Category Archives: Sermons

STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH

Because of the incredible blessings you have received

1 Peter 1: 3-5 (ESV)[1]

A. Introduction

What would happen to your faith if you were one of the survivors in the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and some of your family died in those house ruins?[2]

Christian people were overcome by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.[3] How does faith survive among such devastation?

clip_image002

(photo Indian Ocean tsunami courtesy Wikimedia Commons)[4]

It’s hard to imagine how a Church can survive in Communist North Korea. According to Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted church, there are about 400,000 Christians living in that country . . . and they desperately need our prayers and support.

North Korea is [considered to be ] the most oppressive nation in the world. There is no freedom of thought, speech, expression, movement or religion. It is the utmost restricting and punishing place on the planet.

Being a Christian in North Korea is extremely dangerous and difficult to conceal. One in three people [is a] government [spy]. If you don’t regularly bow down to a statue of Kim Il Sung, it’s noted [by these spies].

About 200,000 prisoners are serving life sentences in labour camps. . . . Prisoners work for up to 18 hours a day. Anyone who talks risks 8 days in solitary confinement in a 0.6m x 1.1m cage. . . . Torture, executions and experiments occur daily.

Many thousands of prisoners are Christians. “Christians are the most severely abused,” testifies Soon Ok Lee, a former prisoner. “In seven years I saw many believers die, yet they never denied Jesus”.[5]

What is it that keeps these persecuted North Korean Christians firm in their faith? (400,000 of them in a country of 23 million, with such severe persecution)

It’s the same kind of faith you will need when you are ridiculed for your faith in Australia. It’s the faith that you need when the going gets tough.

In First Peter we find why Christians stand firm in the faith when the trials come.

We hear so little of what is happening to the small Christian church in Iraq. I read recently “that Christians and churches are being seriously affected by the internal turmoil across the country. Not only are foreigners being hijacked, but indigenous Iraqi Christians are also disappearing. [Open Doors] contacts stress that in most of these cases, the kidnappers are not Islamic extremists, but more often are young people trying to make some easy money.”[6]

We find it difficult to identify with persecution like this. What did Jesus say about this kind of situation? “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20 ESV).[7]

Let’s get to our text in First Peter.

B. Why did Peter write this first epistle?

clip_image004 It is a very warm pastoral letter with lots of encouragement for Christians who are scattered and persecuted. I Peter 5:12 states, “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it”.

clip_image004[1] Peter wrote this epistle to believers who were experiencing these kinds of things:

clip_image006 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials”.

clip_image006[1] 2:21, “For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

clip_image006[2] 3:13-14, “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled”.

clip_image006[3] 3:17, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

clip_image004[2] Do you get the picture? Peter wrote this epistle so that these early believers would “see their temporary sufferings in the full light of the coming eternal glory. In the midst of all their discouragements, the sovereign Lord will keep them and enable them by faith to have joy.”[8]

clip_image004[3] This is a very practical and relevant message for us in Qld. in the 21st century.

As we look closely at I Peter 1:3-5, we are taught to

“STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH: Because of the incredible blessings you have received.”

That’s the title of my message today. 1 Peter 1:3-5 teaches us to stand firm in the faith…

Firstly, because of the incredible blessings you have received in Christ; and

Secondly, because of your inheritance as believers.

Let’s deal with the first major reason.

I. STAND FIRM IN YOUR FAITH because of the incredible blessings you have received (vv. 3-5)

In I Peter 2:9, Peter uses this kind of language about the people of God: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (ESV). Through God’s “great mercy”, these early Christians had received blessings beyond anything your boss could offer. Marriage will not give you what God has given.

A business woman’s multi-millions of dollars will look like chicken feed when compared with the blessings of the people of God.

It’s appropriate that Peter begins v. 3 with an exhortation to praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Conservative Lutheran commentator, Richard Lenski, writes this: “There is too little contemplation of God, too little praise of him in our hearts, especially in our earthly distress.”[9] Would you agree or disagree? Do we praise God enough? Do we know how to praise Him?

The psalmist did and he encourages us to praise like this:

Psalm 103:1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits –

3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed (NIV)

There is so much to praise God for. Let’s not be slack about it. Peter calls us to praise:

clip_image008 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter is singing the true glory of God when he meditates on God’s great salvation through Jesus Christ. When Peter thinks on the blessings of salvation, he has nothing but praise for God the Father.

By way of application:

Please pause a moment, and think of what you have been saved from. You know your past and what you did and were when in rebellion against God. What did it take for you to be turned around? Could you change yourself? Of course not, if we are talking about deep inner change! Let’s pause a moment for you to praise God for who he is and the salvation that he has brought to your life.

You may have a family member who is:

clip_image008[1] Threatening suicide;

clip_image008[2] Rebellious children who run away, wag school and abuse parents.

clip_image008[3] Parents who are guilt-ridden because they can’t control their kids, kids on drugs, stealing, vandalising, etc.

clip_image008[4] Adultery, broken families, talk of legalising homosexual marriage;

How do you survive as a Christian in these circumstances?

You don’t have to be going through such extreme conditions. You may be persecuted for your Christian convictions. For you, this first epistle of Peter has some exceedingly good news.

Just in case you haven’t remembered what God has done for you through Christ, Peter summarises some of the blessings for us. Surely these are enough to convince us to hold to our faith firmly.

Never forget these blessings that are taught in I Peter 1:3-5.

A. YOU HAVE BEEN CHANGED FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

Look how this inner change is described.

1. Firstly, he has given us new birth

Or, as the ESV translates it, he has “caused us to be born again.” This language is so familiar to many of us who are evangelical Christians that we just gloss over it. Please don’t. What has happened to you, if you are born again, is like going into your mother’s womb again and coming out a totally new person, from the inside out. The image baffled Nicodemus (John 3:3-9). It still puzzles those who have not experienced it.

You have been given new birth because the life of God has been implanted in your soul. This is the whole Trinity in you to give you a new life and a new view of the world. Your heart is filled with new powers, new motives, new thoughts, and a new desire. You are not the same.

It is ours because of God’s “great mercy” (v. 3). God saw us in filth, need and rebellion. He was moved with compassion. Eph. 2:4 says He is a God who is “rich in mercy.” Mercy is God’s compassion for the helpless that results in action to bring them relief. “Mercy is a word specially used in the New Testament of God’s kindness in bringing in the outsider and the unworthy, the Gentile and the sinner, to share in His salvation, and in the glories or riches of His Christ”[10] You can read about it in Rom. 11:30-32; 15:9; Eph. 2:1-7; Titus 3:5.

Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the hungry crowd. But he did more than that. He provided them with the bread and the fish to eat (Matt. 15:32). That’s mercy.

God saw our wretched state, aliens who would rather shake our fist at God than move towards him. We were rebels. In mercy, he offered us new birth through Christ’s death.

It is a new birth that gives us:

2. Secondly, a living hope (v. 3)

We live in a “no hope” world. If we want to put a person down, we call him a “no hoper.” Just think of what has happened to hope during the last century. Two world wars, Hitler’s gas ovens and the deaths of 6 million Jews, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the atomic age ushered in with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Vietnam War; the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The slaughter in Rwanda, Zaire, Port Arthur, the war in Iraq, and the rebellion in the Middle East. The Indian Ocean tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti.

Some of the adults and young people I counsel, who are contemplating suicide, tell me they see no hope in the future. They say life is hopeless, meaningless.

A former federal minister of education wrote to The Australian newspaper back in 1997. He said this:

The thematic currency of youth suicide is our failure to transmit a sense of belonging and meaningful purpose to young people. . . . We have created a culture in which young people frequently feel they have nothing other than themselves in which to believe. The mesh of values that held Australian society together 30 years ago – God, king and country – has been systematically dismantled. . . leaving only a vacuum. . . The price of our shallowness is being paid by our children.”[11]

The hope that people had in the optimism at the beginning of the 20th century is dead in the ashes of wars, crime, violence and high unemployment. When you glory in what human beings can do and achieve, you will be bitterly disappointed, even shattered.

For the believer we have a “living hope.” The opposite, “a dead hope,” is what we would call hopelessness. For the Christian it is a living hope because it is in what God has done. Verse 3 makes it clear what God has done. It is a living hope ONLY . .

3. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (v. 3).

What’s the big deal about the resurrection? If you read the 643 pp of this book, The Birth of Christianity by John Dominic Crossan,[12] you will learn that

clip_image010The resurrection of Christ was an “apparition.”[13] An apparition is a ghost, spirit, phantom or vision. His view was:

clip_image010[1] “Bodily resurrection has nothing to do with a resuscitated body coming out of its tomb. . . . Bodily resurrection means that the embodied life and death of the historical Jesus continues to be experienced, by believers, as powerfully efficacious and salvifically present in the world.”[14]

So, there was no empty tomb for Crossan. It was a phantom experience, an apparition and is only a religious experience for believers in the present world.

To the contrary, Dr. N. T. Wright, a British evangelical and former Anglican bishop of Durham, wrote the 817 pp of his book, Resurrection of the Son of God,[15] to refute theories like Crossan’s apparitional view of the resurrection. Wright believes the Bible and is convinced that:

clip_image012 The resurrection of Jesus “was the single event through which the world, and Israel, were changed for ever.”

clip_image012[1] “In particular, Luke insists on the bodiliness of the risen Jesus.”

clip_image012[2] In Luke 24:36-42, “Every line, almost every word, in this scene demonstrates the point. For Luke, the risen Jesus is firmly and solidly embodied, able to be touched, able to eat.”[16]

So, for N. T. Wright, there was a bodily resurrection of Jesus. The tomb was empty and you could touch the resurrected Christ.

For Crossan, Jesus resurrection was an apparition, a phantom, a vision. What happened to Jesus’ body for this scholar? It “did not undergo resurrection (no Easter) and after his execution, was probably eaten by wild dogs”.[17] That’s what he says.

There is a battle raging in scholarly circles over the resurrection of Jesus. But for many of us ordinary Christians, Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave needs to be emphasised.

If there was only Golgotha, we would have a dead Jesus, rotting in the grave. It is because of the resurrection that we have a living Saviour and you can become a new person in Christ. It is a hope that will not die because of the one who conquered death. It matters what the resurrection was.

As Bill & Gloria Gaither’s song puts it:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.

Because He lives, all fear is gone.

Because I know who holds the future

And live is worth the living just because He lives.[18]

A person once said to me, “I’m going to live it up for all I can get now because I’m going to be dead a long time.” He was dead wrong! You’ll be alive a mighty long time—for eternity—but where you will be, heaven or hell, will be determined by how you respond to the resurrected Jesus in this life.

For what do we hope? What are we looking forward to?

B. AN INHERITANCE (v. 4)

This is why we stand firm when the going gets tough.

This was familiar language for Jewish readers. They had heard lots about the inheritance that God had for his people. Canaan, the Holy Land, was their portion. They were wanderers in the wilderness after coming out of slavery in Egypt. They looked for the Promised Land. After being brought back from Exile in Babylon, they were looking for their inheritance in the Land God had provided.

But the “land flowing with milk and honey” didn’t fulfil Israel’s hopes. They were soon into idolatry; there was strife between tribes; the land was overrun by invaders. Surely there was something more than this for an inheritance! Was there any lasting hope?

We have seen lots of great things for those of us who live in the ‘Lucky Country’ of Australia. We have wealth beyond measure. Our natural resources are something to behold. The technology in the land is amazing. The sunburnt country has so much beauty. We have one of the best welfare systems in the world.

But in the midst of this splendour, there is so much ugliness. Surely there is more to yearn for than this land of Australia!

Australia or Israel is not the inheritance that the true Church is expecting. Verse 4 says it is an inheritance that

1. Is imperishable

Moths and rats will not eat it up. It will not rust. Thieves will not break in and steal it. No destructive force, natural or made by human beings, will injure it or take it away.[19] “Unlike any inheritance in this world, it is not exposed to destruction.”[20]

It is an inheritance that

2. Is undefiled

It can never spoil. No stain or stink of sin will be there. It is so pure and lofty. Imagine an inheritance that is worth more, much more, than gold. No contamination from anything related to sin. There will be no brothers and sisters fighting over the will to get their share. It will be unspoiled wealth. The believers’ inheritance cannot be “defiled from outside.”[21]

This inheritance

3. Is unfading

The idea behind this word, says Richard Lenski, is that it is

“never withering, (never) disappointing, (never) becoming old and worn. The delight of it will never lessen or grow stale… Our inheritance will never lose anything through age or sickness on our part or through any damage to itself; it will never be marred by impurity; and it will never lessen in delight because it has been enjoyed for so long.”[22]

Unlike a physical inheritance in this world, it cannot “decay from inside.”[23] But there is more. What makes this inheritance even more remarkable is that the security system is out of this world.

4. It is “kept in heaven for you.” (v. 4)

Literally, it has always been kept and is presently being guarded and will be kept there until you reach glory. God is guarding you. He keeps you safe. What a blessing this is!

Please note that this inheritance is:

5. For you through faith (v. 5)

Faith is not to be thought of as some way for earning your inheritance. Never! However, faith in Christ must surely be our response to God’s mercy and love.

While our inheritance is kept in heaven for us by God, we, as faithful believers, are living on earth,

6. “Who by God’s power are being guarded” (v. 5).

Did you grasp what I just said? Your inheritance is guarded by God’s power. God has not left the church without protection in this hostile world. God continuously “guards” the church. Yes, even this church. “Guarded” is an old military term meaning “to garrison.”[24] A garrison is a military post that is permanently established and stays on guard 24 hours a day.

The church is guarded by God’s power every moment of every day.

The psalmist reminded Israel: “[The Lord] will not let your foot slip—he, who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps. 121:3-4); Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

The power of God guarded . . .

clip_image014Daniel in the lions’ den;

clip_image014[1]Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo in the fiery furnace.

clip_image014[2]It set boundaries around Job when he was afflicted;

clip_image014[3]It freed Peter from Herod’s prison;

clip_image014[4]It preserved Paul when he was surrounded by dangers, hardships and persecutions.

clip_image014[5]The faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11 tells us that, through faith, God guarded those who “were tortured and refused to be released. . . . Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned” (vv.35-37 NIV).

clip_image014[6]However, others were guarded until God took them to heaven: “They were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Heb. 11: 37).

What does it mean to be guarded for us?

7. The coming of salvation: ready to be revealed in the last time (v. 5)

We have salvation now that makes a radical personal difference in our lives. But Peter is reminding the church of the final deliverance that will come at the end of the age. There will be horrible persecution and sorrow in the days ahead and just prior to the return of Christ, from Satan’s final assault. Revelation ch. 12 speaks of Satan being cast out of heaven and filled with fury “because he knows that his time is short” (Rev. 12:12).

Famous theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr, was on the streets of New York City when he was approached by an evangelist with this question, “Are you saved?” Niebuhr always took people seriously. He paused a moment and gave this thoughtful reply, “I was saved by what Christ did; I am being saved right now; I shall be saved when the kingdom comes.”

We don’t know what the evangelist said. But Neibuhr stated so well what Peter is trying to get across to us: “Salvation spans time. It is grounded in the past; it is experienced in the present; it culminates in the future.”[25]

Without a doubt, we, who believe, have begun to experience a true and great salvation now (Luke 19:9), thanks to Christ’s death on the cross. The joys of salvation come through our daily discipleship (2 Cor. 6:2). However, the absolute wonder and the full dimensions of salvation will not be known until the crowning day of our salvation when Jesus comes again.

When Jesus returns, the church will receive the great deliverance. Salvation will be accomplished then.

What a God we have and what a blessing to know that we are guarded by the power of God in this way—in life and through death.

After listening to all this heavenly emphasis, maybe you are tempted to say what Karl Marx said. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff. Isn’t Christianity the religion that is the drug that the ruling classes are using to keep the under-privileged satisfied with their lousy lot? Isn’t this keeping your heads in the clouds so that you don’t have to become involved in solving some of the problems of today’s world?

Of course, this Christian hope can be abused and misunderstood—and it has been. However, it has been the Christians whose hopes have been in heaven who have made a dynamic impact as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Where would we be without committed, evangelical Christians such as William Wilberforce who helped to eliminate slavery from the British Empire. It was George M?ller who helped the orphans in England and lived by faith to receive funding for his ministry.

Another John Howard, besides Australia’s former Prime Minister, influenced by the Wesleyan revival, brought about prison reforms in England. Elizabeth Fry continued his work.

In 1774, [John Howard’s] evidence to a House of Commons committee [in the UK] led to two Acts which aimed to improve conditions in gaols. His published writings on the subject were widely read and his detailed accounts of inhumane conditions caused dismay.

He advocated a system of state-controlled prisons in which the regime was tough, but the environment healthy. In 1779 the Penitentiary Act authorised the construction of two prisons in accordance with his own theories.

He advocated a regime of solitary confinement, hard labour and religious instruction. The objective of imprisonment, he believed, was reform and rehabilitation, not just punishment.[26]

William & Catherine Booth founded the Salvation Army and its ministry to the needy has a continuing international reputation.

David Wilkerson went to New York City to work with the junkies and help them be delivered from their drug habits through Christ and established Teen Challenge. Where would the welfare of our country be today if the church withdrew its ministry to the hurting people?

Those who have a living hope and know their inheritance is in heaven, never to be spoiled, have most often got their hands dirty in the real world of people and their problems.

Even in this letter of First Peter, Peter has some urgent things to say about life in the present. In chapter 2 he deals with how we are to relate to government and our bosses. Marriage and family come into focus in chapter 3. Chapters 3 & 4 deal with how we should respond to suffering for doing good. This is very down-to-earth stuff for those who are chosen people and a holy nation.

So, what has Peter taught us from I Peter 1:3-5? We know that for persecuted believers, for those of us experiencing very hard times, we can stand firm in the faith because of our incredible blessings. They are:

clip_image016 You have been changed from the inside;

clip_image016[1] You have an inheritance.

You have been changed from the inside by being

a. “given new birth in Christ”

b. And a living hope.

What is that new inheritance that will help you to stand firm? It is the salvation that

a. Can never perish;

b. Never spoil;

c. Never fade;

d. Kept in heaven for you;

e. Through faith;

f. Shielded by God’s power.

Please note v. 3. It is given to believers, not because they deserve it, but because of God’s “great mercy.”

And this salvation that we are now experiencing will be fully revealed when? V. 5, “In the last time.” This will be at the glorious unveiling of our full salvation at the Second Coming of Christ.

It has often been said that many Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. That’s not biblical Christianity.

Here in I Peter, those who are sure of their inheritance in heaven and have a living hope that longs for their eternal reward, are most actively involved in this present world — through evangelism and practical ministry. You might ask, “Should we focus on this world or the next?” I think the question is wrong. Rather, it should be, “Does your future belong to a human being’s pride and resources or to God’s grace?” Since our future belongs to God’s grace, our lives ought to demonstrate “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up” to the needy – wherever and whenever.

“Vietnam’s tribal Christians are under physical and spiritual attack. Two brothers tell us their story, and ask us to stand with them through prayer.

“‘Who is teaching your class? Who else studies with you? Why do you believe in this Jesus?’ The policeman barked his questions at Nate, [the policeman’s] eyes filled with disdain and fury. ‘Help me, Lord!’ Nate prayed, pleading for the strength to keep quiet and not give away any details of the secret Bible classes.

“After the interrogation came the second beating – worse than the first. When he’d arrived at the police station, he’d been taken to a room and hit with a wooden club. When Nate refused to talk, the policeman struck out at him again. ‘They hit me over and over again with the club and told me they would beat me to death. One of them kicked me in the groin and then I was hit on the head,’ recalls Nate. I collapsed, falling unconscious to the ground.'”

Troy tells a similar story.

“Nate, Troy and other “Galilee [Bible School]” students from their J’rai tribal group have resolved to keep studying God’s Word. ‘The Holy Spirit has comforted me and helped me to stand firm without fear,’ explains Nate. ‘I am so blessed to be part of the Bible class because I am getting to know Jesus more and more. I will keep studying – even if it leads to my death.”[27]

What is it that keeps these persecuted Vietnamese Christians firm in their faith? The same inheritance that is yours and mine in Christ, through His vicarious atonement and resurrection. It’s the “living hope” that we have, through Christ’s death and resurrection.

clip_image018

(Street in Vietnam, courtesy Open Doors)[28]

Notes


[1] Preached by Spencer Gear at Gin Gin Baptist Church, Gin Gin, Qld., 11 July 2004; it also was preached at Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church, 24 June 2007; and at Maryborough Presbyterian, 7 Feb 2010.

[2] See “2010 Haiti earthquake,” Wikipedia, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Haiti_earthquake (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[3] See details at Wikipedia, “2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami,” Wikipedia, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[4] Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2004-tsunami.jpg (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[5] Open Doors, Australia, “The most punishing place on the planet. . . North Korea,” letter, January 2006. Available from PO Box 53, Seaforth NSW 2092; www.opendoors.org.au; email: opendoors@opendoors.org.au

[6] The Door Openers Club, Frontline, June 2004, Open Doors Australia, P.O. Box 53 Seaforth NSW 2092. Website: www.opendoors.org.au.

[7] Unless otherwise stated, all scriptural quotations are from the ESV (English Standard Version).

[8] Edwin A. Blum, 1 Peter, in Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 213.

[9] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg publishing House, 1966.30.

[10] A.M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). London: The Tyndale Press, 1959, 75.

[11] Dr. Brendan Nelson, The Weekend Australian, January 11-12, 1997, 20.

[12] 1998, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. I studied the book for my PhD dissertation.

[13] Ibid., p. 550.

[14] Ibid., p. xxxi.

[15] 2003, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

[16] Ibid., p. 657.

[17] In Crossan, J. D. 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco., p. 133.

[18] Words and Music by William J. Gaither; Recorded by William and Gloria Gaither; ©1971 BMI All Rights Reserved. Words available at: http://www.alighthouse.com/lives.htm [24th August 2004].

[19] Lenski, 33-34.

[20] A.M. Stibbs, 75.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Lenski, 34.

[23] Stibbs, 75.

[24] A.T. Robertson, Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume VI (The General Epistles and the Revelation of John). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1933, 83.

[25] Lyman Coleman and Richard Peace, Study Guide for the Book of 1 Peter (Mastering the Basics). Littleton, Colorado: Serendipity USA, 22.

[26] UK Parliament, “John Howard and prison reform.” Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/laworder/policeprisons/overview/prisonreform/ (Accessed 21 January 2022).

[27] Open Doors Newsbrief, July 2004, p. 1

[28] Available at: https://opendoors.org.au/world-watch-list/vietnam/ (Accessed 21 January 2022).

Copyright © 2022 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 January 2022.

Line clip art free

STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH[1]

PAKISTAN: Supreme Court Grants Bail for Christian Accused of Blasphemy

(image courtesy Voice of the Martyrs, Australia)

12 January 22 | All Posts, I Commit To Pray, News

(I Peter 1:1-2)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Bible Reading:

NIV, 1 Peter 1:1-12

1. INTRODUCTION

For the first time, North Korea [has] replaced Saudi Arabia as the country where Christians are most severely persecuted, according to the recent “World Watch List” released by Open Doors on August 9, [2004]. . . .

“For years, Saudi Arabia has held the top spot on the list. The desert kingdom, which sees itself as the guardian of Islam and its sacred cities of Mecca and Medina, requires all [of] its citizens to be Muslims. A Saudi who converts to another religion faces the death penalty for apostasy.

“But growing evidence of severe oppression in North Korea has confirmed what many observers have believed for years, that the communist dictatorship of Kim Jong Il stops at nothing to eradicate all belief systems other than the worship of Kim himself and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung. Both father and son have made every attempt to purge the land of Christians.

“Nevertheless, the church has survived in North Korea. Christian refugees escaping North Korea’s devastating famine have told of small house churches. They rarely number more than 10 individuals, often including only family members for security. One refugee told of how a house church of 20-30 people simply disappeared in [the year] 2000.

“In relative terms, however, it doesn’t matter who is ranked number one on the list,” an observer said. “The conditions facing a Saudi or North Korean Christian are unimaginable for those of us in the West.”[2]

In case you are interested, Open Doors rated the top ten countries for persecuting Christians [in 2004] as: North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Maldives [Islands in the northern Indian Ocean towards India], Bhutan [near Nepal, north of Bangladesh], Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia [north Africa, near the mouth of Red Sea, E of Ethiopia].[3] China ranks at no. 12.

