Saturday, October 29, 2016

Service Not Status

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." James 3:1

This verse is loaded with many truths about false teaching and Godly teaching.  Christ himself breaks down this verse in Matthew 23.  Here is what we can learn:

1. False teachers are incredibly "law" oriented.  Even their gospel message is actually another dose of law, usually something invented by the teacher himself to try to help his congregation continue to earn their salvation.

2. The law is good, but false teachers do not practice what they preach.  They may seem to hold fast to the letter of the law, but they do not practice the spirit of the law, which includes thought and word.

3. False teachers usually burden their congregations with too much legalism, so that they feel better about themselves.

4. Everything a false teacher does is to gain name recognition and status.

5. Names like "teacher" and "father" are not forbidden, but only when they are used to gain some kind of status among others.

6. This is crucial.  There is only one teacher, one instructor: the Christ.  Earthly teachers are only to point their congregations to the heavenly teacher, who does the heavy lifting through this Spirit.

7. As earthly teachers, we are to submit ourselves to our congregations and serve them, not reap status.  This is the main difference between false teachers and Godly teachers.

Paul has some details to add in his first letter to Timothy:

1. Godly teachers are to call out false teachers, encourage them to teach good doctrine, and exhort them to avoid worldly speculations that come from outside God's word.

2. Stewardship is to be promoted among the clergy, and this service is given to God's teachers from God himself through his Spirit.

3. Teachers must keep Christ's commandments in thought, word, and deed, through faith alone in Christ.

4. When teachers swerve from true faith in Christ and keeping his commandments, the result is vain instruction based completely on keeping artificial laws that understand not the foundation of the scriptures.

As Timothy's mentor, Paul instructed his charge to fold fast to the faith that had been handed down to him, not swerving to the right or the left but to stay focused on the God who made him.  Paul's instruction comes directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ. As perfect teacher, Christ's own teachings pointed to himself, and he submitted himself to mankind, taking the form of a servant, even dying on the cross on our behalf. We conclude with Philippians 2:6-8:

"Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God [status] a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Saturday, October 22, 2016


And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David's1 table, like one of the king's sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet. (2 Samuel 9)

1. Christ typology in the Old Testament is NOT allegory.  Christ said that all of the scriptures were about him, and so, if we are able to find Christ in the Old Testament, and the doctrines that we discover in said passage are consistent with the rest of scripture, then we can reveal those doctrines to our congregations without being accused of allegorizing.

2. In this passage David is not standing in for Christ but for the Father in the trinity.

3. Saul is standing in for Adam.  He is the father of all sinful humanity.  His sin is passed down to us.  Saul sinned against God, and the kingdom was taken from him.  He was "kicked" out, as Adam was from the garden of Eden.

4. God wants to show one of Adam's progeny kindness for Jonathan's sake.  Jonathan is standing in for Christ.  Christ is also a descendant of Adam, but he is the firstborn of a new creation.  Just as David wants to show kindness to one of Saul's progeny for Jonathan's sake, God wants to show kindness to sinners for Christ's sake.  All who are IN CHRIST are included in this act of kindness.

5. This son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, is lame in both feet.  In other words, he is UNABLE to walk in the ways of the Lord.

6. In the presence of David, Mephibosheth falls to his face.  In God's presence, his children repent.

7. David shows kindness for the sake of Jonathan, and the land (as in the promise to Abraham) is restored to Mephibosheth (through Christ).

8. Mephibosheth is to eat at David's table always.  Likewise, God's children will be eating at his table for eternity.

9. Mephibosheth calls himself a "dead dog."  Indeed, we are all dead in sins and in no way can save ourselves.

10. All that belonged to Adam is restored to us through Christ.

11. Angels will serve God's children.

12. Mephibosheth is considered one of David's sons now.  Likewise, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God.  All for the sake of Christ.

13. Mephibosheth had a son, Micah, and the implication is that he was included in the covenant that David made with his father.  Likewise, our children are included in the divine covenant of Christ.

14. Finally, we are reminded again that Mephibosheth was lame in both his feet.  The most important takeaways from this chapter are 1) we are unable to save ourselves and 2) we are restored to God's grace by the merits of his son, Jesus Christ.  Only through Christ can this restoration take place.  We are lame and unable to walk in his statutes, but his obedience, even unto death on the cross, are sufficient for salvation.  Let us repent of our sins and approach the throne of grace with confidence in what Jesus has done for us.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Faith and Works

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good2 is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

This passage needs a careful reading to ensure understanding.  As children of the reformation, we believe that one is justified by faith alone.  Many have tried to set up a contradiction in the scriptures here, because on the surface it seems that James is challenging Paul's "faith alone" assertions.  However, this is not the case, and a careful reading reveals this.

