THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Intercessory prayer is a great mystery. I say that because we can bring to God concerns about others when in reality God has greater concerns for those people in those circumstances than we ever could. It’s a mystery how God has so structured His world that He acts on the prayers of His children. Think with me, do things happen when we pray and things don’t happen when we don’t? I think that is really true. Prayer actually changes God. Many people say, no, prayer only changes us. But i submit to you prayer actually affects the way God deals not only with us, for certainly prayer changes us, but prayer actually changes others and circumstances even around the world where we will never personally be present. Yes, i believe intercessory prayer is the mystery of God doing something different not because He didn’t always want to, but because His people beseeched Him in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Spirit.

There are many examples of great intercessory prayers in the Old Testament. I think of Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah with the LORD in Genesis 18:22ff. Moses pleaded to the LORD for Israel in Exodus 32:31ff where he says, “If You can’t forgive them, then blot me out of the book which Thou hast written”. There are other examples of Moses interceding for Israel’s behalf in Exodus 5:22-23; Deuteronomy 5:5; 9:18; and 9:25ff. where Moses holds them up to the LORD and just falls himself down on God’s throne of grace for the people of Israel. I think of Samuel as he prays for Israel (i.e. 1 Samuel 7:5-9; 1 Sam. 12:16-23; 1 Sam. 15:11), where Samuel says, “It would be a sin for me not to pray for you” even when they asked for a king and hurt God’s feelings, but he said, “I’m still going to pray for you, i won’t forget you”. Then we have David, in a very real sense praying for his love-child with Bathsheba. God said that child would die because of David’s sin. David beseeched the LORD for that child (cf. 2 Samuel 12:16-18); of course the child died. So there’s a real mystery there that we don’t understand, but we see David going to God with a concern for that baby. Isaiah 59:16 is a passage that really amazed me where it said that God is looking for intercessors, and He saw there was no man, and was astonished there was no one to intercede, therefore His own arm brought salvation to him, and His righteousness upheld him. That seems to tell me that God was surprised there were no intercessors. I think in the history of the church, we’ve seen men and women that God has raised up for the purpose of intercessory ministry. I believe intercession is a gift of the Spirit, and it certainly is. Do you realize that two-thirds of the Trinity intercedes for us, and the other third is not reluctant to do it? He’s the One that sent those two. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us (cf. Romans 8:26-27) in times where we don’t know how to pray either for our self or for others, the Holy Spirit who knows everything about us and everything about God prays to God for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. You mean the indwelling Holy Spirit prays for us on an ongoing basis? Yes, and not only that, but the Son prays for us. His ministry was not through at Calvary, He continues to have an intercessory ministry, where in Romans 8:34 it says, he intercedes for us always. Then I think of Hebrews 7:25 where it talks about that the Son continues to intercede for us. And then lo and behold, in 1 John 2:1, the very word that’s used for the Holy Spirit, ‘Paraclete’ as one called alongside to help, our comfort, is the very word used of Christ Jesus of Nazareth. He always intercedes for us. Hallelujah! So you mean to say it’s God the Father who is on our side, it’s an indwelling Holy Spirit whoever holds before the throne, and it’s a resurrected-glorified-friend-brother and Savior, who moment-by-moment intercedes for us? Wow! That ought to be the example of intercession for us. That the Triune God is interceding on our behalf, we ought to intercede on behalf of others as well!

IMMATURE WE ALL ARE, ONE TIME OR ANOTHER

We have used the word ‘backsliding’ loosely to define someone who has been active in the church and then gotten away, and we usually say he is a ‘backslider’. I think that’s a rather inappropriate use of the term; i think ‘immature’ is a more proper description. Because the truth of the matter is that all of us in areas of our life are immature. Even the most mature of Christians would have to admit that there are days and times that we lose the control in maturity of most aspects of our Christian life. The New Testament often calls it carnality, or often identifies it with the dichotomy of the ‘flesh’ and the ‘spirit’. The Apostle Paul speaks about this concept in many of his books – the ‘Old Man’ and the ‘New Man’ (cf. Rom. 6:6). He sometimes speaks of the ‘Outward Man’ and the ‘Inward Man’ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16), or the ‘Old Creature’ and the ‘New Creature’ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17), and many antitheses like these. Now usually when he talks about the ‘Old Man’ and the New Man’, he’s talking about the lost and the saved. He’s drawing a line through mankind, and saying, depending on whether you have ever met Jesus Christ by faith or have not met Him by faith, you are either the ‘Old Man’ or you are the ‘New Man’; better yet, the ‘Natural man’ or the ‘Spiritual Man’. So we’re talking about two different black and white kinds of things: those who know Him, and those who do not know Him. But what Paul also does is, he takes those that are indeed spiritual Man category; those who are redeemed and blood-bought people of God, the family of God, and then he breaks those into two halves, and he uses the same term that he used for the ‘lost’ and the ‘saved’, he’s now going to use inside the redeemed community. And the two terms he’s going to use now is ‘carnal’ and ‘spiritual’ again. I think that’s where the confusion comes.