In 2020, Christianity Today listed:

Where It’s Hardest to Follow Jesus:
1. North Korea
2. Afghanistan
3. Somalia
4. Libya
5. Pakistan
6. Eritrea
7. Sudan
8. Yemen
9. Iran
10. India
[4]

If you were sending a Christian letter to encourage churches in North Korea that are severely persecuted, how would you begin your letter and what would you say? G’day, mate, how’s it going? OR, Greetings brothers and sisters in the Lord? How would you commence a letter to those who were being thrown into prison or prison camps and severely treated for their faith? [I’ll wait for your replies]

That’s the kind of situation Peter faced when he wrote First Peter. He wrote to Christians scattered across Asia Minor, which is Turkey today. This was happening to them:

I Peter 1:6, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”[5]

2:20b, ” . . . if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”

4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”

4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

You may not be in a situation as bad as North Korea or Saudi Arabia, but some of you know the hostility of people against you when they know that you are Christians. Or the scoffing at you: What a God you have who allows September 11, Sadam Hussein, the Iraq war, and paedophiles in the church!

You may get to the point of asking yourself, “Is it worth it? Should I chuck in this Christianity? It’s not worth the opposition.” If that’s how you think, you need the message of I Peter – don’t give up when the going gets tough.

Peter gives FIVE very specific statements in his introductory greeting that are so important for those whose faith is being severely tested. In the greeting, the first two verses, to these suffering Christians, Peter wants to get across to them and to us:

2. STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD (vv. 1-2).

So “stand firm in the faith” is Peter’s emphasis in this book of I Peter: 5:9,

“Resist [the devil], standing firm in the faith,” 5:12, ” I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

To these Christian believers who are suffering terrible persecution, Peter greets them with facts that are core to the Christian faith. This is NO “Greetings brothers and sisters in the faith,” but God’s assurance to God’s people.

You are:

clip_image002Firstly, “God’s elect”; according to the foreknowledge of God

clip_image004Secondly, you are “strangers in the world”;

clip_image006Thirdly, “by the sanctifying work of the Spirit”;

clip_image008Fourthly, “for obedience to Jesus Christ”;

clip_image010Fifthly, “for sprinkling of blood.”

Let’s unpack this.

A. FIRSTLY, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH BECAUSE YOU ARE GOD’S ELECT.

Peter wanted the first century Christians (and us) to remember who we are in Christ! It’s a great honour for the church to be chosen by God. But God elected you into His kingdom, not for you to be proud about it, but for a purpose.

What did it mean that the believers in the first century were “elect”? Eph. 1:4 states: “For he chose us [elected us] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

The teaching on election has caused much spiritual heartburn and conflict in Christian circles, thanks to the teaching of St. Augustine (4th. century) but especially John Calvin (16th century).

Calvin (and St. Augustine) taught this:

(1) “God chose out of the condemned race of Adam those whom He pleased and reprobated [i.e. rejected and damned] whom He willed.”[6]

(2) Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion: “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or the other of these ends, we say that we have been predestinated to life or to death” (3:21:5).[7]

A leading Calvinistic theologian today, R. C. Sproul, puts it this way:

From all eternity, before we even existed, God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish. God made a choice—He chose some individuals to be saved into everlasting blessedness in heaven and others He chose to pass over, to allow them to follow the consequences of their sins into eternal torment in hell. . . The elect do choose Christ, but only because they were first chosen by God. . . The non-elect receive justice. The elect receive mercy.[8]

In other words, God unconditionally elects you to salvation, but God unconditionally damns most of humanity to hell.

You are God’s elected, chosen people. This is who you are. You are not an accident of history or some weirdos. You are people chosen by God for a purpose. But let’s get this very clear, none of us would come to Christ, unless God moved in our lives by the Holy Spirit to draw us.

Henry Thiessen gives an excellent definition of election: “By election we mean that sovereign act of God in grace whereby He chose in Christ Jesus for salvation all those whom he foreknew would accept Him.”[9]

But does that mean God chooses to save a small percentage of people throughout human history, and God chooses to send most people to hell?

I am convinced this is NOT a biblical view. This view of God makes him like an ugly monster. Opening the door for you, by his sovereign act, but giving most of the world the flick into a hell of horror, is grossly unjust in my view. It is inconsistent with the attributes of the God, revealed in the Scriptures.

I do not believe this is biblical Christianity for these reasons:

Firstly, this would make God very unjust, as one who chooses to unconditionally damn people to hell, but unconditionally chooses some for heaven. Ezek. 18:23 states, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD . Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” What is God like? He takes no pleasure in the death of ungodly people, but he takes pleasure in those who repent of their sinful ways and turn to him.

Secondly, we know that unconditional election of a minority of the human race is NOT the nature of God as he states in 2 Peter 3:9, ” 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.”

Thirdly, Titus 2:11 states, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (NIV).[10] Or as the ESV puts it: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”

Fourthly, John 3:16, ” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

While all true believers are God’s elect, I Peter 1:2 says that they are

1. Elect according to the Foreknowledge of God the Father (v. 2)

Pause with me a moment to consider the nature and attributes of God, especially as it applies to God’s foreknowledge. Foreknowledge means “knowledge beforehand.”[11] But knowledge beforehand does NOT CAUSE things to happen. “Free actions [by human beings] do not take place because they are foreseen [or foreknown] by God, BUT they are foreseen because they will take place.”[12]

Also think with me about God’s omniscience – God’s all-knowing ability. For God, that means:

¨He and only He knows Himself and all other people and things.

¨He knows whether they are things that actually happen, will happen, or are merely possible;

¨God knows comprehensively and completely about people and things in the past, present and future;

¨God knows perfectly and from all eternity.

¨God knows all people and things at the same time, exhaustively and truly.[13] [See passages such as: I Sam. 23:11-12; Ps. 33:13-15; 139:1-10; 147:4-5; Prov. 15:3, 11; Jer. 23:23-25; Matt. 6:8, 32; 10:29-30; 11:21-24; I Cor. 2:11; Heb. 4:13].[14]

Let’s look at a sample of how much God knows about you, everybody, our world, and about Himself.

  •  Proverbs 15:3 (ESV), “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
  •  Hebrews 4:13 (ESV): “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
  •  Matthew 10:30 (ESV), “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” For some of us men that is a challenge, but not to God.

We don’t have space to look comprehensively at the Scriptures in this article, but we need to note God’s foreknowledge means that for US, it is God seeing into the future. For God, it is God having knowledge in the eternal present. There is no past and future knowledge with God. He is eternal and omniscient – all knowing.

clip_image012 God knows himself (the Trinity) intimately and only he knows himself (see Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:11); God knows things that are actually existing:

clip_image013 The inanimate creation (Ps. 147:4);

clip_image013[1] People and all of their works (Ps. 33:13-15);

clip_image013[2] People’s thoughts and hearts (Ps. 139:1-4);

clip_image013[3] God knows your needs (Matt. 6:8, 32); God not only knows things in the past and present, but he also knows all things that are possible:

clip_image015 He knew that Keilah would betray David to Saul, if he remained in that vicinity (I Sam. 23:11-12);

clip_image015[1] Jesus knew that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they had seen the miracles that were performed in Bethsaida and Chorazin (Matt. 11:21);

clip_image015[2] Jesus knew that Sodom and Gomorrah would have been spared disaster if they had seen the works that were done in Capernaum (Matt. 11:23-24).

n God’s foreknowledge means that he knows the future as the present for Him. Can you get a handle on that? However, we need to understand that from our “standpoint God’s knowledge of the future is foreknowledge, but not from God’s [point of view] since He knows all things by one simultaneous intuition (Acts 2:23; 3:18, etc.).[15]

So, Peter’s readers were “elect/chosen” believers “according to the

foreknowledge of God.” God knew beforehand what they (and we) would do with the proclamation of the Gospel. Would they respond or reject Christ? We know that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” [Romans 10:17 (ESV)]. But we can’t come to Christ unless the Holy Spirit draws us

n Jesus said: John 6:44 (ESV), “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Here in I Peter 1, the “foreknowledge of God the Father” means that God knew ahead of time what we were like and what we would do with his gracious offer of salvation in Christ.

First, Stand Firm in the Faith Because You are God’s elect.

B. SECOND, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE STRANGERS IN THE WORLD.

The original language does not include “in the world” but the idea is there. Other translations call them “aliens” (NASB, REB, NJB), “exiles” (NRSV, ESV), “refugees” (GNB), “sojourners” (NAB).

The idea is this: the chosen people of God are:

Persons who belong to some other land and people, who are temporarily residing with a people to whom they do not belong. They are for a time being aliens, foreigners, strangers and not natives. They never expect to become [naturalised citizens of this world]. They do not want to be considered or treated as natives by the . . . people among whom they happen to be living. . .

Aliens are often held in contempt by the natives among whom they dwell. To this day they may be placed under severe restrictions in times of war; they may be [thrown into prison] or even repatriated.”[16]

Yet, despite this treatment by the people living in this world, Peter states that you are “God’s chosen people.” “God’s election has made the Christians `foreigners’ to the rest. At one time [you] were common natives and lived on the same low level as the rest.”[17] You are not like that any longer.

We “live in the world but are no longer of the world. [We] have become like Abraham; [we] are merely sojourners in a land that is now strange to [us]. [We] look for a city which has foundations, whose designer and maker is God; heaven is [out] home and fatherland.”[18]

We are strangers as Christians living in Australia. Our desire is for a better country, a heavenly one, the city that God has prepared for us (see Heb. 11:9-16).

Don’t you feel like this sometimes? You are out of step with the direction the world is taking. We walk to the beat of a different drum. This is the way God wants it to be.

C. THIRD, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH BECAUSE OF THE SANCTIFYING WORK OF THE SPIRIT.

In v. 2, it is speaking of the Holy Spirit who applies God’s work of redemption to believers so that they will be holy—set apart—purified, and equipped for the task of serving Jesus in this wicked age. However, the Spirit will never sanctify you if you do not submit to him. Following conversion, the Spirit continues this sanctifying work by giving you power to overcome sin. This does not mean that you don’t blow it. Just remember the apostle Paul’s life in the Spirit. Listen to his struggle in Romans 7:15, 19, 21-25:

15 “I do not know what I am doing. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . .”

19 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. . .”

21 “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

22 “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;

23 “ but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

25 “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

This was Paul’s struggle with sin after becoming a believer. It will be yours too. However, you will be set apart to live a sanctified life by the work of the Spirit. This is how Paul described it in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”

Application:

Do you struggle with sin? I do! If you are finding it difficult to gain victory over a particular sin in your life, you must seek the Lord’s help and, perhaps, Christian counsel. However, since we are to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) and to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16), why don’t you speak to a Christian friend after the service or phone a friend whom you trust and ask for assistance? God uses the counsel and prayer support of other Christians. We are not lone ranger Christians. We need one another.

If people are brave enough to confess their faults to you, please don’t ever break that confidence. I want to tell you honestly that I’m wary of confessing my sins to people in the church because I don’t know what they will do with that information.

The Spirit, also, gives us assurance of sins forgiven (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit helps us with new ways of living – for example, the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22).[19]

Imagine if everybody in this church treated each other with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control! Imagine what would happen if you treated your boss, your husband or wife, fellow employees, your children, your parents, this way?

That is the sanctification God is calling us to. And it is absolutely possible through the Spirit’s work.

D. FOURTH, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH IN OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST.

Do you know one of the things that really bothers me about preaching,

my preaching, the pastor’s preaching? I am deeply concerned about how many of us leave this place, after hearing a message, and have no real desire to obey the message that was preached.

Parallel verses to I Peter 2 are Romans 8:29-30: “For those God foreknew he also predestined [or elected].” For what purpose? “To be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Rom. 8:30 goes on to say that “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified he also glorified.”

God elects the church with a purpose in view. In Romans 8, it is so that we might become more like Jesus in our thoughts and actions.

Or we could paraphrase Romans 8:29, “Because although he foreknew us, although he understood all about us and our weaknesses, yet he gave us this great destiny and task of becoming more like Jesus so that people will be attracted to the Master.”

Here in I Peter, the purpose is “obedience to Jesus Christ.” Same thing, isn’t it? I’m reminded of . . .

James 1:22-25:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror

24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

As an example of what this means, Jesus said: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The aim of being God’s elect is that we will be obedient to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5 reminds us that this is “obedience that comes from faith.”

Our obedience is based on faith. I will never obey God’s word if I don’t

have absolute faith in God. However, the other side of the coin is that my obedience springs from faith. Because of my faith, I want to obey. Faith and obedience are like identical twins. “When you see one you see the other. A person cannot have genuine faith without having obedience.” There will be no consistent obedience without true faith.[20]

We see this wonderfully illustrated in the Book of Romans:16:19 Paul writes, “Everyone has heard about your obedience…”

When you become a true Christian, it is “by means of obedience of faith.”[21] To talk of a Christian who is full of faith in Jesus Christ and is not obedient to Jesus, is a paradox. To have genuine faith in Christ, you must be obedient. There is no other alternative. If you do not obey Jesus, your faith must be called into question.

clip_image017Application:

How are your faith and obedience going?

clip_image017[1]What does God say in His word that you are rebelling against?

clip_image018If your thought life became visible before our eyes, what would you be ashamed of?

Would Christ be pleased with what you have thought about this last week?

clip_image017[2]Has your viewing been to the glory of God? I find this a very helpful question: If Jesus sat beside me, would he approve of the books and magazines I read? What about the TV programs and videos I watch?

clip_image017[2]A Christian family sat in my counselling office a few years ago and said, “We don’t allow our kids to watch much TV. But they do enjoy, “Home and Away.” Have you ever considered the values that are promoted in “Home & Away” that are contrary to God’s word and holy living? I think you’d be surprised.

clip_image017[3]What about your conversation? Has your language been pleasing to God this week? To your wife, husband, kids, the boss, other employees, the person at the store?

clip_image018[1]How have I treated other people this week?

May the Lord convict you about what is not pleasing to Him and help you, starting today, to have these things sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit.

E. FIFTH & FINALLY, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH BECAUSE YOU ARE SPRINKLED BY HIS BLOOD.

My mother told me just a few weeks before she was called home to glory in 1997 that one of our relatives asked her, “Why is your Christianity such a bloody religion?” And he wasn’t swearing! To those who don’t understand, this is unusual language—sprinkling of blood—as the core of what it means to be God’s elect people. Jesus’ death is not mentioned in this phrase, but that is certainly what is meant.

“It is by means of the death of Christ that election is made possible. His death opened the way back to God [and caused the church – God’s chosen people – to come into being.]

The image of sprinkling with blood comes out of the Jewish sacrificial system. The blood of a bird was sprinkled on a leper when he was healed to signify cleansing (Leviticus 14:1-7). Blood was sprinkled on priests to signify that they were set apart for the service of God (Exodus 29:20-21; Leviticus 8:30). The primary Old Testament reference, however, is to the acceptance of the covenant by the people of Israel (see Exodus 24:1-8). God expressed his choice of Israel by means of a covenant in which he agreed to be their God and they agreed to obey him. To certify their acceptance of this covenant, Moses took half the blood of the sacrificial animals and sprinkled it on the altar and the other half he sprinkled on the people.[22]

The Spirit applies the death of Jesus to you and me (the church) to make us more like Jesus. Get the picture?

When the going gets tough, STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD. What hope and encouragement we have, knowing that God has chosen us for obedience and provides the means through the cross of Christ, applied by the Spirit.

Notice the involvement of all the members of the Trinity here:

clip_image020 God the Father’s foreknowledge of you;

clip_image020[1] The Son’s blood that was shed; and

clip_image020[2] The Spirit’s sanctifying work.

No wonder Peter can greet these believers, scattered throughout the Turkey region today, with “grace and peace be yours in abundance.” Wow! What a statement about what is ours in Christ. God’s grace, his favour to rotten, rebellious sinners, which we don’t deserve, has been extended to human beings who will believe. “Peace” (in the Hebrew it’s Shalom) places emphasis on well-being. Peter’s prayer is that these divine mercies of grace and peace will be ours in abundance.

F. Conclusion

The concept of chosen or elect people comes originally from the OT. In Deut. 14:2, Moses told the tribes of Israel, “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” Isaiah often spoke of Israel “whom I have chosen” (Isa. 41:8; 44:1; 45:4).

But here Peter shifts this thought to the Christian community. We, the born-again people of God—the church—are the elect. How is it possible for people who were enemies of God, rebels and hostile towards Him, to be chosen by God? How could this take place?

I remember two different funerals I attended in the last few years. One I went to, this fellow was preached into heaven with all Christians. I knew him. He was a nice guy, but in my experience he never gave evidence of knowing the Lord Jesus personally. I left that funeral, saying to myself: “I must live so that the preacher can tell the truth at my funeral.”[23]

The other funeral I attended was that of a friend of my family, George Clarke (whom some of you might have known. George was Brad Clarke’s father. Brad & Deb attended Central Baptist until they went to Brisbane.) George was a former criminal, a gangster, whom God radically changed when he repented of his sin and trusted Christ alone for his salvation. His funeral was a time of sadness, but a time of rejoicing, because we knew that calling George a Christian meant that believers would meet with him again at Christ’s return. He was one of God’s elect.

Are you among God’s elect? Do you really know the Lord? Where will you be one minute after your last breath? Are you sure about your eternal destiny? If you have doubts, please talk with me after the service or talk with the pastor.

What will you take away from this sermon that you will obey before God this week?

G.  Notes


[1] This sermon was preached at Gin Gin Baptist Church, Qld., Australia, 25 May 2003.

[2] Open Doors, “North Korea Tops Open Doors ‘World Watch List,’” Available at: http://www.odusa.org/ArchiveDisplay.asp?ID=9AB1FC24-64C7-4E23-8B6D-BB63E9C32D05&Category=Articles (Accessed 11 October 2004).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jayson Casper, Christianity Today, “The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian (2020),” January 15. Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/january/top-christian-persecution-open-doors-2020-world-watch-list.html (Accessed 13 January 2022).

[5] Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are from the NIV.

[6] John Calvin, ‘A treatise of the eternal predestination of God, etc. etc., Section IV [Online], available from Calvin’s Calvinism, transl. Henry Cole, at: http://www.the-highway.com/Calvin_sectionIV.html [11th October 2004].

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.21.5), transl. Henry Beveridge [Online], available from: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/institutes/bookiii/bkiii25.htm [11th October 2004].

[8]R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, 161-62.

[9] Thiessen, H. C. 1949, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 344.

[10] Today’s New International Version, available from: http://www.tniv.info/pdf/TNIV_NewTestament.pdf [11th October 2004].

[11] Progn?nsis: Thayer states that the verbal form, progin?sk?, means “to have knowledge of beforehand; to foreknow.” For the noun form he simply defined as “forethought, pre-arrangement” [Thayer, JH (transl, rev., enlarged) 1962, Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 538]. Progn?sis, the noun, only appears twice in the NT at Acts 2:23 and I Peter 1:2.

[12] Thiessen, p. 126.

[13] Based on Thiessen, p. 124.

[14] From Thiessen, pp. 124-125.

[15] The above Scriptures are based on ibid., pp. 125-126.

[16] R.C.H. Lenski, An Interpretation of I and II Epistles of Peter, the three Epistles of John, and the Epistle of Jude. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966, 21.

[17]Lenski, 21-22.

[18]Lenski, 22.

[19] Suggested by Lyman Coleman and Richard Peace, A Study Guide for the Book of 1 Peter (Mastering the Basics). Littleton, Colorado: Serendipity U.S.A., 1988, 17.

[20] Based on William Hendriksen, Romans Chapters 1-8 (New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980, 45.

[21] Hendriksen, 45.

[22] Coleman & Peace, 17.

[23] This was the funeral of Ray Martin, Director of YACCA, YMCA Bundaberg, who dropped dead of a heart attack in Bundaberg, in May 2003.

Copyright © 2022 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 January 2022.

James 2:1-7 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 1[1]

Image result for clip art favorites public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting [synagogue] wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:1-7 NIV).

A. Introduction

clip_image002(photo courtesy Chicago Now)[2]

Have you been following the recent story from Wheaton College, an evangelical college near Chicago, where one of its political science lecturers has been threatened with the sack because …

‘Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God’.

In trouble … Dr Larycia Hawkins faces termination from her job. This news has even reached Australia. I read this information from news.com.au, Reuters News Corp Australia Network, January 6, 2016

A POLITICAL science professor is being fired after she wrote a Facebook post saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university outside Chicago, says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins, who wrote on the social media site on December 10 that she was donning the hijab headscarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. In her post she said “we worship the same God.”

Hawkins was placed on administrative leave after the comment drew criticism, and on Tuesday the school said in a statement Wheaton’s provost had delivered a notice to President Philip Ryken recommending her employment be terminated.[3]

Isn’t that discrimination against Dr Hawkins? Isn’t that an example of Wheaton College showing favouritism towards Christians and not towards Muslims? Is this a practical, contemporary example of the kind of issue that was addressed in James 2 of ‘faith and playing favourites in church’?

Buckle up as we examine James 2:1-7 and James’ challenge on partiality, favouritism and discrimination.

B. Christians must stop doing it

Some of your translations in v. 1 will read,

murky-arrow-small ‘show no partiality’ (ESV; NAB; NKJV);[4]

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show prejudice’ (NET);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show favoritism’ (HCSB);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’ (NKJV).

In the Greek language, the verb is a present tense imperative with the negative, m?. It is used for ‘forbidding a practice already in progress’.[5] Those who received this letter from James were already doing this. They were showing favouritism or prejudice towards certain people and they were told to stop doing it. We’ll learn in verse 6 what this partiality was.

1. Remember the background of James 2.

It is in James 1:19-27 (NIV):

snowflake-red-small ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (v 19);

snowflake-red-small ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves’ (v 22);

snowflake-red-small If you consider yourself religious, ‘keep a tight rein on their tongues’ (v 26);

snowflake-red-small What is pure religion that is faultless? ‘Look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (v 27).

What causes this difference from worldly thinking? What brings about this other centredness to care for orphans and widows? We get the answer in James 2:1

2. It’s the Jesus’ difference!

It’s too easy to say this phrase quickly, ‘glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ (NIV). Your translation could say something like, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory’ (ESV). The biblical emphasis is that he is

(a) Lord – kurios is used 14 times in this epistle.[6] For a Jewish audience, it had the implication that Jesus is God – deity. In the Greek OT (LXX), kurios translated Yahweh, the name for God that speaks of his sovereignty.[7]

(b) Jesus – Jesous is his human name given to him at his birth and it speaks of his saving work in his incarnation. Matt 1:21 indicates this, ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (ESV). Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua that means ‘salvation’. In the name and person of Jesus, we have all that is represented in the gospel story.[8]

(c) Christ – Christos is the Greek for the Hebrew, ‘Messiah’ (see Ps 2:2; Acts 4:26), meaning ‘the anointed one’. For these Jewish readers of James, when the term Christos was placed with Jesus, it meant that he fulfilled OT prophecies.[9]

So Lord Jesus Christ refers to the one who is sovereign saviour of salvation, the fulfiller of OT prophecies.

He is the one who is spoken of in Col 1:27 (ESV), ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. However, we must remember that in this verse, ‘you’ is plural so Paul is saying to the Colossians and to all Christians that when Christ in the Christian community, the church, he is the hope of glory. When the Lord Jesus Christ dwells among us, he makes a radical difference in our behaviour.

What difference?

3. You must quit showing favouritism in the church gathering.

It doesn’t matter whether you were a newly converted Jew in the first century or in a church today in Somalia, India, Russia, France, UK, Chile, or here at 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie. You will face this same challenge to play favourites with some and to ignore others who come into this church gathering. James now gives …

C. Two hypotheticals (vv 2-3)

‘Suppose a man comes into your meeting’. The noun for ‘meeting’ is sunag?g?. What does that sound like? Synagogue! It could be that these Jewish Christians were still meeting in a Jewish synagogue but it could mean that after leaving the synagogue these Christians were still using the word, sunag?g?, to indicate their church meeting place.

James gives an example of two men who come to a church gathering and look what happens:

1. You suck up to the rich (v 2)

Image result for the rich public domainWhy? He’s ‘wearing a gold ring and fine clothes’. The Greek word for ‘fine’ is lampra which was often used in the first century to ‘describe the clothing of a rich person or a dignitary. In the Roman world it was the toga [an official robe] of a candidate of public office’.[10]

What do we do with this man? We show him ‘special attention’ and refer him to ‘a good seat’. Where is that in this building? Does he get a cushioned seat? In Derbyshire, UK, in the 1630s, there are Derbyshire Record Office entries that tell of wealthier, male householders who had ‘pews in the high status area near the pulpit’ and there were ‘common & vulgar seats’ for the common folks (Wood 2013:214).

Then there is the contrast in v. 3:

2. You belittle the poor (v 3)

‘A poor man in filthy old clothes comes in’. ‘Filthy’, rhypara, means shabby and is often associated with someone who is dirty and grubby. Today we’d call him a tramp or hobo.