James is in agreement that faith alone saves you, but the question remains: how do you know you have faith?  James is saying that true faith is confirmed by good works.  Without good works, one's faith is not a true faith.  The analogy James uses is that of someone wishing another person well, but not giving that person the things he needs to BE well.  The giving of the thing is the good work that, in this case, proves that the wishing of the person well is done by true faith.  The wishing without the giving is a sign of a false faith.  "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

Now, James immediately clarifies his point, because he anticipates the next logical assertion.  The assertion is, "so, because I'm doing good works, therefore I have true faith."  This is not true, and James needs to stop it in its tracks.  Many countless people in the world then and today do good things for their neighbors without having a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  The assertion, "well, I must have a true faith, because I'm doing good works," needed to be addressed at once.  James writes, "but someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.'"  This is his way of writing that false assertion, "I must have a saving faith, because I'm doing good works."  James responds, "show me your faith APART from works, and I will show you my faith by my works."  Right.  All the good works do not matter if you don't have the saving faith.  Well, the obvious question is, "If my good works do not show you my faith, then how do I show you my faith?"  There's obviously something more needed.  The easy answer is, "does the person confess Christ?"  That's the easy answer.  Someone can build all the hospitals in the world, but if they do not believe in Jesus Christ for their redemption, then they do not have a true faith.  Crystal clear.  BUT, we have a problem.  Many confess faith in Jesus Christ AND have good works, but they do not REALLY have a saving faith in Christ.  What about them?  How can we TELL if they have a true faith?  James says, "I will show you my faith by my works."  So, the answer to that lies in the works themselves.  There must be a nuance between works that look like they are good works and actual good works.  Building hospitals and helping the homeless may be good works, but are they actual good works in God's eyes?  Anyone can do those things, even without a saving faith in Jesus Christ, so there must be ACTUAL good works that reveal a TRUE saving faith in Jesus Christ.  What are they?

James affirms this line of thought by writing, "You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe--and shudder!"  You see, the demons believed, but they did not have a saving faith in Christ.  So, one who confesses faith in Christ may be like a demon: having belief but not a true, saving faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  So, now, James is going to reveal a couple of true good works as examples to us, so we will know what a true, good work actually is.

The first example is Abraham and Isaac.  His offering of his son on the altar to God was a work, but James lets us know that Abraham's faith was active along with this work, and his faith was COMPLETED by his work with Isaac.  James writes that this act shows true belief.  He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.  Now, this verse in Genesis happens before the attempted sacrifice, so Abraham had the faith already, but this act completed and fulfilled his true faith.

The second example is that of Rahab the prostitute in Jericho, when she protected the Israelite messengers from her people.  Her life was spared by the act, but this act is also to have had a true faith supporting it, and the act COMPLETED the saving faith.  Now, let's look at what is similar between these acts.

Let's look at the Rahab event first.  From Joshua 2, we learn

1) Rahab was a prostitute, a sinner.  In God's eyes, we are all prostitutes.

2) Rahab takes God's church into her home.

3) The unbelieving world demands she betray the church and give it up.

4) Rahab lies to the world to protect the church.

5) Rahab fears (has a penitent faith in) the Lord, because she has heard the gospel through the details of the Red Sea event and destruction of unbelieving kingdoms, and her heart has been melted.

6) Rahab confesses God as the one, true God.

7) Rahab pleads for mercy for her family.

8) The church agrees to save her and her family alive.

9) Rahab helps the church escape persecution.

10) Rahab ties a scarlet cord to her window and gathers all of her family in that one dwelling.  Everyone in that room (ark) is protected from the destruction of Jericho (flood).

11) Rahab keeps the truth in her heart.

Going over to Genesis 22, here is what we can learn from the sacrifice of Isaac:

1) God tested Abraham by commanding him to take his son and offer him up as a burnt offering.

2) Abraham did not hesitate to obey.  What follows is a "dress rehearsal" for Christ's crucifixion.

3) Abraham did not withhold his son from God, but he knew that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice.

4) The ram that God provides foreshadows his sending his son Jesus to be a pure sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

5) Because of Abraham's obedience, his spiritual posterity will be saved.