In Romans 6:6, the dichotomy between the ‘lost’ and the ‘saved’ are well-defined; in that “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. It’s obvious that the mind set on the flesh (sarx) means death, and the mind set on the spirit is life. However in Romans chapter 6, Paul uses the very same term flesh (sarx) and spirit, but he is talking about the dichotomy or division within the Christian family. It is an admonition to Christians. The word flesh (sarx) is in the context of believers. Is it possible that there are Christians who walk after the flesh? Well, read 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3 and you will agree with me that there were so-called ‘carnal’ Christians then as there are today. Paul calls them ‘babes in Christ’ which helps us get the idea that the word ‘carnal’, the word ‘fleshly’ in the sense of Christians is synonymous with immature Christianity. Paul says, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly (or carnal)”. A ‘baby Christian’ or an ‘immature Christian’ is someone who is dominated by the flesh, but every Christian starts as a ‘baby Christian’ – nothing wrong with that. We all were ‘baby Christians’ at some point in time, but if years, and years, and years have gone by and you’re still a ‘baby Christian’, something’s wrong with you! It’s not just you do not know any better, you have become truly dominated by the flesh. Your goals are self-centered, your dreams are world-oriented. You do not have the mind of Christ. You do not have the heart of Christ. You do not look at the world through the lens of God’s commission to us to go and make disciples of all nations. You look at the world with ‘what’s best for me and mine. What’s it going to do for me’ kind of attitude.

Christians who have been to church for years, and years and, years, and are characterized by an attitude of worldliness are called backslidden Christians, and they may be in church every Sunday. But you You see the truth of the matter is that every one of us in some areas of our lives are immature. All of us have cut off certain aspects of our personality, and have not allowed God to have complete control over all that we are. And the people we usually peg as ‘backsliders’ are simply those whose problem is more obvious to our eyes. But the trick is that every Christian at times in their lives are immature in many areas, and I do not believe it’s possible in our world to be fully controlled by the Spirit of God 24 hours a day/7 days a week. We move here and out of that kind of control of the Holy Spirit. Small wonder, Paul commands that we be ever filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The truth is, carnality is the problem of man. But when we became Christians we were indwelt of the Spirit of God, but the old nature was not removed from us. And therefore the Christian life is not reaching some plane of maturity; some level of sinlessness. But the Christian Life is a moment-by-moment struggle between what God wants and what we want, and when we win the battle we are carnal, we are fleshly, we are backslidden.

I believe that when we say we are ‘in Christ’, which means we have been bought with the blood of Christ, Christ cleanses us from all sin. And even immaturity does not make us inappropriate for the family of God., for we didn’t become Christians because of what we did and we all stay Christians for what we do (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). There is a thing known, as Positional Sanctification – we are right with God in Christ, totally apart from anything that we do except receiving Him, basically. But hopefully God wants to move us from Positional Sanctification in Christ to Experiential Sanctification in Christ, which means we’re moving from Grace as a gift to Grace as a way of life. We’re moving from forgiveness of sin to sinning less. We’re moving from knowing Him in salvation, and knowing Him day-to-day in our Christian life. So I think it’s very apropos to speak of ‘Sanctified in Christ’ and ‘be Sanctified in Christ’. God’s will for us is that we become more and more like His Son, which is Experiential or Progressive sanctification. The more we understand what God has done for us in Christ, the more should we allow Him to work in our lives. Seeing more clearly who Jesus is and the kind of no-strings-attached love God has for us, we then see that people are really lost and searching aimlessly in life, and that God can break our hearts to begin to serve Him out of gratitude and joy.

THE ESSENCE OF WORSHIP

The English word ‘worship’ comes from an Anglos-Saxon word that seems to mean ‘worthy ship’ or someone who is due honor and respect. I think in the church of England today you still call an ecclesiastical person or a civil person, “your worship’, which didn’t mean he was divine, it just meant he was worthy of respect; that’s the ancient use of the English term. Well in the Bible, there are primarily two Hebrew terms and two Greek terms that describe the concept of worship, and both of them follow along the two basic etymologies. One is ‘abodah’ which is from a Hebrew root that means “to serve” or “to labor.”  It is usually translated “the service of God”. The other is ‘Hishtahawah’, which is from a Hebrew root that means “to bow” or “to prostrate oneself”. The New Testament develops it into the Greek word “latreia”, which is the state of a hired laborer or slave. And the other Greek root ‘proskuneo’ which means “to prostrate oneself,” “to adore,” or “to worship.”