Four Pink Towels In PovertyWhat did these people say to this grubby man who entered their church meeting? The NLT rightly translates this: ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’. He is treated as worthless scum.

What have these Christians done with both the rich man and the bloke in filthy clothing? They have judged by outward appearance.

The Scriptures could not be more forthright in the assessment. For those who do this:

 

D. Bigotry God condemns (v 4)

Notice how the text puts this in question form in v 4:

1. This is terribly wrong behaviour

Here’s the question: Have you not discriminated? It comes with the negative particle in Greek, ou, and James expects his readers to agree with him. Yes, we have discriminated.

The examples in vv 2-3 demonstrate that there was unjustified discrimination – favouritism. What you have done is terribly, terribly wrong because …

2. You have become judges with evil thoughts (v 4).

There’s an interesting play on words in the original language in v. 4. The word used for ‘discriminated’ (diekrith?te) is built on the same root as the word for ‘judges’ (kritai). Donald Burdick has conveyed this play on words well: ‘In so judging between men, the readers had become unjust judges’ (Burdick 1981:178).

(a) Do we get it?

(b) In so judging, you promote injustice because you are unjust judges.

If people come into this church and one looks lavish and you show him special favours and the other scruffy bum comes in and you show him where to go, you have committed injustice through your evil thoughts which led to evil actions.

James would not be including this example in his epistle if it was impossible to commit this discrimination in the 21st century. We are as vulnerable as the Jewish Christians in the first century.

Now James gives

E. Argument against favouritism (vv. 5-7)

The next example is in the next sermon. We should be convinced already that showing favouritism towards anyone coming into the church is wrong, discriminates against them, and Christians are guilty of judging unjustly. But James is not finished with driving the point home. He does it through two main arguments. I’ll deal with one of them tonight and the second argument in the next sermon.

The first argument against favouritism concerns what we Christians have done. Look how v. 5 begins, ‘Listen, my dear brothers and sisters’. It’s the imperative – a command. Some of your translations may have only ‘brothers/brethren’ (like ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV) but whenever the Greek adelphoi is addressed to a mixed audience (like a church group in James), it means both males and females, so it refers to brothers and sisters in Christ.[11]

1. We have distorted God’s view of the poor (v 5)

The early church did not come from the realm of the high and mighty. It came largely from the poor; there were exceptions. Look at v. 5, ‘Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?’ The expected answer is, Yes. God chose ‘the poor in this world’.

We know this from verses such as Matt 11:5 (NIV) where it is recorded that Jesus said, ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’.

This is implied in what Paul said to the Corinthians:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor 1:26-29 NIV)

Image result for the poor AfricaThese people are poor ‘in the eyes of the world’ but they are really rich. They are ‘rich in faith’ and their destiny is ‘to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him’ (James 2:6). The inheritance of the kingdom is yet to come. Aren’t you looking forward to that day?

But what do Christians do to the poor? Verse 6:

(a) We have degraded the poor (v 6)

We can screw up what James says about the poor if we have a superficial evaluation. James does not say that all poor people have a rich faith. Also, he doesn’t say that that because you are rich, you are disqualified from receiving salvation. God’s choice of the rich or the poor is not based in any merit because they are poor or disqualification because they are rich. We come before God on an equal footing. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour.

(b) Why does God choose the poor?

We find 2 reasons in Scripture:

(1) One reason is given in the story of the rich young ruler

Mark 10:23-25 states,

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (NIV).

Their dollars and riches stand in the way of entering God’s kingdom.

It is only those who recognise they are spiritually bankrupt before God, will be blessed. Again, Jesus: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5:3 NIV).

(2) Second reason why God chooses the poor

According to 1 Cor 1:29, God chooses the poor ‘so that no one may boast before him’. God chooses the poor, as he has stated, because they have nothing and have nothing within themselves to brag before God.

What a contrast between how God was choosing the poor and why he does it, and how James readers were treating the poor and shabby. James 1:6 says that his readers ‘have dishonoured the poor’.

But there’s a contrast that we see with the rich according to James 1:6

2. What were the rich doing to their Christian witness?

James answers with 3 piercing questions in vv 6-7.

(a) Aren’t they exploiting you?

The word for ‘exploit’ is very strong in the Greek language. Katadynasteuw. It describes ‘the brutal and tyrannical deprivation of one’s rights’. We see it in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) in passages such as

flamin-arrow-small Ezek 22:29, ‘The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress [katadynasteu?] the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice’ (NIV).

flamin-arrow-small Zech 7:10, ‘Do not oppress [katadynasteu?] the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’ (NIV).

(b) Aren’t they ‘dragging you into court?’ (v 6)

Yes, ‘drag’, helkw, can mean ‘to draw and attract’, as in John 6:44, but in other places it can mean ‘the act of forcibly dragging a person’. We see that meaning in Acts 16:19, ‘When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities’. We see it meaning that kind of dragging also in Acts 21:30, ‘The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut’ (NIV). That’s no gentle drawing of attracting. It’s giving the meaning of forcibly dragging the person.

That’s what they were doing with the poor. The rich were dragging them into court.

But the rich were doing more:

(c) Aren’t they ‘blaspheming the noble name’ of Christ (v 7)?

When I read this question in James 2:7, it reminded me of the language, plastered across the mass media many times, from the late Kerry Packer.

Some of you are old enough to remember the story of what happened to him.

On 6 October 1990, Australia’s richest man, the late media mogul Kerry Packer, was playing polo at Sydney’s Warwick Farm racecourse when he suffered a massive heart attack. His heart stopped for eight minutes, but he was revived by an ambulance crew using a defibrillator (which produces an electric shock to restart the heart’s normal rhythm).[12]

Other reports said ‘he was clinically dead for six minutes before being revived by ambulance officers’ (Zinn 2005).

However, it is what he often said between his encounter with death in 1990 and his final death in 2005 that demonstrated how this richest of rich man could use foul language about what happens at death.

He repeated over and over for the media to grab their one-liners. He told his interviewer friend, Phillip Adams: ‘I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, [blankety blank][13] there’s nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you [blankety blank] like’.[14]

That’s just one example of how the rich blaspheme God and the afterlife. It is recorded in Scripture that ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement’ (Heb 9:27 ESV).

I’m backing Scripture over Kerry Packer. As James warned us about the rich, ‘They are blaspheming the noble name’ of the Lord Jesus Christ.

F. Dangerous favouritism

What would you say after listening to the message I’ve preached tonight? (wait for an answer before giving the following. What’s the danger of playing favouritism in church?

1. It destroys our witness (v 1).

2. Outward appearance is a shocking way to judge spiritual intent (vv 2-3).

3. God’s love is of all people, but the poor respond to his offer more readily (v 5).

4. The rich have been known to blaspheme God (v 7).

5. Next sermon: The crux of the matter is to do what is right through practising the royal law. And it has nothing to do with Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles.

G. Conclusion

I began this message with the illustration of Dr Larycia Hawkins, professor of political science at Wheaton College, Illinois, who is being threatened with the sack because of her statement on Facebook that ‘we worship the same God’, i.e. her claim is that Christians worship the same God as Muslims.

Secularists will see it as discrimination, but from the information available to me, Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, wants to be faithful to its heritage and statement of faith.

On the Wheaton website, ‘Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose’, it states:

The doctrinal statement of Wheaton College, reaffirmed annually by its Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff, provides a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity….

WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life….

WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in Him are justified by His shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.[15]

However, what is Islam’s view of God and Jesus? I will be very brief:

1. Allah: Is he the Lord God Almighty revealed in the Bible?

Quran 112:1-4 (Yusuf Ali translation) succinctly gives the Muslim understanding of Allah’s nature:

1. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

2. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

3. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

4. And there is none like unto Him.

2. Curse on those who call Christ, the son of Allah

Quran 9:30 states: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!’

In summary:

gold foward button Allah is Unitarian and not Trinitarian;

gold foward button Allah does not beget a son.

Therefore, the God of Christianity is not the same as the God of Islam.

What Wheaton College is doing is dealing with a faculty member who denies a part of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. Wheaton, in wanting to be faithful to Scripture and its Statement of Faith, is taking action to sever the professor’s employment as her view is not consistent with being an evangelical Christian faculty member at Wheaton.

It is showing that the Wheaton College action is not practising partiality or discrimination but is dealing with a faculty member who has moved away from the standards of Wheaton as affirmed in its Statement of Faith. It is being obedient to its godly vision.

[See Appendix for final decision reached by Wheaton College regarding staff member, Dr Larycia Hawkins.]

Appendix

The Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2016, reported on what seems to be the final outcome of this situation:

A tenured professor at Wheaton College [Dr Larycia Hawkins] suspended for saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God has reached an agreement with the west suburban evangelical school to end her employment there, while the administrator who called for her termination has apologized for acting in haste.

Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones told professors in an email Saturday night that he had turned over the decision of whether to vacate the administrative leave of their colleague, Larycia Hawkins, to college President Philip Ryken. But two hours later, faculty received another email from Ryken, informing them that Hawkins would not return to teach.

“The administration and Dr. Hawkins have come to a place of resolution and reconciliation,” Ryken wrote. “With a mutual desire for God’s blessing, we have decided to part ways.”

Ryken invited faculty to a private worship service at Edman Memorial Chapel Tuesday night and a reception, where Hawkins will say goodbye.

“This is a time for prayer, lament, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ryken said.

The settlement agreement appears to bring to a close a drama that began in December when Hawkins announced on Facebook that she would don a hijab as part of her Advent devotion to show support for Muslims who had been under scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook, along with a photograph of herself in a hijab. “And as Pope Francis stated … we worship the same God.”

Within days, the college placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave through the spring semester, pending a review.[16]

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[17] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Burdick, D W 1981. James, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 12, 159-205. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kelly, W J 2015. Wheaton College must fire Larycia Hawkins. Chicago Now (online), 17 December. Available at: http://www.chicagonow.com/kelly-truth-squad/2015/12/wheaton-college-must-fire-larycia-hawkins/ (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Pashman, M B 2016. Wheaton College reverses efforts to fire professor, but she won’t return to teach. The Chicago Tribune (online), 6 February. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-firing-reversal-20160206-story.html (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs About the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Wood, A 2013. The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England.. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Zinn, C 2005. Kerry Packer: Australian media tycoon who built on his family fortune and transformed world cricket. The Guardian, 28 December. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/dec/28/guardianobituaries.cricket (Accessed 9 January 2016).

Notes


[1] This message was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 17 January 2016

[2] Kelly (2015).

[3] Reuters New Corp Australia Network 2016. Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God (online), 6 January. Available at: http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/wheaton-college-says-it-is-taking-steps-to-fire-dr-larycia-hawkins-for-her-views-on-islam-and-god/news-story/1a040e7641fc2a6e493d73158c8b06da (Accessed 6 January 2016).

[4] The NKJV reads, ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’.

[5] Burdick (1981:177).

[6] They are 1:1, 7, 12; 2;1; 4:10, 15; 5:4, 7, 8, 10, 11 twice, 14, 15 (Hiebert 1979:62).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 178.

[11] See Arndt & Gingrich (1957:15-16); Thayer (1885/1962:11).

[12] ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’, Oxford University Press 2015. Available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[13] He said, ‘Fucking’.

[14] Cited in Rowe ( :205)

[15] Available at: http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Statement-of-Faith-and-Educational-Purpose (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[16] Pashman (2016).

[17] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 September 2017.

Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4)

Litter Disposal Clip Art

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Pollster George Barna in the USA ‘was commissioned to inquire of people what one question they would ask of God if they had the opportunity. By an overwhelming margin, the most urgent question was: Why is there so much suffering in the world?’[1]

Amongst some Christians I’ve heard comments like: If you are an obedient, growing and sanctified Christian who seeks to do the will of God, you will not experience horrible suffering. But I ask: What happened to Job, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul? If bad things happened to them, why can’t they happen to you and me? Ron Rhodes tells the story of a Christian leader who was sledding and ran into a barbed wire fence he didn’t see. He was decapitated. A pastor got into his car and backed over his infant son on the driveway, killing him instantly. A Christian woman saw her husband and child killed when hit by a car. Surely these examples tell us that Christians are experience some of the tragedies of the world around us.[2]

As I was finishing preparation of this message, I received an email from a friend in the UK. He didn’t know I was preparing a sermon on this topic and he said that he had had a disagreement with his wife a few days ago and asked, ‘Why are relationships so difficult?’[3]

Have you ever asked?

clip_image002

(image courtesy lookseekblog.com)

Now let’s read for some answers.

James 1:1-4 (NASB)
Testing Your Faith

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brethren [brothers and sisters], when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A. Sit up & take notice: This must sink in

We could miss this emphasis in the biblical text, because our English translations begin James 1:2 with something like this: ‘Consider it’ (NIV, NLT, NASB, NET); or ‘Count it’ (KJV, ESV).

This word is addressing these Christians as a group[4] (2nd person plural) with point action for themselves.[5] But what does it mean? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that the verb[6] means to ‘think, consider, regard, deem it’.[7] Kittel’s Greek word study says it means ‘to regard as particularly important’.[8]

So, in down-to-earth Aussie lingo the Greek means: ‘Sit up & take notice. You must think about it to the point where it must sink in daily’. I ask you to sit up and take notice of what will bring you the greatest maturity in your Christian life now and in succeeding years.

What must we think about? The Greeks put the most important part of the sentence at the beginning.

The NASB starts, ‘Consider it all joy’. The Greek word order literally states, ‘All joy you consider (it)’.

B. Think on all the joy or the pure joy it brings

Is this saying you are to have all kinds of happiness when the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in footie or the Aussies beat the South Africans in cricket?

Is this happiness when the bank balance is comfortable and there are not too many bills to pay? Is James 1:2 talking about being happy when your health is good or manageable and the kids are behaving themselves?

What on earth is joy in a world of strife in Ukraine and Crimea? What about being a Christian in Syria or the South Sudan today? How can there be joy when a large aeroplane is lost on a flight and we don’t know its whereabouts?

What about being a Christian in the midst of the Holocaust, Soviet Gulag, the persecution of Nero? How about with a husband or wife who abuses you? Children who are rebels? Bullies on the job?

What does it mean to have ‘joy’ in the midst of those kinds of circumstance? This is chara in the Greek and related to the verb ‘to rejoice’.

Joy is more than a matter of mood because 1 Thess 3:9 asks: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (NIV) We know that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22. It is fruit that the Spirit grows in believers.

It’s a paradox: The idea of joy in suffering came from Judaism. Take a read of the Book of Job. See also 1 Peter 2:20-24 and 4:12-14 where suffering is given a Christological perspective. These latter verses read:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Paul regularly reminded his readers of the source of joy. Its source was beyond human happiness or human joy. It is ‘in the Lord, and therefore outside of ourselves’. That’s why Paul reminded his readers of the origin of joy and exhorted them to manifest it. In Phil 3:1 he said, ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice [i.e. have joy] in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you’ (NIV).[9]

Happiness is based on good outward circumstances. Joy is based on your inner relationship with the Lord and He causes joy to grow in you in your contentment in your relationship with Jesus.

We need to make something clear before we proceed:

C. Ladies: You are not let off the hook

In many translations, James 1:2 in English is addressed to ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’. Does this exempt the ladies? Is the Book of James sexist and only addressed to blokes and the women can tune out and nod off for the next half hour?

In the NT, ‘adelphos’ can refer to a male brother. But Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives examples of how the plural form ‘can also mean brothers and sisters’. In Matt 12:50, Jesus said, ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’. We have examples of the plural term ‘adelphoi’ (brothers) being ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ – see Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 5:11; Eph 6:23; 1 Tim 6:2; Rev 1:9; and 12:10.[10]

So for the book of James, you ladies are not left off the hook. James is addressed to ‘brothers’ who are male and female. That doesn’t sound too good in English. But in the Greek we can say that all Christians, male and female, can be addressed as adelphoi.

What happens to the Christian? You are living the daily Christian life and

D. Trash – the horrible stuff – comes into your life

Scrap YardThe ESV translates as ‘meet trials’, NIV as ‘face trials’, NKJV ‘fall into various trials’, and NASB ‘when you encounter various trials’. So you can ‘encounter’ trials.

Is this like joining an ‘encounter group’ from the 1960s, 70s to deal with the trials and tribulations of life? These groups were gatherings of about 10-20 people where there was an opportunity to open up and share the emotional side of what was going on in your life as you experienced it with other group members. There was open sharing – and some had very emotionally charged encounters. It was hoped people would get in touch with their feelings, receive support from others and become more aware of the feelings of others.[11]

Is this what James is talking about? Those groups were a place where many secular and some Christian people went to encounter others and try to gain healing for their emotional ills. Is that what James is dealing with? I hardly think so.

‘Encounter’ or ‘meet’ or ‘face’ or ‘fall into’ is from the verb, peripipt?[12] which means to ‘become involved in’[13] or ‘to come on something accidentally … to be innocently involved in something … In James 1:2, … we have the figurative … emphasis on the swift and unexpected way in which [people] can be involved in temptation’.[14]

Because it is the subjunctive mood, in general, according to Greek guru, John Wenham, it ‘is the mood of doubtful assertion. In nearly all its uses there is some element of indefiniteness in the sentence’.[15] This means that it may happen or may not. This is accentuated by the use of ‘when’ or ‘whenever’ (hotan), which is a conjunction of uncertainty. And because it is the aorist tense it may happen suddenly – point action.

Has this happened to you? Difficulties in your life have come with no notice. It is doubtful and not certain when they come and they can come on you suddenly? That’s what James is communicating to us with that simple verb, ‘encounter’ or ‘fall into’.

Would you agree with Job’s friend, Eliphaz?

Job 5:7 states, ‘Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ (NIV)

Job said in Job 14:1, ‘Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (NIV)

We have lots of examples of evil and suffering in the Bible.

  • Job lost his family & all of his possessions;
  • David was pursued and persecuted by the jealous and angry Saul for a long time (1 Sam. 20:33; 21:10; 23:8);
  • The wife of Hosea was unfaithful to him (Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 4);
  • Joseph in the OT was badly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28);
  • Herod’s step-daughter asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate (Matt. 14:6-10);
  • Paul, the apostle, was jailed several times, was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25).[16] According to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul wrote: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (ESV);

These examples show that those who obey God and seek to be faithful believers still may experience horrible suffering. This is suffering for God’s purpose in their lives!

But what are you encountering? The NASB calls them, ‘trials’.

1. Are you experiencing all kinds of life’s ‘garbage’?

I’ve heard Christians say to me, ‘I wish God wouldn’t send all of this junk into my life. It’s garbage and I want to get rid of it. I hate it’.

‘Trials of many kinds’ is the NIV translation. NKJV agrees with the NASB and calls them ‘various trials’. The ESV reads, ‘trials of various kinds’. Would you agree that the trials you experience in your life are just like that – many and varied? And they can come on you suddenly?

I was in the midst of preparing this message in November 2013 when I had another job to do and climbed a ladder in an attempt to clean the leaves from my house gutters, leaves from my neighbour’s trees. But the ladder collapsed and the back of my head slammed onto the concrete at our front door. I became concussed and ended up in Redcliffe hospital. Two weeks later I collapsed with a heart issue when taking a walk and landed head first into the gravel and into hospital and had an ICD implanted in my chest to regulate my heart rhythm. Two weeks later in the early morning while sleeping, I had a grand mal seizure and then into hospital. Talk about trials of various kinds happening suddenly.

J I Packer wrote a wonderful book, A Quest for Godliness, in it he stated: ‘Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do’.[17]

Many of you know what I’m talking about. God allows these various trials into our lives, but what’s the purpose of them?

Before we get to the purpose or reason for trials for the believer, we need to talk about what they are. Are they …

2. Trash, garbage or something else?

Many English translations call them ‘trials’ (NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV), ‘troubles’ (NLT, CEV), or ‘temptations’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, RV).

But what are these trials, troubles or temptations? Peirasmos can mean a ‘test, trial’ or a ‘temptation, enticement to sin’.[18] All of them can be involved. I know that you and I can give examples of what seems like trash through trials and temptations coming into our lives.

In this passage from James 1, God has something special to teach us about the trials of trash in our lives. They are:

E. Horrible stuff with a BIG purpose

(image courtesy vector.me)

James 1:3 tells us exactly why God allows the trials and temptations into our lives. It is for the ‘testing of your faith’. Of what kind of stuff is your faith in God made?

How are diamonds formed? I read an article online from geology.com which stated,

The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressures. These conditions occur in limited zones of Earth’s mantle about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the surface where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).[19]

Remember that precious diamonds are made through pressure and very high temperatures.

What about expensive pearls? Science from ‘How stuff works’ tells us that

the formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.[20]

Precious and expensive pearls are caused by an irritant.

God uses a similar process in helping Christians grow to maturity in Christ. Let’s

F. Get in step with God’s plan for you & me

https://i0.wp.com/2.bp.blogspot.com/_YjcJAeRzX-4/TUR2Orsk0ZI/AAAAAAAAAZA/NhxnPY-5WOg/s1600/Image11.jpg?resize=143%2C162

(image courtesy Google, public domain)

How will the diamonds and pearls of sanctification come in our lives? Let’s follow these steps carefully to see how God brings you and me to maturity in the Christian life:

1. You need to know it (1:3)

Verse 3 begins, ‘for you know’ (ESV) or ‘knowing that’ (NASB). This is present continuing action of experiential knowledge.[21] You need to have this knowledge as a continuing experience in your Christian life. Knowledge of what? You will not be able to count it all joy when trials come into our lives unless you continually know by experience what God is up to with your life.

What is God up to? Stay tuned because the reasons are about to unfold.

This is what God is up to in every Christian’s life by allowing trials and temptations to come into your life at ANY time. God is engaged in the task of

2. Refining rubbish (1:3)

It is trash with a purpose in every Christian’s life.

The language in the English translations is that God uses trials in ‘the testing of your faith’ (ESV, NIV, NASB, NET, NKJV, RSV, NRSV), ‘trying of your faith’ (KJV), ‘proving of your faith’ (ASV).

We know from an examination of the papyri that this word, to dikimion, is a noun that means ‘testing’ or ‘means of testing’.[22]

How does that apply to trials as a ‘means of testing’ our faith? It is the …

3. Refining your faith (1:3)

How do you refine gold? Put it in a furnace. It is purified by the use of the fire of refining. To get purer gold, you put it through the fire of testing. This is the analogy James is using with this word. Your faith is like gold that stands the test of fire to examine its genuineness.

How genuine is your faith? You will know through the testing of the fire of trials.

Note God’s purpose for trials:

4. Trash that produces staying power (1:3)

The word ‘produces’[23] or ‘works’ is again continuing action in your life. It’s the middle voice, so it is referring to what happens for you. So trash is continuing to produce what?

Hupomon? is an old Greek noun that means ‘staying power’.[24] Our English translations will use language such as ‘steadfastness’ (ESV), ‘perseverance’ (NIV), ‘endurance’ (NLT, NASB), ‘patience’ (KJV). But the meaning is stickability, staying power. Oh for people in the church who have staying power, even through the most difficult times? Are trials going to make you or devastate you? Do you know God’s purpose in trials is to refine your faith and produce staying power in your Christian life?

Alister Begg wrote a book, Made for His pleasure. In it he stated something that resonates with James 1, ‘The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter’.[25]

This staying power means, according to James 1:4, that

5. Trash brings the perfect result (1:4)

Notice how v. 4 puts it, ‘And let endurance [staying power] have its perfect result’. ‘Let’ is a present tense imperative – ‘let it keep on having’[26] what? It’s a ‘perfect result’ or ‘perfect work’. The thought is that trials, the trash in our lives, are to ‘carry on the work to the end or completion’, just like John 17:4, where Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said that he had ‘accomplished the work that you gave me to do’ (ESV).

Here’s the issue that we have to keep on knowing in experience and acknowledging: To get to the end of life and accomplish God’s perfect result or work for us, we need trials to refine our faith.

For what purpose?

6. Trash brings the ultimate result: Maturity & completeness (1:4)

Here we have a purpose clause in the Greek, which is the goal of trials in your life. Trials are for the ultimate purpose of refining us, through staying power, and bringing us to being ‘perfect [or mature] and complete’ (ESV). Greek exegete A T Robertson put it so well: we will be ‘perfected at the end of the task (telos) and complete in all parts…. “perfected all over”’.[27]

This will lead to …

7. Imagine it? Lacking in nothing (1:4)

What could this possibly mean that you are ‘lacking in nothing’ (1:4)? This is really a ‘negative statement of the preceding positive’ one.[28] James uses this kind of technique where he makes a positive statement and then gives the negative side of it. You can see it in 1:6. To lack nothing is another way of saying we are mature and complete.

