1:20), because it is the gospel that causes belief. It is very difficult to understand unbelief in believers.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearl…

Idolatry

“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable.” (Isa. 41:21-24)

Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who tr…