Worship in Scripture is both implied (not implicit) as to its origins, and it’s also a historical development from the time God instituted the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3, through the Patriarchal period to Moses, and up to rabbinical Judaism of Jesus’ day. There is no systematic theology about the concept of worship, but there are some incipient truths, there are some apparent beginnings, and there is a definite historical development through the Bible. First, let’s look at some of these incipient statements that are later developed, and the first one I want to look at is God instituting the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3. Now in the context, it said that God rested from His labor, and He sanctified or made holy that day. That doesn’t say anything about man following that practice, but obviously that is the background for the Mosaic development of the 10 commandments of honoring the Sabbath. And so obviously, Moses developed this theme into something that God always wanted for man, but was not revealed at first and yet the incipient form is very evident here in Genesis 2:1-3. It was a weekly time where man emulates God’s action. Of course, God didn’t need to rest, but He set the stage for man to recreate himself and worship and fellowship with God, with family, and with his fellow man. I think another shining passage that is not developed but we see from inference is very significant, in Genesis chapter 3 verse 21 where God, in executing justice kills the animals to clothe Adam and Eve. Now it is obvious that the environment outside the Garden of Eden was much more severe because of the curse than the setting where God was, God prepares man for this hostile environment, and yet by taking an animal’s life to provide man’s need, seems to be a beginning incipient form for animals used in the sense of God’s purpose to benefit man, and man using animals not only for food and clothing and implements using their bones or whatever. But it’s obvious this develops into sacrifice, for not long after this, we find man himself taking animal life to try to please God or bless God or honor God. In Genesis chapter verses 3 and following we see Cain and Abel offer sacrifice, and it’s always been interesting to me that God did not look with favor on Cain’s offering while He looked with favor on Abels’s offering; first of all, i do not think this passage is primarily a depreciation of vegetable or non-bloody sacrifice. This is not talking about the tension between farmers and ranchers, it’s nothing like that. These two men just happened to have two occupations, and they came to God with the produce of their labors. Apparently, it doesn’t seem to be something brand new. It seems to be something they did over and over. There is something of great significance here because of the truth embodied in their attitudes. Now, I think the real key to this passage is the attitude of Abel versus the attitude of Cain. Some see a key here, in the word ‘firstlings of the flock’ meaning, Abel brought his best, while Cain just brought some of his produce. That may be true, but we can’t read a whole lot in here. But this obviously sets the stage for sacrifice. It doesn’t say they built an altar; it doesn’t say where they met God. It’s simply a case where they came to God – well, I think at the Garden of Eden, the entrance to it was the last place they had met God and performed this. Another passage in the Old Testament which seems to imply the concept of worship is in Genesis chapter four verses 25 and 26, after delineating the rebellion of Cain and his descendants in the early part chapter 4, the godly line of Seth is brought back up, and in this passage it says, “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. That’s a very interesting statement. To call on the Name of the Lord basically means to worship Him. ‘To call on the name of’ is to pray to, and thus to indicate that you are worshiping a particular god or goddess, and calling on their name. You call on the the name of a false god, if you’re an idolater. The same terminology is used of false worship, as well as true worship. Subsequently, this practice of ‘calling on the name’ of the Lord was lost through the generations that followed until the time of Moses where we find worship in context of the Covenant God meeting His people in some ritual act that was accompanied by an attitude of respect, and awe, and faith. And so i think attitude is very important aspect in the ideal of worship. We find this attitude in Noah as well when he brought in clean animals into the ark for the purpose of sacrifice, thinking of God’s promises, he provides for a place of sacrifice immediately after coming out of the ark after the great flood; of course his family was also caught up in this idea of worship by offering a sacrifice. Now, another glowing passage about worship in the early parts of Genesis would be Abraham. Abraham is really the focus of Genesis Where God through Abraham establishes a kingdom of priests to bring all the world to Him. Now this Abraham, this progenitor of the family of God offers sacrifice in those places where God has met him, and that becomes a characteristic for much of Israel’s history. Altars were set up where they met God. And so this practice was carried on in the household of Isaac, later by Jacob, and on and on, it became a standard during the patriarchal period. The Biblical material seems to clarify that sacrifice is developed out of the express will of God in specific patterns. But the bible does not record that express will, nor does it record the specific patterns; but these allusions show that its present, but it is never stated in specific terms.