G. Practical responses for trials

(image courtesy sharefaith.com)

For Christians who are going through trials, there is a special ministry of the body of Christ that I want to emphasise as I draw to a close. It’s a dynamic that is missing from many churches in this country:

6pointLight-small Romans 12:14-15 (ESV) puts it very clearly, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.

This ‘one another’ ministry is so critical for other believers who are experiencing trials of various kinds:

6pointLight-small ‘Bearing with one another in love’ (Eph. 4:2);

6pointLight-small Eph. 4:32 (ESV), ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’.

6pointLight-small Eph. 5:20-21 (ESV), ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’.

6pointLight-small Col. 3:13 (ESV), ‘bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 3:12 (ESV), ‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 5:11 (ESV),’Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.

6pointLight-small Heb. 3:13 (ESV), ‘But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.

There is much more to this ‘one another’ ministry but we must be there with it for those experiencing trials. Those who are going through trials desperately need this. That’s enough for now, but I do find it in short supply in today’s evangelical church in this country. But it’s also a challenge to me to be more vigilant in this ministry to others.

H. Conclusion

There are times when I’ve thought: Lord, why did you allow me to have three horrific bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10, and 12 that left me with lifelong leaking heart valves and now 5 open-heart surgeries. Why, oh why, Lord do you allow for such suffering?

How do Christians get to become mature and complete in the Christian life? These are the steps that James gives that we must know and practice daily. It is not a politically correct message. It is not a message that goes down well with the heal-wealth false theology. In fact, many evangelical Christians have lost this perspective on the Christian life. These are God’s steps to maturity and completeness in the Christian life.

Consider it pure joy

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Trials with a BIG purpose

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Trials for refining faith

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Trials for staying power

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Trials for the perfect result

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Trials for maturity & completeness

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Trials clip_image007 lacking in nothing

 

That’s the message of James 1:1-4. Will you receive it now and for the futuer?

  • Material prosperity will not do it.
  • Obedient, well-behaved children will not cause it to happen.
  • Even good health is no guarantee more joy will be in your life.
  • What will it be for you?

I read a story by Amy Anderson in Forbes magazine online that was titled, ‘Trials should make us better, not bitter’.[29] It began with this story:

I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story.  She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.

She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why do I have to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”

I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW!  That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”

Will you

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Joy of the LORD

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Anderson, A R 2013. Trials should make us better, not bitter. Forbes, 10 April. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/04/10/why-me/ (Accessed 11 March 2014).

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[30] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Begg, A 1998. What angels wish they knew. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Begg, A 1996, 2005. Made for his pleasure: Ten benchmarks of a vital faith. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Bennett, W H n.d. The general epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude (The Century Bible: A modern commentary). H H Rowley & M Black (eds). London: Blackwood, Le Bas.

Beyreuther, E & Finkenrath, G 1976. ?????, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2, 356-361. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Brown, C (ed) 1976, The new international dictionary of New Testament theology,[31] vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Büchsel, O 1964. Egeomai, in Kittel, G (ed). Tr by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2, 907-908. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Michaelis, W 1968. Peripiptw, in Friedrich, G (ed). Tr G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 6, 173. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1990. A quest for godliness: The puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Rhodes, R. 2004. Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good?  Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and the Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Ropes, J H 1916/1973. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Notes:


[1] In Rhodes (2004:8). The footnote indicated: ‘Cited by Lee Strobel, “Why does God allow suffering?” Message delivered at Saddleback Valley Community Church, El Toro, California, February 26, 2000’ (Rhodes 2004:265, n. 1).

[2] Based on Rhodes (2004:12).

[3] Email received on 16 March 2014.

[4] 2nd person plural.

[5] Aorist, middle, indicative.

[6] Hegeomai.

[7] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:344).

[8] Büchsel (1964:907)

[9] This paragraph is based on information from Beyreuther & Finkenrath (1976:361).

[10] Arndt &Gingrich (1957:15-16).

[11] Based on ‘Psychology glossary’, AlleyDog.com, 1998-2014, available at: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Encounter+Groups (Accessed 9 March 2014).

[12] Peripes?te, 2nd person pl, aorist active subjunctive.

[13] Arndt & Gingrich 1957:655.

[14] Peripiptw (Michaelis 1968:173).

[15] Wenham (1965:160).

[16] These scriptural illustrations were suggested by Rhodes (2004:12).

[17] Packer (1990:22).

[18] Peirasmos (A&G 1957: 646).

[19] ‘How diamonds form’ 2005-2014, geology.com, available at: http://geology.com/articles/diamonds-from-coal/ (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[20] ‘How do oysters make pearls?’ 1998-2014. Science, How stuff works, available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/question630.htm (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[21] ‘Knowing’ is ginwskontes, present active participle from ginwskw. For experiential knowledge, A T Robertson calls it ‘experimental knowledge’ (Robertson1933:12).

[22] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:202).

[23] Katergazetai, present middle indicative.

[24] Robertson (1933:12).

[25] Begg (1996:106).

[26] Robertson (1933:12).

[27] Robertson (1933:12).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Anderson (2013), emphasis added.

[30] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev and aug edn. 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[31] This is translated with additions and revisions from the German, Theologisches Begriffenslexikon zum Neuen Testament, original German 1971 (Brown 1976:3-4).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 January 2018.

Can the Sermon Be Redeemed?

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I attended a Sunday morning church service at which the pastor was preaching the second of his series on homosexuality. Last week we were given notice that today’s preaching would be from Romans, chapter 1. The passage was well chosen (Romans 1:21-32 NIV) but the preaching added to my belief that the sermon needs to be radically changed — redeemed. This sermon did not provide a clear understanding of Paul’s teaching on homosexuality in this critical passage. There was more from the preacher’s mind than the text in this talk. It could hardly be called a sermon if one looks to the biblical text for the content of a sermon.

A fog in the pulpit does that! At the beginning of the sermon, the preacher warned that he was not clear about the message, so he might transfer that in the presentation. He did not disappoint. The preacher included a few Greek terms that he found difficult to pronounce. It was obvious that he didn’t use much of his Greek knowledge from theological college.  These Greek words related to use of the words translated as “passions” or “lusts” in Romans 1 that were supposed to be associated with homosexuality.  I left the service with no biblical enlightenment on this subject of vital contemporary importance. What message was conveyed by this confusion? What’s more, it confirmed my deep disappointment with preaching in evangelical churches here in my home country of Australia.

A. Origins of the church service and sermon

Is the Sunday morning church service, including the sermon, a requirement for the contemporary church, based on biblical precedent? I have searched the Bible for anything similar to the contemporary church service. I came up with a blank. From where do the sermon and church service originate?  Some church history books seem to be light on an historical investigation of the origins of the early church at worship and the use of the sermon. [2] Does the contemporary church service look anything like that of the early church? Gene Edwards was adventurous when he stated:

Let me assume you are an American. Did you know that you have never sat in a church building and experienced an organic expression of the church of Jesus Christ? When you walk into a church service on Sunday morning, pews, pulpit, etc., you are participating in a ritual the British brought to us, back in the early 1600’s! That ritual is just not us.

Sunday church is a foreign import. Dumped on us by foreigners! And we now dump it on foreigners! Where did the British get this abominable ritual?  From Geneva, Switzerland. John Calvin did it!

The thing is man-made. Man contrived. The ritual which man concocted. An accident of church history. But today it is – you might say – more entrenched than the Bible. . .

It was boring when introduced. It is boring now. It will remain boring forever.” [3]

We experience something similar here in Australia. I am not convinced that the explanation is as simple as that, but I can support the view that contemporary experience of the Sunday morning church service “is boring now.” Surely the story is not that the church had a more open approach to worship and ministry and then along came John Calvin who changed it radically.  The difficulty comes because of the lack of historical documentation given by Gene Edwards to support his views. What was it like in the early church for the first couple of centuries after its founding? Did we have something radically different from the contemporary worship format or was it in parallel with the synagogue service for a couple of centuries after Christ’s death? It is not an easy task to discover the style of worship in the early centuries. Eminent Yale University church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, points to the fragmentary nature of early church records:

The precise forms of the Christian community in the first century or so of its existence have been and remain a topic of debate. . . The evidence is of such a fragmentary character that on many important issues it does not yield incontestable conclusions. . . No comprehensive or uniform pattern of church practice and government existed.  Before the first century of its existence was out, the Church began to display certain organizational features which, developed, have persisted, with modifications, into the twentieth century. [4]

The “offices and officials” in the church included deacons, elders and bishops. [5]

1.    Jewish origins

Since the historical origins of the Christian church were firmly within the Jewish culture, it is not surprising that “Christian worship and the congregational organization rest on that of the synagogue, and cannot be well understood without it.” [6]  Church historian, Philip Schaff, documents these features of the Jewish synagogue worship that probably transferred to the early worship among Jewish Christians:

a.    The synagogue had immense conservative power, being a school as well as a church; [7]
b.    The synagogue’s organisation included a president, a number of elders who were equal in rank, a reader and interpreter, one or more envoys or clerks who were called “messengers”, a sexton or beadle for the more humble and “mechanical” services. [8]
c.    Worship “was simple, but rather long, and embraced three elements, devotional, didactic, and ritualistic”; [9]
d.    The didactic and homiletical dimensions of worship were based on the Hebrew Scriptures and included a lesson from the Law (called parasha), one from the Prophets (haphthara), and a “paraphrase or commentary and homily (midrash).” [10]  The lessons from the Law and the Prophets were in the Hebrew language while the midrash was in the language of the common people, the vernacular – usually Aramaic or Greek.
e.    Since the only proper Jewish priesthood was in Jerusalem, outside of Jerusalem any Jew of age might get up and read the lessons, offer prayer, and address the congregation. Jesus and the apostles availed themselves of this democratic privilege to preach the gospel, as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. (Luke 4:17-20; 13:54; John 18:20; Acts 13:5, 15, 44; 14:1; 17:2-4, 10, 17; 18:4, 26; 19:8. The strong didactic element . . . distinguished this service from all heathen forms of worship. [11]

f.    Jesus and his disciples worshipped in the synagogue. As long as they were tolerated, the early Jewish disciples of Christ continued this practice. We know that Paul, the apostle, preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Amphipolis, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. In Corinth, Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

g.    For Christians who were redeemed out of Judaism, there was a natural tendency to follow Jewish patterns of worship.

The Jewish Christians, at least in Palestine, conformed as closely as possible to the venerable forms of the cultus [worship] of their fathers, which in truth were divinely ordained. . . and celebrated, in addition to these, the Christian Sunday, the death and resurrection of the Lord, and the holy Supper. But this union was gradually weakened by the stubborn opposition of the Jews, and was at last entirely broken by the destruction of the temple, except among the Ebionites and Nazarenes.[12]

2.    Gentile difference

For the Gentiles it was a very different worship experience. We know from the Corinthian example (1 Corinthians 12-14) that open ministry with opportunity for the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit that was given to all believers, was the norm for when the church gathered. These are some examples of what ministry in that Gentile congregation involved:

clip_image004 1 Cor. 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
clip_image004[1] 1 Cor. 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
clip_image004[2] 1 Cor. 14:26, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

New Testament ministry, according to I Corinthians, involved the ministry of the priesthood of all believers when the church gathered. This is very different from the formal synagogue model. Therefore, has the contemporary church more in common with the synagogue model than the open ministry of the Corinthian church?  In spite of the problems in the Corinthian church, there is no indication in Paul’s correction that the church must revert from expression of the gifts of all believers to practise more formalism. I am not convinced that today’s church format must be laid at the feet of John Calvin’s Genevan model. It is more probable that we have been disobedient to the authoritative teaching of every-member ministry with I Corinthians 12-14 providing the examples.

I cannot imagine that a church that practised I Cor. 14: 26 would lack excitement, involvement of the believers, and edification of the church: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”   Philip Schaff contends that

In the Gentile-Christian congregations founded by Paul, the worship took from the beginning a more independent form. The essential elements of the Old Testament service were transferred, indeed, but divested of their national legal character, and transformed by the spirit of the gospel. . . So early as the close of the apostolic period this more free and spiritual cultus [worship] of Christianity had no doubt become well nigh universal; yet many Jewish elements, especially in the Eastern church, remain to this day. [13]

3. Worship in the early church

Schaff lists these “parts of public worship in the time of the apostles” [14];

a.    The preaching of the gospel;

b.    Reading of portions of the Old Testament with practical exhortation to repentance and conversion (see Acts 13:15; 15:21);

c.    Prayer;

d.    The song, being a form of prayer;

e.    Confession of faith.

The first express confession of faith is the testimony of Peter, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The next is the trinitarian baptismal formula. Out of this gradually grew the so-called Apostles’ Creed, which is also trinitarian in structure, but gives the confession of Christ the central and largest place. [15]

f.    The administration of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper;

Information concerning the different aspects of the worship “service” are difficult to piece together. A reading of the Book of Acts and the NT epistles (especially I Corinthians) reveals that

The early Christians did not think of a church as a place of worship according to the common usage of the word today. A church signified a body of people in personal relationship with Christ. Such a group met in homes (Acts 12:12; Rom. 16:5, 23; Col. 4:15; Philemon 1-4), the temple (Acts 5:12), public auditoriums of schools (Acts 19:9), and in the synagogues as long as they were permitted to do so (Acts 14:1, 3; 17:1; 18:4). The place was not as important as the matter of meeting for fellowship with one another and of worship of God. [16]

Historical information about the order and content of worship is more complete in the mid-second century. We know from Justin Martyr’s writing, First Apology, and the Didache that

The service, which was held on “the day of the sun,” started with reading of the “memoirs of the apostles” or “the writings of the prophets” for a period “as long as time permits.” An exhortation or homily based on the reading was then given by the “president.” The congregation then stood for prayer. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper followed the kiss of peace. The elements of bread and “water and wine” were dedicated by thanksgiving and prayers to which the people responded by an “Amen.” The deacons then distributed them to the homes of those unable to be present at the meeting. They finally took up a collection for aid to widows and orphans, the sick, prisoners, and strangers. The meeting was then dismissed, and all the people made their way to their homes. [17]

g. What was the nature of the sermon or homily?

Apart from the description of the apostle Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian Church (I Cor. 12-14), little is known about the nature of Christian worship until about the second century.

Philip Schaff related

The earliest description of the Christian worship is given by a heathen, the younger Pliny, A.D. 109, in his well-known letter to Trajan, which embodies the result of his judicial investigations in Bithynia. According to this, the Christians assembled on an appointed day (Sunday) at sunrise, sang responsively a song to Christ as to God, and then pledged themselves by an oath not to do any evil work, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word, nor sacrifice property intrusted (sic) to them. Afterwards (at evening) they assembled again, to eat ordinary and innocent food (the agape).

This account of a Roman official then bears witness to the primitive observance of Sunday, the separation of the love-feast from the morning worship (with the communion), and the worship of Christ as God in song.

Justin Martyr, at the close of his larger Apology, describes the public worship more particularly, as it was conducted about the year 140. After giving a full account of baptism and the holy Supper . . . he continues:

On Sunday a meeting of all, who live in the cities and villages, is held, and a section from the Memoirs of the Apostles (the Gospels) and the writings of the Prophets (the Old Testament) is read, as long as the time permits. When the reader is finished, the president, in a discourse, gives an exhortation to the imitation of these noble things. After this we all rise in common prayer. At the close of the prayer . . . bread and wine with water are brought. . .

Reading of the Scriptures, preaching (and that as an episcopal function), prayer, and communion, plainly appear as the regular parts of the Sunday worship; All descending no doubt from the apostolic age. [18]

Parts of worship included “the reading of Scripture Lessons from the Old Testament with practical application and exhortation passed from the Jewish synagogue to the Christian church.” [19]

The sermon consisted of

A familiar exposition of Scripture and exhortation to repentance and a holy life, and gradually assumed in the Greek church an artistic, rhetorical character. Preaching was at first free to every member who had the gift of public speaking, but was gradually confined as an exclusive privilege of the clergy, and especially the bishop. Origen was called upon to preach before his ordination, but his was even rather an exception. The oldest known homily, now recovered in full (1875), is from an unknown Greek or Roman author of the middle of the second century, probably before A.D. 140 (formerly ascribed to Clement of Rome). He addresses the hearers as “brothers” and “sisters,” and read from a manuscript. The homily has no literary value, and betrays confusion and intellectual poverty, but is inspired by moral earnestness and triumphant faith. It closes with this doxology: “To the only God invisible, the Father of truth, who sent forth unto us the Savior and prince of immortality, through whom also He made manifest unto us the truth and the heavenly life, to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. [20]

The evidence concerning the content of the early church’s teaching / preaching / sermonising is scant. We do not have enough information concerning its structure and actual content. However, this we do know: The church at Corinth was given one of the clearest examples of what should happen when the church gathers as a community of believers. (See I Cor. 12-14.) This we do know: The Corinthians had problems with division among them and following favourite preachers (see I Cor. 3:1-9). However, when they met together as believers of the Corinthian assembly, it was open ministry for all who were gifted by the Holy Spirit. It should be nothing less for today’s church. Believers who meet together for worship and ministry need to be open for every-member ministry as the Holy Spirit leads. This is very different to what happens in the contemporary Australian church where most believers are mute. We are being cheated as we fail to function as God requires.

4.    The church in the house

Christian worship in the early centuries “was very simple, strongly contrasting with the pomp of the Greek and Roman communion; yet by no means puritanic.” [21] The Gentiles and the Jews (who were no longer welcome in the synagogue) held their public worship, not in a building that was called the house of the Lord, but

Until about the close of the second century the Christians held their worship mostly in private houses, or in desert places, at the graves of martyrs, and in the crypts of the catacombs. This arose from their poverty, their oppressed and outlawed condition, their love of silence and solitude, and their aversion to all heathen art. The apologists frequently assert, that their brothers had neither temples nor altars (in the pagan sense of these words), and their worship was spiritual and independent of place and ritual. . . Justin Martyr said to the Roman prefect: The Christians assemble wherever it is convenient, because their God is not like the gods of the heathen, inclosed (sic)  in space, but is invisibly present everywhere. Clement of Alexandria refutes the superstition, that religion is bound to any building. . .

The first traces of special houses of worship occur in Tertullian, who speaks of going to church, and in his contemporary, Clement of Alexandria, who mentions the double meaning of the word ekklesia

…. After the middle of the third century the building of churches began in great earnest. [22]

Open ministry, allowing for all who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to function with the assembly gathers, is limited in large gatherings. The house church, however, makes such opportunities possible. Has the church building and the larger gathering inhibited proper biblical functioning when the church gathers? I believe so.

B.  Fog in the pulpit, confusion in the pew

My experience at the church service on this Sunday morning is not an isolated one. From liberal, evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches of many persuasions, I observe that the problem is in epidemic proportions. What are the problems? When it comes to teaching and preaching God’s Word, I am speaking of preachers who don’t know how to exegete the Scriptures to prepare for preaching. They fail to expound the Scriptures so that I understand the main theme of the passage with clarity and take home applications that are relevant to where I live and work.

The pastor who failed to speak clearly on the topic of homosexuality from Romans 1 is preaching a series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and the “fog” continues. He waffles around some themes associated with the text, fails to grab my attention or that of my wife, and then forgets about a sound exposition of the content of that passage. I am not convinced that he knows how to do it, but the issue is deeper. Does he even want to expound the text properly? I have spoken with him about this lack of exposition; he listened, but nothing has changed. The fog returns for every sermon.

Perhaps you are saying, “Why don’t you go elsewhere?” That could be an option but the fog exists in most of the other churches as well. I live in a regional Australian city of 40,000 people (65,000 if the surrounding district is included). There is one church where the Word is expounded with clarity, but the worship service is hyper conservative and very boring. However, that service seems to be the only viable option in my area.

1.    Is exegesis blasphemy?

This message is a plea for all preachers (pastors and laity) to treat the biblical text with seriousness when they preach and teach. Exegesis is not a swear word or a blasphemous assault on the Messiah.  When Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word”, that’s exactly what he meant for all preachers in the entire church age – preach the Word of God. The message proclaimed from the Scriptures needs to be illustrated and applied for a contemporary audience, but it must be based on a sound exegesis of the passage. Exegesis literally means a “narration” or “explanation.” Only the verbal form, “I exegete” (exegeomai) appears in the New Testament and literally means “to lead out of.” [23] In Luke and Acts it “always means to relate or to tell.” [24]
As applied to the Scriptures, exegesis deals with

The historical investigation into the meaning of the biblical text. Exegesis, therefore, answers the question, What did the biblical author mean?

It has to do with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend  his original readers to understand? [25]

No preacher in the Western world has any excuse for not knowing how to approach exegesis. Books such as Gordon Fee’s, New Testament Exegesis [26] are essential tools for preachers who need to know “how to use certain key tools and how to wrestle with the basic components of exegesis.” [27] To make exegesis even more attainable, Fee has included a 20-page summary, “Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis,” [28] that offers a step-by-step procedure for busy pastor-teachers. Douglas Stuart has produced a similar volume for the Old Testament. [29]

2.    Three types of preaching?

It seems reasonable to examine briefly three different types of sermons that are delivered in the contemporary church.

clip_image006  a.    The topical sermon

This is the type of sermon that addresses a certain topic. That topic could be one of a mountain of options – sexuality, ethical issues, theological topics such as propitiation, redemption, heaven and hell. Topical sermons

Are more or less loosely connected with a Biblical phrase, clause, sentence, verse, or scattered assortment thereof. . . Those sermons whose alleged strength is that they speak to contemporary issues, needs, and aspirations often exhibit the weakness of a subjective approach. [30]

I have no major contention with a topical preacher who preaches from the Bible with a sound understanding of what the Bible actually says about a chosen topic. This requires an expounding of the meaning of many texts, gathering them together to follow the one theme, and then the adding of illustrations and applications. I have not heard many preachers who do this well. There are exceptions.  C. H. Spurgeon was one of them. He was an outstanding preacher, but “not a pure expositor. He frequently preached topically. He was a great writer of sermons and was masterful in his prose and [in] his insights, plus he possessed tremendous creativity.”[31]

Walter Kaiser begs to differ about the value of topical sermons:

So strong is this writer’s aversion to the methodological abuse he has repeatedly witnessed – especially in topical messages – that he has been advising his students for some years now to preach a topical sermon only once every five years – and then immediately to repent and ask God’s forgiveness! [32]

clip_image006[1]  b.    The exegetical sermon

Exegesis deals with the meaning of a biblical text to its biblical author and the reasons why the author said what he or she said. Preachers who have been known to present this material exegetically can bore their listeners to sleep.  Gordon Fee warns that “exegetical sermons are usually as dry as dust, informative perhaps, but seldom prophetic or inspirational. Therefore, the ultimate aim of the biblical student is to apply one’s exegetical understanding of the text to the contemporary church and world.” [33] Kaiser is just as emphatic: “Nothing can be more dreary and grind the soul and spirit of the Church more than can a dry, lifeless recounting of Biblical episodes apparently unrelated to the present.” [34]

Preachers who want to communicate with people are warned against bombarding a congregation with “a dry, lifeless recounting of Biblical episodes apparently unrelated to the present.” [35]

The preacher must become very competent at exegesis in his or her preparation of a sermon but is urged never to preach an exegetical sermon. Exegesis is designed to come to life in the expository sermon.

clip_image006[2]  c.    The expository sermon

Expository preaching is the urgent need of today but not everyone will agree. In fact, some want us to abandon preaching altogether. Preaching social action, psychology and counselling find a ready audience. However, Paul, the apostle, did not recoil from preaching the Word of God: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15). Why should this be? Hebrews 4:12 gives the reason: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Also, biblical fidelity means that we are obligated to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Simply stated, “expository preaching attempts to present and apply the truths of a specific biblical passage. . . Expository preachers are committed to saying what God says. . . Such preaching puts people in immediate contact with the power of the Word.”[36] Haddon Robinson provides this definition:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.[37]

The preacher’s task must be to preach the Word of God. He or she must ask, “Am I using the Scriptures to support my ideas or am I allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves and bend my thoughts to that of the Scriptures?”[38]  John MacArthur, Jr. expressed his personal preference for expository preaching:

One of the reasons I preach verse by verse is because I could never produce such inspiring, clever, creative, topical sermons week in and week out as he [Spurgeon] did. He had an immensely creative imagination. I just don’t have that, nor do many other preachers that I know. Where creativity is strong, so is the danger that it can turn a preacher away from the exposition of Scripture. We need to guard against this without suppressing legitimate creativity.[39]

MacArthur concludes that “preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible is the most reasonable way to teach the whole counsel of God.”[40]My concern is with the lack of content in preaching in Australia today. Expository preaching will redress this serious situation.