Let's see if we can find some overlap between these points.  Where are the good works located?  In the Jericho event, Rahab does two main things: she protects the church and the is obedient to the church's instructions.  In the Moriah event, Abraham obeys God directly.  So, the overlap would be obedience to God.  But there is a crucial detail about the obedience that I think is important.  The obedience involves a pre-creation, a foreshadowing of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation.  So, if we simplify this, then it must mean that any "good work" is going to involve presenting the gospel.  Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was an elaborate demonstration of what God would do for us on Calvary. Rahab's tying of the red cord to her window revealed her faith in Christ to come and saved her family from destruction.  Any good work that we do today, be it helping the downtrodden, rescuing someone from danger, or building a treehouse for a kid: to make it a "good work" one has to attach the activity to Christ's gospel.

It may seem like a daunting task, but remember that Christ always did it.  He taught in parables that compared the kingdom of God to everyday things and activities.  He healed and helped others always as a demonstration of the physical side of the gospel, foreshadowing everlasting life.  And he sacrificed himself on behalf of others, which we do in little ways for the ones we love.  To show that one has true faith, one attaches the gospel message to his or her good work.  Christ shared the gospel with us in everything he did.  We share the gospel with others out of great love and respect for the one who died for us.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)

This pair of verses in James is so important to understanding how Christianity differs from every other religion in the world.  Two ideas need to be defined: the law of liberty and mercy.  The former we discussed in detail a few sermons back, but in short it means that the law we are under before salvation is a law based on works and merit, a failing attempt to save ourselves.  After salvation, the law we are under is a law of liberty, Christ's commandments carried out because of gratitude.  Christ liberates us from death and hell, and we respond by being obedient to his commandments.  Only through faith is this possible.  If we don't believe, we won't respond.

The same goes for mercy, and this is the key to understanding how Christianity differs from all the other religions.  All other religions say, "if you are merciful, then God will be merciful to you."  Indeed, there are places where it seems Christianity is saying the same thing.  Matthew 6:14 has Jesus saying, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you."  This is one of those places in scripture where it is best to know the Greek over the English translation.  Many will take this as a call to salvation by works, but such a work as mercy or forgiveness is only possible through grasping Jesus Christ by faith.  The only way to grasp Christ by faith is to believe the Gospel, which states, "he first forgave us."  Believe this and you will live.

The best place to explore the difference between Christianity's view of showing mercy and the other religions and philosophies is where an incorrect view of God is revealed--Job.  In Job 22, Eliphaz chastizes Job in the following manner:

Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
You have sent widows away empty,
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.
Therefore snares are all around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
or darkness, so that you cannot see,
and a flood of water covers you. (Job 22:5-11)

Eliphaz is telling Job that God is punishing him because of his lack of showing mercy to others.  In other words, like all the other religions, unless we show mercy to others, God will not show mercy to us.  Remember, Eliphaz is WRONG!  God chastises him later.  Eliphaz is wrong about Job and about God.  Job was blameless, and God wasn't punishing him for not being merciful.  God was showing his sovereignty in that only he has the power to give and take away.  Only he protects.  Only he saves.  Eliphaz is practicing a different religion.  He is worshiping a different God.  He is worshiping the false god that all the other religions worship, the god of karma, the god who visits punishments on those who deserve them.  But mercy is NOT getting what we deserve.  And grace is getting what we DON'T deserve.

I keep returning to the parable of the unforgiving servant (the end of Matthew 18) because it is the best example in scripture.  The king forgives the servant's debt FIRST.  The servant responds by showing NO MERCY to someone who owes him.  The king responds to the unmerciful servant by withdrawing his mercy.  In life, forgiveness of debt is extended to all people, but many reject it, because the only way to accept it is by faith in Jesus.  The fruit of faith in Christ is continual repentance which manifests itself in love for neighbor--mercy towards one's neighbor.

So, in Matthew 25, when the sheep and goats are judged at the end of the age, the ones who show mercy inherit the kingdom.  But they inherit the kingdom not because they showed mercy, but because they believed the gospel, which declares that God showed mercy to us through his son Jesus Christ.  The inheritors of the kingdom respond to God's merciful sacrifice in Christ by repenting and putting their full faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of the their sins.  This belief manifests itself in mercy and forgiveness towards our neighbor, even our enemies.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand!  Repent and believe the gospel!  Show mercy as you have been shown mercy.