Now, what is the content of worship? Well it is obvious that man’s attitude as well as man’s actions not only on the day he offers sacrifice, but on the rest of his life is connected with the ideal of worship. So therefore, the ideal of worship has two aspects: one is our attitude toward God caught up in the physical gesture of bowing down or prostrating oneself, and the other is a lifestyle working out of an attitude where we serve God when we understand what His will is. Worship covers the entire man it deals with attitude and it deals with action. And if we miss either side of that, we’re going to get into dangerous areas that cause tremendous problems in the Bible. I think Deuteronomy 11:13 (one of many) somehow catches the essence of that balance between attitude and lifestyle, “It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul,” – Obedience to its commands worked out in a lifestyle borne of attitude of love, and respect, and honor. I think both of those are crucial. I think Deuteronomy chapter 30 verse 6 is also a good passage to show you that attitude has always been the key to worship – “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”. Of course that reflects the Hebrew prayer called the ‘Shema’ which goes back to Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4 through 6 where again attitude; a total dedication is connected with lifestyle. I think it’s important that we see that. Worship therefore is not something we do, it is something we are. For it is not confined to a place, and a time, and ritual. We worship God with the attitude of our lives. It is the embodiment of our life of faith. It is a response to who God is, and what He through Christ has done for us. We worship Him because of who He is and what He has done. Worship has an element of respect and awe because of who God is. Worship involves the whole person; it is an outgrowth of a personal relationship with the Triune God.

I think the crucial and central passage about worship in the New Testament comes in John 4, with Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s not a planned theological discussion, but in her response to Jesus, to try to evade Him off of those penetrating questions He was asking her, she went back to different forms of worship between the Samaritans and the Jews. And Jesus cut to the heart of worship when He said, “Lady it’s not this mountain or that mountain. it’s not Samaria or Judea that’s central, it’s worshipping God in spirit and truth.” One’s attitude has always been the ideal of worship.

Why do we worship the One true God? Well, because He is worthy! We don’t worship a God made with human hands; a God that’s blind and dumb and incapable of locomotion. We don’t worship a God that we just bowed down to but nothing really happens in our lives. We worship a God who is present, and capable, and powerful – the Creator beside which there is no other. He is the God that is able to perform on our behalf and accomplishes with His own will anything He desires in His universe. This same God is the God who in the midst of our record of falling, in the midst of our record of sin, in the midst of our record of rebellion can establish His church – His people on a foundation that no one can move. Because of the grace we have received by faith, the Gospel is able to make us stand before God blameless, without wrinkle, without spot in Jesus. Sometimes in our lives, the reason we feel like we’re falling and that we’re unattached, and like no one cares, and our life is caught up in chance and circumstances is because we don’t understand who we are in Jesus Christ. O, if we could just see the picture of the spiritual truth and vitality of our salvation totally apart from our own merit; in our own works fully and completely established in the finished work of Jesus Christ we’d be able to stand victorious in all adversities in life. Do you know Him? Do you know Him?

BARNABAS – A CHARACTER SKETCH

Barnabas is a very interesting fellow, he comes across as a concerned, mature individual. In Acts chapter 4, we learn that he was one of these believers who sold their properties and put the proceeds to the disposal of the Apostles. His real name was Joses (Jewish name is Joseph), but he was nicknamed Barnabas. He was a Levite but he was not necessarily a priest. Things had changed in his day because in the Old Testament, Levites were not supposed to keep property, but he was not a priest. It’s possible to be a Levite and not be a priest, but it’s not possible to be a priest without being a Levite. He came from Cyprus, a large island off the coast of Northern Palestine, west of Syria. Barnabas was later named as an apostle, and his name means ‘son of encouragement’ because every time we find this man in the pages of the New Testament, he’s encouraging people. Eusebius, the early church historian says that Barnabas was one of the 70 that Jesus sent out in Luke chapter 10. I don’t know where and how Barnabas first came to know the Lord; none of his background tells anything about it, he just appears on the scene as someone who is willing to share of his material possessions with the others in the church. He gave all of the money out of the proceeds from the sale of his farm, all of it to the apostles (in contradistinction and in comparison to Ananias and Sapphira who tried to keep part of it back, and wanted the praise of the church). Barnabas appears again in Acts 9:27 where he really is an encouragement to the Apostle Paul. We find that the apostles in Jerusalem were a little nervous about Saul of Tarsus’ conversion. It was Barnabas and his influence in Jerusalem in the early church that introduced the new convert, Saul of Tarsus around and let him begin to give his testimony. It was the start of the close friendship of Paul and Barnabas. It’s surprising but Barnabas is often mentioned first, but later on Paul’s leadership and obvious gift from the Lord is acknowledged. But you know when they were in Asia Minor, the people there thought they were Greek Gods. They called Barnabas, Zeus and Paul, Hermes. So they still recognize Barnabas’ sense of leadership in that group, and that’s the kind of man he was.