From the pulpit today in evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic churches, we too frequently have preachers who present psychology, sociology, current events and rambling about something that the preacher has read recently. But coming away from the sermon with a clear understanding of what the preacher has said about what the Scripture means, is something that I am finding extremely difficult to apprehend. It is quite a while since I heard a memorable sermon. This is a challenge to me as an occasional preacher.  Just in case you think that mine is an isolated situation, I urge you to take a random sample of a number of the churches in your city or region. See if there is a fog emanating from the pulpit (often disguised as hype and entertainment). Check out the listeners after the service for

(1)    Their knowledge of he main theme preached,
(2)    Their memory of the main points stated from the biblical text, and
(3)    The changes they will be implementing, with God’s help, in their lives this week – based on the challenge to application from the sermon

clip_image006[3]  d.    Did you notice?

I hope you noticed what I did in this section. I dealt with topical, exegetical and expository sermons. I have argued from the contemporary experience of the church. This section, “Three Types of Preaching” is not driven by a biblical agenda. It is based on what I observe being preached in the church today. Wouldn’t it be better to go to the Scriptures for examples of preaching, exhortation and exegesis?

3. Why the crisis in contemporary preaching?

We seem to be stuck with oratory or entertainment from the pulpit (some preachers run the entire service, including the children’s story).  A Christian I know attended a church where the pastor was performing “acrobats” (well, prancing & dancing around) on the platform while he preached.  He tripped and fell backward off the platform.  It’s a blessing that he did not sustain severe physical damage to himself.  I long for some solid input from the pulpit that challenges me with the word of God, applies it to my life situation, but is not an invention from the mind of the pastor. I’m tired of psychological theory and practice masquerading as preaching. I have heard zilch on a biblical understanding of what happened on September 11, 2001 in the USA. Are my expectations for preachers and preaching too high? Or has preaching slipped to such a low ebb in this and other parts of the world that it needs to be redeemed?

Twenty years ago, Walter Kaiser Jr., lamented:

Nowhere in the total curriculum of theological studies has the student been more deserted and left to his own devices than in bridging the yawning chasm between understanding the content of Scripture as it was given in the past and [in] proclaiming it with such relevance in the present as to produce faith, life, and bona fide works.[41]

Why is there this crisis in contemporary preaching? These are observations and not definitive conclusions.

a.    From the preacher’s perspective

  • Are the gifted making themselves available? Is the teaching gift being recognised by the church?  I know of a deacon in a local church who is being forced to preach.  He doesn’t want to preach and listening to him confirms that his gift is not preaching.
  • A low view of Scripture often manifests itself in oratory, entertainment or shear boredom from the speaker;
  • The view of the preacher’s task from theological college, peers and reading influences his approach to preaching;
  • We live in a mass media culture. Can the preacher compete? Has the preacher lost his or her authority?

Haddon Robinson asks some penetrating questions:

In the face of society’s scorn – or being relegated to a box labeled PRIVATE and SPIRITUAL – many preachers struggle with the issue of authority. Why should anyone pay attention to us? What is the source of our credibility? In such a climate, how can we regain the legitimate authority our preaching needs to communicate the gospel with power and effect.[42]

b.    A view from the pew

  • Who says that there is a crisis?
  • Too many lack a teaching gift and the churches put up with a low standard. Is the shortage of pastors in some denominations causing acceptance of a standard of preaching that would otherwise be unacceptable?
  • The expectations in the pew are low. The local church knows no better. They’ve grown used to this standard. Or, they have never known any better standard since they became Christians. Unless people grew up knowing good preaching, they would not come to expect any better. Could it be that people are leaving the church in the Western world and elsewhere because of factors such as these:

The Protestant church sermon, pews, rows, pulpits and the paraphernalia of the ensuing ritual [are] lifeless, boring and spiritually killing! Vast multitudes of God’s people – from one end of this planet to the other – will  stop gathering, out of utter boredom! Millions have already. Millions more join their ranks every year.[43]

  • There is widespread biblical illiteracy in the pew.
  • To “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12) is a forgotten practice for many pastor-teachers. We must return to the biblical mandate of equipping believers for the ministries that God has given them. Obviously this relates to honing the gifts that God has already given to believers. This is for the purpose of “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:12-13).
  • Since quality preaching is in such short supply these days from the pastor-teacher role in my part of the world, it is rare for the laity to be equipped for solid preaching. We urgently need a return to equipping gifted believers for the practice of preaching. However, a pastor-teacher’s modelling through his own preaching would be exemplary for lay preachers.

c. Is there any help or hope for the sermon?

When I ask, “Can the sermon be redeemed?” what do I mean by “redeemed”? I use it in two senses:

1. Can the sermon, in a practical sense, be rescued from its present demise into personal opinions, psychologised banter, general irrelevance, speaking around the topic, and hype?

2.    This is a plea for a return to preaching

That explains precisely what the Word of God says about the issues of our day, the concerns of our lives, and the destines of our souls. . . [It] offers a voice of authority not of human origin, and promises answers not subject to cultural vagaries.[44]

This definition by Bryan Chapell was particularly referring to “expository preaching,” but its application could just as easily be applied to those who want to preach topical sermons that are Bible-based.   Of the 15 evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic churches my wife and I have visited (we’ve been a member of one of them for most of that time) over the last 8 years in our city (this covers most of the churches that say they believe the Bible), only one seriously and consistently expounds the Word of God. These expositions are excellent in covering biblical content but often don’t seem to connect with today’s generation.

William Hendriksen confirms the need for preaching to be vibrant and God-focussed: “Genuine heralding or preaching is lively, not dry; timely, not stale. It is the earnest proclamation of news initiated by God. It is not the abstract speculation on views excogitated[45] by man.”[46] Walter Kaiser agrees: “Nothing can be more dreary and grind the soul and spirit of the Church more than can a dry, lifeless recounting of Biblical episodes apparently unrelated to the present.”[47]   Paul, to the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20 said that he had “not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (v. 20). That which was “helpful” was “the whole will/counsel of God” (v. 27). Should such a goal be less stringent for today’s preachers?

My homiletics courses at Bible college and seminary encouraged me to give time for thorough preparation of exegesis and exposition using solid homiletical principles. The organisation of the sermons I have heard over the last few years has been poorly structured, as a general rule. This means that I go away with few means to remember the thoughts of the sermon. I look for an introduction, structure, conclusion, with sound content that attempts to communicate. But it is often missing in most of the churches my wife and I have visited.

I guess a sermon at a local church a few weeks ago capped it off. My wife called it “a nice little psychological talk, but it was an insult to call it a sermon.” The pastor was trying to show how men need to understand women to be able to communicate effectively in marriage. The leader of the service read I Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (ESV).  This was the only Bible verse read in the entire service. The pastor never even attempted to draw out what the verse was saying. There was no structure, but lots of homespun humour from the pastor’s own marriage wrapped in current psychobabble of what women need from men in marriage. But forget about exposition, structure and preaching for biblical change!

d.    Surely it’s not that difficult

From my first homiletics class in Bible College in the early 1970s, through years as a full-time Christian counsellor, pastor of two churches, and now a doctoral student in theology, I have preached regularly. However, I’m at the point of exasperation in my locality in finding a preacher who faithfully:

1.    Begins with a biblical text and proclaims what it says;
2.    Finds the main theme of the message and expounds it;
3.    Gives an outline that helps me grasp the main points of the sermon and lets me know where the preacher is heading;
4.    Uses illustrations to help me better understand the main points; and
5.    Applies the message to me personally, driving home a challenge

Although a knowledge of the original languages of the Bible helps preachers prepare accurate exegesis, it is not absolutely essential to biblical preaching. A preacher can still prepare sound, connecting and challenging biblical preaching (expository or topical). All one needs is half a dozen literal and paraphrased versions of the English Bible (e.g. NASB[48], RSV[49], NRSV[50], ESV[51], NIV[52], GNB[53], REB[54], NJB[55]) to show the variations in meaning or interpretation of certain words, grammar and syntax.  For pastors who want to improve their public speaking skills, there are local groups such as Rostrum and Toastmasters Clubs that will provide helpful practice and critique for all public speakers. I highly recommend that pastors mix with people in these groups and learn the process of how to communicate with a cutting edge in their public presentations.

C.    Preachers and laity must change

If we are to see a return to biblical preaching, whether that be expository or topical, it will require a movement by both preachers and laity.  Preachers need to be convinced of their biblical responsibility before God.

1.    Preach the Word

It will take a serious commitment by preachers to preach the Word, as per 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” There will also be the need for the people of God to demand this of their preachers, since it is a biblical imperative.  What does it mean to “preach“? Here in 2 Tim. 4:2, the Greek word verb is kerusso. It is one of the most common words in the New Testament for preaching and means “to proclaim as a herald.” It appears over 60 times in the NT (see Matt. 3:1; Mark 1:14; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Tim. 4:2). Kerusso “stresses the activity of preaching”, while its synonym, euaggelizesthai (to announce good news, to evangelise) “accents the glorious nature of the message proclaimed.”[56]

There has been “considerable debate as to what the word of God means in [1 Tim.4:5 and here in 2 Tim. 4:2].” Gordon Fee does not see it as referring to the Old Testament but in the Pastoral Epistles, “the word of God invariably refers to the gospel message (2 Tim. 2:19; Titus 1:3; 2:5; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2). If this is the case here [2 Tim. 4:2], it reflects the idea of believers’ having come to know the truth (v. 3).”[57]   “Preach the word” refers

generally [to] the divinely authorized proclamation of the message of God to men. It is the exercise of ambassadorship.… The herald brings God’s message. Today in the work of ‘heralding’ or ‘preaching’ careful exposition of the text is certainly included. But genuine heralding or preaching is lively, not dry; timely, not stale.

It is the earnest proclamation of news initiated by God. It is not the abstract specularion on views excogitated by man. [58]

“The preacher is not to air his own opinions but to proclaim God’s eternal, authoritative Word of truth.”[59]  In preaching the word of God, the preacher will:

  • Do it “in season and out of season.” This means he will “stay with the task whether it is convenient or not” for him, or, more probably, he will stand by what he has proclaimed “whether or not the preaching comes at a convenient time for the hearers.”[60]
  • “Reprove” those who are in error.[61]
  • “Rebuke” or warn those who do not heed the correction.[62]
  • “Exhort” or “admonish” means to urge them on. “Hand in hand with pertinent rebuke there must be tender, fatherly admonition.”[63]. The admonishing (lit. calling aside) is “for the purpose of encouraging, comforting, exhorting, entreating, appealing to.”[64]

Isn’t this a marvellous balance! Those committing error must be corrected; those who do not heed the correction are warned, but it must all be done with a fatherly comforting and encouragement. This is biblical Christianity in action – correction with tenderness!

2. Cutting a straight path with the word of truth

There is an added conviction that is needed for preaching the Word. Second Timothy 2:15 affirms this call: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.“  “Rightly handling” is the Greek, orthotomounta, a present participle of orthotomeo, meaning continuous action.  What kind of action?  It’s the only use of the word in the New Testament, but found in the Septuagint (LXX) of the Old Testament in Prov. 3:6 and 11:5. In Prov. 11:5, it is used with hodos (way) “and plainly means ‘cut a path in a straight direction’ or ‘cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction’, so that the traveler may go directly to his destination.”[65] Therefore, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) perhaps means “guide the word of truth along a straight path (like a road that goes straight to its goal), without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.”[66]

Gordon Fee, therefore, is justified in stating that “rightly handling” (“correctly handles”, NIV) the word is

A metaphor that literally means ‘to cut straight.’ There has been considerable speculation regarding the metaphor itself, as to what kind of ‘cutting’ (wood, stones, furrows) may have been in mind. Most likely the original sense of the metaphor has been lost, and the emphasis simply lies in doing something correctly. Hence the NIV is perfectly adequate[67] with its translation “correctly handles.”

What is the “word of truth”? Paul is urging Timothy, not to “correctly interpret Scripture but that he truly preach and teach the gospel, the word of truth, in contrast to the ‘word battles’ (v. 14) and ‘godless chatter’ (v. 16, NIV) of the others.”[68]

Ralph Earle disagrees, claiming that Paul is warning preachers “against taking the devious paths of deceiving interpretations in teaching the Scriptures.”[69]

3.  The attitude of this preaching

The preacher must do this with “complete patience and teaching.” The “complete patience” or “great patience” (NIV) is necessary because of what will happen among the people who hear him: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” [2 Tim. 4:3-4].   This was a solemn warning to the preachers and people of the first century. It is just as current 2,000 years later.

I heard error preached from the pulpit at a church I visited. He taught that:

  • Jesus was not God on earth. He was human and the Holy Spirit came upon him.
  • Christians have no sinful nature and do not sin.
  • We do not sin “in the spirit man.”
  • When Jesus became sin for us on the cross, this gave an opening for Satan to get in and Satan killed Jesus on the cross.

What should I do? On the basis of Scripture, I knew my obligation before God. As a Christian minister of the gospel, I had the elder’s responsibility “to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). First Tim. 4:16 exhorts me: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.”   I sought counsel from three godly pastors and church leaders. Their advice was to visit the pastor who preached the false doctrine and gently confront him with the biblical evidence, demonstrating his error.   I met with the pastor to share my concerns. This was his response:

  • Even though I presented his views, word-for-word from the cassette tape of the message, he would not admit his unorthodox doctrine. As I presented the biblical evidence to refute him, he agreed with me, but did not admit that he was teaching any error. He said that I would understand him better if I heard the context — the messages before and after this one. I disagreed, saying that context does not correct the error that he preached on this one day that I visited his church.
  • I believe he was confused because of his exposure to other heretical doctrines that he is hearing and reading. He made statements like, “We do not sin in the spirit man.” Much of his theology seems to be filtered through a particular aberration of trichotomy (body, soul and spirit) and its implications for the believer. In spite of the preference by some people (listeners) for myths, unsound teaching and “itching ears” for more error to “suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3-4), the preacher must continue “teaching” God’s truth.

William Hendriksen states that this combination of “complete patience and teaching” means “with utmost longsuffering and with most painstaking teaching-activity.”[70] A similar combination of words is in 2 Tim. 2:24, where the Lord’s servant must be “able to teach, patiently enduring evil.”

4.    Initial training and refresher courses in biblical preaching for pastors and laity

It is time for pastor-teachers to take seriously their ministry “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Equipping the believers for their ministry seems to have been lost from many congregations. Shouldn’t it be the role of theological colleges and local churches to train pastors in effective sermon preparation and presentation, and follow up with refresher courses for pastors?   The need is desperate for pastors who know how to preach the Word and “rightly divide the word of truth.”   Is this not considered an important requirement for any preacher, by both preacher and people? It is time for the people in the pew to require a higher standard from the pulpit. Are their expectations too low, or are they timid in expressing their views?

5.    Pastors will need to make a time commitment

If there is to be a change in the quality of what comes from the pulpit, it will mean a motivational and time commitment by the pastor-teacher to these areas:

a.    Solid exegesis. Tell us what the text means. This takes time and study.

b.    Preachers must want to learn how to expound the Word of God.

c.    The pastor must see the need to feed the people on the meat of the Word and not just milk. However, Paul’s warning to the Corinthians needs local church application: 1 Cor. 3:2-3 says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
There is a pastoral need to help people deal biblically with their lives so that they are ready for “meat” in preaching. Preaching with purpose should address such issues.

d.    As a practical suggestion, pastors need a focus group to give feedback to him or her on the impact of preaching – content and communication.  A pastor-teacher could take time at the end of one sermon a month to receive honest feedback from the listeners for the last month of his sermons? This may be painful for some pastors. This is a practical way to make preaching more than one-way communication.

e.    Christian denominations should hold theological colleges accountable for solid training in homiletics and the colleges should offer preaching courses in cities and towns across the state at least once a year. These should be offered at strategic cities/towns across Queensland. We have a desperate need to train biblical preachers.

6.    It will take . . .

a.    Preachers and teachers in the church who are committed to the authority of Scripture more than the importance of one’s own opinion. Preaching to be popular with a larger audience is another danger.
b.    Preachers who know their Lord intimately and burn with the desire to communicate His Word accurately, but with a connection to the real world of their listeners (congregation).
c.    Exegesis, explanation, illustration and application by preachers. This is what is needed to expound any text. The hour is late. We need desperate Christians who require much better preaching by their pastor-teachers and pastor-teachers who are committed to what the Word of God requires of preachers.
d.    Church fellowships (ecclesia) that need to take seriously what the Scriptures require in testing the content of what is delivered by way of ministry in the congregation:

  • 1 Thess. 5:19-21, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
  • John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

7.    There is no excuse for any preacher in the Western world

We have an abundance of resources, including self-help Greek and Hebrew language courses, commentaries, and extensive theological volumes. Now the world-wide-web gives wide access to online material in the English-speaking world.  Preachers in cities and towns, especially in regional Australia, should attempt to share resources as most required books and journals for solid exegesis and exposition are not found in the local public library.

John MacArthur Jr. is very generous in giving permission to use his sermons.  But it is permission with a condition.  He wrote:

I am careful in my books to document my sources, but too many references to sources would be distracting. A balance is the ideal.  We cannot document every thought in our sermons.  On the other hand, we should give credit where due.  Pastors sometimes ask me if they can use my material.  I have given blanket permission for anyone to use my sermons and preach them in whole or in part if they wish, and I do not want any credit as the source.  If what I say has value to someone, I am honored for him to use it for God’s glory.  The truth is all His.

Yet if someone re-preaches one of my sermons without enriching it by going through the discovery process, that sermon will inevitably be flat and lifeless.  The great Scottish preacher, Alexander Maclaren once went to hear another man preach, a young man with a reputation for being a gifted preacher.  Much to Maclaren’s surprise, the young man said at the outset of his message, ‘I’ve had such a busy week that I had no time to prepare a sermon of my own, so I’m going to preach one of Maclaren’s.’  He did not know Maclaren was in the audience until Maclaren greeted him afterward.  He was very embarrassed and became even more so when Maclaren looked him in the eye and said, “Young man, I don’t mind if you are going to preach my sermons, but if you are going to preach them like that, please don’t say they are mine.”

To rely too heavily on the sermons of others robs one of the joy of discovering biblical truth for himself. [70a]

What’s the condition?  If we use John MacArthur Jr.’s sermons, we must prepare further by “enriching it by going through the discovery process.”  Well said, John!

8.    Yes the sermon can be redeemed, but it will take…

  • Change of desire and motivation by both preacher and people. The changes include those suggested above.
  • A repudiation of the Greek mindset of oratory and a return to preaching that is biblically sound, interacts with people, offers challenges to live a practical Christian life, and applies the message to people where they live. I cannot see that happening without a deep knowledge of God and his Word among the people of God. Will it take a heaven-sent revival before people and preachers desire this change?

D.    But wait a minute!

I’m interested in hearing from pastor-teachers and their views on what it means to preach the Word of God, to be consistent interpreters, and to communicate with this generation. How do preachers check if they are biblical in their sermons? What are they doing to ensure that they communicate this theology and exposition with ordinary people?  How can this accomplish the exhortation of James, “but be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22)?   There’s a more penetrating question: With the western world’s view of the contemporary pastor-preacher-sermoniser, have we created a monster that has no New Testament precedent? The radical Gene Edwards observed:

A ‘pastor’, standing behind a pulpit preaching sermons to a group of people seated in pews in a building with stained-glass windows, has absolutely no Scriptural justification whatsoever. You will never find such a scene in all first century literature.[71]

If a preacher is to obey the Word of God, is he or she to practise the role of the twenty-first century sermoniser, or is something more revolutionary needed?

The word “pastor” (Greek poimen), as applied to a church role, appears just once in the entire New Testament (see Eph. 4:11). Of course it can refer to a literal shepherd of sheep or Jesus, “the good shepherd” (see Matt. 9:36; 25:32; John 10:11, 14, 16). But where is the job description for a 21st century preacher-pastor that we see across the world?

Even though the word,” pastor,” appears only once in the New Testament,

Never, anywhere, is that office clearly explained. It is not defined, and there is no illustration of it anywhere in first century literature. Certainly the Scripture contains nothing similar to this modern day thing called “our pastor.”[72]

From his research, Gene Edwards concluded that

The pulpit was invented during the Reformation. Actually, the structure itself could be found in just about any Roman Catholic cathedral even before the Reformation. . . With the Protestant takeover came the end of the mass and the birth of the sermon. . . Is the present day position of

Pastor Scriptural? Of course not! The present day concept of the pastor originated no further back than the Reformation. A pastor has less

Scriptural foundation than the pulpit he leans on. Martin Luther unwittingly invented the modern pastor.[73]

If we read the Book of Acts and I Corinthians, chapters 12-14, we see a picture of the early church that in no way resembles what is practised today. To get back to biblical functioning as the ecclesia,

It cannot be reformed.

It cannot be returned to the principles and practice of the first century. Why? Because [twenty-first][74] century Christianity cannot be changed that radically; there is no way to revise a practice this far off course! No, the present religious system cannot be helped – it can only be abandoned.[75]

It would be closer to New Testament function if we took Edwards’ advice and abandoned most of our current views of church practice and started all over again, based on New Testament views of church life.  John Stott started and concluded his book on the subject of preaching with the statement, “Preaching is indispensable to Christianity.”[76] He also believes “that nothing is better calculated to restore health and vitality to the Church or to lead its members into maturity in Christ than a recovery of true, biblical, contemporary preaching.”[77]

The latter statement sounds a bit over the top when he emphasises that “nothing is better” to “restore health and vitality to the church” than preaching. What about a comprehensive biblical view of the priesthood of all believers (e.g. I Cor. 14:26)? How about pastor-teachers who “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12)? Surely we can’t minimise the importance of discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20) and the place of trials in Christian growth (James 1:2-4). What about the practice of Christian community among believers?   With enthusiasm, I endorse the call to “preach the Word” and for all believers to engage in a ministry of “rightly handling the word of truth.” But I cannot join with John Stott in the view that “nothing is better” to restore the church to health and vitality than a “recovery of true, biblical, contemporary preaching.”  More radical surgery is needed!

E. Conclusion

This has been a plea for the sermon to be redeemed.  Based on the quality of sermons heard in local churches in the State of Queensland, Australia, where I live, such a call is long overdue. But is it a biblical emphasis?  The cause of the disease in our churches is much deeper than the nature of preaching – but the sermon does need some radical reconstruction if it is to survive in the local church.   The New Testament views of church life and function have been lost.

Gene Edwards is on target: “When you see what the Christians of the first century were really like and what they really did, then you will suddenly realize that nothing we practice today can be found in the Scripture.”[78]  This is too harsh when he says “nothing” we practice in the church service is the same as what happened in the early church.  Surely there was prayer, manifestation of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (as in some churches today), and teaching!

Redeeming the sermon is an urgent need in many churches today.  Teaching the word of God is of primary importance for knowledge and growth.  However, a better model would be to get back to that of  I Corinthians 12-14 and the opportunity for the participation of all gifted believers when the church gathers.  The biblical approach for public meetings is every-member ministry: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (I Cor. 14:26).

If you believe there is no room for mute believers in the public meeting of the church, you might like to consider this further at, “The gifts of the Spirit in the public meeting.”

The finest book I have ever read on Bible-based sermon preparation (homiletics) has been Bryan Chapell’s, Christ-Centered Preaching (see below for details).  Bryan is a teacher of preachers and President of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

 

clip_image008(image courtesy Baker Academic) clip_image010(photo of Bryan Chapell, courtesy Covenant Theological Seminary

A radical renovation is needed!

Endnotes:

1. I am an independent researcher who completed his PhD in New Testament in 2015. I live in Brisbane, Qld., Australia.
2. An example of the neglect of historical investigation of the early church’s view of worship and the sermon would be Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1982. There is one page on “the worship of the early church” in Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 83. However, one needs to grant some degree of latitude to the content of a one-volume book that covers 2,000 years of church history.  However I consider the nature of what happens when the church gathers to be of vital importance to church life today.
3. Gene Edwards, How To Meet. Sargent, GA: Message Ministry, 1993, pp. 9-10.
4. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume I: to A.D. 1500. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers1975, p. 115.
5. Ibid.
6. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (8 vols. in 3 vols). (no place, no date). A P & A, Vol. 1, p. 211.
7. Ibid., p. 212.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid., p. 213.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., pp. 214-215.
15. Ibid., p. 215.
16. Earle E. Cairns, p. 83.
17. Ibid.
18. Schaff, Vol. 2, p. 103.
19. Ibid., p. 104.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., p. 93.
22. Ibid.
23. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1981, p. 43. See the verbal form in John 1:18;Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19.
24. A. C. Thiselton, “Explain, Interpret, Tell, Narrative,” in Colin Brown (Ed.), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (3 vols.). Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1975, Vol. 1, p. 576.
25. Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (Rev. Ed.). Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, p. 27.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid., p. 17.
28. Ibid., ch. 3, p. 145 ff.
29. Douglas Stuart, Old Testament Exegesis. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1980.
30. Kaiser, pp. 18-19.
31. John MacArthur, Jr. and The Master’s Seminary Faculty, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992, p. 340.
32. Kaiser, p. 18.
33. Fee, p. 27.
34. Kaiser, p. 19.
35. Ibid.
36. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994, p. 22.  This book is now in its second edition (2005).
37. Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980, p. 20.
38. Suggested by ibid., p. 20.
39. MacArthur, p. 340.
40. Ibid., p. 341.
41. Kaiser, p. 18.
42. Haddon Robinson, “What Authority Does a Preacher Have Anymore,” in Bill Hybels, Stuart Briscoe and Haddon Robinson, Mastering Contemporary Preaching (pp. 17-26). Portland, Oregon: Multnomah, 1989, p. 19.
43. Edwards, How To Meet, p. 4.
44. Chapell, p. 11.
45. It means “to think out in great detail; devise; contrive,” William Morris (Ed.), The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc, and Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975, p. 458.
46. William Hendriksen, I & II Timothy & Titus (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1957/1960, p. 310, emphasis in original.
47. Kaiser, p. 19.
48. New American Standard Bible.
49. Revised Standard Version.
50. New Revised Standard Version.
51. English Standard Version.
52. New International Version.
53. Good News Bible.
54. Revised English Bible, which is a revision of the New English Bible.
55. New Jerusalem Bible. Four translations are presented in parallel form for the entire Bible in The Complete Parallel Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. The translations included are: New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, New American Bible (not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible) and the New Jerusalem Bible.
56. R. A. Bodey, “Preacher, Preaching,” in Merrill C. Tenney (Gen. Ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 4). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, p. 844.
57. Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988, pp. 100-101.
58. Hendriksen, p. 309, emphasis in original.
59. Ralph Earle, “1, 2 Timothy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 11), Frank E. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, p. 411.
60. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 285.
61. Ibid.
62. Ibid.
63. Hendriksen, p. 311.
64. Ibid., p. 166.
65. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s work in German) [BAG], A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press/Zondervan Publishing House, 1957, “orthotomeo,” p. 584.
66. Ibid.
67. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy & Titus, p. 255.
68. Ibid.
69. Earle, p. 402.
70 Hendriksen, p. 311.
70a. John MacArthur, Jr. and the Master’s Seminary Faculty, Rediscovering Expository Preaching.  Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992, p. 339.  This is from MacArthur’s chapter, “Frequently Asked Questions about Expository Preaching.”  After saying, ” I am careful in my books to document my sources,” MacArthur did not footnote his reference to Alexander Maclaren.
71. Gene Edwards, The Early Church. Goleta, California: Christian Books, 1974, pp. 2-3.
72. Ibid., p. 226.
73. Ibid.
74. Since he wrote in 1974, Edwards word was “twentieth” century.
75. Edwards, The Early Church, pp. 1-2.
76. John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982, ch. 1, p. 15, epilogue, p. 338.
77. Ibid., p. 338.
78. Edwards, The Early Church, p. 4, emphasis in original.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 May 2016.

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Whytehouse Designs

Is your pastor stealing somebody else’s sermons

Courtesy Sermon Central

By Spencer D Gear

That is exactly what I have experienced in two churches I have visited in the last six months. Both preachers used sermons from Sermon Central. One of these preachers used the sermon word-for-word. The other used major portions from sermons. But both of them did not give credit for what they did. They stole all or part of the sermon from another preacher.

I became so concerned that I contacted Sermon Central to ask for its policy for using sermons. It is a very busy site and I could find no link to tell me how to use the sermons. I wrote this:

Over the last few months I have attended 2 churches in which I have heard sermons that I later checked on your website to find that they were Sermon Central sermons. No credit was given by both preachers. I regard this as plagiarism. I have checked over your rather crowded website to see if I could find information as to whether a preacher has to give credit for the sermon he preaches from your site. Perhaps you can direct me to your policy on whether it is necessary to acknowledge the source of the sermon. The pastor of the church I currently attend preached sermons from your website over the last 2 Sundays without any credit (I take reasonably extensive notes when he preaches so I was able to pick up the sermons). If a pastor/preacher preaches one of your sermons without giving credit, is that allowed by your policy? Is my regarding the sermon as plagiarism going beyond your policies? I look forward to hearing from you.

I received a very caring response from one of the support people at Sermon Central that stated,

Our intention is that the Bible is the primary tool for sermon preparation and our site should only be used as a tool to help prepare.  Here are some links that provide more information.

http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/138301-just-what-is-pulpit-plagiarism.html

http://www.sermoncentral.com/document_extras/RonForseth_07_24_06.asp

http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/james-white-are-you-guilty-of-pastoral-plagiarism-1424.asp

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Those links are extremely valuable in stating the nature of pulpit plagiarism and teaching against it. In one of these articles by Ron Forseth , ‘Just What is Pulpit Plagiarism?’, he quoted teacher of preaching, Haddon Robinson, who stated:

“In a world of preaching, a pastor who takes sermons from other preachers – word-for-word – without giving credit is guilty of plagiarism.  That is stealing what is not yours.”

Don't Steal

Courtesy ChristArt

May I suggest that you take notes of what your preacher is preaching and do a search on Google (or whichever web browser you use) to see if this is coming from another source. You can check on Sermon Central as well. Then talk to the preacher about what he/she is doing.

Of the two preachers I have mentioned, one has been spoken to about what he is doing and in his next sermon, he apologised for what he had done and gave credit for the sermon he was about to preached. The next sermon revealed that he is not as good at preparing sermons as the  the one he plagiarised. I plan to speak to the other preacher as soon as I’m able to arrange an appointment.

My concern is that these preachers are not doing the hard yards of sermon preparation and homiletical construction of a sermon. As a preacher, I know that it is hard work. For preachers who want some help, I highly recommend, learning the principles of homiletics and presentation from Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (2005, rev edn, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic), available in hard cover or as an e-book.

Christ-Centered Preaching, 2nd Edition

Courtesy Baker Academic

The main outline of this book is:

bronze-arrow-small Part 1: Principles of Expository Preaching

bronze-arrow-small Part 2: Preparation of Expository Sermons

bronze-arrow-small Part 3: A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages

There is the added problem for me – it causes me to lose trust in that preacher when I know that he is stealing another’s material without giving credit. This is a Christian ethical issue where a fundamental of biblical Christianity, one of the Ten Commandments, is violated, ‘You shall not steal’ (Exodus 20:15 ESV). This is repeated in Leviticus 19:11. This verse also is cited in Matthew 19:18 by Jesus, ‘He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said,“You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness’ (ESV).

This is how the apostle, Paul, included this command against stealing: ‘For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet”, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Rom. 13:9 ESV). The New Testament further affirms this teaching in Ephesians 4:28, ‘Let the thief no longer steal, but ratherlet him labour,doing honest work with his own hands, sothat he may have something to share with anyone in need’ (ESV).

Stealing anything, including another preacher’s sermon, is a serious assault on a fundamental of Christianity and living in a society where there is law an order.

What will you do to make sure that your pastor/preacher remains a truthful preacher and does not steal another preacher’s sermon?

This is what I am doing.

  1. Make an appointment with the pastor to share what you have observed.
  2. However it is critical that you take with you a copy of the sermon he has plagiarised. This is freely available on the Internet.
  3. Do this in a caring, Christian way. I say something like this, ‘Pastor, in the sermon you preached on (give the date), I checked the Internet and found that you took this sermon directly from Sermon Central (or another location). Present him with a copy of the original sermon. Then I ask: What are you going to do about this? If he does nothing, I make an appointment to see the church leaders to express my concern that the pastor is stealing another’s sermon.
  4. The ideal outcome is for the pastor to seek forgiveness publicly in the church for what he has done and he promises never to do it again. He asks the people to keep a check on him to guarantee his honesty.
  5. The pastor will give credit in sermons for where he gains material, but he will never steal another’s sermon again – without giving credit.

Are these reasonable, biblical requirements?

See my other articles on the need for better sermons:

T

Courtesy ChristArt

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Whytehouse designs

Colossians 1:21-23: News! News! The in-depth news![1]

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Christ Art

By Spencer D Gear

I. Introduction

News! News! All the news! The latest news! The oldest news! Good news! Bad news! You get the most in-depth news coverage by tuning into this news.

It is not Channel 7 national news. I’m not speaking about ABC radio news. You won’t get it on 60 minutes, A Current Affair, Today Tonight, or the 7.30 Report. This is not The Courier-Mail, The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age or Time magazine. This is the most in-depth news you need to live your life. I’m speaking about the news in Col. 1:21-23. These three verses read in the New International Version:

21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

A. Let’s place this passage in context in Colossians 1

Paul has just written one of the most magnificent proclamations of the superiority of Jesus Christ. Just before he launches into today’s subject, Paul gives us the HEADLINE news in vv. 19-20.

There are three HEADLINES in the one article that tell us who Jesus is:

  • Main headline:

God’s fullness dwells in him (v. 19).

Jesus is fully God. It’s a similar expression to Col. 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

  • Second headline:

Even though this is a wicked, hostile world, Christ will eventually reconcile all things to himself in heaven and on earth (v. 20).

  • Third headline:

How come? There will be permanent peace through Christ’s shed blood on the cross (v. 20).

This is the backdrop (context of the passage): The God-man, Jesus Christ, provides reconciliation and peace through his blood shed through death.

Now we come to Colossians 1:21-23.

B. What’s the message of this passage in a nutshell? (Proposition)

Paul wants to get through to the Colossians and to us: The gospelproclaimed is in-depth news. This is the most in-depth news you will ever discover about human beings. To be in-depth news,

II. Firstly, the gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news story (v. 21).

In vv. 21-23, we have a brief outline of some essential content of the Gospel. Please notice this in-depth news begins with bad news (v 21).

A. The bad news is this:

6pointblue-small all people are “alienated from God.” “Alienated[2] = “transferred to another owner.”[3] “As vivid a picture of the non-Christian world as in Rom. 1:20-23.”[4]

All people are in a fixed state of being alienated[5] from God. They are born as rebel sinners, whose allegiance is transferred to the devil himself. This alienation from God is not just for those in deepest darkest Africa. It describes all people in deepest, darkest, open and transparent Hervey Bay – they may be dressed in businessmen’s suits, teachers, school children , truck drivers, mothers and fathers, children.

All of the Colossians and all of us were “alienated from God” before we came to Christ in repentance, confession and faith. But the situation gets even worse. You were:

6pointblue-small “Enemies” of God. You had a hostile hatred[6] of God.

6pointblue-small Where is this hatred located according to Col. 1:21? You were “enemies in your minds.” For all people, in their thinking they are enemies of God before they come to Christ.

6pointblue-small Notice what happens with all ungodly people. When they hate God in their minds, it results in “evil behavior” (v. 21).

We know that God reveals himself to all people through creation: (the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, Ps. 19:1-4). God reveals himself to all people through conscience: (Rom. 2:14-15).

What do we do with this knowledge? Romans 1:18-19 explains, “The godlessness and wickedness of men 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” (NIV).

Do you see the vicious cycle for all unbelievers?

God reveals himself in creation and conscience (leads to) ð we are enemies of God in our minds

blue-satin-arrow-small we hold down (suppress) the truth of God

blue-satin-arrow-smallwe do evil deeds

blue-satin-arrow-small God continues to reveal himself

blue-satin-arrow-small we think hostile things

blue-satin-arrow-small we suppress the truth

blue-satin-arrow-small we commit all kinds of wickedness.

And the merry go round goes on and on UNTIL God intervenes in our lives with the GOOD NEWS.

It bothers me when this BAD news is toned down or only part of the story is told. Why don’t you examine your favourite method of presenting the Gospel and see how much emphasis it places on the BAD news. It surprised me when I examined some of these methods.

The in-depth, bad news, according to Col. 1:21, is this: All unbelievers are:

ø Alienated from God;

ø Enemies in their minds, and

ø Commit evil behaviour.

Illustration:

“Louis Blanc, French socialist . . . historian [journalist and politician of the 19th century],[7], said shortly before his execution, ‘When I was an infant, I rebelled against my nurse. When I was a child, I rebelled against my teachers. When I was a young man, I rebelled against my mother and father. When I reached a mature age, I rebelled against the state. When I die, if there is a heaven and a God, I’ll rebel against them.”[8]

That’s about as blatant a statement as you could get. But that’s the state of all people as far as God is concerned.

How can we apply this today?

What does God require of you to reflect this biblical principle in your life?

matte-red-arrow-smallWhen you share the gospel, you must include the BAD news;

matte-red-arrow-small I counsel rebel youth, abusive parents, and marriages that are falling apart at the seams. The BAD news tells me what is going on.

matte-red-arrow-small We cannot understand Iraq, Iran, persecution of 200 million Christians worldwide, Afghanistan, Bali, Sept. 11, without understanding the BAD news.

matte-red-arrow-smallYou won’t understand adultery, the push for homosexuality, use of illicit drugs, Governments that legislate immorality through prostitution, abortion and euthanasia, without understanding the BAD news.

Brothers and sisters in Christ! There’s a very important phrase that is found at the beginning of the BAD NEWS in Col. 1:21: “Once you were.” It reminds me of I Cor. 6:11, “And that is what some of you were.”

To be in-depth news , the gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news story – once you were. But also . . .

III. The gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news story (v. 22).

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

v. 21 begins, “Once you were . . .”

Notice how v. 22 begins, “But now. . .”

A radical change comes when Christ enters your life. The ONCE bad situation becomes the NOW good situation.

A. The good news is that “now he has reconciled you” (v. 22).

  • What incredible good news that is! You who were once enemies in our mind that led to your evil behaviour. You are now reconciled to God if you have come to God in repentance and faith.
  • This word for “reconciled” appears only 3 times in the NT. Col. 1:20, 22 (here) and Eph. 2:16. It is not Paul’s usual word for “reconcile” [katallassÇ] that is used in verses such as 2 Cor. 5:17-20 and Rom. 5:10. But it is a closely related word.

Many of you will be familiar with 2 Cor. 5:17-20:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Here in Col. 1:22, Paul attaches a preposition, apo, to the regular word for reconciliation in 2 Cor. 5 & Rom. 5, katallasso.[9] Clearly he wants to communicate “the idea of complete reconciliation.”[10] Reconciliation means: to change from being an enemy to being a friend. It suggests that rebellious enemies of God submit to God and are now in harmony with God himself.[11]

snowflake-red-small In Col. 1: 20 we are told what this “complete reconciliation”

involves: “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Through Christ’s death

snowflake-red-small “all things” will be reconciled to God. That includes the entire universe. The universe being out of harmony reminds us of Rom. 8:19-23.

The good news is that you were once hostile enemies towards God, have moved from enemy status to friendship with God — reconciled by “Christ’s physical body through death” (v. 22). “Physical body” (NIV) is literally, “body of flesh.”

It seems strange to us that Paul would use this redundant expression “physical body through death.” Physical death always includes the death of the physical body. Why would Paul mention it like this? Probably because he was addressing false teaching being promoted by the Colossian Gnostic heretics. They were teaching that reconciliation could only happen through spiritual (angelic) beings. Paul was stirred by the danger to the Colossians of false teaching of the Gnostics.

Gnostics “attached little or no value to the work of Christ in a physical body. In opposition to this, Paul stressed the importance of Christ’s physical body.”[12]

According to Col. 1:22, it was “Christ’s physical body through death” that reconciled believers to God.

snowflake-red-small How can Christ’s physical death lead to reconciliation of enemies with the holy God?

In other religions, it is the human being who does all he or she can to appease, turn aside the wrath of the gods. This is not the way it is with the law of God in Christianity. To turn away the wrath of almighty God and be reconciled with God, it takes the initiative of God himself. That’s why 2 Cor. 5:19 declares, ” God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

The good news is that now he has reconciled you as believers. Also

B. According to v. 22, The good news is that Christ’s death, “presents you

silver-arrow holy in God’s sight,

silver-arrow without blemish, and

silver-arrow free from accusation.”

How can this be? How can you and I be holy, without blemish and free from accusation before God when we KNOW that we sin after we become Christians. We are not goody two-shoes and sinlessly perfect. Well, I’m not! Please consult my wife and children.

Yet, God says that when we are reconciled with God we are holy, without blemish and free from accusation. How does that happen? I’m glad you asked.

It would be pretty natural to think that this holiness without blemish and free from accusation would only happen when we get to heaven when we will no longer be infected with sin.

Not so, says Paul. This is what Christ has done for the Colossians and all believers in reconciling them with God. “He brought them into his presence, no longer as [unholy][13], stained by sin, and bearing the burden of guilt; but ‘holy’ and ‘without blemish and free from accusation.'”[14]

How can this happen? Christian, your legal standing before God is that “at the time of and because of the death of Christ”[15], you are declared holy, without blemish and free from accusation.

This is the message of imputation, which seems to be foreign language to us today, but a core Bible teaching. Because of Christ’s death, the believer is legally declared before God to be:

foward buttonholy = in consecration and dedication;

foward button “without blemish” translates “a technical sacrificial term (anomous), [that] was used of animals that were without flaw and therefore worthy of being offered to God.”[16] Believer, before God you are declared as being without a sinful flaw – legally before God.

foward button You are also “free from accusation” by God for your sinful, rebellious, hostile attitudes and actions towards God.

Paul could not be referring to your and my personal behaviour NOW because our actions are not always holy and without blemish. There has never been nor will there ever be a Christian who is sinlessly perfect and without blemish in actual conduct.[17] Paul is speaking about our legal standing before God because we are in Christ. We are “holy, without blemish, and free from accusation” legally with God.

It’s another way of saying what he told the Corinthians: “2 Cor. 5:21 (ESV), “For our sake he made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Christian friend, by Christ’s physical death you, who were once hostile enemies in your mind, have been reconciled with God and declared to be holy, blameless and free from accusation.

Illustration:

In Yorkshire in England there is a picture at Catterick Camp, “which shows a signaler lying dead in no-man’s land. He had been sent out to repair a cable that had been broken by [gun][18] fire. And there he lies, cold in death, but with his task accomplished, for in his stiffened hands he holds the broken ends together. Beneath the picture is the one word, ‘Through.’

“So too, by his once-for-all death on Calvary, Christ has brought God and [people][19] together in reconciliation and fellowship.”[20]

Let’s apply this to us today:

What does God now require of you, the reconciled? You who have been declared holy, spotless and without a guilty accusation. How can we be silent? The good news is that you must be people who proclaim the good news of reconciliation through Christ.

Where? Make opportunities. Take opportunities. This is incredible good news that the guilty can have no charge against them before God. Don’t you need to share that news with your boss, your neighbour, your enemy? What will you do this week to share such incredible good news of reconciliation?

To be in-depth news,

Blue Golden Button Firstly, the Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news – we are hostile enemies towards God;

Blue Golden Button Secondly, the Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news of reconciliation and declared righteous.

Then comes a statement that is somewhat unexpected in this context. Thirdly…

IV. The gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news story (v. 23).

A. The continuing news is that you must continue in your faith for it to be good news and for your salvation.

This seems like a most unusual emphasis when Paul is giving instructions about the Gospel being proclaimed. We can understand the need for the BAD news, although we tend to want to downplay that aspect. We know we need the GOOD news of reconciliation with God and righteousness by legal standing. But why this emphasis on “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”

Why? Why?

Paul faced the problem in his day. We face it today in the church worldwide.[21] One “major denomination in the United States . . . disclosed it obtained an incredible 294,784 decisions for Christ in 1990. Yet, in 1991, it could only find 14,337 in a Christian fellowship. There were 280,447 decisions that couldn’t be accounted for. The leadership had no clue as to why this happened, but could only conclude, ‘Something is wrong!’

“The trend continued. In August 1996 a leading U.S. denomination revealed that during 1995 it secured 384,057 decisions, but retained only 22,983 in fellowship. It couldn’t account for 361,074 supposed conversions.”

Charles E. Hackett, the Division of Home Missions National Director for a large denomination in the USA[22] said: “A soul at the altar does not generate much excitement in some circles because we realise approximately 95 out of every 100 will not become integrated into the church. In fact, most of them will not return for a second visit.”

This phenomenon is not unique to the US. A pastor in Boulder, Colorado sent a team to Russia in 1991 and there were 2,500 decisions. The next year they found only 30 persevering in their faith. In Leeds, England, a visiting US speaker said that there were 400 decisions for a local church. However, six weeks later only two were going on, and they eventually fell away.

“A pastor who travelled to India every year since 1980 [said][23] he saw 80,000 decision cards stacked in a hut in the city of Rajamundry, the ‘results’ of past evangelistic crusades. But he maintained that one would be fortunate to find even 80 Christians in the entire city. That is one tenth of one percent.”[24]

Paul to the Colossians wrote that this is the gospel that you heard, “If you continue in your faith”. One of the great Bible teachers of the last century, F. F. Bruce, wrote about this verse: “If the Bible teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it also teaches that the saints are those who finally persevere – in Christ. Continuance is the test of reality.”[25]

Perhaps these Colossians were beginning to wane in their faith and there was danger of their slipping back, so there was the need for this exhortation.

The gospel of continuing faith, according to v. 23, means that you are:

  • “Established” – suggesting that your faith is secure when it on the rock of continuing salvation.
  • You are “firm” (literally, “settled”), shows that you have a “steady and firm resolve” to continue in the faith.

Hebrews 3:6 (ESV) states: “but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

We see a similar emphasis on the need to hold fast to hope in passages such as Heb. 6:11; 10:23; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 John 3:3.

Never let us forget that continuing in the faith – genuine perseverance – is not something that is done in our own strength. Jesus made that very clear in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (ESV).

Let’s apply this to us today:

Since Col. 1:23 is an essential to the Gospel, when you share Christ with people, urge them to continue in the faith. The real test of faith in Christ is continuing to trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Never say, “Give Jesus a go!”

“Just believe,” is not the Gospel. “Raise your hand and ask Jesus into your heart” is not the Gospel. Getting back to the core Gospel is long overdue. According to Col. 1:21-23, this means:

silver buttonThe Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news;

silver buttonThe Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news;

silver buttonThe Gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news, and

V. Fourthly, The gospel proclaimed must be newsworthy here in Queensland AND around the world (v. 23).

The theme of these three verses in Colossians is stated clearly in the NIV translation of v. 23, “This is the gospel that you heard.” Please note what Paul goes on to say. This Gospel is to be proclaimed around the world.

A. This most newsworthy story that was proclaimed at Colossae was by Paul, a servant of this gospel (v. 23).

B. This most newsworthy story must be proclaimed around the world (v. 23).

In fact Paul says that this gospel “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (v. 23). How on earth was it possible that Paul, in the days before airline travel, radio, TV, newspapers and the Internet, could proclaim the gospel “in all creation under heaven” (ESV)?

Perhaps this was Paul’s way of saying that the Gospel had been “heard in all the great centres of the [Roman] Empire.”[26] Maybe Paul was using hyperbole (exaggeration). We do know from Rom. 15:19-23 that Paul preached from Jerusalem to Rome and that it was his ambition “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that [he] would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20).

This is a basic outline of the gospel that Paul preached. Is this the total gospel content? No! There is no mention of confession, repentance, receiving Christ “by grace through faith” when the Gospel is preached (see Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9-10).

In our day of biblical ignorance, there is a need for the biblical plot-line as in Colossians to be proclaimed with Gospel presentations. Sadly, most secular people and many in the church don’t understand the major themes of the Bible – the plot-line of the biblical story.

Illustration:

I support the evangelist who preached an outreach series at the University of Durham in the UK. He understood the problem we face with temporary conversion. He preached 8 messages through the first 8 chapters of the Book of Romans (he was not a D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who took 13 years[27] to preach through Romans, one sermon a week). The plot-line of the Durham University presentation

“Introduced [students] to God, Creation, the nature of sin and law, the place of the atonement in God’s redemptive purposes, the nature of grace and faith, justification, and the gift of the Spirit, and ultimately the hope of a new heaven and a new earth.”[28]

I recommend this Aussie evangelistic tool, “2 Ways to Live,” that presents Christ in six steps:

1. God – the loving ruler and creator,

2. Humanity in rebellion,

3. God won’t let people keep rebelling forever,

4. Jesus – the Man who dies for rebels,

5. Jesus – the risen ruler,

6. The Two Ways to Live: Our Way OR God’s New Way.[29]

Let’s make an application to us:

Will you take or make the opportunity this week to share the Gospel? With your friend, neighbour, perhaps a stranger you meet somewhere. Please do NOT take up the boss’s time by sharing the Gospel in working hours with a work mate. That is cheating the boss.