In Acts 11 beginning in verse 19 and following, we learn that a persecution developed around the death of Stephen, and everybody was scattered except the apostles, and they went preaching the word, and some of these men who went were Greek speaking Jews. This is such an important aspect of Scripture because they’re going to break the barriers down to the pure pagans. And this is very significant for several reasons, It wasn’t the apostles that has the world vision of the church, it was these unnamed Greek speaking Jews who took the final step of preaching the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah to pure pagans. These men had such great faith and they’re not even mentioned by name. They proceeded to proclaim the Good News and the Hand of the Lord was with them. And a large number of these pagans with no background at all in the Old Testament turned to the Lord. They heard that simple message of faith in Christ and responded. Now, the news about them came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and Barnabas was sent all the way to Antioch to check up on this revival that was happening at Antioch. This is the final wedge that broke the tie between the synagogue and the church; between rabbinical Judaism and Christianity. The Jews could just not take these pure Greek pagans becoming believers. There’s still going to be a fight in the early church around a wide range of theologies. You have James (half-brother of Jesus) as the leader of the Jewish church; the Judaizers of which Peter is involved; and then as we move toward the left, there’s Barnabas; and then there’s Paul. And so we’re moving from the most radical Jewish, to the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. The Jerusalem council in Acts 15 was later on convened because of this fight. Barnabas was the perfect one to send, although we find a little later he is still influenced by his Jewish background when in Galatians 3 Paul chides him for not eating with the Gentiles. Barnabas is not presented without warts in the New Testament, but he was a great guy to send, that’s what he does. When he reached there and saw the spiritual blessings God had given them, he was delighted and continuously encouraged them. Living up to his name as the ‘son of encouragement’ he blessed them even though it was so different these pagans coming into the church without becoming Jews first. And Barnabas continued to be devoted to the Lord which speaks of his continual maturity and excitement toward the Lord. He was good man and an upright man filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. Then Barnabas went over to Tarsus to search out Saul. We do not know what Paul was doing these years. We hear of him in Jerusalem and giving his testimony after he’d been in Arabia for 3 years. But then we lose him for a while and he’s back in his hometown in the Tarsus mountains; what he was doing, we really don’t know? But Barnabas knew him in Jerusalem and said, “This is the man i need to help me here in Antioch”. So he went to Tarsus which is up in Asia Minor to search Paul out, and brought him to Antioch to get him to help him with this new church. Paul was the perfect person, and this set the stage for Paul’s ministry. He came in contact with Barnabas and worked with him first in Antioch. It’s really amazing to see God’s miraculous hand in putting these people where they need to be with their spiritual gifts.

In Acts chapter 13, we pick up again with Paul and Barnabas and their ministry in Antioch Syria, a very large city near the Mediterrenean coast north of Palestine. It was infamous for immorality in the form of lustful sports and pleasures, and a center for the worship of Daphne. In the church of Antioch were prophets (proclaimers of the Gospel) and teachers (those who helped strengthen and mature the new believers). There are many Christian leaders in this church, not just Barnabas and Saul, but many other men, leaders who were not to do the work of the ministry, but were to train the members of the church in Antioch to do the work of ministry. They were player coaches, and that’s a concept i think we need to catch. There are gifted people whose focus is not necessarily the Christian ministry but as trainers for believers to do Christian ministry. As these men were fasting, the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work for which they have been called. This is really important for us to realize that we don’t decide what we’re going to do to the church. God tells us what we’re going to do. He gives us the spiritual gifts. We don’t pick which one we want, God chooses our ministry for us, and all we can do is to yield ourselves to Him. And God sets holy men for a special purpose or task within the church.

In chapter 15 beginning about verse 36, we pick up Barnabas again, and we see Him and Paul had a real fight. Please don’t make these Biblical characters bigger than life. Although Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus, his cousin John Mark lived in Jerusalem. And if you remember the story, Barnabas and Saul took John Mark with them to Cyprus, but something happened to John Mark and he did not go on to Asia Minor with them but went back home. When they started on the second journey, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin, and Paul would not let him, and the Bible says a sharp contention arose between them. As a result they’ve grown snotty to each other, split the mission team, and they never again went together. Paul took Silas and went back to Asia Minor. Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus. So here, we have two mission teams instead of one, and God used this even though i’m sure He was real ticked off with these 2 men. The attitude of Barnabas seems to have been too lenient while Paul seems to have been too strict. But thanks be to God, John Mark, as we learn later became the author of the Gospel of Mark, and even later on in Paul’s ministry, sent for John and said he’s useful for the ministry. So they made up and got over it, and it is not for us to think that these New Testament characters are like super saints, they are just like us with ‘warts and all’. I hope you’ll remember that if God can use people like these, God can use you and me as well.

A PRACTICAL MODUS VIVENDI FOR THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST

There is no such thing as a “perfect church”. The church is simply a body of sinners saved by the grace of God; struggling to do the will of God. Problems happen in the church when some over-zealous brothers or sisters pick out things they do or don’t do to make themselves look more spiritual, and start pointing their judgmental fingers on their fellows who don’t necessarily agree with them. We all have biases. We all form opinions of our own on many things in the Bible. It’s what we do as humans; humans are rational beings after all. We think differently on many Biblical issues. We see things differently because of our cultural backgrounds, our education, our traditions among many other things. I guess what is crucial is for us to realize that we do not have the right to tear up the church of Christ over our own pre-suppositional biases; throwing a guilt trip on everyone who does not think and act like we do. I submit to you 2 things we can do to help realize the prayer of Jesus to the Father for the unity of His church (cf. Jn. 17:20-23). Firstly, we must clearly identify our biases. It is so painful, but we must. We all have them, and we must identify them. Secondly, we must personally discern the irreducible minimums of the Christian faith; the core of Biblical truths. Truths that we can all readily affirm, we can all rally behind, and even willingly die for. Truths about the infallibility of the Bible, deity of Jesus, His virgin birth, justification by grace through faith, the goodness and eternality of God, the imminence of Christ’s 2nd coming, etc. These are the common core that we need to cling to and go back to again and again. These are the major truths of historical Christianity that we need to be united about. When we have clearly juxtaposed our biases on the peripherals with the irreducible minimums of our faith, then we can discuss things and issues as brothers and sisters in the Lord over an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Maturity will make us all less dogmatic and less judgmental in our interpersonal relationship.
I subscribe to the dictum: IN ESSENTIALS, UNITY; IN PERIPHERALS, FREEDOM; IN ALL THINGS, LOVE.

SUBMISSION IS NOT ONLY FOR WIVES BUT FOR HUSBANDS AS WELL


“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

(1 Peter 3:7)

This whole idea of submission pertaining to ‘wives submitting to their husbands…’ in Ephesians 5:22 while in the context of the order in the family relationship, covers the husbands as well, as a universal principle. It is a mutual submission out of our respect for Christ (cf. Eph. 5:21). I know it does not say ‘husbands submit…’, but look at the phrase ‘in the same way’ in verse 7 for the husbands, and in verse 6 for the wives, the implication is pertaining to the concept of ‘submission to one another’ although the verb ‘submit’ is not there. The whole context of 1 Peter 2:9-3:9 ‘submission’, and that’s the same context about wives and husbands. There is something about Christianity, that because Christ was subject to the will of the Father, that we are subject to one another. Yes, i do believe there’s an order in creation; i do believe that the male headship is God’s will for the home and the church, but that in no way takes away the truth about the spiritual equality of the male and the female (cf. Gen. 1:27). Now, just because there’s an order in the home does not mean there’s anything ugly about ‘submission’, or inferior about women.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives,…” – what does that mean “be considerate”? Well, things have been helpful to me in my married life to try to put myself in my wife’s place whenever we have disagreement. And when i do that it always drains my own anger off, because then i see the problem in a different way, and i realize that most of the problems have an element selfishness on my part (not all just some). And this i think talks about who we are in Christ, and if you want a long and blissful marriage, you marry somebody who loves Jesus first and you second (i believe that’s a sure fool-proof formula). So here is a husband to live with his wife considering her as the weaker vessel. Of course i am stronger than my wife physically, and we don’t arm-wrestle to make decisions. I think part of this is physical and yet do you know that women are far more equipped for space than men because of their bone structure. So it’s maybe not totally weaker, but in this planet men grow stronger. The fact is, the husband is to deal with his wife with respect befitting of a woman, and continue to honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life.

Do you know that there will be no men and women in heaven (cf. Matt. 22:30)? There’ll be no little boys and little girls in heaven. Sexuality is only an aspect of time not eternity. And while we are caught in this time-space continuum, we need to treat our wives this way, because effective prayer only works as both spouses are growing together. Prayer in a home is only effective when they’re growing together, when husbands treat their wives with honor. Not only because she is equal in the grace of God, but so much your prayers will not be hindered. If you have a bad marriage, surely you will have a bad prayer life. Husbands need to be submissive in some ways, and their submission has to be worked out in a spiritual realm (read Eph. 5). Personally, this concept of submission only makes sense to me when i look at it through the eyes of what Christ has done for me. I need to lay down my rights. I need to lay down my agressive, competitive spirit. I need to quit looking out at everything in what’s it going to do for me. How do i get something out of it. I need to put down this terrible fallen self, and i need to live in a submissive, quiet, and gentle way for the express purpose of the church not being persecuted, and men and women coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior, and that whole change of a world-view needs to color every area of our lives from business, to home, to recreation, to whatever.

WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST

(cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-16)

No human being on his own wisdom can ever know God. Only the Spirit of God really knows God, and He’s going to communicate Him to the believer. He is going to reveal Him to us. He who fully knows God is capable of putting that wonderful truth about God on a low enough level that even fallen mankind can know about God. It is not human discovery. It is divine revelation. We have not received a spirit that belongs to this world; the spirit of rebellion that permeates this fallen world. But we have received the Spirit that has come from God, and there’s coming a new day where God will be in control. And we have received the Holy Spirit that we may get an insight into the blessings God has graciously given us. What the Holy Spirit does is teach us who we are in Jesus Christ, and there’s no greater blessing than that. One way for you to be fully grounded in your faith is to understand who you are and why, and then nothing could ever blow you off that foundation.