What will you do about God’s call, through Paul, to present the BAD news of people being enemies of God, hostile in the mind? Make sure you include the GOOD news of reconciliation to God through Christ. Never forget that this Gospel is for those who CONTINUE in the faith.

I call upon you to forever give up the cheap Gospel. Don’t proclaim Gospel L-I-T-E.

VI. Conclusion[30]

Malcolm Muggeridge died in 1990. He was the famous British author, media personality and journalist, who became a Christian late in life. He “once told of working as a journalist in India as a young man. One evening he walked down to the river for a swim. As he entered the water, he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come for her evening bath. Muggeridge immediately felt the allurement of the moment, and he was besieged by temptation. He had lived with this kind of temptation all his adult life, but until this moment he had fought it off out of respect for his wife Kitty. But tonight, he was weak and vulnerable. He hesitated just a moment, then swam furiously across the river toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. But when he was just a few [metres][31] away from her, he emerged from the water and what he saw took his breath away. She wasn’t a beautiful young maiden, but old and hideous, with wrinkled skin, and worst of all, she was a leper. He said later, ‘The creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask.’ Muggeridge muttered, ‘What a dirty lecherous[32] woman!’ But as he swam away from her, a sudden shock gripped him, ‘It wasn’t just the woman who was dirty and lecherous,’ he said. ‘It was my own heart.'”[33]

Muggeridge was once a sceptic of Christianity and even denied the resurrection of Christ. In the later part of his life he became fully convinced of the resurrection of Christ and wrote the book: Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975).

All of us are dirty and lecherous – lustful.

  • The Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news about Malcolm Muggeridge and all of us. We are/were wilful, hostile enemies of God.
  • The Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news – reconciliation with God because of Christ’s death that declares us holy, without blemish and free from accusation;
  • The Gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news – you have salvation if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the fundamental doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
  • This gospel proclaimed is the in-depth, in-depth news for Hervey Bay and around the world.

Let us pray.

  • Thank you, Lord, for declaring our true state before you. We are sinners, alienated from you and we suppress your truth.
  • Thank you for the good news that we can be reconciled to you through Christ’s death if we repent and confess our sin to you.
  • We praise you that by repentance and faith, we are declared holy in your sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
  • That’s what we are legally before you, God, when we repent.
  • In our progressive sanctification, help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Saviour.
  • Thank you for giving us the daily strength to continue to persevere in our faith.

Notes:


[1] Bundaberg West Baptist Church, 31 August 2003, 8am & 10am services; Northcote Baptist Church, Melbourne, 25 January 2004; Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church, 10 October 2010.

[2] Apellotriwmenous = perfect passive participle of apallatriow..

[3] Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians,” in Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 11). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, p. 185.

[4] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Epistles of Paul (vol. 4). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1931, p. 481.

[5] Perfect tense.

[6] Old word, echthos (enemies). Robertson, p. 482.

[7] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume II A. D. 1500 – A.D. 1975. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953/1975, p. 1066.

[8] Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1997, p. 324.

[9] The word in 2 Cor. 5:18-10 and Rom. 5:10 is katallasso. In Col. 1:22 it is apokatallasso.

[10] Robertson, p. 481.

[11] Vaughan, p. 186.

[12] Vaughan, p. 187.

[13] The original said, “unhallowed.”

[14] Vaughan, p. 187.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Suggested by ibid.

[18] The original said, “Shell.”

[19] The original said, “Man.”

[20] John Wood, “Reconciliation,” in Zuck, p. 423.

[21] Christian lawyer, Bernie Koerselman, says that “years ago I began to suspect that one of the evidences of fraud in the presentation of the gospel is the high percentage of people who quickly desert the church after having ‘made a commitment.'” He says, “Ray Comfort’s book, Bride of Heaven, Pride of Hell confirmed my suspicions. Ray quotes statistics.” The following statistical details are in Bernie Koerselman, “Fraud & Deceit in the presentation of the gospel.” Vanguard, February 2000, p. 5.

[22] The Assemblies of God USA

[23] He told Ray Comfort.

[24] Bernie Koerselman, “Fraud & Deceit in the presentation of the gospel.” Vanguard, February 2000, p. 5.

[25] F. F. Bruce, “Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians,” in E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F. F. Bruce, gen. ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1957, p. P. 213

[26] C. F. D. Moule, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, C. F. D. Moule, gen. ed.). London: Cambridge University Press, 1957, p. 73.

[27] The fly-leaf of the dust jack to the hardback edition of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans:Exposition of Chapter1, The Gospel of God. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985, states: “Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Romans, the major work of his mid-week ministry in London, occupied him from 1955 until 1968. Throughout these years, no other event in the calendar of evangelicals was comparable to Friday night at Westminster Chapel.”

[28] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996, p. 504.

[29] From “2 Ways to Live: A Bible study explaining Christianity.” Kingsford NSW: Matthias Media (PO Box 225, Kingsford 2032, Australia.)

[30] When I preached this message, a knowledgeable Christian objected to my use of Malcolm Muggeridge (see what follows), claiming that he doubted Muggeridge’s conversion as he did not believe in the resurrection of Christ. I have since checked, “Malcolm Muggeridge’s Conversion Story”, available at: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/01/malcolm-muggeridges-conversion-story.html (Accessed 26 January 2007). Here it is recorded that in 1966, Muggeridge stated: ” I don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, I don’t believe that he was the son of God in a Christian sense.” This quote has the endnote, Hunter, Ian, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980, p. 225. However, John Ankerberg and John Weldon wrote in, ‘The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Part I—Can It Persuade Skeptics?”

Among great literary writers, few can match the brilliance of famous author Malcolm Muggeridge. He, too, was once a skeptic of Christianity. But near the end of his life he became fully convinced of the truth of the Resurrection of Christ, writing a book acclaimed by critics, Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975; HarperCollins 1984). He wrote, “The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history….” and “What is unique about Jesus is that, on the testimony and in the experience of innumerable people, of all sorts and conditions, of all races and nationalities from the simplest and most primitive to the most sophisticated and cultivated, he remains alive.” Muggeridge concludes, “That the Resurrection happened… seems to be indubitably true” and “Either Jesus never was or he still is….with the utmost certainty, I assert he still is”, available at: http://www.johnankerberg.com/Articles/ATRJ/truth/ATRJ1203-EVPDF/ATRJ1203-EV-1.pdf (Accessed 26 January 2007)

[31] The original said, “feet”.

[32] According to dictionary.com, “lecherous” means lustful, erotically suggestive, inciting to lust. Available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lecherous (Accessed 2 October 2010).

[33] Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes: The Ultimate Contemporary Resource for Speakers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, “Muggeridge in India,” p. 751.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

Noah's Animals

ChristArt

Five ingredients for a healthy church: Colossians 4:7-18 [1]

Man jumping from church across the globe

ChristArt

By Spencer D GEar

What do you do when a pastor’s adultery shatters a church? Jerry Cook, a pastor of a largish church in Gresham, Oregon, USA, tells this story[2]. “A pastor in our town whom I knew only slightly became involved in adultery. As a result, his marriage went on the rocks and his ministry was destroyed. Since he was a strong Christian leader in our area, this brother’s fall came with a resounding crash. His church splintered into a dozen fragments and hurting, confused people were scatter all over the city.

“A year and a half after all that happened, I received a phone call at 7:30 A.M. one Sunday. It was this former pastor. He said, ‘Would you mind if my wife and I came to church this morning?’

“I said, ‘Why would you even call and ask that question? Of course we wouldn’t mind.’

“‘Well’, he said, ‘you know this is my second wife and I am divorced from my first. Are you aware of this?’

“I said, ‘Sure, I’m aware of it.’

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you, Jerry, we’ve been trying for eight months now to find a place to worship. The last time we tried was a month ago. That morning we were asked from the pulpit to leave. We’ve been met at the door of other churches by pastors who heard that my wife and I were coming. They asked us not to come in, said we would cause too much trouble. Still others have heard that we might show up and called in advance to ask us please not to come.’

“He said, ‘Frankly, I don’t think we could handle it again if we were to come and be an embarrassment to you and be asked to leave. I just don’t know what would happen; my wife is close to a nervous breakdown.’ By now he was weeping. ‘I know that you have video for overflow crowds,’ he said. ‘If you want you can put us in a room where no one will see us and let us watch the service.’

“I said, ‘Listen, you be there and I’ll welcome you at the door.’

“He came with his wife and their little baby. They came late and sat in the back.”

Does this ever bother you? Acts 4:34, “And there was not a needy person among them.” In the church of the Book of Acts it is stated that not a needy person was to be found in the church. Church people met the physical & financial needs of the people in the church. How would they get on with Jerry Cook’s situation of meeting the need of an adulterous former-pastor, new wife and child? Would they be welcome in the early church? Would their needs be met in this church?

We rely on the Salvos, St. Vincent de Paul, counselling agencies, and Centrelink government handouts.

What is the difference between the first century church and the 21st century church? Paul tells us in Col. 4:7-18 that if any church (this church) wants to be a healthy, it will have five ingredients.

Before we examine these 5 ingredients, please note with me some issues arising from this passage:

  • “Paul mentions over 100 people by name in his New Testament letters! In Romans 16 alone, there are 26 people listed. Here, in Colossians 4, he mentions 10 individuals.”[3] Paul could not survive in the Christian life alone. He was in deep relationship with people in the churches.
  • Close friendship was part of discipleship and Christian growth for Paul. To grow in Christ, you need close relationships. I’m reminded of Prov. 18:24, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
  • For Paul, people were more important than programmes.
  • Paul’s friends included Luke, the doctor & Onesimus the runaway slave. He had friends who were Jews and with others who wouldn’t have a clue who Abraham was. Some were male, some female. Some were faithful Christians; others were deserters from the faith.
  • When Paul talks about real people by name, he roots his letters in real history with real people. This is not fantasy or myth. There is no such thing as Christianity without its historical base dealing with real people in real places in the real world.
  • This entire epistle to the Colossians exalts the supremacy of Christ (see especially 1:15ff) and how that impacts our

clip_image002 prayer life[4];

clip_image002[1] ministry in the church[5];

clip_image002[2] freedom from legalism of human regulations[6];

clip_image002[3] holy living[7];

clip_image002[4] how families, employers & employees should live[8]; and

clip_image002[5] gospel proclamation at every opportunity.[9]

Let’s look at these five ingredients for a healthy church.

I. First, if this church is to be healthy, it needs faithful people in radical relationships (vv. 7-9)

7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our[10] circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

Let’s meet . . .

A. Tychicus

This is the Tychicus of Eph. 6:21; 2 Tim. 4:12; Titus 3:12. Paul sends Tychicus to the Colossian church, in Turkey today, trusting Tychicus to:

clip_image004 Tell them all the news about Paul (4:2 says Paul is “in chains”, possibly in Rome, for proclaiming “the mystery of Christ”);

clip_image004[1] Tychicus will tell them about Paul’s circumstances;

clip_image004[2] He will encourage the Colossian believers. Paul had never been to Colosse. Reading this letter gives one the impression that Epaphras introduced these people to Christ and founded this church and possibly churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis (4:13).

Why has Paul chosen Tychicus to deliver this letter, fill them in on

what is happening to Paul in prison, and to encourage them? We learn 3 important things about Tychicus that caused Paul to have confidence in this man. He’s:

clip_image004[3] A dear brother; a beloved brother. Of all the Christian people

that Paul knew, of Tychicus he could say that he was one “who has become beloved by those who know him.”[11]

How many people in this church could you describe as a loved brother or a loved sister by you because you know them so well and have such a deep relationship with them that they are dear to you? Honest?

Tychicus was loved, but this verse also says that he was

clip_image004[4] A faithful minister; A minister is not a pastor but a “diakonos”

(from which we get deacon). In ch. 1:7, Epaphras is called a “diakonos”; the apostle Paul calls himself a “diakonos” in 1:23. A “diakonos” is the word to express this idea and ministry: he or she is “one who renders voluntary service ‘in behalf of’ other people so that they may have the benefit.”[12]

There’s nothing in the context to say that Tychicus was a Deacon as we understand it. But he was a “servant of the Lord” or a “minister in Christian work, in a general sense.”[13] We must understand that this person was one who served others. That’s why Christians ought to be so radically different from the secular world. We are here to serve others, whatever their need.

But Tychicus served others not in some occasional, slap-happy way. He was known to be a FAITHFUL minister. He was dependable. I’m reminded of I Cor. 4:2, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove FAITHFUL.”

One of the fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22 is “faithfulness.” If you are lacking in faithfulness, you have a spiritual problem. The fruit of the Spirit are lacking in your life.

Illustration:

What would this church be like if all of us were so growing in the fruit of the Spirit that we were faithful in church attendance, faithful in our giving, faithful in leadership of Brigades, deacons’ meetings, etc.

I go to churches around the country and I find that one of the greatest lacks is preachers who are faithful in preaching the Word of God. The Bible calls all preachers to “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Preachers read the Word, preach around the text, preach what’s in their mind, but many, many are not faithful preachers of the Word.

Illustration:

“Old Faithful is not the largest geyser in Yellowstone National Park [Wyoming, USA], nor does it reach the greatest height [when it spurts forth.] But it is by far the most popular one. Why? It is regular and dependable, hence its name, ‘Old Faithful.'”[14]

God does not call you and me to be brilliant, with brawn and beauty. He does call all believers to be faithful.

Tychicus was the person who was faithful in serving others, no matter what their need. He’s also described as . . .

  • “A fellow servant[15] in the Lord” – “a fellow slave of Paul and of Timothy (1:1) who submitted his will completely to the Lord.”[16]

In these final greetings, Paul mentions another faithful person in v. 9. Tychicus is going to the Colossian church with

B. Onesimus

“Our faithful and dear brother.” If you want to know more about

Onesimus, read the epistle to Philemon. This is an amazing story. Onesimus the slave “ran away from his master in Colosse, came into contact with Paul in Rome, and was converted and completely changed. Paul is now sending him back to his master. Tychicus is serving as his protector, for a runaway slave was liable to arrest anywhere by the . . . slave catchers who were everywhere on the lookout for such slaves. Paul does not say what the congregation is to do with this slave; he says only that he is sending him back as ‘a faithful and beloved brother’ who is from their city.”[17]

First, if this church, any church, is to be healthy, it needs faithful people in radical loving relationships (vv. 7-9). But this is such a low priority in the materialistic western church. I call you to be faithful in your ministry here. Love one another deeply, warts and all. I have warts in my Christian life. Will you love me in spite of them? Will you be faithful in ministering to the needs of people here in this church?

II. Second, if this church is to be healthy, it needs prayer warriors (vv. 12-13)

12Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Epaphras is an amazing believer (v. 12). He’s the founder of the Colossian church (see 1:7) but here he is described as a:

  • Bond-slave (doulos) of Jesus Christ;
  • He’s “always wrestling in prayer for you.” Why?
  • “That you may stand firm in all the will of God;
  • “That you will be mature and fully assured.”

This church was under threat from the heretical sect known as the Gnostics and there was a danger that this newish church would go under through false teaching.

These Gnostics believed matter was evil, there were mediating beings, salvation through knowledge. So, God and matter were antagonistic. What would they do with Jesus, fully God and fully man (which included matter)? That’s why Paul in Col. 1:15 had to correct this error with this refutation: “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth . . .”

Christ was born a human being and he created matter. That directly corrected these false Gnostic teachers.

If false teachers were infiltrating this church, you correct them with sound biblical teaching, but Paul says that the Colossian church, to be healthy had their founder who engaged in “agÇnizomai‘ in prayer.

Epaphras was “always wrestling in prayer” (v. 12. He was in prayer that was “constant, frequent, and intense. He’s a great illustration of Colossians 4:2: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer. . .’ The verb ‘wrestling’ can be translated ‘agonized’ and is the same word used for the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This battle metaphor pictures prayer as a struggle.”[18]

Paul uses the same word for himself in ch. 1:29 in a different context: “For this end I labor, struggling [there’s the word] with all the energy he so powerfully works in me.” In his apostolic ministry, Paul was laboring with an agonising, intense struggle.

“Epaphras ever ‘agonizes’ for the Colossians with strong pleading in his prayers, and his prayer for them is that they may ‘stand’ firm and solid, ‘as complete,’ as having reached the goal and lacking nothing to make them true Christians in every way.”[19]

Do you agonise in prayer for Christians in this church that they would stand firm in the faith and grow into maturity in the faith? Do you think there are enough prayer agonisers in this church? What will cause us to agonise in prayer for this church? Will it take the threat of false doctrine, as with the Colossians, or the threat of persecution of Christians, to call us to agonising, struggling, powerful and pleading prayer for believers who are in danger of falling away from the faith.

Illustration:

Leonard Ravenhill wrote much on revival and to challenge the church in many areas. He said: “The church has many organizers, but few agonizers; many who pay, but few who pray; many resters, but few wrestlers; many who are enterprising, but few who are interceding. People who are not praying and praying. . . Tithes may build a church, but tears will give it life. That is the difference between the modern church and the early church. In the matter of effective praying, never have so many left so much to so few. [Brothers and sisters],[20] let us pray.”[21]

Like Epaphras, will you be an agoniser in prayer for this church’s ministry:

clip_image006 to those who do not know the Lord;

clip_image006[1] for ministry outreach;

clip_image006[2] that we might be a truly Christ-centred church in what we say and do;

clip_image006[3] for the Holy Spirit to rule every part of this church.

First, if this church is to be healthy, it needs faithful people in radical relationships;

Second, if this church is to be healthy, it needs prayer warriors, agonisers.

III. Third, if this church is to be healthy, it will need to minister to those who are slack in fulfilling their ministry (v. 17)

v. 17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

In v. 17, Archippus apparently was being slack or ineffective in ministry and is urged to complete the ministry that he had received from the Lord. We don’t hear of this person very often in the Word, but Philemon 2 describes Archippus as “our fellow soldier.” But there was something not being completed in this person’s ministry. We are not told what it was.

In today’s church, this can happen to Christians

  • Through letting your spiritual life slip.
  • How’s your prayer life?
  • What about your discipleship?
  • To whom are you accountable?
  • How does anybody know what spiritual shape you are in?
  • We can’t be strong in the Lord if we are weak in some areas and are not fulfilling our ministry.
  • What is your ministry and are you doing it?

Sadly, a church that is becoming a healthy church will have to deal with disease in its midst. Some of that will be people who are not completing the Lord’s ministry. God gifts every one of you. Are you doing the ministry that God has given you? If you are doing the ministry that you think you have, you are likely to fail. There are not just one or two ministers in this congregation. You all are gifted for at least one spiritual ministry. Which are yours? Are you doing your ministry in this church? If not, why not? Are you like Archippus who needed challenging?

 

IV. Fourth, if this church is to be healthy, you will need to minister to the doubters and backsliders in this congregation (v. 14).

v. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.

Could we say that there are a number in this congregation who are faithful servants and ministers of the Lord? Would it be safe to say that there are a few, maybe very few who agonise in prayer? Are you backward or slack in exercising the gifts God has given them?

In v. 14 of Col. 4, we have an example of somebody whose name is just mentioned as “Demas sends you greetings.” That tells us nothing more than Demas was with Paul when Colossians was written, BUT something else was happening in Demas’s life. We read about him in Philemon 24 as one of Paul’s “fellow workers.”

BUT if we go to 2 Tim. 4:9-10, which was written about five years later than Colossians,[22] we read, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (NIV).

Demas, who was with Paul the great apostle, was developing the spiritual disease of backsliding, losing the faith through worldliness. When Paul wrote Colossians he did not condemn Demas, but within 5 years the spiritual disease of worldly thinking and living had infected him.

We are not told exactly what happened, but I John 2:15-16 tells us how this can set in.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world” (NIV).

Like Demas, we all have within us the potential to develop fickle, fragile, backsliding, apostatising faith that could lead to leaving the faith. We here in the affluent West are especially vulnerable. In even an evangelical church it is so easy to fake it when you are not accountable to anybody. Do you know what things in the world can pull you away from the faith? Where are you vulnerable. Look at the list from I John 2. See if these tempt you:

  • “the cravings of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:19-21 tell us what they are:

v 19,The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery [that’s excessive indulgence in sexual pleasures]; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV).

The first 3, immorality, impurity and debauchery have to do with the matter of sex, the next two (idolatry & witchcraft) deal with false gods. Then follow 8 that have to do with strife and division among people, and the last two with abuses of alcohol.[23]

What could some examples be for you where you are tempted into sexual sin? We live in a very loose sexual society where condoms, porn and prostitutes are freely available. Where are you tempted? If you succumb, you are down the road of worldly thinking and living that may draw you, like Demas, away from the faith.

What other gods could you be serving? Who’s your rock music or reality TV idol? I’m very concerned at the baptism into the occult that is happening with so much access to Harry Potter books and movies for children. Fiction, yes! But dangerous fiction! I spoke with a woman recently who has been wonderfully saved out of witchcraft and she drew to my attention the witchcraft of the Harry Potter series and how attractive it is made to look, but how dangerous it really is.

“Filmmaker and occult expert Caryl Matrisciana explains the dangers of the Harry Potter series and how the books portray a lifestyle diametrically opposed to that of the Christian. Matrisciana and her husband have spent 25 years researching the occult.”

She was an occult practitioner, raised in India. Eventually, she became a Christian and worked through the British media to raise awareness of the dangers of the occult.

Matrisciana encourages Christians in her new hour-long documentary video to take an honest look at the world children fantasise about when reading J. K. Rowling’s books. Through Harry Potter books and audios, children as young as kindergarten age are being introduced to human sacrifice, the sucking of blood from dead animals, possession by spirit beings, and satanic ritual.

She is going around England warning the young and old about the occult dangers through Harry Potter. Her video is called: “Harry Potter, Witchcraft Repackaged: Making Evil Look Innocent “[24]

Are you tempted to become like Demas through the anger and strife you create or are engaged in, with your family, kids at school, in the workplace, in this church?

What about the temptation to alcohol and drug abuse in this alcohol soaked society that also has a softly, softly approach to illicit drug use?

Back to the examples of the temptations to the principles of this world, stated in I John 2:

  • ” the lust of his eyes.” That’s self-explanatory. You will be tempted to lust into worldliness by what you see. Where are you vulnerable? This could be cars, the surf, sex and materialism, TV & internet.
  • Also, “the boasting of what he has and does.” I guess this applies to women as well as men. You will be tempted into worldly ways by boasting about what you have and do. Capitalism, wealth and greed foster such.

Is there a Demas streak in you right now?

If this or any other church is to be healthy, it:

clip_image008 needs faithful people in a radically close relationship;

clip_image008[1] needs prayer agonisers, people powerful through prayer;

clip_image008[2] will have some who are slack or ineffective in ministry;

clip_image008[3] will minister to the doubters & backsliders;

V. Fifth & finally: if this church is to be healthy, it will have radically forgiven people in this fellowship (vv. 9-10).

Demas bombed out of the faith. BUT there were two others in Paul’s list of greetings who made serious mistakes but were forgiven – radically forgiven.

The first is:

1. Onesimus (v. 9)

We are told that he is “a dear brother, a faithful minister.” To better understand Onesimus, please read that one chapter book of the NT, Philemon (right after Titus). Onesimus was from Colossae but was a runaway slave. We’ve dealt with him already in this message.

There’s another friend mentioned in Col. 4:10 who experienced radical forgiveness. That’s

2. Mark

Mark was the cousin of Barnabas but he didn’t have a good trackrecord in the faith. He’s also known as John Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark. He came a long way with the Lord, but if you remember that when Paul and Barnabas went on the first missionary journey something drastic happened (see Acts 15:39-40):

“They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (NIV).

Here in Col. 4:10, Paul and Mark had been reconciled and Paul was sending greetings from Mark. In fact, reconciliation took place to such an extent that Paul was able to say in 2 Tim. 4:11, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (NIV).

Isn’t this amazing. Paul fought with Barnabas and Mark and they split from him, but then there was reconciliation with Paul so that Paul could say that “he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Wow!

I guess it was 2-3 years ago that I was doing a devotion at the local ministers’ association on Rom. 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” As an example of the need to accept one another, I said that in my many years of ministry to hurting and sinful people I have found one group of people who find it most difficult to be accepted by church people and they are the redeemed and forgiven homosexuals.

At that point, a leading pastor in this city shouted me down with words something like: “How dare you! These are dangerous people. People need to be protected from them.”