The unspiritual man (natural man) is somebody who is not motivated by the Spirit. It’s exactly the opposite of the spiritual man. The natural man has only the wisdom of this fallen age. He doesn’t have the perspective of the Divine Spirit; he does not accept the things of God. He is a man who does not know Christ, and he cannot know spiritual truth. Why do you think the Bible says “don’t throw your pearls before swine?” (i.e Matt. 7:6). To tell spiritual truth to someone who doesn’t know Christ is a fruitless task. It’s impossible for them to understand for they are nonsense to him, and he cannot understand them because they are appreciated by spiritual insight. The unspiritual man doesn’t know how to judge spiritual truth. He can’t ask the right questions, and he doesn’t know the right answers. But the spiritual man does appreciate; he does know the right questions, he does see the right perspective. …”and yet he himself is not really judged by anybody”. What that means is, while the lost man can’t know the things of God, the saved man has God’s mind, God’s heart, and understands God’s thoughts, and the world is not going to understand us. They’re not going to understand why we do things; not understand our perspective, not understand why we give our money, and go, and witness, and ready to die for our faith. It’s impossible for them to understand. ” For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” Here’s this wonderful affirmation that we possess Christ’s thoughts. The Spirit of God Himself gives us the mind of Christ. Hallelujah!

ONE THING THAT DEFINES CHRISTIANS

(cf. 1 Thess. 4:9)

One of the points that we can know that we are Christians; one way to know that we’ve passed from death to life, is because we love the brethren. So, one way we can be sure we’re Christians is because of a very deep and abiding love for other Christians. Paul gives the word here, and it’s the word ‘philadelphia’ which means brotherly love. He says that we ought to have that kind of love for one another. Outside the pages of the New Testament, the word is always used for siblings of the same mother and the same father; brothers and sisters and relatives. But in the New Testament, this word is reserved for the intimate family relationship between brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you realize that we as a church have an even deeper relationship than our natural family does? Our natural family is only for time, while the family of God is for eternity. We really are the eschatological or the end-time family of God. We really are a supernatural ‘called-out’ family of God, and then Paul comes back to say, “…For you yourselves are taught by God to love (agape) one another. ‘Agape’ is that kind of no-strings-attached, self-giving, sacrificial love that God sent Christ to the cross with; that Christ went to the cross with. And so i think it’s a very important attitude that we ought to have toward one another.

In the list of the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22), the word fruit is singular, and i personally believe that the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape), and the rest of that list are characteristics of what love (agape) is. I think the one thing that all Christians do have in common is not a spiritual gift, for all of us have different spiritual gifts, but the one thing all Christians do have in common, if they are the true children of the Father, is love – ‘agape’ for one another. That special kind of love that says, “I’ll love you even if you don’t love me back”, “I’ll include you even if you don’t include me”, “I’ll love you even if you kick me in the teeth”. The world will know that we are Christians by our love for one another (cf. John 13:35). It’s not what spiritual gifts you have, it’s not how active you may be in certain ministries, it’s not how enthusiastic you are, it’s not how smart you are, it’s not how much faith you have, it’s not how good of a speaker you are, the criteria that divides the ‘mature’ from the ‘immature’ in the Christian faith is LOVE!

THREE THINGS THAT MAKE BELIEVERS DOUBT THEIR SALVATION

I think there are 3 things that make the vast majority of believers doubt in themselves that they’re saved. Number one is – UNCONFESSED PERSONAL SIN – if you have an area of your life that you’re unwilling to turn over to God. If you have a pet sin, or a terrible sin that you have not committed to Him, confess it to Him. You will never have assurance. Unconfessed sin will rob you, not only of the joy of your salvation, but it’ll rob you of the maturity of Christ. You must deal with unconfessed known sin. But how do I deal with it?, you might ask. 1 John 1:9 – It’s a passage not written to unbelievers, it’s a Bible verse for believers. And it says, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – that’s talking to Christians about relationship, not about salvation. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin, and we will not stand before God for the sins we’ve done. But known sin in the life of a Christian destroys the relationship. It makes us feel like God does not care, makes us feel like everything we do is wrong, and it will rob us of the joy and assurance that we’re saved. so if there’s anything that you have between you and God, tell Him. If it’s between you and God tell only God. If it involves others go ask their forgiveness, and make restitution. If you have hurt the entire church, then you must come before the entire church. I guarantee you, knowing you’re saved, and having a joy in that is worth the pain of repentance. Whatever level, it must be done. It must be done! Unconfessed personal sin has destroyed the great majority of the lives of Christians of our day.