Brothers and sisters, we do not deserve to be part of the church of the living God unless we dare to have, support and accept people from very sinful pasts in our church. All of us were once filthy, rotten, degraded sinners in God’s sight. How dare we look down on forgiven, homosexuals, prostitutes, thieves, cons and other rebels!

Conclusion

Are you interested in what happened to that adulterous pastor, his new wife and baby at Jerry Cook’s church?[25]

Jerry explains: “The compounding thing was that many of the people who had been hurt through his fall [into sin] were now a part of our congregation. Nevertheless, we extended fellowship to that man and the Lord did a cleansing and a healing. We shed so many tears together. I never will forget how he grabbed me and buried his head on my shoulder, a man 15 to 20 years my senior. He wept like a baby and held to me like a drowning man. He said, ‘Jerry, can you love me? I’ve spent my life loving people but I need someone to love me now.’

“In the weeks and months that followed, he met with our elders regularly and wept his way back to God through a most intense, sometimes utterly tearing repentance. If ever in my entire life I’ve seen godly sorrow for sin, I saw it in that man. He literally fell on the floor before our elders, grabbed their feet and implored them, ‘Brothers, can you ever forgive me?’

“God healed that man and restored him to wholeness. Today, he’s back in the ministry.

“I say to you, that brother was restored only because God enabled us to love and accept and forgive him. Love, acceptance, forgiveness—those three things are absolutely essential to any ministry that will consistently bring people to maturity and wholeness.”

clip_image010 Are you a faithful Christian? Can you be depended on in ministry, work and at home?

clip_image010[1] Are you a prayer warrior, an agoniser? I pray that more of us will get serious with prayer.

clip_image010[2] Do you know your gifts? Have people, including the leaders, of this church, affirmed them? Are you being slack and ineffective in your ministry? Will you allow God to get hold of you so that you minister in your gifts?

clip_image010[3] If you are a doubter, a backslider, or somebody thinking of chucking your faith, please see me after this service so that we can arrange to spend time in working through your doubts.

clip_image010[4] All of you who know Christ have been wonderfully forgiven. Some of you have been forgiven from a deeply depraved lifestyle. I praise God for you. May you know the reality of sins forgiven and grow in grace and knowledge of the Saviour.

Notes:


[1] I, Spencer Gear, preached this sermon at Bundaberg West Baptist Church, Bundaberg, Qld., Australia, on 29 February 2004. I now live in Brisbane, Qld., Australia.

[2] This is found in Jerry Cook with Stanley C. Baldwin, 1979, Love, Acceptance & Forgiveness, Regal Books, Ventura, CA, pp. 9-11. At the time Jerry wrote the book he was pastor of East Hill Church [International Church of the Foursquare Gospel], Gresham, Oregon.

[3] “Colossians 4:7-18, Why We Need Each Other,” Brian Bill, Pontiac Bible Church, Sermon Central. Available at: http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/why-we-need-each-other-brian-bill-sermon-on-church-body-of-christ-57504.asp (Accessed 19 August 2012).

[4] See 1:3ff., 4:2-4.

[5] See 1:24ff.

[6] See 2:6ff.

[7] See 3:1ff.

[8] See 3:18ff.

[9] See 4:2-6.

[10] Some MSS read, “that he may know about your.”

[11] R. C. H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament:The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon, Hendrickson Publishers, 1937, 1946, 1961, p. 195.

[12] Lenski, p. 30.

[13] C. F. D. Moule, 1957, The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 136.

[14] In Robert J. Morgan 2000, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, p. 289.

[15] A “sundoulos.”

[16] Lenski, p. 196.

[17] Lenski, p. 196.

[18] Brian Bill, op cit.

[19] Lenski, pp. 202-203.

[20] The original said, “Brethren.”

[21] Michael P. Green (ed.) 1982, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, illustration No. 1030, pp. 277-278.

[22] Brian Bill, op cit. The ESV states that Paul wrote Colossians ca. A.D. 60 (p. 1183) and that Paul wrote 2 Timothy in A.D. 64-68 (p. 1197). [The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 2001, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton Illinois]. Curtis Vaughan considers that “the Epistle should therefore be dated about A.D. 62 during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment (cf. Acts 28:30, 31) [ The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11, Zondervan, 1978, p. 166]. Ralph Earle considers that “it is obvious that the second Epistle to Timothy was written not later than A.D. 67. It may have been as early as 65” (1 Timothy, in ibid., pp. 343-344)]

[23] Based on William Hendriksen, 1968, (New Testament Commentary), Galatians, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, p. 219.

[24] Based on: “Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged: Making Evil Look Innocent “. Available at http://www.carylmatrisciana.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=94&Itemid=72 (Accessed 19 August 2012).

[25] This is in Cook & Baldwin 1979:10-11 (bibliographic details above).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

clip_image012

1 Peter: How to live triumphantly in trials

By Spencer D Gear

It is estimated that the apostle Peter wrote this epistle in the the mid A.D. 60s.  He wrote to believers who were discouraged and scattered because of the persecution they were encountering.  Here they are called “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1:1 ESV).  Because they were suffering for their faith, he urged them to look to the example of Christ (3:8ff) and remember that they will be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (5:1).

The following are expositions from I Peter that I have preached in local churches in Australia.

1 Peter 1

1 Peter 2

1 Peter 3

1 Peter 4

1 Peter 5

vs 1-2
vs 3-5
vs 6-7
vs 8-9
vs 10
vs 10-12
vs 13-16
vs 17
vs 18-19
vs 20-21
vs 22-25
vs 1-3
vs 4-8
vs 9-12

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV).


Copyright (c) 2007, Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at: 14 October 2015.

I Peter 1:22-25, The Christian’s New Way of Life: Purity, Truth and Love

All through life

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

A. Introduction

Would you please suggest to me three major characteristics of a Christian’s new way of  life after becoming a Christian.  What should a Christian lifestyle be like?  If you had never ever seen a Christian, what major character traits would you see?  Just three of them please!  [I’ll wait.]

You may not remember the name, Tertullian, but he was one of the great defenders of the faith in the early church.  He was an apologist.  He was born about A.D. 160 to a Roman centurion in Carthage (Northern Africa).  He wrote these words:

It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for [they] themselves are animated by mutual hatred; [of us they say,] how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. And they are wrath with us, too, because we call each other brethren.[2]

We have come to the last 3 verses in I Peter 1, and we have some teaching here on three aspects of biblical Christianity that are under as much threat in Australia today as they were in Asia Minor (Turkey) in the first century.

Based on I Peter 1:22-25, the message from this passage is: The Christian’s New Way of Life: Purity, Truth & Love.

Note what is happening in Australia today with this new way of life.

Purity: We want our waterways to be clear and to provide pure & clean water.  But as for the moral slide of our country, we are heading towards God’s judgment with loose living.  We might call it sex, love and rock ‘n roll, but God calls it sexual immorality.

“In Melbourne [in July 2003] . . . the Uniting Church of Australia voted to allow homosexual ministers. They are the first (but probably not the last) Australian church to do so.”[3]

As for truth, I was in a public meeting in Bundaberg a few years ago when the speaker said, “There are no such things as absolutes.” I challenged him and a person in the audience challenged me: “There are no absolutes.”  And you know what?  He was absolutely sure about that.  When we proclaim, “There are no absolutes,” it means that there is no such thing as truth, no right, no wrong.  And that’s an absolute in itself.

The current culture has experienced a paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism. Postmodern thought is a rejection of absolute, objective truth. One author described the changes this way: “Permanence and solidity in social structures are now bygone commodities, not to mention abiding values and the concept of truth. . .”[4]

Don Matzat puts it so well:

The concept of error or wrong has been removed from the postmodern vocabulary with one exception – it is wrong to say that someone’s world view, religion, culture, philosophy or experience is wrong. The only absolute truth that exists in the postmodern mentality is that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and as far as the postmodern scholar is concerned, that is absolutely true.[5]

Matzat continues:

Our culture is saying truth is no longer that which corresponds with reality. Truth emerges out of a specific community or culture. Christians have their truth. Muslims have their truth. The New Age advocates have their truth.

Individually, truth is that which will produce a better reality for me or give me an excuse for having messed up my present reality. It is my truth if it works for me.[6]

What about love today in Australia?  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics

The [year] 2002 crude marriage rate of 5.4 marriages per 1,000 population represented the second lowest marriage rate on record, following 5.3 per 1,000 in 2001. The highest crude marriage rate ever recorded was 12.0 per 1,000 in 1942. The crude marriage rate has been declining since 1970. This decline in the marriage rate can be mainly attributed to changes in attitudes to marriage and living arrangements that have occurred since then.[7]

Note what the Australian Bureau of Statistics says about de facto relationships: “Between 1996 and 2001 the census count of people aged 15 years and over in de facto marriages rose by 28% from 744,100 to 951,500.”[8]  They are not marriages at all.  They are de facto relationships.  About one million of them in the year 2001.

You talk to a 16-17 year old down the street and ask them about love and the most likely response you’ll get will be something about sex.  A 16-year-old young man told me a few weeks ago that he was “sexually active” with his 15-year-old girlfriend.  The Scriptures call it sexual immorality.

Let’s unpack I Peter 1:22-25, The Christian’s New Way of Life: Purity, Truth & Love, to see how our society measures up.  What would God say to Australia today from this passage of Scripture?

B.  This salvation brings a new way of life: purity, truth and love (v. 22)

Please observe three things that Peter says about this new way of life through Christ’s salvation.

1. First, this is the “state” of Christians: “You have purified yourselves” (v. 22)

¨ This is not a ceremonial, ritual cleansing like the Hebrew sacrificial system.  It is not physical cleansing of their bodies.  These believers knew that “to purify” meant “moral purity.”

+ This is what James meant in 4:8: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

+ Or a John wrote in 1 John 3:3, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

¨ “You have purified” is difficult to translate into English because we don’t have an exact representation of this Greek perfect tense in English.  But it means that this purifying began in the past [at salvation] and is continuing now for the believer.

¨ A believer who is not morally pure is a contradiction in terms.  These Gentile believers had come from a very loose lifestyle in Asia Minor, but they had been redeemed.  This meant that their moral way of life was radically different from the mainstream of society.

¨ If you call yourself Christian, your lifestyle of purity is different than for normal Aussies.  This is the lifestyle of difference – moral purity.  This does not mean that your moral failures in the past cannot be changed.  In fact, the Christian life is one of moral purity that stands out from the way of the world.

How do believers who may have lived a previously immoral lifestyle attain moral purity?

Second, It starts at salvation, but v. 22 tells us the means for it to continue. . .

2. By obeying the truth

¨ What is truth?  Here, it is obedience to the truth of God’s word.  When believers  live a life of obedience to God’s Word, they will live a life of purity.

¨ In Acts 15:9, Peter spoke on behalf of Gentile Christians and said: “[God] made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”

¨ When we read and study the Bible, we discover that

+ God’s view of sexuality is: no sex until marriage and faithfulness in marriage.

+De facto relationships are not God’s way to purity.  All de facto relationships are outside of God’s rules for moral purity.

+Please understand that moral purity means more than just sexuality.  What are the morals about right and wrong in working for your boss?  What about obeying government?  If you go to I Peter 2:1, you’ll see some more examples of moral impurity that must be gone from the Christian life.  We cannot be malicious towards others; we must get rid of all deceit in our lives.  Hypocrisy (saying one thing and doing another) must have no part in the Christian life.  Moral purity means that we are not envious of anything or anyone.  Slander of every kind must be gone from the Christian’s life.

Brothers and sisters, this Christian life is one of challenge and change.  If we act morally like the world, our Christian life must be questioned.

How do we purify ourselves?  “By obeying the truth.”  I have a grave concern for the current generation of evangelical Christians.  Forget about the liberals.  They don’t preach the Gospel or support the authoritative Word of God, so we can’t deal with them as Christians.

However, if  we have been born again and the Word of God is not faithfully preached from our pulpits, what chance do God’s people have of “obeying the truth” from what is preached from the pulpit?  Desley and I have visited way too many supposedly evangelical churches who do not obey what Paul said to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-2): “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

This is an awesome charge for anyone who dares to teach any of God’s people: Preach the Word.  Not preach your own opinion.  Preach what the text says.

I was leading a church service recently and asked the preacher to share with me his sermon topic so that I could build the service around his theme.  This is what he emailed me: “I will be preaching, talking, arguing, speaking or even some would say waffling from [and he mentioned the passage] roughly within the limits.”[9]

If Christians are “to purify themselves,” it must be through “obeying the truth” of God’s Word.  You can’t obey what you don’t know.  Therefore preaching the Word of God and not my human opinion is critical in churches today.  Just as important is getting a daily dose of God’s Word in your own lives.  How many of you have a consistent, daily, systematic reading of God’s Word?  Honest now?  How many of you meditate on God’s Word and its application to your lives daily.  I do not know how we can maintain a life of purity in a wicked world without getting God’s view from his word – daily!

If you use the KJV, you will note that it reads: “obeying the truth through the Spirit.”  The words, “through the Spirit” were in some of the MSS at the time the KJV was translated in 1611, but older MSS, closer to the time of the apostles, have been found and they do not include the words, “through the Spirit.”  However, we can understand why a scribe might have added “through the Spirit” and it is “correct enough but it is not a part of the text”[10] according to the best and oldest MSS evidence.

If you . . .

  •  First, purify yourselves by
  •  Second, obeying the truth of God’s word, what will happen?  There will be a result.

3. Third, you will “have sincere love for your brothers” (v. 22)

The Greek word for “brothers” means brothers and sisters in Christ.

The first Christians shared their goods and helped one another. Their common love for Jesus led them to love one another as Jesus commanded, thus allowing them to live in harmony and peace with one another. Seeing this, non-believers remarked, ‘See how they loved one another.'”[11]

Remember Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels (Matt. 22:35-39):

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

When we love God, purify ourselves by obeying the truth, there will be worldview difference in the way we love.  This is actually a command to love one another that doesn’t show up in the NIV.

Yes, we are commanded to love our non-Christian neighbours.  Peter says one of the defining differences among the Christian community is not only that we are commanded to “love our brothers and sisters, ” but also that “you [must] have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

“Sincere love” here means “unhypocritical (unfeigned, sincere, honest) brotherly affection.” It means “not wearing a mask such as ancient actors wore on the stage to represent some fictitious character.  There is always the danger that we pretend like an actor instead of having actual affection.” [12]  This is not agape love, but philia love.

Here, Peter is teaching what John taught in 1 John 3:18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

1 John 4:19-21:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What does loving one another without a hypocritical mask look like in this group of Christians?

  •  Sometimes our love towards another is not appreciated and is met with coldness, and maybe is rebuffed.  That’s no reason to stop loving.
  •  I know that some people seem to be more lovable than others.  But this verse does not say: “Love your brother and sister if they are lovable.”
  •  Peter wants us to love one another without half-heartedness.
  •  Remove all evil thoughts and feelings from your hearts towards other brothers and sisters.
  •  Love needs to have a free reign to demonstrate its genuineness.
  •  All impurity conflicts with God’s gospel of truth.
  •  There must be absolute truth in our relationships.  We mean what we say and say what we mean.
  •  Are there factions and divisions among you.  You can’t truly love your brothers and sisters in Christ if strife continues between you.  Make it right today, in the name of Jesus, if such exists in this fellowship.

Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  This is the litmus test of discipleship.  Do you know the Lord?  Are you a disciple of Christ?  Do you love one another in this church?  Or are there tension, factions and strife?  If we do not love one another, we are not demonstrating biblical discipleship to other Christians and to a watching world.

This salvation brings a new way of life: purity, truth and love (v. 22)

C.  Why should we have purity, truth and love in our new way of life?

v. 23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

¨ You have been born again – we are familiar with this language, but what does it mean?  We have been born into God’s family.  That’s why we are brothers and sisters.

Not perishable, but imperishable seed.  What does that mean?  When I plant a cane stalk, the cane disintegrates, it perishes, in the ground in order to produce another plant, which is also perishable.  However, when the seed of God’s word, the gospel, is planted in your life and you accept it, it becomes imperishable seed, i.e. the imperishable seed of eternal life.  How come?

‘Through the living & enduring word of God.’

A normal seed that is planted perishes as it gives birth to a new plant, which produces seeds which also will perish.  But when the see of the word of God, germinates in your life, you have new life that is eternal, imperishable.

For us living in an agricultural society, this is a wonderful illustration of the power of the Word of God to change people.  I’m reminded of Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

In vv 24-25, we have a splendid reminder of just how fragile human life is from a worldly perspective:

For,”All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

This is a quote from Isaiah 40:6-8.  Isaiah seems to be Peter’s favourite OT book, quoting from it on 6 occasions.[13]

What are these two verses telling us?

D. This salvation majors on the PERMANENT and not on the TEMPORAL [v. 24]

1. This is a shocker for us human beings to acknowledge.

ALL people; nobody is exempt, and all the human glory that we profess (like talents, achievements, wealth), are like grass and flowers – they wither & fall off.  We are temporal human beings.  There is nothing permanent about our human existence and the things we accumulate will with and fall.  The Psalmist reminds us: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field” (103:15).  Jesus said: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:30).

Last week, we saw a fearsome example of how frail human beings are.  Talk about grass withering and flowers falling off, what could be more devastating to the hopes of human beings than the force of hurricane Katrina and the damage it did in the USA.

BUT . . . BUT. . .

  • “the word of the Lord stands forever.”[quote from Isaiah 40:6-8]  And this is the word that was preached to you.

Even if you forget everything I have said today, please make this a permanent dwelling in your thinking: “the word of the Lord stands forever.”  Kingdoms will rise and fall.  Your lives may experience considerable disappointment.  But on one thing you can absolutely sure: “the word of the Lord stands forever.”

Please understand that when the critics, whether inside or outside of the church, want to attack the core of Christianity, they zero in on attacking the Word of God.  Here are a couple of examples:

  •  USA Episcopalian (that’s Anglican), John Shelby Spong, wrote:  To believe the traditional understanding of “the inspiration of scripture as the literal, revealed word of God” is “not just naïve, but eminently rejectable. . .  Scripture is filled with cultural attitudes that we have long ago abandoned and with behavior that is today regarded as immoral.”[14]
  • Marcus Borg: “The gospels are neither divine documents nor straightforward historical records.  They are not divine products inspired directly by God.”[15]
  • Back in the 1960s, Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson wrote his devastating little book, Honest to God, in which he stated this about the Bible:

In order to express the ‘trans-historical’ character of the historical event of Jesus of Nazareth, the New Testament writers used the ‘mythological’ language of pre-existence, incarnation, ascent and descent, miraculous intervention, cosmic catastrophe, and so on, which according to Bultmann, make sense only on a now antiquated world-view.[16]

What’s “the word of the Lord”?  Peter has just quoted it for us from Isaiah.  It is very deliberate that Peter calls this “the word of the Lord” and not “the word of God.”  Why?  In the OT,

the word LORD signifies “the self-disclosed name of the covenant-God of Israel, Yahweh, ‘Jehovah.”  In the New Testament it is a standard designation for Jesus Christ.  With the term Lord Peter highlights Jesus’ divinity; he shows that the word of God is identical with the word of the Lord Jesus.  For that reason, Peter concludes this section in these words:

25b.  And this is the word that was preached to you.  The word the apostles preached was the gospel of Jesus.[17]

Notice the emphasis of this passage: Keep your eyes on the temporal things of this world and you will not experience real, genuine hope.  Hope comes from your relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  That’s what will last forever.  If you want lasting hope, don’t rely on:

¨ How much money you have, or other temporal things;

¨ Lay up treasure in heaven through your relationship with Jesus Christ.

E.        Conclusion

Let’s draw some applications:

1. Based on this passage, we know that Christians are those who have been born again by God’s imperishable seed, the Word of the Lord.  Rebirth is something that happens in the heart of a person.  The effects of this rebirth will affect your intellect, your emotions and your moral character.

Based on this passage, there are three telltale signs that you are born-again:

a. First, you have morally purified yourself and that is a continuing process;

b. Second, you are striving to obey God’s truth; and

c. Third, you have committed your life to loving God and loving your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Love in action.

2. This passage demonstrates the unity of both the Old and New Testaments.  The believers in Asia Minor, to whom Peter wrote, accepted the Old Testament as the Word of the Lord, but they also accepted Christ’s gospel, preached by the apostles, as the Word of the Lord.  Christ’s gospel of the NT, was on equal par with the OT.

I have a concern that we as NT believers do not read and meditate

on the OT as much as we read the NT.  We cannot do without regular exposure to the OT:

  •  The teaching of evolution in the public schools overwhelms many of our young people.  How can you possibly refute it without an understanding of the Book of Genesis, especially the early chapters?
  •  How is it possible to understand the wickedness in our world without the teaching of the fall into sin, Genesis 3?  From when did you become a sinner?  Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
  •  What is God’s design for marriage?  Genesis 2:24: “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
  •  What happens to a people who promote homosexuality?  Read of the judgment of God on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
  •  What happens to a nation that turns from God?  Read the book of Jeremiah.  What about Obadiah v. 15: “The day of the LORD is near for all nations.  As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

We must understand the critical importance of regarding the whole Bible as the Word of the Lord.

Ramad was [one of] the most dangerous men in all of India.  His gang attacked, plundered, and terrified the remote villages of the area.  He was wanted dead or alive.

While ransacking a small home in one of the villages, he found a small black book.  At first he started to throw it away, but he noticed that the paper was very thin and just the right size for roll-your-own cigarettes.  Each evening after a meal Ramad would relax with a smoke.

He would take out the little book, tear a page out, and fold it over for the tobacco.  One evening while folding the paper, he noticed the writing was in his own language.  So each evening after eating, he would read a page of the little book and then smoke it.  One evening he knelt down and asked Jesus to forgive his sins and to be his Savior.  The small black book was the Bible.

He turned himself over to the police, much to their surprise, and turned from a bandit to a prisoner for Christ.  The prison became Ramad’s mission field where he led many other prisoners to Jesus.

God’s word made the change in his life.[18]

Obeying the truth of the Word of the Lord, one of the key characteristics of being a Christian.

Notes:


[2] Tertullian, “The Apology,” ch. 39, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Available from: http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-05.htm#P425_201743 [30 August 2005].

[3] Luke Tattersall 2004, ‘Sending a Clear Message,’ Matthias Media, The Briefing, Available from: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/briefing/webextra/sep03_clearmessage.htm [30 August 2005].

[4] Ted Cabal 2001, “An Introduction to Postmodernity: Where Are We, How Did We Get Here, and Can We Get Home?” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 5:2 (Summer 2001), p. 4, cited in D. Massimo Lorenzini 2002-2004, ‘Postmodern truth versus biblical truth’, Taking Every Thought Captive, Frontline Ministries, Available from: http://www.frontlinemin.org/truth.asp#N_3_ [30 August 2005].

[5] Don Matzat 1997, ‘Apologetics in a Postmodern Age’, Issues, Etc. Journal, Fall 1997, Vol. 2 No. 5, Available from: http://www.stjohnyorkpa.com/ApologeticsinaPostmodernAge.htm  (Accessed 20 March 2013).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005, ‘Year Book Australia Population: Marriages, divorces and de facto relationships,’ Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/992c91e65fb38b66ca256f7200832f7e?OpenDocument [30 August 2005].

[8] Ibid.

[9] This was the content of an email to me by a Baptist deacon (JB), 25 August 2005, with regard to his preaching at a Baptist Church in Qld., Australia, the preaching being on 28 August 2005.  His actual words were: “I will be preaching, talking, arguing, speaking or even some would say waffling from Acts 17:15 to 34 roughly within the limits. I will get back to you more specifically tomorrow. Thanks …”

[10] Lenski, p. 71.

[11]  Al Cariño, “Paralyzed with fear no longer,” May 19, 2002, Lifeissues.net, Available from: http://lifeissues.net/writers/car/car_73fear-nolonger.html [30 August 2005].

[12] R. C. H. Lenski 1966, Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MASS, p. 71.

[13] 1:24-25; 2:6; 2:8; 2:9a; 2:9c; 2:22.  He cites the Psalms twice in 2:7 and 3:10-12; Proverbs twice at 4:18 and 5:5; Exodus once in 2:9b, and Leviticus once at 1:16 (from Simon J. Kistemaker 1987, New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, n69, p. 73).

[14] Spong, J. S. 2001, A New Christianity for a New World, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 2.

[15] Borg, M. J. 1994, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 9.

[16] Robinson, J. A. T. 1963, Honest to God, SCM Press Ltd., London, p. 24.

[17] Kistemaker, p. 74.

[18] Peter V. Deison, in Roy B. Zuck 1997, The Speaker’s Quote Book, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 34.

 

Copyright © 207 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.