Number two, IGNORANCE OF BIBLE TRUTHS – you’ve got to know the simple truths of the Bible about salvation before you’re going to have assurance. You might say, “I believe my pastor, I trust him”. What if your pastor runs off of the church’s money? What if he leaves is wife for another girl? I know, this might be strange to you, but it is never a remote possibility. This happens over, and over, and over again in our day, and every day in the past. What if the guy you trust doesn’t live up to what you think he ought to? You can’t base assurance on your pastor, or denomination, or a church. You must know the truth of the word of God, and you can’t know it unless you read it for yourself! You’ve got to know what it says before you know what it means. This spoon-feeding on Sunday church services will never do it. Even if you include Sunday school, it won’t ever do it. You need to be in the Word of God so you will have assurance. Ephesians 4:13-15 admonishes Christians to be equipped with the Word of God, because there are Christians who are tossed about by every wind of doctrine, by every wave of people’s opinion. They’ve trapped by the schemes of the evil one. The modern church is filled with logical and charismatic type of heretics that come down the aisle with every false wind of doctrine, and if you do not know your Bible, you’re going to be attached to that which is holding you down. You must know the truth so you can analyze what you hear people say. Charismatic, gifted, and powerful cult leaders are all around. There are beautiful, articulate, and dynamic personalities anywhere, and if you don’t know the Book, there will be no mooring for your heart.

Number three – DESIRE FOR CERTAIN EXPERIENCES – desire for the answer to certain questions; desire for answered prayer and personal miracles. Those kind of desires if you let them take control of your life, will dash you on the rocks of uncertainty. Many people don’t trust Christ because of some intellectual question they have about some nitpicking part of the Bible. Many don’t come to Christ because they’re expecting experience like that of Pentecost. This desire for certain spiritual experiences is not bad, if you wait around for that before trusting Christ, you may miss the whole thing. Some folks say when God does a little miracle in my life, then i’ll trust Him. But we walk by faith, and not by sight. And the Bible says in Mathew 24:24 that false teachers will come in the last days doing signs and wonders, and lead even the elect astray if possible. You put your hope in the supernatural, I promise you there is more than one supernatural influence in our world – satan. Satan can get your life by healing you, or charming you, or wooing you. He’ll do it. He did it to Jesus, and it’s Jesus who refused to jump off the pinnacle the temple. I believe in a supernatural God active in His world, but I’m going to focus my trust on the promises of God in the person of His Son Jesus, and His finished work on the cross. Not on where the wind bloweth because i’m not always certain what wind it is. I submit to you, we must be very careful about an over-reliance on self; be it experience, be it morality, be it intelligence, or be it rules. If you focus your hope for heaven on YOU, you will not make it. Because anything that focuses completely on YOU is in jeopardy. In this fallen world our hope is based entirely on Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).

WE OUGHT TO LAY DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OTHERS

There is something in the experience of being a part of the family of God – so wonderful that you can’t feel at home in this world anymore. Do you feel strange when you watch the television, and see what’s going on in the world and somehow feel strangely that you’re not a part of it? Do you listen to the issues that swirl on our social agenda as a nation and somehow feel estranged by it’s “dog eat dog” mentality? I guess it happens slowly over a period of time in our Christian experience that’s why it surprises us so much. I cannot help but be transported back in time in the days of my youth when all i cared is about me, mine, and myself. And everything i did had an internal focus and purpose geared toward what i want. My life is so different than that now. There has been a radical change. There’s been an absolute reversal of worldviews. I do not see the world any longer through my own eyes. I see the world through the eyes of a crucified Savior, and He has changed everything. Everything is different! Different!

I must admit i can still feel the tremendous pull of the world that says, “you will enjoy this, this is fun”. But my mind in Christ says, i have been called to be different. I don’t care what others are doing. I don’t care what society says is right or wrong. I have been called to Christlikeness so that i could bring a lost world to God. I am not my own. I’ve been bought with a price, i ought to glorify God in my body (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20). 1 Peter 2:21-25 shows us the Chief Shepherd of the sheep, the pre-existent God Incarnate giving us an example of how to live in this fallen world. And how did He live while He was a stranger and alien and pilgrim in this world? What did He do with self and temptation? How did Jesus fight the good fight? “Since Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps who committed no sin nor was any deceit found in His mouth and while being reviled He did not revile in return while suffering He uttered no threats but keeping but kept entrusting himself to Him who judges righteously and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. For by His wounds you were healed for you were continually straying like sheep. But now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls”. So the Life of Christ is laid out to us alive for He did not please himself but laid down His life for others. Now we are called to walk in His steps. There’s no way that we’re going to be crucified. There’s no way that we’re probably going to be asked to die for our faith; that might occur, but it probably won’t. There’s no way that we can live without sin. He did. I’m not sure we can, but I tell you this – as He laid down His life for others. We’re called on in this context to lay down our lives for others (cf. 1 John 3:16).